The Politics of Classicism in the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley

Emily Greenwood

in Ancient Slavery and Abolition

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199574674
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728723 | DOI:

Series: Classical Presences

The Politics of Classicism in the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley

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Phyllis Wheatley’s use of Classics, which early reception often dismissed as a derivate assimilation of neoclassical conventions, raises questions about whether or not Classics is the preserve of the free, rather than the enslaved, and whether or not it is the preserve of a particular racial group. The chapter shifts the critical terminology away from ‘influence’, with its associations of passive receivership (the ‘impression of the master’), to the discourse of allusion with the suggestion of self-conscious play on Latin eytmologies and classical themes. This article argues that Wheatley herself was fully aware of the cultural presumption constituted by an enslaved African reading and writing about Classical themes and that she adopted classical signifiers of African-ness in order to mediate her authorial persona. Classics played a key role in Wheatley’s ‘poetics of manumission’.

Keywords: influence; neoclassicism; allusion; African-ness; poetics; manumission

Chapter.  9562 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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