In 1963 the world was captivated by the delightful, dramatic stop-motion technique found in many movies of the decade. Don Chaffey’s 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts was one that caught the attention of millions.
With its terrifying harpies and hydras, clashing rocks, the beautiful Medea and of course, the all important Golden Fleece, this tale is set to keep you interested throughout. Of course, no Hollywood blockbuster is complete without a few deviations from the original mythology. There are some chronological differences with Talos being defeated on the way to the Golden Fleece rather than on the long journey home. The god Triton (wonderfully depicted as a mermaid) makes a big feature as well, holding the Clashing Rocks back from crushing the terrified Argonauts to death – in the original myth it is the blinded King Phineas who tells Jason to release a dove before entering the Clashing Rocks to avoid its imminent dangers. I have always felt that, even with its deviations from Classical myth, it is still a story the Ancients would have been proud of with its colourful visuals, quick pace and constant action.
This is the movie that began to stoke the fire of my love for Classics. As a young girl my father put this movie on the television with the intent to show me one of his favourites – little did he know he started me on my journey through the Ancient World. I was in awe of the stop motion techniques of Ray Harryhausen that brought the harpies, Talos and skeletons to life; mythology really did seem like magic when portrayed on the screen.
With all of this in mind and following the success of our previous screenings of Gladiator and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, CANI were incredibly excited to host their third annual movie screening of Jason and the Argonauts in the Ulster Museum, who CANI would like to thank once more for its willingness to host our events. With a fascinating and insightful introduction by CANI’s own Katerina Kolotourou (and after some deliberation at how to move a large curtain away from blocking the screen), an enthralled audience sat back and for an hour and 44 minutes watched in admiration as Hera and the gods on Mount Olympus aided Jason and his companions in their quest.
Speaking to a few people after the performance, I received nothing but positive opinions for the screening. There appeared to be ample debate after the showing with some viewers telling me that seeing Jason and the Argonauts playing on a larger screen for the first time, really served to bring the movie and the Classical myth it derives from, even more alive. The setting of the Golden Fleece became even more mysterious and magical as its golden wool seemed to glitter that much brighter. The hydra was a big favourite as well; showing its fierce hissing and jabbing on the big screen only served to heighten the fear it produces.
Overall I can say with confidence that this was a wonderful event for all involved. It can be said that Classics (and the enthusiasm for Classics) is very much alive not just in the traditional sense, but even from the modern viewpoint where big budget productions bring these tales into the eyes and hearts of all who watch them. This was the third movie event for CANI and hopefully there will be many more to come.
On 11 April, CANI were proud to host an educational talk by Laura Jenkinson of Greek Myth Comix and Churcher’s College, Hampshire.
We at CANI have already had the honour of working with Laura as she provided some of her wonderful artwork for our public reading of Homer’s Odyssey [https://classicalassociationni.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/odysseylivebelfast-gallery/] and even took part in the reading via video.
After a brief CANI update from Helen McVeigh, Erin Halliday introduced ‘Jenks’ to the audience, who (after a few technological gremlins were dealt with) launched enthusiastically into a colourful portrayal of her work, its development and her influences in using comics as a teaching tool.
The talk began with a fascinating look at how flickering light of a fire could make the horses, oxen and bison in the cave art of such places as Lascaux in southwestern France, seem to wag their tails, move their heads or run in a prehistoric, primitive form of animation.
Jenks also showed how even single pictures on vases, freezes and walls could be considered as versions of comics as many of the aspects contained within should be viewed sequentially, such as some of the strange (and unsurprisingly raunchy) wall paintings of Pompeii depicting Priapius, Daedalus presenting Pasiphae with her bull costume and the story of Ixion the first Family Murderer and progenitor of the marauding centaurs.
Daedalus and Pasiphae. Fresco from the picture gallery of House of the Vettii in Pompeii
These prehistoric, archaic and classical ‘animations’ continued their development into the second century AD, where we find what is perhaps the first graphic novel in the imperial telling of the Roman conquest of Dacia on Trajan’s Column.
Laura then showed how her interest in comics, drawing and the Classics came together in an infographic regarding the number, methods and perpetrators of death in the Iliad. The online response to this not just in terms of views but also the conversations it seemed to encourage conversation about the Iliad, various aspects associated with it and the Classics in general demonstrated that there was a thirst for the Classics in comic form and in general.
The global reaction to her Iliad infographic, together with the overwhelmingly positive reactions in the classroom, encouraged Laura to further expand her range of comics, leading to the @GreekMythComix tagline of “Explaining the Classics, one comic at a time.”
But do not think that this is just a bit of fun. There are valuable educational benefits to the use of sequential art and the type of comic strips that Greek Myth Comix specialises in. This was backed by academia and further anecdotal evidence which suggested that the integration of drawing and text in comic strips was more useful for revision and general teaching purposes, as it was seen as an ‘easy’ and fun homework and far less daunting than a block of text, as well as providing context and memorability.
