In the Spotlight. A Look at an Interactive ebook “Medea in Performance”

Medea in Performance is an interactive ebook created by Fiona Macintosh, Claire Kenward, and Tom Wrobel, with illustrations by Thom Cuschieri. Released in 2016, it is a multimedia library of images, films, interviews and digital objects to tell the story of Euripides’ Medea (see http://www.apgrd.ox.ac.uk/ebooks-medea). Materials used in the ebook come from the collection of APGRD (Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama, http://www.apgrd.ox.ac.uk/) based at the University of Oxford. The ebook is intended especially for students and teachers.

Cover [source]
(accessed: 13 January 2021)

Although Euripides’ play was first staged 2,500 years ago, it still remains a source of inspiration: “Like all myths, no two versions of the Medea story are quite the same – and there are many versions” [1]. Even though this protagonist is widely recognized as a monstrous mother, various threads of Medea’s story have been highlighted by the ebook’s authors. Broad outlook at character is especially visible in performative arts.

Inside the book [source]
(accessed: 13 January 2021)

The ebook is a helpful guide to various interpretations of Euripides’ play. In one place it collects sources and research, historical photographs and information on performances from different parts of the world. It shows not only what Medea is, but what she has become through reinterpretations.

A short video about ebook history, featuring APGRD Director, Fiona Macintosh is available on YouTube:

The ebook version is available for free on Apple Books (https://books.apple.com/gb/book/medea-a-performance-history/id1085751260). Also a free EPUB version is available to download from the APGRD website http://www.apgrd.ox.ac.uk/ebooks-medea (accessed: 13 January 2021).


Post prepared by Zuzanna Majorczyk, 3rd year of Collegium Artes Liberales, for the Our Mythical Childhood Seminar

[1] Fiona Macintosh, Claire Kenward, Tom Wrobel, “Medea in Performance” (APGRD, 2016), 96, http://www.apgrd.ox.ac.uk/ebooks-medea.

“Mythical Beasts Masks” by Gavin Rutherford & Tanya Batrak

Happy New Year 2021! Thank you for being with us all year round! 🙂

The carnival period will begin soon around the world and we’ve found something great for this occasion – to enjoy safely at home! We present to you our latest discovery – 3D “Mythical Beasts Masks” created by Gavin Rutheford and Tanya Batrak, published by Ivy Press (2018):

Inside the book there are 10 mythical beast masks to print out and make! You can choose between a dragon, phoenix, basilisk, griffin, werewolf, unicorn, vampire, the Sphinx, a mermaid or Hydra. To introduce young readers to the world of myths and legends, the authors decided to include short, informative paragraphs introducing each creature.

Post elaborated by Dorota Rejter

“Shine Your Magic Torch: Magical Creatures and Mythical Beasts” by Professor Byron & Millie Mortimer

Our latest discovery is an interactive book titled “Shine Your Magic Torch: Magical Creatures and Mythical Beasts”, published in October 2020 by Magic Cat Publishing (reading level: 7-10 years old). The book is written by Professor Byron Mortimer and his daughter Millie. Illustrations were created by Victo Ngai“Forbes Under 30 2020: Art & Style” honoree and gold medalist of “Society of Illustrators New York”:

Book cover [source]

The book focuses primarily on the illustrations. It presents 18 real-life locations from around the world with hidden magical creatures that are revealed only after using the UV flashlight included with the book. Every location is briefly described, concentrating on the monsters appearing in it and its history. For example, in the forests around the Harz Mountains we read about the unicorn:

Many famous people from history apparently met unicorns, including the Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan and the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar.

It appears in relation to the De Bello Gallico 6, 26ff. where Caesar describes a series of three strange creatures that appear in the Hercynian Forest in Germany. (Find out more about “The Curious Animals of the Hercynian Forest” in the article written by Walter Woodburn Hyde and published in “The Classical Journal”, Vol. 13, No. 4, Jan., 1918, pp. 231-245 – link)

A Sprinkling of Magic – one of the chapters from the book where children meet the Unicorn [source]

In the preview of the book we can see that children can also visit Greece and meet Chimera and the goddess Athena with an owl:

Magical Creatures and Mythical Beasts
Preview of the book [source]

Post prepared by Dorota Rejter

“Abi in malem cursem”: The Latin of Magic in “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” – a BA Thesis by Alessia Borriello

Alessia Borriello is a student from the Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies at the University of Bologna. She accomplished her Erasmus training within the Our Mythical Childhood project at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, in the 1st term of the academic year 2019/2020.

