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The Challenge and Alterity of Early Modernity

The Society for Early Modern Classical Reception (SEMCR) invites proposals for papers to be delivered at the 2024 meeting of the Society for Classical Studies in Chicago, IL. For its ninth annual panel, SEMCR invites abstracts on the theme of the challenge and alterity of Early Modernity.

In many ways, we trace to early modernity the foundations of the modern world in relation to such new phenomena as the nation state, the global economy, discourses of race and geography, and media technologies such as the printing press. At the same time, the break created with the medieval world is tied to the repositioning of classical antiquity (hence “the renaissance”) by means of the construction of the ancient archive through printing, editing, reproducing ancient text, expanding access to the study of classical languages (particularly Greek), through excavating practices that will eventually become archaeology, through the tutelary engagement of modern languages with Latin and Greek in projects of translation, grammar, and lexicography. Yet there are many ways in which our understanding of early modernity is conditioned by a nineteenth-century reception of it, a Whiggish history that glosses over the things early moderns did that do not fit into a secularizing, philological paradigm or that did not champion the Greeks as heroes of natural reason, anticipating the Enlightenment. There is an increasing desire to undo this modern reception of early modernity by pointing out it had a broader interest in antiquity than just Greeks and Romans (Grogan 2020), nor did it suddenly slough off medieval culture as a thing of the past.

We therefore seek abstracts for papers that detail how early moderns do not conform to the conventional notions of “Renaissance Man” as founded by such figures as Jacob Burkhardt ([1860] 1990). We wish to create a balanced panel of work exploring weird modernities that will enrich our appreciation for unique aspects of the Early Modern, and challenge our assumptions of a progressive temporality that on the one hand becomes rational, democratic, and secular through the infusion of classical culture at the close of the Middle Ages, while on the other steers clear of the irrationalities and superstitions of all past eras in charting its own course.

Some themes to consider by way of example:

  • The concurrent interest in the medieval versions of the Trojan Saga with the newly recovered Homeric versions. Spain, for example, had the first poetic translation of the Odyssey by Gonzalo Pérez (Muñoz Sanchez 2015), and yet its sales paled in comparison to the multiple editions of the Crónica Troyana, based on the medieval Troy tradition, yet rewritten in the prose of the libros de caballería (Rebhan 2006; Sanz Julián 2015). Ginés Pérez de Hita, effectively the creator of the modern historical novel in his Moorish tales of Granada, also produced a massive epic poem on the medieval Trojan saga (Crosas 2014).

  • The early modern interest in magic and Neoplatonism, which challenges the paradigm of nascent secular rationalism.

  • The concomitant interest in ancient religions and Christianity, which challenges our disciplinary banishment of Christianity from classical studies.

  • The inclusion of Hebrew in the study of ancient languages and how this alters the horizon on antiquity and early Jewish modernity.

  • Ethnographic and linguistic theories with regards to minority European languages/cultures or those of the new world that are at times bewildering amalgams of Christian and classical ideas. This includes how the ongoing Christian polemic with ancient “paganism” shaped the interpretation of indigenous rituals and religions in the Americas and elsewhere.

  • Changes and debates on gender, the education and role of women, and marriage that both draw from and overturn ancient and/or Christian paradigms.

We are committed to creating a congenial and collaborative forum for the infusion of new ideas into classics, and hence welcome abstracts that are exploratory in nature as well as abstracts of latter-stage research. Above all, we aim to show how the field of early modern classical reception can bear on a wide range of literary and cultural study, and to dispel the notion of an intimidating barrier to entry.

Abstracts of no more than 400 words (excluding bibliography) and suitable for a 15-20 minute presentation should be sent as an email attachment to All persons who submit abstracts must be SCS members in good standing. The abstracts will be judged anonymously: please do not identify yourself in any way on the abstract page. Proposals must be received by March 1, 2023.

Works Cited

Burckhardt, Jakob. [1860] 1990. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Translated by S.G.C. Middlemore. London: Penguin.

Crosas, Francisco. 2015. “Tradición y orginalidad en la Historia de Troya de Ginés Pérez de Hita (1596).” In El texto infinito: tradicíon y reescritura en la Edad Media y el Renacimiento, ed. C. Esteve, pp. 441-448.

Grogan, Jane. 2020. Beyond Greece and Rome: Reading the Ancient Near East in Early Modern Europe. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Muñoz Sanchez, Juan Ramón, ed. 2015. La Ulixea de Homero, traducida de griego en lengua castellana por el secretario Gonzalo Pérez. University of Málaga: Analecta Malacitana.

Rehban, Erin Marisa. 2006. The Editions and Context of the Crónica troyana in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iberia. Dissertation, U California at Santa Barbara.

Sanz Julián, María. 2015. “La ordinatio y los paratextos en la Crónica troyana de Juan de Burgos.” Atalaya 15: