Myth Reading Group 16 December: Homer’s Odyssey

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Wednesday 16 December, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join can be found in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Continuing our topic of ‘Food’, we will look at some moments of eating, drinking, and feasting in the Odyssey.

The Odyssey is replete with references to food and drink: the suitors’ consumption of Penelope’s stores; Telemachus’ feasts with Nestor and Menelaus; Helen’s amnesiac drink; Circe’s potion; Odysseus’ feast with the Phaeacians; references to fish as poor fare; the Lotus Eaters; Polyphemus’ sheep, cheese, and his dining on Odysseus’ companions; the cattle of the sun; the blood offering to the spirits of the dead. In these scenes, the poet evokes themes of hunger, forbidden food, narcotics, magic, social relations, and transgression.

Primary reading

  • Homer, Odyssey IV.1-305 (trans. Emily Wilson)

This scene finds Telemachus, son of Odysseus, accompanied by Nestor’s son Pisistratus, visiting Sparta, where Telemachus seeks news of his father from Menelaus. The poet depicts the customs around the feast, and Helen’s drugged wine.

Secondary reading

  • Homer, Odyssey IX.106-554 (trans. Wilson)

This presents Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemus the cyclops. Lines 151 – 306 are especially relevant.

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Myth Reading Group 2 December: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Wednesday 2 December, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join can be found in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Continuing our topic of ‘Food’, the primary text is an extract from Dubravka Ugrešić, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, (Canongate, 2010), trans. Ellen Elias-Bursać, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.

The novel is split in three parts. The first two sections present the stories of women who deal with death and old age in Eastern Europe. The second section, where the “Egg Dream” extract is taken from, is about three old women (Beba, Pupa, Kukla) and their visit to a spa in Czech Republic.

The third section of the novel is a semi-fictional “academic” commentary on the elements of the Baba Yaga myth entitled ‘Baba Yaga For Beginners.’ It is written by a fictional expert in Folklore Studies and serves as a commentary on the first two sections of the book. From this section we will read the “Egg” entry.

Primary reading:

Secondary reading:

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Myth Reading Group 4 November: Keats, The Fall of Hyperion

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Wednesday 4 November, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join can be found in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Continuing our topic of ‘Food’, the primary text is: John Keats, ‘The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream’, Canto 1, ll. 1-326.

The food references occur in ll. 24-56 and ll. 232-242.

Secondary material (for food imagery): Keats, ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’, XXIX-XXXI.

You can find the poems online at

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Myth Reading Group 21 October: Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus

The first meeting of the Myth Reading Group for the Autumn term is on Wednesday 21 October, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time) via Zoom (Link can be found in the comments).

Our topic is “Food” and we will be looking at Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus (Part One, sonnets XIII and XV).

The sonnets are available online (in Robert Temple’s translation):

All Welcome!

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Myth Reading Group – Autumn Term 2020

Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper (1495-98)

The Myth Reading Group is revived for the Autumn Term for four meetings to be held over ‘Zoom’.

Texts will be circulated in advance, and the meetings will consist of reading and discussion of the texts.

The meetings are open to all who have an interest in the study of myth. In the past, the group has attracted a fruitful mix of academics, practitioners, and enthusiasts.

Details of how to join the meeting will be published shortly.

The topic for this term is ‘Food’.

Food is so commonplace that it can easily be overlooked, but it is essential to the mythic imagination of the past and the present. In finding and getting, in times of scarcity or abundance, in the basic need and the sensual delight – the food we eat is as integral to our sense of self as the stories we tell. When we think of the tales of hunting and cultivation, the raw and the cooked, mana and taboo, of hospitality, of raiding, or poison and remedies, we rediscover the vitality of the merest crumb.

We will meet on the following Wednesdays, between 5.30 and 6.30 pm:

  • 21 October: Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus
  • 4 November: John Keats, ‘The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream’
  • 2 December: Dubravka Ugrešić, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
  • 16 December: Homer, The Odyssey
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Update on Myth Reading Group sessions

In line with the University’s decision to implement ‘Enhanced Protection’ measures, all Myth Reading Group sessions are suspended.

The University of Essex has suspended all face-to-face delivery of teaching as well as all public events and gatherings. We are not, therefore, currently planning any sessions in this term and the Summer Term.

We would like to thank our contributors and members for their support during this academic year.

