Chris Bishop, The Dark Gaze of Galla Placidia


Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

The Dark Gaze of Galla Placidia

Thursday 23 August, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL


The Roman empress Galla Placidia haunts the Cantos of Ezra Pound:

And there was grass on the floor of the temple,

Or where the floor of it might have been;

            Gold fades in the gloom,

            Under the blue-black roof, Placidia’s,

Of the exarchate; and we sit here

By the arena, les gradins… (Canto XXI)

The numerous drafts of Canto XXI demonstrate the significance of the empress and her centrality (in the mind of the poet) to a meeting in Verona, at a café near the Roman arena, where Pound met T.S. Eliot in the summer of 1922. That year, Pound was in Verona with both his wife, Dorothy, and his lover, Bride Scratton, and the latter had a strong recollection of Eliot placing a manuscript of The Waste Landon the table before Pound.  Pound had just finished his revisions of that poem and found himself both in awe of Eliot’s genius, and dismayed by what he saw as his own inability to achieve the same level of brilliance.  Eliot, on leave from his position at Lloyds Bank, was becoming increasingly critical of Pound’s Bel Esprit venture, and feared that the public-funding promised by it would see him lose his job.  And so, they met, Pound and Eliot (and, apparently, Galla Placidia) in a café beside the Veronese arena.

This paper will explore some of the complex receptions of Galla Placidia during the early 20th century, focusing primarily on the poetry of Pound, but also contextualising that reception within the memories of Aleksandr Blok and Carl Gustav Jung, both of whom also fell in love with the long-dead empress.

Dr Chris Bishop he teaches Latin, Ancient Greek and History in the Centre for Classical Studies (ANU). This paper will appear in East is East? Orientalism and the Western Reception of Ancient Women in Power. His publications include Text and Transmission in Medieval Europe (2007), Medievalist Comics and the American Century (2016), and numerous articles on modern receptions of Classical and Medieval literature.

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