AREZZOLO, Amy / University of New England, Australia
“Long Ago, in the Faraway Land of Ancient Greece”: Setting the Scene and Establishing Engagement in Disney’s Hercules
Adapting millennia-old myths such as those belonging to the Greek demigod (and later, god) Hercules to modern audiences in the 20th century, let alone a primarily juvenile and parental audience is a challenging task given the disparity in time, culture and space between the two. The narrative presented in Disney’s 1997 film Hercules added but also erased elements of Hercules’ core myth to render the film appropriate, relevant and relatable for their audience has already been well discussed by reception scholars in the past two decades. However, in addition to narrative changes, the setting, background and landscape featured throughout the film serve the same function and are deserving of further attention.
These backgrounds in the film work with and support the narrative. In Hercules, a fusion of classical motifs, artistic pieces and architectural elements are deployed by artists to establish a “lived-in’”world in which characters such as Hercules, Meg, Phil and Pegasus operate. These scenes are also designed to appease audience expectations and connotations about what Ancient Greece looked “like.” In Hercules, this occurs through the aforementioned motifs, art and architecture that were fused anachronistically, irrespective of times that the pieces were actually in use. Likewise, many of the scenes such as those featuring Hercules, Pegasus and Phil in front of a sunset, and the “Zero to Hero” montage are imposed with modern popular culture references to make this ancient setting more relatable to the audience.
This presentation, therefore, argues that the setting of Disney’s Hercules is an important factor in how audiences receive the film. Through the use of a generalized range of classical imagery and the placement of modern references in the background to the narrative, Hercules largely aims to satisfy audience expectations about the appearance of Ancient Greece. By doing so, it will be suggested that this aspect of the film optimized the audience to become invested in the narrative and its themes, leading to what Disney hoped would result in a resonance expressed through purchasing the film and its accompanying merchandise.
BUT, Ekaterina / Ohio State University // SULPRIZIO, Chiara / Vanderbilt University
Netflix’s Blood of Zeus: Greek Mythology Meets American Anime
For this roundtable, we propose a moderated discussion of the anime TV series Blood of Zeus, which was released on Netflix on October 27th, 2020. The show, which adapts facets of ancient Greek mythology for modern audiences, was created by two brothers, Vlas and Charley Parlapanides, second-generation Greek Americans who aim to both promote their cultural background and increase Greek representation in American popular entertainment more generally. This production can be considered a successful example of how elements informed by different cultures (American-based streaming service format, Japanese anime, and Greek mythology) are combined together in a complementary fashion that allows for the creation of new meanings and new directions in Classical reception within modern popular culture.
We plan to begin the roundtable with a screening of the trailer and a brief summary of the show’s plot and creative background. Then we will open the floor to the discussion, which we plan to organize around three main topics. First, we will consider the factors that influenced this show’s production and distribution by the most popular streaming service, as well as the distinct aspects of its appeal to adult audiences. Second, we will evaluate the balance between the original elements of Greek mythology and those features that were developed or invented by the writers and producers, including the choice of Japanese anime to represent an ancient Greek narrative. Third, we will workshop some ideas about how to introduce this production in the classroom and what type of pedagogical value it may possess for ourselves and our students.
With this roundtable, we plan to fulfill two objectives. First, we hope to outline what strategies the producers of Blood of Zeus have employed to create an innovative representation of well-known mythological material that attracts modern audiences. Second, we seek to explore ways that Classicists like ourselves can deploy these and other strategies as we seek to publicize our own research and better incorporate this type of material into our pedagogy.
- Castello, M. G. & Scilabra C. (2015). “Theoi Becoming Kami: Classical Mythology in the Anime World.” In Ancient Magic and the Supernatural in the Modern Visual and Performing Arts, 177–196. Bloomsbury Academic.
- Scilabra, C. (2018). “Back to the Future: Reviving Classical Figures in Japanese Comics.” In Receptions of Greek and Roman Antiquity in East Asia. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004370715_015
- Interview: “‘We Couldn’t Even Get a Meeting’: How Blood of Zeus Became a Netflix Hit.” Inverse. 11.5.2020. https://www.inverse.com/entertainment/blood-of-zeus-showrunners-interview-charley-vlas-parlapanides-anime-netflix
CAMERON, Hamish / Victoria University of Wellington, NZ
“Scuttle Back to Your Wine, You Sacks of Uselessness”: The Roman Army in Assassin’s Creed: Origins
This paper examines the cultural and political positioning of the Roman army in Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft 2017), the tenth major game installment in the Assassin’s Creed transmedia franchise. Origins places the player in the roles of an Egyptian named Bayek, and occasionally his wife Aya, both of whom seek to avenge the death of their son by finding and killing the members of a secret organization controlling Egypt. As the main plot progresses around Ptolemaic Egypt from 49–44 BCE, the player encounters new regions to explore, each filled with new local problems. One of the major themes of Origins is the conflict between Hellenistic Greek and native Egyptian culture, which manifests through in-game architecture as well as quests and plot elements. Roman power enters the game when the player moves to Alexandria; there, Bayek and Aya become entangled with Cleopatra and meet Roman forces under Pompey. Later, as the main plot moves towards its climax, the player enters Roman-occupied Cyrene where the Roman army becomes a major antagonist; now Roman imperialism and the interactions between the Roman army and a civilian population become thematic elements in the game. Origins presents the army enslaving the local population, exploiting migrant labourers, and arbitrarily imprisoning people. A quest entitled “The Good Roman” positions the architect Vitruvius on the side of his Egyptian workers against the useless and drunken Roman army. The army, as the instrument of Roman imperial power, is presented as a blight on the conquered population while Vitruvius and his aqueduct, as a representative of Roman cultural power, are a boon for the people of occupied Cyrene. In this way, Origins takes a similarly ambivalent position as Tacitus’ Agricola: providing the material for a genuine critique of Roman imperialism, but without articulating that critique fully.
DE BOER, Katherine R. / Xavier University
Embodied Identity in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and District 9 (2009)
Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 mockumentary District 9 offers a disturbing commentary on apartheid and xenophobia through a sci-fi premise: a damaged alien ship is stranded indefinitely above Johannesburg, creating an alien underclass of so-called “prawns.” The human population rejects these newcomers, first confining them to a ghetto (District 9), then planning to move them into worse conditions outside the city. Wikus van der Merwe is the bumbling bureaucrat assigned to supervise this eviction on behalf of a corporation contracted to administer “alien affairs.” Early in the film, Wikus is infected with alien DNA that gradually begins to transform him into a “prawn.” This process of transformation forms an interesting comparison with Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Wikus’ literal dehumanization is paralleled by the dehumanizing treatment he suffers when his condition is exposed. His employer hopes to exploit Wikus’ transformation to develop alien technology, and he is soon whisked from the hospital to a laboratory, where the only communication with his captors occurs via cattle prod. The next step is to “harvest” Wikus’ body for blended human-alien DNA, a process that will inevitably kill him. The dramatic irony lies in the implicit comparison with Wikus’ own behavior: he is shown in an early scene celebrating the termination of dozens of alien fetuses. Wikus’ transformation evokes Ovidian descriptions of metamorphoses that alienate their victims from their own bodies and from the human community. For example, the poet dwells on Io’s discomfort in her new skin after becoming a cow (1.635-641) and emphasizes the social consequences of metamorphosis as victims are abruptly—and permanently—separated from their loved ones. For example, when the Heliades are transformed into trees, their mother rushes desperately from one daughter to another, trying desperately to tear off the bark that is engulfing them (2.355-363).
