‘The Battle of the Trees’: from medieval Welsh legend to modern fantasy

Video Conference Myth Reading Group

Thursday 24 May

12.00-1.30pm in Room EBS.1.1

Dr Dimitra Fimi (Cardiff Metropolitan University)

We are delighted to welcome Dr Dimitra Fimi to the Centre for Myth Studies for a Video Conference session of the Myth Reading Group on ‘The Battle of the Trees’ 


Cover image of Catherine Fisher’s Darkhenge (2005)

In this session we will first discuss the Welsh poem Cad Goddau (“The Battle of the Trees”) found in the 14th-century Book of Taliesin, in which trees and shrubs march to war. We will explore the ways in which the poem was later appropriated by Robert Graves in The White Goddess (first published in 1948), and from there how modern fantasy texts used motifs and ideas of this enigmatic text, with a main focus on Catherine Fisher’s fantasy novel Darkhenge (2005).


Set texts:

1. “The Battle of the Trees” from The Book of Taliesin – translation available on the Ancient Texts website

2. Extracts from Catherine Fisher’s Darkhenge (2005)


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‘No roses, white nor red, Glow here’: the motif of the garden in the poetry of A. Swinburne & D. Greenwell

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 17 May

12.00-1.30pm in Room 4.204

We are very pleased to announce that Cristina Salcedo González (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) continues our Summer term discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on the motif of the garden in poems by A. Swinburne & D. Greenwell


Underworld Garden” by Fanta Bunny (June 23, 2015) on Pinterest

In this meeting of the Myth Reading Group, we will discuss Algernon Swinburne’s and Dora Greenwell’s engagement with the myth of Persephone through an analysis of the motif of the garden, which takes central stage in both accounts. In the session we will consider how the authors’ outlined images of the garden challenge the dominant representation of the motif  within Western literary tradition, offering a re-interpretation of the myth as social commentary.

Readings include A. Swinburne’s “The Garden of Proserpine” (1866) and D. Greenwell’s “The Garden of Proserpine” (1869) [set texts], and “Hymn to Proserpine (After the Proclamation in Rome of the Christian Faith)” (1866) by A. Swinburne, & “Demeter and Cora” (1876) by D. Greenwell [further reading].


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A Tour in the Forest

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 03 May

12.00-1.30pm in Room 4.204

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Leon Burnett, founding & former Director of the Centre for Myth Studies, opens our Summer term discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on I. S. Turgenev’s short story, “A Tour in the Forest”


Sculpture of Isis. Roman period (30 BC-395 AD), Borgia Collection, National Archaeological Museum, Naples [Photo (2016) by Leon Burnett]

We continue the theme of trees and forests with a discussion of Ivan Turgenev’s short story, “A Tour in the Forest” (1857). A sense of myth is ever present in the human consciousness, often as no more than an undercurrent in the routine of daily life, but certain habitats bring it more readily to the surface.  The forest is a location particularly conducive to its exposure. The narrator in Turgenev’s realist tale looks forward to a hunting expedition, but from the outset he is acutely aware of the numinous that haunts the reality of rural Russia.


  1. S. Turgenev, “A Tour in the Forest” [“Poezdka v Poles’e”, 1857]; trans. Constance Garnett
  2. S. Turgenev, “The Nymphs” [“Nimfy”, 1878]; trans. Constance Garnett


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Tenth Anniversary

The Old and the New: Centre for Myth Studies tenth anniversary celebration. Friday 11 May 2018.2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Centre for Myth Studies. On Friday 11 May, we shall celebrate the occasion with a day of talks, readings, and discussions which reflect the past and the future of the Centre.

All are warmly invited to attend “The Old and the New” at the University of Essex in Colchester. For full details about the programme and how to register for this free event, please see our event page.

Since 2008, the Centre has been devoted to exploring the significance of myth in ancient and modern times. Most of these activities are documented on this site (see links above for our books, conferences, seminars, and the weekly Myth Reading Group). It was founded by Leon Burnett in the department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, and now sits within the department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, under the directorship of Roderick Main. This cross-disciplinary collaboration was reflected in the first achievements of the centre (a Master’s course, international conference, and book, each of which shared the title Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious), and the centre continues to recognise that no single discipline can provide the last word on myth.

