Posted in History

2020: Justifying Classics and Fighting Imposter Syndrome

How do you justify the want to continue to study a practice so full of colonialist ideals, especially in today’s political climate? How do you justify constantly linking things back to Classics when it’s the practice and study of such subjects that have caused and fueled so many of the issues we’re facing right now? Because that’s the problem with observing the events currently taking place in countries that have spent the last several centuries styling themselves on idealistic misconceptions of ancient cultures they barely understand – you can’t help but view them through the lens that they’re trying to replicate; with the ongoing and prevalent discourse regarding the colonial ties intrinsically linked with the study of Classics, Anthropology, Archaeology and other similar subjects though, that in itself can be just as problematic. 

The issues we’re facing within these disciplines aren’t new to me. They have always been something I have been painfully aware of, but until now it’s been of very little influence. I would argue what I believed in, no matter how far from the accepted norm it was. It sounds flippant, but hear me out. Throughout my education I have always been very lucky in my history teachers, every single one of them made the point of highlighting the issues we face within the field, more so the further through my education I got. My teachers have always pushed back on archaic notions of gender, race, disability. My teachers have always fought against the colonialist ideals so deeply embedded within the subjects they teach. I have been very lucky. The idea of the repatriation of artifacts like the Elgin Marbles and Benin Bronzes has never been questioned, we should never have taken them in the first place and we should give them back. Odysseus? Arguably one of the worst of the Greek heroes. Zeus? Serial rapist. The British Empire? Generally awful. We were always encouraged to push academic boundaries, to fight for what we believe in and if my teachers and tutors over the years are to be believed, when I write, people want to keep reading. I was well aware of the backlash I would face breaking into the world of academics and it never phased me, it didn’t matter; I would do it, I would keep fighting and I would help make things better no matter what the cost.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned. Abusive relationship + two full time jobs + full time degree = mental break down. Would not advise. 

If things had gone as planned, I’d probably be looking at PHD programmes right now, I would have some kind of footing in the academic world, no matter how tenuous that might be, and I’d be well into researching whatever aspect of Spartan history I had finally settled on specialising in. But instead, I have my tiny, somewhat sporadic though much beloved little blog with my solid seven subscribers, my awesome twitter followers and absolutely no idea what to do. 

I’m a 25 year old, English, straight passing, abled passing white girl from the home-counties who received a brilliant education, albeit at some not-quite-so-brilliant schools and was offered places at two of the top ten universities in the country, one to study Classics and Ancient History, the other for Archaeology. I recognise my privilege, but for the first time in my life I’ve found myself with no idea what I can do with it to help and it’s honestly terrifying. As much as I can keep doing what I’ve always done, I don’t have the education to back it up: I may have received those uni offers but I didn’t accept them and when I did finally sit my first year, I did so with the Open University and didn’t finish my degree. I don’t have a tenuous footing in the world of academics because I’m not part of the world of academics. I’m here with my little blog fighting my way into a field I have no right being in, where even those with academic experience and publications are struggling to find footing, and all at a time where most of the world’s vitriol and hatred is someway or another linked to the discipline in question. 

No matter what though, I’m going to write, I’m going to continue trying to break down the elitist and racists pedestals Classics seems to find itself situated upon because I’m stubborn as all hell and no one’s going to stop me, but why the hell should anyone listen? I can talk the talk, I can hold my own in a conversation, I can certainly sound like I know what I’m talking about, but no matter how much of my time I spend dedicating my life to this, I’m not an academic. I have nothing more than a handful of AS and A Levels behind me – who’s going to take me seriously when I’m surrounded by so many amazing and talented students, academics and independent scholars within the #ClassicsTwitter community?

I know it’s the imposter syndrome talking. I have found an amazing group of people within #ClassicsTwitter – they have been nothing but kind, welcoming and supportive and I honestly can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done. I think I was even officially inducted into the rolls on @Sentantiq’s ten year anniversary tweet last week, but seeing my handle there amongst people who I have watched and idolised for years was… strange. What the hell am I actually doing here? Are people actually paying attention to what I’m writing? Am I actually being noticed by these academics? Are they actually interested in what I have to say? But most of all, do they see me as this hopeless wannabe who really has no clue what she’s doing, or do they actually see potential? Because if they see potential, I have my foothold, no matter how tenuous. If they see potential, you never know, I might actually make something of this; I might actually be able to do good in the discipline; help make the changes that so desperately need to be made. If they see potential, if I have that tenuous foothold then I’ve made it to exactly where I wanted to be, but in a matter of months rather than years and without the qualifications to back it up. It’s a really odd place to be and certainly not where I imagined I would be five months after starting Tabletop Odyssey.

Then comes the imposter syndrome again: “You don’t belong here. You didn’t go to uni. You’ve not got the qualifications. You don’t deserve this. You’re not an academic. You’ve jumped the line. You didn’t go to uni. You don’t belong here.”


For those of you that don’t know, my partner and I recently split, and with that I’m no longer looking at a move to the USA – I’m now in a position where I can somewhat distance myself from what’s going on in the States because I’m not running headlong into it any more. I figured it would help and actually make things easier to write, but unfortunately I was mistaken. Maybe if I had more guts I would have written about how exposing your whole security team to a potentially debilitating and deadly virus for a photo opportunity is a really stupid idea, it’s them you want to keep safe and healthy and happy because they’re either going to be the ones to stab you in the back or the ones to stop someone else doing it – don’t piss them off you idiot. Maybe if I had more guts I would have, like many others that study Ancient Greece, written about how Pericles lost the election because of the plague, or how democracy was put on hold in Athens after a decade of war. Maybe if I had more guts I would have actually written something about how damaging, disrespectful and painful that bloody Medusa holding the head of Perseus statue is to the Me Too movement rather than just posting a vaguely disappointed tweet. If I had more guts I might have posted the 3000 word essay I wrote on disabilities and the use of wheelchairs throughout history when the Combat Wheelchair discourse kicked up in the D&D community.