Wikus’ transformation in District 9, however, is unlike Ovidian metamorphoses in that it represents progress rather than regress: he becomes a better human precisely when he loses his humanity, discovering compassion for the “prawns” when he no longer receives it from his fellow humans. On the other hand, Ovid’s metamorphoses represent disintegration and devolution, as victims transform into voiceless animals or inanimate objects. Wikus, a privileged — if not gifted — white man, is humanized by his contact with an alien other significantly coded as African, but also loses his social identity as he is ejected from his community — his family, friends, coworkers, and fellow humans all reject him. The film therefore, like many other colonialist narratives of redemption through identification, dramatizes white male fears and fantasies about blurring the distinction between “self” and “other.” As in Ovid’s poem, bodily integrity turns out to be coterminous with social identity. This paper — a work-in-progress on which I welcome feedback — will explore these intersecting and divergent representations of metamorphosis in terms of the em bodied nature of identity, suggesting that District 9 may provide a helpful lens through which to consider Ovid’s tales of metamorphosis — and vice versa.
DELBAR, David / University of Chicago
Achilles and Patroclus: Out of the Closet and onto the Screen
Both casual readers and scholars of Homer’s Iliad have long debated the nature of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship. The emotional intensity Achilles displays towards Patroclus incline some to believe they were lovers, while the lack of explicit sexuality in Homer’s text persuades others that they were “just friends.” Adaptations of the Iliad must grapple with this millennia-long debate and interpret the ambiguity, frequently drawing on modern paradigms of sexuality to give shape to and pin down the protean Homeric text. In particular I will examine two full adaptations: Troy (2004), which takes great pains to re-codify the relationship as straight, and Troy: Fall of a City (2018), which instead draws on more recent paradigms of bisexuality and polyamory. I will also look at two television series that make brief allusions to Achilles and Patroclus: Titans (2018–present), which frames them as a homonormative couple, and Hannibal (2013–15), which focuses on the ambiguous and obsessive nature of the relationship.
Reception can shed new light as to why Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship continues to fascinate and elude readers. Homer layers various relationship signifiers onto the men—including comrades, parent and child, and husband and wife—which makes them difficult to read in only one kinship category. Apollo himself finds their relationship illegible (24.33–54). This inherent ambiguity creates rich ground for diverse adaptations; the gaps in Homer’s narrative allow readers to substitute their own horizon of expectations to interpolate its meaning, resulting in dramatically different interpretations. The story is flexible enough to reflect multiple paradigms of modern-day male homosociality. These new adaptations, in turn, reveal new potential facets of meaning in Homer’s text. By examining the sexual scripts and expectations in modern portrayals, the reader of the ancient text can, through comparison and contrast, gather more puzzle pieces to reconstruct the fragmented sexual mores of the Homer’s world.
EASTON, Seán / Gustavus Adolphus College
Ruler and Community: Porus vs. Alexander in Sikandar (Modi, 1941) and Alexander (Stone, 2004–14)
This presentation focuses on the depiction in the Bollywood film Sikandar (Modi, 1941) of the relationship of individual to community embodied by Alexander the Great/Sikander (Prithviraj Kapoor), in contrast to that of his opponent, the Indian monarch Porus/Puru (Sohrab Modi). I then compare this depiction with that found in Oliver Stone’s Alexander (the same in all four iterations, 2004–14). Specifically, an historically unattested battlefield encounter between Alexander and Porus that features significantly in both Sikandar and Alexander, illuminates Porus’ (in Sikandar) and Alexander’s (in Alexander) attitude toward war, revealing their sense of relationship to community in the process.
Scholars have established that Sohrab Modi’s Sikandar (1941) dramatizes the theme of Indian independence from Great Britain and the struggle for Indians to unite across boundaries of identity not only in order to repel an invader but to create an integrated vision of society that respects tradition, yet makes a place for differences of gender, religious, and ethnic identity (Vasunia 2010, Maccaro Fernández 2015a & b, Wiebler 2017). Analysis of the regressive gender and racial/ethnic politics of Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004–14) (Asirvatham 2007 and Carney 2010) makes it possible to discuss the politics implicit in the style of battle that Stone crafts in Alexander. I argue that, in the Battle of the Hydaspes, Modi’s Porus overcomes the conditions of war around him in order to honor civic and familial relationships, thus creating the template for an Indian society on and off screen.
In Sikandar, Porus (Sohrab Modi) has the chance to kill Alexander (Prithviraj Kapoor), but instead honors an oath he made previously to Alexander’s fiancée, Roxana (Vanamala), to spare him — and he loses the battle as a result. Stone, by contrast, has Porus (Bin Bunluerit) strike down Bucephalus, as an archer simultaneously shoots Alexander (Colin Farrell). In Sikandar, Porus’ decision to spare Alexander is a symbolic victory for overcoming warlike reflexes in ways Alexander is incapable of doing. Stone’s Alexander, however, seeks to summon and restore violence in his army. This he does by mounting a lone charge on horseback against Porus, which instills in them once more a will to violence against the Indian defenders. Stone’s Alexander solipsistically subordinates his army to his will to power, until confrontation with Porus results in a wound and symbolic death that releases him from his drive to conquer.
- Asirvatham, Sulochana R. “The Half-Baked Melting Pot of Oliver Stone’s Alexander.” Classical Outlook 84.3, Spring 2007: 104–7.
- Berti, Irene and Marta García Morcillo, Eds. Hellas on Screen: Cinematic Receptions of Ancient History, Literature and Myth. Franz Steiner Verlag: Stuttgart, 2008.
- Bundrick, Sheramy. “Dionysian Themes and Imagery in Oliver Stone’s Alexander. Helios 36.1. Spring, 2009: 81–96.
- Carney, Elizabeth D. “Olympias and Oliver: Sex, Sexual Stereotyping, and Women in Oliver Stone’s Alexander.” In Cartledge and Greenland, 2010: 137–67.
- Cartledge, Paul and Fiona Rose Greenland. Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander: Film, History and Cultural Studies. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison, 2010.
- Cyrino, Monica S. Screening Love and Sex in the Ancient World. Palgrave-Macmillan: New York, 2013.
- Fox, Robin Lane. The Making of Alexander: The Official Guide to the Epic Film Alexander. R&L: Oxford and London, 2004.
- Pierce, Jerry B. “Oliver Stone’s Unmanning of Alexander the Great (2004).” In Cyrino, 2013: 127–41.
- Pierce, Jerry B. “The Return of a Genre.” In Pomeroy, 2017: 233–41.
- Pomeroy, Arthur, Ed. A Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome on Screen. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, MA, 2017.
- Stephens, Susan A. and Phiroze Vasunia, Eds. Classics and National Cultures. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2010.
- Vasunia, Phiroze. “Alexander Sikandar.” In Stephens and Vasunia, 302–24.
- Wieber, Anja. “Celluloid Alexander(s): A Hero from the Past as role Model for the Present?” In Berti and García Morcillo, 2008: 147–62.
- Wieber, Anja. “Non-Western Approaches to the Ancient World: India and Japan.” In Pomeroy, 2017: 329–48.
