Although our classical heritage in the fine arts is seldom disputed, little research has been done on classical influences on popular fiction.  And yet the influence is plain to see, particularly in the genre of detective fiction, which has been shaped by classical themes from its inception.  Although detective fiction is often claimed to have originated in America with the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the earliest work in the genre was a play – Oedipus Tyrannus, by Sophocles – in which the detective and the murderer were the same person.  The purpose of this panel is to examine some of the ways in which classical models have furnished the basis for works of American detective fiction from its nineteenth-century origins to the present day.

            Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma will start the proceedings with an analysis of the Alcestis theme in Poe’s tale “The Tomb of Ligeia”.  Professor Ralph Doty of the University of Oklahoma will consider the theme of the descent to the Underworld in Aeneid VI and the Orpheus story in Metamorphoses and how it is reflected in Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep.  Emeritus Professor Donald F. Jackson of the University of Iowa will follow with an examination of the theme of the family curse in the Oresteia and in the novels of Ross MacDonald.  Finally, Professor Elizabeth Vandiver of Rhodes College will show how a contemporary mystery writer reworks a Sophoclean theme in”Sisterhood Is Powerful: Antigone in Amanda Cross’s The Theban Mysteries”.


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