“Blending Styles and Cultures: Part 2 – The Unity of Style” by Katerina Volioti

The second part of this blog posting consists of two sections. Firstly, I comment on how style works for art historians. Secondly, I consider in what ways a pre-occupation with style is evident in children’s books and how this aligns with art historical approaches. 

Art historians and style

Stylistic analysis is important for art historians and archaeologists. The close and often meticulous observation of an objet d’art enables scholars to discuss distinctive technical and artistic traits, date the work, and contextualise it within the artist’s oeuvre and contemporary society. In effect, stylistic analysis constructs classificatory schemas, ranging from phases in an artist’s career to typological sequences. For Greek vases, John Beazley, the greatest vase connoisseur of the twentieth century, devoted his life to the systematic examination of how different painters rendered idiosyncratically the anatomical and ornamental details of their drawings (1).

Figure 6 Sir John Beazley studying lekythoi
Sir John Beazley studying lekythoi. Photograph from the Beazley Archive. Courtesy of the Classical Art Research Centre, University of Oxford

Beazley thus attributed vases to different painters and created a sequence of the relationships of painters, both stylistically and chronologically. Beazley built a robust system for ordering thousands of painters and their vases, to which subsequent generations of vase scholars have adhered. Evidently, learning about style and acquiring skills in stylistic analysis is invaluable in specialist scholarship.

When I teach undergraduate modules in Classical Art at Roehampton, my students and I are also faced with learning about style. Even before coming to university, students have an idea about the Classical style as something that describes ancient and modern works, such as Neoclassical buildings that look either Greek or Roman, or both.

Figure 7 Neoclassical architecture.jpg
Neoclassical architecture: Sackler Library, Oxford. Wikimedia [source]

Students are right to find the timeframe of the Classical era, from 480 to 323 BCE – that is, from the naval battle of Salamis (480 BCE) to the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE) – a little too tight in appreciating the Classical style (2). Indeed, much of Classical art, especially sculpture, is studied through its legacy and emulation in later periods. Even Praxiteles’ mid fourth-century BCE Aphrodite of Knidos, the most-discussed sculpture in ancient texts, survives only in Roman copies (3). In the first-year module Introduction to Classical Art (4), therefore, we problematise style and its implications for a quasi-historical approach to ancient art. As we discuss in our seminars, there exist no comprehensive answers in scholarship for why a particular style emerges, persists, and changes. While stylistic analysis appears to be a systematic approach, through the study of style the ancient world does not become more objective and scientific. If anything, an imaginative approach is needed in envisaging how style becomes influential and malleable over time.

Style in children’s books

In the books that I have studied for the OMC project, myths, sites, and museum exhibits are presented chronologically, from earlier to more recent times. In educational activities, children are asked to order mythological and historical figures (e.g., Theseus; Pericles) and material entities (e.g., the Erechtheion; the New Acropolis Museum) chronologically. From early on children are meant to think in terms of grouping like with like. This practice goes back to the eighteenth-century historicizing work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (the Father of Art History), and in fact even earlier. The strong emphasis on periodization reflects the importance of (ancient) history in formal school curricula, both in Greece and other countries. That is, children are required to learn the names and (approximate) dates of different periods of human activity in the lands and islands of Greece. The list of periods is long and diverse – some periods are named for materials while others for style – and includes the Neolithic, the Bronze and the Dark Ages, the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman eras, Late Antiquity, the Byzantine period, the Ottoman and recent past and, of course, modern times. Human activity is understood (to a certain degree) through the rise and fall in artistic output, which is taken to reflect socio-economic prosperity and decline. With an emphasis on artistic achievement, children tend to valorise certain periods over others. Children note, for example, the high artistry of Cycladic and Mycenaean artefacts in the museum guides for these two stylistic groups. These guides include Ariadne Tells Stories from the Cycladic Period in the National Archaeological Museum from 2009 (5and Argos Tells Stories from the Mycenaean Period in the National Archaeological Museum from 2008 (6(my translation of titles in Greek). Both books are by Evi Pini and Popi Kirdi (authors) and by Stamatis Bonatsos, G. Ntelagiorgou and Giannis Sarsakis (illustrators). By contrast, the Dark Ages are given short shrift in all the books that I have examined, since this period can boast little in terms of artefactual elaboration.

