Blog for the international research project "Our Mythical Childhood… The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges", financed by the ERC Consolidator Grant led by Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak, Faculty of "Artes Liberales" of the University of Warsaw. Team members: Dr. Susan Deacy, Dr. Sonya Nevin and Steve K. Simons, University of Roehampton; Dr. Elizabeth Hale and Dr. Miriam Riverlea, University of New England; Dr. Lisa Maurice and Dr. Ayelet Peer, Bar-Ilan University; Prof. Daniel A. Nkemleke, Dr. Divine Che Neba and Dr. Eleanor A. Dasi, University of Yaoundé I; Magdalena Gorlińska, Dr. Elżbieta Olechowska, Dr. Hanna Paulouskaya, Dr. Karolina Kulpa, Dr. Edoardo Pecchini, Dorota Bazylczyk, Agnieszka Maciejewska, and Anna Mik from the Faculty of "Artes Liberales" UW.
On October 25, 2018 I had an opportunity to participate in a workshop for school teachers and to attend an open lecture about mythology for the 6th grade General Mariusz Zaruski 231st Primary School in Warsaw. The workshop was organized by two teachers – Anna Czernik (the 231st Primary School) and Agnieszka Czernik (the 387th Primary School). As I am not a school teacher, it was for me a great honour and pleasure to be invited to the workshop – all thanks to “Our Mythical Childhood” project!
I was most impressed by the lecture prepared by Anna Czernik. It was an example of a class given every year after finishing a course on mythology. For two hours the students – all extremely brave, active, and involved! – became Greek goddesses and gods. Each of them had a short presentation about the main mythical stories and features of gods, as well as their attributes.
Some students were more courageous than others, but all had very interesting presentations and divine appearances. They made their costumes themselves and prepared their own roles – it was their homework to find out about their particular deities and tell everybody what they learned. Some of them did it in verse, some were very theatrical, and all identified themselves with their gods. The students have transformed into gods to such an extent that during the following competition, solving riddles, they confused Irenka, Maciej, and Marysia, etc., with Demeter, Asclepius, and Athena.
And there were plenty of competitions, and questions, and riddles. The students were skilled, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. Some had greater knowledge than others, some were quicker giving answers, some were as serious as gods should be, but it seemed that all of them liked the make-belief world they were in and the gods they impersonated.
And afterwards, there was a feast on Olympus for gods and goddesses:
After the class Anna Czernik said that these classes look different every year, because students are different, as are their interests and attitudes, but each time all of them are usually very involved and manage to create wonderful and great learning opportunity.
And of course, such events require a significant amount of work, but maybe this is why students are so committed and engaged.
Thank you, Anna and Agnieszka, for doing it for your students and for sharing it with us!
Post by Hanna Paulouskaya, Postdoctoral Researcher in the “Our Mythical Childhood” Project
Pictures – courtesy of the School. We wish to thank also the UW Office of Research Administration for the contact with this School.
Every Wednesday, a Seminar within the Our Mythical Childhood project takes place at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw. The Seminar on December 12, 2018 was a special one, for it was joined by our colleagues from the Cluster The Past for the Present – International Research and Educational Programme, created by the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” UW, Dipartimento di Storia Culture Civiltà and Dipartimento di Filologia Classica e Italianistica of the Università di Bologna, and Fakultät für Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, in May 2017.
The Seminar began with a presentation of the invited guests and regular participants – the students of the Faculty’s curricula: Cultural Studies – Mediterranean Civilization, Artes Liberales, and PhD programmes. The University of Bologna was represented by Prof. Giovanna Alvoni, the University of Munich – by Prof. Markus Janka and his assistant Raimund Fichtel, the University of Vienna – by Dr. Sonja Schreiner, and, last but not least, there were also two members of the OMC team from the University of Roehampton: Dr. Sonya Nevin and Steve K. Simons, and Ulrich Rausch – a German magician and author of educational spectacles. Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak started with the introduction of the Seminar’s main topic: Caesar and particularly the biography of Caesar in the context of the reception theme in the cultural texts for young audiences.
The main presentation was given by Dr. Sonja Schreiner who showed to the participants a sample of relevant illustrated books: among the images there were some illustrations of Caesar painting graffiti, Caesar playing soccer, and even Caesar ordering hamburger in Latin.