ENGEN, Darel Tai / California State University San Marcos
Myth and/or History: A Textbook on Ancient Greece in Modern Film
Despite the importance, popularity, and academic study of films set in the ancient world, no book on portrayals exclusively of the ancient Greek world exists that is both broad enough in its coverage and accessible enough in its presentation for use as a textbook for popular film courses in history, Classics, and media and culture studies, while also scholarly enough to address the complex interplay of myth and history, both ancient and modern. I propose a paper for the 2020 AIMS meeting that presents my vision of such a book, a work-in-progress entitled Myth and/or History: Ancient Greece in Modern Film. This book is structured for a semester-long course, devoting each of twelve chapters to one film set in ancient Greece, ranging from mythical to historical subjects and including movies drawn from drama and epic as well. While acknowledging and incorporating reception scholarship that approaches the subject from a largely interpretive perspective, I stress the historical reality of the ancient Greek world as the context of these films, whether they treat actual historical events or mythical tales, which themselves are historical phenomena, products of a real past culture. In this way, I am able to link the wide-ranging mytho-historical subject matter of films set in the ancient Greek world into a thematically unified analysis.
Grounding the book on the historical context of these films has the additional advantage of employing film as a multimedia vehicle for teaching the history and myths of ancient Greece. Students will not only learn about these modern films in terms of their creative technique and meaning—which is often more pertinent to the modern world than to the ancient—but they will also learn about the myths and history they purport to depict in terms of their ancient Greek context. Moreover, since history must be truthful in order to be useful for understanding the past and present, students will learn to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate, or at least distorted, portrayals of history in films (some of which can be dangerously misleading), which will have the broader benefit of teaching them to be more critical consumers of information in general from all media. Finally, since myth is a historical phenomenon and the product of a historical context, although repurposing the myths of others is common and worthy of analysis, examining them in their original context is equally important as a means of understanding the culture that created them (ancient Greece, in this case) and as a caution against ethnocentric assumptions that all cultures share the same values as one’s own, which the repurposed presentation of myths in films tends to promote.
In my presentation, I will discuss the organization of my book and how it will serve these themes. I will also describe a few examples of my analysis as it pertains to the mythical film Disney’s Hercules (1997), the epic film Troy (2004), the dramatic film Pasolini’s Medea (1970), and the historical film Stone’s Alexander (2004).
EIS, Andrea / Oakland University
A Filmmaker’s 2020 Iphigeneia Dilemma
In many of my films, I have employed the natural world of Greece — landscapes and seas, winds and waves, birds and cicadas — as visual and aural embodiments of human emotions and actions. My current film-in-progress centers on the intertwined physicality of the winds and human breathing, as imbedded in an ancient play, in contemporary Greece, and in the Greek language, both ancient and modern. But in 2020, with its multiple crises, I faced a dilemma about continuing with the film I had been working on for nearly a year.
My work has been shifting towards a personal essay form of art filmmaking. I narrate the shifting intersection of ancient sources with my reception of and filmic responses to them. I reflect on how the Greek language can be simultaneously poetic and precise. My idea had been sparked in the summer of 2019, by learning the modern Greek pronunciation of Iphigeneia, which is a soft, almost musical exhalation, if-ee-YEN-yah. That summer, I also lived with and filmed both the mute stillness of the trees in an enclosed garden in Athens and the clamorous winds on the island of Hydra. I started to imagine how the narrative of Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Aulis could have been different, while musing on a linguistic and physical fusion of wind and breath. Instead of agreeing to her own sacrifice, Iphigeneia could have addressed the assembled warriors and asked them to say her name, repeatedly and with increasing strength, until it became an incantation. Their exhalations would then create the winds to fill the sails, but for a different purpose: to return home, to their families, instead of going on to Troy. The Trojan War and countless deaths would have been avoided. In 2020, my film slipped away from me.
In 2020, breathing became fraught with so many other intensely painful meanings. With George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” as his life was stolen from him, with the Black Lives Matter call to say his name and those of so many others. For thousands of people on ventilators, the ability to breathe freely was also no longer a given, nor was their survival. A closely-packed crowd, all speaking loudly, pushing out their breath in repeated incantations was a reality, but now a dangerous, even terrifying one. I couldn’t find the mental focus to deal with all of these connotations and associations and still make this particular film.
My dilemma has been how to revive this particular film (and sometimes, even if I should revive it). My viewpoint on the film, and its connection to the world we live in now, has been in constant flux. An artist can never control all of the connotations of her work, and someone steeped in the reception of the ancient world should certainly not expect to, only perhaps to construct and frame her perspective. I will show clips of my work-in-progress in its newest edit, and I look forward to feedback at AIMS, with the observations of others about my filmic dilemma.
GITTLEMAN, Elena / Bryn Mawr College
Prostitute or Protector of the People?: The Reception of Empress Theodora and Byzantium in Riccardo Freda’s Teodora, Imperatrice di Bisanzio (1954)
This paper explores portrayal of the sixth-century Byzantine Empress Theodora in Riccardo Freda’s 1954 film Teodora, Imperatrice di Bisanzio (retitled Theodora, Slave Empress in the 1955 dubbed version released in the USA). The film’s plot revolves around the Empress Theodora’s rise to political power and presents her in a rare fashion: as a revolutionary, politically and socially progressive figure. This is a marked departure from the popular depictions of Theodora in late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italy. Most artistic or popular portrayals of the Empress were steeped in Orientalism and sexism, treating Byzantium and Theodora as overtly sexualized, corrupt “others.” Freda, likely due to his great interest in the early Byzantine Empire, put forth a purposeful re-characterization of both the Empress and the Empire that would resonate with a contemporary Italian audience.
My paper first situates the film’s place within Italian cinematic history, and argue that Teodora, Imperatrice di Bisanzio should be considered a Neorealist/sword-and-sandal epic hybrid. While containing many of the hallmarks of a sword-and-sand epic, the film firmly embraces Neorealist concerns: namely social and political injustice. While this film is a fairly unknown and understudied part of Riccardo Freda’s oeuvre, it plays powerfully with genre and delves into current social and political issues under the guise of a sword-and-sandal epic. Indeed, the heart of the film is not the epic moments of chariot races nor the battle, but on the positive progressive changes (all of which are historical fabrications) brought about by Theodora and her husband, Emperor Justinian, despite attempts by the greedy elite patrician class to stop them.
The core of my paper consists of an analysis of the film’s cinematography, costuming, and set design, as well as the film’s purposeful historical inaccuracies, to further explore the portrayal of Empress Theodora and Byzantium in light of the film’s categorical hybridity. As I will show, the characterization of Theodora in Teodora, Imperatrice di Bisanzio represents a departure from her historic, and ongoing, reception as a wanton woman, who is destructive to the Byzantine Empire, and portrays her instead as a revolutionary figure, using her sexuality to fight for the good of the populace. Not only did Freda break the mold in his depiction of the most famous Byzantine Empress, but through her, he also brought the “sword and sandal epic” out of the realm of pure spectacle to make a larger point about power and the necessity of fighting for justice for the oppressed classes. His purposefully a-historicizing choices allowed him to embrace and mold a new use of Byzantium in the specifically Italian national visual culture and political climate of the mid-1950s.
