Tag Archives: Reception


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.


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 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 (3)

So still on Day 2 but now with extra coffee.
The Whedonverse:
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

CA 2013 – Highlights

I want to open this blog with some belated thoughts about key ideas and interesting facts that I took away from the Classical Association Conference this year.

  • Rejecting the Classics – I really liked the concept of this panel. It is well worth acknowledging that the places where we don’t use classics or aim to subvert them can tell scholars a lot about our preconceptions of what they represent. Where we draw boundaries between disciplines and topics is in itself significant as is whether we have a concept of doing the Classics the right way.
  • Ovid meets Titian – I didn’t really follow the cultural olympiad last year but I now need to go out and take more of a look at how contemporary poets have addressed Metamorphoses using Titian as a visual clue. The idea of a specific and explicit interaction between ancient, intermediate and modern interests me (it reminds me of how so many people only access texts through translation).
  • Roueché & Digital Classics – A big hit at the conference and a key area of growth. It was really good to listen to someone inspirational on the topic of collaboration and getting involved. There are so many fascinating projects that help make classics more accessible and allow us to interpret information in new ways – it makes me even more determined to learn some more technical skills.
  • Tony Keen –  I was enthused by Keen’s discussion of Nesbit’s Amulet and its depiction of Roman Britain. Its going to help my paper later this year. I was particularly interested in the role of Nesbit in the development of children’s lit and the difference between active involvement in the past and passive reception of it.
  • Lisa Maurice – This paper also had some really interesting points to make for my upcoming paper, notably on the temporal distribution of books relating to Roman Britain and the possible connection of the topics in the National Curriculum to eras commonly travelled to in time-travel literature.
  • Other Children’s Lit – There was a notable focus on Caroline Lawrence’s work (I think its got to the point where I really have to go and read some) but there were also a few insightful thoughts about how educational aims are represented and the ways tales from Homer were tailored for post-war Germany.
  • Goff on the WEA – it is always good to see projects that look at grassroots interest in the Classics. This was both unexpected and interesting.
  • Heather Ellis – Easily the most exciting paper of the conference for me. Dr Ellis was examining the way that the British Academy talked about and utilised Classical material, imagery and learning in their development of a scientific community. This has clear links to my thesis – the way that social groups and men-of-learning constructed identity by using the Classics even where such cross-over was a stretch of the imagination fits with the way antiquarians in Cornwall made use of multiple types of evidence and helps explain why they were so keen on Classical texts.

And because its just one of those things, I am sad I missed: Sommerstein on Translation, the papers about the Ure Museum, Robin Osborne’s address and the panel on Digital Classics.