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CALL. 07.03.2021: Renaissances de la transgression antique. Epoques moderne et... - Lyon (France)




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (Lyon, France)

ORGANIZADOR/ORGANIZER/ORGANIZZATORE: Julien Berguer – TAntALE, Université Lumière Lyon 2, HiSoMA (ED 484 3LA); Madeleine Séguier - TAntALE, Sorbonne Université, CRLC (ED 0019).

INFO: Laboratoire junior TAntALE : Blog - Facebook


Revivals of ancient transgression - modern and contemporary times

During the first three workshops organised by the junior research team TAntALE, the study of transgression took place within the chronological boundaries of Antiquity: definition of the concept of transgression, analysis of the transgressive figures of Antiquity and how they put the norms of the city to the test, individually or collectively. In this logic, the international conference of November 2020 focused on the place of transgression in the construction of political power. For the fourth and final workshop, we will go beyond these chronological limits and study the phenomena of transgression in the relationship that authors, artists and later societies have with Antiquity. The proposals will have to fall within the period between the mid-14th and 21st centuries. By rediscovering the letters of Cicero and the work of Quintilian, by learning Greek in order to be able to read Homer in the text, Petrarch and Boccaccio launched a rediscovery of Antiquity. The new access to the works of Greek and Latin authors provided scholars of the Renaissance and the following centuries with more direct access to Antiquity. Thereafter, and until today, Antiquity remains an omnipresent cultural reference. Nevertheless, the crisis of humanism provoked by the Second World War and the emergence of postcolonial and gender studies led to a double movement, which is still at work today, of defamiliarisation and reconquest of Antiquity, especially outside the social groups and cultural areas traditionally studied [1]. The new studies on the place of ancient motifs and figures in pop culture, for example, testify to the importance of Antiquity even in the collective subconscious [2]. Within this diachronic and transcultural framework, our study will be articulated around three main axes:

Axis 1: Receptions of ancient transgression

Insofar as transgression is defined first of all by the reaction it provokes, it is necessary to analyse the way in which transgressive acts, figures or speeches were received beyond Antiquity. Whether the transgressions are historical, mythological or literary, whether they are individual or collective, variations in norms and fundamental values imply an evolution of possible transgressions and of the way in which past transgressions are viewed, which may be maintained or inflected according to times and cultures. Certain transgressions continue to be received as such: from Tacitus to Tinto Brass, the historical figure of Caligula has kept all its transgressive strength; from Euripides to Pasolini, Seneca and Cornelius, the mythological figure of Medea is still mostly perceived as transgressive because of the infanticide she committed. Exceptions such as Christa Wolf's Medea, however, question this reading: the mythological heroine is cleared of the murder of her children, but remains transgressive because of her character as an emancipated woman in the face of men who see in her a "savage who does as she pleases" [3]. Some transgressive motifs can thus be reconfigured and transposed to other contexts, as in Anouilh's Antigone, perceived as the muse of resistance in France in 1944. Other figures see their transgressive character reevaluated or even attenuated over time: in the treatment of the myth of Sisyphus proposed by Camus, the question of the hybris sanctioned by divine punishment is blurred in favour of the question of what to do in the face of the absurdity of existence. The original transgression is forgotten. Similarly, Socrates is no longer perceived in the collective representations as guilty of the impiety and corruption of youth, but is valued above all as the founder of the philosophical method that has prevailed ever since. The communications that will be integrated in this axis will thus focus on the reception at different times of transgressive literary and historical motifs or characters of Antiquity.

