University News

‘Late antique Woodstock’ brings Latin to life

Contributing Writer
Sunday, October 16, 2011

For a dead language, Latin showed an awful lot of life at last week’s “Classics Renewed” conference on the poetry and prose of late antiquity. The conference, which ran from Thursday to Saturday, brought 19 speakers from four continents to the Annmary Brown Memorial.

Brown played host to the second of two parts of the conference, which began at Rice University in March. At the close of the discussion, conference organizers Scott McGill of Rice University and Joseph Pucci, associate professor of classics, associate professor of comparative literature and lecturer in the Program in Medieval Studies, said they may turn the conference’s lectures into a book.

The majority of attendees were classicists, though graduate and undergraduate students also attended.

Robin McGill GS said the conference offered an exciting venue for sharing ideas with other scholars. Other attendees said the novelty of the topic made it particularly interesting.

The relevance of the topic to contemporary society and the expansion of the field came up frequently in discussion.

As speaker Mark Vessey of the University of British Columbia put it, “20 or 30 years ago, you had to be a bit odd to get into late antiquity.”

Recently, late antiquity’s role as a bridge between the classical period and the early middle ages — between classics and Christianity — has elevated its importance in academic scholarship. Because it represents a period of transition, late Latin poetry is more disjointed than the staid genres of classical poetry that precede it. At times, it is also both sexually and socio-politically explicit — in one lecture, James Uden of Boston University explored parallels between late Latin poetry and 20th century Beat poetry.

Several conference participants stressed a particular sexiness to the works discussed, jokingly commenting that the paintings of nude women gracing the walls of the Annmary Brown Memorial would make good cover images for the proposed book based on the conference. Because late Latin authors hailed from a combination of Christian, pagan and secular backgrounds, their works offer unique perspectives on the relationships between individuals and lovers, as well as individuals and God.

Scott McGill — whose book on the concept of plagiarism in ancient Rome and its implications for contemporary society will come out next year — referred to the conference as a “Late Antique Woodstock.”

He said late antiquity has traditionally been overlooked in this country.

Conference participants stressed that late Latin antiquity is a new field, which, as Vessey put it, “is only just beginning to be measured out.”

The conference proved that centuries later, ancient material can continue to deliver fresh insight. “Latin isn’t dead,” Pucci said, “It’s not spoken, but it isn’t dead. Any language that can allow you access to a culture isn’t dead.”

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *