Department Colloquium: Arsen Nisanyan (Harvard) “Kindling the song of Humanism: How one translation of Homer's Iliad changed intellectual life in Turkey”

Thursday, October 19, 2023 - 4:45pm to 6:15pm

402 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th St.

*4:15-4:45 pm: Coffee and cookies in Cohen Hall 2nd Floor Lounge. All are welcome.

Speaker: Arsen Nisanyan, PhD candidate at Harvard University

Title:“Kindling the song of Humanism: How one translation of Homer's Iliad changed intellectual life in Turkey”

Abstract: My paper considers the reception of the Classical world in Turkey, including the literary corpus and the material remains, which is a critically understudied area within reception studies. I aim to present a broad historical survey extending from the Middle Ages down to the modern period, thereby providing a basic framework for future research. Any discussion concerning pre-modern engagements with Anatolia’s Greco-Roman heritage in the absence of literary attestations has to revolve around the examination of Turkish folklore and material culture, and I will point out four case studies and suggest potential approaches. But the lion’s share of my remarks will focus on the modern period, when debates concerning the role of the Classical past in defining a Turkish identity became a heated ideological issue. This period, c. 1930-70, saw at least nine translations of Homer’s Iliad made into the Turkish language, each manifesting a different ideological outlook. The most original among these was produced by a group of young intellectuals who went by the name of Blue Anatolians, and their translation, conceived as a humanist manifesto, became a symbol of resistance against the totalitarian tendencies of the Turkish state. We will go over this translation, examining its linguaistic register and the intellectual milieu of its translators in some detail. Finally, we will look at how the legacy of the Blue Anatolians still plays a decisive role in shaping cultural discourses and concrete policy decisions in today’s Turkey.