Tag Archives: Classical Reception

Thinking about collaboration – Classics & Law

I have been thinking a lot recently about how to justify spending money on conferences… (there have been some family related things recently which mean we are being cautious about cash!)

And it occurred to me that what would make it better is if my partner and I could go together.
She is a law lecturer and – though her specialisms are a long way from mine- some of the most glorious moments of our courtship involved arguments about the meaning and relevance of Sophocles’ Antigone to social reform and protest movements and the place of Roman inheritance law in modern society.

Over the last few years we have seem the decline in interest in the classics within law degrees as increasingly not only have they dropped Latin terms but also they focus on practical skills over ‘history of the legal system’, ‘comparative law’ and ‘law and culture’. There can be little doubt that there is lots for students to get to grips with and ancient legal systems are hardly a priority but it is also difficult to believe that acknowledging the processes of development doesn’t help prepare future lawyers for work in a multi-cultural jurisdiction and that by applying skills learnt in Reception they are better equipped to deal with juror bias…
It would be nice to just present a paper on the importance of classics to the study of law, it would even be nice to consider the role of law the development of heritage management and translations but what about how the study of law itself offers something to classicists?

 Is there something in the way that we analyse the impact of media etc on contemporary law-makers that is of relevance to considering how it might have affected ancient ones? Similarly, we are increasingly looking at the role of economic pressures on writing and interpreting laws – how has that crossed over into classics? Have we compared how The Eumenides & Antigone are taught by classicsts and how they are taught by lawyers?
I don’t know enough about research into ancient law to know how much impact legal anthropology and sociology have had on it but now I’m curious…

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’.

SFF 4(?)

Aaaargh sorry for the exceptionally long delay.

Still on Day 2 but post lunch
Session 13: Divine Updates – Myths of the Classical World in Popular Literature.
This panel was all by academics from the University of Zurich, I’m not sure I quite caught a unifying theme to the papers but each of them offered me a whole load of food for thought.

The first was by Meret Fehlmann on the re-imagining of classical myth (and religion) in the novels of Robert Graves and Elizabeth Hand.
I haven’t read anything by Hand and I haven’t read the novels by Graves that Fehlmann discussed (though perhaps unsurprisingly I have read his Greek Myths & I, Claudius) but I am quite conscious of the fact that his interpretation of pre-historic Goddess worship has been influential so I was interested to see how she traced his ideas and reactions to them. Fehlmann demonstrated 2 points: firstly how Graves developed his ideas about the cult of the mother Goddess from his version of the Golden Fleece into his book 7 Days in New Crete to suggest a kind of utopian re-balancing of society and secondly how Hand re-wrote those ideas about the cult and ultimately rejected their usefulness.
Graves’ ideas about both the importance of women in cultic scenarios and the notion of the necessity of destruction in society have their basis in a number of late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropological enquiries, including those of Jane Ellen Harrison. The ideas are played out across swathes of pagan and feminist literature but were fairly quickly rejected by scholars and then ultimately by those groups too. It is interesting to see the literary positions that demonstrate the trends but unsatisfying to consider how much more there could be done on tracing lines of influence… My brain was so buzzing with the possibility of showing how JEH influenced 70’s lesbian pagan feminism I was quite distracted.

Next up.. a Paper on the Watchmen graphic novel/comic from Scott Brand

This paper served as a gazetteer of almost every classical allusion the speaker could find. Naturally there was an interesting discussion on the impact of using Juvenal (quis custodiet..) as the central theme of the novel (albeit mediated through American politics) and some focus on the Promethean elements of the characters. However, to my taste the paper as a whole was a little light on analysis (although it is only fair to note that this was not his normal research topic) but instead offered up some interesting possibilities for further analysis as well as illustrating how classical material can serve as ornamental short-hand and foreshadowing. I would particularly like to see someone with greater skill than I pick apart the interplay between the Greek, Roman and Egyptian identities and images of the character of Ozymandias.

The 3rd paper of the panel entitled “Where’s the glory in repeating what others have done? Mediating the Ancient and the Modern in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series” was from Petra Schrackmann.

This rather fascinating paper took great care to show how the novels actively re-write ancient mythology in order to make it more relevant to modern children. Schrackmann especially argued that by juxtaposing the modern and the mythological Riordan was able to critique both and that he used the books to create a modern mythos that especially highlights issues with the education system as well as providing a pathway to the growth of personal identity. It is clear that the series shares some of its central themes with many other books for its target age-range, specifically the notion of the power of knowledge and learning to negotiate independence through issues of agency but the speaker nicely highlighted why the often fatalistic Greek myths could still be used fruitfully.

