Episode 14: ‘Shades of Adamastor‘ - Notions of Africa in Ancient Greece

Goodnight Azania

26-07-2021 • 50 mins

The history of South African literature is so multidimensional that sometimes to speak of a South African literature feels like a contradiction of sorts. This is also not surprising, given the full extent of violence, segregation, greed and white supremacy that lies at the instance of confrontation between the hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and the agro-pastoralist communities of this landscape and invading Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries of South African history.

We have, however, been fortunate enough to have different scholars on the different literary traditions come expand on the conceptual frameworks of each and, where possible, how these traditions have evolved to the present and perhaps they are expected to continue to mutate in the coming future.

Today’s episode is in keeping with that trajectory begun a couple of episodes ago with the discussion of Khoekhoe and San oral and visual literary cultures, through to the northern languages of present-day Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In this episode, however, we are interested in tracing the knowledge systems of Europeans in relation to southern Africa, from the entire tradition of European literacy and speculation.

What are the conceptions of this part of the world in ancient Greece? How do these conceptions continue on into medieval times and how do they inform the assumptions carried by Europeans on their voyages of so-called discovery around the world and in South Africa? How do these make themselves felt in the literature of South Africa?

To help us unpack all these questions we are joined by Jeffrey Murray.

Before joining the University of Cape Town, Jeffrey was Lecturer in Classics in the School of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is currently writing a commentary on Book 9 of Valerius Maximus’ Facta et dicta memorabilia, the only book of the work to have an unremitting focus on negative values. Apart from historical and literary commentary on the text of this first century AD writer, this work will also include exegetical essays on the various vices covered in Book 9, such as luxury, lust, cruelty, anger etc., contextualising them in Roman moral tradition and ancient ethical thought and literature in general.

Jeffrey is also editing a volume on Valerius Maximus with a colleague of his, David Wardle, arising from a conference hosted at the University of Cape Town in October 2017.

His other main research interest is in the History of Classical Scholarship and the cognate field of Classical Reception Studies, particularly as they concern the colonial and postcolonial periods of southern African history.

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