Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition
Post on 28-Sep-2016
2007 The AuthorJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 15141537, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00496.x
Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition
Tessa Roynon*Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford
AbstractThis article summarizes a significant new approach to the work of the African-American novelist Toni Morrison: analysis of her widespread engagement withclassical tradition. After discussing the prior critical perspectives on this subject,and highlighting the importance of the classics in Morrisons intellectualformation, it demonstrates that the authors ambivalent classicism is central tothe rewriting of American history that her oeuvre enacts. I go on to show thather insistence on the interactions between African and Graeco-Roman culturescontributes to her reinvention of classical tradition as a radical force, and I endby illuminating the implications for literary and American Studies that therecognition of her classicism must possess.
From October 2006 until January 2007 Toni Morrison was Guest Curatorat the Muse du Louvre in Paris. Her tenure there comprised projectscentred on the theme of The Foreigners Home, among the mostinteresting of which was her construction of several itineraries through thecollections of Antiquities which illuminated the experience of othernessin ancient civilizations. Like her recently published revisions of AesopsFables, Morrisons interest in foreigners in the land of Egypt or imagesof woman in Ancient Greece is indicative of a preoccupation with theclassical world and its legacies that has been a consistent (but oftenoverlooked) feature of her intellectual life and literary output since heryouth. This article, adopting a thematic rather than a chronologicalapproach to all eight of the novels that Morrison has published to date,argues that her engagement with classical tradition is fundamental to herradical critique of American culture.1
The research which this article summarizes sets out not simply toilluminate the extent of Morrisons classical allusiveness, but to suggestwhy his author one clearly committed to the politics of her identity asan African-American woman should make recourse to a heritage thatis conventionally seen as European, white and canonical. Why arethere Moirai in The Bluest Eye (1970), a Circe in Song of Solomon (1977),and a Seneca, Pallas, Apollo, Juvenal and an August Cato in Paradise
2007 The Author Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 15141537, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00496.xJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
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(1998)? Why are there echoes of Dionysiac ritual and classical scapegoatingpractice in Sula (1974)? Why does the description of the settling of Isledes Chevaliers in Tar Baby (1981) reverse the creation myth with whichOvid begins the Metamorphoses; why do Aeschyluss Oresteia, SophoclessOedipus the King and Euripidess Medea all resonate in Beloved (1987)? Whydoes Violet come from a mean little place called Rome in Jazz (1992,138), and why is Romen called Romen in Love (2003)? My contentionis that Morrisons classicism comprises a dialogue both with the nationsGraeco-Roman inheritance and with classically informed literaryforebears as various as Phillis Wheatley, William Faulkner and RalphEllison. Her engagement with the ancient world, furthermore, ischaracterized by a strategic ambivalence that is to say that she is awareof both the classical traditions hallowed position within hegemonicculture and of the traditions simultaneous subversive potential. I arguethat is this very ambivalence that enables not just her deconstruction ofAmericas past and present but also her articulation of its possible future.
An initial overview of prior critical analysis contextualizes my claimsfor the significance of Morrisons engagement with the cultures of Greeceand Rome. I go on to outline the authors formal training in Classics aswell as her own careful but often-conflicted articulations, in keyinterviews and essays, of her position in relation to classical tradition. Thesubsequent central and longest section of this article highlights the ways inwhich the novels deployment of the ancient world and of the pragmaticclassicism of the national dominant culture effects a rewriting of Americanhistory and a challenge to conservative conceptions of Americanness. Ithen explore Morrisons insistence on the interconnectedness of Africanand classical cultures, arguing that the novelists recontamination ofclassical tradition participates in past and current scholarly debates on theEnlightenments construction of its classical inheritance as a pure and purifyingforce. And a demand for a re-evaluation of Morrisons relationship withvarious classically informed literary ancestors forms the last part of thisassessment of the novelist and of her contribution to the new AmericanStudies.
The Critics on Morrisons Classicism; Morrison on the Classics
To the best of my knowledge, my project is the first full-length, oeuvre-widestudy of the function of classical tradition in Morrisons work. Priorscholarship comprises individual essays examining Graeco-Romanallusiveness in single novels, and has for the most part focused on refer-ences to the Demeter/Kore myth in The Bluest Eye, on the deploymentof Oedipal and Odyssean paradigms in Song of Solomon, and on theengagement with Greek tragedy in Beloved.2 Articles by Madonne Miner(on The Bluest Eye), Kimberly Benston (on Song of Solomon), EleanorTraylor (on Tar Baby) and Shelley Haley (on Beloved ) are particularly
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2007 The Author Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 15141537, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00496.xJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
illuminating. And a welcome new addition to this field is Patrice Rankineschapter on Solomon in his recent book on Ellison and black classicism,Ulysses in Black (2006).
A common feature of criticism exploring the Graeco-Roman allusivenessin Morrisons work is its authors understandable expression of anxietyabout what they are doing. Hirsch, for example, begins the Prelude toher Mother/Daughter Plot (2000) by asserting that the classical paradigmsshe discusses belong firmly to the tradition of Western patriarchy andthat it is surprising that classic Western structures still serve as frames ofreference in the novels of Morrison and Alice Walker (29). And ShelleyHaley begins her 1995 essay on Beloved and Medea by declaring herunease (178). It is of course essential that critics take account ofMorrisons complaint to Nellie McKay, in 1983, that responses to herwork had often failed to evolve out of [her] culture, [her] world, andthat other kinds of structures had been imposed on her writing(Taylor-Guthrie 151). But as the following summary of Morrisons ownarticulated perspectives on the classical tradition demonstrate, her attitudesto it are as ever-changing and conflicted as her interest in it is consistent.Critical approaches that are sensitive to the ambivalence of both herfictional and non-fictional classical engagement surely illuminate ratherthan distort what is a central feature of her work. For it is her embraceof contradiction and her double-edged engagement with Americasclassical heritage that reveal classical paradigms to be neither as firmlynor as exclusively entrenched in the tradition of Western patriarchy asWestern patriarchy would like them to be.
Morrison studied four years of Latin at Lorain High School, and was aClassics minor (while an English major) at Howard University from1951 to 53. Her opinion of the education she received at Howard isitself characterized by ambivalence: in a 1985 interview she reflected thatshe was terrifically fascinated by the Western curriculum that sheencountered there, but at the same time recalled the alarm she provokedin the English department by asking to do a paper on Black Charactersin Shakespeare (Taylor-Guthrie 1745). While the university Bulletinfor the years 195153 reveals that the type of class available to her wasthat of the uncontroversial survey, she may well have been influenced bythe indomitable Frank Snowden Jr., who was head of department at thattime, who had been an instructor at Howard since 1940, and who wasEmeritus Professor there until his recent death.3 Snowden was himself apolitically enigmatic figure, that in recent years he was an outspokencritic of Afrocentric scholarship, and yet as early as 1946 he published anarticle on The Negro in Ancient Greece. The title of his first book,Blacks in Antiquity (1970) indicates the intellectual preoccupation of hiscareer and establishes a comparative context between the USA and theancient world that he may also have discussed in his teaching in the 1950s.Morrisons oeuvre-wide interest in racially conscious analogies between
2007 The Author Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 15141537, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00496.xJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
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America and the classical world may well originate in early exposure tosuch thought.4
Given Morrisons widespread engagement with Greek tragedy both inher novels and in her non-fictional discussions it seems likely that she tookProfessor Snowdens class, Greek Drama in English. The conventionalAristotelianism underpinning that syllabus may well have given rise to theunambiguously Aristotelian terms in which her M.A. thesis of 1955identifies Greek tragic elements in William Faulkners work, as well as thesense of the tragic that informs her own novels.5 In a 1981 interview shedefined the tragic mode in which she wrote as involving some catharsisand revelation and observed maybe its a consequence of my being aClassics minor; in 1985 she said of the endings of her novels that someknowledge is there the Greek knowledge what is the epiphany inGreek tragedy (Taylor-Guthrie 125, 177). Exemplifying these observationsare the mock-heroic depiction of Milkmans series of epiphanies in Songof Solomon or the recurring imagery of blindness and insight with whichMorrison describes the Founding Fathers downfall and redemption inParadise. In both representations, Aristotles concept of recognition ordiscovery are key.
In 1976 Morrison said of The Bluest Eyes Cholly that he lives a verytragic life. . . . He is the thing I keep calling a free man, not free in thelegal sense but free in his head (Taylor-Guthrie 20). All of her protagonistsare clearly informed by the conception of the tragic hero (traditionallyattributed to Aristotle) as one who has choice, as one who must decidebetween what Arthur Miller calls alternatives of a magnitude to havematerially changed the course of his life (Tragedy 165).6 Morrisondeploys the paradigm of the tragic hero both to assert the freedom of Sula,of Sethe, of Joe Trace, of Heed and, through showing that being freemeans being free to fall, to question uncritical dominant culturalcelebrations of liberty. Her consistent interest in the paradigm of thetragic chorus, meanwhile, similarly enables her to critique mainstreamAmerican ideology. In 1985 she observed that there is something aboutthe Greek chorus . . . that reminds [her] of what goes on in Black churchesand in jazz (Taylor-Guthrie 176).7 And in her key essay of 1989,Unspeakable Things Unspoken, she comments on the function of songand chorus, the heroic struggle between the claims of community andindividual hubris as indicative of the affinity between Greek tragedy,Afro-American communal structures and African cultural formations (2).Her use of Greek choric tradition and her manipulation of its similaritieswith patterns of call and response enable her to examine the relationshipbetween the group and the individual in the Nietzschean formation ofthe crowd that follow Shadrack in Sula, in Milkmans relationship withvarious communities in Song of Solomon, and Sethes and Denvers isolationfrom and reabsorption into society in Beloved.8 Morrisons emphasis onthe importance of the chorus or community, which comprises a departure
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from Aristotelian privileging of individual agency, is central to her critiqueof American individualism.
While in Unspeakable Things Unspoken the author attests to feelingintellectually at home in Greek tragedy (23), within the same essay shewarns against critics making connections between black and dominantcultural traditions that subsume the former into the hierarchies of thelatter. Finding or imposing Western influences in/on Afro-Americanliterature has value, but when its sole purpose is to place value only wherethat influence is located it is pernicious (10), she writes, and continues,These . . . approaches can lead to an incipient orphanization of the workin order to issue its adoption papers (10). But the same essay also containsan implicit suggestion as to how to connect Graeco-Roman and Africantraditions without enacting orphanization, and it is this process thatMorrisons classicism itself comprises. As part of her discussion aboutcanon formation, the author mentions the theory that the true (African)origins of Ancient Greek culture have been strategically erased. Cham-pioning Martin Bernals Black Athena (1987) as a stunning investigationof the field, she summarizes his argument. Seventy years to eliminateEgypt as the cradle of civilization . . . and replace it with Greece, shelaments (6).9 My work demonstrates that much of her own fictionalclassical allusiveness asserts the interconnectedness of African andGraeco-Roman cultures that the dominant culture has obscured. Inengaging Greece and Rome the author is not borrowing from or eveninsisting on her right to share in a pure, white legacy. Instead, likePauline Hopkins a century earlier, or like Derek Walcott or Wole Soyinkain more recent times, she is reappropriating a tradition which emergedfrom interactions and affinities between Europe and Africa, and thus wasnever either pure or white.
The author encapsulates the potent ambiguity of her outlook in her2005 Foreword to Song of Solomon, where she writes that the novelcomprises a journey, with the accomplishment of flight. . . . Old-schoolheroic, but with other meanings (x). It is through the other meaningsafforded by her multiple perspectives as an African-American woman thatshe transforms both classical tradition and dominant American culture.And she thus fulfils in several ways at once her own imperative that thepast has to be revised (Taylor-Guthrie 264).
The Rewriting of Classic American History
In Love, a portrait of Bill Cosey dominates the house in Monarch Streetas his posthumous presence dominates the surviving characters. Heedsapotheosis of her husband a character who functions in many ways asan allegory of America itself can be read as a microcosm of thepredilection for hero worship that has characterized the nations historio-graphy since its inception. As Meyer Reinhold observes in his Classica
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Americana: The Greek and Roman Heritage in the United States (1984),Emersons Plutarchan Representative Men (1850) both reflects and pre-scribes the nature of conventional American hagiography.10 And as CliveBush, Garry Wills and many others have argued, both the cults of heroismthat define mainstream American history and the traditions of portraitureand statuary that underpin them indicate the self-conscious classicism ofthe national dominant culture.11 Morrisons engagement with nationalheroic traditions through her depictions of Ajax in Sula, of the Deadfamily in Song of Solomon, of Valerian in Tar Baby and of Cosey andRomen in Love epitomizes her interest in the wider role that classicaltradition has played in determining both the actual events that have shapedthe nation and the representation of those events. The novels exposureof the ideological uses to which Greece and Rome have been put in themaking of a national past in narratives of the countrys discovery andcolonization, of the founding of the new nation, and of the processes ofslavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, black urbanization and the CivilRights Movement is key to the rewriting of American history that theoeuvre comprises. I am outlining that exposure at some length herebecause it epitomizes the subversive nature of Morrisons classicism.
