Once upon a time I had a Facebook account, but I shut it down as a waste of time; this afternoon, though, I set up a Twitter account for Classicizing Philadelphia: @classicizephila. If Classicizing Philadelphia is serious about being a public history project, as well as a digital humanities project, then we’ll have to find ways to tell people about Philadelphia’s long conversation with Greece in Rome—even if we have to do it 140 characters at a time.
In 2014 Classicizing Philadelphia continued to evolve. The public face of the project now consists of two sites, entered by the gateway at classicizingphiladelphia.org: this blog, and the main content site at classicizingphiladelphia.omeka.net. Soon there will be a third piece, a mobile tour developed with the assistance of Interactive Mechanics and the generous support of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States. Thanks to these and other partners and supporters, including Bryn Mawr College and ARTstor, Classicizing Philadelphia has moved in twelve months from plan to fledgling reality.
This is a beginning, but set against the extent and richness of Philadelphia’s long engagement with Greece and Rome, it is a very small beginning indeed. Classicizing Philadelphia needs your help in telling the story of Philadelphia’s long conversation with classical antiquity. If you are interested in developing content for the main content site or the mobile tour app, if your academic research or teaching focus on classical reception or Philadelphia history, or if you see another way that you might be part of Classicizing Philadelphia, please contact me at classicizingphiladelphia(at)gmail.com.
Lee T. Pearcy
Director, Classicizing Philadelphia
In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer Nancy Haller reviews “Antigona,” a flamenco version of Sophocles’ Antigone. Here is a clear case of classical reception, and in Philadelphia–but does it belong in Classicizing Philadelphia? Or to put the question another way, is mere location enough to establish locality? Local reception projects like Classicizing Philadelphia, Classicizing Chicago, and the projects now getting under way in Washington, D.C. and New York face this question constantly, especially as they shift their view from the 18th and 19th centuries into the 20th and 21st.
The Internet is not the first technology to smooth out variations in civic cultures. It makes sense to talk about local ways of doing theater in America before the Civil War, but in the postbellum era the increased ease and range of railroad travel facilitated the rise of touring “combination companies,” and from 1896 the domination of the New York-based Theatrical Syndicate led to a decline in the variety of local and regional theatrical cultures. When an event like “Antigona” appears in Philadelphia, it comes as spectacle from afar, as an occasion for disengaged aesthetic admiration. Philadelphia audiences go to see what is being done elsewhere and to admire artistic technique, just as, perhaps, they admired Adelaide Ristori and Francesca Janauschek when those actresses played Medea at the Academy of Music in the 1860s and 1870s.
Ironically enough, Haller’s review suggests, the flamenco “Antigona” is grounded in a local history: the case of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who lost his job in 2008 because of his investigations into brutal crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and Franco era. “In the most emotionally charged aspect of this case,” Heller writes, “Garzón ordered that 19 mass graves be opened, and the bodies identified and returned to relatives for proper burial.” Antigone’s decision to defy authority and bury her brother reminded Martín Santangelo, artistic director of Noche Flamenca, of Judge Garzón. Sophocles’ play clearly speaks to current trauma in Spain. What does it say to Philadelphia?
Performances based on, drawing on, inspired or provoked by, or simply invoking Greek and Roman stories, plays, myths, or iconography have been a part of Philadelphia’s cultural life since before the American Revolution. Here are a few from the 2014 Philly Fringe Festival; quotations come from the festival’s program. See also fringearts.com. The Fringe is a good thing in September–go and see.
Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church
“Antigone with all male performers–except it’s the here and now and there is the runway and there is the pop culture and designer names and voguing and there is sexuality and strutting and grief and dance history and deep bass.”
Living in Exile: a retelling of the Iliad
“A single act of compassion . . . inside this odyssey of blistering hearts living in exile. They are not cast in stone.”
Oedipus The Musical
“When a herpes plague spreads through the city, King Oedipus is forced to discover the incestuous roots of his dysfunctional family tree . . . songs like ‘YOLO Apollo’, ‘Hashtag Plague’ and ‘Ballad of a Cougar’.”
The Rape of Lucrece
“. . . one-man interpretation of Shakespeare’s epic poem . . .”
They Call Me Arethusa
“Arethusa guides you spoken-word-style through the stories of her Greek mythological sisters and the true testimonials of modern women.”
“. . . an imaginative an immersive adaptation of the famed fables by Aesop.”
Classicizing Philadelphia welcomes Megan Dickman as Research Assistant for the 2014-2015 academic year. Megan is a graduate student in the Department of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies at Bryn Mawr with interests in space and boundaries, especially in the exile poems of Ovid. She will be helping to develop content for a prototype mobile tour of sites in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood.
Sara Sieteski, Project Associate for Design and Implementation during 2013-2014, has chosen to step down from Classicizing Philadelphia to devote more time to her study of sites on Hadrian’s Wall and other projects. Sara’s contributions moved the project forward, and I am grateful to her for her help.