So why haven’t I done it? Why am I so hesitant to keep writing? Why am I suddenly so worried to rock the boat when it’s what I’ve always done? Why, despite a continued want to make a difference, am I so bloody terrified? 

Honestly? Because I don’t want to be called a white supremacist again and no matter what you’re writing about, when it’s related to Classics right now it’s likely going to happen. I’ve been called out for being a white supremacist by family, friends, and random strangers on the internet simply because I want to be a Classicist and that sucks. I want to rid Classics of those ties, I want to show the world that you can study and have interest ancient and classical cultures without those colonial, euro-centric white supremacist notions. 

But how do you balance the public opinion with your own wants and desires to do good?

I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re doing something you love, as long as you’re not hurting anyone then it doesn’t matter what others think, but when it’s something as prevalent and potential damaging as this, is that really still the case? Is it time we accepted that there is no way to reform Classics as a subject, or is this something we keep fighting for because we know things can be different and we know those changes can be made?

I know I’m not the only person questioning this right now. I know I’m not the only person struggling to balance the importance of these subjects against the pushback they’re deservedly receiving. I know I’m not the only person out there trying to figure out how the hell they go forward in their work in the discipline with everything going on right now. But how do we actually move forward? 

I honestly don’t have a clue, other than just digging your heels in and refusing to let the world get you down; we recognise the issues we face and as long as we keep fighting against them there’s hope we can make things better… right? 

As I said earlier, I’m going to keep writing and I’m going to keep posting, no matter how little impact it has, because I’m too bloody stubborn not to. I just hope that the others out there that are also questioning this do so as well, whether you’re a Couch-Classicist like me or a tenured professor with a lifetime of experience – you never know, we might actually get somewhere if we just keep pushing.

Posted in History, Media, Tabletop

I’m Back Baby!

Hi! I’ve missed you all! But I’m back with avengence and I’m ready to go!

So a lot has happened over the last month or so, from moving house to shoulder surgery, stepping away from projects and starting new ones, I’ve found myself with some time in my schedule to finally get round to writing my DM’s Guide to Ancient Greece.

Disclosure: I’m not sure what form this will take yet, it’ll either be: a Theros hack; a DMs Guide to building an ancient greek world; or an ancient greek Campaign Setting. Whichever it turns out to be though, I can’t wait to show you all the end result. 

This is something I have been working on for the last year or so on and off, you may have heard me talking about various different versions of this in the past, but I’m finally going to do it and actually finish it this time. So in order to give the project a little jump start, I found this:

Throughout the rest of this month, I will be doing #Slotober alongside my other projects to get myself back into writing this stuff, and the results will be posted on here. Each prompt will show a snapshot into the work I’m doing (though will likely face heavy editing when I finally incorporate them into the finished piece) and will hopefully get you guys as excited for this as I am. As the month comes to a close and we head into November, I’ll keep you all updated and you’ll continue to get snippets and sneak peaks as the journey continues. This isn’t a journey I’m undertaking on my own though, a couple of good friends of mine, @SaltLordRoss and @SilentAddle, will be helping me along the way with new subclasses, monsters and who knows what else along the road.

In the coming week’s you’ll also be getting a new series called FrostyFriends, which will be my D&D 5e Rime of the Frost Maiden character diary. I’m absolutely loving writing this and I hope you all enjoy it too. You can also check out ‘The Wandering Party’ our 5e Actual Play Podcast DM’d by @SaltLordRoss. I will do a full post on it at some point, but until then though, you can find it here!

For those of you less interested in my Tabletop RPG stuff though, don’t be disheartened. I plan to start ‘They’re Reading Greek Tragedy Online’ up again next Saturday with my commentary on their upcoming episode on The Iliad, which I am super excited for. There will also be a few classics reception pieces coming up and as well as another series in the works, and I’m still working on that Stonehenge piece I promised you all.

Having taken huge inspiration from @Hells_Belle99 with her work on After The Belle (which everyone should go check out, her work is amazing!) and @Wrestle Joy (also awesome) there may be a few more wrestling posts coming up, though I’m still undecided on whether they will be posted here, see if they can be hosted elsewhere or if I’ll start up a sister site for them.. We’ll see how that goes and cross that bridge when we come to it. 

For now though, I’m going to leave you to it! Enjoy what’s left of your Sunday (or whatever day it happens to be when you read this) and I’ll see you all again soon!

Posted in History, Media

They’re Reading Greek Tragedy Online – Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris

I’ve been hesitant to go this route with this week’s post, if I had a Classics Card, I’m pretty sure this would probably get it revoked, but I’m curious to hear what others think, so please, comment, send me a message, let me know your thoughts, I’m hoping more view-points will make it make more sense. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this play, but when looking at it in any form of analytical context, it makes my brian hurt. Like Joel, I can’t make heads nor tails of it – it doesn’t feel like a true tragedy even though it ticks all of those boxes. After much consideration though, I’ve come up with another possibility for why – It feels like a traditional British Pantomime, though to a lesser extreme (I have absolutely no idea if my readers outside the UK are going to understand any of this, I’m sorry). Euripides has taken a comparatively family friendly version of a well known story, thrown in a bucket load of dramatic irony at it, a funny revelation scene with the letter and topped it all off with a mad dash escape scene and possibly the least reassuring ‘Athena saves the day’ that I think I’ve ever seen. Throw in Julian Clary and Christopher Biggins and it will be a hit this christmas! Okay, maybe that’s a bit far, but (hopefully) you’ll get what I mean.