Dr. Schreiner presented also some books about slavery in ancient times. The participants discussed the presence and the importance of this motif in the reception aimed at youth.
Furthermore, Dr. Schreiner discussed also the following books: Frank Schwieger’s Ich, Caesar, und die Bande vom Kapitol, Heinz Parigger’s Caesar und die Fäden der Macht, Carl Lindber’s Caesar: Ein Leben für Roms Macht und Glanz. The presentation by Dr. Schreiner is available here.
Next Dr. Sonya Nevin talked about a book from the famous UK series “Ladybird Histories”, with a whole spread dedicated to Caesar, his image also on the book cover:
Dr. Nevin presented also the picturebook Questions and Answers about Long Ago:
Then, Prof. Markus Janka gave the participants some information about a recent theatrical drama staged at Deutsches Theater Berlin: Rom (nach Coriolan, Julius Cäsar und Antonius und Cleopatra von William Shakespeare), dir. Karin Henkel.
Next, Prof. Marciniak showed some theatrical posters featuring Caesar from the Polish School of Posters. Dr. Hanna Paulouskaya gave a brief talk about illustrations for Belarussian books about Caesar published in 1934, 1943, and 1954. Then, Agnieszka Maciejewska, a PhD student in the Our Mythical Childhood project who is working on Cleopatra in children’s literature, discussed a book by Alain Surget and Fabrice Parme from their series “Children of the Nile”, entitled Caesar, Who’s He? The general discussion that followed was joined by other scholars and students.
In the evening the Cluster members and invited guests attended the concert Many Languages of Music by Rafał Janiak from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music:
The concert was organized by the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music and the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” UW / Cluster The Past for the Present and took place in the Ball Room of the Tyszkiewicz-Potocki Palace UW. The Master of Ceremonies was Krzysztof Korwin-Piotrowski – TV, musical, and film director and a lecturer at our Faculty. Rafał Janiak, a laureate of numerous prizes and grants, is a young composer and conductor. Recently, he won an opera composition competition organized by the Teatr Wielki in Łódź. The Jury chaired by Prof. Krzysztof Penderecki awarded the Grand Prix in a unanimous vote. In addition, the composer won the audience award. The premiere of the opera Człowiek z Manufaktury [The Man from Manufaktura] will take place in 2019.
Post prepared by Katarzyna Marciniak & Elżbieta Olechowska with the use of the report about the Seminar written by Tomasz Kunicki-Goldfinger, PhD-student from the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” UW
Emilia Dziubak (b. 1982) is a Polish illustrator. She graduated from the University of Fine Arts in Poznań. Her works are highly praised both in the country and abroad. In November 2018 Emilia Dziubak published her picturebook “Niezwykłe przyjaźnie. W świecie roślin i zwierząt” [Amazing Friendships. Among the Plants and Animals; Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Nasza Księgarnia]:
The protagonist of the book is a cat called Homer:
One day Homer departs for his “odyssey” in search for friends. He meets many interesting plants and animals who are able to live in symbiosis and support each other (in various, not always easy, ways). On his journey he even encounters… a labyrinth of the ants and is presented with many more surprises:
Emilia Dziubak draws on the classical tradition in a very subtle way. The name of the Poet and the motif of the travel permit her to create a beautifully illustrated story with educational value, both in regard to learning biology by her young readers (with all the shades of the laws of Nature) and to discovering by them the importance of friendship. At the end there can be only a happy end, of course:-). Homer gets back to his “Ithaca”, that however, unlike the island of Odysseus, is a realm of peace and happiness, because of the friends awaiting him there. The source of joy results to be the willingness to support each other and spend time together:
“Nić Ariadny: Mity i labirynty” (“Ariadne’s Thread: Myths and Labyrinths”) by Jan Bajtlikis a Polish children’s book published by Wydawnictwo Dwie Siostry (specialising in artistic projects) in October 2018.
