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.
So still on Day 2 but now with extra coffee.
The first two papers of the panel focused on Firefly/Serenity and the 3rd compared Angel to the Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) Mysteries and all 3 looked at classical influences from slightly different angles.
The first paper, by Janice Siegel, was on the Cyclopean properties of the Reavers in Firefly. Siegel wanted to draw attention to the way that 3 aspects of ancient monsters re-appear in the form of the Reavers- namely rape, cannibalism/anthropophagy & the desecration of corpses. She made it clear that she did not believe that Whedon was directly referencing the monsters of the Odyssey when the Reavers were conceived but instead wanted to draw attention to the fact that the same social anxieties crop up now as then when we attempt to consider what makes Us civilised & Them monstrous. Nonetheless, she notes some important ideas that comparing the approaches brings up – firstly and most obviously Rape is considered much more linked with violence and thus horrific in our culture than in antiquity; secondly cannibalism involves a kind of loss of humanity but often this is represented as a subversion of the dominant culture and finally that this is irreversibly tied to the need for a cultural agreement on the treatment of the dead (eating corpses- emphasises the monstrosity of the lack of respect) which holds as much true for us as it did the ancient Greeks. Siegel used a variety of different examples of parallels between the Odyssey and Serenity which made for compelling listening and was particularly intrigued by the suggestion by a member of the audience that in fact because of their communitarian aspect the Reavers were rather more like Laestrygonians than Cyclopes. A point which didn’t change the key contrast the comparison brought out that what particularly differentiates the Odyssean monsters from the Reavers is in the Odyssey, things which appear cultured or safe are often revealed to be in fact monsters whereas the Reavers which appear so monstrous are in fact “human”.
[One extra thing the Siegel dropped in which is also worth thinking some more on is the similarities in personality between Mal & Odysseus, including the similar types of trickery to escape]
The 2nd paper by Jennifer Ann Rea was entitled “You can’t stop the signal/signum: ‘Utopian’ Living in Whedon’s Serenity and Vergil’s Aeneid“. I must confess that my memories of it are a little hazy which is odd given that I felt fairly confident that I knew both “texts” quite well. After re-reading the storified tweets, I do remember the gist of the argument about how both make their audiences consider when violence is justified, what means can be used to create the desired (utopian) society and when the price for a ‘pax romana’ is too high. The discussion hinged on the ambiguity of the end of the Aeneid in comparison to the somewhat more openly didactic (albeit unresolved) elements of Serentity. I think there are some really interesting ideas about the ‘messages’ in the texts but fear that the breadth of research on the Aeneid makes us more likely to pick our favourite theory and then apply it to Serenity rather than trying to see whether responses from the audiences to Serenity can suggest new approaches to the Aeneid…. That or I wasn’t in the mood for politics.
The final paper of this panel was from Juliette Harrisson and moved away from Firefly/Serenity and onto contrasting oracles in Angel and Sookie Stackhouse. Juliette began by offering a little bit of context on the vampire genre and the way that vampires can be used to create a link between the past and the present. She highlighted the fact that modern vampire mythos tends not to offer classical (esp. not Greek) origins for its vampires (we have some from Confederate USA, a few from WW1 and some Egyptians & Vikings) but in 1819 Polidori’s Vampyre was heavily invested in the Romanticism associated with ancient Greece and contemporary Greek struggles. The key point of the vampire then is the blend of the exotic with familiar enough. Harrisson then mentioned some of the issues surrounding use of magic vs. religion in modern fiction and related that neatly to the (fictional) role of oracles as access to higher power without necessarily invoking any particular religious scheme and their particular use for dramatic foreshadowing. After comparing these uses to the ancient views of oracles, she moved on to her specific examples.
In the Buffyverse, generic old and magical was generally represented by (bad) Latin and the really ancient tended to be Near Eastern/Egyptian which left little space for representations of classical Greece. Nonetheless, the Oracles in Angel look and feel Greek and are consulted in order to answer a question in very classical fashion (interestingly they are also able to turn back time before they are conveniently killed to prevent repeated use of this deus ex machina). In the Southern Vampire Novels there are fewer classical allusions but they are slightly more unusual – the rampant Maenad, Eric’s Roman vampire maker and the ‘Pythoness’ (“the [?] oracle Alexander consulted”). This oracle’s access to higher power is more uncertain but her role as judge of the Vampire Queen (authority over authority) is certainly out of respect for both her extreme age and her reputation as an oracle when she was turned.
Thus Juliette argued that the Oracles offer an interesting and different connection to the ancient world and allow the worlds they inhabit a means to touch some kind of ancient tradition, authority and higher power separate to that of the Vampires themselves. Is the lesson that we don’t yet have any other non-christian models for authority be it in politics or our future?
Overall, the panel reflected a number of ways that modern social and political tastes can be reflected and echoed in well-known classical examples – not a surprise to Reception scholars but nonetheless it was interesting to see new connections.
Next on my list a panel on Myths in Popular literature