Although mythology is placed in the deep past before (pre)history began, its relation to this periodization remains opaque. For all books that I have written database entries, there appear to be subtle efforts to associate mythology with historical events and archaeological finds so as to define mythology more concretely in time and space.

The Trojan War. The Beginning of History, from the series I Read Mythology [source]

In The Trojan War. The Beginning of History (7(my translation, the cover above) by Evi Pini (author) and Eliza Vavouri (illustrator), which was published in 2011, episodes from the epic cycle are recounted in a vivid and page-turning fashion, as if they were events that really happened. Yet there is no explanation of the title, specifically why these episodes marked the beginning of history. Some illustrations imitate Mycenaean frescoes and objects, such as boar’s tusks helmets. For readers who recognise the affinities with Mycenaean artefacts, the illustrations – just like the written text – point to actual people who made and used material culture in the past, and not to fictive mythological characters. Artistic style seems to add a material dimension – possibly credence – to myth. Mycenaean frescoes and helmets, moreover, are treasured museum exhibits, centrepieces of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (8). With all these pointers to history, archaeology, and museum visitation, the story of the Trojan War blends the past with the present; and the real with the imaginary.

Figure 9 The real_Fortifications of Troy I
The real: Fortifications of Troy I, ca. 2920 BCE. Photograph by Anja Slawisch taken in 2007

This blending does not allow, however, for the mixing and matching of different styles. Appropriately for the Trojan War the style of the illustrations refers to Mycenaean times, the time when historians and archaeologists believe that this war took place. Consistency in style is needed, not least because the book is an educational resource that follows to some degree school textbooks. When freed from their (art) historical contextualisation, how might mythological stories help with innovative thinking and artistic creations, both of which are favoured by young children?

In the final part of this blog posting, I suggest that a departure from strict stylistic norms can unleash creativity in children and adults alike.

Prepared by Katerina Volioti

Elaborated by Dorota Bazylczyk


(1) https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/tools/pottery/techniques/sir-jb.htm

(2) https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tacg/hd_tacg.htm

(3) http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095418740

(4) http://urweb.roehampton.ac.uk/module/?module=HSA020C104

(5) https://www.epbooks.gr/product.asp?catid=100445&title= and http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/325

(6)  https://www.epbooks.gr/product.asp?catid=100447&title and http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/313

(7)  https://www.epbooks.gr/product.asp?catid=101031&title=

and http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/108

(8) See http://www.namuseum.gr/collections/prehistorical/mycenian/mycenian20-en.html





“Blending Styles and Cultures. Part 1: Framing Classical Art and Myth” by Katerina Volioti

In this blog posting, which consists of three parts, I share some reflections on how my involvement in Our Mythical Childhood (OMC) has made me think in new ways about the art-historical approaches to the study of ancient material culture. 

Part 1: Framing Classical Art and Myth 

In the first part, I discuss the possibility of blending style with culture, and how this approach can lead to new ways of understanding artistic forms through combining ideas from the past and the present, the real and the imaginary.

My area of expertise is Classical art – that is, Greek and Roman architecture, sculpture, and painting. The style of Classical buildings, statues, ceramics, mosaics, frescoes, and other artefacts is of paramount importance in my research and teaching. An understanding of style allows me to date and contextualise ancient specimens, usually with reference to similar-looking works of art. For Athenian figured pottery, for example, the stylistic parallels of a vase painting help me to identify the painter, to evaluate the quality of draughtsmanship, and to assess how innovative or imitative a painting is. (For my latest work on Athenian pottery see – link.)

But what does style really explain? In this blog, I suggest that the term ‘style’ could be combined with ‘culture’, as part of a conscious effort to blur the boundaries between ancient and modern artistic traditions. The OMC project offers an excellent opportunity to explore this possibility, since it examines the mirror of the Classical heritage in contemporary media for children and young adults, such as books, films, and video games.

