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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: December 2011

Chapter 10 - Reception and the Classics

from Part III - Envoi


This essay was delivered as an envoi to the conference. As a talk it was meant to dispatch the audience: to liberate them from the spell cast by the conference and send them back into the world, free to assess and broadcast its achievement. In its published state the talk loses this performative quality. But even a published envoi, I hope, retains some of the privileges of paratextuality.

I will not comment on the papers systematically, but rather note some patterns. None of the classicists, it seems to me, took up Charles Martindale's challenge in its most radical form, as thrown down in Redeeming the Text: namely, to demonstrate the inextricability of a classical text from a present-tense reading situation. This challenge provided the original intellectual framework for this conference. Martindale wanted his colleagues to read a classical text through a modern one. Richard Thomas does this in his wonderful paper on Bob Dylan and Virgil, bringing to life “the pathos of Vergil's poetry,” in the phrase of the editors of this volume, “through the dynamic recontextualization in modern song.” But no one quite undertook what Martindale himself did in the paper he delivered at this conference, where he placed Ovid and Dryden in a symmetrical and mutually creative relation. A classical text, for Martindale, is never inert. Only when academic classicists acknowledge that texts are events, says Martindale, that texts move, will the field begin finally to practice a modern, paradoxical criticism willing to question the historicist dogma of the past's independence from the present.