Drama 571

Autumn Quarter

Ruins: Classical Theatre and the Archeology of Memory
Odai Johnson
SLN: 13062
T/Th 2:30-4:50

“There are certain areas of scholarship, early Greek history is one. . . where the scantiness of the evidence sets a special challenge to the disciplined mind. It is a game with very few pieces, where the skill of the player lies in complicating the rules.” - Iris Murdoch, The Nice and the Good

This seminar is an excavation into the sites of memory of Greek and Roman antiquity. As such it aspires to acquaint the scholar of this period with the ‘excavations’ of theatre culture of Attic and Hellenistic Greece, the Republican and Imperial Rome, and late antiquity, through its surviving artifacts, narratives, and its erasures. The objective of the course is to return to and re-encounter an overly constructed period through its basic primary sources (archeologic, textual, architectural, iconographic), with all their uncertainties, ancient and modern, in the attempt to consider the totality of a culture that has survived largely through its ruins and its fragments. Among the texts we will consider are plays and fragments of plays, forensic speeches, satires, travelogues, monuments, and architecture. The questions that propel the course are those of memory: how antiquity has been remembered, what are the marks of that memory, and what are the marks of memory’s! erasure. To this end, a basic acquaintance of the plays, playwrights, and critical texts of the period is imperative.

Previous Iterations

Historiography - "History, Memory, Narrative, and other disorders"

Odai Johnson

"In the cellars of the Vatican, as narrow and winding as catacombs, there is a strange enormous graveyard.  It is of parts of ancient statues, thrown on the ground in a rough classification, feet in one heap, then knees, then whole legs, and so on.  There is something particularly poignant about the fingers and elbows.  There are also parts of dogs and wild boars, and once the head of a Parthenon horse was found there." - Eleanor Clark, Roman Journal
    The past, it seems, is always awaiting ordering:  sorting, assembling, telling, re-assembling, and re-telling.   In the case of the ancient statues, the Vatican's criteria was anatomical: "feet in one heap, then knees."  With only fragments to go on, one choice may be as informed or arbitrary as another, and often is.  The ancient statues might just as well have been ordered, say, by sculptor, or century, or subject.  Or the pieces might be left utterly unordered in some monstrously dismembered, post-modern montage of feet, spears, and hydras.  As it is, the elbows of Roman statuary co-exist with Renaissance re-makes, sharing only a common form, staring profuse and ambidextrously across the centuries.
    The historian’s compulsion to order, to assemble and narrativize the past, and the problems of historigraphy are the subject of this doctoral seminar.    Using a field of study, each student their own, we examine the problems of evidence, of narrative, of the genres and voicings of history.  The end goal is to develop a tool kit of historigraphical styles, genres, approaches, available to the student, and suited to the field of study at hand.