For my non UK readers, I apologise for quoting Wikipedia here, but it honestly has the clearest explanation I can find for what a panto is:

“Pantomime (/ˈpæntəmaɪm/; informally panto) is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is performed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and (to a lesser extent) in other English-speaking countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year season. Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing. It employs gender-crossing actors and combines topical humour with a story more or less based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folktale. Pantomime is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantomime

They play on familiar and recognisable character tropes (the tyrannical king, the evil step-mother, the wicked step-sisters, the charming prince); work off recognisable plot devices such as recognition scenes and the baddy getting their comeuppance; and they often end with a declaration that everything’s fine and they all lived happily ever after (ignoring those who aren’t title characters who generally end the play in much the same situation as they started it). Ringing any bells?

“He’s behind you!”

“Oh no he’s not!”

“Oh yes he is!”

Litterally every panto.

As much as I love to imagine contemporary Greek audiences shouting “It’s Orestes! He’s behind you!” at the actor playing Iphigenia as she explains who she wants Pylades to give the letter to, I do understand that it’s highly unlikely to be the case and is very much a viewpoint based on modern conceptions of satirical theatrical performance. I still can’t help but see those comparisons within the text though, even with a straight reading or performance. 

On a slightly more serious note, what I still don’t understand is that even though this play follows much the same deep structure of some of his other plays such as the Helen, Iphigenia in Tauris seems to be an almost satirical play on tropes, which is not something I’ve noticed on this scale elsewhere within tragedy. Was Euripides using this play as a somewhat satirical commentary on his own plays (like Helen) or the genre as a whole (with sister recognition scenes, especially with Orestes being common throughout what we have remaining of tragedy), or much like academics like to speculate, is this, along with the Helen and similar plays, his attempt at bringing some form of hope and salvation to the ending of these horrific stories in a time where Athens and its citizens were likely wishing for that divine intervention? I am very much with Niall Slater on this one, who’s insight on this play was a joy to listen to. Can we really call this a happy ending with salvation from Athena when the Chorus, a group of marginalised and enslaved Greek women are left behind to die at the hands of a tyrannical king? I see it as a slightly more caustic commentary on the gods: do they care for us all, or is it just the ‘named characters’ – if Athena did come and ‘fix it’, would her actions have any impact on the lives of the citizens of Athens, or just those she deemed worthy? 

The main issue we have is the absence of evidence, and as much as in Archaeological Studies the absence of evidence does not necessarily mean the evidence of absence, we can’t say that plays like this and Helen are only found in Euripides later works – for all we know this could have been a style of play the audience was more than familiar with when it comes to Euripides, we just don’t have the evidence showing his repeated use of this style throughout his life. On the flip side, it could also very well be something that is only found in his later works in response to the contemporary events within Greece, and more specifically Athens, at the time. But the joys of Classical Studies is that we have so little. To me at least, it’s the unanswered questions that make me want to keep learning, keep researching, keep digging, its the fact we can speculate until the cows come home but unless The Doctor shows up on someones doorstep and they travel back to ancient Greece in the TARDIS, or we one day find the rest of Euripides’ plays, we’re never really going to have a definitive answer. This play always leaves me with more questions than it answers, and I always end up taking a different approach to my analysis whenever I revisit it. As I said earlier, I’m hoping more insight from others will make things make a bit more sense, even if we never can quite know for sure.

I’ve rambled on a bit more than usual with this one, but I’d like to quickly wrap up by saying that the performances were, as always, absolutely fantastic this week, but it was Paul who stole the show with his Pylades, the facial expressions and body language within the recognition scene had me laughing my arse off, it was great.

Once again, I’d like to thank CHS, Out of Chaos Theatre and Joel Christensen, all the cast and this week’s special guest academic, Niall Slater, there was some fantastic discussion and lots of food for thought when looking at this play.

Posted in History, Media

They’re Reading Greek Tragedy Online – Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound

With a full performance of Elektra being done on the 22nd August, I’m going to be leaving my write up for that till then, so this week I’m going to be taking a look at Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. If you haven’t seen me say so already, it was this show, and the subsequent write up I wanted to do, that finally got me to start this blog, so I’ve had a really good time writing this one up, I’ll stop rambling and get on with it now though.

Back in September 2013, in the first lesson of my AS Classical Civilisations class, we were given a piece of homework to pick a Greek play and write something about it, at least 500 words, limit of 1000, and we had a week to do it. I chose Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, and with possibly the vaguest homework question I have ever received, I chose to write on the topic of ‘Why?’. Why is Hephaestus there, why is Io there, and why is Zeus portrayed in such a tyrannical light? With it being nearly 7 years ago, I unfortunately can’t find a copy of the essay I wrote, but in light of some of the discussion that took place on July 1st’s episode of Reading Greek Tragedy Online, I would like to delve back into that issue of ‘why?’, though maybe in a slightly less formal manner than back then.

The way I went about dissecting this was by looking at the history of the characters in question and what their individual stories represent. Neither Hephaestus or Io belong in this story, so what does their inclusion signify? Surely that significance has to be in their own stories and the mythology those characters bring to mind.

Hephaestus 

Hephaestus is a difficult character to dissect within ancient Greek literature. With his persona ranging from the jovial ‘mummy, daddy, look what i’m doing and stop arguing’ at the beginning of the Iliad to the much more serious, resentful depiction we get of him within the play there isn’t much consistency within the characterisation. That consistency is seen within the mythology though. He has been punished by the gods himself and is able to sympathise with Prometheus over his plight, but because of this experience he also knows that to disobey the orders he’s been given would be to receive more punishment at their hands. He represents fearful descent and begrudging obedience. Hephaestus knows what will befall him, causing him to follow through with his orders, in contrast to Prometheus who despite knowing what would happen, gave fire to humanity and will take his punishment willingly because he knows it will end in time. 