A significant body of literature documents the extent to which thenation has made recourse to the Graeco-Roman world in the constructionof its identity. Together with Reinholds Classica Americana, MartinSnyders Classical Contributions to the Early Images of America (1976),Carl J. Richards The Founders and the Classics (1994) and Caroline Winterersmore recent The Culture of Classicism (2002) show that since the earlysixteenth century Graeco-Roman literature and history have been centralto American self-definition.12 And as John Shields demonstrates in hisThe American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self (2001), explicitreference to the ancient world has been as much a feature of Americanliterature as of the nations historical and political discourse.13 My readingsof Morrisons novels argue that through her own classical allusiveness sheestablishes a dialectic not just with Cotton Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne,Herman Melville and the other pre-modern writers whom Shieldsdiscusses, but also with the canonical, classically informed modernistswhom he does not discuss but who are likewise concerned with thenature of Americanness: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williamsand Eugene ONeill.
Of course, the scholarship on Americas strategic use of Greece andRome only analyses a paradox that is already highly visible in the nationalculture. From place names such as Athens and Ithaca to the civicarchitecture of Washington, DC and the plantation houses of the South,and from the popularity of epic movies such as Ben-Hur (1959) andGladiator (2000) to the post-modern Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, thedominant cultures pragmatic use of the classical tradition to express itsown novelty and exceptionalism is ubiquitous. Morrisons novels both
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share and exploit this pragmatism, for example in their ironic deploymentof place names such as Medallion (in Sula) or in the invocations of thenotorious Attica prison uprising of 1971 in Tar Baby (113) and Paradise(132). With considerably more subtlety than Philip Roth displays in hisrelentlessly analogical The Human Stain (2000), it is through such ludicallusiveness that Morrison highlights the disparity between nationalaspirations and political and social realities. But Morrisons engagementwith classical tradition is transformative of American culture as much asit is critical. Through crucial, recurring and revisionary references toOvids Metamorphoses for example to the myth of Echo and Narcissus inSong of Solomon (Ovid III.393402; Solomon 274), or to that of Baucis andPhilemon in Paradise (Ovid VIII.724, Paradise 2301) the author reconfiguresconventional power dynamics of gender and race.
Tar Baby, Love and The Conquest of America
It is perhaps in her feminist reinterpretation of narratives of Americasdiscovery and early colonization that Morrisons engagement with bothOvids Metamorphoses and his contemporaneous Fasti (Calendar) is moststriking. As I discuss in my recent article, A New Romen Empire,through the island-settling Valerian (named after an emperor) in Tar Baby(147), and through implicit allusion to the legend of Lucretia and themyth of Kore in the recurring rapes and anxiety about rape that unifyLove, Morrison examines the role of classical tradition in motivating,justifying and glorifying European conquest of the New World. At thesame time, through Valerians marriage to the child-bride Margaret andthrough Coseys to the eleven-year-old Heed, the author creates parodicversions of the configuration of America as an innocent virgin despoiled bythe all-conquering hero that is something of a refrain the national literature.14
In its description of the settlement of Isle des Chevaliers, Tar Babysreversal of the creation myth which begins The Metamorphoses plays on thefact that, as Snyder observes, many details from Ovids account of theGolden Age in The Metamorphoses were echoed in early discovery andpromotional literature about America (Snyder 148). The novels inversionsalso comment critically on the way that the Jamestown colonist GeorgeSandys insisted on parallels between the Virginia Companys actions andhis translations of Ovid which he began on his Atlantic passage and whichhe completed on Virginian soil.15 And Morrison continues to expose theinfluence of Roman tradition on American acts and representations ofconquest in Love. This novel is not only suffused with a general Romanness,suggesting an unflattering affinity between corrupt Imperial Rome andcontemporary imperialist America, but also contains implicit allusions tothe quasi-historical story of the rape committed by the son of the last kingof Rome.16 In a BBC Radio 4 interview following the publication ofLove, Morrison said:
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Ive read rape scenes all my life but they always seemed to have noshame. . . . There was this male pride attached to it, in the language. There issomething about it, from the rape of Lucretia all the way on so I just wantedto sabotage all of that. (Start the Week)
This widely broadcasted invocation of Roman legend enables us to seethat her description of her young protagonist on the verge of participatingin the gang rape connotes not just a classic conquistador but also aTarquin: his belt unbuckled, anticipation ripe, he was about to becomethe Romen hed always known he was, chiseled, dangerous, loose (46).17
While several critics (such as Miner or Demetrakapoulos) havediscussed The Bluest Eyes engagement with the myth of Proserpina orKora in its depiction of Pecolas fate, it is also worth noting that the authorreturns to the Kora paradigm in her latest novel, where she makes acrucial punning allusion. May writes to Christine (about the activities ofthe Congress of Racial Equality) that CORE is sitting-in in Chicago; inher ignorance, Christine asks, Who was she, this Cora? (96). The waythe young woman turns CORE into Cora reflects the way the GreekKore becomes the anglicized Kora, intensifying the classical resonancesof sexual violence in the novel. The homophonic wordplay also bringsto mind William Carlos Williamss Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920), aclassically informed work by an author whose prose as a whole epitomizesthe kind of male pride in writing about rape and about the discoveryand conquest of America that Morrison sets out to sabotage in Love.18
Paradise, the Puritan Settlements and the New Republic
The recently founded town of Ruby in Paradise is populated not only byclassically named characters ( Juvenal, Pallas, Seneca, Apollo) and by thosenamed for the Revolutionary heroes ( Jefferson, James and Thomas) butalso by those bearing traditional Puritan names (Wisdom, Able, Pious).Part of the novels engagement with the history of the Puritans comprisesan ironic refraction of the classically infused mythopoeia of CottonMather. Through the very precise phrasing with which the RubeanFounding Fathers make their history legendary, Morrison parodiesMathers insistence on the parallels between the Puritan mission andthat of Aeneas. In the novel, Steward Morgans frequent rehearsals ofwhat it took to build the one all-black town worth the pain resonateas distorted echoes of the phrases that Mather, in his Magnalia ChristiAmericana (1702) in turn borrows from The Aeneid to convey his sense ofthe Puritans exceptional provenance (Paradise 5, 93).19 Aeneass astoundingeffort, pietas and resilience all of which inform Mathers sense of Puritanhistory also reverberate in Rubys dominant narratives of its origins.
