In the summer of 2011 several English cities witnessed explosions of very public violence. Rioters, for the most part young men, smashed windows, looted shops, set fires and threw stones at the ranks of armoured police who descended on them. Afterwards, most people responded in one of two ways. Right-wing politicians and commentators lined up behind David Cameron to condemn ‘mindless violence and thuggery’. On the left, the story was about inequality, unemployment and bad policing. With a few honourable exceptions, nobody asked the rioters.
People who do violent things usually have some sense of why they do them. We might not like their reasoning, but we can’t properly understand violence without it. Sticking with the riots as an example, the left-wing narrative clearly has a lot to be said for it, with interpretations backed up by solid data on urban deprivation. But it lacks the voice of the Londoner in his mid-20s who said, ‘When no one cares about you you’re gonna eventually make them care, you’re gonna cause a disturbance.’ For him rioting wasn’t an instinctive reaction to big structural forces – it was strategic, a sensible thing to do under the circumstances.
Classics, perhaps more than any other academic discipline, is frequently subject to accusations of being irrelevant to modern society. This is an aspect of the discipline perpetuated by traditional, reductive perspectives that criticise acts, such as translation or reception, which would challenge the canonical status of a classical text. Increasingly, however, classicists have challenged such essentialist arguments through acts of reception that note the capacity of both ancient texts and iconic ancient figures to resonate with modern ideological struggles.
I recently had the opportunity to attend Greek Play, an annual production staged by King’s Classics department that provides audiences with the unique opportunity to experience Greek drama in the original ancient language. For 2017, this was a student production of Prometheus Bound at the Greenwood Theatre. This production was, in a sense, a New Beginning for the Greek Play itself, since it was the first time the play has been performed in its history of sixty-four years. Moreover, through the figure of Prometheus, it sought to challenge assumptions about the relevance of Classical literature to provide an enlightening analogue to current issues raised by world politics. Continue reading →
Have you heard about the East End Women’s Museum? Perhaps you remember instead the opening of the tacky Jack the Ripper Museum in 2015, in place of the promised first Women Museum in the UK. Not only does the new museum disregard women’s lives, but it also displays gratuitous details of Jack the Ripper’s murders, including one victim’s bedroom and pictures of the bodies. However, this dreadful opening led to some good things: a collective opposition to the museum (from neighbours, East End women, feminists, and historians), as well as Sara Huws and Sarah Jackson’s wish to create the promised museum. Their idea is to offer the East End and London the museum that was originally proposed, with historical and social information about women’s lives in the East End. The project not only aims to be historical, but also links historical jobs or situations to the present, with contemporary testimonies. The form of the museum is not yet defined; it may be a physical building in the East End, or a virtual museum, such as the Women’s Museum of Ireland – or even both. Continue reading →