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Orpheus Crosses the Atlantic: Greek and Latin Texts by Native Americans in Colonial New England
Craig Williams
Associate 2017-18

Colonial New England saw a focused effort by Protestant missionaries to train select young American Indian men in “the learned languages” in preparation for college or the ministry. The result was a body of texts written by Native North Americans in Ancient Greek and Latin prose and verse which forms the centerpiece of this book. Professor Williams is the first scholar to gather, translate, and interpret these texts as a complex and unique body of writing.

Professor Williams’ book will make significant contributions to scholarly conversations happening in several fields. Classicists, including those specializing in Neo-Latin, have not written about this material and are largely unaware of its existence. Those working in the field of reception studies, exploring the widely varying uses made of the languages, literatures, and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, have recently begun looking beyond European and Euro-American contexts to Africa, India, Latin America, and the Caribbean, but Native North American receptions of Greece and Rome have not yet been studied. Specialists in Native American Studies and Atlantic History have discussed some but not all of this material, and typically do not have the background in Greek and Latin studies to fully contextualize the texts. Professor Williams’ book will simultaneously interpret these Greek and Latin texts with the tools of classical philology, for example by analyzing features of their language or their allusions to classical literature, and explore the ways in which these and other Native-authored texts engaging with Greece and Rome negotiate the relationship between the deep and living antiquity of their authors’ indigenous cultures and the recently encountered antiquity of the European settler-colonists.


Image: Detail from a letter by Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk (Wampanoag), 1663