MAGERSTAEDT, Sylvie / University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney
“They Didn’t Do That!” — Accuracy, Fact, and Fictions in Classical Representations on Screen
When working on my TV Antiquity book, I was surprised about the extent to which questions of “historical accuracy” dominated the reviews of many of the programs I analyzed, despite the fact that all of them were explicitly fictional. In some cases, e.g., I, Claudius, discourses about what it means to “write history” even made it into the story lines. I understand the importance of and the interest in various aspects of historic accuracy in film and TV shows from the perspective of history, but coming at this as a film scholar and philosopher I ask myself, why does this matter so much to us, when we are all clear that what we are watching is not a documentary (the recent trend towards docu-dramas is a whole other matter). In my research, even in reviews of the obviously fantastical Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, almost 37 per cent of reviews on IMDB make some reference to “accuracy.” Incidentally, the show itself offers some clever and ironic commentary on the idea of historic facts and fiction. And when teaching a class on Ancient Rome on Screen recently, questions of accuracy were almost the first thing that students raised. So, what do we convey to students when using fictional works to teach about the ancient world?
Moreover, it is by no means always clear what people mean when they talk about historical accuracy — is it the dates, the story, the settings, the ways characters talk and act and think? For example, reviews on the 1970s BBC show Warrior Queen emphasize the environment rather than the story, arguing that “every scene … with carefully authenticated huts, pots, costumes, weapons, rituals and jewellery, showed us what Boudicca and her allies were fighting for: a family, a way of life, a community, a religion, a tradition” (Maire Messenger, The Listener, 1978). And, despite claiming that he is “not too worried about the historical minutiae,” another reviewer suggests that the “big plus for Warrior Queen is the authenticity conveyed by the location shooting, on outside broadcast cameras, among constructed Iron Age huts and carefully chosen battle sites. Surrounded by hairy warriors, hissing Druids, and beacon fires, you really get an I-was-there feeling” (Richard Last, Daily Telegraph, 1978).
Finally, the maybe most challenging question that arises for me is: does our “obsession” with accuracy mean we end up missing the broader allegorical messages contained in most myths and stories, which can reveal some important moral truths beyond mere facts? Of course, facts are important for history as well as philosophy, but what is the scope and role of fictional representations of antiquity in this context? This project is very much a work in progress, offering some examples of the discussions around accuracy and the creative fictional treatment of the topic that emerged in my recent research of antiquity in television and hopefully opens up some fruitful discussion on both our attitudes towards and how to engage students in these works.
MATZ, Alicia / Boston University
Mithra-ndir: Gandalf and the Roman Cult of Mithras
Christianity greatly influenced Tolkien as he wrote The Lord of the Rings. In a letter from 1953, Tolkien himself states that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision” (Letters no. 142, p. 172). While this influence is not “readily apparent” (Hiley 2004, 854), it comes through in Tolkien’s worldbuilding. For example, the fall of Morgoth in the Simarillion is clearly influenced by the fall of Lucifer. And yet, despite these Christian influences, scholars have found other religions in Tolkien’s works. Elizabeth Allen, in her chapter “Persian Influences in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings,” argues that the “Persian religion and its offshoot Mithraism provide the theology that undergirds Middle-earth” (Allen 1985, 189). In her study, Allen is mostly concerned with the Persian form of the cult of Mitra, incorporated in Mazdean Zoroastrianism. However, Mithraism grew and spread, and became especially prominent in the Roman world. This paper, building off of Allen, analyzes the figure of Gandalf, whose elvish name Mithrandir suggests a tie to the god Mithras. I argue that the Mithras of the Roman cult has more influence on the character of Gandalf than previously argued. Of particular interest is the battle on the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm, where Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog can be seen as a replication of the Roman Mithraic ritual of tauroctony: he sacrifices the Balrog, a bull-like creature, in order to be reborn as Gandalf the White, the earthly incarnation of Mithras. I conclude with an exploration of some of the similarities between Roman Mithraism and Christianity in order to suggest why these Mithraic tendencies are found in Tolkien’s self-described Christian work.
- Allen, Elizabeth H. 1985. “Persian Influences in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” The Transcendent Adventure: Studies of Religion in Science Fiction/Fantasy. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. 189–206.
- Hiley, Margaret. 2004. “Stolen Language, Cosmic Models: Myth and Mythology in Tolkien.” Modern Fiction Studies 50.4: 838-860.
MERKLEY, Ky / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Monstrous Masculinity: Toxic Masculinity Encounters the Minotaur in Legends of Tomorrow
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow has long been concerned with overturning old narratives and tropes in order to reveal a utopian set of new ideals. In this quest to overturn the old, Legends of Tomorrow (and the Arrowverse as a whole) has reduced Classical mythology into a social and material institution that represents modern society, its faults, and its outworn ideologies and narratives (e.g., Helen of Troy is trapped by her classical narrative etc.). In “Tender is the Nate” (s. 4 ep. 4), the traditional trope of hero vs. the monstrous “other” is leveraged into a discussion of toxic masculinity, constructions of hegemonic gender ideals, and the failure of such systems at resolving problems with anything other than violence.
In this episode, the minotaur is introduced as a traditional monster and Hemingway the traditional male hero. The expected narrative arc of this story — hero conquers monster — is subverted as violence fails to solve the problem. When hegemonic masculinity and the threat of violence fails, the hegemonic conception of masculinity is deconstructed (Demetriou 2001; Connell 2005). Yet, rather than denying masculinity a place in the solution, the episode reformulates masculinity and shows how a reconstructed masculinity can still be a part of the solution.
The narrative arc of this episode is nested inside of larger concerns about heroism as a business, the transformation of the heroic institution into a police state, and the dehumanization of imprisoned persons. All of these concerns are represented within the single character of Hank, and it is Hank’s masculinity that is redeemed by the final encounter with the minotaur. Thus, toxic masculinity is directly tied to the larger societal ideologies of punishment, egoism, and the depersonalizing effects of objectifying people as money. Thus, recognizing one’s performance of masculinity creates space for the entire ideological apparatus to be questioned (Althusser 1971). Throughout the season the narrative continues to shift. Eventually, the heroes free various monsters they have imprisoned and begin to deconstruct the concept of monster itself (s. 4 ep. 8 & 15).
This narrative arc — a traditional ideology confronts a threat, the ideology fails to solve the problem causing its deconstruction, and as a consequence a new ideology is reconstructed to solve the problem — fits into the larger aesthetic of metamodernism (Vermeulen 2010; Turner 2011). In fact, I would propose that it is metamodernism’s willingness to consistently deconstruct and reconstruct ideologies that empowers the utopian idealism of Legends of Tomorrow. The heroes create problems. They fail to overcome their own prejudices. They find that their own ideologies sometimes make them into monsters, but they are always willing to try again and be a little better. Conversely, the label of villain and monster sloughs away under persistent attempts to see the “other” as one of us. Rather, being monstrous becomes the inability to modify one’s ideologies when reality itself begins to shift.
- Althusser, Louis. 1971. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays.
- Connell, R.W. and James W. Messerschmidt. 2005. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender and Society 19(6):829–59.
- De Dauw, Esther and Daniel J. Connell. 2020. Toxic Masculinity: Mapping the Monstrous in Our Heroes. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
- Demetriou, D.Z. 2001. “Connell’s Concept of Hegemonic Masculinity: A Critique.” Theory and Society 30(3): 337–61.
- Freedman, Carl. 2013. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press.
