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Jenny Messenger


Cult Texts and their Reception in Borges, Eco and Graves

Supervised by: Classics: Dr Crystal Addey; Dr Emma Buckley. Modern Languages: Dr Eleni Kefala

My research focuses on the ways in which Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986), Umberto Eco (1932 - 2016) and Robert Graves (1895 - 1985) engage with Neoplatonic and Hermetic texts from late antiquity to inform their own individual theories of creativity. Working with texts often viewed as 'esoteric', such as Iamblichus' De Mysteriis, the Corpus Hermeticum and the Chaldean Oracles, I hope to produce a close reception study arguing that Borges, Eco and Graves offer a fresh approach to ‘mainstream’ classical reception, which has hitherto privileged study of the dominant figures of the ancient canon – Homer, Virgil, Ovid et al. Part of my research also involves tracing the complex history of Neoplatonic scholarship to determine how and why these texts have been pushed aside, and to investigate the source of their appeal for each modern writer. My hypothesis is that this project will not just establish how the esoteric is used by these modern authors to reflect upon their own creativity; as a whole this reception study, which puts the esoteric at the centre rather than the margin, will also offer a new ‘history of literary inspiration’ for the twentieth century canon.

Academic biography and research interests

I completed a BA in Classics at the University of Oxford in 2012, followed by an MA in Classical Reception at the University of Bristol in 2013. After a couple of years working as a journalist, I returned to academia in 2015. My research interests include classical reception, the history of classical scholarship, and philosophy and religion in late antiquity, with a focus on Neoplatonism and the Corpus Hermeticum