This paper was followed rather well thematically by the final paper of the panel by Aleta-Amiree Von Holzen on Anne Ursu’s Cronus Chronicles. I have to confess that not only have I not read these ‘middle grade’ stories, I hadn’t even heard of them before the paper. Nonetheless the speaker competently outlined the key plot points before explaining some of the ways that the author took some of the same basic premises of the Percy Jackson series but created a different feeling in order to offer thoughts on the nature and purpose of power. The paper suggested that Ursu’s modernising of the myths sometimes inserts a slightly comic tone into the stories but the disregard of humanity shown by the Gods has a lot in common with the  ancient tragedies. Von Holzen also drew out the importance of the Promethean myth to the Chronicles’ consideration of free-will and the role of the Gods in a modern world – a classical connection that (as well as being discussed indirectly in a later paper) surely ought to be brought out more in modern writing.

In summary, despite (or perhaps because of) the fairly diverse directions of these modern mythological re-tellings/re-purposing it was clear that writers have been very conscious of the difficulties of using such a different cultural medium as ancient myth in their own work but also that they can use that to their advantage.

Right, better stop there before this gets any longer.
Monday morning next (Nick Lowe’s plenary will I think act a as kind of conclusion to the whole conference)

SFF & Classics (Intro)

Swords. Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World was a conference run by the Science Fiction Foundation and the University of Liverpool School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, on the links between science fiction and fantasy and Classical Greece and Rome.  It took place Saturday June 29-Monday July 1.”

I want to write a series of posts about some of the things I learnt from the recent conference & possible next steps in the field.

Firstly it is important to point out that as a means for crossing barriers and creating connections in the various fields represented it was (I think) a resounding success. Even this social phobic managed to talk to a variety of people including several established scholars that I have previously been too embarrassed to talk to.
The conference not only demonstrated a wide array of intersections between SF works and classical material but it also encouraged dialogue about the methodologies of research and their different roles. The first was represented in approximately 60 papers and every conversation I had or heard and the second in several of those papers and especially in Nick Lowe’s Plenary session.

Secondly, I am keen to find out what happens next. I really hope that this picks up some kind of momentum – more conferences or symposia, journal articles and edited collections. Obviously on a purely selfish note I would like to be involved in this kind of research and to have spaces to do it in. There is some evidence that this will happen since, if nothing else, I respect the energy and enthusiasm of the people that I met and believe that they will work to spread the field.

Finally, I have come away with lots fascinating ideas but I only went to a fraction of the papers and know that I will not be able to express all of it coherently so I will also encourage you to read other accounts including: Liz Bourke and Liz Gloyn

Sirens

Post written for the Ure Discovery Blog: (and currently published on their facebook page)

38.8.48 – The Siren
(Kendrick School)

Black Figure Lekythos (dating from c. 550-525 BCE) depicting a Siren between two male figures, one of which is holding a spear

38.8.48

What Sort of Pot?

A lekythos (Greek: λήκυθος – Plural: Lekythoi) is a type of Greek pottery used for storing oil and perfume. It has a narrow neck and one handle. Many lekythoi are found in tombs and the images on the sides were often depictions of daily activities or rituals and especially those connected with death. Giant Lekythoi sometimes formed tomb markers.
This one was identified as being made in around 520 BC by Annie Ure.

What are Sirens?

In classical mythology the Sirens lured sailors to their deaths with their songs. They appear most famously in Homer’s Odyssey [Bk. XII] but also feature in Appollonius Rhodes’ Argonautica [4.891-919] and Ovid’s Metamorphoses [5.551 and following.]. Although modern artists often show Sirens in the shape of beautiful women the ancient Greeks painted them as half-human and half-bird with wings and talons or webbed feet and their distinctive shape makes them a recognisable type of decoration.
The Sirens were associated with music and death and are sometimes said to help make travelling to the underworld easier with their music. They are perhaps related to the Egyptian Ba [See Here].

One of the most famous images is from a vase in the British Museum which shows Odysseus tied to the mast so he can listen to their beautiful song without going crazy. The Sirens have feathers and neat hair that makes them more obviously feminine than the ones on this Lekythos.

Odysseus & the Sirens – British Museum

As time went by the images of Sirens made them more and more human.
Statue in National Museum of Archaeology, Athens
137-Sirene-vers--330

H.J. Draper (1909) Ulysses and the Sirens
Ulysses and the Sirens by H.J. Draper

Modern writers often use Sirens and Siren song to symbolise something almost irresistible but dangerous and female singers who are especially alluring are also described as Sirens. …All a bit different to the dark winged figure on this pot who is singing the warrior into his afterlife.

Other Sirens

In the Ure Museum there are several other items with Sirens on that you can look up on the database or go take a look at:
2005.3.24 – Aryballos on display in “History Grave”
37.7.1 – Aryballos in “Myth & Religion”
37.7.2 – Aryballos in “Greece”
51.1.4 – Plate in “Myth & Religion”
See also this decoration in Tampa Museum of Art;  this Lekythos in the British Museum and this one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Further Academic Reading

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