Our Mythical Childhood Christmas Meeting at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” UW

Ever since Alessia has been in touch with us and at the moment she is preparing within the OMC project a game for children, with illustrations by her colleague Ludovica Lusvardi, student at Politecnico di Milano, Fashion Design. Alessia also writes books of fiction. Her novel “Blu e le streghe” [“Blu and the Witches”] was a finalist in the Italian Literary Contest Zeno 2019:

45′ Reception:  “Blu e le streghe” [“Blu and the Witches”] by Alessia Borriello

Recently Alessia defended at her Alma Mater her Bachelor Thesis about the Latin spells in the Netflix web series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – supervisor: Prof. Lucia Pasetti, reviewer: Prof. Daniele Tripaldi. Below we present you Alessia’s abstract of her research. I nostri complimenti!

Sabrina and Salem, [source].

Abstract:

The research collects and analyzes the Latin spells in the Netflix web series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018–ongoing). To introduce the topic (ch. 1), the television series is presented as functioning within a particular communication system: it is an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name and a reboot of the Archie Comicscharacter Sabrina from 1962. Ch. 2 analyzes some aspects of ancient magic, with a particular focus on cross-references provided in the Netflix web series, namely, the ancient Graeco-Roman defixiones (curses) (§2.2), and the interplay between ancient magic and prayer (§2.3). Next, comes a discussion of the Latin incantations divided into two parts: a quantitative analysis, which facilitates understanding of the frequency and distribution of Latin formulas and their relation to the English ones, and a qualitative one, offering a detailed treatment of individual, significant cases.

The quantitative analysis (ch. 3) arranges the spells into typological and linguistic subgroups according to: 1. the types of magic present in the lore created for the series, and 2. a linguistic categorization of ancient Latin defixiones developed by the German scholar Amina Kropp (2008).

The quantitative analysis shows that the Latin incantations are preferred to the English ones, and this tendency follows two main criteria: the degree to which an individual spell is generic, and the overall inherent ‘magical power’ of Latin.

Finally, ch. 4 provides a linguistic analysis of a sample of two of the most frequently used types of incantation: §4.1 Aufforderungsformel mit der Einbindung des Empfängers (‘wish formula with the involvement of the addressee’); §4.2 direkte Adressierung des defixus (‘direct addressing to the defixus’).

A more detailed assessment of the Latin phrases reveals that these spells are pastiches created from distorted Latin expressions and usages of non-literary Latin, coloured by loanwords from poetic memory, as well as from the Bible. This traditional material is also filtered through modern tools, available on the Internet, such as contemporary e-books of Latin spells (Carl Nagel 1986) or the Google Translate platform itself, with which modern languages speakers can produce approximate translations from and into Latin.

It is also possible to trace the origin of the deviations from standard Latin, both to the genre of the magical writing of the defixiones, characterized by a distorted application of Latin morphology and syntax, and to ‘translationalism’, semantic diffraction and grammar mistakes influenced by English usage, the mother tongue of creators and speakers of this fictitious Latin.

The research is original: there are no other studies on Latin in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (neither on its formal characteristics nor on its sources in ancient magical culture).

Diploma and corona laurea

Alessia defending her thesis (a remote defense due to the pandemic situation)

Abstract by Alessia Borriello. Introduction by Katarzyna Marciniak and Dorota Rejter. Post elaborated by Dorota Rejter

Publication of the Book “Chasing Mythical Beasts…”

We are most pleased to share the good news with you: The volume “Chasing Mythical Beasts: The Reception of Ancient Monsters in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture” edited by Katarzyna Marciniak has just been published by the Universitätsverlag Winter Heidelberg. The book summarizes the results of the stage of the “Our Mythical Childhood” programme, carried out as part of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award and ERC Consolidator Grant.

We keep publishing the previews of the single chapters on the Facebook and Twitter profiles of the Centre for Studies on the Classical Tradition (OBTA) and on the OMC social media.

Table of contents

For more OMC publications please check our updates here.

Post by Olga Strycharczyk

“Roads to Rome” Family Game (2020)

“Roads to Rome” is a new family board game designed by Matthieu Podevin and illustrated by Joëlle Drans, recently published in Poland by GRANNA publishing company. The game was originally published in France by Holy Grail Games.

The official age range of the game is 8+ and the amount of players can be between 2-5 people.

