Jesse Weiner.
Associate Professor of Classics Jesse Weiner recently presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Classical Association / Classical Association of Scotland. The event took place at Swansea University in Wales with the theme “Classics and the Future.”

As a member of a panel on classical receptions in science fiction, Weiner presented a paper titled “‘I will never understand these people’: Classicists and Classicism in Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos.” The paper considers Dan Simmons’ presentation of classics and classicism in the Ilium/Olympos dyad (2003-2005), two sprawling science fiction novels based in large part upon Homer and the myths of the Trojan War.

According to Weiner, Simmons resets classical antiquity and our classicisms in the future, though these re-imaginations are grounded in Simmons’ own early 21st-century present. In Simmons’ technoscientific world, literacy itself represents a lamentably bygone technology, and classicists of our modernity occupy a central position as guardians of special knowledge that links past, present, and future.

Weiner says that even as the novels’ “scholics,” or 20th- and 21st-century classicists — one based on an actual faculty member at an American university; the other characterized as a graduate of Hamilton College — are charged with “knowing” the ancient world, Simmons emphasizes the unknowability of the classical past.

“Thus, just as the other worlds of science fiction effect cognitive estrangement in their audiences, so too is antiquity alienating in its cultural, temporal, and linguistic distance,” he says.

Weiner notes that “the novels’ classicist protagonist acknowledges as much, as it pertains to violence and fatalism.” Using the novels’ treatment of homoeroticism as an example, Weiner suggests that this estrangement runs deeper than the central character, or Simmons himself, might realize.

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