Balkanising Classics: Theorising a New Perspective on Greco-Roman Antiquity

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 

Two conceptual territories bracket Europe’s imaginary geography: Greco-Roman Antiquity and the modern Balkans. According to Artemis Leontis, an “abstract principle of territorial identification” ties the political and cultural life of both modern Hellas and Western Europe to ancient Greek civilization. Rome has similarly been at the center of “a long and ongoing tradition of appropriating classical history and literature” to foster imperialist “narrative[s] of the exceptional progress” (Barnard). In comparison, the space of the Balkans seems peripheral to the project of European identity. Livy and Herodotus already described the inhabitants of Paeonia and Illyria (regions roughly corresponding to contemporary Balkans) as turbulent savages living on the edges of their world, seafaring people with a reputation for piracy. In more recent years, the erasure of the Balkans from the European geocultural map was exacerbated by the poor understanding of the “U.S.-led West” (Longinović) of the violent breakup of the Yugoslavia.

I propose that Yugoslavia and the Balkans more generally stands simultaneously outside an imagined “West” and neatly enclosed inside of it, flanked as it is by Italy to the northwest and Greece to the southeast. The erstwhile federation of Yugoslavia and its disintegration represent a fraught object of European identification whose vector runs counter to a notional geo-cultural continuity with ancient Greece rooted in the neo-Hellenizing narratives of the Western imagination. Around this panel, I want to gather scholars who work at the intersection of Classics and Balkan studies and trouble the epistemological gaze through which ancient Athens and Rome and contemporary Balkans have been approached for decades in the academy. I am interesting in amplifying the voices of scholars whose work challenges the fantasy that Greece and Rome are the birthplace of everything that is civilized about the Western world from the unique perspective that the Balkans afford.