Classics and Cinema

Martin M. Winkler

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:
Classics and Cinema

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Since the cinema’s birth in 1895, Classical Antiquity has played a major part in the history of storytelling in moving images. Films either present their mythical, literary, and historical material in ancient settings, or they transpose classical themes and historical or narrative archetypes to contemporary or even future times. For most of the 20th century, classical scholars and teachers neglected the presence of Greece and Rome on the screen, although there were some honorable exceptions. (For very early examples see Teaching Antiquity with Film.) Since the 1990s, however, classical scholarship has increasingly focused on this area of reception, which is now outpacing all others. Two statements published in the Classical Review, one of the profession’s foremost book review journals, illustrate the change that occurred in less than a decade. In 1999, a reviewer began with the following statement: “The combination of classics and film studies is not a common field of interdisciplinary research” (Classical Review, new ser., 49 1999:244–246). In 2005, a reviewer observed: “Successfully—and fruitfully—the study of classics and cinema has asserted itself as a leader in the field of reception studies” (Classical Review, new ser., 55 2005:688–690, at 688). Nevertheless, the study of classics and cinema and related media (television, computer videos) is still evolving. At the same time, it is a broad and demanding field that requires a double expertise from its practitioners: a sound knowledge of all aspects of the ancient cultures on the one hand, and close familiarity with film history, technology, theory, aesthetics, and economics on the other. These are preconditions for all serious interpretive work on cinema and Antiquity. It may be true that nobody can serve two masters, but classical film philologists ought to be ready to serve nine mistresses in order to do justice to the artistic areas over which they preside: Clio (history), Calliope (epic), Melpomene (tragedy), Thalia (comedy), Terpsichore (song and dance), Urania (astrology), Erato, Euterpe, and Polyhymnia (all poetry). These are joined by their youngest sibling: “the tenth Muse,” as poet, painter, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau has called the cinema. Naturally, these ladies expect to be loved by philological cinephiles!

Article.  8682 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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