The Classical World in a Norwegian Workers' Encyclopedia: Arbeidernes Leksikon (1931–1936)
Keywords:book history, classical reception, encyclopedias, counterculture, historical narratives
The Norwegian Arbeidernes leksikon, “Workers’ Encyclopedia,” was published in six volumes from 1931–1936. It was inspired by The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, explicitly aimed at working-class readers, and establishing an alternative to the hegemonic bourgeoise discourse. The editors and many of the contributors belonged to the Communist Party of Norway (NKP) and the independent communist intellectual organization Mot Dag (“Towards Dawn”). This article investigates the reception and representation of the ancient world in Arbeidernes leksikon based on selected articles through the lens of narrative theory. Classical education was traditionally the domain of the upper classes. It is argued that the Workers’ Encyclopedia demonstrates that reorienting the reception of ancient history was considered essential both to rewrite history according to Marxist doctrine and to establish workers’ culture as a full-fledged alternative to its bourgeoise counterpart. In the Workers’ Encyclopedia, the classical past is celebrated not for its empires and rulers but for the effort of the masses and their struggle for freedom.
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