Academic Commons

Theses Doctoral

(Post-)Classical Coloniality; Identity, Gender (Trouble), and Marginality/subalternity in Hellenized Imperial Dynastic Poetry from Alexandria, with an epilogue on Rome

Claros, Yujhan

This dissertation is about how dominant identity is constructed through the centering and incorporation of marginal and subaltern subjectivities in Ancient Greek thought, with some preliminary consideration of the Classical Age but chiefly devoted to a study of Hellenistic poetic aesthetics at Ptolemaic Alexandria. The thesis argues ultimately for a specifically Queer and Afrocentric reading of the ArgonautikaI use postcolonial methods, tactics, and strategies to theorize the genealogical intersection(s) of gender and race, and explore the ancient roots of racism. I am indebted in my work to Critical Race Theory, Gender and Queer Theory, Intersectionality Theory and Decolonial Studies.

Guided by the millennial discourses of the Coloniality of power and the contributions of Aníbal Quijano and his intellectual heirs to critical thought and theory—positing the fundamental and central functions of epistemological thought, knowledge-production and the control and regulation of knowledge within oppressive social orders as specifically and particularly interrelated practices in the European colonialism of Modernity, and enabling us to deconstruct out of our contemporary knowledge and social practices the oppressive consequences in Modernity as a result of the aftermath of Old World regimes in the New World—the argument throughout this dissertation subjects monuments of Classical Greek literature to an analysis that traces loosely a genealogy of how ideology and identity were constructed and fabricated in imperial contexts in the aftermath of the Greco-Persian Wars, during which time Hellenic peoples were first exposed to Empire, and some great portions of the Greek-speaking world came under the dominion of the Achaemenid imperial regime.

In a manner of speaking, this dissertation deconstructs the intersections of identity, including gender (and ethnicity) and “race”, at pivotal moments in the history of Greek Antiquity. Principal test-cases for this study analyze monumental texts produced in societies under the hegemony of “democratic” imperial authority at Athens in the 5th Century BCE and Ptolemaic Egypt in the 3rd Century, in the aftermath of Alexander’s conquests. This dissertation explores how the control and regulation of racialized and ethnic marginalities and subalternities is critical to civic and political structures in the Classical Age, as well as how the interrelated concept of the gendered other, in artistic expressions of knowledge and authority—high literary monuments—functioned critically to reify and justify imperial and colonial practices in the Ancient Greek World.

Chapter 1 consists primarily of readings of the Wesir-Heru (“Osiris-Horus”) dynastic succession myth from Egypt in representations of kingship and dynastic succession particularly in Africa and African spaces in the texts of Pindar, Herodotos, and Aiskhylos, including an exploration of the what at the instigation of Jackie Murry I call the Imagistic Poetics of Pindar and Aiskhylos in comparative consideration of Egyptian symbolic literary culture, including even the mdw-ntjr (“hieroglyphs”), and an especially instructive close reading of the center of the Agamemnon. To support my readings of Aiskhylos’ interactions with Egypt and Egyptian thought, I also consider how Aiskhylos interacted with the legacy of the Danaid myth. Situated in their proper historical contexts these readings demonstrate that during the height of the Achaemenid Empire in the Mediterranean World, which coincides incidentally with what we call the Greek Classical Age, Hellenism and Africanism were not mutually exclusive.

In fact, as we see early in Chapter 1 with Pindar, Africanism is coextensive with Panhellenism. Furthermore, and critically, as part of my readings of gender as racialized—i.e., constructed under the Ancient Greek linguistic paradigms that govern “racial” otherness (genos)—I show that Blackness, beyond representing masculinity and the male body in the Greek artistic and visual imagination, is separable notionally in the Ancient Greek imagination, and in critical contrast to the modern and contemporary situation, from Africanism. In order to perform this work, I call upon archaeology and material evidence to render a more coherent picture of the networks of culture accessible in the micro- and macro-regions of an interconnected and transnational Ancient Mediterranean. In Appendixes to Chapter 1, I also provide brief readings of intertextuality in the Hellenistic reception at Alexandria of Classical Greek interactions with Egypt, Libya, and the African cultural past and show the embeddedness of that interaction in literary encounters especially, a fact evident from the Classical Greek texts.

Chapter 2 explores the Hellenistic origins of Afro-Greek subjectivity in the literary record with Theokritos at Alexandria. I explore “race” in the West and the formation of Greek ethnicity in the East as a “kairological” artistic and poetic projection that exposes of the roots of 3rd-century universalist and globalist Ptolemaic imperial ideology. I also explore Space and identity, the social imaginary, and consequent(ial)ly the gendering of space in the poetry of Poseidippos. In my readings, we see texts engaged intimately with discourses about Sovereignty, and implicitly with the history of Rome and Qrt-ḥdšt (“Carthage”).

Chapters 3 and 4 function as a pair or couple. After a full historical and social contextualization of Ptolemaic Alexandria in the Hellenistic Age of the 3rd Century BCE, as well as an exploration of an inclusive range of Queer (including “LGBTQ+”) subjectivities in Alexandrian poetry in Chapter 3, in Chapter 4 I argue that in the Argonautika of Apollonios Rhodios Medeia represents a Queer woman who endures systematic heteronormative and patriarchal oppression, or heterosexism. This opens up Book 4 of the Argonautika for fertile close readings of the inclusive and all-encompassing aesthetics that constitute Hellenistic poetry, including authentically Kemetic (“Egyptian”) voices.

The Epilogue provides a roadmap for applying these analytic tools to the Latin Literature of Rome.


  • thumnail for Claros_columbia_0054D_16429.pdf Claros_columbia_0054D_16429.pdf application/pdf 36.9 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ma, John T.
Williams, Gareth David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 21, 2021