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Conference: Hacks, Quacks and Impostors: Affected and Assumed Identities in Fiction

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  • Conference
When Nov 16, 2017 05:00 PM to
Nov 17, 2017 06:00 PM
Where Werthmannstr. 8 (rear building), 1st floor, conference room
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An interdisciplinary graduate conference to be held at the University of Freiburg.

Keynote speaker: Prof. Richard Hunter, University of Cambridge, Trinity College
“Esse quam uideri”

The impostor is a familiar figure in fiction: from a layman masquerading as a doctor in Menander’s The Shield (4th cen. BCE) to Flaubert’s incompetent Dr. Bovary in 19th-century France. From Homer’s Odysseus, a king disguised as a lowly beggar, to Nabokov’s Charles Kinbote, a king disguised as a lowly scholar or so it seems. At this conference we will explore the ways in which literary characters feign authority, expertise or social status. We will address in particular the role of the impostor figure and the significance of his or her deception in a literary context. Such a portrayal often tends to delegitimize the office or profession that “impostors” present themselves as occupying or practicing. At other times, it serves the opposite purpose to reinforce the status and value of an office or profession by dissociating it from incompetence and/or immorality. Moreover, a dissembler can also be represented in a positive light, as in the case of Odysseus, engaging in a deceit whose end justifies the means. What characterizes these various portrayals and why?

Furthermore, we are interested in understanding this theme within a text’s generic, as well as historical, context. Dissembling and/or incompetent characters are very commonly found in satire and comedy, but also in “serious” fiction such as epic and tragedy. This conference will examine the elements common to both serious and comic depictions of frauds, as well as the respects in which they differ. There is also much to be gleaned from contextualizing cases of quackery like Menander’s counterfeit doctor and Flaubert’s Dr. Bovary in these writers’ cultural milieux. What political or social implications does the impostor figure entail when we consider a text’s historical background? Do these representations, for example, respond to an anxiety or distrust of an office/status/profession because it is new or in a transitional phase? We aim to shed light on these and other aspects of such characterizations.


Conference program

Further information can be found on our website:


Nikolina Hatton (Ph.D. candidate, English)

Sara Hobe (Ph.D. candidate, Ancient Greek)

Virginia Mastellari (Ph.D. candidate, Ancient Greek)


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