- Turner, Luke. 2011. The Metamodernist Manifesto. Metamodernism.org.
- van der Merwe, J. 2017. Notes Towards a Metamodernist Aesthetic with Reference to Post-millennial Literary Works. Diss. Potchefstroom.
- Vermeulen, Timotheus and Robin van den Akker. 2010. Notes on Metamodernism www.metamodernism.com.
MINNITI, Kate / University of British Columbia
Jackal Warriors and Laser Crocodiles: 30 Years of Egyptian Monsters in Videogames
One of the most immediately recognizable features of the portrayal of ancient Egypt in many videogames is the presence of monsters. These creatures – divine beasts or fiends evoked by arcane curses – have been a recurring theme inextricably intertwined with the idea of Egypt itself in European popular culture for a long time, and virtual entertainment is no exception. This presentation will delve into the origins and evolution of these creatures in the last three decades, from the first Egypt-related videogames featuring monsters, Entombed and King’s Valley (1985), to the most recent Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017).
Figures from the ancient Egyptian pantheon, which included several hybrid creatures and gods represented as part animal and part human, have dazzled foreign travelers and artists from a very early date, and have become part of the collective imagination in European art and literature. Popular culture and mass media have been particularly receptive to these figures, which play into the general depiction of ancient Egyptian culture as a mysterious hub of arcane powers and fantastic-looking creatures. However, the ways in which various elements of mythology and religion are selected and adapted for videogames specifically seem to follow some interesting patterns over time — with a few surprises.
This presentation will trace an overview of the evolution of the reception of monstrous and divine beasts from Ancient Egypt in videogames over the last three decades. I will identify their origins in ancient literature and art, point out which creatures have been a constant presence in modern media, and then explore whether (and if so, how, and why) their reception has evolved with time. In doing this, I aim to show how many ancient Egyptian mythological creatures are still deeply embedded in, and evolving with, popular culture.
MOLEEN, Kaitlin / Independent Scholar
Romance and Horror in Ovid’s “Orpheus and Eurydice” and Hellraiser
The question most everyone asks about the Orpheus and Eurydice myth is, “why did he look back?” Or if this is not questioned, there is at least a frustration among readers of this tale, namely that Orpheus could have rescued Eurydice if only he weren’t so dumb or so impulsive or so overcome by desire. These analyses presuppose that “Orpheus and Eurydice” is a love story. I propose that it is Horror. Or at least, inasmuch as it is a love story, it is also Horror. Romantic Horror is arguably an unusual cross-genre. Tragic Romance, Romantic Comedy, TragiComedy all proliferate as genres, while Horrific Romance does not. Despite this, I have found, particularly via the example of Clive Barker’s 1987 film Hellraiser, that Horror and Romance are complementary. Ultimately, I will show how Romance and Horror are two sides of the same coin via an analysis of the narrative structures and language (both literal dialogue and visual imagery) in Ovid’s “Orpheus and Eurydice” and Hellraiser.
Specifically, both stories make use of framework narratives and flashbacks which are common tropes in horror and romance. These expositional frameworks serve two functions: as testimony of witnessed horror and romantic reminiscence. Moreover, the language and imagery in “Orpheus and Eurydice” has as much to do with horror as romance.
The location of most of the action is the Kingdom of Hades, after all, and a cursory glance at the tale’s language reveals a dreadful landscape (e.g. inamoena regna, opaca Tartara). More specifically, the fact that Eurydice’s ankle remains wounded even in death and has slowed her down (passu de vulnere tardo) builds suspense, akin to the Horror trope of “the girl who runs and falls.” At the same time, these details complement those in which Hades’ residents are softened by Orpheus’ songs and love for his wife.
Similarly, much of Hellraiser‘s imagery is, if not necessarily “romantic,” sexually charged, which overlaps with the horror. One horrific scene in particular, in which the main character’s (Julia) husband (Larry) is moving a mattress and violently rips his hand open on a nail, is intercut with a flashback of Julia and her former lover (Frank) having “passionate” sex.
Neither purely horror or romance, I will show how these stories make use of both genres to develop and strengthen their themes of love and death.
NEEL, Jaclyn / Carleton University
TVTropes is a well-known website that crowdsources, catalogues, and explains the themes and shorthands used by writers, directors, and producers of the small screen. It is a successful and accessible way of ensuring that cultural knowledge is analyzed and disbursed to the general public.
This roundtable discussion introduces a new project, tentatively titled “AntiquiTropes”, that aims to create a similar resource for classical screen texts of all types, including television, movies, games, and social media. Broadly conceived, it comprises a database with two functions: the first, more similar to the TVTropes model, collects and explains standard tropes of screen receptions, such as the linguistic paradigm, and draws attention to the presence and subversion of these tropes across screen texts of all varieties. The goal of this section is to provide an expert guide for the general public. The second function is aimed at helping academic researchers identify screen texts and themes relevant to their research, and in doing so hopefully to suggest further avenues of inquiry.
After explaining the project in more detail, including several use cases, the rest of the panel will be devoted to soliciting audience feedback. Specifically:
- Which areas would be most useful to this community as an initial area of focus: a single medium? A single character/era/theme?
- Are there areas in which people feel that they could contribute, or could ask their students to contribute? E.g., lists of screen texts, conference papers/notes, thematic reviews?
- Are there specific tropes or techniques of representing antiquity that are so common that they could provide a backbone to organizing the database, and how might we visualize the webs of connection between those tropes/techniques and the screen texts in which they appear?
I hope to foster a productive discussion about needs and desires for a project like this in its early design stages.
NORGARD, Amy / Truman State University
Bringing down the Divine Patriarchy through Deicide in Apotheon (2015)
“For too long has my husband escaped the consequences of His actions …
But together …
We will take what is owed.”
These words are uttered by a vengeful Hera in Apotheon, an action platformer set in the Ancient Greek Iron Age, and released in 2015 by independent developer Alientrap Inc. While Apotheon is notable for its striking visual aesthetic that evokes Greek black-figure pottery, the game narrative creatively reimagines women from classical mythology through a modern lens of gender equality. In Apotheon, Zeus orders the gods to depart from the earth, leaving humanity in a “post-apocalyptic and post-mythological” game setting ripe for creative storytelling — including integration of deicide (Paprocki 2020: 194). Spiteful of her husband’s infidelities, Hera orchestrates a “deicide,” or the violent destruction of the (erstwhile) immortal Greek gods, through the mortal man Nikandreos. The gamer plays as Nikandreos (whose name means “victory of men” or even “victory of humanity”) as he becomes Hera’s “champion” and primary instrument to “stand up to the cruel deities of Olympus” and eventually supplant the gods himself (Apotheon 2015).
In his venture to dismantle the divine establishment of Olympus, Nikandreos receives aid from female divinities who actively defy the male gods, with some seeking revenge for oppression and violence perpetrated against them. In an extension of Ovid’s account in Metamorphoses, Apotheon’s Daphne reviles Apollo for his “lechery” and “spidery fingers” that “caress” her unwilling branches (Apotheon 2015). Thetis, in a rare alignment with Hera, offers protection against Poseidon and, echoing Iliad 1, claims she has “influence of [her] own in these waters” (Apotheon 2015). Other female deities, like Artemis, Athena, and Demeter, are fought and defeated in boss battles, but in innovative ways that make them stand out from their male counterparts — particularly Artemis’ deer hunter battle that depicts fighting beyond the traditional hack-n-slash formula (Warr 2015).
