The myths, texts, and history of ancient Rome are well represented in the work of Machado de Assis (1839-1908), a seminal Brazilian writer (Graham, 1999). Although the influence of other literatures and authors have always been professed by Machadian scholarship (Rocha, 2005), classical tradition is eminently present in the author’s imagination, as well as the narrator-writer of the novel himself alludes, allegorically (Hansen 1999),in chapter two of Dom Casmurro: era gosto do tempo meter sabor clássico e figuras antigas em pinturas americanas (“it must have been the taste of the time to put classical flavor and ancient figures into paintings done in America” (sc. Brazil) – Dom Casmurro, transl. Gledson, p. 5). A small number of studies about classical themes within Machadian work have been written and, among these, one should single out the articles of Brandão (2001, 2008) and Ramos (2011), which explore the influence of Greek literature and mythology in Machado’s works, respectively.
Nevertheless, none or almost any work about this subject appeared in Anglophone contexts, and the aim of this paper is to put this discussion into a more extensive dialog. The diasporic ancient legacy is received in Machado’s early postcolonial context (the Brazilian independence hallmark is 1822) in a paradoxical manner: the author uses ancient reminiscences in his literary creation, but he also criticizes the use of the same legacy because sometimes it becomes a weapon of postcolonial elite oppression or of persistent “colonial iniquities”, as Schwarz prefers (2005:2). What could explain this Machadian appropriation is the likewise paradoxically poetic and oppressive way by which classical tradition arrives to the neoclassical palaces and to the slums of Rio de Janeiro, as the paper seeks to demonstrate.