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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Byzantium in Modern Literature: Invasion, Plunder, Artistic Patrimony

6th June 2019, 16:00 to 18:30, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Mark Byron (University of Sydney)

A staff and postgraduate research seminar.

Byzantium appears most famously in modern literature in W. B. Yeats’s two poems ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ (1928) and ‘Byzantium’ (1930). The city functions an ideal icon in counterpoint to the diurnal world of physical decay and blunted intellect, and locates the artist, in Yeats’s phrase, as ‘a golden bird in a golden cage.’ Yet the extent and variety of early medieval Byzantium’s influence upon modern literature in English travels far beyond Yeats’s empire of artifice. Ezra Pound took a lifelong interest in Byzantium, ranging across a number of historic and aesthetic themes: the legislative and architectural accomplishments of Justinian I and Leo the Wise; the difficulties Justinian II experienced with the encroaching Islamic forces of Abd-l Malik; gifts of diplomacy between Byzantium and the Carolingian court; and enduring threats from the Bulgars in the northwest and the nomadic steppe peoples from the east. Pound locates the significance of this history in specific buildings in Constantinople and Ravenna, in coins, bibles, and other objects. Byzantium functions for Pound as an historical benchmark by which to measure other imperial and legislative formations, including China, Renaissance Italy, the United States and the rise of Fascist Italy. This paper will evaluate how the thematic and historical treatment of early medieval Byzantium takes on various registers in modern literature in addition to Pound’s wide-ranging response – including such middlebrow novels as Robert Graves’s Count Belisarius (1938) and Evelyn Waugh’s Helena (1950). Byzantium becomes a fertile trope of invasion and migration, cultural mobility and trade: a source of plunder and inspiration for poets and novelists dealing with large scale geopolitical shifts in their own times.

Contact daniel.grausam@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.


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