As many scholars of early American classicism observe, Joseph Addisonsplay of 1713, Cato, which is a tragic representation of the republicanmartyr who committed suicide rather than submit to the rule of Julius
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Caesar, was held in great esteem during the American Revolutionary andearly Republican eras. The Founding Fathers identification with politicalheroes of the ancient world is symptomatic of their well-documentedbelief in their projects analogical relationship to both the AthenianDemocracy and the Roman Republic.20 The fact that in ParadiseMorrison names one of Rubys nine original families Cato is just oneexpression of the novels widespread concern with the ideologicalimplications of the new nations claim to Greek and Roman precedent.Through Patricia Cato, who burns the family trees, through Billie Delia,who leaves town altogether, and through the fact that the Catos are nolonger represented in the school nativity play, the author exposes the waythe exceptionalism of both the Rubean and the national Foundersbecomes exclusivism.
My research is the first to point out that Morrison creates a strikingand exact analogy between Rubys defining monument, the Oven, andthe koine hestia or communal hearth that was housed in the prytaneion(symbolic centre) of the Greek polis (Spawforth). The close parallelsbetween the nature and function of the Oven and the site that was thefocus of Greek religious and civic pride are central to the authors scepticalengagement with the classicism of Americas historical Founding Fathersand their successors.21 The exclusivist and sexist ideology that the Ovenembodies also emphasizes the flawedness of both the Athenian and theAmerican exceptionalist position. Specific details about Athenian culturaland political life shed light on the recurring associations in Paradisebetween the Oven and the Rubean Fathers anxieties about the origins,heredity, procreation and the sexual propriety of their women. Forexample, according to Page duBois, the analogy between . . . the uterusand an oven is a commonplace of Greek thought which signalled theprocess of making the female body into property (110, 165). Further-more, the Periclean laws governing citizenship and marriage that cameinto force in Athens during the later years of its democracy are strikinglyechoed in the blood rule that governs the hierarchies and maritalarrangements in Ruby.22 Through the classical resonances of the insinuatedin-breeding and reproductive difficulties of the 8-rock families Morrisoncritiques the racial separatism that was assumed from the inception of thenew American nation as well as the nativist obsession with defining andrestricting citizenship that has recurred throughout the countrys history.
Beloved and Jazz; Slavery, the Civil War, Black Migration and Urbanization
There is perhaps no version of American history more self-consciouslyreliant on Graeco-Roman tradition than that adhered to by defenders ofthe Old South, and it is this classically dependent perspective on slavery,the Civil War and Reconstruction that Morrison takes to task in Belovedand Jazz. As Caroline Winterer observes, during the antebellum era
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advocates of the Southern way of life repeatedly invoked ancientGreece, and especially ancient Athens, to justify the nobility of a slavesociety (Culture 74). What is striking, furthermore, is the continuingappeal of the analogy to subsequent constructors of Southern culturalmemory: the classicism of the Old South is repeatedly affirmed by artisticproductions ranging from Birth of A Nation (1917) through Faulknersnovels to O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), by those seeking to establishcurrents in thought such as Vernon Parrington or the Agrarian Movement,and by more recent scholars.23 My work shows how the first two novelsof Morrisons trilogy engage subversively with the genres of tragedy, epicand pastoral on which insidious representations of Southern experiencedepend.
It is through its deployment of tragic conventions that Beloved bothrevises canonical representations of slavery and counteracts traditionalarticulations of the Lost Cause or the Fall of the Old South as tragedy.Morrisons conception of Sethe as a tragic hero is crucial to her partici-pation in what David Blight has called the struggle to own the meaningof Civil War memory (16). Her hubristic, outrageous protagonist functionsas a rebuke to Twains representation of Jim in Huckleberry Finn (1884),for example, and to Stowes of Tom in Uncle Toms Cabin (1852). ThroughSethes defiant killing of her daughter Morrison revises the classical notionthat hubris is a flaw, suggesting instead that it is almost a virtue in thesecircumstances. This transformation of pride into admirable rebelliousnessfinds a precedent in Phillis Wheatleys Niobe in Distress, a poem which(as Shields elucidates) changes Ovids cautionary tale about the impiousPhrygian queen into a sophisticated argument for freedom of theoppressed (Shields 222). Morrison shares Wheatleys interest in therelationship between maternal love, hubristic behaviour and resistance,and the Ovidian image of weeping-Niobe-turned-rock may well informher representation of the arrested Sethe whose blood-soaked dress is stiff,like rigor mortis (Beloved 153).
Morrison follows the example of W. E. B. Du Boiss Souls of Black Folk(1903) in insisting that the tragedy and tragic heroism in Southern historybelongs not to the Confederacy to but to African-Americans. Her appro-priation of this genre to express the black perspective on slavery and itsaftermath also constitutes a crucial part of her dialogue with WilliamFaulkner, an author whose classical allusiveness is well-documented andwhose tragic vision Morrison discusses in her own graduate work.24 Andparadoxically, Beloveds final eschewal of tragedy is as strong a rebuke towhat she calls the atmosphere of doom that pervades [Faulkners] novelsas is her prior deployment of the mode (Virginia Woolf s and WilliamFaulkners Treatment 24). In enabling a better future for Sethe, Paul Dand Denver the female novelist asserts the possibility of survival, whereas,as Weinstein writes in his essay comparing the two authors, with Faulknerwe are in the presence of an authorial insistence upon disaster (61). The
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doom that Morrison identifies in her forebears work connotes not justthe idea of inevitable catastrophe but also a sense of predestination or theabsence of individual agency; his novels repeatedly suggest that both hisprotagonists and the South itself are inevitably bound to collapse. Belovedrejects any notion that Fate dictated the course of slavery, the Civil Waror Reconstruction, insisting instead on the role of human agency inhistory.
