Classics and Irish Politics

Mon Jun 20, 2016

Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College Dublin

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This conference addresses for the first time, in an academic context, how models from Greek and Roman antiquity have permeated Irish political discourse over the last century. The 1916 Easter Rising, when Irish nationalists rose up against British imperial forces, became almost instantly mythologized in Irish political memory as a key turning point in the nation’s history which paved the way for an independent Irish Republic. Its centenary provides a natural point for reflection on Irish politics, and the aim of this conference is to highlight an under-appreciated element in Irish political discourse, namely its frequent reliance on and reference to classical Greek and Roman models.

Irish engagement with classical models is complex. Rome, for example, could easily serve as a model for imperial domination, and thus could represent Britain in Irish thought. The issue is complicated, however, by the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, the use of ecclesiastical Latin, and the popularity of certain classical Roman authors like Virgil among Irish readers of Latin. Greek resistance to Persian invasions could represent resistance to empire, and parallels were drawn between Greece and Ireland by authors like Patrick Pearse and W.B. Yeats. Nevertheless, a tension existed in Irish political thought between seeking inspiration in Greek models and creating an independent national Irish identity. Much work has been done in recent years on the tensions associated with the exploitation of classical models in post-colonial societies, where the classical, which normally represents the colonizer, is re-appropriated and re-purposed for a nationalist agenda. Ireland very rarely features in such discussions and indeed Ireland is a unique case in this context, since the Irish (unlike other colonized peoples) were very well versed in Greek and Latin before ever the British plantations began in the 16th century. For the Irish, then, classical sources are essentially indigenous to the people and are not models appropriated from the colonizer.

Twenty-six speakers from Ireland, Britain, continental Europe, and North America will address the conference theme from a range of perspectives including the immediate context of 1916, tensions between classical and celtic mythologies, classical models of political expression, twentieth century classicists and Irish politics, the politics of narrative and performance, the politics of gender and sexuality, the influence of Greek material culture, classical models and political poetry, and comparative perspectives from ancient Rome. Keynote lectures will be given by Terry Eagleton, Edith Hall, and Declan Kiberd. For a schedule of events, see the programme. For information on topics and speakers, see abstracts and bios. Registration for the conference is free but required. The conference will be part of the three week 2016 Notre Dame Irish Seminar. For details of the full Irish Seminar see irishseminar.nd.edu and for further information please contact Isabelle Torrance at itorranc@nd.edu

This conference is generously supported by the Henkels Lecture Fund, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame; the Global Collaboration Initiative at Notre Dame International in partnership with Trinity College Dublin’s Department of Classics; the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies; the Nanovic Institute for European Studies; Notre Dame Research; Notre Dame’s Department of Classics.

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