Greek Epic of the Roman Empire: A Cultural History

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Classics Faculty

Abstract

This project provides the first systematic analysis, in cultural-historical terms, of the large and challenging corpus of Greek epic poetry composed between the 1st and the 6th centuries CE. Epic was, for Greeks throughout antiquity, the most prestigious literary form, the apex of the hierarchy of genres. Through it they articulated their conceptions of war, empire, mortality, religion, gender, the natural order, psychology and cultural identity. Given the immense transformations that the era in question saw - the emergence of Rome as the head of a world empire, the subsequent shift to Constantinople, Christianisation, the laying of the social foundations for mediaeval Europe - its epic poetry offers an invaluable dossier, an unparalleled opportunity to explore the worldview of a highly erudite culture that was at once saturated in the literary paradigms of the distant past and confronting a rapidly changing future. Given the unquestionable centrality of epic to Greek culture, and given the significance of the historical changes wrought in late antiquity, the absence of any synoptic, contextualised study of the epic of this era is a major (indeed the greatest, we would argue) gap within ancient literary and cultural studies.

'Greek Epic of the Roman Empire' draws on this under-exploited material to explore central issues of cultural history, posing questions of politics, class and demography, religion, gender, sexuality, cultural definition and the relationship with the natural world. What kind of figures composed this poetry, what was their status and background, where were they trained, what kind of institutional factors shaped them? How does epic express the transformation from a Greco-Roman to a Christian religious world? How does it explore, promote, or challenge new constructions of gender and sexuality? What kind of an expression of Greek identity is it within this rapidly changing world? And how does it position humanity in relation to the natural environment, particularly to animals?

In sum, this project offers the first rounded portrait of the human subject as it appears in this vast and complex (but hugely significant) body of literature.
The project has been made possible by the compilation of the first ever complete database of imperial Greek epic poetry, which has thrown up around 1000 poems, fragments and references in the literary, papyrological and epigraphic records. As well as scholarly publications, the project will also produce the first comprehensive set of translations of the poetic corpus of the era, published by the University of California Press. It will have a substantial web presence, containing materials for public use (including videos) and a user-friendly, searchable version of the database. There will also be a conference, held in common with an art-historical sister project, 'Empires of Faith'.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of the project will be (i) the general public; (ii) schools. It is additionally hoped that practioners in the arts may be inspired by the texts once they are more readily available. For an example of their potential, see Robin Robertson's collection of poems Hill of Doors (2013), which contains sequences drawn from Nonnus. The impact (beyond the academy) will thus be primarily cultural.

The most transformative step will be simply to make the material open and comprehensible to the public. A series of annotated translations, published by University of California Press, will for the first time provide a comprehensive collection of modern, accessible versions.

Energy will also be devoted to the active promotion of the material. Ancient Greek mythological epic is already well established in the public imagination, thanks to successful books such as Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles and David Malouf's Ransom, and films such as Troy and Clash of the Titans. The impact strategy will be to use this intense public interest so as to expand understanding of the full range of ancient mythology. Four tactics are envisaged:

* The creation of an attractive, outward-facing website containing images, mini-essays, excerpts from the poems and links. This will be targeted at those who are searching for material related to Greek epic and mythology.

* The refreshing and modernising of Wikipedia entries on the authors in question, so that those searching for information become attracted rather than deterred when they reach their first port-of-call.

* The generation of electronic audio and video recordings. A minimum of five podcasts will be created and hosted on Oxford University's popular site for downloads. Three short video interviews will be filmed and edited, and then hosted on youtube.

* A series of schools talks will be arranged via the Outreach Office at the Faculty of Classics, Oxford.

Additionally, the project will generate a freely accessible database of authors and texts of imperial Greek epic, fully searchable (with a range of filters) and data-exportable.

Wider cultural impact will also be achieved by the exploitation of ad hoc opportunities. Members of the research team have extensive experience of communication beyond academia: e.g. literary festivals (including Hay-on-Wye), BBC radio and TV; journalism (Huffington Post, Guardian, Observer, LRB, TLS), public lectures, and schools talks. The PI is currently writing a work of popular history for Faber and Faber, which should raise his profile.