Io

Depending on how you read the juxtaposition within the play, you can see many ‘reasons’ for Io to be included: The contrast of the punishment of men and women; the contrast of the punishment of divinities and mortals; and much like Hephaestus, the contrast in the psychological effects knowledge can have on a person. It’s not just juxtaposition Io provides though, as Evvy very succinctly put it: ‘Io is chased to the ends of the earth and Prometheus is bound and unmoving, and in this moment there is a meeting point between the two which is suffering’. The empathy and sympathy Io has for Prometheus as she finds him gives the audience a relatable anchor within the play and being the only human character, she represents humanity and it’s suffering, empathy and sympathy as a whole. Following on from the theme of ‘knowledge’ that runs deep throughout this play, when Io finds out what her future holds, the suffering and horror not only her, but her descendants will face, she is distraught and questioning why she doesn’t just end it now, but if she does so Prometheus’ suffering will never end. 

  • Hephaestus follows his orders through fear of knowing what will happen if he doesn’t
  • Io is distraught in her knowledge but chooses to live through her suffering because she knows another’s suffering won’t end if she doesn’t 
  • Prometheus goes against the gods and gives fire to humanity, knowing the future he will face because he knows his suffering will one day come to an end

The final question then, is why is Zeus depicted in such a tyrannical light? When looked at in line with the political climate of 5th century Athens, this becomes clear. Throughout the play Prometheus makes repeated use of political, anti-authoritarian language, at one point even calling Zeus a tyrant. Prometheus Bound was written in 430 bc, about 30 years after Ephialties’ contribution to the development of Athenian Democracy set down by his predecessors Solon and Cliesthenes and the anti-authoritarian language is likely an echo of that move to democracy from the tyrannical, oligarchic rule they had previously. With that being said though, the Peloponnesian War had just started, and it’s possible, though not necessarily provable, that Aeschylus saw the direction the war would go and was warning against the inevitable collapse back into oligarchic rule that takes place towards the end of the century in the closing years of the war. 

The one question I’ve never been able to answer though, despite revisiting this several times since my first encounter with the play, is what’s worse, knowing or not knowing? Would Io have been better off in ignorance of what the future held for her, or does the knowledge give her the strength to survive? Does the knowledge Prometheus has ever actually help him, or is it only ever the cause of distrust, pain and confrontation? I’ve argued both sides over the years, and I still can’t figure out what side of the line I fall on, and in all honesty, watching the performance of this play has actually made things less clear in that regard.. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. 

I once again want to say thank you to The Centre of Hellenic Studies, Out of Chaos Theatre, and Joel Christensen, as well as this episode’s guest, Joshua Billings – Another great performance from everyone involved and a very interesting discussion with so much more covered than what I touched on today. 

Posted in History, Media

They’re Reading Greek Tragedy Online – Sophocles’ Antigone

Antigone has to be one of my favourite Greek tragedies, and a lot of that is down to Paul Woodruffs translation, so having him there on this week’s show and hearing his thoughts behind the play and how he went about translating it was extremely interesting, especially when taken into account with James Collins commentary as well. The main reason I love Antigone though, is because to me, it defines so much of what the Age of Heroes was – the constant battle for justice and the conflict between the laws of the Gods and the laws of Man, Thebes itself being a great metaphor for the age because no  matter what happens, no one wins. There is no happy ending. There is no riding off into the sunset and playing happy families. It’s brutal, it’s bloodthirsty and those you love will die. 

Although the play is called ‘Antigone’, the importance of Creon, Ismene and Haemon cannot be sidelined because it’s not just Antigone’s story – it’s the story of two sisters who have lost their brothers, a dutiful son trying to stop his father from punishing his bride to be with death, and a father, and ruler, who is doing everything he can to keep his city safe, no matter how much he knows it will hurt his approval ratings. It’s the epitome of family drama and although extreme in its circumstances is something we can all relate to in some sense of the word. 

One of the main themes discussed towards the end of the show though, was the ‘certainty’ of the characters in question, and in this instance I very much agree with Evvy’s reading of Ismene. I’ve never seen her character as ‘certain’ in her stance, if anything she is the complete opposite. She’s trying to make sense of this batshit crazy world and trying to find that neutral standpoint – yes, the rights of the dead are extremely important to the gods, but so is not killing your brother – at what point do the laws of the Gods take precedence over the laws of Man, and how is mankind meant to judge that? In this case do we follow the laws of the Gods like Antigone wishes and complete the burial rights, or do they follow the laws and orders set down by Creon and not perform the rights? She is trying to do the right thing, but has no idea what the ‘right thing’ to do is. She can’t disobey Creon’s ruling, but she also wishes to respect the laws of the gods – she’s stuck in the middle. It’s this uncertainty, I think, that leads her to wanting to die by Antigone’s side – she couldn’t break the rulings, but she’s not going to stand by and watch her sister die alone for doing what she thought was right.

The performances throughout the show were outstanding as always, and Creon (Tim Delap) had me in tears towards the end. The raw emotion that all of these performances seemed to encompass made the play that much more engaging. So often Ismene is seen as weak and timid, Antigone as trying to undermine Creon’s power and Creon as your stereotypical tyrant, but this translation and performance brought so much more depth to all of characters, it made comprehension of the motivations behind each of them so much easier. As Paul O’Mahony said, Creon shows his insecurities, Woodruff highlights the fact that Creon does listen to the chorus and speaks of ‘taking it in turns’ to rule – that’s not stereotypical tyrannical behaviour. Tabitha’s reading was that Antigone is not trying to undermine his power, but questioning whether Creon has the power to make this decision as it goes against the laws of the Gods she has chosen to follow. And there is nothing weak about the performance Evvy gave as Ismene, she had a backbone, and it’s great to see others reading the character that way.

