Category Archives: Reception

Hadestown

Anyone done any work on Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown project?

It seems that there was some commentary in Syllecta Classica (which is on my To Be Read pile) but I know very little about Reception in music so I’m looking for some broad thoughts…

It is a ‘modern folk opera’ based on the Orpheus myth and I heard about it on the Radio; partly because, although it was started a while ago, she is planning a stage show which might eventually come to the UK.

I am hoping to actually sit down and listen soon but I would welcome thoughts from any classicists who’ve heard it or can offer some background on the various Orpheus poems/operas etc already out there.

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Some Bibliography on Roman Britain & Time-Travel

Mostly for my own reference (apologies for the mixed referencing styles):

Primary Sources

  1. E. Nesbit (1906) The Story of the Amulet
  2. S. Cooper (1977) The Silver on the Tree
  3. G. Clews (xxxx) Jessica Jones and the Gates of Penseron
  4. J. Jarman (2001) The Time-Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle London: Andersen Press [Also online resource: Julia Jarman ‘The Time-Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle’ 17 March 2009 http://www.juliajarman.com/books/booksinbetweens/143-ttcromaneagle.html ]
  5. Haynes, Toby, dir. 2010a. ‘The Pandorica Opens’ [New] Doctor Who 5:12 (212a) UK: BBC One [First broadcast BBC One: 19 June 2010]
  6. Weiland, Paul, dir. 1999. Blackadder: Back and Forth UK: New Millennium Experience Company, Sky, Tiger Aspect Productions [33 mins.]

On Time-Travel

On Classics in fiction & British life

  • Haverfield, Francis. 1912. [2nd ed.] The Romanization of Roman Britain Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • Hingley, Richard. 2008.The Recovery of Roman Britain 1586-1906: A Colony So Fertile Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • P. Ayres (1997) Classical Culture and the Idea of Rome in Eighteenth-Century England Cambridge University Press: Cambridge/New York
  • V. Hoselitz (2007)Imagining Roman Britain: Victorian Responses to a Roman Past Royal Historical Press/Boydell Press: Woodbridge
  • S. Stroh (2009) “The long shadow of Tacitus: Classical and modern colonial discourses in the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Scottish Highlands,” in Transcultural English Studies: Theories, Fictions, Realities, F. Schulze–Engler & S. Helff. Rodopi: Amsterdam/Atlanta pp. 339-354.
  • Goodman, Penelope. 2010. ‘Doctor Who and the plastic plastic Roman’ Weavings and Unpickings:  http://weavingsandunpickings.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/doctor-who-and-the-plastic-plastic-roman/ 
  • Hobden, Fiona. 2009. ‘History meets fiction in Doctor Who, “The fires of Pompeii”: A BBC reception of ancient Rome on screen and online’Greece and Rome (Second Series) 56.2: 147-163 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0017383509990015
  • Joshel, Sandra et al. 2001 Imperial projections: ancient Rome in modern popular culture Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • S. Piggot (1989) Ancient Britons and the antiquarian imagination: ideas from the Renaissance to the Regency Thames and Hudson: London 
  • S. Smiles (1994) The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination Yale University Press: New Haven CT/London
  • K. Trumpener (1997) Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ

On the individual books/authors

  • Bar-Yosef, Eitan. 2003. ‘E. Nesbit and the Fantasy of Reverse Colonialization: How Many Miles to Modern Babylon?’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 46.1: 5-28
  • Butler, Charles. 2006. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press and Children’s Literature Association
  • Drout Michael D. C. 1997. ‘Reading the Signs of the Light: Anglo Saxonism, Education and Obedience in Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising’ The Lion and the Unicorn 21.2: 230-25
  • Rahn, Suzanne. 1985. ‘News from E. Nesbit: The Story of the Amulet and the Socialist Utopia’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 124-144
  • Rheimer, Mavis. 2006.  ‘The beginning of the End: Writing Empire in E. Nesbit’s Psammead Books’ In E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: A Children’s Classic at 100. Ed. Raymond E. Jones. Lanham, MD, Toronto, and Oxford: Children’s Literature Association and Scarecrow Press, Inc pp. 39-62
  • Smith, Michelle. 2009. ‘E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: Reconfiguring Time, Nation and Gender’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 52.3: 298-311
  • Carroll, Jane S. 2011 Landscape in Children’s Literature New York, NY/Abingdon: Routledge
  • C. Butler & H. O’Donovan (2012) Reading History in Children’s Books Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke
  • V. Krips (2002) The Presence of the Past: Memory, Heritage, and Childhood in Postwar Britain Taylor and Francis e-publishing

