Tracing the Establishment of Political Society: Remembering and Forgetting in Ancient Greek Literature

Raudnitz, Sophie (2018). Tracing the Establishment of Political Society: Remembering and Forgetting in Ancient Greek Literature. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the connection between memory and the formation of political society in ancient Greek literature. It is grounded in the notion that memory is a political process: its narratives are shaped by the social and political groups to which we belong. In turn, what and how we remember plays a role in shaping and reshaping those same groups.

The thesis examines three ‘memory texts’: the Odyssey, which contains a moment in which forgetting is tied explicitly to political progress; the Trojan Women, a play driven by the urge to remember and memorialise as a way of trying to retain political identity; and the Theaetetus, which not only contains the first known attempt to create a model of memory but also ‘remembers’ the Apology. The texts are also united by the theme of the law court which runs through all three in the form of a metaphor, an agōn and an actual law court trial. This provides an opportunity to examine testimony as the communication of memory in a political context.

The thesis proposes that an approach informed by the theory of cultural, collective and traumatic memory opens new avenues not only for the analysis of these classical texts but also for considering their cultural and political impact at the time of their creation or performance. It also suggests that such an analysis offers a productive alternative to the traditional, individual-focused study of trauma in literature. It finds that while, in certain ways, memory supports the texts’ dominant or normative narratives, it also provides ways to challenge them. This process of watching or reading with memory is constitutive of skills relating to citizenship and is provocative of debate about the norms and values of society.

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