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Greek Fire: Classical Visions of Sex and Violence in Contemporary Irish Literature

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Master's thesis

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The literatures of the classical world have played an important part in the shaping of English literature the impact upon Irish culture has been no less profound. In contemporary Irish poetry and drama, the dominant strain found is that writers are using the classics as a lens through which to view the oppressive and taboo themes of violence and sex in modern life. The result is often a deliberate inversion of gender roles, the construction and assertion of peace being a feminine principle that is placed in a primary position instead of more violent masculine attitudes. These authors work from within this binary representation of a patriarchal order to demonstrate its ineffectiveness in both domestic and political terms, but they perform this criticism through the medium of the classics in order to gain a more objective vantage point. This is not simple neo-classicism but rather a method to expand imaginative possibilities in modern material. The authors included in this study employ the classics toward political and domestic peace, but each in their unique way. Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley explore the feminine peace from within the patriarchy, creating some form of hope against the surrounding violence of their society. Mary OMalley, Nuala Ni Dhomhniall, and Eavan Boland approach the dominant political and domestic structure from without, asserting not only feminine peace, but female sexuality and gender roles as well. Frank McOuinness is the most progressive author of the survey, working freely from both the feminine and male perspectives, yet still adhering to an abhorrence of masculine arrogance. The objective of these poems and plays is not to hold the world of ancient Greece and Rome as shining examples of how a society should be, but to explore ancestral musing on all that is visceral and human. Rather than becoming lost in language segregated from experience, they use the Greeks and Romans as symbols adequate to our predicament.

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  • Humanities and History

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