Cover of the game

The rules of the game are very simple – each player becomes a member of one of the richest families of ancient Rome, trying to win by creating a network of roads connecting Rome with the rest of the world. What is really interesting, all city names visible on the board correspond to their authentic names in the era of the Roman Empire. Also the connections between the cities did exist during Roman times – to recreate them, Matthieu Podevin was using the project called “ORBIS”, created by Professor Walter Scheidel (a historian from the Stanford University).

Main board of “Roads to Rome” [source]
Players boards [source]
Quick play for two players

See more:

Granna’s official website – link

“Roads to Rome” on Boardgame Geek – link

Post by Dorota Rejter

Replaying “Hades” by Karol Popow

Karol Popow is MA student at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, member of the ALEA game research group, lifelong games passionate.

The games, unlike the previous media, have one major difference – they are interactive. Digital entertainment audiences have moved from interpassive reading or viewing to acting as reception. Reading games means playing them. At the same time, the digital form of leisure has created new research opportunities in areas such as the reception of Classical Antiquity. The key interactive features of games have a profound effect on the worlds and characters that the games represent. They are habitable thanks to the involvement of the players. So to find how Antiquity exists in games, it is necessary not only to describe the creators’ vision of it, but also the way the player inhabits and uses Antiquity.

Hades – Launch Trailer

Hades (Supergiant Games, 2020) is a recent game situated in the realm of Greek mythology. It fits in the rougelite genre – the player controls the character, crawls throughout a dungeon in runs lasting about 30 minutes, kills monsters, collects loot and treasures lasting for one run, and permanent power ups the avatar. In Hades, the mechanics of rougelite are explained by mythological narratives, especially the reverse katabasis motif. Instead of getting to the Underworld, the player-controlled character Zagreus (here: a son of the God of Hades) tries to escape from the deepest floors of Tartarus. Thus, the first and most comprehensive narrative use of Antiquity in Hades is twisted, but also it retains its basic meaning. To get to the Underworld, or in this case to escape from Hades, you need to show your skills, tame the Unknown and, most importantly, prove yourself. A chance only possible in games – play the katabasis, not just read or watch. There is also an analogy to the labyrinth motif. The state of the Underworld, upgrades, enemies, and even the rank of challenge are created randomly each time a player starts a new run. Hades uses a reverse katabasis mixed with escaping a mythical maze as a reason to take gameness seriously, and the game does it really well.

Hades [source]

Another way Hades plays with Antiquity is through its relationship with gods, heroes, and mythological monsters. They were traditionally symbols of divine and sacred powers, and in particular the gods were worshiped by mortals. In this example, the monsters remain as obstacles to be overcome (killed) by the player, and the gods and heroes, like in the case of katabasis, change appearances while revealing deeper meanings. Firstly, some of them represent the forces of nature. Poseidon rules the water, Zeus restrains the lightning. But the vision of the Hades creators stands out mostly when they present the gods like Athena, Aphrodite, and Dionysus not only as mythical figures, but also interesting game mechanical features. Thus, the goddess of wisdom endows Zagreus with defensive skills, while the other two gods weaken his enemies. If we consider Greek mythology as a set of stories explaining the world to the ancient people, we can take the classic themes in Hades not only as justifying the existence of this game-world, but also as an opportunity to enrich the player’s iteration with this world and make understandable his agency in it. The Hades mythology is not only knowledge of the world. It is part of the gameplay, mechanics, and narrative design. Mythology constitutes this world and belongs to it. Hades uses the gods as helpers to the main character, not just totemic idols. This is much closer to the ancient perception of the interference of divine powers than we imagine it today.

Poseidon [source]

Finally, the game developed by Supergiant is huge and ambitious, proving that pop culture can create new visual, literary and aural representations of Greek mythology. Each character living in the world of Hades has a unique portrait, iconography, and complete professional VoiceOver. They are so well written that create convincing illusions of living entities: watching them gossip, fight, and shout over each other is pure fun. Additionally, Hades offers to the players a coherent in-game chronicle of the Underworld, written by Achilles. Developed as the game progresses, this is an excellent example of the literary interpretation of the ancient tradition experienced by the player throughout the game. Musically, the game is also excellent. The Hades soundtrack’s composer Darren Korb uses electronics, orchestral music, and even heavy metal riffs to create a composition that is energetic and nostalgic when needed, but above all memorable. The level design of the world allows players to run around the crypts of the Tartarus, the fiery Periphlegeton pools in Asphodel, the Elysian Fields, and even a step into the void of Chaos. Paradoxically, the world of the dead has never been so alive before. All this indicates that the ancient aesthetic sense of beauty can be conveyed by modern means.

