Classical Crossroads—Greco-Roman Culture and Louisiana Poems

2015 Louisiana Studies Conference Presentation Abstract

“Classical Crossroads—Greco-Roman Culture and Louisiana Poems”

Presented by John P. Doucet and David Middleton, Nicholls State University

The pervasive influence of Greek and Roman culture on both Europe and America is self-evident. Until fairly recently, mastery of Latin and some knowledge of Greek were cornerstones of formal education. Greek and Roman history, literature, and myth were studied for themselves as particular embodiments of universal beauty, goodness, and truth but also were also transposed into the vernacular or employed in metaphors.

One need only think of the translation of Homer into English by George Chapman (1559-1634), The Greek Anthology (translated in The Renaissance), Shakespeare’s plays such as Julius Caesar, John Keats’s sonnet on Chapman (“On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”), or Tennyson’s dramatic monologue “Ulysses”—on up through T.S. Eliot’s use of the Greek prophet Tiresias (from Sophocles and Ovid) as the center of consciousness in that quintessential modern poem, The Waste Land (1922) to see how important Greco-Roman culture has been to western poetry. As Eliot said in his famous “Notes on The Waste Land,” “Tiresias . . . is . . . the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest . . . What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem.”

Louisiana poets have made use of the classics in poems otherwise rooted in Louisiana history and geography. Whether by way of a single metaphor; a transposition of a character or an entire poem or scene into a Louisiana setting; or the retelling of a myth on its own terms, Louisiana and Greco-Roman writers have certainly met at one of the many crossroads that make up the map of our state’s literary heritage.

Louisiana poets John Doucet and David Middleton will read and offer commentary on a selection of their poems that illustrate this crossing of the Greek Pythian Road and the Roman Appian Way with Louisiana Highway One.