Appropriately, the title of this year’s OMC workshops in Warsaw (May 14-20, 2018) was The Present Meets the Past. My blog posting is prompted by my participation in these workshops. I had a fantastic time liaising with international colleagues and students, and I was especially inspired by the Cameroonian delegates’ presentations. The paper I gave in Warsaw was about the materiality and immateriality of Classical myth in Greek museum guides. After the workshops I started thinking about places outside the western world and how my study of Greek children’s books could be enriched.

One output of the OMC project is the creation of an open-access database with summaries and analyses of children’s books that (re)present the Classical past. As a contributor to this database, I examine the text and image of illustrated educational books for young children in Greece, aged 4+. I have written twenty entries for two groups of books: 1) introductions to mythology and history; and 2) museum and city guides. My entries include: Aphrodite, Goddess of Beauty (my translation) by Filippos Mandilaras (author) and Natalia Kapatsoulia (illustrator) from 2017; Glafki at the Athenian Agora by Evi Pini and Popi Kirdi (authors) and Stamatis Bonatsos, G. Ntelagiorgou and Giannis Sarsakis (illustrators) from 2010;and Shall We Go to Delphi? (my translation) by Marisa De Castro (author) and Mark Weinstein (illustrator) from 2009:

Figure 1: Aphrodite, Goddess of Beauty, from the series My First Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source]
Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania Glafki at the Athenian Agora
Figure 2: Glafki at the Athenian Agora, from the series Short Museum Guides, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source]
Figure 3: Shall We Go to Delphi? from the series Short City Guides, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source]

All books in my database entries are by Papadopoulos Publishing, a family business in Athens that employs thirty people and targets mostly a Greek-speaking customer base. Although the scale of operations is small, some books have the potential to reach out to an international audience.

Cyclades. Jewels of the Aegean (2017) by Filippos Mandilaras (author) and Natalia Kapatsoulia (illustrator) is one book that stands out in particular. It concerns the peoples and cultures of the Cycladic islands, from prehistoric to modern times. I made extensive reference to this book in my talk at the Early Childhood Research Centre at Roehampton in June 2018. The cover illustration is of children playing with a kitten and with Cycladic figurines, all set in a sun-drenched scenery consisting of white-washed houses and marble Classical ruins.

Figure 4: Cyclades. Jewels of the Aegean, from the series My First History, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source]

Here and throughout the book the present meets the past, as timeframes and material cultures mismatch. The figurines date from the fourth and third millennia BCE and are today highly-esteemed objets d’art.

Marble female figure, Attributed to the Bastis Master, Marble, Cycladic
Figure 5: Cycladic figurine attributed to the Bastis Master, 2600-2400 BCE, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 68.148. Public Domain Artworks [source]

Their simplistic design, which recalls abstract modern art, is important in art historians’ evolutionary accounts about representations of the human form over the ages. Yet children do not just marvel at the artistry of the design; the figurines are there for them to play with.

Such books are of interest to me as they evoke my dream of a utopia made up of an interconnected world where cultures unite rather than divide people. As I see it, Classical myth with its worldwide reception has tremendous potential to inspire diverse groups of people to live together, and not just side-by-side. On the one hand, mythology stands for a substantial body of knowledge. Mythology offers a series of complex stories and a long list of actors – gods, demigods, monsters, heroes, and mortals – who lived their extraordinary lives in multiple places, not least because they were almost always on the move. Learning the stories and their characters is challenging for both adults and children, but engaging. On the other hand, knowledge of Greek myths is open source, accessible to all [of relevance here might be Edith Hall’s agenda for Advocating Classics Education (ACE)]

Mythology might become increasingly fascinating in today’s multicultural and highly mobile world. Given its pervasiveness in western literature and popular culture, mythology is inextricably linked with recreating a refracted and fragmentary version of the ancient Classical style. Learning (about) the Classical myths, nonetheless, can result in a shared global culture that blends together incongruent elements from the present and the past, from the real and the imaginary, as well as from different geographical locations. Classical Antiquity might then re-emerge as a deliberately ambiguous source of inspiration (and innovation), potentially affecting the design of new (artistic) products.