Laura Jenkinson has enthusiasm to burn about the Classics and there clearly are not enough hours in the day for the amount of ideas she has, a list that was only further extended by some of the questions and suggestions put forward by the audience on the night, such as expansions into youtube videos, podcasts and A Level course material.
Laura is also exceedingly generous with not only her time, but the fruits of her much more than twelve labours, making them available through her website http://greekmythcomix.com/. She is also willing to listen to virtually any ideas for commissions.
For a little more on Laura Jenkinson’s work, you can read a previous CANI blog post by Dr Halliday [HERE – https://classicalassociationni.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/playing-cards-and-paper-dolls-the-trojan-war-as-you-have-never-seen-it/%5D or contact Laura directly through twitter, facebook or her websites…
With Belfast finally thawed (although still a tad chilly), on 7 March 2018, the Classical Association in Northern Ireland convened for its first public talk of the year. Showing the continued interest in the Ancient world and the calibre of the speakers CANI have been able to attract, the Old Staff Common Room of Queen’s University was once more packed out. We might need a new venue soon!
After a brief CANI update from Helen McVeigh, Dr John Curran introduced Dr Laura Pfuntner (QUB) to speak on ‘A Roman Holiday in Sicily,’ which was framed with a Grand Tour theme and addressed the purported Roman ambivalence to Sicily.
With the island being ‘not Roman, not Italian, not Greek’ (and with some Punic and native Sicels thrown in), could any such Roman ambivalence reflect standoffishness or ignorance? Or was Sicily of less interest because it was a conquered land, with the Roman elite less interested because there was no renown to be won there even with the slave revolts and civil wars of the last century of the Republic? Or is the idea of Roman ignoring of Sicily only a reflection of the limited scope and focus of the sources rather than the political, social and agricultural reality?
As Rome’s first overseas territory, Sicily could be seen as something of an ‘imperial training ground’ with both Marcellus, the captor of Syracuse, and Augustus learning lessons there. The pervasiveness of this idea may be seen in the depiction of Aeneas as something of the ‘first Roman in Sicily’ in Virgil’s Aeneid.
While Marcellus’ brutal siege and capture of the Syracuse saw significant damage and death, including that of Archimedes, the Roman conquest of the city and the island saw a significant boon of Hellenic art and culture in Rome (both a positive and negative according to the sources).
This removal of so many great pieces of Greek art from Syracuse could be construed as a positive in the writings of men such as Cicero, who presents himself (and perhaps Marcellus) as something of a preserver of Syracusan art and culture, particularly through his own rediscovery of the tomb of Archimedes in 75BC.
By the time of Augustus, Syracuse and Sicily was seen as many things – a workshop, a warehouse for trade goods coming in from across the empire, a grain farm for Italy and increasingly as a retreat for wealthy Romans, complete with growing villas and its own tourism industry, displayed by the mystagogi – Syracusan tour guides.
After whetting our appetites about the historical and cultural position of Sicily in the Roman world, Dr Pfuntner also took a variety of questions about the island regarding its geography, size, demographics, resources, slave population, and as an entrance to Hell.
I daresay that some in the audience will be sorely tempted to take up some of Dr Pfuntner’s advice about visiting Sicily and some of the lesser known sites it has to offer!
On 5 March 2018, members of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland were very fortunate to attend William Crawley’s interview of Professor Mary Beard at BBC Blackstaff as part of the eye-opening new series Civilisations.
Over the course of 90 minutes a vast array of questions, from interviewer and audience, were asked and answered by Professor Beard on a variety of subjects linked to the show, its making, its predecessor by Kenneth Clark, and the history touched upon within.
Through clips from the show, starting with Professor Beard’s first episode in the series on how man has depicted himself in art, those in attendance were taken on a journey from a monumental Olmec head in a zoo…
…to the upright Kore style statue of the likes of Phrasikleia…
…giving way to the more natural, flowing presentation of the Apollo Belvedere, a sculpture elevated to ‘perfection’ (for good and ill) by the influence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the father of Art History.
The audience were also treated to clips from Professor Beard’s second episode in Civilisations, which focuses on the depiction of the divine and the problems that can arise, such as the potential horrors of but logical arguments behind Iconoclasm – the breaking of icons – and when does veneration become idolatry within a monotheistic religion (and not just in Christianity).
The fact that there were over 2000 applicants for just 350 seats in Blackstaff Studios to watch and listen to such a fascinating interview suggests once more what we at CANI have long suspected – there is a real appetite for the Classics, Ancient History and History of Art in Northern Ireland.
We hope to have Professor Beard back to these shores really soon, perhaps even as part of CANI‘s programme of events.
Thanks to Mark Adair, BBC NI, William Crawley and Professor Beard for providing a thoroughly engaging evening.
Civilisations is broadcasted on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursdays and is available on the BBC iPlayer.