publication . Article . 2007

A New “Romen” Empire: Toni Morrison's Love and the Classics

Roynon, Tessa Kate;
Open Access
  • Published: 01 Apr 2007 Journal: Journal of American Studies, volume 41, pages 31-47 (issn: 0021-8758, eissn: 1469-5154, Copyright policy)
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (CUP)
  • Country: United Kingdom
<jats:p>An important but little-studied feature of Toni Morrison's novels is their ambivalent relationship with classical tradition. Morrison was a classics minor while at Howard University, and her deployment of the cultural practices of ancient Greece and Rome is fundamental to her radical project. Indeed, the works' revisionary classicism extends far beyond the scope of established criticism, which has largely confined itself to the engagement with Greek tragedy in <jats:italic>Beloved</jats:italic>, with the Demeter/Kore myth in <jats:italic>The Bluest Eye</jats:italic> and with allusions to Oedipus and Odysseus in <jats:italic>Song of Solomon</jats:italic>....
free text keywords: General Arts and Humanities, General Social Sciences, Mythology, Sociology, Classicism, Paradise, media_common.quotation_subject, media_common, Classics, Historiography, Ancient Greece, Greek tragedy, Classical tradition, Empire, PS
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39 references, page 1 of 3

7 William Vance, America's Rome ( Yale and London : Yale University Press, 1989), xxix.

8 Morrison, Love, 133. Peter Stothard sums up this intellectual tradition in his review of Tom Holland's recently published Rubicon : The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic ( London : Little, Brown, 2003). Stothard writes that the author's '' notion of Americans as neo-Romans is not an original idea and has been much bandied about by foreign policy watchers since the end of the Cold War. _ Holland's narrative of the first century before Christ is well crafted for those with current Americans on their mind '' ; Peter Stothard, '' From Capitol to Capitol, '' Times Literary Supplement, 3 Oct. 2003, 6.

9 Toni Morrison, Tar Baby ( London : Picador, 1991 ; first published 1981), 203, 147.

10 Morrison, Love, 26. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, Roman portraiture is '' especially noted for its verism, the meticulous recording of facial characteristics including such unflattering features as wrinkles, warts and moles '' ; Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edn rev. (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003), 1229. For analysis of the political function of portraiture and statuary in the early American Republic see Clive Bush, '' The Hero as Representative, '' in idem, The Dream of Reason : American Consciousness and Cultural Achievement from Independence to the Civil War ( London : Edward Arnold, 1977), 19-57, and Gary Wills, '' Fame, '' in idem, Cincinnatus : George Washington and the American Enlightenment (Garden City, New York : Doubleday, 1984), 109-32.

11 Morrison, Tar Baby, 23. 12 Ibid., 14. 13 Morrison, Love, 53.

14 Eleanor Traylor, '' The Fabulous World of Toni Morrison : Tar Baby, '' in Nellie McKay, ed., Critical Essays on Toni Morrison ( Boston : G. K. Hall, 1988), 135-49, 138. Traylor's essay is important because it expounds the various classical connotations of the name '' Valerian. '' '' A farmer, '' Valerian '' was Roman emperor from A.D. 253-260 '' ; the name '' derives from the Latin proper noun Valerius, the name of a Roman clan '' ; and a related verb is valeo, which can mean both '' to be strong '' and '' to bid farewell '' ; ibid., 138. But Traylor neither asserts nor analyses the important connection between Valerian's associations with ancient Rome and his colonialist act of buying and settling '' an island in the Caribbean for almost nothing '' ; Morrison, Tar Baby, 50.

15 Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land : Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 6, 67.

16 Louise H. Westling, The Green Breast of the New World : Landscape, Gender, and American Fiction (Athens, GA and London : University of Georgia Press, 1996), 5.

17 Martin D. Snyder, '' The Hero in the Garden : Classical Contributions to the Early Images of America, '' in John W. Eadie, ed., Classical Traditions in Early America (Ann Arbor, MI : Center for Co-ordination of Ancient and Modern Studies, 1976), 139-69.

18 John C. Shields, American Aeneas : Classical Origins of the American Self (Knoxville, TN : University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 26. See Kolodny, 4-22, for her discussion of the role of pastoralism in colonization. She writes that '' a uniquely American pastoral vocabulary '' involves a '' yearning to know and to respond to the landscape as feminine. '' Westling observes (with some tautology) that '' When the Europeans first encountered the immense new continents of North and South America, they naturally projected familiar expectations upon what they saw before them : mythical conceptions of the Golden World from Hesiod, Edenic visions from Judeo-Christian culture, pastoral expectations from the Classics '' ; Westling, 33. On the echoes of depictions of the Golden Age in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Virgil's Eclogues in accounts of the New World, Martin Snyder quotes, for example, Peter Martyr's description of the inhabitants of the New World (on whom he himself never set eyes) : '' they seeme to live in that golden worlde of which olde writers speake so much '' ; Snyder, 151. For Shields's discussion of the classicism of the discovery narratives see American Aeneas, 3-8.

19 Nina Baym, '' Melodramas of Beset Manhood : How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors '' (1981), reptd. in Lucy Maddox, ed., Locating American Studies : The Evolution of a Discipline ( Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 215-34.

20 Kolodny, 12, 148 ; italics in original.

21 William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain ( New York : New Directions, 1956 ; first published 1925).

22 Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita ( New York : Vintage, 1997 ; first published 1955).

31 Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America : The Question of the Other, trans. Richard Howard ( New York : Harper and Row, 1984), 129.

39 references, page 1 of 3
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