I’m going to leave this here for today, pain and heat exhaustion are not making analysis easy and my sister in law currently has my copy of Woodruffs translation, I may pick this one up again in a few weeks and take a deeper look when I have it back though. 

Before I go, I want to say a quick sorry for not getting this out over the weekend as initially planned – the joys of living with chronic pain is that sometimes plans go to shit and there’s generally naff all you can do about it other than riding it out, so thank you all for bearing with me this weekend.

And I will be back next weekend (fingers crossed) with a write up of this week’s episode, covering Sophocles’ Elektra! Watching this Wednesday night is gonna be a great way to spend my birthday evening as I’ve not actually read this one!

Once again, a massive thanks to Out Of Chaos Theatre and the Centre of Hellenic Studies – as well as Joel and special guests Paul Woodruff and James Collins for a great show.

Posted in History, Media

They’re Reading Greek Tragedy Online – The Chorus – Part II

Reading Greek Tragedy Online – The Chorus – Part II

Hi! Welcome back to part two of my write up of last week’s special episode of Reading Greek Tragedy Online – The Chorus. You can find part one here, the brain was working in peculiar ways. In light of Saturday’s discussion on a different approach we can use to study and understand choral passages in GreekTragedy, I’m going to attempt to do a slightly more in depth look at the performances from last week’s show. I have no idea how this is going to go, this is coming from a year studying Theatre Studies and a lifetime obsession with Musicals so here we go!

Performance 1) Parados – Sophocles’ Antigone

Performed by Betinna

This is the only performance from the show done in Ancient Greek, and although it is a single voice, rather than a full chorus, it gives us an idea of what a traditional performance of this may have sounded like. The juxtaposition of imagery between the beauty of nature, against that of the army marching to war is echoed beautifully within the accompanying music, going from a flowing legato melody to a more regimental, rigid, staccato accompaniment. Even without the translation though, listening to the flow of the lyrics weaving through the melody tells a story in itself. A performance is more than just the lyrics, and I think this is demonstrated well here, and highlights the need to look at these passages outside of a traditionally ‘classics’ approach, the performance adds so much to the passage that just isn’t easily visible through an academic lens.

Performance 2) Parados – Aeschylus’ Oresteia (Agamemnon)

Performed by Evvy, Paul and Hannah

This performance of the Parados from Agamemnon is great, though is arguably a much more ‘modern’ approach. The use of both the closeups and background of the camera shot for Paul and Hannah was a genius way to break out of the ‘middle ground’ that zoom promotes and helped add to the tense atmosphere they created. Not only did they succeed in creating that tense, on edge atmosphere, they did so while making it feel  a very intimate, as if they were sharing all this gossip specifically with me, which is something Zoom can be great for –  when performing to a single focal point (the camera) rather than to a whole audience, you can create an awesome feeling of eye contact and direct conversation that these three did really well.

The ‘gossiping’ feeling that this performance evoked lends itself well to the massive info dump we’re given. Not only is this the set up to the play itself, but also the trilogy as a whole, and the chorus, (Evvy, Paul and Hannah in this instance) are trying to tell the audience everything they need to know as quickly as possible before they get caught gossiping, and this is brilliantly demonstrated by the covering of the camera for the last few lines of the scene, it’s almost as if they’re trying to hide [me] from the character entering so they don’t find out they’ve been gossiping and was a great little trick and something I wouldn’t have considered doing. 

Performance 3) Ode to Man – Sophocles’ Antigone

Performed by Sara

So I said in part one that you can’t always translate the use of plosive and sibilant consonants, alliteration and the like so can’t always analyse texts in the way we would in the original Greek – this is one where I’m happy to admit that’s not the case, here, and the ‘percussive sounds’ that Sara speaks about after the performance are there in the original greek too. The use of those sibilant consonants is played on really well by Sara, the use of the choral voice layering is a fantastic way to approach this – although there is only one person on screen, you get a sense of there being a crowd, or the rest of the chorus being there with the techniques used. As Joel said, hitting the nail on the head, it makes for a very menacing performance that highlights the duality of fear, being both terrifying, and terrified, a sentiment echoed in the text itself. 

This style of performance, though granted I always assumed a full chorus rather than a single voice with choral voice layering, is how I have always imagined this passage being performed and would love a chance to play around with staging, costume and lighting with a full chorus, working along the same lines as what Sara did for us here, there are so many different ways even this style of performance can be approached, the opportunities really are endless, though I’ll get back to that at the end.

Performance 4) 5th Stasimon – Euripides’ Medea

Performed by Evvy and Hannah

Medea is possibly my favourite Greek Tragedy and the Chorus is a lot of the reason behind that, even though it was completely glossed over when we studied it. Because of the complexity of the Chorus and their attitudes throughout the play, I find it very difficult to comment on individual choral passages without looking at the play as a whole. The 5th Stasimon highlights many of the issues faced within greek theatre though, the main thing being that pretty much all of the ‘action’ happens off stage, as is the case here. 

This was ‘staged’ extremely simply, and it worked really well. As much as at this point in the play the visual focus is on the chorus, the action itself is happening off stage, so nothing fancy needs to be happening visually, it allows the audience the time to imagine what the action looks like without it being present before them. The audience are in exactly the same position as the chorus as neither of them can do anything to stop these events unfolding, they are just static witnesses wishing they had done something when they had the chance.  The static nature of performance on Zoom echoes this really well as well, because there is that physical separation when the window pops up and we can hear the children shouting. 

