The ongoing surge of refugees crossing from Africa and Syria to Greece and Italy has led scholars and other observers to coin the term “The Black Mediterranean.” It’s an evocative phrase, asking us to rethink the fertile “cradle of civilization” as a necropolitical zone whose brutality matches that of the Atlantic middle passage. Yet the term is meant as more than an analogy. Saucier and Woods argue that “Antiblack violence in the Mediterranean basin has its roots in the earliest racial slave trade in which Italian merchants funded Portuguese raiders across the Mediterranean Sea and down the Atlantic coast of Africa,” and thus “What we are facing today is a new declination of an old and repressed issue that haunts… the European project and modernity itself.”
Please join the Migrancy Working Group for their second meeting of the semester, taking place on Monday, October 16th in Allen 314, from 6-8 pm, to discuss Dido and Aeneas, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead in the context of the Black Mediterranean/Atlantic. Email email@example.com for access to the readings and to RSVP. Below is a note from Professor Sussman about the curation of the readings:
In the service of our working group’s mission to explore the “long histories and emerging presents of migrancy,” our October 16th session will juxtapose recent accounts of the crisis in the Mediterranean to some late seventeenth-century literary and musical representations of migrancy in the region’s past: specifically, accounts of the tragic meeting of Dido—a Phoenician queen—and Aeneas—a refugee from Troy—in the Mediterranean city of Carthage. Thus, we’ve given you the very short libretto of Tate and Purcell’s 1689 opera, Dido and Aeneas, along with a modern translation of its source material, Virgil’s Aeneid, and a link to Jessye Norman performing the opera’s final aria. We’ve also included a short excerpt from Joseph Roach’s influential book, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance analyzing the place of the opera in British imperial expansion. Roach reads Dido’s last words —“Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate”—as “the sacrificial expenditure of Africa” as “the Mediterranean-centered consciousness of European memory [turns] into an Atlantic-centered one.” But recent events enjoin us to re-interrogate the Neo-Classical representation of large scale human migration. What can we now remember about Dido that we have previously allowed ourselves to forget? What happens when we consider the continuity of the Black Mediterranean and the Black Atlantic, as well as their resonant similarities in both the eighteenth century and our own time?
NB: Dido and Aeneas has had other important contemporary reinterpretations. If you have time, you might also look at Mark Morris’s 1989 dance performance (pictured above), with Morris (right) taking the role of Dido.