I shall elaborate further on some of the putative gains of blending perceptions of style in Part 3 of this blog, but before doing so I shall discuss (in Part 2) aspects of the unity of style evident in Classical art and in children’s books. 

Prepared by Katerina Volioti

Elaborated by Dorota Bazylczyk

Katerina is currently teaching modules on Classical art and archaeology at the University of Roehampton. You can read her previous post on Hesiod here.

Nature-Culture, an Exceptional PhD Programme

We are pleased to invite you to apply for a PhD programme called “Nature-Culture” at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw.


The programme combines the Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Exact Sciences. This is a unique opportunity to develop research ideas in an interdisciplinary milieu and to study Nature and Culture from Antiquity to the present.

More information here – we will be most grateful, if you help us share the link:



“Gray Matter” (2010): Paranormal Phaenomena or Illusions?

This post may contain content inappropriate for children. “Gray Matter” may contain content inappropriate for children as well. It targets youth over 12 years of age.

“Gray Matter” is a video game developed by Wizarbox. Its designer is Jane Jensen – the creator of “Gabriel Knight” series, popular in the 1990s. You can watch “Gray Matter” trailer here:

Genre: Point-and-click adventure

Target Group: +12

Platform: Windows, Xbox 360

Release Details: The game was released in Germany and Spain in November 2010, in North America and the rest of Europe in February 2011, and in Australia in March 2011.

The game’s protagonist is a young American girl Samantha “Sam” Everett who wants to become a magician. We come to know her in the moment she arrives to the mysterious Dread Hill House on her way to London. At first we watch an introduction with foreboding atmosphere, then the game begins: Sam decides to become an assistant to a mysterious neurobiologist – Dr. David Styles. During one of his experiments, she starts to discover his dark secrets, the apparently haunted house, and the links between various unexplained events going on in Oxford. Sam also tries to become a member of the Daedalus Club, by solving their enigmas with references to Greek mythology (see the illustrations below) and Lewis Carroll’s famous novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.

Prometheus bound to a rock with an eagle that eats his liver [source]
Mercury Fountain in the Christ Church College scenery. The game’s action takes place in Oxford so most of the city locations were reproduced [source]
Daedalus is the name and the symbol of the magic club [source]
Artemis and Atlas [source]
Cupid and Psyche statue by Antonio Canova [source]
Found by Aleksandra Bondarczuk (student in MA course)

Elaborated by Dorota Bazylczyk

Trojan… Cheese

Historia de una gaviota y del gato que le enseñó a volar (1996, The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly) is an amazing novel by the Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda, for children from 8 to 88 years of age, as the author declares:

Sepulveda English
Source: Books Google

In 1998 the Italian director Enzo D’Alò created an animation, La Gabbianella e il Gatto (in Engl. as Lucky and Zorba), based on the novel. His vision met with Sepúlveda’s approval who even agreed to give his voice to the character of the Poet in the animation. It is a “must-see” because of the touching story, artistic values, and a wonderful soundtrack. And the Antiquity-lovers will discover in the movie the traces of the Trojan myth:

DVD cover (Italian edition), phot. by K.M.

The Poet and his daughter live in a port city, they help a group of street cats and they feed birds. Both the book and the movie transmit a powerful ecological message, however, without moralizing, but in a deeply touching way. The protagonist is the cat Zorba who comes to know – in dramatic circumstances – a young seagull Kengah, wounded after the contact with “the curse of the humans”, that is a petrol spill due to an oil tankship disaster. She knows she is dying, so she uses all her strength to bear her egg and she beggs Zorba to make her three promises. (1) Not to eat the egg. (2) To incubate it. (3) And to learn the chick-to-be-born to fly. Kengah indeed dies and Zorba – “who always keeps the promises he makes” – becomes a cat mother-father for the little she-seagull who soon comes to the world. With his friends, he names her Fortunata (diminutively Fifì, in English Lucky), as she was lucky enough to be under their protection. As time passes, Fifì growns up, thinking she is a cat…