“Nić Ariadny” is a big format book, similar to the “Mapy” (“Maps”, 2012) by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielińscy or “Pszczoły” (“The Book of Bees”, 2014) and “Drzewa” (“The Book of Trees”, 2018) by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski (also published by Wydawnictwo Dwie Siostry). In “Nić Ariadny” two great ideas meet: one is a presentation of the classical world, both mythical and historical, in an attractive graphic form. The other is a popular form of activity (not only in children’s books) in which one must draw the way through a maze.
Each two-page spread in the first part of the book is dedicated to another topic from ancient Greek mythology or history: the Twelve Labours of Heracles, the Labyrinth of Crete, the Palace of Knossos, ancient beasts, Argonauts’ quest for the Golden Fleece, Trojan War, Odysseus’ journeys, the Acropolis of Athens, and Greek theatre, among others. The latter part includes some brief encyclopaedia-like entries explaining the most important characters, terms, and events.
Also Wydawnictwo Dwie Siostry published – as a gadget – a newspaper-like promotional publication, entitled “Greckie Fakty” (“Greek Facts”). The name and graphic form is a clear reference to the Polish tabloid “Fakt” (similar to British “The Sun” and German “Bild”); the “articles” are short versions of “Nić Ariadny” – they invite us in an attractive and funny way to read the book: the headlines of the “news” are, for example, the following: “Is Tartarus Appropriate for Children? Uranus Doesn’t Comment”; “No Progress in Sisyphus’ Work”; “Thrilling News from Crete: He Entered the Labyrinth – and Survived!”.
“Nić Ariadny” is not only an activity-book, but it also contains many facts about ancient Greece usually absent in children’s literature, such as information about the dance (γερανός, geranos) linked with Theseus or the image of Medusa as a flying creature with monstrous face (as she was presented on some Greek vases). It is worth mentioning that Jan Bajtlik used the help of a historian of Antiquity Prof. Marek Węcowski from the Department of Ancient History of the Institute of History, University of Warsaw.
Sometimes while looking for the examples of reception in children’s culture I tend to look too far away from the pretty obvious cases. My latest discovery was made by accident when I was googling ‘Cerberus Cartoon’. This discovery have opened the door not necessarily to Hades, but certainly to the world full of Antiquity: American cartoon series brimming with ancient concepts, heroes, beasts… In the next few posts I would like to present some of those examples, in my opinion worth recommendation: firstly, for wonderful examples of reception – as such, and as a lot of fun, according to the intention of the creators.
First example would be It’s All Greek to Scooby directed by Russell Calabrese, from the TV-series What’s New Scooby-Doo? (2002–2006). In this episode Mystery Inc. goes to Greece just for vacation, but unfortunately – the work follows them. As usual they have to solve a case of a disguised villain. This time it is the mythical centaur harassing an archaeologist who looks for the lost city of Atlantis. To defeat the monster, the members of Mystery Inc. dress up as mythical beasts: Minotaur, Medusa, hydra, Cyclops and – Cerberus. The concept of defeating a mythical monster, in a way – by its own weapon (fighting “monster with monster”), reminds me of the strategy of facing your own fears by making them less scary, making fun of them, deconstructing them, and uncovering their true nature. At the end, Cerberus is just a human in a costume. But it does not mean that Atlantis is not real.
If you walk up to any child or teen anywhere in the United States and ask them to tell you the story of the Odyssey, they will all tell the exact same story. A hero named Odysseus goes on a long sea voyage. Along the way, he encounters monsters, usually a man-eating Cyclops and a group of fishtailed sirens, and he defeats them. Odysseus might also meet a witch who falls in love with him and tries to keep him on her island. In the end, he arrives home and is reunited with his wife.
While this story initially seems like a reasonable version of the Odysseus myth, on closer inspection it is not the story preserved in Homer’s Odyssey. At best, it represents about four books (9–12) out of the twenty-four books of Homer’s epic. The Odysseus in the US story is alone on his voyage and almost never has children or allies waiting for his return. His home only appears as a goal, whereas in Homer’s epic half of the narrative actually takes place on Ithaca. The US version of the Odyssey is not Homer’s Odyssey; it is a transformed version of the classical myth that is still an active part of American oral culture.
