Journal Article

A ‘Homeric’ hymn to Stalin: performing safe criticism in ancient Greek?

Han Baltussen

in Classical Receptions Journal

Volume 7, issue 2, pages 223-241
Published in print June 2015 | ISSN: 1759-5134
Published online May 2014 | e-ISSN: 1759-5142 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/crj/clu008
A ‘Homeric’ hymn to Stalin: performing safe criticism in ancient Greek?

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This article offers an analysis of an unusual ‘Hymn to Stalin’, written in Homeric Greek, but found in a twentieth-century Czech novel. The examination of the style and context of the Ode reveals the allusive use of language, which illustrates how veiled criticism in a fictional account can inform us about historical events, even if it has an autobiographical origin. The analysis shows how the author, the Czech Václav Pinkava (pseudonym Jan Křesadlo), skilfully appropriates the hymnal style of both Stalinist and ancient Greek precedents, and argues that the use of Homeric vocabulary ingeniously transfers shades of meaning from the original Homeric context into the modern context (‘cracking the code’). The elaborate framing of the poem (authored by the protagonist in the novel, which is published under a pseudonym) also contributes to the overall impression that Pinkava used this format both as a send-up of the Stalinist literature of praise and as an example of ‘safe criticism’ or ‘Aesopian language’ — the subversive strategy of criticizing an oppressive regime by way of a cleverly constructed literary work for a knowing reader.

Journal Article.  8433 words. 

Subjects: Classical Reception ; Methods and Historiography ; Intellectual History ; Literature

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