Connection revealed between epic poetry and toppling of confederate monuments

Dante King '21

In his research on classical history and liter­ature, Dante King finds relating the work to modern-day circumstances to be one of the most exciting aspects of the process. “Often classics seems very distant from things going on now because the ancient Mediterranean world was so long ago. It’s great when we can really show why read­ing about people and experiences from 2,000 years ago is relevant and even more, is still significant,” he said.

King, a classical studies major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, dedi­cated his Independent Study to comparing Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, both works of early Imperial epic poetry during the reign of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. He argued that while Vir­gil’s work was “more propagandistic, particularly via the characters of the Trojan Aeneas and Italic Turnus and their rivalry, Ovid’s writing pushed back a little bit. He wasn’t so comfortable whole­heartedly supporting the emperor in his expansionist goals as Virgil was,” King explained. His research went on to compare this “sociopolitical debate” ask­ing questions about imperialism, the spread of Roman rule and culture to the modern debate over the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States. King found similarities in the crossroads these two debates face and used Ovid as “an exemplar of what to do if you disagree with something that has been estab­lished,” he explained: “Peacefully resist via the medium of your choice, and for Ovid,” King explained, “that medium was poetry.”

The same experiences and themes King found in classical literature remained relevant as he examined the use of Confederate monuments and conversations around them. “They dealt with maybe not similar problems, but equiva­lent problems that we’re still facing today,” he said. “People have been going through things like this for a long time and if we look at their example, we can better understand how we might tackle our own social issues.”

King found the pandemic didn’t cause diffi­culties for him because he was able to access resources online. His close relationship with Josephine Shaya, associate professor of classi­cal studies, with whom he’s completed seven courses with and served with as a teaching ap­prentice, made the transition to meeting online seamless. “She understood my project and me as a student and a scholar. Her expertise was invalu­able,” he said. Shaya and King also worked closely together throughout the year to organize several online events to support students in the Classics program and the College community. “I have to commend Dante for his work this year as the President of Eta Sigma Phi, the classics honorary society,” said Shaya. “Dante hosted hundreds of students at online trivia nights, a museum ex­ploration event, and at virtual lectures, and he collaborated with students in the history depart­ment to help produce an escape room game and a round of Family Feud. I couldn’t be prouder of all of the students who created these events.”

As he prepares to start his Ph.D. in classics at Cornell University in the fall, King appreci­ates the skills in time management he gained throughout this project as well as learning to write about and engage with previous scholar­ship in the area through his work with Shaya. “Dante’s I.S. explores the kinds of questions that he could pursue in graduate school,” Shaya said, giving the examples, “What are the stakes of cultural memory and foundation stories? How do the meanings and functions of foundation stories change over time?” King is looking forward to continuing to investigate the relationship between text and image as well as studying further the characters of the Aeneid.

Originally published in the summer 2021 issue of Wooster magazine.

Posted in Independent Study on July 7, 2021.