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Radical Translations

Erica J. Mannucci presents on Sylvain Maréchal — poet, journalist, and member of the Babeuf Conspiracy of Equals — and his use of the image of ancient Scythians in a revolutionary context.

The conference centres upon the figure of Anacharsis, a Scythian philosopher travelling around the Greek world during the age of Solon’s reforms, killed for adopting alien (Greek) religious practices upon his return to Scythia and pursuing too strong an interest in alterity. His peripatetic presence combined with his penchant for intellectual exploration and questioning of ‘otherness’ will soon make Anacharsis a paradigm of enlightened independence. His legend was revived in the age of the Enlightenment, when his philosophy returned to intellectual discourse as an agent of dissonance and rupture fostering an emergent cultural relativism and cosmopolitanism. Today, Anacharsis helps us understand how ancient and modern reacted to religious conflicts, cultural diversity and political transformation.

The project as whole addresses issues of great relevance to our contemporary world, such as the perceived threat to cultural and national identities, and the successes and failures of cross-cultural interaction. In a period in which these issues permeate our politics, Anacharsis continues to offer insights into the current modalities of dialogue and mediation between 'us' and 'them', and our own fragile sense of national or post-national belonging. The conference brings together different branches within Classical Studies (Greek literature in particular, with specific focus on Hellenistic and Imperial philosophy and rhetoric), but creates also important synergies between Classics and Modern Philosophy and Political Theory.

Erica's presentation is titled —Anacharsis in the French Revolution: a case-study on Sylvain Maréchal

Some examples of Anacharsis references in the French revolutionary period are obvious: the success of abbé Barthélemy’s erudite novel on the travels of “Anacharsis the younger” in Greece in Aristotle’s times; the famous German-born member of the French Convention Jean-Baptiste Cloots shedding his excessively Christian name and choosing Anacharsis instead, exercising a right to adopt a name of choice which came to be recognized by law.

In Sylvain Maréchal, the choice of ancient references was not a simple reflection of the political culture of his times, but an essential and idiosyncratic aspect of his intellectual and political radicalism. Poet and journalist, member of Babeuf’s Conspiracy of Equals in 1796, but also a well-read librarian, he authored both scholarly works, like the French edition of the Antiquités d’Herculanum, and political materials, like the Almanach des républicains (1793), where the 6th of March was dedicated to the memory of Anacharsis, seen as a martyr of egalitarianism. Another reference was in the first volume of his Voyages de Pythagore (1799), where he gave his version of the “Banquet des Sept Sages”, including Anacharsis among them. If Greek authors were already not unanimous in their representations of the legendary travelling Scythian sage, it is illuminating to explore how ancient representations could be “remixed” in that modern revolutionary context to express a political vision. As the way of life Anacharsis represents seems to be the main point for Maréchal, it may prove useful to broaden the perspective to include the way Maréchal used the image of the Scythians or of their modern descendants, peoples on which a new mythology had been developing in the 18th century.

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