Performance 5) 5th Stasimon – Sophocles’ Antigone

Performed by Betinna

I came out of this with questions more than anything, the main one ‘Would the audience have known the lyrics to the hymns to the gods often found within Greek Tragedies?’ And without that answer I really don’t know what I can say about this piece, other than the importance of instrument choice and how it can change depending on the feel you’re going for, and the media format you’re using. This is another stunning performance from Betinna and I absolutely loved it. If the hymns within Greek Tragedies are hymns the audience would have known then I completely get their use – everyone sings along to disney films and musicals, because we know the lyrics and it adds a sense of inclusion to the performance. Religion is always going to be part of the reason these hymns are included, especially to Dionysus, but there could have also been that ‘everyone join in’ aspect to it as well, at the end of the day these plays were meant to be performed and watched, and I think sometimes we can forget that when diving into the analysis of these plays. 

Performance 6) Binding Song – Aeschylus’ Eumenides

Performed by Lynn

I don’t even know where to start when analysing this performance, I have absolutely no experience in this style of vocal performance and there is no way I would be able to do this whilst doing the performance justice. What this performance did highlight for me though is something Anna said earlier in the show – although we say these performances would have been ‘sung’ it wouldn’t have always been what a modern audience would perceive as music, but more of a vocal performance, something Lynn did phenomenally – she managed to bring a depth of emotion to the passage that, having now seen this performance, should have been glaringly obvious. 

In Conclusion…

I just want to finish this up by saying that if this very brief analysis has shown me anything, it’s how vastly diverse choral passages in Greek Tragedy are, and the many, many ways we can stage these performances to bring better insight to modern audiences. I watched this TED talk the other day about Greek Mythology and how through reinvention, each story can find relevance in today’s world and can be understandable and relatable to a modern audience. Through approaching these plays from a slightly different perspective, like CHS and Out of Chaos Theatre have been doing over the last few months, we can take them from the pedestal of elitism Classics often finds itself upon and make these amazing works of literature into something everyone can understand and enjoy. 

Again, massive thanks to CHS, Out Of Chaos, Betinna, and Joel. Now time for dinner before tonight’s show!

Posted in History, Media

They’re Reading Greek Tragedy Online – The Chorus – Part I

I’m going to start with a slight disclaimer- It’s been about five years since I looked at a Greek play in any sort of academic mindset, so to prepare for this series of posts I’ve been listening to Greek Tragedy, a series of lectures by Elizabeth Vandiver, from The Great Courses on Audible (which comes with the coursebook PDF). So far I’ve listened to the first five lectures: Tragedy Defined; Democracy, Culture and Tragedy; Roots of a Genre; Production and Stagecraft; and Aeschyleus – Creator of an Art Form. It’s given me a really nice intro back into the academic mindset and a good shove in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest over the coming weeks.

Disclaimer number two: The only two Tragedies I’ve studied in any depth are Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Euripides’ Medea, and with both of these we completely glossed over the choral segments, so coming into this special episode of RGTO I was new to most of the passages performed, from an academic viewpoint at least, though I have read Antigone. At this point I would also like to say that throughout my studies (at College and my first year of University), not once had it been mentioned that the Choral passages within these plays were performed through song and dance, to me at least, it makes it all make so much more sense, something Wednesday’s show demonstrated brilliantly. 

As you might have seen me say on Twitter, there is so much to unpack from this episode I’m going approach this in a slightly different way to how I plan to approach future posts, and I’m going to split it into two parts, this is going to be more of a discussion, then on either Tuesday or Wednesday next week, I’ll go through and break down the different performances in light of what we discuss today. With this being said, I’m going to jump to the end of the show, where Joel finished up by asking each of them two questions:

  1. What did you learn today?
  2. What new questions do you have?

So, here are my answers. 

  1. I learnt about how diverse Choral passages and their performance can be
  1. Would it be more insightful to study Choral passages from Greek plays from a Theatre Studies standpoint, rather than a traditionally ‘Classics’ one?

If you’ve read my post Home sweet Home, you’ll know that for a year in College (remember, I’m English so I was about 17) I studied Theatre Studies. I am by no means even nearly an expert in that field, or this one to be honest, but flicking through my annotated copy of Playhouse Creatures by April De Angelis which we studied for our end of year exam, it brought a notion to mind – I annotated it wrong. Okay, ‘wrong’ probably isn’t the correct term, but reading through, you can tell I was in the wrong field of study, it’s annotated like a Greek Tragedy, which would explain why I nearly failed. My annotations are all on the historical significance, on the commentary it was making about historical and contemporary politics, the significance of introducing certain characters, why it was done ect.. What’s not present in my annotations is the weeks we spent on theoretical staging. The weeks we spent looking at different approaches and how they can put emphasis on different emotions, how you can use staging and performance techniques as compliments and story-telling tools to accompany the script and elicit certain emotional responses from the audience. What’s not there is the weeks we spent looking at the effect all of this has on the play, and performance, as a whole.

When you’re working with translations of texts, you’re not always able to analyse them in a literary context in order to attain meaning and emotion. You’re not always going to be able to translate the repeated use of alliteration, or the use of plosive and sibilant consonants and created words. What I took from Wednesday’s show is that it’s so difficult to truly appreciate Choral passages until you take that step away from the ‘academic’ approach, and start to look at the various staging and performance techniques, and how they can be used to bring to light and establish the vast range of emotions often present in the passages, something that often isn’t conceivable when looking at it with a clinical, academic mindset. I think the overall perception at the end of the show highlights this perspective well. Once the Choral passages had been performed, they were easier to understand, their meaning more clear and the attitudes of those present had gone from ‘I just skip it when I teach it, get straight to the dialogue’ to ‘I’m never going to gloss over this again’. 