Ironically, while Faulkner to some extent shares Morrisons concernwith the dangers inherent in mythical misconceptions of reality, his novelscontribute to the process of Civil War mythologizing as much as theydismantle it. In Light in August, for example, the epic nature of the prosedescribing Hightowers obsession with the past does much to justify andglamorize the characters position, creating an implicit equivalencebetween the American historical conflict and the legendary wars ofclassical epics.25 In Jazz, Morrison extends the dialogue with Faulknerabout epic representations of Southern experience that she begins inBeloved. While many critics have commented on the overtly parodicnature of the Golden Gray episodes, my work is the first to draw attentionto the authors satirical engagement with classical tradition in thesepassages. One example of this is the sentence with which the narratorbegins her reconstruction of Goldens search for his father: I see him ina two-seat phaeton (143). The use of the present tense here imitates thestyle of classical epics, while the phaeton detail creates a mock-heroicperspective on Goldens anxiety about his father through invoking thePhaethon of Ovids Metamorphoses.26 Furthermore, the fact that the oldermans (purported) surname LesTroy sounds as Less Troy suggests theauthors wish to diminish the epic importance that the dominant cultureattributes to miscegenation ( Jazz 149).
Anti-pastoral accompanies mock heroism in Jazz as a source of thenovels subversive power. By emphasizing the sheer hard work that blackrural life entailed, Morrison exploits the irony that the Horatian-derivedleisured contemplations characterizing Southern pastoralism from thewritings of Jefferson to that of the Twelve Southerners of Ill Take MyStand are dependent on African-American labour.27 Meanwhile, therepeated accounts of the dispossession of Rose Dear and her family fromtheir home near Rome, Vesper County enlist Virgils first Eclogue. In theLatin poem, which Leo Marx identifies in The Machine and the Garden(1964) as the pure fountainhead of the pastoral strain in our literatureand which is sometimes called The Dispossessed (Marx 1920),Meliboeus and Tityrus discuss the former shepherds eviction from hishome by the authorities in the imperial city of Rome. The presence ofdistorted echoes of Virgil in Morrisons novel create an insistent anti-pastoral articulation of the black experience of Reconstruction.
In its representation of black migration and urbanization, Jazz revisesMarxs central thesis concerning the pastoral tradition in American
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experience. Marx argues that it is industrialization . . . that provides thecounterforce in American pastoral, and that Hawthornes famousencounter with the train is in many ways the greatest . . . event in ourhistory (26, 27). Morrison, by contrast, who has argued that the horrorof industrialization seems . . . mostly an elite preoccupation (City Limits38), celebrates both the centrality of the train in jazz music and thesignificance of the railway in the history of black emancipation. Theiconic position of the train in Jazz testifies to the race-specific implica-tions of the machines appearance in the garden that Marxs argumentoverlooks.
Song of Solomon, Love and the Civil Rights Movement
Morrisons novels consideration of the Civil Rights Movement is notextensive, but it is nonetheless significant. In Song of Solomon and Love, inparticular her deployment of classical tradition is central to her rep-resentation of that revolutionary period in American life. In theirexploration of justice and injustice, and of both inter- and intra-revenge,these two novels demonstrate a critical engagement with AeschylussOresteia that is also a striking feature of her own trilogy. While theestablishment of the Athenian court of law with which The Eumenidesends has a specific resonance within dominant, Enlightenment-bredAmerican culture, it has a specific dissonance within African-Americanculture. Morrison exploits this dissonance to the full in Song of Solomon,where she deploys the Aeschylan imagery of miasma (or pollution) bothto protest African-Americans alienation from the just legal process that istheir civil right and to critique self-perpetuating cycles of murder andvengeance.
In the aftermath of Emmett Tills murder, Solomons Guitar Bains ragesthat there aint no law for no colored man except the one that sends himto the chair (82).28 If there were anything like or near justice when acracker kills a Negro, there wouldnt have to be no Seven Days, he argues(257). The critic Leslie Harris indicates the affinity between thecharacters vengeful outlook and the unenlightened Greek worldviewwhen she describes the Seven Days as a Fury-like society (72); it is alsosignificant that the men of the Blood Bank deploy blood, the visiblepollutant in murder that is so dominant in the first two plays of TheOresteia, to express their rationale and purpose. For example, Guitarsobservation that the earth is soggy with black peoples blood echoeschoric analysis of the House of Atreus in The Libation Bearers (Solomon158). Meanwhile, his conviction that the guerrilla groups reciprocalattacks on whites are justified by the need to keep things on an even keeland to maintain Numbers. Balance. Ratio recalls the imagery ofweighing scales that punctuates the Agamemnon (Solomon 154, 156).29 Andit is interesting, furthermore, that Morrisons 1986 play, Dreaming Emmett,
1526 Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition
is similarly informed by The Oresteia in its exploration of violence, justiceand retribution in the black struggle for civil rights.30
In Solomon, the author adds a feminist perspective to her generalcritique of violence through a key but little-discussed allusion to Greekmyth. When Corinthians returns home from Porters house in the middleof the night to find her father and Milkman engaged in fierce debate atthe kitchen table, she wondered if this part of the night . . . was a secrethour in which men rose like giants from dragons teeth, and, while thewomen slept, clustered in their kitchens (203). This simultaneousreference to both Cadmuss foundation of Thebes and Jasons quest for thegolden fleece engages so many prior American texts that it has a palimpsest-like quality. While in Canto 62 Pound alludes to the Cadmean myth inhis representation of the Revolutionary War (Brooker 307), Faulknercompares Sutpens offspring to dragons teeth in Absalom, Absalom! (62),Henry Adams uses the same motif to describe the graves of the Civil Wardead in his 1880 novel, Democracy (109), and Du Bois alludes to Jasonsencounters with witchery and dragons teeth in describing the history ofthe South in his Souls (83). Morrison in turn appropriates this symbol ofarchetypal conflict to articulate the divisions between African-Americanmen in the Civil Rights era. Moreover, the concept of armed menclustering in womens kitchens a sacred, creative space in Morrisonsnovels is a threatening one. It comprises a comment on what MicheleWallace has termed the macho elements of the Movement and on theproblematic implications of those elements for black women.
In her 1978 study Black Macho, Wallace argues that precious fewwomen were allowed to do anything important in the Black Movement(162). Morrisons men-as-dragons-teeth-in-womens-kitchens imageprotests not just Corries own disempowerment but the exclusion offeminism from the agenda of the Civil Rights struggle.31 Interestingly,Morrison also deploys a classical reference to make a similar point inLove. In that novel, while the pun on the Greek Kore in Christinesmisunderstanding of CORE contributes to the works thematic concernwith representations of Americas colonization as rape, the idea thatCORE is Kora also critiques the Movement for its reinscription ofdominant cultural oppression of black women. At the same time, whilethe allusion implies that the struggle itself became a corrupted,violated cause, given that Kore is symbolic not just of rape and lossbut also of regeneration and renewal its invocation here suggests thepossibility of a positive future for black America as much as it protests alamentable past.