Thinking about time-travel

So if you could go anywhere, anywhen and see anything what would you do?

Why?

What makes any particular location interesting? Is there a famous person you’d like to meet or observe,  some aspect of your life you’d like to re-visit, a subject from school that has nagged at you either because there wasn’t enough information or because you thought it was wrong?
Do you want to change the past or learn something about it or yourself? What will you bring back with you to your life now? What, after all, is the point?
And what if you were going to write fiction about a time-period? Its not enough that you are interested in the subject matter but rather you have to know enough about it to make it convincing but not get so caught up in the details that it becomes overwhelming. Ideally your readers should already be broadly interested in the time-period but neither know so much about it as to get bored nor so so little as to be confused. And again what is the point – why that time period and not any other one? what is it about then that shows off the ideas you are bringing out?

Naturally, I tend to think that the ancient classical world offers an excellent setting for fiction. Apart from the obvious fact that we tend to define it rather loosely – it easily covers 1000 years (are we including Myceneans or Minoans? Is 476 the real fall of the Roman empire – what are you doing with the East?) and covers (at various times) from Britain to the Middle East with a chunk of North Africa thrown in – and that means there is plenty of scope for exploring, it is also something that many people are able to recognise and pick out stories from. Not only have chunks of its history and literature been traditionally taught in Western schools but it has also been absorbed into our culture in more subtle ways (such as architectural iconography and narrative tropes).

OK so far so obvious but actually it raises more questions for me:
Who chooses to write fiction about the classical world, especially to contrast it directly against their contemporary world? Is there a gender bias? a racial one?
Are some parts of the classical world more popular than others – what makes them so, their familiarity or shared themes (I tend to notice themes of imperialism everywhere so…)?
What do the characters learn? Is it the same as the readers?
How does the portrayal of the ancient world react to scholarship on the topic?
Does the immersive potential of fiction allow scholars to examine the past differently or do we simply partake in the wish-fulfilment?

So… as part of my ongoing thinking/research on the topic I want to collect examples.
I am focusing on time-travel and NOT historical fiction so there must be some element of the character(s) experiencing contrasting time periods but I don’t mind if thats by magic or a device and I am willing to be persuaded on what counts as the ‘classical’ world – if you have suggestions please add them to the comments.

SFF 7

Just a few more little bits and pieces to finish up..
If you have followed this far you cannot be truly surprised that my memory and notes for this stage in the proceedings are truly failing. Sorry to the speakers..
My final event of the conference was the screen & media panel – a slightly odd pairing that covered representations of Promethean figures and re-workings of the Roman Empire both over multiple genres.

The first paper was delivered via Skype, a brave move that was only slightly hampered by technical issues. In it Jarrid Looney, who is currently finishing up his doctoral thesis, offered a broad ranging summary of the uses of the Prometheus myth – you can find the paper itself (or at least a version of it) on Academia.edu (here). I found Jarrid and his topic engaging – although perhaps the paper itself felt a bit too broad-reaching for a conference it offered me the opportunity to rethink the links between modern examples of uses of the name. He argued persuasively that Prometheus made a useful metaphor for some kind of catalyst for change in both positive & negative ways depending on whether he was a gift-giver or defying the Gods, or something else. In particular I was drawn to the way that Looney was able to connect multiple examples to the original myth via Shelley’s Frankenstein and its anxieties about technology and hubris.  I would have liked a little more of a chance to hear him talk about the possible reasons both for this theme and also for why some traditions more deliberately link themselves back to individual parts of the classical myths than others… always a tricky topic.