Source: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_gabbianella_e_il_gatto

The charming story merits to be discovered in full directly, while reading and watching it, so here we will focus only on the ancient motif that appears in the animation. At a certain point Fifì gets kidnapped by the rats. The cats prepare a rescue expedition. They consult the Encyclopaedia, owing to the help of the library cat Diderot. They find the right strategy under the letter “H”, that is Homer and the myth of the Trojan Horse. A short council brings the clear plan: Zorba and his friends know what an equivalent for the Trojan Horse to use: a huge loaf of cheese – the Trojan Cheese, inside of which they will hide to jump unexpectedly at the rats:

Screenshot by K.M.

Will they succeed? And will Fifì-Lucky learn to fly? See for yourself and enjoy the story embedded in the timeless mythical tradition.

Text by Katarzyna Marciniak

Post scriptum:

“Siamo gatti” – “We are cats”, a song from the movie (Italian version):




“Our Mythical Childhood at CAMWS” by Krishni Burns

The annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS) took place in Albuquerque this April and Dr. Krishni Burns, the participant in Our Mythical Hope stream of Our Mythical Childhood, took part in this important event! Here is her conference report.

Monica Cyrino and the Local Committee.jpg
Prof. Monica Cyrino and the Local Committee

CAMWS is one of the largest classical conferences in North America, and this year was no exception. Nearly 700 scholars gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend panels, workshops, and round tables. CAMWS’s welcoming intellectual atmosphere also makes it an excellent venue for new research that is “nontraditional” or interdisciplinary. In addition to the usual collection of academic papers, CAMWS has a long tradition of pedagogy presentations and innovative receptions studies work. There were several panels on pop culture this year; the standout panels were “Casting Die: Classical Reception in Gaming,” organized by Dr. William S. Duffy of St. Philip’s College and “Wonder Woman and Warrior Princesses,” a panel organized by Dr. Anise Strong of Western Michigan University.

I organized a panel devoted to classical reception in Children’s culture, entitled “Travels, Treasures, and the Locus Terribilis: Myth in Children’s Media.” It took place on Friday afternoon in the University of New Mexico’s small movie theater in the Student Union. (CAMWS traditionally holds its Friday afternoon panels on the campus of the hosting university.) The study of classical reception in children’s culture is considerably less well established in North America than it is elsewhere in the world, so I was pleased that a few dozen people attended the panel. The panel’s unifying theme was how versions of classical myth were adapted to instruct children’s psychological development and how those myths were in turn shaped to give their pedagogical function appeal to their intended audience.

Dr. Rebecca Resinski (Hendrix College) opened the panel with her paper, “Midas, Mixed Messages, and the ‘Museum’ of Dugald Steer’s Mythology.” Dugald’s Mythology is a multimedia book of mythological tales, set in a narrative frame about a 19th-century antiquarian whose acquisitive tendencies lead him to become a modern day Midas. Dr. Resinski’s paper explored the contradiction of setting a cautionary tale about the greed for classical artifacts in a book that appeals to readers though interactive features that mimic the very antiquities that the main character searches for. Dr. Resinski proposed that Mythology functions as a miniature museum and that a readers’ navigation of its various content and messages contributes to the formation of cultural subjects.

In the panel’s second paper, “Fairy-Tale Landscapes in the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths,” Dr. Alison Poe (Fairfield University) analyzed the use of fairy-tale motifs in the landscapes of North America’s most influential children’s collection of Greek mythology. Dr. Poe pointed out that while the illustrations of architecture, people, and monsters tended to draw on classical originals for inspiration. Where such originals were lacking, D’Aulaires engaged with Romantic imagery commonly found in illustrated fairytale collections. The phenomenon is particularly evident in D’Aulaires’ forest landscapes, which resemble the wild woods of northern European folklore.