Would getting students to group up into groups of four or five and stage a performance of Ode to Man from Antigone be more insightful for them than getting them to read it at home because you’re getting straight to the dialogue in class? Probably, and I know my AS Classics class would have loved it at least. 

As is made perfectly clear within the show, there is so much we have lost when it comes to the actual performance of these plays, but that shouldn’t stop us trying to reimagine what it was like. You give students an empty classroom, and they have their own Orchestra to perform in, no fancy staging or lighting; you put a group of people on Zoom and you have modern issues with theatre of the mind and immersion. If you can figure out a way to overcome that, which we have all seen students do, which we’ve seen Out of Chaos and CHS do week after week, you can start to imagine how these plays could have looked, how they could have overcome these issues, the emotional responses the plays could elicit from the audience, and what they could have done to perform. Once you have that visual representation in your mind, it can be a lot easier to comprehend the messages, emotions, and information these passages are meant to relay to the audience.

***

I’m going to call it here, because I could honestly keep going for at least a few thousand more words (and some), and it has the potential to get a lot heavier than I ever intended for this place.

I’ll be honest, I’ve watched Wednesday’s show twice now, and even the second time I was so transfixed by the performances that taking notes was impossible, so with another watch under my belt, I’ll be back either Tuesday or Wednesday with part two where I’m going to at least try to look at the performances themselves in a bit more depth, then Wednesday evening (8pm BST/3pm EST) will be the next episode – Sophocles’ Antigone.

Read part two, an analysis of the performances here!

I would once again like to give thanks to:

The Centre For Hellenic Studies

Out of Chaos Theatre

Joel Christensen

And this week’s Special Guests – Anna Uhlig Ph.D. and Bettina Joy De Guzman

Posted in History, Media

Launch Day Announcement!

This is something a little different to the rest of the posts you’ll find here, a Launch Day announcement, you could say. Starting Saturday 31st July and each Saturday following, I will be doing a regular commentary on the Centre of Hellenic Studies ‘Reading Greek Tragedy Online’ stream project. 

Each Wednesday at 3pm EST (8PM BST), CHS, with Out of Chaos Theatre perform a selection of scenes from the chosen tragedy of the week and Joel Christensen, of Brandeis University, hosts a discussion on the play with guest academics and the actors and actresses within the performance. 

As things stand, they have currently read sixteen tragedies (and one comedy, they needed a break for some reason, I wonder why…) so I have lots of catching up to do, but will make my way through the backlog as time allows and Saturday evenings I will post my commentary on that week’s stream.

For now though, I want to thank CHS, Joel, and the folks from Out of Chaos for all the hard work they’ve done over the last few months to put this together for us all during lockdown. So stay tuned folks, and I will see you next week with what could be a rather interesting commentary of a special episode of RGTO focusing on The Chorus and it’s many intricacies.

Go check out:

  1. The Centre of Hellenic Studies

2. Out of Chaos Theatre

3. Joel Christensen

Posted in History, Tabletop

Gaming and History are a match made in heaven

This one’s going to be a bit shorter than the rest, but I just want to give you a quick run down of why I think Tabletop Gaming (or any gaming for that matter) and history work so well together.

You ask most people what they thought of History at school, and they’ll say it was really boring and they didn’t pay much attention. You ask someone if they want to play Rome, or an ancient Greek or Viking tabletop Campaign and they’re all up for it. And you want to know the reason why? Gaming is fun, school is boring. The issue stands though, with the historical inaccuracies of some of the games, be them tabletop or console/PC, that are on the market right now, so what can we do to change that?

This brings me to a bit of shameless self-advertising (if that’s even a thing on my own blog?)

Though in its very early days at the moment, I’m currently working on a project called Promethean Kind, part of which is a world building wiki style database of ancient civilisations and cultures for Worldbuilders of any ilk to use as a research base for their ‘ancient and unique’ worlds. Alongside this we will also be hosting a web-show of interviews with DM’s, Authors, Screen Writers and so many more about the where’s why’s and how’s of worldbuilding and their approaches to research and the like, as well as many other suprises yet to be announced.

Our aim is to provide worldbuilders with the information they need in clear, concise, non-academic ways to enable them to develop historically accurate and culturally sensitive worlds, so people can explore the wonders of the history of our world in fun and interactive ways. As I said, it’s early days at the moment but you can follow us on twitter @PromethenKind for more updates as and when they come.

Posted in History, Media

Ancient Aliens is terrible .

So in December 2019 I was inspired by a comment in a friend’s post on Twitter to write a rage thread about Ancient Aliens. Given the issues being tackled across the world with the BLM  movement going strong and a huge push to diversify academics and academic ideologies, I figured it was about time to expand on my original post and approach it in a slightly less constrictive form than the 280 characters we get in a twitter post, as you can probably tell, I like to waffle on a bit.