Hades – Good Riddance (Eurydice Solo feat. Ashley Barrett)
Hades – Lament of Orpheus

Replaying Hades is to be constantly torn by the need to flee the Underworld and the desire to stay there to discover one more reference, one more fun dialogue, another deadly weapon combo. This game presents a great opportunity – only available in the form of electronic entertainment – to inhabit and fall in love with this world. The Supergiant Games’ vision is an extraordinary achievement in literature, art, sound, and game mechanics, but most importantly, Hades proves that ancient tradition could and should seek new media to live on. This is an opportunity to reach new audiences, especially young people, and show them the beauty of Classical Antiquity in their native language, the language of the game. After all, replaying Hades is just fun as hell.

Blog post prepared by Karol Popow & elaborated by Dorota Rejter

For ALEA see https://www.facebook.com/ALEAUW, contact: alea.kn@uw.edu.pl.

For more on the games and the Classics see the volume edited by Christian Rollinger, Classical Antiquity in Video Games: Playing with the Ancient World, London: Bloomsbury, 2020.

“Galatea Text Game” by Paweł Machnik

The video game titled Galatea was created by the British author Emily Short. To further illustrate her creative process, we can say that the game was indeed written because it is a text game without graphic effects. When it comes to using the reception of the ancient tradition, the author refers to the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.

The game is aimed at young adults & adults and it may contain content inappropriate for children.

Galatea.thumbnail.jpg
“Galatea” cover [source]
The opening screen of the game [source]

The action of the game begins during the opening of an AI (Artificial Intelligence) exhibition. The player notices Galatea who is placed on a pedestal with an information plaque. She is illuminated by spotlights and wears an emerald dress.[1] The player’s task will be to talk to her:

A conversation with a work of art. “47. Galatea. White Thasos marble. Non-commissioned work by the late Pygmalion of Cyprus. (The artist has since committed suicide.) Originally not an animate. The waking of this piece from its natural state remains unexplained.” [source]

At a certain point, when the player is about to leave, Galatea says, “They told me you would come”. From now the development of the story can take various scenarios that will depend on the player’s decisions expressed via words and actions.[2] The author of the game created 70 different endings and there are hundreds of ways to achieve these endings.

Emily Short at “Digital Cultures ” 2018 talking about “Galatea” and her other creations

Galatea has been awarded numerous awards:

  1. Best of Show, Portrait – 2000 IF Art Show
  2. Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual NPC –2000 XYZZY Awards
  3. 16th Place – Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2011 edition)
  4. 41st Place – Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2015 edition)
  5. 4th Place – Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)
  6. Honorable Mention – The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)

See more:

  1. “Galatea” text game – link
  2. Emily Short’s blog – link
  3. Galatea, in: Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia – link
  4. “Galatea” in “Electronic literature collection” volume one – link

Post written by Paweł Machnik, MA student of the Cultural Studies – Mediterranean Civilization, participant in the Grant Seminar Our Mythical Childhood at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw

Post elaborated by Dorota Rejter

“Atlas – a Symbol of Respect: Part 2” by Beatrice Palmieri

Beatrice Palmieri is a student from the Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies at the University of Bologna. She accomplished her Erasmus training within the Our Mythical Childhood project at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, in the 2nd term of the academic year 2019/2020, during the lockdown. She contributed to our new initiative for the pandemic times (and hopefully for later, too) Find the Force (see Colora le Muse). For the Part 1 of her text on Atlas see here.


The Atlas myth is present in today’s culture perhaps more than we imagine. Before even mentioning the world of culture, it is enough to consider how we are made, since our body already contains a suggestion: in fact, the first vertebra of the spine that connects our skeleton to the skull is called atlas. According to a fairly intuitive metaphor, our head, seat of our thoughts, dreams, and the nodal point of our exchange with the world around us, is compared to the globe that Atlas supports with the strength of his arms alone. This image, perhaps precisely because it touches us so closely and is a real and common experience, makes us think well about the great responsibility assumed by this small vertebra which bears a weight that is as tiring as it is essential:

800px-C1_lateral
Atlas [source].

