Seminars Archive

Centre for Myth Studies & ESCALA

Special Event

University of Essex

Thursday 23 June, at 12:00 in Room CB.21

Journeys to Mictlan and Xibalba: an introduction to the Aztec and Maya afterlife through art

Dr. Joanne Harwood (University of Essex)


Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), Figura Prehispánica VIII. Vaso zoomorfo, Colima (Prehispanic Figure VIII. Zoomorphic vase, Colima), 1976 © the artist, image © ESCALA

In this object-based session we will introduce Aztec and Maya beliefs about the afterlife through artworks in the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA). ESCALA is a unique research and teaching collection at the University of Essex housed in a purpose-designed space in the Constable Buildings. The Collection includes a number of artworks that relate to pre-Columbian and indigenous beliefs and myths; a legacy of Professor Emeritus Gordon Brotherston’s world-renowned expertise in pictorial indigenous American literatures. Some of them, including those listed below, are inspired by Aztec and Maya traditions and art, and specifically the role of the underworld (Mictlan for the Aztecs and Xibalba for the Maya) in cosmogony and the birth of humans. As Mary Miller and Karl Taube have noted, ‘In Mesoamerican thought death was closely integrated into the world of the living’ and life and death were believed ‘to exist in dynamic and complementary opposition’ (1997: 74). This is evident in almost every aspect of Aztec and Maya thought and culture, and the legacies of the integration of death into the world of the living apparent in Mexico’s contemporary Day of the Dead celebrations.

See the list of recommended and additional readings

Dr Joanne Harwood is Director of ESCALA (Essex Collection of Art from Latin America)

The event will be followed by drinks



Open Seminar
Centre for Myth Studies
University of Essex

Thursday 17 March, at 5:00pm in Room 5N.3.9

Reading the Strands of Ariadne’s Story
Dr. Leon Burnett (University of Essex)


Mikhail Ivanovich Kozlovsky, “Bacchus sees Ariadne sleeping on the island of Naxos” (1780), The State Tretyakov Gallery, Russia

The story of Ariadne, shaped by her encounters with Theseus and Dionysus, is one of union and separation, of joy and despair, of displacement in life and transfiguration in death. It is filled with an ambivalence characteristic of myth in general and of Greek mythology in particular. In her life, two locations stand out as pre-eminent: the intricate labyrinth in the Cretan palace at Knossos and the deserted beach on the island of Naxos (or, as it is called in antiquity, Dia). Each of these locations provides a striking backdrop for the enfolding and unfolding of the emotional turmoil that may be read in the tale of Ariadne. The seminar paper explores the ‘emotional logic’ of Ariadne’s story, contrasting the treatment of the myth in the ancient world with its manifestation in the literature and art of the twentieth century.

Pre-seminar reading: Catullus’ Poem 64 (The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis)

Dr. Leon Burnett is former Director of the Centre for Myth Studies (2008-2014). His research and publications are mainly in Comparative Literature and Mythology. He was the main editor of the British Comparative Literature Association’s house journal, New Comparison, for eight years (1992-2000) and, more recently, he has co-edited three books: The Art of Accommodation: Literary Translation in Russia (2013), Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious (2013), and Translating Myth (2016).

Followed by drinks


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)

File:Pinturicchio, Return of Odysseus.jpg

Pinturicchio, The Return of Odysseus (1509), National Gallery, London [image on the public domain]

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’

Dr. Justine McConnell is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Oxford, where she is working on contemporary African, Caribbean, and ancient Greek poetics. She is author of Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora (2013), and co-editor of Ancient Slavery and Abolition: from Hobbes to Hollywood (2011) and The Oxford Handbook of Greek Drama in the Americas (2015).

Followed by drinks



Joint Open Seminar

Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre

Studies & Centre for Myth Studies

Tuesday 23 June, at 5:00pm, in 5A.118

Shakespeare and myth-making

Professor Sarah Annes Brown
(Anglia Ruskin University)

Diana and ActaeonFigure 12. Antonio Tempesta, Diana and Actaeon, etching, 9.7 x 11.5 cm (From: Metamorphoseon sive transformationum Ovidii libri XV [Antwerp: P. de Jode, 1606], no. 25) (artwork in the public domain)

Sarah Annes Brown will introduce a discussion of Shakespeare’s use of mythical allusions in his works, focusing particularly on the way in which he seems to exploit the ambiguity and reversibility of so many mythic narratives – for example the story of Actaeon, alluded to in Twelfth Night and Titus Andronicus. She will also explore how Shakespeare himself became mythologised by later writers, and will conclude with a discussion of Shakespeare as a mythical presence in post-apocalyptic science fiction such as Alex Irvine’s 2009 short story Seventh Fall.

Pre-seminar reading: Alex Irvine, ‘Seventh Fall’:

Sarah Annes Brown is Professor of English at Anglia Ruskin University. Her publications include The Metamorphosis of Ovid: Chaucer to Ted Hughes (1999) and A Familiar Compound Ghost: Allusion and the Uncanny (2012). She is currently researching a monograph on Shakespeare and Science Fiction.

Followed by drinks in 5A.202




The Centre for Myth Studies presents

The Orpheus Project

Tuesday 8 May 2012
6.00 p.m.
Room 5A.330
Wine, juice and nibbles provided

Image from Penny Hallas’s series of Orpheus Drawings. Used with permission.

The myth of Orpheus still resonates powerfully in Western Culture. Intrigued by its continuing relevance for artistic practitioners, three poets, a musician and a painter came together to explore the creative possibilities of the myth through varying patterns of interdisciplinary engagement. For the landscapes of Thrace and Avernus the Orpheus Project substituted the hills around Llangattock in Powys, focussing especially on the quarries and caves of the local nature reserve.

Using words, images, film, photographs and music, Lyndon Davies and Penny Hallas give an account of the development of the project so far.

For more information, see the personal websites of Lyndon Davies and Penny Hallas:



The Centre for Myth Studies Myth Reading Group presents Professor Kiyoshi Hamano (Kyoto Bunkyo University): The Myth of Sukunahikona. Tuesday 3 May 2011. 5 p.m., Room 5B.114.  Sukunahikona, a tiny Japanese divine figure dressed in skins of moths, came to this world from far across the ocean in a miniature boat. Professor Hamano will lead us in a discussion of this elusive deity who appears in the twilight zone between this world and the eternal. All are welcome – no prior knowledge of Japanese deities required. Wine provided.
Text: Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest of Times to A.D. 697, ed and trans. W. G. Aston, pp. 58-63.