SPQR in the USSR
Elena Shvarts’s Classical Antiquity

Georgina Barker

Legenda (General Series)


20 October 2022  •  372pp

ISBN: 978-1-839540-52-3 (hardback)  •  RRP £85, $115, €99

ISBN: 978-1-839540-53-0 (paperback, forthcoming)

ISBN: 978-1-839540-54-7 (JSTOR ebook)

Access online: Books@JSTOR


Since her rise to notoriety among the dissident artists of the 1970s Leningrad underground, Elena Shvarts (1948-2010) has earned a place in the canon of great Russian poets for the originality, riotousness, beauty, and deceptive erudition of her poetry. Many of Shvarts’s greatest poems were inspired by classical antiquity – the literature, myth, and history of ancient Rome and Greece. Her antiquity is never static: it evolves in response to the seismic changes that Russia underwent during her lifetime. In this in-depth study Georgina Barker follows Shvarts’s transcendental and escapist encounters with classical antiquity from wild youth to defiant old age, and discovers Shvarts shaping antiquity to fit herself.

An appendix of Barker’s translations of Shvarts’s classical poems and archival transcriptions of previously unpublished poems gives anglophone and russophone readers alike unprecedented access to Elena Shvarts’s classical antiquity.

Georgina Barker is Leverhulme Early-Career Fellow in the Department of Greek and Latin at UCL.


  • ‘The book is a treasure trove, and not just for those interested in antiquity. It was written after Shvarts’s death and after access to archival materials opened out a fuller picture of her notebooks, drafts, and discards. Barker takes excellent advantage of this bounty, amply illustrating her study with photographs of the poet and with copies of many manuscripts (which nearly always show how little Shvarts amended as she worked)... [Her] insightful reading of the brilliant poem Homo Musagetes is a fitting culmination of the entire book and a model for the kind of interpretive work that is still to come for many other Shvarts poems. We will all be building on Barker’s superb book in undertaking that work.’ — Stephanie Sandler, Russian Review 82, 2023, 535-36 (full text online)
  • ‘Georgina Barker’s new book on Elena Shvarts’s classical reception is a welcome addition to the growing number of monographs on Russia’s literary reception of Greece and Rome... Overall, this book will be useful to scholars interested in classical reception in Russia. It will also serve in graduate-level seminars addressing reception studies and comparative literary approaches.’ — Zara Torlone, Modern Language Review 2024, 119.1, 176-78 (full text online)

For a contents listing, see this volume at JSTOR.

Bibliography entry:

Barker, Georgina, SPQR in the USSR: Elena Shvarts’s Classical Antiquity (Legenda, 2022)

First footnote reference: 35 Georgina Barker, SPQR in the USSR: Elena Shvarts’s Classical Antiquity (Legenda, 2022), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Barker, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Barker, Georgina. 2022. SPQR in the USSR: Elena Shvarts’s Classical Antiquity (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Barker 2022: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Barker 2022: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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