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Durham University

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Miss Maddalena Ruini

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Research Project: Gladstone's Homer and Victorian Time

My research uses the Homeric scholarship of Prime Minister William Gladstone to reassess the place of the ancient world in Victorian culture and society. In his lifetime, Gladstone was as derided as he was prolific, as a Homeric commentator. But his work cannot be marginalized as easily as earlier scholarship has been inclined to. Seen through the lens of Gladstone’s Homer, Victorian ideas of time, history and authority start to look very different.

In the 19th century, the long-buried past came back, be it in the form of ancient cities being unearthed (Nineveh or Troy), or as human remains of our predecessors (Neanderthal men, for instance), or in public discussion of evolution. The distant past shook the foundation of Victorian culture, disrupting the secular balance of authority between science and faith. In the midst of this revolution, according to Gladstone, Homer provided answers, and safe harbour. The Homeric poems were, for him, authentic historical testimony, an encyclopaedia for any investigation of humanity’s distant past: historical, scientific, literary or religious. For Gladstone, the origin of mankind and civilisation, the crisis of faith and Darwinism were all to be understood through Homer.

Our understanding of ‘Homer’, today, looks very different because of Gladstone. My research aims to reassess the politician’s forgotten contribution to shaping the reception of Homer: as Homeric populariser, as Schliemann’s main collaborator in England, as well as one of Britain’s most vocal (even if often self-proclaimed) authority figures in Homeric studies.

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