The Restoration of Africa to Classical Tradition
In the essay Unspeakable Things Unspoken Morrison introduces herdiscussion of Martin Bernals Black Athena by urging on the moment
Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition 1527
when Western civilization owns up to its own sources in the cultures thatpreceded it (2). As my research demonstrates, her work reveals the extentto which Africas various presences have been obscured in Americasconstructions of its Graeco-Roman inheritance as a pure and purifyingforce. Illustrating what she calls the similarity between Greek tragedyand African religion and philosophy (2), and deploying an emancipatoryAncient Egypt, the novels recontamination of the past ally Morrisonwith Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic (1993), Joseph Roach in Cities ofthe Dead (1996) and others who insist on the empowering impurity ofcircum-Atlantic tradition.
In the novel Sula the eponymous character indulges in an extendedfantasy about her lover, Ajax. In her imagination she scrape[s] away thelayers of his skin, transforming him from a living being to first a goldand then an alabaster statue, and reducing him finally to soil (1301;original italics). Once he has left her she recalls his skin:
So black that only a steady careful rubbing with steel wool would remove it,and as it was removed there was the glint of gold leaf, and under the gold leafthe cold alabaster and deep, deep down under the cold alabaster more blackonly this time the black of warm loam. (135)
My contention is that through Sulas revelation of the chthonic blacknessthat the whiteness of the conventional classical statue covers up, Morrisonasserts the African origins of classical culture. At the same time she enactsa canny reversal of several myths of origin or artistic production in OvidsMetamorphoses. The vignette clearly plays with the politics of race andgender in the Ovidian tale of Pygmalion, whose snow-white ivorystatue comes to life (Ovid X.240304). But the vision also reverses theactions of Deucalion and Pyrrha, who repopulate the world withstones-turned-statues-turned-people, and of Prometheus, who originallycreates man from moulded clay (Ovid I.364406). Sulas multi-layeredmeditation disrupts the received hierarchies of Western intellectualheritage through the inversion of classical creation myth.
Some readers may resist this interpretation, arguing that it comprises aEurocentric concealment of an African cultural reference. For as JohnMbiti writes, in many parts of Africa . . . it is believed that God usedclay to make the first man and wife (845). But Sulas fantasy clearlydepends on both classical and African myth, and in this duality itexemplifies Morrisons recurring insistence on the affinity betweenGraeco-Roman and African cultural legacies that both the Eurocentrichegemony of many centuries and some Afrocentric literary criticism ofrecent decades have been reluctant to acknowledge. Another illustrationof what Morrison calls the sympathy between West African andAfrican-American culture is her portrayal of the scapegoating of Pecola inThe Bluest Eye, which has affinities with both the expulsion of thepharmakos in the Greek Thargelia festival and with African purification
1528 Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition
ritual such as that depicted by Wole Soyinka in his 1964 play The StrongBreed.32 Furthermore, as many critics have observed, traditional Africanbeliefs about vengeful spirits (such as the Yoruban Abiku) clearly com-prise one context in which Morrison configures the vengeful ghost ofBeloved.33 This does not negate the significance of the Aeschylan echoesin that novel, however, and such doubleness unequivocally asserts thehybridity or impurity of Americas cultural ancestry.
The White man will never admit his real references, says BuddyJackson in Ishmael Reeds Mumbo Jumbo (1972). He will steal everythingyou have and still call you those names (194). Reeds novel anticipatesMorrisons work in engaging the theory of Egypts cultural legacy toGreece, a theory which (as Gilroy points out) Frederick Douglass, DuBois, James Weldon Johnson and Edward Wilmot Blyden expoundedin non-fictional forms, and which even Bernals staunchest opponentsconcede is not entirely groundless.34 Morrison exploits the emancipatorypotential of the confluence of Egyptian and Graeco-Roman cultures inseveral novels: in Tar Baby the tree spirits, who assert that they alonecould hold together the stones of pyramids and the rushes of Mosess crib,also claim to have built the first world of the world (184); in Beloved thename of the protagonist who behaves in so many ways as a Greektragic heroine brings to mind Egyptian god Set or Sethe; and in Jazzthe Harlemites favour Cleopatra beauty products, thus strategicallyidentifying with the Ptolemaic queen who epitomizes the cultural fusionof Greece and Egypt (24, 29, 38). It is significant, too, that Morrisonselects quotations from one of the Nag Hammadi texts as her epigraphsto the last two novels in the trilogy, for this Coptic Gnostic collectionepitomizes the inseparable nature of Greek and Egyptian identity. In all ofthis allusiveness Morrison positions herself within a genealogy ofAfrican-American Ethiopianism.35
Morrisons insistence on the Africanness of Americas classical inheritanceis ubiquitous. In The Bluest Eye the often-missed configuration ofChollys church picnic leader as a transformed Atlas enlists the NorthAfrican resonances of the myth, while in Paradise the inversion ofOvids tale of Phaethons fire claims Africa as the original world (229;Ovid II.2325).36 Even her recent revisions of Aesops fables enlist thesubversive and African elements of Aesopic legend; she is doubtlessaware of the likelihood that the Life of Aesop (dating from the first centuryBCE or earlier) was written by a Greek-speaking Egyptian, in Egypt,and that it portrays Aesop as a savvy slave who continually outwits hismaster (Daly 22). The irony Morrison illuminates that every aspect ofthe classical tradition by which the United States has defined itself is eitherderived from, has affinities with or is the product of an interaction withAfrican culture is worth savouring. And it is one that intensifies theeffects of the oeuvres engagement with tragedy and epic, with mythicaldeities such as Kore and Dionysus, and with political and historical
Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition 1529
analogies between America and the Graeco-Roman world that I haveoutlined in this article.
Conclusion: Continuing Reassessments of the Past
A proper recognition of the extent and effects of Morrisons engagementwith classical tradition not only enables a fuller understanding of herwork but also comprises a necessary resistance to what Paul Gilroy hascalled the purified appeal of either Afrocentrism or the Eurocentrisms itstruggles to answer (190). To understand the effects of Morrisonsclassical allusiveness, furthermore, is to see her relationship withother novelists more clearly. As Jenny Terry has written in this journal,surprisingly few studies have approached her fiction through comparativereference to that of other authors (3). Acknowledging the importance ofher engagement with classical tradition necessitates a re-evaluation ofher dialogue with black classically-informed writers such as Wheatley,Hopkins, Du Bois, Ellison and Reed, as well as of her interactions withwhite ones such as Hawthorne, Melville, Cather, Fitzgerald and Roth.To recognise Morrisons classicism, therefore, is to contribute to anon-going reassessment of pre-modern, modernist and postmodernAmerican literature. It is to see more clearly her place in Americanintellectual history.
