Brown professor talks on classical studies research

February 28, 2013

Brandeis’ Interdepartmental Program in European Cultural Studies welcomed Johanna Hanink to campus Wednesday to speak about her research in classical studies. Hanink studied classics at both the University of Michigan and the University of California Berkeley, and received her Ph.D. from Queens College in Cambridge. She is now an Associate Professor of Classics at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Hanink’s research passions include examining how classical tragedy was received in ancient times and how and why only a limited number of plays have survived to the present day. She also has a rooted interest in “Greek theatrical production, performance in and of classical Athens, and in the interrelated poetics and politics of the Great Dionysia and the Athenian epitaphios logos,” she said.

Currently, Hanink is in the last stages of completing her first book, “After the Death of Tragedy: The Theatrical Past in Fourth Century Athens,” which will be published by Cambridge University Press. Upon introducing herself on Wednesday, she acknowledged that her lecture was not only a discussion of her book for the classics-invested audience. In addition, her outline of Athenian history and the development of her work would also serve as a tool “to remember what [she] was trying to argue while writing the book.”

Hanink reflected that, as she began, she “decided to just start writing in an area [she] was comfortable in.” As a result, the book took a different turn upon further research and analysis. She advises students to follow a similar path, letting their motivation guide them in the writing process.

“After the Death of Tragedy: The Theatrical Past in Fourth Century Athens” is based on relationship between the history of the third-quarter of fourth century Athens and its influence on the development of Greek tragedy. The book discusses how the direction of Athenian history dictated that only a slim number of Greek tragedies would survive into the modern era.

Hanink began her lecture by framing the history of Athens in the third-quarter of the fourth century. She posed the question, “Can theater save a city?” In answering this question, she described the opinions and works of a distinct cast of characters, including Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great, Demosthenes, Aeschines and Aristotle. This collection of scholars was “all aware of each other, interacting either indirectly or directly,” she said.

She then sketched the Athenian theatrical landscape, referring to famous playwrights including Carcinus II, Theodectes and Chaeremon, who were all mentioned in the work of Aristotle. However, she noted, no fourth century tragedy has survived.

Hanink’s lecture was both engaging and thought-provoking. The questions she posed against the backdrop of Athenian history not only drew in the audience but also highlighted the continued relevance of Greek tragedy in our own society and culture today.

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