A cast of female characters that acts as the driving force behind a deicide is a unique storyline within any screen text that incorporates the Greco-Roman gods. Drawing upon recent scholarship on deicide in modern media (Tomasso 2015; Gordon 2017; Paprocki 2020), this presentation will observe how deicide entered into the popular imagination as reflection of the modern viewer’s / player’s changing relationship to the Greco-Roman gods. Furthermore, this chapter will situate Apotheon’s female-driven deicide within a larger framework of the motif across modern media to demonstrate its innovation (e.g. Clash of the Titans, 1981 and 2010; Xena: Warrior Princess, 1995–2001; God of War series, 2005–2018; etc.).
Despite portraying female characters critical of the divine patriarchy, there is still ambiguity within Apotheon’s promotion of gender equality. The female characters still remain ancillary figures subjugated to a traditional, male-centric gaming formula. The gamer plays as a man who becomes the vehicle through which oppressed female deities communicate discontent with the divine patriarchal system. This point is underscored by the option at the end of the game for Nikandreos to kill Hera, a sign that he has used the women’s cause for his own benefit. In the final cut-scene, as a newly immortal Nikandreos molds a man out of clay to recreate humanity, the player is left wondering how women fit into this new reality – if at all.
- Baratz, A. (2015) “The Source of the Gods’ Immortality in Archaic Literature.” Scripta Classica Israelica 34: 151–64.
- Gordon, J. (2017) “When Superman Smote Zeus: Analyzing Violent Deicide in Popular Culture.” Classical Receptions Journal 9.2: 211–36.
- Lowe, D. (2009) “Playing with Antiquity: Videogame Receptions of the Classical World.” In D. Lowe and K. Shahabudin (eds.), Classics for All: Re-working Antiquity in Mass Cultural Media, 64–90. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press.
- Paprocki, M. (2020) “Mortal Immortals: Deicide of the Greek Gods in Apotheon and Its Role in the Greek Mythic Storyworld.” In C. Rollinger (ed.), Classical Antiquity in Video Games: Playing with the Ancient World, 193–204. London and New York: Bloomsbury.
- Tomasso, V. (2015) “The Twilight of Olympus: Deicide and the End of the Greek Gods.” In M. Cyrino and M. Safran (eds.), Classical Myth on Screen, 147–57. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Vore, B. (2015) “Apotheon: Ancient Greek Art Springs to Life.” Game Informer (3 February). https://www.gameinformer.com/games/apotheon/b/pc/archive/2015/02/03/apotheon-review-game-informer.aspx (accessed 18 September 2020).
- Warr, P. (2015) “Wot I Think: Apotheon.” Rock Paper Shotgun (6 February). https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2015/02/06/apotheon-review/ (accessed 26 May 2020).
- Whitehead, D. (2015) “Apotheon Review: Go Greece Fighting.” Eurogamer (9 February). https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-02-05-apotheon-review (accessed 18 September 2020).
- Apotheon (2015) Alientrap Inc, PC and PlayStation 4.
- Clash of the Titans (1981) Desmond Davis (dir.). Film. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
- Clash of the Titans (2010) Louis Leterrier (dir.). Film. Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.
- God of War (2005–18) [Game Series] SCE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment and Sony Interactive Entertainment, PlayStation 1-4.
- Immortals (2011) Tarsem Singh (dir.). Film. Relativity Media.
- Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Don Chaffey (dir.). Film. Columbia Pictures.
- Star Trek: The Original Series (1966–69) Created by Gene Roddenberry. TV. CBS Television Distribution.
- Troy (2004) Wolfgang Petersen (dir.). Film. Warner Bros. Pictures.
- Wonder Woman (2017) Patty Jenkins (dir.). Film. Warner Bros. Pictures.
- Wrath of the Titans (2012) Jonathan Liebesman (dir.). Warner Bros.
- Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001) Created by John Schulian and Robert Tapert. TV. MCA TV/Universal Television Enterprises/Studios USA.
PANTAZOPOULOU, Anastasia / University of Florida
Turning Home into a “Stage”: The Case of Euripides’ Medea and David Fincher’s Amy Dunne (Gone Girl, 2014)
Deborah Boedeker has attributed to Euripides’ Medea the role of the author of a play within-the-play. “In addition to changing the common version of the story,” Boedeker argues, “Medea as we have seen behaves as author or director of her own story, as she frequently plans, rehearses, or comments on her own speech, and directs the words and actions of other characters as well” (1991). The authorial identity of Euripides’ Medea unfolds gradually after she exits from the skene which represents her house and enters the performing space (stage), which she transforms into a “stage.” The term “stage” denotes the physical or imagined spaces where the characters of plays and films put on their performances whether these are hosted by an actual stage (theater) or screen (cinema, digital media). Thus, a “stage,” as a metadramatic spatial entity, is the space where a storyworld is realized in front of or in the mind of the spectators and becomes a spectacle itself.
This paper discusses Euripides’ Medea as an authorial figure in parallel with the 2014 American film Gone Girl, a cinematic adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel directed by David Fincher. More specifically, my focus is on the protagonists of the two stories, Medea and Amy Dunne, and their transformation of the domestic space into a “stage” to avenge themselves and reconstruct their fragmented socio-domestic identity after their husbands’ betrayal. Since Jason broke his oath and deserted his current home, Medea has been left with a fragmented domestic and social identity, a wounded pride, and nobody to turn to. To survive and take revenge, she reconstructs herself as the author of her own new story completely deconstructing Jason’s and her home ̶both as a social entity by murdering their sons and as a physical space by using it as a “stage” where she commits the murder.
I contend that Gone Girl’s protagonist Amy Dunne, just like Medea, turns her home into a “stage” to punish her unfaithful husband Nick. By drawing parallels between Medea’s and Amy’s domestic spatial relations, I show how the familiar domestic space emerges as a hostile “stage” that serves as an avenging mechanism. Like Medea, Amy sacrificed the life she knew to be the wife of a man who dragged her to his hometown and then cheated on her. His betrayal and imminent desertion of their home shattered Amy and activated her conflicting identities. Consequently, she turned their domestic space into a “stage” directing herself along with the other characters—who were not even aware of the roles they were playing—in order to turn the tables on her husband and reclaim her past identity. Finally, I argue that, by the end of the play and the film respectively, both Medea and Amy have established themselves as the dominant characters of their tragic stories by transforming their domestic space into a powerful tragic “stage.”
- Boedeker, D. 1991. “Euripides’ Medea and the Vanity of ΛΟΓΟΙ.” Classical Philology, vol. 86, no. 2, 95–112.
POE, Alison and ROSE, Marice / Fairfield University
Classicizing Goth: Nick Knight’s S.W.A.L.K. (2020) and John Galliano’s “Wet Look” for Maison Margiela
This paper considers the classical receptions in fashion filmmaker Nick Knight’s 2020 docudrama S.W.A.L.K. about designer John Galliano’s Autumn/Winter 2020 Artisanal collection for Maison Margiela, a film viewed more than 115,000 times on YouTube. The paper explores how engagements with classical mythology, sculpture, and drapery styles interact with the goth aesthetic of Knight’s and Galliano’s work. It also addresses the present authors’ ethical responsibilities as classicists studying a public figure who has voiced and apologized for racist sentiments.
