Heaney’s ‘Classical Ground’
This essay compares the forms, tone, and content of Heaney’s handling of Hellenic and Roman material and argues that the ambivalences and conflicts within and between these are at their most acute in displacing Heaney’s ‘middle voice’ from its moderating role in holding the balance between, on the one hand, anger and violence and, on the other hand, catharsis and resolution. The Antaeus/Heracles struggle is often read as a metaphor for the challenge presented to Heaney by the competing forces of his rural Irish roots and his elevated global status as a learned and feted poet. I argue here that the metaphor also signals profound conflicts in his handling of classical material. These can be read at a number of levels both within Heaney’s work and in and through the light it sheds on wider questions that are at the hub of aesthetic and political interaction. ‘Deep’ analysis of the differing trajectories of Heaney’s Greek and Roman voices reveals conflicted inscriptions of poetic, religious, and cultural memory and throws open windows into the poetics of repression and the study of trauma.
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