Axis 2: An Antiquity retrospectively perceived as transgressive

Conversely, an act that was non-transgressive in Antiquity may have become so in a later context governed by new norms. This new reading can be observed behind the need to elaborate rules such as those of theatre decorum, which obliged playwrights to conform to the moral and aesthetic norms of seventeenth-century society, which was reluctant to see violence and passions on stage [4]. In Phaedra, it is in the name of decorum that Racine reshuffles and overlooks a number of features of Euripides' play that did not cause a scandal in Greece in the fifth century B.C. [5] : the death of Hippolytus is no longer shown on stage but reported, the hanging of Phaedra is replaced by a poisoning deemed nobler, and the false accusation of rape against Hippolitus is placed in the mouth of Oenone and no longer of Phaedra so as not to tarnish her dignity as a princess. This unexpected evolution towards transgression can also be analysed from the point of view of the circulation of texts and the major role played by translations of ancient texts. The revival of interest in an ancient author at a given time reveals its concerns and values. One thinks in particular of the rediscovery and the first translations of female poets of ancient Greece in a sixteenth century marked by the Women's Quarrel born in the wake of Christine de Pizan [5]. In a context that is generally hostile to women's voices, especially in literature, this ancient reference offers a form of protection to those who would like to place themselves under the patronage of these illustrious but still little-known female poets of ancient Greece. Thus, the rehabilitation or sometimes downgrading of certain old masters appears to be a means of highlighting the fluctuations of standards and tastes. In this respect, the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns represents a pivotal moment in the questioning of the transgressive value of Antiquity. Several critics [6] have shown that the camp of the Ancients, far from clinging to an outdated tradition of Antiquity, celebrated the radically different practices of the ancient world. Faced with the rigidity of French neoclassicism and absolutism, the ancient world presented the disturbing face of otherness, in the political, religious (rejection of paganism) and moral fields (valuing gallantry against an Antiquity presented as crude and violent). Finally, beyond the transgressive future of this or that element of Antiquity, it is sometimes the mere resort to Antiquity that carries the transgression. In an authoritarian regime where censorship is exercised, the ancient reference can be a roundabout way of transgressing the authorised discourse. One may think, for example, of the "kidnapped West" depicted by Milan Kundera [7], in which the fact of posing as the heir to classical culture is an indirect but transgressive way of speaking out against the repressive domination of the USSR over the people’s democracies of the Eastern bloc. Papers that analyse these reconfigurations of an ancient material that has become transgressive will therefore be welcome, whether they take an aesthetic or an anthropological approach.

Axis 3: Transgressive re-inventions and rewrites of Antiquity

The third axis will start from a broad definition of the notion of transgression understood as a method of approach rather than content. Ancient models could be used to legitimise transgressive regimes. Under the Terror, Pericles was thus presented as a manipulative tyrant. His figure was then invoked - to anticipate possible tyrannical excesses. This was the objective pursued by Billaud-Varenne, member of The Moutain and of the Committee of Public Salvation, in his report of the 1st Floral Year II (April 20th, 1794): "The sly Pericles used popular colours to cover the chains he forged for the Athenians. He made people believe for a long time that he never went up to the rostrum without saying to himself: "Dream that you are going to speak to free men". And this same Pericles, having succeeded in seizing absolute authority, became the most bloody despot! " (Moniteur, Year II, no. 212, p. 860). This was a transparent allusion to Robespierre, who was accused of mimicking the love of the people in order to better exercise undivided power. The reappropriation of Antiquity by totalitarian regimes can also contribute to the hijacking of ancient models and their transgressive use. We will thus be able to examine transgressive reappropriations of ancient material in the sense that they deliberately deviate from the model by upsetting the codes. Examples include Offenbach's La Belle Hélène, a parodic opera by Offenbach, or Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, which revisits the Homeric epic from Penelope's point of view by deconstructing the heroism of Ulysses. Papers will therefore study classical, modern or contemporary rereadings of Antiquity in their transgressive aspects in relation to the literary canon with which they play.

[1] GELY Véronique, « Partages De L'Antiquité : Un Paradigme Pour Le Comparatisme », Revue De Littérature Comparée, 344, no. 4, 2012, p. 387-95.

[2] BIEVRE-PERRIN Fabien, Antiquipop : La référence à l’Antiquité dans la culture populaire contemporaine. Lyon, MOM Éditions, 2018 ; voir également le carnet hypothèses du projet :

[3] WOLF Christa, Médée. Voix, Paris, Stock, 2000, p. 21.

[4] SPITZER Léo, Etudes de Style, « L’effet de sourdine dans le style classique », Paris Gallimard, 1970.

[5] DEBROSSE Anne, « La réception des poétesses grecques, ou les affabulations de «  l’imagination combleuse  », Anabases, 21 | 2015, 253-262.

[6] FUMAROLI, LECOQ, ARMOGATHE, La querelle des Anciens et des Modernes précédé de Les abeilles et les araignées : XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles, Paris, Gallimard, 2001 ; NORMAN Larry F., The Shock of the Ancient, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2011.

[7] KUNDERA Milan, « Un Occident Kidnappé », Le Débat, 27, no. 5, 1983.

[8] AZOULAY Vincent, Périclès: la démocratie athénienne à l’épreuve du grand homme, Paris, A. Colin, 2010, p. 277.

We invite abstracts of contributions (either in English or French) of no more than 300 words for 30 minutes papers followed by a time of discussion, to be submitted by 7th March 2021 to the organizing committee ( They must include a title, a brief presentation of the sources, the name of the author and their affiliation.

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