Released in July, Knight’s 52-minute S.W.A.L.K. takes place at Maison Margiela’s atelier in Paris, where creative director Galliano and his team create and display their women’s/men’s AW20 couture collection. All ensembles bear names from Greek mythology (e.g., Artemis, Euthenia, Tethys). The clothes cling to the body with a “wet look” inspired by Neoclassical veiled statues (4:40ff); fashion critics link the style to ancient sculpture (Friedman 2020, Clark 2020, Boardman 2020). The enveloping white fabrics and Knight’s digital alteration of the models into washed-out forms strengthen associations with (modern ideas of) classical statuary. Some poses recall ancient iconography or specific statues (e.g., Dionysos/Herakles/Theseus from the Parthenon east pediment, 50:13).
These classical receptions coexist in S.W.A.L.K. with a strong goth sensibility that has long been a hallmark of Galliano’s designs (Steele 2008) and of Knight’s fashion images: an interest in dishabille, the macabre, sexual provocation, and androgyny. Galliano “mix[es] the wet look with the Blitz Kids” of the 1980s London club scene (32:50ff), producing a “wretched look” incorporating “dissect[ed]” thrift-store finds (26:45-28:42) worn by models whose sex is sometimes indiscernible. The designer’s utterance “There is no poetry without death” echoes in the film (20:37, 22:19). Given the Renaissance and Enlightenment opposition of “Classical” to “Gothic” and the rebellious, countercultural ethos of goth culture, a viewer might expect S.W.A.L.K.’s mythological nomenclature, classicizing drapery styles, and evocations of ancient statuary to clash with its goth themes and aesthetics. This paper finds commonalities, however: an appreciation for fragments and their potential for creative reassembly; the use of drapery to accentuate the body’s sensuality; and the mixing, blurring, and/or suppression of gender signifiers observed in some Greek and Roman statues by earlier receivers (cf Rose and Poe 2015). At the same time, the juxtapositions of conventionally regarded opposites, of “high” and “low” culture, offer frisson and humor, and they suggest that both filmmaker and designer possess a covetable mix of learned gravitas and iconoclastic coolness.
Portraying Galliano as classically erudite perhaps also serves his self-fashioning as a genius who merits forgiveness for a racist tirade. Galliano perpetrated a public anti-Semitic rant in 2011 while on drugs and alcohol; he has since apologized and undergone addiction treatment, and his 2014 appointment at Maison Margiela signaled his readmittance into rarefied fashion circles. As Classics wrestles with questions of social responsibility, the present authors submit that the size of S.W.A.L.K.’s audience, together with Galliano’s rehabilitation and apology, render Knight’s docudrama worthy of study. In the “work-in-progress” spirit of this conference, however, we welcome Q&A discussion of this issue.
- Boardman, Mickey. “Galliano’s Margiela Artisanal Is Exactly the Escape We Need.” Paper, July 20, 2020. https://www.papermag.com/margiela-artisanal-galliano-2646427089.html.
- Clark, Imogen. “Haute Couture AW20: Maison Margiela Artisanal by John Galliano.” Glass, July 20, 2020. https://www.theglassmagazine.com/haute-couture-aw20-maison-margiela-artisanal-by-john-galliano.
- Friedman, Vanessa. “A Fashion Show Epilogue. Or Was It an Elegy?” The New York Times, July 17, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/style/gucci-prada-margiela-digital-fashion-shows.html.
- Rose, Marice, and Alison Poe, eds. Receptions of Antiquity, Constructions of Gender in European Art, 1300–1600. Metaforms 3. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
- Steele, Valerie, and Jennifer Park. Gothic: Dark Glamour. New York: Yale University Press and Fashion Institute of Technology, 2008.
POTTER, Amanda / Open University, UK
A Greek Mythology-Based Creative Writing Workshop
With COVID-19 Restrictions, 2020 has seen a movement of F2F public engagement events to online events, together with an increased interest in creative activities that can be completed at home. Online events provide classicists with the opportunity to share their ideas with an increased audience, as geography is no longer a boundary, but come with the challenge of how to maintain interest without physical interaction.
Pre-COVID I was interested in the intersection between academic writing and creative writing, and organized F2F creative writing workshops together with published novelists and poets Emily Hauser, Caroline Lawrence, SJ Brady and Emily Chow-Kambitsch, as part of the Classical Association conference in London in 2019. In 2020 I have written my first novel, and held my first online creative writing event in November 2020 as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities. This workshop used three creative writing exercises to encourage participants to start writing their own stories based on the characters from Greek mythology, paintings depicting scenes from mythology, and opening lines from epic poetry. I would like to replicate this workshop at the AIMS meeting, to encourage my fellow classicists to get creative, and suggest some ideas that can be used in public engagement and teaching.
ROSE, Marice / Fairfield University
Classicizing Goth: Nick Knight’s S.W.A.L.K. (2020) and John Galliano’s “Wet Look” for Maison Margiela
- See POE, Alison
STRINGER, Gregory P. / Burlington (MA) High School
Outreach and Engagement with #ClassicsTwitterMovie
During the tedium and anxiety of lockdown this spring, a spontaneous exchange on Twitter led to the creation of #ClassicsTwitterMovie, a weekly event held almost every Sunday since March. What started as a one-off gathering to watch and comment on the 2009 Rachel Weisz film Agora back in March has become, across over 25 films and literally thousands of tweets, a locus of weekly fun and engaging informal conversations of the reception of the Ancient and Classics-adjacent worlds on film. Every Sunday at 2PM EST an unofficial group of anywhere from 5 to dozens of scholars from around the world collectively watch a pre-selected Classics-oriented, themed, or related movie and comment on it in real time on Twitter.
The event is open to everyone and mindful of equity, choosing, as much as possible, movies that are available to stream for free, or at least widely available on the most popular streaming platforms (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.). Participants include people both from within academia and outside of it, and with a variety of levels of experience and engagement with both the classics and film, from high school students to tenured professors and has even served as a point of direct access for current students to leading scholars of Classics on film. The Twitter commentary ranges from the sublime to the absurd and likewise the content has extended from high art (Michael Cacoyannis’ Euripides cycle films) to lowbrow B movies (Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hercules in New York), and from the Golden Age of Hollywood (Spartacus, Cleopatra) to Bollywood (Asoka), and even very recent indie films, such as the 2020 premier of Ovid and the Art of Love. It has also spawned two successful collaborations — over the summer with feminist classicist and Lupercal founder Skye Shirley’s independent “Women Writing Latin” class, and this fall with Prof. Vicky Austin’s “Ancient World through Film” class at the University of Winnipeg.
My aim for this brief talk is to increase awareness of this resource as a tool for outreach and building community and engagement around the reception of Classics, the ancient world, and related fields on film. This informal and accessible opportunity to engage with the ancient world can provide a road into Classics and Ancient World studies for students and casual enthusiasts who might otherwise have limited access to the field and its conversations. It is my hope that scholars and teachers of Classical reception will participate in this recurring event in the future and/or share information about it with students and colleagues. Twitter remains underappreciated as a means of recruitment and outreach, but this free, fun, and informal weekly “gathering” can amplify our efforts to make connections with students and further stimulate interest in Classics.
