Reading Group: Call for Proposals, Autumn 2018

Myth Reading Group

Call for Proposals: Animals and Mythical Creatures

Domenico Zampieri, “Virgin and Unicorn”, c. 1604–05, fresco in Palazzo Farnese, Rome (public domain)

We are very pleased to announce that the theme for the Autumn Term is Animals and Mythical Creatures.

Taking our inspiration from “the zoo of mythologies, the zoo whose denizens are not lions but sphinxes and griffons and centaurs,” as Jorge Luis Borges described it in The Book of Imaginary Beings (p. 13), our Myth Reading Group will be exploring the presence of animals and creatures in myths.

Animals and imaginary creatures populate every civilization and culture in their written, visual or acoustic expression. Animals and beasts may carry religious or symbolic significance, such as the cat and the scarab beetle in Egyptian mythology, or may complete a heroic quest, such as the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Mythical creatures of ancient times, such as the phoenix and the hippogriff, reappear in contemporary literature (see for example J. K. Rowling’s books) and film. This exploration of animals and creatures may also extend to other disciplines: the study of the trickster archetype by P. Radin and C. G. Jung is only one example of how animal tales inform our understanding of myth.

We invite proposals from anyone who is interested in any aspect of mythological animals and creatures and address the theme from a mythological perspective across cultures, periods, and media.

Please contact us with your suggestions for works or topics to read and discuss in the Autumn term ( We are currently accepting proposals for video conferencing (by Skype) for those who cannot travel to Colchester.

The Myth Reading Group is open to anyone with an interest in myth. We meet on alternate Wednesdays in term time, between 5.00 and 6.30 p.m. (North Teaching Centre: Room NTC.2.05) at the University of Essex Colchester Campus. Our sessions include a short presentation of up to 30 minutes, followed by discussion or a reading session. Our first session will take place on 17 October.

Reference: Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings, trans. Norman Thomas di Giovanni, London: Vintage, 1969.

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“Our Mythical Childhood” report

Before the new academic year begins, we are pleased to share a report on one of last year’s meetings. Katerina Volioti visited the Myth Reading Group in December 2017 to lead a discussion of The visual language of (Hesiod’s) creation in children’s books. Dr Volioti’s report on her visit to Essex was published on the blog of the international research project “Our Mythical Childhood… The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges”. You can read the report here.

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Conference: Myth and Dream / The Dreaming of Myth (Bologna, May 2019)

Call for Papers — Myth and Dream / The Dreaming of Myth – Sogno e mito / sognare il mito

University of Bologna, May 2019

Deadline for proposals: 1 February 2019

Stencil art showing unique clan markers and dreamtime stories symbolising attempts to catch the deceased's spirit. Photo taken September 1985

Aboriginal stencil at Carnarvon Gorge
[public domain image]

This conference is organised by friend of the Centre for Myth Studies, Saul Andreetti, alongside Gino Scatasta of the University of Bologna, and supported by Leon Burnett and Essex. It promises to be a deep investigation into the fantastic properties of the conjunction of myth and dreaming. Papers are invited in English or Italian.

Click here for further details.

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Conference: Katabasis & Depth Psychology (London, July 2019)

Call for Papers — The Descent of the Soul: Katabasis and Depth Psychology

Freud Museum, London, July 2019

Deadline for abstracts: 31 October 2018 extended to beginning of December 2018

16th century image of "Magnum Chaos"

“Magnum Chaos” 16th century
[public domain image]

This conference is organised by Leslie Gardner and several friends of the Centre for Myth Studies. It will be of interest to anyone working on the intersection of myth, archaic thought, depth psychology, the abyss, nekyia, katabasis, and so on. It follows a previous conference at the Freud Museum, on the ecstatic and the archaic, which was tremendous fun. Among the speakers for 2019 is Ruth Padel, who will read from her latest collection, Emerald.

Click here for further details.

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

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 28 June

12.00-1.30pm in Room NTC.2.06

Robert William Allen (member of the Centre for Myth Studies)

We are very pleased to announce that Robert William Allen concludes our discussion of Trees & Forests this term with a session on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Part II)


‘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, we will continue our discussion of the ways in which Hardy incorporates elements of myth into his novel, paying particular attention to his figuration of landscape.

In Part I, we considered selected extracts from Tess of the D’Urbervilles [final part of Ch.X (from ‘Tess was indignant…’) & Ch. XI], 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]. Further reading from Hardy’s novel included Chapters XLVII & XLVIII.

In Part II, we will consider extracts from D. H. Lawrence’s ‘The Lost Girl’ [full text on the Project Gutenberg] and ‘Bavarian Gentians’ [available on the Representative Poetry Online site].


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Odysseus, Penelope and the olive-tree bed of Odyssey 23

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 21 June

12.00-1.30pm in Room NTC.2.06

Dr Emma Bridges (Institute of Classical Studies, London)

We are delighted to welcome Dr Emma Bridges (Public Engagement Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies) to the Centre for Myth Studies. Emma will continue our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on the olive-tree bed in the Odyssey.

In this session of the Myth Reading Group, we will begin by considering a scene from Book 23 of Homer’s Odyssey, focusing on the bed which was carved by Odysseus from an olive tree. The tree is a key element of the narrative of Penelope and Odysseus’ reunion after the hero’s return to Ithaca and has symbolic status both at the centre of his household and in the poem as a whole.

We will also consider two poetic receptions of this scene, Jehanne Dubrow’s ‘The Rooted Bed’, from her poetic collection Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2010), and Kim Lasky’s ‘The Bed That is a Tree’ (published originally in Agenda magazine in 2011).

The text of Odyssey 23.172-232 will be taken from Emily Wilson’s 2017 translation published by Norton.

For artwork related to the olive-tree bed [brought to our attention by Dr Isabella Streffen], see Geraldine Pilgrim‘s 2007 installation, Dreams of a Winter Night, commissioned by English Heritage as part of the Picture House Exhibition at Belsay Hall, Northumberland, & her latest installation: Their Most Obedient Servant (2018) [at Harewood House, Yorkshire, until 2 September 2018].



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Yggdrasil: from Norse Mythology to Anselm Kiefer’s art works

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 14 June

12.00-1.30pm in Room 4.204

Gillian Lock-Bowen (member of the Centre for Myth Studies)

We are very pleased to announce that Gillian Lock-Bowen continues our Summer term discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Yggdrasil


Anselm Kiefer, Yggdrasil (1980), drawing, photograph,
82.6 x 58.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In this session we will consider Yggdrasil as an archetype World Tree and Tree of Life – Axis Mundi and Sacred Tree as translated from ancient Scandinavian oral traditions into the thirteenth-century Poetic and Prose Eddas.

A brief overview of other ancient Axis Mundi and Tree of Life narratives will widen the framework for our discussion of Kiefer’s works and mythological & religious concepts relevant to twentieth-century Germany.

To conclude we will review significant characteristics of trees which render them effective devices for communicating multi-layered narratives even in the face of a crisis of representation.

Set texts:

H. R. Ellis Davidson, “The Beginning and the End”, in Gods and Myths in Northern Europe, London: Penguin, 1964, pp. 190-195.

Extracts from Michael Auping, Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, London: Prestel, 2006.

Optional sources:

Anselm Kiefer: artworks & exhibitions at Tate Gallery

Anselm Kiefer: Remembering the Future, Part 1/5 of BBC Imagine… , Winter 2014 Arts series presented by Alan Yentob [available on Youtube]


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