Myth Reading Group 15 June: Athena on the stage: Eumenides & Ajax

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 15 June, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join is posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

A male actor dressed as the goddess Athena, wearing helmet with tall crest and small metal breastplate with a bosom moulded into it, and holding a spear.
Still from 1981 National Theatre production of the Oresteia, translated by Tony Harrison, directed by Peter Hall, with Michael Thomas as Athena. Broadcast on Channel 4, 1983.

The gods occasionally appear on the Greek tragic stage: often as part of a prologue or exit scene, but sometimes as participants in the action. This week, our focus is on two stage presentations of Athena. The first is Aeschylus’ Eumenides, where the goddess presides over a homicide court on the Athenian Acropolis, where Orestes faces the Furies (Erinyes) as he stands trial for the murder of Clytemnestra, his mother. The second is the opening of Sophocles’ Ajax, where Odysseus consults with Athena following the contest between Ajax and Odysseus for the armour of Achilles.

Texts

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Myth Reading Group 1 June: Pindar and Mandelstam

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 1 June, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Greek vase showing a woman playing an aulos (a double-flute).
Girl playing the aulos. Attic red-figure lekythos attributed to the Brygos Painter, c. 480 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Pindar’s Pythian Odes celebrate victors in the funeral games sacred to Apollo, held at Delphi. Pythian XII, composed in 490 BCE, honours Midas of Acragas, winner of the flute-playing competition. In the ode, Athene is acknowledged as the inventrix of the flute and of the tune, “The Many-Headed”, which Midas played. The association of the goddess with contests and crafts, discussed in previous sessions, is once more in evidence.

Two short works by the twentieth-century Petersburg poet, Osip Mandelstam, drawing upon the same motif as Pindar, offer an example of the transformability of myth in the modern era.

Texts

Alternative translations of Pindar:

Greek vase showing aulos (double-flute) player
Vase from Agrigento featuring an aulos player. Photo: Leon Burnett.

Background information

“Competition [in the games] symbolized an idea of nobility which meant much to Pindar; and in the exaltation of victory he seems sometimes to see a kind of transfiguration, briefly making radiant a world which most of the time seemed, to him as to his contemporaries, dark and brutal.” Richmond Lattimore (1947).

Pindar’s Ode, like ancient Greek poetry generally, was recited or sung chorally to the accompaniment of instruments such as the aulos, the Greek flute. Recent musicological research has allowed for a recreation of the original performance of Pythian XII.

The sound of the Greek flute accompanying a solo rendition of the Pythian Ode may be heard on YouTube in “Recreating the Sounds of Ancient Greek Music” (from 6:52 to 11:22): https://youtu.be/lpIyMVpcSYY?t=411.

For a detailed discussion of ancient Greek music with an account of the aulos (from 3:45 to 5:50), see also” Rediscovering Ancient Greek music”:

Deborah Steiner, “The Gorgon’s Lament”, American Journal of Philology, Vol. 134, no. 2 (2013), pp. 163-208, examines the musicological context of Pindar’s poem.

Alison C. Traweek, The Gorgon’s Healing Song, discusses the relationship between women and lamentation: https://medium.com/@atraweek/the-gorgons-healing-song-9dc38ea10402.

Classical Greek temple in dry clearing, with some trees growing nearby. Clear blue sky.
Temple of Concord at Acragas, i.e. Agrigento. Photo: Leon Burnett, 2009.
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Myth Reading Group 18 May: Minerva and Arachne in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 18 May, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Painting of the goddess Minerva about to strike a woman, Arachne.
René-Antoine Houasse, Minerva and Arachne, (1706). Versailles

This week we continue our exploration of Athene by looking at the presence of the goddess in the Roman era. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses Minerva punishes mortal women in different ways. In Book 2, she punishes Aglauros by sending Envy to poison her mind. In Book 6, the weaving contest between the mortal Arachne and Minerva ends up with Arachne’s transformation.

Extracts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Translated by Brookes More (Boston: Cornhill, 1922), available in Perseus Digital Library:

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Myth Reading Group 4 May: Calasso’s Athena

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

Roberto Calasso sitting at a desk covered in files, in front of an enormous bookcase. Black and white photograph.
Roberto Calasso, Photo from The New Yorker

This week’s text is an extract from The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony [Le nozze di Cadmo e Armonia, 1988] by Italian writer Roberto Calasso, translated by Tim Parks.

The extract is from the beginning of chapter 8, which gives an account of the strange birth of Athena, some of the tales about her, and her characteristics.

The text can be seen as a reflection on Archaic myth from a 1980s literary perspective, and will give us strong fuel for discussing the nature of the goddess and how we see her today.

Text:

The goddess Athena, fully armed, having sprung from the head of Zeus.
East Pediment of the Athenian Parthenon, speculative reconstruction, Acropolis Museum
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Myth Reading Group – Summer Term 2021: ATHENE


Athena holds a spear and the decorated stern of a trireme warship. Attic Red Figure vase, c. 480 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image from theoi.com.

Our theme for this term’s Myth Reading Group is Athene.