Publications

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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/L004798/1 01/02/2014 30/09/2014 £657,667
AH/L004798/2 Transfer AH/L004798/1 01/10/2014 16/09/2017 £552,918
 
Description This project has now moved to Cambridge University; please see the separate report on the identically-named project at Cambridge.
Exploitation Route This project has now moved to Cambridge University; please see the separate report on the identically-named project at Cambridge.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

 
Description This project has now moved to Cambridge University; please see the separate report on the identically-named project at Cambridge.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Postclassicisms 
Organisation Princeton University
Department Department of Classics
PI Contribution Having successfully run the AHRC Workshops on intercultural approaches to Greek fiction, I set up (in collaboration with Princeton colleagues) an Oxford-Princeton graduate exchange with the Department of Classics at Princeton University, looking into furthering progressive forms of classical scholarship. On the back of this, and in collaboration with me, my colleagues were able to secure a multi-million dollar Global Collaborative Research Fund aware from Princeton.
Collaborator Contribution We have run collectively a series of workshops involving a variety of top classicists from 3 continents. I organised the most recent one, in Oxford in July 2014. The network has expanded to include UCL, Cambridge, Sydney, Berkeley and Pisa.
Impact No publications as yet, but we are intending to have a writing week in the summer of 2015.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Postclassicisms 
Organisation Princeton University
Department Department of Classics
PI Contribution Having successfully run the AHRC Workshops on intercultural approaches to Greek fiction, I set up (in collaboration with Princeton colleagues) an Oxford-Princeton graduate exchange with the Department of Classics at Princeton University, looking into furthering progressive forms of classical scholarship. On the back of this, and in collaboration with me, my colleagues were able to secure a multi-million dollar Global Collaborative Research Fund aware from Princeton.
Collaborator Contribution We have run collectively a series of workshops involving a variety of top classicists from 3 continents. I organised the most recent one, in Oxford in July 2014. The network has expanded to include UCL, Cambridge, Sydney, Berkeley and Pisa.
Impact No publications as yet, but we are intending to have a writing week in the summer of 2015.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Conference organised by project: 'The Age of Heros [sic]: Eroticism and Cultural History in Imperial Greek Epic' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact An international academic conference attended by ca. 30 people.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.fasticongressuum.com/single-post/2017/06/05/The-Age-of-%E2%80%98Hero%E2%80%99s-Eroticism-...
 
Description Conference presentation by Dr Laura Miguélez-Cavero at conference in Rome, including specialist paper and presentation of the nature of the AHRC 'Greek Epic' project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact The paper 'Commenting on Triphiodorus' was well received and discussion ensued.
Presentation of the project 'Greek Epic of the Roman Empire' sparked much interest.

Further collaboration with international scholars, to be based around a new network for post-classical epic that we are developing, called 'Epeios'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.antichita.uniroma1.it/node/7004
 
Description Keynote lecture by Dr Kneebone, 'Exploring later Greek didactic poetry' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote lecture at the conference Imperial Greek Didactic Literature, OIKOS (Dutch Classical Association) Hellenistic and Imperial Literature workshop 2015, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, December 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Keynote lecture on ancient didactic poetry for OIKOS, Dutch national classics organisation by Dr Kneebone 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Event will take place in December
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Named lecture (Benefactors' Fund Lecture) at Dartmouth University, USA, delivered by PI 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Lively discussion about Musaeus and attitudes to sexual violence

Particularly valuable input from graduate students and non-classicists
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://classics.dartmouth.edu/events/event?event=33798#.VkK2KMprVVQ
 
Description Panel, 'Homeric Poetics at the Dawn of Christianity', featuring presentations by Prof Whitmarsh, Dr Kneebone, Dr Avlamis, Ms Greensmith 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Panel at the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting, San Francisco, USA, January 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Series of work-in-progress seminars in Oxford and Cambridge, connected via Skype 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Intellectually rich discussion

Ideas for presentations at national conferences in the UK and the USA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Weekly reading group covering Nonnus' Dionysiaca, based in Oxford & Cambridge (connected by Skype) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Vigorous discussion and wider appreciation of this difficult but rich text

Greater interest in Nonnus
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014