Workshop 15: Doing Classical Reception in Rhetorical Studies
Michele Kennerly and Lois Agnew
Why do certain features and figures of certain ancient cultures (namely democratic Athens and republican Rome) recur in the stories rhetoricians read and tell about the history, practice, theory, and teaching of rhetoric? What values, ideologies, anxieties, and identities do such recurrences reflect and reinforce? How do constructions and uses of history inevitably reflect shifting contemporary concerns? What are the politics of discourses of “resonance” and “relevance”?
Such questions are the province of a methodology known as classical reception. Classical reception attends to how ancient material is put to use to serve particular ends. Critical classical reception insists that ancient materials recur not as a matter of course but as a matter of choice, even if (or especially if) their use in particular contexts seems obvious or natural.
During this workshop, we will: 1) establish a set of questions important for classical reception work in rhetorical studies; 2) workshop participant works-in-progress (2-page project proposals circulated beforehand) that have a clear or potential classical reception angle; 3) build upon a bibliography (distributed and, in part, read from beforehand).
Certainly “the rhetorical tradition” and even rhetorical studies could and should be surveyed from the perspective of classical reception explicitly, as we did at the start of this call. But we wish to foster conversation as well about matters other than disciplinary self-awareness. Accordingly, we welcome classical reception projects that explore the re-purposing of ancient figures, texts, and ideas in a broad array of historical periods and contexts. A more popularly oriented classical reception has been infrequently attempted in rhetorical studies, but we think rhetoricians have plenty to offer.
For instance, what might rhetoricians have to say when Aspasia shows up at The Dinner Party? When Cato is Institutionalized? When Nero trades in his Golden Palace for the White House? Or when Medusa rears her coiled coif every time a woman earns political prominence in the 21st century?
And what might rhetoricians have to say about Robert Kennedy, George H. W. Bush, and Barack Obama delivering the very same verses of Aeschylus during respective solemn speeches? Spartan quips appearing at gun rights rallies? Or Margaret Atwood writing the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective?
That profusion of “for instances” likely does not forecast the content of the workshop, but it does signal the spirit of the enterprise.