Shadi Bartsch on the Classics and China | Conversations with Tyler Podcast Summary

Shadi Bartsch on the Classics and China | Podcast Summary

Shadi Bartsch on the Classics and China | Conversations with Tyler

In this insightful conversation, Shadi Bartsch, a distinguished professor of Classics at the University of Chicago, explores her unique interpretation of Virgil’s Aeneid, the influence of her Iranian heritage on her understanding of the classics, and her forthcoming book on Chinese interpretations of classic literature.

She also discusses the Romans’ relationship with art, the role of women in Virgil’s Aeneid, and the psychology of power in ancient Rome.

Insights from Roman Psychology

The Romans had a transactional relationship with their gods, which they used to rationalize their actions, such as going to war.

This offers valuable insights into the psychology of power in ancient Rome.

Most political parties, most ideologies, most governments use very similar rhetoric to represent utterly different situations. But that’s because there’s basically an agreed-on rhetoric of what it’s good to claim you stand for. – Shadi Bartsch

Virgil as a Political Philosopher

Bartsch regards Virgil as the greatest political philosopher of ancient Rome.

She suggests that, like Aristotle, Virgil understands that sometimes poetry can be more truthful than factual truth.

Like Aristotle, [Virgil] understands that sometimes poetry is truer than truth. – Shadi Bartsch

The Underworld in the Aeneid

Virgil’s portrayal of the underworld in the Aeneid is more vibrant and bustling than Homer’s.

However, there are inconsistencies in the text that challenge the narrative, such as conflicting claims about the Romans’ lineage.

Challenging T.S. Eliot’s Assertion

Bartsch disputes T.S. Eliot’s claim that Virgil’s Aeneid was the first poem sympathetic to the Christian mind, arguing that this assertion is largely nonsensical.

Cultural Relevance of Long Poems

Bartsch doubts that long poems will regain their cultural centrality due to the modern lack of patience and empathy for texts written in different registers or that seem to discuss archaic or outdated values.

Learning Latin and Mandarin

Bartsch shares her experience of learning Latin and Mandarin.

She self-taught Latin using a textbook and believes it’s effective to learn it as a written language.

However, for Mandarin, she emphasizes the importance of learning from a native speaker to avoid misunderstandings.

Future of Ancient Manuscripts

Bartsch is optimistic that significant new manuscripts from the ancient world will continue to be discovered.

She explains that archaeologists are still exploring areas where manuscripts are known to exist but have not been found, and the technology for reading these papyri has significantly improved.

Surviving Texts and the Ancient World

Bartsch discusses the representation of the ancient world in the surviving texts.

She suggests that the texts that have survived were likely the most popular ones, as decided by the ancients themselves.

However, she acknowledges that it’s difficult to determine how much has been lost and how representative the surviving texts are of the ancient world as a whole.

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