Sacred Groves

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 15 February

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Jeremy Solnick continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on ‘Sacred Groves’

The Golden Bough exhibited 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), The Golden Bough, Tate Britain

The sacred grove is deeply embedded in our mindscape and used as a central theme in literature and the visual arts. From Turner’s painting to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the grove of trees in a forbidden place appears again and again. In this meeting of the myth reading group, we will discuss ‘Sacred Groves’ using as reference points three texts widely separated in time: the finding of the Golden Bough from Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid in the translation by Seamus Heaney; part of the opening Chapter of J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough and the opening verses of Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros.

References
Frazer, J. G., ‘The Arician Grove’ in The Golden Bough (New York & London: Macmillan, 1894), Chapter I, pp. 8-13 [available on Project Gutenberg]
Virgil, Aeneid: Book VI, trans. by Seamus Heaney (Faber: London, 2016) [ll. 171-203]
Walcott, D., Omeros (Faber: London, 1990) [Book I, pp. 3-5]  

 

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Tree imagery & symbolism in Herman Hesse’s Pictor’s Metamorphoses

 

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 08 February

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Eirini Apanomeritaki continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Herman Hesse’s Pictor’s Metamorphoses

HessePictorMetamorphoses

Illustration from the series of watercolours produced by Hermann Hesse to accompany his tale “Pictor’s Metamorphoses” (1923), from the Italian edition of the collection: Hermann Hesse. Le metamorfosi di Piktor – Una fiaba d’amore, trans. Carmen Margherita Di Giglio. Kindle Edition.

The two stories selected this week are taken from Herman Hesse’s Pictor’s Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies (1981 [1922]), a collection of fantasy tales which portrays varied degrees of engagement with the natural landscape.

In “The Man of the Forests” which echoes the fall of man and exile from Eden, Hesse describes a tribe of men who live in the darkness of a forest and have never seen the sun, “the white Void beyond”, until one of them disobeys the priest and is exiled to live outside the protection of the trees. In “Pictor’s Metamorphoses”, however, the protagonist is stepping into Paradise wishing to become part of the natural landscape through metamorphosis. In this session we will look at the symbolic and allegorical imagery of trees and forests and discuss how mythical, spiritual, and religious elements find their way into Hesse’s storytelling.

References

Hermann Hesse. Pictor’s Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies. Ed. Theodore Ziolkowski, trans. Rika Lesser. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1981.

Extracts from the collection: “The Man of the Forests” (pp. 83-92), “Pictor’s Metamorphoses” (pp. 114-120).

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Rings & Ripples: A Mythic Structure of Growth in Denise Levertov’s ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus’

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 01 February

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Anita Klujber continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Denise Levertov’s ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus’

Pilgrimage_to_the_cedars_in_Lebanon__1907

Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853-1919), Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon (1907)

‘When words penetrate deep into us they change the chemistry of the soul, of the imagination’, wrote Essex-born poet Denise Levertov (1923-1997) in her essay ‘The Poet in the World’. The transformative power of the blended domains of myth, poetry, and music comes to life in her poem ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus’ (1968), exhibiting some of the ways in which poetry carries the seed of myth and myth carries the seed of poetry. Levertov used the central image of this poem to reflect on the role of myth in poetic creation in her essay ‘The Sense of Pilgrimage’: ‘The poet must have as vivid a relation to any myth as if he were a tree that had followed Orpheus.’

The poem resonates in harmony with the musical semantics of The Lost Steps, discussed last week at Myth Reading Group. The cosmic dance of trees, the steps taken back to our origins, the ring structure of the journey, the power of the creative Word, the mythic wholeness of enchantment and terror, the dissolution of boundaries, all these and much more are made into song by the poet’s lyre that is described in the poem as ‘both frost and fire’.

Set text: ‘A Tree Telling Of Orpheus‘.

References

Levertov, Denise, ‘The Poet in the World’, in The Poet in the World (New Directions, New York, 1973 [1960]),107-116; 114.
——–‘The Sense of Pilgrimage’, in The Poet in the World (New Directions, New York, 1973 [1960]), 62-86; 72.

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The Dance of the Trees: the backward flight of time in The Lost Steps

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 25 January

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Leon Burnett, founding and former Director of the Centre for Myth Studies, opens our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Alejo Carpentier’s The Lost Steps

MaxErnstTheGreatForest

Max Ernst, La grande forêt (The Great Forest) (1927), Oil on canvas, 113.8 x 145.9 cm., Kunstmusuem, Basel © ProLitteris, Zürich

The material for the first meeting of the Myth Reading Group this term is taken from Chapter Four of Alejo Carpentier’s novel, The Lost Steps (1953), a reverse Odyssey which invokes European archetypes such as Prometheus and Faust yet remains resolutely Latin American in technique and temperament.

In it, the first-person narrator undertakes a journey into the interior of a South American jungle, retracing the path of humankind in a series of steps to its point of origin: the world of contemporary civilisation is displaced by a succession of receding historical vistas, which are, in their turn, supplanted by what one may categorise as the “mythical sublime” – marvellous landscapes of increasing strangeness that seem to negate time itself.

