Classical Allusions and Imperial Desire: Problems of Identity in Georgian and Russian Literature
Childs, Mary Evelynne
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This dissertation explores cultural and political aspects of the relationship between Russia and Georgia, through the lens of Classical allusions. Since ancient Greek and Roman times, Classical myths and tales have been re-written by successive generations to reflect on critical political and social issues, including questions of empire and national identity. In Russia and Georgia, such a use of the Classics has been perhaps even more marked than in Western Europe. Straddling Asia and the West, Russians appreciate access to the western Classics as a touchstone of their belonging to Europe. Georgia, on Russia's southern border, is actually home to several famous Classical mythological characters, including Prometheus, Medea, and her father Aeëtes, and its claim to these figures provokes a sense of cultural competition with Russia. In negotiating political and cultural control in the Caucasus, Russia, imagining itself as a neo-Roman Empire, may lay claim to ruling the physical space, imaging itself as a harbinger of civilization for the "uncultured barbarians" on its southern border. Georgia, however, has developed its own sense of nationhood, claiming a spiritual hegemony as an empire of humanism, embracing its ties to Hellenism. Applying a thread of post-colonial theory both to think about Empire from within the hegemonic empire itself, and to listen to voices from the margins, my dissertation is structured on the process of veiling, unveiling, and self-unveiling, and how the use and manipulation of Classical allusions aid in this process. From the common language of Classical references emerges an intellectual space in which the authors I study, the Russians Andrei Bitov, Liudmila Ulitskaia, the Georgian-Armenian, Bulat Okudzhava, and the Georgian, Otar Chiladze, articulate their hopes, passions and desires, a space for their various voices to be heard. Read together, they tell a larger story about the relationship between Russia and Georgia. Touching upon how empire is conceived, imagined and generated, they reflect their countries' shared and intertwined history that includes conflict, disappointment, the problem of dealing with Stalin's legacy, and a strong desire from both parties to be accepted as full and active members in the increasingly complex post-Soviet world.