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Foundational Texts of World Literature


Edited By Dominique Jullien

What makes a world author? How did Homer become a «cosmopolitan» author? How does a Mayan creation narrative challenge our Western logocentric ideas of foundational texts? What might world literature look like to a fourth-century Roman reader? How do past and more recent translations of Dante’s Commedia help us to rethink the changing definitions of world literature? How did the Alexander romance adapt to an Islamic context? How did Tasso’s epic adapt to a later cultural context dominated by the «Turkish Fear»? What shaped the West’s first impression of The Tale of Genji? How does the Ovidian myth of Arachne migrate from Japan to the Caribbean? What are the foundational metaphors at the root of Goethe’s weltliteratur paradigm? What happens when cultures import canonical texts for lack of their own? By what process does an eccentric writer reconstruct a new foundational text from heterogeneous fragments of other cultures? How did literary criticism contribute to the canonization of the Thousand and One Nights in Western literature? What is left of the primacy of the national language when writers are published simultaneously in various translations? How do modern misreadings shape our understanding of national epics and ensure their survival?
World literature, first intuited in Goethe’s foundational idea of weltliteratur as literature that seeks to transcend national boundaries, is viewed here in its essential mobility and migratory capacity, which relies on the centrality of the reading act. This volume focuses on foundational texts as they are read across cultures, languages and historical contexts. Its goal is to reflect on canonical texts – from Homer’s Odyssey to Murakami’s Genji, from Cervantes to Mayan hieroglyphs, from Dante to Coetzee, from Goethe to Lezama Lima, from the Thousand and One Nights to Jorge Luis Borges – in a global perspective: how they are translated, appropriated, transformed, how they travel across different cultures and languages, their foundational status evolving accordingly in a post-European world.
Foundational Texts of World Literature includes contributions by Gerardo Aldana, Sandra Bermann, Piero Boitani, Michael Emmerich, Azadeh Yamini Hamedani, Stefan Helgesson, Paulo Lemos Horta, Juan Pablo Lupi, Peter Madsen, Ulrich Marzolph, Suzanne Saïd, Evanghelia Stead, Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, and Richard Van Leeuwen.


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World Literature Two Thousand Years Ago: Reflections of a Senator in 306 A.D. (Piero Boitani) 17


World Literature Two Thousand Years Ago: Reflections of a Senator in 306 A.D. Piero Boitani e are on the Sabine Hills, near Rome, in the year 306 of our era, that is to say between the abdication of Diocletian and the advent of Constantine, between the last great persecution against the Christians in 303, and the Edict of Milan with which Constantine, in 313, allowed all religions to be practiced in the empire and started building immense Christian basilicas—St John Lateran, St Paul’s Outside the Walls, and St Peter’s—in the City. I am a well-off, cultivated, enlightened pagan living in my Sabine villa from May to October, and following events in Rome and in the world with some anxiety. Like everybody else of my standing, I read, speak, and write Latin and Greek. Although the two parts of the empire, West and East, are fairly different from each other, Latin dominating in the former, Greek in the latter, there is a koiné, a cultural community, spreading from the Atlantic to North Africa and the Middle East, throughout centers such as Rome, Athens, Alexandria, and Antioch, and soon to be extended to that Byzantium which will take the new name of Constantinople, which revels in common grounds as well as diversity. An impressive literary and philosophical tradition, now almost a thousand years old, has come down to me and is stored, intact, in the great libraries of the Mediterranean world, above all in Alexandria and Rome. And indeed I...

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