If we move from human anatomy to geography, we will easily see how the myth of Atlas has left an indelible mark in this area too. According to Ovid’s version, Perseus, after fighting against the Gorgon, sought rest in the region of Hesperia, where the Titan Atlas reigned. Since he did not appear hospitable, Perseus showed him the head of the Medusa and Atlas petrified turning into a mighty mountain “and the whole sky with its innumerable stars rested on him”: thus Mount Atlas was born, a mountain range that extends for about two thousand five hundred kilometres the length of North-Western Africa:

Gorges_du_dades05
Mount Atlas [source].

Its location can be easily verified by opening any geographical atlas, and you will immediately notice how it too owes its name to the son of the Titan Iapetus: this is because Gerardo Mercatore decided to put on the title page of the first collection of geographical maps, published in Rome in 1595, the image of Atlas, bent and fully committed to supporting the world. From that moment on, the term “atlas” defines all the collections of geographical maps in general, on which children and adults learn about formation of the world in which we live, characteristics of the land we inhabit, both as individuals and as mankind:

Mercator_Atlas_1595_page_5_main_frontispiece (1)
Frontispiece di Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura [source].

Finally, wanting to move on to the reception of the myth in a more strictly cultural, literary and cinematographic context, we note how this is re-examined in a less literal way compared to how it is taken up by the areas previously mentioned. The figure of Atlas is reinterpreted through different lenses which often have in common the portraying of the Titan in the act of releasing the grip, a sort of alternative and possible ending that no ancient author had shown us before. Take for example the TV series Pollon, taken from the Japanese manga of the same name: wandering through the lands of ancient Greece, the little daughter of Apollo runs into the immense figure of Atlas intent on supporting the sky. Intrigued by the strange occupation of the god, Pollon begins to converse with him and learns of his eternal condemnation. Moved, she intends to hold the sky in place for a moment but is crushed by the enormous weight of the sky:

The episode is thus structured in a series of tests which Pollon is subjected to by Zeus, who punishes her for causing such serious damage. A similar episode is found in a comic book published in Corriere dei Piccoli dating from 1978, Piccolo Zeus, created by the writer and screenwriter Sergio Crivellaro. The great saga tells of the adventures of Piccolo Zeus that follow one another in an ironic plot halfway between classical mythology and different genres (superheroes, souls, science fiction, etc.), in which the theme of Titanomachy is taken up among many others. The first opponent of Piccolo Zeus is in fact Titan, escaped from his prison – an asteroid of Tartarus, with whom, however, unlike the Hesiodic plot, he allies himself to defeat various opponents who will gradually present themselves along their way. The first of their adventures as allies has to do with Atlas: the evil Ares kicked the giant causing the fall of the celestial vault that it supported (consistent with the classical tradition). The two friends therefore work to put Atlas back on his feet and thus restore his initial balance:

pzeus33
Fragment of Piccolo Zeus [source].

Faced with these two simple examples, we have to ask the question: what would happen if Atlas really let go and the celestial vault collapsed on us? In both analyzed episodes, the Titan abandons his task due to an external force that temporarily relieves him from his sentence, but this exemption cannot last for a long time: that of Atlas is a drama and, at the same time, a necessity, and the Titan always returns to continue fulfilling his responsibility with acceptance and perseverance. And perhaps it is precisely this attitude that makes this myth resound still today, especially if one reads the current situation with a magnifying glass which is inspired by it: we mortals have tried to impose a violent dominion over nature and the cosmos, and now, almost as a counterpoint, precisely by that Nature that we were trying to invade, we are being punished, condemned to have to support a weight that is perhaps too big for us, but that affects us all. We have to remodel our habits, our being in the world, and to do this there was perhaps a need to reset everything, stop for a moment the frenetic rhythm in which we were immersed and moved almost by inertia, making an act of difficult sacrifice but necessary.

This time, perhaps, we need to learn to maintain a balance that is very subtle and delicate, and underlies the human condition: we must take care of our planet now, in this moment of difficulty and suspension, but above all when this situation will be over, what we learned is to persist, like Atlas, in keeping the balance we experienced as extremely fragile. Our current condition turns out to be dramatic in that it makes us confront our weaknesses, but at the same time it hides a necessary requirement: will we be able to welcome it and accept, as Atlas, with boldness and perseverance?

 

Post prepared by Beatrice Palmieri (Università di Bologna), placed by Dorota Rejter, intro by Katarzyna Marciniak. 

