The Manipulation of Myth and Homeric ‘Heroes’: Greek Tragedy and Epic for Schools Review

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The Open University and the Classical Association in Northern Ireland were extremely proud to host their joint Greek Tragedy and Epic for Schools event in Queen’s University, Belfast.

After a welcome and introduction from Dr John Curran (QUB/CANI) and Dr Janice Holmes of the Open University, Dr Laura Swift (OU) entertained and educated with her talk ‘Sophocles, Heaney and the Manipulation of Myth.’

From how the “vested emotional interest” in Greek myth is perhaps best displayed today in ‘fan-fiction’ through the terrible opening night of Phrynichus’ The Capture of Miletus to Alfred Hitchcock’s film-making advice for adding suspense to an otherwise boring conversation by putting a ticking time-bomb under the table, Dr Swift presented the “familiar but flexible” nature of Greek myth.

Dr Swift highlighted how receptions of the title character in Sophocles’ play Antigone and her opponent Creon can change. Most appropriately given the surroundings, it was the adaptation of Seamus Heaney that drew much attention, in particular his depiction of Creon, the seeming “ideal politician” who slides into paranoid tyranny under the guise of patriotism – an ancient rendition of George W Bush and the Patriot Act: the corruption of power at work once more.

Dr William Allan (University College, Oxford) followed up with a look at the frequently unheroic Homeric Hero, ranging from Achilles the “touchy psychopath,” the honourable death-seeking Hector, the Cyclopean cheese-stealing Odysseus to the modern day Batman vs Superman.

Dr Allan demonstrated that the hero of Homeric tradition could not only fight well but could be expected to speak and think well, but with the proviso that Greek heroes were and indeed are only interesting when they failed to live up to these ideals. For every glorious victory in combat, tremendous feat of endurance or skill, eloquent speech or ingenious Trojan Horse plot, there was a less than heroic catastrophe – Achilles got his friends killed through his own haughty stubbornness; Hector doomed his own city through his need for a gory, honourable death; Odysseus, for all his smarts, got many of his men killed through his own stupidity and selfishness while Batman and Superman went to war over a misunderstanding that would have been simply fixed through a brief conversation.

We at CANI were thrilled by the numbers of schools represented in the audience, all keen to bolster their knowledge and understanding of tragedy and epic poetry by listening to and conversing with two such prominent classicists as our speakers. It demonstrates that interest in the Classics continues to be strong across Northern Ireland and beyond.

As Dr Curran said in his introduction to the event, this was kind of event encapsulated the two main raisons d’être of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland – promoting the Classics and providing help to schools, so for so many to show their interest by attending is a great boon to the aims of CANI.

CANI would also like to thank not just Dr Swift and Dr Allan for taking the time out of their busy schedules to travel to our shores to present their excellent, thought-provoking talks and to all the attendees for making the event such a success, but also Janice Holmes, Jennifer Shepherd and the Open University in Ireland who did so much to make this great event happen.

Dr Peter Crawford

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For more photos and a couple of taster videos from this tremendous event over in our Greek Tragedy and Epic for Schools Gallery

One thought on “The Manipulation of Myth and Homeric ‘Heroes’: Greek Tragedy and Epic for Schools Review

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