To start, I will set out a slightly edited (typos fixed and slightly reworded in places) version of the twitter thread below:

Ancient Aliens is the bane of my life. Having studied 4 histories at A Level, and completed the first year of my degree, the amount of times shows like Ancient Aliens and other and  Pseudo-Historical ‘documentaries’ out there are used as sources is astonishing, and the fact that they’re aired on the ‘History Channel’ as fact should be criminal. I’ve done a few in depth studies of episodes of Ancient Aliens, the main reason being I wanted to show my friends how bullshit most of their history is. Not only do they misrepresent information, they knowingly put forward outdated research and findings as fact and withhold other findings that would disprove their hypothesis purely because it’s inconvenient and doesn’t ‘prove that aliens are real’. If a settlement has signs of previous occupation (one example would be midden pits), where activity dropped off very quickly and seemingly without reason, don’t assume aliens abducted everyone, but expand your search parameters and also examine the mass grave of plague victims found a mile outside the settlement walls. It’s not difficult. It’s just doing your freaking job and thoroughly researching your topic! I don’t understand why people find it necessary to do shit like this. The history of the Ancient World is fascinating enough without having to force it into a false narrative the way shows like Ancient Aliens do. If Aliens do exist, and if they ever did present themselves to the Ancient World and we find that information, we find that data, then trust me, I would be the first one all over that shit, but stop forcing it as fact when there is literally no evidence to support it!

The original thread can be found here

I would like to state, the above example regarding the settlement and plague victims, (as far as I am aware at least,) is a hypothetical situation. I do still stand by the example though, as I believe it reflects the actions and attitudes of the show’s creators and research staff with frightening accuracy. 

To the point though –

[…] and the fact that they [pseudo-histrical and pseudo-archaeological shows] are aired on the ‘History Channel’ as fact should be criminal

See tweet.

The following picture is a ScreenCap of the top 4 results when ‘Ancient Aliens Pyramids’ is searched in google:

So I clicked on the first link to be presented with this:

And here is how the bio of that video reads:

I will admit, the content of this video itself doesn’t actually mention aliens, which I think is possibly the worst part about it. They present what I’m going to assume are facts (I’m not an Egyptologist or a Physicist so please correct me if I’m wrong) in a way which, to most viewers, would appear to be a professional, well put together manner, it’s on the History channel, why would they doubt it? This is how they drag so many people in though, it creates a false sense of security and trust, when something is backed up by so many ‘facts’ how could it be bullshit?

The only Academic named within the video is Michael Dennin, Ph.D. Physicist at the University of California, Irvine. Now I’m not doubting his credentials, as I said, I’m not a Physicist so I am working on the basis that what is presented here is, or at least at some point recently has been believed to be, fact. According to the UCI website he’s “well-known for popularising science for the public”, and they proceed to back this up by mentioning his appearance on Ancient Aliens along with a handful of other TV shows. 

I would start off by asking this simple question: ‘Why is the only academic featured in this video a Physicist, not an Egyptologist?’ And I will follow that with the answer that any Egyptologist worth their salt would destroy any arguments put forward to support the ‘Ancient Astronaut’ theories presented in the rest of the show. If you present an argument saying the mathematical knowledge presented in the building of the pyramids is far beyond even what we today could calculate, then follow this up with a Physicist who doesn’t dispute that claim and continues to add more facts to the argument, you cement the idea in people’s minds that Academics actually believe this shit. Then once you have that idea cemented in peoples heads, the bullshit theories start to make sense, they start to be believable.

The other ‘specialists’ shown in this video… well I’ll let you make your own minds up:

. David Childress – An American Author, and the owner of Adventures Unlimited Press, a publishing house established in 1984 specialising in books on unusual topics such as ancient mysteries, unexplained phenomena, alternative history and historical revisionism

. Scott Creighton – Author of three books:

  • The Great Pyramid Hoax: The Conspiracy to conceal the true history of ancient Egypt
  • The Giza Prophecy: The Orion Code and the secret teachings of the pyramids
  • The Secret Chambers of Osiris: The lost knowledge of the sixteen pyramids

. David Wilcock – Author of The Ascension Mysteries: Revealing the Cosmic Battle between Good and Evil – the blurb of which on google books reads: “Now, in The Ascension Mysteries, David Wilcock reveals that the earth is on the front lines of a battle that has been raging between positive and negative extraterrestrials for 500,000 years and he looks ahead to what this battle means. Follow his enthralling journey through the history of the universe and explore the great Cosmic Battle surrounding the Ascension of mankind.”

. Freddy Silva – A leading researcher of alternative history, ancient knowledge, sacred sites and the interaction between temples and consciousness.

I am hoping you can see my point here…

There has been a huge discussion over the last few months about how Ancient Aliens is a prime example of the systemic racism within academics. I spent some time this afternoon searching the internet for a list of what Archaeological sites Ancient Aliens have covered, and I’m surprised to say I can’t actually find one. With 15 seasons currently having been aired, (scary, I know) it’s a heck of a lot of work for someone to torture themselves with, but I might have to do so in the future. If you do know of a list, drop me a link on Twitter or by email, (which can be found on the Contact page,). Because I don’t have access to this data at the moment, it’s not a claim I am in a position to back up as I am aware that they have covered sites such as Stonehenge so they do not solely cover sites on the African Continent and the Middle East. What I will say though, is that episodes like the one being advertised in the video [season 12, episode 4 as per IMDb listing] are at the least, a bi-product of the systemic racism within academics. By refusing to admit that people we would now recognise as being of African and Middle-Eastern descent were capable of building what is the only surviving Wonder of the Ancient World without the assistance of Aliens, you are diminishing the impact and importance they have had on the world and the achievements of their ancestors, you take away their history, their heritage, their identity. By attributing, or accepting the attribution of their accomplishments to that of a ‘higher being’, be it Aliens or those of White European descent, you are part of that systemic racism whether you realise it or not. By watching shows like Ancient Aliens, or allowing shows like Ancient Aliens to be aired on your TV channel, you are part of the problem, and until pseudo-history and pseudo-archaeology shows are axed, or in the least accompanied by a ‘this is pseudo-XYZ’ disclaimer, nothing is going to change. And things really need to change.