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Abstract

In her article "Comparative Literature, Ancient Rome, and the Crisis of Modern European History" Lucia Boldrini considers Edward Said's and Jacques Derrida's arguments about the centrality of romania to the European philological tradition and the contemporary understanding of literature and discusses in this light a selection of twentieth-century novels set at the time when literature, empire, Europe, Latinity, and Christianity were coming together: Broch's The Death of Virgil, Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, Horia's God Was Born in Exile, and Malouf's An Imaginary Life. Linking the Roman past to the present of historical destruction and colonialism, these novels also establish a relationship between the old protagonist and a child or youth, representative of absolute innocence and authenticity, who finally walks away, dissolves or dies. In their interrupted state, these youths cannot become the future and can only presage utopia. Having held up the image of a different future and a different historical time, the novels show that only in the acknowledgment of historical contingencies can one recognize a responsibility towards generations past and yet to come, and towards those who are not "us."