SULPRIZIO, Chiara / Vanderbilt University
Netflix’s Blood of Zeus: Greek Mythology Meets American Anime
- See BUT, Ekaterina
WEED, Ashley / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“Acrimony: Tyler Perry’s Other Medea”
Tyler Perry’s 2018 film Acrimony tells the story of a Black woman named Melinda who seeks homicidal revenge against her ex-husband Robert and his new fiancée Diana. In this paper, I read Acrimony as a reception of Medea’s episode at Corinth. After Melinda gives everything to Robert over the course of their relationship — her virginity, her money, her emotional support — and they divorce, Robert reappears at Melinda’s doorstep, now incredibly wealthy and newly engaged, and seeks to make amends by means of financial and housing security. Melinda becomes enraged, chemically destroying Diana’s wedding dress and attempting to murder both her ex-husband and his new fiancée.
I contextualize Acrimony within the broader constellation of receptions of Medea produced by marginalized communities in the United States (e.g., W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1911 novel The Quest of the Silver Fleece, Toni Morrison’s 1981 novel Beloved, Cherríe Moraga’s 1995 play The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea). Though a consistent site of exploration in both ancient and modern iterations of this myth, Medea’s status as a Colchian — and thus as a foreigner, barbarian, and Other — is differentially articulated in each piece. As I will argue, Perry’s choice to make all major characters Black elides intergroup racial tensions often present in the tradition in favor of exploring other racial themes, in this case related to Black womanhood and (stereotypical) Black relationship dynamics, which are consistent with Perry’s other film and stage productions.
One issue I am still working out is the presence (or lack) of an Aegeus scene. In Euripides’ Medea, Medea’s supplication to Aegeus forces audiences to reckon with Medea’s eventual reintegration into Greek society which comes with serious political ramifications in the context of the Peloponnesian War and Athens’ self-fashioning as a beacon for suppliants. Currently I read the beginning of the film — Melinda’s court appearance and subsequent court-ordered therapy — as a sort of Aegeus scene. I am interested in exploring how this affects our reception of Melinda, especially with respect to the change in narrative sequence.
- Bartel, Heike and Anne Simon. 2010. Unbinding Medea: Interdisciplinary Approaches to a Classical Myth from Antiquity to the 21st Century. London.
- Carey, Tamika L. 2014. “Take Your Place: Rhetorical Healing and Black Womanhood in Tyler Perry’s Films.” Signs 39(4): 999–1021.
- Graf, F. 1997. “Medea, the Enchantress from Afar: Remarks on a Well-Known Myth.” In Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art, edited by S. I. Johnston & J. J. Clauss. Princeton.
- Haley, S. P. 1995. “Self-Definition, Community, and Resistance: Euripides’ Medea and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Thamyris 2(2): 177–.
- Hutcheon, L. 2004. A Theory of Adaptation. Routledge
- Murray, J. 2019. “W.E.B. du Bois’ The Quest of the Silver Fleece: The Education of Black Medea.” TAPA 149(2): 143–62.
- Patterson, Robert J. 2011. “Woman Thou Art Bound”: Critical Spectatorship, Black Masculine Gazes, and Gender Problems in Tyler Perry’s Movies.” Black Camera 3(1): 9-30.
WHITE, Robert / Beaumont School
Atom Age Gladiator: Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)
In one sense, Edward L. Cahn’s The Curse of the Faceless Man can be seen simply as one entry in a long line of low budget sci-fi motion pictures churned out during the latter half of the 1950s, feeding a nearly unending demand for cheap films to occupy either the top or bottom halves of drive-in and movie marquees. Its plot seems to borrow liberally from four decades’ worth of Mummy and Mummyish films — going back beyond Karl Freund’s The Mummy (1932) to Paul Wegener’s first version of Der Golem (1914) — and from the public’s fascination with reincarnation, a topic in which interest was growing steadily throughout that decade. However, despite its overwhelmingly derivative themes and its cliched plot, The Curse of the Faceless Man can make a singular claim: that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79CE could lead to a series of unexplainable, unstoppable, and gruesome deaths in modern day Naples.
In this presentation, I will first show how The Curse of the Faceless Man fits in the sci-fi/horror subgenre of reanimated creatures (e.g., Frankenstein’s monster, the Golem, and the Mummy); secondly, how the overwhelming influence of Pompeii affects the actions and fates of the characters in the film; and finally, how the decision to depict the title monster as actually faceless can be interpreted as a commentary on the treatment of slaves in the Classical World, or, more depressingly, the idea that slaves’ attempts to escape captivity are useless — as is driven home by the film’s conclusion, when the monster is utterly destroyed — not by man, but by the calm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
WRIGHT, David J. / Fordham University
True Grit(ty): Reclaiming Monsters for the Marginalized
Monsters are manifestations of cultural unease. Monsters in the Classical world are often used to represent the Other. Polyphemus has been seen to represent the foreign Other. Medusa the feminine Other. But at the same time, the meanings of monsters change and their status as Other often becomes complicated. With time, the brutal ogre Polyphemus becomes the sentimental poet of the pastoral world. The Minotaur, once the vicious monster who ruthlessly devours children, becomes the sad brother of Ariadne in Catullus 64 (181,399), and eventually the lonely, terrified hermit in Borges’ short story “The House of Asterion” (1947).
What is more, oppressed groups sometimes reclaim the monster. Scylla, once the symbol of death and destruction for sailors, becomes a figure of pride for Sicilians and South Italians, and even a symbol of protection and salvation for Sextus Pompey and his adherents. More recently Medusa, herself a victim of sexual assault and gendered violence, becomes a symbol of justice against abusers in Luciano Garbati’s (albeit problematic) “Medusa with the Head of Perseus” statue. The Hundred-Handers are a monstrous Other in Greek and Roman literature who are associated with social unrest in a negative way. In an 1890 political cartoon published in Punch, they become a positive avatar for the labor movement. Though monsters often find their origins as the embodiment of the Other, they sometimes become symbols of protection of the same groups that they originally othered.
Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot turned political meme, follows a similar pattern to some of the reclaimed monsters from classical antiquity. The orange creature has undergone shifts in meaning since the time when, according to tradition, he was disturbed from his subterranean lair under the Wells Fargo Center by construction projects in 2018. Initially, the revelation of the new mascot was met with public derision. But the city of Philadelphia quickly embraced the orange monster in a protective way once the rest of the world began to criticize their city’s mascot. Through the world of meme culture (which itself reflects cultural movements in a manner similar to monsters), Gritty became a symbol of antifascist ideology and the plight of marginalized identities. Like the Hundred-Handers of the ancient Greco-Roman world, Gritty has been viewed as an agent of chaos, but a chaos that militates against systems of oppression. In very recent memory, Gritty enjoyed new limelight when the City of Philadelphia and its suburbs played a crucial role in the 2020 election: an orange monster to defeat another orange “monster.” Gritty comes to epitomize the salvation of American democracy itself. This paper explores the points of intersection between Gritty and these classical monsters that have been reclaimed. Though the application of a framework of Monster Theory to monsters ancient and modern, my study revolves around two questions: 1) How can a study of the reclaiming of Classical monsters help us understand Gritty? 2) How can Gritty help us understand the reclamation of classical monsters?
- Cohen, J. 1996. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis.
- Gloyn, L. 2019. Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture. London.
- Hopman, M.G. 2012. Scylla: Myth, Metaphor, Paradox. Cambridge.