The second paper from Dan Goad was about how Ancient Rome influenced particular depictions of Empire in fantastica. He started by talking about the Romulans in Star Trek and contrasted them with the Trevinter Imperium from the Dragon Age computer games. It would be fair to say that Romulans-Rome as a comparison is neither new nor subtle and that it has been made extensively and openly. Goad focused on the way that the Roman aspects of the Romulans were largely connected to their militarism and interest in political intrigue – and how that in turn was a large part of Romulan self-identity. I was much more interested in how that contrasted with the Trevinter Imperium specifically because the Imperium is a kind of collapsed or collapsing Rome with Trouble on its borders. He suggests that Rome makes a useful model within Dragon Age because of the way that it can be shown to continue to have influence even after it no longer has physical power – this of course is a powerful idea for Reception scholars and delightful to see it being used in models of Rome.
Unsurprisingly Goad concluded by emphasising the multiplicity of images of Rome and the way that its scale makes it a fertile ground for modelling all kinds of things.. including Empire.

It seemed a fair note to end the proceedings on and left plenty of thoughts for the future.

SFF 6

So.. I haven’t forgotten that I promised you Warhammer

I chose to head to this topic not as a gamer but as the friend and relation of gamers. As such I started from a position of understanding some of the structure, a little of the specific world-building practices and very little of the details.
It was fabulous. [Don’t get me wrong I’m not about to set up a 40k game but…] The first speaker, Alexander McAuley treated us to a paper on the notion of a Virgilian Divus Imperator in the 40k universe. His premise revolved around the methods of presentation of a God-Emperor in both Virgil and Warhammer – specifically an (Augustan) Emperor’s role as a figurehead that creates order amongst chaos. The Warhammer Emperor rules enigmatically over a system of provinces and cultic practice that mimics an image of an Augustus who is defined by his major battle and transformation into supreme leader. McAuley suggested that just as the eventual leadership of Augustus is understood to underpin the whole of the progression of the Aeneid even where it is not explicit so the Emperor’s rule is a ‘necessary’ implicit in all the other actions of the 40k story. He also pointed out similarities in the deification process and somewhat pre-empted the subsequent paper by suggesting parallels between the Horus Heresy (prequels) and the Octavian-Antony Civil War.

[This reading of Virgil managed (for me) to reiterate the points made by Rea about our discomfort with the violence and anger shown by Aeneas at the end of the poem and what we give up for ‘divine’ order- although I’m still not sure whether conclusions can be drawn from that]

The second paper was by a brilliantly passionate Luke Pitcher who took several of these ideas and developed them further in a paper entitled “The Promise of Progress? The Problem of the Roman Past in Warhammer 40k“.
Pitcher was particularly interested in the way that the figures of Julius and Augustus Caesar appear to have been blended together in order to give a more fitting legend to the figure of Roboute Guilliman (son of the God-Emperor and Primarch of the Ultramarines – in themselves an interestingly  Romanised fighting force). Guilliman’s backstory relies on both some of the Divus Imperator imagery discussed in McAuley’s paper and a story of avenging his foster father during a civil war….
One of the interesting facets of Pitcher’s talk was his use of the fact that in the Warhammer canon much of the material about the activities of the God-Emperor and his children was created after the initial world-building despite the fact they happen earlier in the temporal scope of the universe and as such the development of the mythos are appropriate metaphors for reception generally. Including the tension surrounding the idea that looking too much to the past can lead to a kind of stasis… He also touched on the issues relating to multi-authoring within the corpus (before less formalised fanfic is even considered) and the constraints that are potentially placed on interpretations of actions by other writers and notions of canon. He suggested that classical elements in the stories allowed writers to draw on their own existing experiences of interpreting a real shared past as they handled the stories as well as ensuring that they were using a common pot of material.