The Myth Reading Group is open to all who have an interest in the study of myth. Meetings are held over ‘Zoom’, with texts circulated in advance. Together we read extracts from the selected texts and have an open-ended discussion of them. The discussions are both scholarly and informal, always with a feeling for the power of the myth. Although you are encouraged to join in the discussion, you are also welcome simply to observe.

This term, we will focus on texts which engage with representations of the Olympian goddess Athene/Athena/Pallas/Minerva. She is born fully armed from the head of Zeus, and she bears the terrible, mysterious aegis. She is associated with battles and civilisation, and with owls and olives. She aids heroes in their quests, and (as in Ovid’s Metamorphoses), punishes mortal women. We will look at Athena’s presence on the stage, as seen in Aeschylus’ Eumenides and Sophocles’ Ajax, and in poetry ancient and modern.

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

  • 4 May: Roberto Calasso’s Athena in The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony
  • 18 May: Minerva and Arachne in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
  • 1 June: Pindar’s Twelfth Pythian Ode & Osip Mandelshtam
  • 15 June: Athena on the stage: Aeschylus’ Eumenides & Sophocles’ Ajax
  • 29 June: Athena Open Session

Texts and Zoom links will be posted on this site in advance of each session

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Myth Reading Group 22 March: Harrison’s Prolegomena

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Monday 22 March, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Jane Harrison, in a sumptuous black gown, reclining on a load of cushions with a faraway look

Augustus John, Portrait of Jane Ellen Harrison

This week’s text is taken from Jane Ellen Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903). We will read extracts from Harrison’s chapter on Dionysus. The first extract deals with Dionysus’ introduction to Greek religion and the second one explores the god’s association to the bull.

Main Reading:

Secondary Reading:

Prolegomena can be accessed in full online at archive.org.

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Myth Reading Group 8 March: Philostratus the Elder, Imagines

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Monday 8 March, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join is posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Ancient Greek water jar depicting Dionysus, with pirates turning into dolphins.

Etruscan Hydria, c. 500 BC.

This week’s text is an extract from the Imagines of Philostratus the Elder (third century AD). The reading covers two sections which recapitulate the mythic accounts in the Bacchae and the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus, affording us the opportunity to see how the myths have been reinterpreted.

Please read section 1. 18 (Bacchantes) and section 1. 19 (Tyrrhenian Pirates), available online in Arthur Fairbanks’ Loeb translation (1931):

English Translation (Arthur Fairbanks, 1931)

Interactive Greek text (NB section numbers are different):

Alternative link:

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Myth Reading Group 22 February: Homeric Hymns, and Frogs

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Monday 22 February, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join is posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Dionysus & dolphins. Black-figure kylix from Vulci, Exekias Painter, circa 530 BC. Dionysus on a ship sailing between dolphins. The mast is growing 7 grapes around the ship is 7 dolphins.

Dionysus & dolphins. Black-figure kylix from Vulci, Exekias Painter, circa 530 BC. Staatliche Antikensammlungen Munich.

Following our discussion of Euripides’ Bacchae (405 BC), we turn to other ancient Greek sources for Dionysus: the three Homeric Hymns to Dionysus (circa seventh to fifth centuries) and Aristophanes’ comedy the Frogs (405 BC).

The Homeric Hymns relate some tales of the god, and further elucidate his character. The extract from the Frogs casts Dionysus as a comic figure, meeting the hero Heracles.

Primary reading

Supplmentary reading

Optional viewing

Production of the Frogs in the original Greek, with optional English subtitles (Cambridge Arts Theatre, 2013):

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Myth Reading Group 8 February: Bacchae

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Monday 8 February, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post before the session. All are welcome.

Stylised vase painting of Pentheus' torso having been ripped from the rest of his body by some rather calm looking Maenads.

The Death of Pentheus
Attic red figure kylix, c. 480 BC
Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

This term’s topic is Dionysus, and we begin with a reading and discussion of Euripides’ tragedy, the Bacchae (405 BC). Dionysus arrives in Thebes, his place of birth, having travelled from Asia Minor. But the present king, Pentheus, rejects the god’s divinity and rites…

Primary reading

 

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Myth Reading Group – Spring Term 2021

Dionysus rides a leopard (or panther), with a Maenad and Silenus. Red figure vase, fourth century BC. Louvre (image from theoi.com)

Dionysus is our theme for this term’s Myth Reading Group.

The Myth Reading Group is open to all who have an interest in the study of myth. Meetings are held over ‘Zoom’, with texts circulated in advance. Together we read extracts from the selected texts and have an open-ended discussion of them. The discussions are both scholarly and informal, always with a feeling for the power of the myth. Although you are encouraged to join in the discussion, you are also welcome simply to observe.

This term, we will focus on texts which have formed our image of the god of wine, revelry, intoxication, ekstasis, and dissolution of boundaries, from Euripides’ posthumously-performed tragedy, to a post-Nietzschean reassessment in Jane Harrison’s Prolegomena.

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

  • 8 February: Euripides, Bacchae
  • 22 February: Homeric Hymns to Dionysus & Dionysus in Aristophanes’ Frogs
  • 8 March: Philostratus the Elder, Imagines
  • 22 March: Dionysus in Jane Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion

Texts and Zoom links will be posted on this site in advance of each session.

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