Our anniversary celebration will be opened by current director, Roderick Main, and will close with Pietra Palazzolo’s view on myth in contemporary literature. Pietra’s tireless work on the reading group, seminar series, and blog has kept the Centre at the forefront of interdisciplinary mythical research. The event also welcomes Essex alumnus Saul Andreetti back to Colchester, to read from his own magical and myth-inspired work. His reading will be followed by a discussion with founding director Leon Burnett. To complete the programme, we are delighted to present a keynote lecture from José Manuel Losada. José Manuel is the dynamic force behind the biennial myth conference in Madrid, which this year encompasses four universities in the city over twelve days in October. (If you are quick, there is still time to submit an abstract for this year’s conference, see: mythcriticism.com.)

The Old and the New” promises to reveal, demystify, and remystify some vital issues in current research and practice along the intersection of myth and literature. We look forward to welcoming you in Colchester on Friday 11 May.


Room 4.722 is in the Psychology building on Square 1 — near “Entrance 3” (the western end closest to the railway line). Click here for link to campus map.

Map showing University of Essex, Colchester Campus, Room 4.722

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The forests of Moscow: the political fairy tales of Russia

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 22 March

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Sarah Armstrong continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on the forest in Russian fairy tales


Ivan Bilibin’s illustration (1990) for the Russian fairy tale “Feather of Finist Falcon

In this meeting of the Myth Reading Group, the last of the Spring term, we will discuss the ways in which the political landscape influences the figuration of the forest in fairy tales. In the session, we will compare traditional and modern representations of the forest in Russian fairy tales [The Snow Maiden, & an extract from ‘The Ringing Cedars of Russia’]. Selected extracts [Preface & Ch. II] from R. P. Harrison’s Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 2009), further explore the changing relationship between the forest and human civilisation.


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Re-imaginings of myth in the landscapes of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 15 March

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Robert William Allen continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles


‘Tess flung herself upon the undergrowth of rustling spear-grass as upon a bed’: Illustration by E. Borough Johnson published in the serial issue of Tess of D’Urbervilles in The Graphic  (1891), in The Victorian Web

In this meeting of the Myth Reading Group, previously scheduled on 1 March, we will discuss some of the ways in which Hardy incorporates elements of myth into his novel, paying particular attention to his figuration of landscape. In addition to selected extracts from Tess of the D’Urbervilles [final part of Ch.X (from ‘Tess was indignant…’) & Ch. XI], we will consider Ovid’s account of the rape of Proserpina in the Metamorphoses (Book V, ll. 512 – 615), and Ted Hughes’ version of the passage in his Tales from Ovid [pp. 56-57]. For more extended reading from Hardy’s novel, it would be useful to read Chapters XLVII & XLVIII.


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Forbidden Fruit

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 08 March

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that John Driver continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on the Garden of Eden


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (ca. 1615), Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

The Bible begins with the myth of Adam and Eve living in the Garden of Eden, and then being expelled after eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The episode is hardly alluded to in the rest of the Tanakh, but given greater weight in both Christian and Islamic thought. In this meeting of the Myth Reading Group, we will consider how the story came to be included in Genesis, and discuss its meaning(s) from ancient times to the present.

Readings include extracts from Genesis, The Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet I, English version by N. K. Sandars, 1960), the Targum, 1 Corinthians, St Augustine, the Qur’an, and Milton’s Paradise Lost (optional).

For additional reading on the portrayal of Eve and Sin in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and parallels with mythical female figures mentioned in the Qur’an, the Hadith and The Arabian Nights, see Sharihan Al-Akhras’s ‘The Anima at the Gate of Hell: Middle Eastern Imagery in Milton’s Paradise Lost’, in Ben Pestell, Pietra Palazzolo, and Leon Burnett (eds.), Translating Myth (Oxford: Legenda, 2016), pp. 43-57.


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