Next, my paper, “Spiritual Odysseys in Children’s Television,” drew attention to common features that appeared in adaptations of the Odyssey for children’s animated television shows. I used a segment from the TV show Martha Speaks called “Truman and the Deep Blue Sea” as an example. Children’s Odysseys tend to replace or supplant Odysseus with a younger character, who can act as a stand-in for child viewers. As a result, Odysseus becomes a mentor figure to the young character, or is absent altogether. The monsters in TV Odysseys become manifestations for adverse circumstances in the child character’s normal life. In Truman’s case, the Cyclops represents Truman’s struggle with seasickness in a nightmare and Truman imagines Odysseus mentoring him through his efforts to overcome his condition. Since I had a captive audience, I took a few minutes out of my talk to introduce Our Mythical Childhood to the audience and encourage them to visit the Survey’s website.

Dr. Krishni Burns (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) presenting her paper, titled “Spiritual Odysseys in Children’s Television”
Dr. Krishni Burns (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) introducing “Our Mythical Childhood” Project to the audience of the the annual meeting of the CAMWS

The final paper in the panel was given in absentia by Dr. Amanda Potter (Open University), who is also a participant in the Our Mythical Childhood Survey. The paper, “Domesticating Classical Monsters on BBC Children’s Television: Gorgons, Minotaurs and Sirens in Doctor Who, the Sarah Jane Adventures and Atlantis,” examined how these television shows present classical monsters as misunderstood, even tragic figures, to encourage the viewer to reevaluate first impressions and institutional prejudices. Dr. Potter wasn’t able to be present in person, but she was able to answer questions via Skype after her paper was read.

All papers in the panel were well received and the question and answer period generated some good discussion. One of the most prominent features of the discussion was how much work there still is to do in this particular area of reception studies. For example, Dr. Poe pointed out that D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is largely unstudied in spite of the work’s monumental impact on nearly every classicist in the room. The moment underlined how essential Our Mythical Childhood and its sister projects are to the future of classical studies.

Prepared by Dr. Krishni Burns (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign)

A Classic from Florence

There are many amazing points on the map of Florence for all interested in the reception of Classical Antiquity. But it is worth also peeking into via Taddea to see the house in which Carlo Lorenzini in 1826 was born. He is known in the history of children’s classics under a different name – Carlo Collodi, the father of Pinocchio:



Nearby, you will see also a sculpture commemorating Pinocchio by Thomas Cecchi unveiled in 2006:




This part of Piazza del Mercato Centrale is a perfect place to sit for a while and to read the book anew, and to admire the skills of its illustrators. For example, the Polish edition (transl. Zofia Jachimecka) was illustrated by the famous artist, called also “the King of children’s illustration in Poland”, Jan Marcin Szancer (1902–1973). [Please excuse me the state of the cover, but it is a testimony to the book’s intense life;-)]



And it is worth reading the Latin translation, by Ugo Enrico Paoli (1884–1963):


As Prof. Wilfried Stroh (see phot. below) remarks, the Latin language seals the status of a Classic, and Pinocchio merits this kind of homage definitely:


Let’s quote a few phrases on Pinocchio’s birth in Paoli’s translation, as chosen by Prof. Stroh in his analysis of the Latin version (Stroh, “De fabulis Latinis…” 2016:273):

Nec mora, acutam securim adripuit [sc. Magister Cerasum – WS], ut dempto cortice lignum dolando poliret. Cum uero primum ictum illaturus eset, bracchio in altum sublato, immobilis suspensusque haesit; audiuerat enim tenuem quandam subtilemque uocem, suppliciter orantem: “Ne me grauius, precor, percusseris!” (ed. 1983:6)


With a Pinocchio-pencil, a must-have from Florence, you can continue your literary journey through the city or you can even visit Pinocchio’s Park in Tuscany. Each Grand (or Petit) Tour has its roots in Our Mythical Childhood…

For more details:

Text and all other pictures by Katarzyna Marciniak.