Classics in Sri Lanka: Classical Reception of Three Modern Sri Lankan Anglophone Female Poets

Classics in Sri Lanka: Classical Reception of Three Modern Sri Lankan Anglophone Female Poets

In my thesis, I explore how three modern Sri Lankan Anglophone female writers, Jean Arasanayagagam (1931-2009), Kamala Wijeratne (1939), and Kamani Jayasekara (1959) use classical themes and motifs in their poetry and demonstrate how they are influenced by the classical education tradition in Sri Lanka. Arasanayagam’s Dutch colonial family ties and her experiences of the civil war as a person married to a Tamil, influence her conflicted attitudes towards the study of Classics and her adaptation of classical material. Although Wijeratne’s educational background in Classics is unknown, many of her poems about war and women use classical references. The use of classical representations allows Wijeratne to offer a broader perspective on the Sri Lankan civil war which is not solely dictated by her ethnic allegiance. Jayasekara, who is a professor in Classics, compares the aspects of the ancient world with her contemporary cultural context and life experiences. Her poetry also critiques classical texts and motifs. Thus, I argue that the three poets’ different connections with Classics and their social, political, and cultural context affect their responses to the ancient texts and themes in their poetry. Classical reception in Sri Lanka is a little-explored topic and few studies have extensively examined the evolution of classical education in Sri Lanka. My exploration, therefore, should prompt further work that will enhance scholarly understanding of classical reception in Sri Lanka.

As this is my final oral presentation, first I will briefly offer an outline of my thesis, including the context, research gap, methodology, theoretical approaches, and the chapter breakdown. I will then discuss with selected examples the classical reception of the three poets and demonstrate how they were influenced by the classical education tradition of Sri Lanka.

Date & time

Wed 24 May 2023, 3.30–4.15pm


AD Hope Conference Room 1.28. Reception to follow in the Classics Museum.


Anushka Danapala, ANU


Dr Estelle Strazdins


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