I am the primary investigator on a research study called the Living Odyssey Project: Greek Myth in 21st Century Folklore that uses anthropological data gathering techniques to quantify and describe modern transformed myths. I have chosen to use Odysseus’ nostos as a case study because its features are easily identifiable. In the project’s first stage, I am collecting quantitative data through survey to describe the myth’s modern North American form. The project surveys children between the ages of ten and thirteen. American children of this age have a solid grounding in their own oral culture, but have usually not read or studied Homer’s Odyssey. Therefore, any aspects of the myth that they recognize will be familiar from their own local tradition, not the ancient text.
Participating children are asked to identify any familiar creatures, characters, and gods from the Odysseus story as it can be constructed from ancient sources. The survey was developed in conjunction with two cultural anthropologists, Carolyn Behrman and Isa Rodriguez-Soto of University of Akron, and beta-tested with a group of 42 children between the ages of ten and eleven. In fall of 2017, a team of 17 undergraduates from the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and I conducted a wide study of the school population in Champaign and Urbana, IL.
So far, the results of the survey match my hypothesis. Around 20% of the children surveyed recognize most of the creatures mentioned in Odyssey books 9–12, with the exception of the Laestrygonians, Scylla, and Charybidis. That number increases to 48% for the sirens, and 75% for the Cyclops. However, only 29% of children surveyed recognized the name Polyphemus. It is possible that participants may recognize descriptions or images of Scylla and Charybidis. The two appear in children’s television shows produced in North America, but are not named.
Nearly all of the gods who appear in Homer’s epic were familiar to participants, with the exception of Eos and the sea goddess Leucothea. However, since the gods are a major part of many myths, participants might know them from multiple contexts, not just the Odysseus myth. At least 20% of survey participants were familiar with the minor goddesses/witches Calypso and Circe, as well as the lotus-eaters. The only other characters to achieve that level of recognition were Odysseus himself, Penelope, and Helen. A cursory survey of American children’s media suggests that Helen is present in today’s oral and popular culture as an extension of her long-time role as the personification of beauty, but the matter needs further study.
At this stage of the survey, it is impossible to draw many firm conclusions about the transmission of the myth, but some correlations do emerge. All of the children who knew the name Polyphemus had also read the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, or seen the movie versions of the first two books. The type of school that the children attended did not affect their level of familiarity with the myth, although their age did. Older children showed a greater familiarity with all aspects of the myth related to the wanderings of Odysseus, although they did not show any greater knowledge of the other portions of the myth present in Homer’s epic.
Finally, I would like to conclude with a request for help. I have complied a list of English juvenile and young adult novels that are inspired by Greek mythology that I am offering to participants as an incentive to take the survey. I would be happy to provide the list to anyone who is interested and would be grateful if you would email me any titles that I may have omitted. My email address is email@example.com.
Prepared by Krishni Burns (University of Illinois Chicago)
In the previous part, I outlined that a pre-occupation with rigid stylistic categories might hinder creative thinking. In this part, I explore the possibility of a bold and beautiful combination of images and stories from different timeframes, cultures and geographical locations.
A striking and recurrent theme of Classical Mythology is the propensity of mythical actors to transform themselves. The quintessential god of transformations is, of course, Dionysos, the god whose many roles include that of god of wine. In one peculiar incident known from ancient texts and art, Dionysos sails away while pirates turn into dolphins and the mast of his ship into a vine. Transformations are characterised by swift and continuous action. Indeed, in the book Dionysos, the Merry God (my translation) by Filippos Mandilaras (author) and Natalia Kapatsoulia (illustrator) from 2013, Dionysos’ life is characterised by incessant movement, including travel to and from distant lands.
Recent museum exhibitions about polychromy – the colours, patterns and metal attachments that adorned the sculptures in Antiquity – have helped us to revise the story of Classical art and to move away from Winckelmann’s ideas about Classical beauty, especially the simplicity and purity associated with white marble. For children and adult learners polychromy offers multiple opportunities for creative thinking. Polychromous statues are aligned more with the art and consumer goods of western societies, as is also implied in the recent thought-provoking exhibition The Classical Now. Reconstructions of painted statues, with their kitsch and quasi-plastic looks, negate idealisation and hierarchies of value. Learners are also prompted to think about different colour combinations in educational museum activities.
