Each time I venture to speak of so-called Greek things… I tremble.
—Jacques Derrida, We Other Greeks.
The stories and poems contained here, in the first issue of Pericles at Play, exist between the twin peaks of modernity and antiquity, tapping into a sequence of signals that have been pulsating throughout literature since the archaic past. Bursting into sublimity in places, quietly constructing or deconstructing concepts, interrogating, making beautiful, the pieces stake minor and major interventions in the great remix that is literature and classical reception.
For two of the pieces we turn to the literary output of Greece itself and its burgeoning crop of short stories, most of which touch antiquity with only the lightest caress. Dimosthenis Papamarkos’ Arise draws on the primeval well of nostos stories to narrate a Greek’s return to his village from the Balkan Wars, while Kostas Peroulis’ In the Museum turns to the industrial history of Athens for a realist piece, writing about a former employee of the gas works returning to his old factory, now a museum, meditating on his past. He throws only a mere glance at the ‘ruins with the tombs’ of Keramikos on his way home.
The other pieces interrogate the position of the foreigner (tourist, archaeologist, artist, expat) in Greece: from James Ackhurst’s vitriolic poem plotting a love affair and breakup between Greece to California, to Harriet Rix’s retelling of her youthful visit to Patrick Leigh Fermor in the Peloponnese, breaking into a study of memory shot through with a heady intertextuality. Annabel Dover details the compassions and confusions of relationships between people, capturing particularities in life and humanity. Tom Willis’ We Other Greeks describes the almost supernatural kinship felt by a group of expats in Greece, set against the endless stimulants of being abroad, while Joshua Barley’s Epitaph questions love in a city of transient visitors and unburied dead. James Ackhurst’s poem Value is a fitting conclusion to the collection. With its economy of form and content, so much alluded to but left unsaid, it rounds off many of the themes visible in the pieces, the ‘you’ hanging in an allusive second person, part particular, part universal.
The themes of the pieces are at once individual and form a whole, tied together by geography and topography, the transience of being and the ineluctable draw of return, the anxiety of belatedness, the trauma of love, and what the ancient world might — or could — mean in modernity.
Professor Lorna Hardwick issued an intervention in 2014 that invited classical receptions researchers to ‘become more confident and more ambitious in thinking about how their work relates to ways of thinking about the world’. In a world shaped and reshaped by ideas of antiquity, we hope that this modest contribution is of use and pleasure to all readers, as well as those actively engaged in classics, classical receptions, and beyond.