Although this was a slightly shorter panel than some of the others it provoked some quite lively discussion at the end and over coffee. Particularly of note was the role of fanfic and the way that understanding and corpus is developed through this process of multiple authoring but that because the Warhammer universe uses historical background rather than mythological the approaches of the writers varies somewhat from that discussed by Amanda Potter with relation to Dr. Who earlier in the conference.

The panel was followed by the final plenary of the conference- Edith Hall talking about Xenophon’s Anabasis in Space.
It is worth confessing up front that I have never read the Anabasis (in English let alone Greek) and as such my knowledge of it goes no deeper than the brief precis that Dr Hall offered by way of introduction. Fortunately, Dr Hall confidently took the audience through the imagery, structural nuances and tonal subtleties of Xenophon’s work that the writers of SF she picked out were interested in.
Hall highlighted how through translations of Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth the imagery of soldiers/explorers reaching a somehow recognisable sea  (Thalatta! Thalatta!)  despite the ‘alien’ nature of the landscape they have been struggling through became a staple feature of Science Fiction and she chose to discuss 3 of the more extensive reworkings which cover a variety of styles: Andre Norton’s Star Guard, Weber and Ringo’s March Up Country & Kearney’s Ten Thousand.

The militaristic and ethnographic features of Xenophon’s work allow it to to be reworked in multiple modern genres and the strongly moral overtones appeal to a lot of writers. In Xenophon, not only are there  conflicting political ideologies between warring states but there are  also competing approaches amongst the ten thousand and this makes it possible to use the story to emphasise different aspects of any journey. More importantly, Hall also talked about the importance of the idea that Xenophon’s return is, despite having elements of both, not just an Odyssean journey home nor does it follow the Iphegenia in Tauris story arc  (she digressed slightly to show how Iph in Taur influenced Trader Horn, Road to… and ultimately Star Wars stories). What in many respects makes Xenophon’s narrative more potentially interesting for writers are the aspects of failure and loss around the initial endeavour and perhaps more importantly his own internal conflict about the notion of returning home.  If returning home is not easy or perhaps not desirable then one’s attitude to new territory is subtly shifted towards its potentials for a new start…

Hall was very clear in her preference for Norton’s version of the tale over the others that she had selected. Although (and I am surmising without having read any of them) Norton’s is almost certainly the most political and literary of the three I could not help but feel that in making such a personal aesthetic choice Hall didn’t offer her audience quite the depth of comparative analysis  she is capable of. On the other hand she made a lovely plea for more authors to attempt engagement with the ancient text, a very good case for using Xenophon as an inspiration and appeared to have been able to use the modern texts to help her find new interpretations of the Anabasis.
The paper was pleasingly thought-provoking for me, in that it engaged with a series of texts that stylistically I know very little about and brought them more into my world-view but it was not quite the end of the conference….

Early Career Seminar

ECS Hosted by the ICS and this week featuring me:

History, Identity and Independence: Children’s Time-travel to Roman Britain

British writing has often pondered the question of which areas of history have had the most impact on modern national identity and over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries a dialogue about the influences of the Romans and the Celts developed which then spilled over into modern fiction. By looking at some examples of the way that “natives” and Romans are compared and contrasted in children’s literature this paper hopes to open up ideas about the way that specific qualities and ideals are both associated with specific peoples and are also brought together as exemplars for the modern Briton. I am particularly interested in how authors negotiate and marry the issues of “conquest vs. independence” with a desire to inherit both the Roman influenced intellectual developments of democracy and philosophy and the ideals of creativity and pastoral innocence allegedly embodied in the Celts. By looking at examples that focus on modern children travelling through time this paper aims to investigate how authors have called their reader’s attention to similarities and differences between ancient and contemporary societies and the way that the cultures are evoked within the novels. In this way I hope to demonstrate that Roman Britain was not only a key part of our conception of the major parts of British history but also a useful tool for discussing ideas about Empire and ‘multi-culturalism’.