Thursday 26 November: Junot Díaz and a Graeco-Caribbean Mythology

The Centre for Myth Studies is pleased to welcome Dr. Justine McConnell (Oxford University) for a discussion of Junot Díaz’s use of Greek myth.

Open Seminar
Centre for Myth Studies
University of Essex

Thursday 26 November, at 5:00pm in Room 5S.4.4

Junot Díaz and a Graeco-Caribbean Mythology
Dr. Justine McConnell (Oxford University)

Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008) pivots around the fukú americanus, ‘the local version of House Atreus’, while his earlier collection of short stories, Drown (1996), is – in his own words – ‘a reverse Odyssey… told from Telemakos’ point of view’. This paper will explore Díaz’s fiction, focusing on the ways in which he interweaves Greek myth with twentieth-century Dominican political history to create a new, national myth for the Dominican Republic.

Pre-seminar reading: Junot Díaz’s ‘Aguantando’

Followed by drinks


See the Open Seminars page for more information.




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Thursday 19 November: Jungian Interpretations of Merlin

This week Prof. Roderick Main introduces a discussion of Merlin as interpreted by C. G. Jung and his associates.

In this session we shall look at the legendary figure of Merlin as interpreted by C. G. Jung, Emma Jung, and Marie-Louise von Franz. For these writers Merlin was the literary counterpart of the Medieval alchemical figure of Mercurius and, as such, represented an attempt on the part of Medieval consciousness to develop a symbol of the self and of God that incorporated elements omitted from the then dominant Christian God-image.  The selections include passages about Merlin from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, the work that more than any other fostered the legend of Merlin. It also includes Chapter XIV, ‘Le cri de Merlin’, from Marie-Louise von Franz’s somewhat hagiographical biography C. G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time.  Anyone unsated by these selections could turn to Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz’s book The Grail Legend (not included here), the final five chapters of which present the Jungian interpretation of Merlin in even greater detail.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. by Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966), pp. 166-169; 186-187; 194-201; 206-207.

Marie-Louise von Franz’s ‘Le cri de Merlin’, in C. G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time (Hodder & Stoughton: London, 1975), pp. 269-287.

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 19 November

12:00-1:30pm      Room 3.318

Poster and extracts:

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain

Marie-Louise von Franz’s ‘Le cri de Merlin’

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Thursday 12 November: The Monsters in Beowulf

The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned down on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what its theme portends; who presents it incarnate to the world of history and geography as our poet has done [….] For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.
—J. R. R. Tolkien – “The Monsters and the Critics” (1936)

This week Jeremy Solnick will be leading our discussion on the use of myth in Beowulf.

How do epic poets select their material from the storehouse of memory, history, myth and folklore available to them? Does this depend on social circumstances and on the themes which the poet wants to present to his or her audience? A great deal has been written about the themes and structure of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, but a thematic approach is not often taken. Much can be learned from the Beowulf poet about this craft.

Seamus Heaney, Beowulf: A New Translation (London: Faber and Faber, 2000), pp. 4-7, 24-25, 44-45, 48-51, 72-73, 84-85.

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 12 November

12:00-1:30pm      Room 3.318

Poster and extracts:

Heaney’s foreward to Beowulf

Beowulf trans. by Heaney

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Thursday 5 November: Judging Beauty: Reading Apuleius and Marie Darrieussecq

This week Eirini Apanomeritaki introduces a discussion of changing perceptions of beauty.

How has our perception of beauty changed from antiquity to the present? The Judgement of Paris, a beauty contest among three goddesses, is one of the earliest stories of women being treated according to their appearance and their ability to please men. In comparing standards of beauty as depicted in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, and in third-wave feminist Marie Darrieussecq’s Pig Tales, we will discuss how the perception and judgement of beauty have changed. Apuleius’s theatrical rendering of the Judgement of Paris, through the donkey-narrator’s views on the pantomime, highlights Paris’s inadequacy as a judge who succumbs to Venus’s sensuality too hastily. Darrieussecq’s post-modern tale, told by a pig-woman, shows the mutation of beauty into animality and monstrosity, as a result of culturally inscribed gender roles.

References and Poster:
Apuleius, The Golden Ass, trans. by P.G. Walsh, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), Book X, pp. 212-215.
Darrieussecq, Marie, Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation, trans. by Linda Coverdale (London: Faber and Faber, 1997). The novel was originally published in France as Truismes (1996).

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 5 November

12:00-1:30pm     Room 3.318


Apuleius.The Golden Ass

Marie Darrieussecq.Pig Tales

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Thursday 29 October: King Minos from Antiquity to the Present

This week Brittany Kuhn introduces a discussion of King Minos’s transformations from antiquity to the present.

As the judge of the underworld, King Minos first appeared in a short passage of Homer’s The Odyssey. Throughout literary history, however, he has been invoked in various texts as a way of presenting the nature of man’s soul. Through selected readings from Plato’s Gorgias and Dante’s Inferno, as well as the 2010 virtual game Dante’s Inferno, we will discover King Minos’s transformation in appearance and purpose, and consider the way our view of humanity has changed. See our Poster:P-Minos

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 29 October

12:00-1:30pm     Room 3.318


Plato’s Gorgias. Dante’s Inferno.Extracts

Additional sources:

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Thursday 22 October: A. S. Byatt’s “Sea Story”: Mythic Tale or Moral Fable?

This week, Dr. L. J. Bartholomew introduces a discussion of “A. S. Byatt’s ‘Sea Story’: Mythic Tale or Moral Fable?”

A. S. Byatt’s long writing career has been informed by her continuing examination of myth, fable, and fairytale. We will discuss “Sea Story” (2013) along with the final chapter (entitled “Thoughts on Myths”) of her novel Ragnarok (2011). Story and novel invoke analogous endings, which we could usefully consider in the context of the two short extracts in “Additional reading”, to ask if it is meaningful to understand “Sea Story” as implicitly mythic.

See our poster: P-Sea Story

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 22 October

12:00-1:30pm    Room 3.318


A.S.Byatt. “Sea Story”

A.S.Byatt.”Thoughts on Myths”

Additional reading:

A.S.Byatt.”Old Forms,New Tales”

Karen Armstrong.A Short History of Myth.Extracts

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Thursday 15 October: The Uses of Myth: ‘The Witch à la Mode’

The Myth Reading Group returns with a series of open sessions this term. In this opening session, Dr. Leon Burnett will introduce a discussion of the uses of myth in D. H. Lawrence’s short story, ‘The Witch à la Mode’.

In literature, myths have many uses. For example, a story might tell or retell a myth. In so doing, it may – and usually does – adapt the myth, accommodating it to its own period and political agenda. Sometimes, however, the myth does not seem central to the story. It plays a supporting role and the reason for its inclusion is not always evident. Such may be said of this week’s text, ‘The Witch à la Mode’ by D. H. Lawrence, written in 1911 (and revised in 1913), but first published posthumously in Lovat Dickson’s Magazine (2 June 1934) and subsequently included in The Mortal Coil and Other Stories (Penguin, 1971).

In ‘The Witch à la Mode’, the allusions to Greek mythology may initially appear adventitious, but they are integral to the unfolding of events, offering a subtle critique of suburban intimacy that is in many ways typical of the modernist movement more generally.

See our poster: P-The Witch à la Mode

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 15 October

12:00-1:30pm –Room 3.318


D.H.Lawrence’s ‘The Witch à la Mode’

Also available online:

Additional reading:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1842)

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