Titian, Noli me tangere (1512) National Gallery

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Myth and Childhood in Philip Pullman

Roundtable Discussion
Myth and Childhood in Philip Pullman

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 12 February 2020
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.2.07

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine (1489–90). [Public Domain]

In this roundtable session we will discuss the use of myth in Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials (1995-2000) and we will consider some of the literary influences behind it, from the biblical story of the Fall and Milton’s Paradise Lost to William Blake. The books focus on Lyra’s childhood adventures and her battle with the Magisterium.

Pullman’s recent trilogy, The Book of Dust (2017- ) also derives inspiration from myth and religion while it delves deeper into the existence of daemons in Pullman’s universe. In La Belle Sauvage (2017) infant Lyra travels inside a canoe during a biblical flood while in The Secret Commonwealth (2019) adult Lyra makes an epic journey from Oxford to the East.

You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

Primary Reading:

Secondary reading:

Additional sources:


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Seminar on the Oedipus Complex

This Thursday, 6 February, the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies will host a seminar with the title ‘The Oedipus Complex: Focus Of The Psychoanalysis/ Anthropology Debate’.

The event starts at 5 p.m., is free to attend, but prior registration is advised. Follow this link for full details.

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Myths in the voices of children

Myths in the voices of children
Students from Ipswich Academy

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 5 February 2020
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.2.07

Nicolas-Guy Brenet, Apollo Crowning the Arts (1771) [public domain]

This session will include a short performance of an original script written by Year 9 and 10 students from Ipswich Academy. The script is derived from the work the students have been doing as part of their extracurricular Classics Club. The play explores how mythical figures can be adapted by children in order to express contemporary concerns and their views of the world.

The second part of the session will concentrate on a discussion of the value of including the study of mythology in secondary education, especially in terms of enhancing the students’ cultural capital. The students will introduce their views on the importance of ‘translating’ Classical Greek myths in a contemporary setting. The performance and the discussion will be facilitated by the students’ teacher, Dr Stefanie Savva.

You are welcome to bring your lunch to this session. Please note the room change from last term.

Essential Reading:

Further Reading:


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Intertextual references and myths in The Handmaid’s Tale

Carla Scarano D’Antonio
(University of Reading)
Intertextual references and myths in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 29 January 2020
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.2.07

“Handmaid under the Eye”, 03/11/2008
Artist: Segeton, Public Domain

The session will analyse the myths and fairy tales present in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. These include ‘Little Red Cap’, ‘Cinderella’, Leah, Rachel and Jacob’s story from the Bible, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and ‘The Clerk’s Tale’ from Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

In Atwood’s novel, the protagonist, Offred, challenges the narratives of Gilead using intertextual references in a parodic way to expose the incongruities of the dominant society and offer possible alternative visions. The intertextual references deconstruct stereotypical conceptions and binary oppositions emphasising transformation. This implies a tenacious process of survival in a constant metamorphosis and saving human culture in a wider perspective. In this sense, Atwood uses postmodern techniques that simultaneously challenge and confirm the narratives of the dominant society.

Atwood’s technique of both referring to a physical world and revisiting myths, fairy tales and classics of literature gives space to a re-thinking of the rules and roles in the dominant society and questions the readers’ position in this world as well as power relations in society.


  • Selected extracts from Atwood and others:
    • Margaret Atwood, Second Words: Selected Critical Prose (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1984), p. 348.
    • Margaret Atwood, True Stories (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), p. 69.
    • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (London: Vintage Books, 1996).
    • The Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version (New York, London, Ontario: New American Library, 1974), Matt 13.
    • George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Penguin Books, 1954), 198-199.



  • Grace, Sherrill E.  and Weir, Lorraine, ed. by, Language, Text, and System (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1983).
  • Howells, Coral Ann, The Handmaid’s Tale: York Notes Advanced (London: York Press, 2003).
  • Sheckels, Theodore, F., The Political in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction: The Writing on the Wall of the Tent (Farham: Ashgate, 2012).
  • Wilson, Sharon, Rose, Margaret Atwood’s Textual Assassinations (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003).


Carla Scarano D’Antonio obtained her MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and is working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood at the University of Reading. She and Keith Lander won the first prize of the Dryden Translation Competition 2016 with translations of Eugenio Montale’s poems. Her research is funded by Canada-UK Foundation. |

You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

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