Finally, the presences of Greece and Rome in the Morrisonian oeuvrehighlight the fact that the classical tradition is and was always and already pre-disciplinary and pre-national, and that it therefore merits considerableattention within the current academic focus on transnationalism andinterdisciplinarity. A fuller understanding of the effects of this authorsclassical engagement reveals the need for continuing analysis of therole of the ancient world in American culture. It thus has importantimplications for American Studies as a whole.
Tessa Roynon was awarded her doctorate in March 2007 by the Universityof Warwick for a thesis entitled Transforming America: Toni Morrison andClassical Tradition. Her doctoral work was funded by the AHRC. She hasan M.A. in American literature from Georgetown University, where shewas a Fulbright scholar, and has a First Class B.A. (hons) from ClareCollege, University of Cambridge. She will be a Postdoctoral ResearchFellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, from2008. One new research project there will focus on the Classical tradition inthe modern/contemporary American novel. She has given numerousconference papers in the UK and the USA, and her article on ToniMorrisons Love appeared in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of AmericanStudies.
1530 Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition
* Correspondence: 39 Leckford Road, Oxford, United Kingdom, OX2 6HY. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 This article summarizes the key findings of my doctoral thesis (submitted at the Universityof Warwick in December 2006) and book-in-progress, Transforming America: Toni Morrison andClassical Tradition. A portion of this article appeared in a different form in the April 2007issue of the Journal of American Studies as A New Romen Empire.
The descriptions of Morrisons itineraries through the Louvres antiquities are translated byme from the museums accompanying leaflet, Le Louvre invite Toni Morrison: Parcours dansles trois dpartements archologiques. 13 octobre 200615 janvier 2007. The AesopianWhos Got Game? series, which Toni Morrison has co-written with her son, Slade Morrison,currently comprises three books: The Ant or the Grasshopper? (2003), The Lion or theMouse? (2003) and Poppy or the Snake? (2004). There is no extant published criticism of theseworks.2 Extant single essays on the classical allusiveness in individual novels include: on The BluestEye, those by Demetrakopoulos and by Miner; on Song of Solomon those by Benston, Freiert,Trudier Harris, and by Bessie W. Jones; on Tar Baby by Traylor; and on Beloved those by Corti,Haley, Kimball, Malmgrem, Otten, (Transfiguring the Narrative) and Schmudde.3 The Howard University Bulletin lists the courses: Greek Civilization, Roman Civilization,Vocabulary Building, Greek Literature in English, Latin Literature in English, Greek Dramain English and so on (Howard 856). It has not been possible for me to ascertain either whichclasses Morrison took or which texts/translations she studied. Data protection law preventsHoward University from releasing such information, and in a letter of 7 April 2003 Morrisonssupporting staff, Maria Purves, informed me that the novelist was unable to provide these detailsherself.4 A further influence on Morrison may be Orlando Patterson, whose 1982 study Slavery andSocial Death she cites in Playing in the Dark (38). Patterson draws direct comparisons betweenGreek, Roman and American slavery.5 The class Greek Drama in English comprised a discussion of the definition, origin, anddevelopment of tragedy and comedy based on the Poetics of Aristotle (Howard 86). EntitledVirginia Woolf s and William Faulkners Treatment of the Alienated, Morrisons M.A. thesisargues of Faulkners oeuvre that the fall of a once great house; old family guilts inherited byan heir; the conflict between individual will and fate and the self-wrought catastrophe of theprotagonist are all immediately recognized traits in Greek tragedy (24).6 The Aristotelianism from which Morrisons tragic vision emerges represents only one read-ing of the Poetics. John Jones elucidates the extent to which non-Aristotelian concepts areconventionally attributed to Aristotle, including the fact that there is no evidence not a shred that Aristotle entertained the concept of the tragic hero (13).7 For Morrisons further commentary on the significance of the chorus see Taylor-Guthrie589, 101, 176 and the novelists 1985 essay, Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation.8 See for example Sula 15861, Song of Solomon 184 or Beloved 261.9 Since the publication of Black Athena a well-known controversy surrounding Bernals workhas developed, despite the fact that, as Bernal himself acknowledges, many of the argumentsBlack Athena makes are scholarly assertions of theories that had already been popularized byAfrican-American literary writers and Afrocentrists for decades before the appearance of thisbook (Bernal 4337). My own concern is not to determine whether or not Bernals theory isright but to consider the light that Morrrisons interest in his work sheds on her own project.It is interesting that in the preface to Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to HisCritics (2001), Bernal includes Toni Morrison in his list of those he thanks for their great helpand patient understanding (xi).10 Reinhold writes that Emerson admired, utilized, and exploited Plutarch . . . throughout hisentire career: It was to Plutarch that Emerson owed the revival of the cult of the moralessay, . . . his conception of the hero as moral exemplar, . . . and not least his anecdotal andapothegmatic style and his assimilation of American and Plutarchan heroes (25960).
Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition 1531
11 See Bush, The Hero as Representative in Dream of Reason (1957); Wills, Fame inCincinnatus (10932); Richard 5364; Reinhold 175.12 Winterer writes, From the time of the first European settlements in Virginia andMassachusetts . . . reverence for ancient models helped to structure ethical, political, oratorical,artistic and educational ideals (1); Meyer Reinhold describes the nations self-conscious classi-cism in the eighteenth century as an American cult of antiquity (24).13 Shieldss study considers (among others) Edward Taylor, Cotton Mather, John Trumbull,Phillis Wheatley, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.14 Studies of this configuration include Annette Kolodnys The Lay of the Land (1975), NinaBayms Melodramas of Beset Manhood (1981) and Louise Westlings The Green Breast of theNew World (1996).15 Shields discusses Sandyss translation on 814. According to Richard Beale Davis, Sandyssdedication of his 1626 Metamorphosis to King Charles I describes the work as Sprunge fromthe Stocke of the ancient Romanes, but bred in the New-world (203).16 Romens family name, Gibbons, connotes the author of The History of the Decline and Fallof the Roman Empire (176688), while Maceos Pizzeria is located on Gladiator Street (Love86). We can assume from the account of Soaphead Churchs reading in The Bluest Eye thatMorrison has read Gibbon: Soaphead noticed Gibbons acidity, but not his tolerance (134).17 Ovids account of the rape of Lucretia occurs in Fasti Book II.685ff. As is Love, this workis punctuated by rapes which function as a critique of imperial power. In The Rapes of Luctretia:A Myth and Its Transformations (1982), Ian Donaldson elucidates the various associations betweenthe Lucretia story and Roman politics. The assaulted noble woman functions as a figure ofviolated Rome (Donaldson 9). There thus exists a compelling analogy between Lucretiassymbolic role and the conception of America as a despoiled young girl that Morrison parodiesthrough Heed.18 The fact that Morrison selects a quotation form Williamss Adam as an epigraph to thethird chapter of Playing in the Dark suggests both her familiarity with and her antagonismtowards his work (63). While not sharing the classical allusiveness of Kora in Hell, Williamss Inthe American Grain (1925) is even more explicit than its forerunner in its celebration of thecolonization of America as a sexual act, and its representations reverberate throughout Love.19 As Shields points out, the title page of Magnalias first book reads (in Latin) So much labourdid it cost to establish a people for Christ, which is an obvious adaptation of The Aeneid 1.33:Of such great effort it was to establish the Roman people (Shields 65). Mather writes thatthe readers will want to know what impelled men so distinguished in devotion . . . to endureso many misfortunes, to encounter so many hardships; here the Puritan is quoting The Aeneidalmost verbatim, simply changing Virgils man to men (Shields 65).20 For discussions of the popularity of Cato in eighteenth-century America see Winterer 25;Richard 58; Shields 17493; Wills 125.21 While the koine hestia in Athens was a kind of civic dining area (Parker, Athenian Religion26), the Oven in Paradise originates as a community kitchen (99). While a perpetual flameburned on Hestias altar in the Prytaneion (Pantel and Zidman 93), in Haven the Oven alwaysremained alive (Paradise 15). Both sites have a key role in the rituals of marriage and birth(Pantel and Zidman 111; Paradise 111, 103). And while in Ancient Greece colonists took withthem a spark of fire from the hearth in the prytaneion of their mother city (Miller 14),Morrisons Founders take their whole Oven with them to their new settlement.22 In 451 BCE, Pericles introduced a law limiting citizenship to those with an Athenian motheras well as an Athenian father (Gomme); the logical extension of this was that soon afterwards,marriage between an Athenian father and a foreigner was forbidden (Berger). Similarly, Rubys8-rock families are careful that their children marry into other 8-rock families (Paradise 196); neitherthe founders of Haven nor their descendants could tolerate anybody but themselves (194).23 See for example Parrington 79, Frank Lawrence Owsleys essay in the anthology by TwelveSoutherners, Ill Take My Stand (Davidson et al., 1930), and the 1977 special issue of theSouthern Humanities Review (ed. Wiltshire).24 While the relationship between Faulkner and Morrison is a much-studied one see Terry3 for an account of recent scholarship to the best of my knowledge my work is the first toaddress their shared interest in classical tradition.
1532 Toni Morrison and Classical Tradition
25 See for example Light in August 169.26 In Ovids Metamorphoses Phaethon is unsure whether or not Helios is his father, and asks theman to prove his paternity by allowing him to drive the horses of the sun for a day (II.1270).27 Exemplifying this emphasis on leisure, Jeffersons commonplace book excerpt from Horacessecond Epode includes the Romans celebration of the farmers freedom to recline now underan ancient oak, now on the thick grass (Richard 162). And in the first essay of Ill Take MyStand, John Crowe Ransom stresses the cherished place of leisure in the Southern establishmentno fewer than five times (12, 1015).28 Morrison herself was twenty-four years of age when, in the summer of 1955, fourteen-year-old Till was beaten, shot and thrown into the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi for sayingBye, baby to a white woman, and when in September of that year the men arrested for hismurder were found innocent after an all-white jury had debated the case for one hour.29 The Chorus in The Libation Bearers observes, Through too much glut of blood drunk byour fostering ground / the vengeful gore is caked and hard, and asks what can wash off theblood once spilled on the ground? (trans. Lattimore 667, 47). In the Agamemnon the old menof Argos claim that Justice turns the balance scales and that no pain can tip the scales (trans.Fagles 250, 267).30 Dreaming Emmett was performed at SUNY-Albany in 1986 (Taylor-Guthrie 218); it is notavailable for private reading. For a discussion of the play see Peach 78.31 Of particular relevance to Morrisons association of Kore with the Civil Rights Movementis Wallaces recording of a comment by Stokely Carmichael: The only position of women inSNCC is prone (7).32 For accounts of the Greek Thargelia festival see Vernant and Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy12830; Parker, Miasma 258. Morrison is indisputably familiar with Soyinkas The Strong Breed:she anthologized it for the 1972 Random House anthology of which she was the projecteditor, Contemporary African Literature (ed. Makward and Lacy).33 See for example Higgins 29 or Ogunyemi 663.34 Mary Lefkowitz, who in Not Out of Africa (1996) is one of Bernals most outspoken critics,nonetheless concedes in Black Athena Revisited (1996) that the evidence of Egyptian influenceon certain aspects of Greek cultures is plain and undeniable (Introduction 6). And herco-editor of that collection, Guy MacLean Rogers, writes that Bernals reconstruction of howsome European scholars . . . attempted to root out the contributions of the ancient Egyptiansand Phoenicians to early Greek civilization seems to me to be beyond dispute (431).35 The text Thunder: Perfect Mind from which Morrison draws her epigraphs exactlyexpresses the confluence of Greece and Egypt: I am the wisdom [of the] Greeks / And theknowledge of [the] barbarians. / I am the one whose image is great in Egypt / And the onewho has no image among the barbarians (Parrott 299; translators parentheses). In his accountof Ethiopianism, Blight writes, In Pan-African thought by the late nineteenth century, theterms Egypt and Ethiopian had become synonymous with Africa and Africans, as well as asource of devotion to a theory of human development and the redemption of African peoplesand cultures (3213). Continuing this tradition is the collection of Van der Zee photographsedited by Camille Billops, The Harlem Book of the Dead (1978), to which Morrison wrotethe Foreword and from which she claims to have found the inspiration for Dorcas in Jazz(Taylor-Guthrie 207).36 In Ovids Metamorphoses the global fire that breaks out when Phaethon loses control ofthe solar chariot both turns the Ethiopians black and forms the Sahara desert (II.2325). In ParadiseConnie compares the burned-out farmhouse where she and Deacon make love to one builton the sand waves of the lonely Sahara, and compares the ruins to a statuary of ash people(2334).
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