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Global Influence

Cover page of James’ Joyce’s Ulysses, 1921, held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

How have classically-inspired Irish authors influenced world literature?

Multicultural awareness is part of what has made Irish literature so successful internationally, and this project aims to show how the classicism of Irish authors, in particular, has influenced the literature of other new nations and nations in areas of conflict.

The fact that Ireland had a pre-colonial heritage of adapting classical literature must have been a factor in the choices made by figures like James Joyce and W. B. Yeats in turning to classical sources for writing national literature. Joyce must have read the English translation of the Irish medieval tale of Odysseus’ wanderings (the Merugud Uilixes Meic Leirtis), for instance, which was published in 1886. The enormous influence of Joyce and Yeats on world literature is well known, but the extent to which the classicism of these authors has played a role in that influence has not yet been properly studied.

Selected examples

  • Leopoldo Marechal’s Adán Buenosayres (1948) is Argentina’s national novel, inspired by Joyce’s Ulysses. To what extent have the classical tropes underpinning Joyce’s original been transferred to a Latin American context? Did the significant Irish diaspora in Argentina, the fifth largest Irish community in the world and the largest in a non-English-speaking country, play any role in the prominence of Joyce’s popularity in Argentina?
  • Scholarship on Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) has shown that he was influenced by Yeats, but how do Yeats’ classical sources translate through this process? Is the influence purely formal? Can the pull towards mythology be connected to Yeats’ classicism? Does the theme of dispossession in Darwish’s poetry connect with classicizing Irish musings on the same theme?
  • Algerian author Salim Bachi’s award-winning first novel Le chien d’Ulysse (2001) is set in fictional Cyrtha, an ancient city in modern Algeria, and inspired by Joyce’s Ulysses. The dog (‘le chien’) features only briefly in the narrative, indicating that the title has a broader implication in positioning the novel modestly as a ‘follower’ of the masterpiece Ulysses. But what impact does this classical framework have on the subsequent novels in Bachi’s Cyrtha cycle, La Kahéna (2003) and Les douze contes de minuit (2006), and how has the classicism of Joyce paved the way for exploring national identity through Homeric motifs?