More remarkably perhaps, when statues’ colour palettes and patterns mismatch in a bold way, polychromy creates a new aesthetic principle. The idea of a mismatch or blend, moreover, may allow for the marrying of the styles of the Classical world with incongruent elements from cultural assemblages in far-away places. The lithographs and etchings of New Zealand artist Marian Maguire, for example, exhibit a fine blending of ancient Greek culture with that of colonial New Zealand. Earlier this summer Maguire exhibited works that show Greek goddesses. The style of these works is reminiscent of Greek vase painting. Their meaning, however, reflects (post)modern concerns about the established status quo. Athena, for example, looks as if she is fed up with her militaristic role that supports imperialism. She wants to remove her armour and walk away from her role:
It was during this year’s OMC workshops in Warsaw that I was prompted further to combine images of Classical artefacts with contemporary material culture from outside the Classical world. I was inspired by Divine Che Neba’s presentation about people-object interactions in today’s Cameroon. Professor Che Neba’s slides included photographs of: traditional mud huts with cone-shaped thatched roofs (Fig. 11); and wooden and beaded souvenirs, most of them bearing eye-catching colours, such as bright yellow, red orange and deep blue (Fig. 12). The strong colour contrasts reminded me of polychromy in Greek sculpture:
I produced a sketch drawing that blended (mis)matching artefacts from Greek and Cameroonian cultures:
I copied images from Professor Che Neba’s slides and from illustrations of Greek archaeological finds in two guide books for adult learners by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens: Pots and Pans of Classical Athens by Brian A. Sparkes and Lucy Talcott (1959, Fig. 14); and Amphoras and the Ancient Wine Trade by Virginia R. Grace (1979, Fig. 15):
My drawing presents a collage of disparate entities in terms of style, size, materials, and, of course, provenances. To some extent, Cameroonian and Greek material culture seem to be blending into one another, potentially calling for a combination of their respective mythologies. Such a combination is possible as an intellectual exercise because of mythical actors’ transformative powers and capacity to travel long distances. If children find ancient (and modern) myths fascinating, it is precisely because mythical characters can find a way to use Chian transport amphorae in a Cameroonian mud hut.
I close this reflective blog posting with a call for illustrated children’s books to embrace also the creative blending of material cultures and of mythical stories from different parts of the world. The art history and archaeology of museum exhibits could be a starting point for producing new (artistic) designs that, like mythical actors, step out of time and space and challenge the very essence of stylistic unity. If we teach the Classical world in a way that encourages a sense of innovation, then we may shape the founders of tomorrow’s start-ups with products that will change the world. More crucially, children will learn from a young age to think outside the box and embrace the bold and the beautiful in a way that breaks down the boundaries between the present and the past, the real and the imaginary and, surely, Greek and Cameroonian material culture.
Katerina is currently teaching modules on Classical art and archaeology at the University of Roehampton.
Elaborated by Dorota Bazylczyk
I am grateful to Susan Deacy, Michael Loy, Katarzyna Marciniak, and Amy C. Smith for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this blog posting. For images, I would like to thank Divine Che Neba, Eirini Dermitzaki, Marian Maguire, Anja Slawisch, Carol Stein, and Peter Stewart. All URLs are correct as at 21 August 2018.
 – https://www.epbooks.gr/product/100537/dionysos,-the-cheerful-god and http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/154
Blog for the international research project "Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges", financed by the ERC Consolidator Grant led by Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak, Faculty of "Artes Liberales" of the University of Warsaw. Team members: Dr. Susan Deacy, Dr. Sonya Nevin and Steve K. Simons, University of Roehampton; Dr. Elizabeth Hale and Dr. Miriam Riverlea, University of New England; Dr. Lisa Maurice and Dr. Ayelet Peer, Bar-Ilan University; Prof. Daniel A. Nkemleke, Dr. Divine Che Neba and Dr. Eleanor A. Dasi, University of Yaoundé I; Magdalena Gorlińska, Dr. Elżbieta Olechowska, Dr. Hanna Paulouskaya, Dr. Karolina Kulpa, Dr. Edoardo Pecchini, Dorota Bazylczyk, Agnieszka Maciejewska, and Anna Mik from the Faculty of "Artes Liberales" UW.