Selected passages [sections 19-20 (pp. 143-151) & 22-24 (pp. 160-168)] are taken from Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps; translated from the Spanish by Harriet de Onis (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).

Los Pasos Perdidos appeared in 1953 and the English translation was first published by Victor Gollancz in 1956.

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The visual language of (Hesiod’s) creation in children’s books

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 14 December

3.15pm-5.00pm in Room 4.204

We are delighted to announce that Dr Katerina Volioti (University of Roehampton) will lead a discussion of the visual language of creation in children’s literature as part of her research for the international project Our Mythical Childhood

Zeus with thunderbolt Drawing by K Volioti

Zeus with thunderbolt. Sketch drawing of early fifth-century BCE statuette © Katerina Volioti

In the Theogony, Hesiod puts order on chaos, explaining the creation of the world through the emergence of a matriarchal figure (Gaia) and the supremacy of the Olympian gods. In this session, we shall embark on an exploratory journey of the Theogony, discussing its place in ancient and modern culture, and as rendered in children’s literature. Using Philippos Mandilaras’ The Twelve Gods of Olympus (illustrated by Natalia Kapatsoulia, trans. by Alison Falkonakis. Athens: Papadopoulos Publishing, 2016), we shall examine the visual language of creation narratives in contemporary books for preliterate children, focusing on Gaia and Zeus.

In the session, we will consider an extract from Mandilaras’ book, and Ken Dowden’s chapter on “Telling the Mythology: From Hesiod to the Fifth Century” (in Ken Dowden and Niall Livingstone, eds., A Companion to Greek Mythology. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 47–72.

For further information on Dr Katerina Volioti’s research at the University of Roehampton for the international project Our Mythical Childhood led by Professor Katarzyna Marciniak, University of Warsaw (Principal Investigator at Roehampton: Dr Susan Deacy), see the project’s blog, and Facebook & Twitter accounts.

The event will be followed by drinks

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Representations of Chaos in Xhosa Myth and Storytelling

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 07 December

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Jeremy Solnick will lead a discussion of the use of myth & chaos in Xhosa storytelling

XhosaStoryteller

The Xhosa storyteller, Nongenile Masithathu Zenani, making an ‘Ntsomi’  – ©Harold Scheub (2006)

The Xhosa, the tribe of Nelson Mandela, are Nguni people; a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa closely related to the Zulu.  Their traditional homeland is in the Eastern Cape.  They have a rich mythology full of spirit animals, monster frogs, tricksters,  enchanters and cannibalistic demons (Zim).  They also have a strong tradition of performance storytelling called ‘ntsomi’.  Many of the traditional storytellers are women. The artist draws on her traditional stock of mythical images and stories to create a performance within the bounds of the general theme. According to Harold Scheub:

This theme centres on the need for order in the human community, an order which finds its perfect metaphor in nature. Disorder (Chaos) in the ntsomi by fantastic creatures.  The ntsomi performance moves easily back and forth between the reality of the contemporary milieu to the worlds of nature and fantasy, with their talking birds and beasts, monsters and sub-human cannibals. [1]

In this week’s session we will discuss transcripts of two stories (“A boy becomes pregnant” and “A boy murders his sister“) performed by traditional storytellers and consider how the artist uses myth and chaos to show disturbance in the order of society and how the disorder is resolved (or not).

[1] Harold Scheub, The Xhosa Ntsomi, Oxford Library of African Literature (Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon Press, 1975), 3.

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Inner Void: Gyges’ Ring of Invisibility

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 30 November

12.00-1.30pm in Room 5S.3.8

We are very pleased to announce that Fliss Rich will lead a discussion of the myth of Gyges’ ring as rendered in Plato’s Republic

Der_Ring_des_Gyges_(Ferrara_16_Jh)

The Ring of Gyges (Ferrara, sixteenth century) by Anonymous (Wikimedia Commons, source: Dorotheum).

As discussed this term, on a cosmic level, the Void is invisible and intangible. Invisibility is also part of the concept of an omniscient God in the New Testament and the Koran, and is the essence of karmic law in Hinduism and Buddhism.

The tale of Gyges of Lydia, about a shepherd who uses the ring of invisibility to seduce the queen and become king himself, gives us the opportunity to apply the concept of the Void to the individual soul (inner void). In Book II of Plato’s Republic, it is used to explore human nature, choice, and agency within a just society. Do we act justly only as a result of social pressure? How would we act if we had magic or divine powers?

For a discussion of choice and agency and a comparison of the Ring of Gyges to two key stories in Plato’s Republic (the allegory of the cave in Book VII, and the myth of Er in Book X), see Bernard Suzanne’s article.

Please also see Don Adams’ Chapter (optional reading) in Introducing Philosophy through Pop Culture, Ed. by W. Irwin and D.K. Johnson (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

 

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