“Atlas – a Symbol of Respect: Part 1” by Beatrice Palmieri

Beatrice Palmieri is a student from the Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies at the University of Bologna – an institution that is our great friend and partner in many initiatives, incl. the Our Mythical Childhhood project and the Cluster: The Past for the Present. Beatrice came to the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, in February 2020 for her Erasmus training within the Our Mythical Childhood project. Despite the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, she managed to accomplish her training and all the classes successfully and she also contributed to our new initiative for the pandemic times (and hopefully for later, too) Find the Force, by preparing the Italian versions of the activities we are creating for children and their parents and tutors who search for entertaining education (see Colora le Muse). 

The present text on Atlas (in two parts) is a work written by Beatrice for the OMC Seminar, in the cycle entitled ambiguously Antiquity in Crisis: the students chose some motifs from mythology, ancient history, or philosophy and they reflected on their meaning in the current circumstances. Their papers show the potential of Classical Antiquity as a source of reflection, joy, and education – all most needed always, and when the world is in crisis – all the more so… 


Shortly before the world stopped, I had just left for what would later prove to be an extraordinary Erasmus, to say the least – in the true etymological sense of the term. Warsaw was the city I had chosen as a destination for this academic and life experience, and it was also the city that welcomed me during this very particular period.

fot. Mirosław Kaźmierczak (10)
Fot. Mirosław Kaźmierczak, (c) University of Warsaw

Generally, Erasmus thrives on the “physical” part, which has to do with moving, traveling, coming in contact with new people, and another more “spiritual” one, which sees us both exchanging experiences with others and dealing with ourselves and our fears and emotions: Erasmus at COVID-19’s times, however, was mainly about experiences of the second type. 

The suspension of the historical moment, living in a time that seems to have stopped, in which we no longer distinguish the days and things happen in a continuous and inseparable flow – perpetual being – lead us almost inevitably to consider our being in the world and the way we consider the value of time. And it is easy for the mind to wander in these eternal temporal flows that bind present to past; and where our thought could land, if not in the time of myth, timeless time par excellence? 

During a normal day of quarantine, I remembered that, as soon as I arrived in Warsaw with my family, we visited the Royal Castle in the Old Town.

Royal Castle in Warsaw Old Town [source]

In one of the many marvelous rooms, the statue of a man stood out, bent over himself, intent on holding up a globe of a bright, beautiful blue color. He was Atlas, I told my brother. I could not say why, but the image of that man, apparently so big, but at the same time so dignifiedly subjected to the weight of the delicate celestial sphere, touched me deeply. And that same chord sounded weeks later, when during the forced isolation in which the whole world found itself, it occurred to me that perhaps, at that moment, we were all a bit in the condition of Atlas. 

Warsaw on the lockdown (movie by Damian Popławski)

“The greatness of man lies for us in the fact that he carries his destiny as Atlas carried the celestial vault on his shoulders” – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

John Singer Sargent – Atlas and the Hesperides [source]

Hesiod, in Theogony, says that Atlas led the army of the Titans against Zeus, and the latter, after winning the war for the dominion of Olympus, punished him with an exemplary punishment: Atlas was condemned to support with only the strength of his arms the weight of the whole cosmos and the celestial vault. For a sort of retaliation, the one who had previously tried to perpetuate an unjust and cruel dominance – that of Cronos – is now forced to keep on his shoulders, under his responsibility, a delicate balance between values totally opposite to those he tried to preserve

Warszawa_Atlas
Pałac Tyszkiewiczów, University of Warsaw [source]

The cosmological role of his punishment is to keep Heaven and Earth separate avoiding a return to the primordial Chaos, that is, an absence of creation and, therefore, of values. Atlas then becomes a fundamental figure of balance and no longer disharmony, of care and no longer neglect, of welcome and no longer of brutal refusal, of acceptance and no longer disdainful rebellion. It is as if Zeus had wanted to give the possibility of redemption to him alone: Atlas is now a symbol of respect for the cosmos, because only he, with tireless strength, has the inescapable responsibility to bear on his shoulders that wonderful combination of energies that it is the union between starry Heaven and fertile Earth. 

fot. Mirosław Każmierczak (86)_©Uniwersytet Warszawski
Fot. Mirosław Kaźmierczak, (c) University of Warsaw

To be continued… 


Post prepared by Beatrice Palmieri (Università di Bologna), intro by Katarzyna Marciniak, placed by Dorota Rejter.