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Confronting Globalization of Classics

Jinyu Liu

Depauw University

Born and raised in China, I came to the States in 1998 to pursue a Ph.D. in Roman History. In my application, I stated that I aimed at being the first Roman historian from Mainland China with doctoral training in the West. That was not an exaggeration but a true reflection of the dearth of communication between the West and China in the area of Classics, as well as the asymmetrical state of Classics as an academic discipline in China and the West at that time. Over the years, I have found my scholarly experiences progress from being conditioned, or limited, by the asymmetry mentioned above, to being influenced by the self-reflections of the discipline of Classics in the West in the form of Reception Studies or “Postclassicisms”, to becoming actively engaged with and exploring ways of “globalizing” Classics. From the Guangqi Classics Lecture and Seminar Series at Shanghai Normal University, to Dickinson Classics Online, to the Chinese National Social Sciences Foundation funded project on translating Ovid into Chinese with commentaries, I have collaborated with many Classicist colleagues from different parts of the world to promote Graeco-Roman Classical Studies in China and foster trans-lingual and trans-cultural conversations about Classics in a globalizing world. In the process, many questions have arisen, none of which can be easily answered. It is, however, precisely the engagement with these questions, which I broadly describe below, that have made the collaborative activities particularly rewarding. Rather than attempting to answer all of the questions below, the main goal of this presentation is to provide a contextualized discussion of the dynamics, challenges, negotiations, and tensions in the globalization of Classics, based on both experiences on the ground and conceptual frameworks.

First, I address the issue of authenticity. What defines the ‘authenticity’, if any, of Classics? Who gets to define that ‘authenticity’? If there is no such thing as authentic Classics, what is the foundation for dialogue? What defines Vergil’s importance or relevance? Would it be his fame in the Roman period, or the Western Classical tradition, or the Chinese context? Should the promotion of Leo Strauss’ approaches to Classics by a group of scholars in China be perceived as a problem?

Second, I address the issue of universal Classics, The term “Classics” does not automatically designate the study of ancient Greek and Roman languages, literatures, and civilization,, since China has its own “Classics”. Graeco-Roman Classics is referred to as Western Classics in the Chinese context. Can Western Classics and Chinese both be “Classics” without the qualifiers? What is the danger and gain in having a universal “Classics”? This question is particularly relevant, especially since Western Classics and Chinese Classics have had a complex relationship in the past century, a relationship that sometimes can be characterized as remote yet subtle but, other times, as one of mutual reinforcement. 

Third, I address the issue of agency. In globalizing Classics, where should the agency be located? “Postclassicisms” approaches the discipline of Classics itself as a product or products of many choices (with respect to the formation of canon, for example) made since antiquity, and calls for investigation into “the historical practices through which we as classicists have acquired, defined, and charted our knowledge of antiquity”.  But who are “we”?  

Finally, I address the issue of translation. Although many Greek and Latin texts have been translated into Chinese in the past hundred years, there has been a dearth of theoretical reflections on transforming Greek and Latin into poetic or prosaic Chinese. While some prefer a “foreignizing” approach, others advocate a “domesticating” approach. What rubrics should be proposed for translators of Greek and Latin into languages that are grammatically and syntactically distant from them?

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The Impact of Immigration on Classical Studies in North America (organized by the Committee on the Status of Women and Minority Groups

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