“A Quest for Remembrance”: The Descent into the Classical Underworld

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
University of Warwick

'A Quest for Remembrance' : The Descent into the Classical Underworld"

A One-day Interdisciplinary Conference at the University of Warwick 

Saturday 20th May 2017

Keynote speaker: Professor Edith Hall, King's College London

"μνήσασθαι ἐμεῖο" [remember me]
Odyssey 11.71

Katabasis, the descent into the underworld, is an often literary genre whose earliest examples go back to classical antiquity, including the epics of Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and Rome. Since Rachel Falconer's influential Hell in Contemporary Literature (2007), examining katabatic themes has become a popular strand of research. However, particularly in the 20th century, the descent to the underworld has been engaged with in a number of different art forms, such as the epic of Derek Walcott, the poetry of Eavan Boland, and the paintings of Romare Bearden. This conference aims to provide an interdisciplinary perspective on the potential uses of katabasis and its relationship to memory, encapsulating methodological approaches from departments as varied as Literature, Philosophy, History, Classics, and History of Art. Within recent years, more and more scholars have recognised the importance of memory for analysing the structures and themes in both ancient descent narratives and their adaptations. During the conference, the discussions will thus revolve around the various roles of memory in ancient katabatic tales and answer the question of how and why these roles are adapted in later re-tellings of those narratives. Therein, a pivotal aim is to re-evaluate Rachel Falconer's claim that the descent narrative is an inherently 'memorious' genre.

As a further outcome of the conference, I wish to submit a book proposal for an edited volume on katabasis with articles that provide an interdisciplinary perspective on the overlapping concerns of classical reception and memory studies in the reception of ancient tropes. This publication will be one of the first to recognise this overlap in methodological concerns and to initiate a discussion from a variety of departments on the potential of considering classical themes and tropes for the analysis of memory, as well as the potential of memory studies for the analysis of classical reception. 


We invite abstracts of up to 250 words, plus a brief biography, for papers of no more than 20 minutes or panels of three associated papers. Submissions can cover but are not limited to the following themes:

Katabasis and Literature

  1. Katabasis in the poetry of Wilfred Owen
  2. Katabasis in Derek Walcott's Omeros
  3. Katabasis in T.S. Eliot's “Wasteland”
  4. The Classical Undeworld in Dante's Inferno
  5. The Classical Undeworld in Milton's Paradise Lost 

Katabasis and Art

  1. The Classical Underworld in the paintings of Romare Bearde
  2. Depictions of the Classical Underworld in Romantic Paintings

Katabasis and Film

  1. Katabasis in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
  2. Katabasis in Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus
  3. Katabasis in Disney's Hercules

Katabasis and Video Games

  1. Underworld References in Hidetaka Miyazaki's Dark Souls
  2. The Classical Underworld in Jonathan Knight and Stephen Barry's Dante's Inferno
  3. The Classical Underworld in David Jaffe's God of War Series

Postcolonial uses of Descent Narratives

  1. Descent Narratives in the Caribbean
  2. Descent Narratives in Ireland
  3. Descent Narratives in South Africa

The Reception of specific katabatic narratives 

  1. The Reception of Odyssey XI
  2. The Reception of Aeneid VI
  3. The Reception of Plato's Myth of Er
  4. The Reception of the Orpheus Myth

Katabasis and War

  1. Katabasis and Traumatic Memory
  2. The Battleground as Underworld Metaphor
  3. Katabasis and World War I/II

- Metaphors of Descent Narratives in historical narratives
- Metaphors of Descent Narratives in philosophical texts (i.e. Plato's Replublic
- Theoretical overlaps: Memory Studies and Classical Reception
- etc.

Abstracts should be sent to catabasis.warwick2017@gmail.com by 31 October 2016

This conference is organised by Madeleine Scherer (Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick) and funded by the Humanities Research Centre, and the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies.