Dr. Katerina Volioti on the Visual Language of (Hesiod’s) Creation in Children’s Books

For the first time on Our Mythical Childhood Blog – a report by Dr. Katerina Volioti, University of Roehampton, from her research and dissemination venture. Katerina was educated at the Universities of Cambridge (BA in Archaeology & Anthropology), Oxford (MSc in Management), Humboldt (MA in Politics), and Reading (PhD in Classics), and she is a passionate educator.  

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

On Thursday 14 December, 2017, I travelled to Colchester, to the campus of the University of Essex to lead a ninety-minute session at the Centre for Myth Studies. These events form part of the Myth Reading Group, and they are organised by Dr. Pietra Palazzolo. My session was entitled The Visual Language of (Hesiod’s) Creation in Children’s Books, and it had two aims: firstly, to explore the place of the Theogony in ancient and modern culture; and secondly, to consider whether and how we can visualise creation myths with our mind’s eye. Both aims stem from my research for the international project Our Mythical Childhood, for which I investigate the educational and anthropological meaning of illustrations in books for preliterate children, aged four and above. Mythology’s role in education – in schools, universities, and museums – was also covered at the workshop Mythology & Education: History and Practice that I co-organised at Cambridge on 27 October 2017.

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Our Mythical Childhood is a five-year ERC-funded project led by Professor Katarzyna Marciniak, Faculty of “Artes Liberales,” University of Warsaw. Well into the second year of this project, there is excellent headway with writing entries on children’s literature in an open-access database, international conferences and workshops, and with specific endeavours. The latter include a multi-authored volume on mythology and national curricula by Dr. Lisa Maurice, five animations based on the Greek vases from the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw and prepared by Dr. Sonya Nevin and Steve Simons from the Panoply Vase Animation Project, Dr. Susan Deacy’s study on Autism and Classical Mythology, Dr. Elizabeth Hale’s Guide to children’s books inspired by Classical Antiquity, Dr. Elżbieta Olechowska’s volume on the reception of the Classics in recent TV series, Dr. Hanna Paulouskaya’s study on the use of mythology in Soviet cartoons, and two PhD dissertations by Dorota Bazylczyk and Anna Mik, with Dr. Karolina Kulpa’s involvement in the operation of the database.

 

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Our Mythical Childhood Team (photo from the international conference “Our Mythical Hope in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture… The (In)efficacy of Ancient Myths in Overcoming the Hardships of Life” at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” UW)

 

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Prior to the discussion session at the University of Essex, Dr. Palazzolo distributed three items to readers: an academic article about mythography in Antiquity (Ken Dowden, “Telling the Mythology: From Hesiod to the Fifth Century,” in Ken Dowden and Niall Livingstone, eds., A Companion to Greek Mythology, Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2014, 47–72); an extract from an illustrated book that is available online (Philippos Mandilaras, The Twelve Gods of Olympus, illustrated by Natalia Kapatsoulia, trans. by Alison Falkonakis, Athens: Papadopoulos Publishing, 2016); and my three-page handout with questions for discussion.

Natalia Kapatsoulia is a full time illustrator of children’s books, and author of one picture book about the bond between a child and a mother (Η μαμά πετάει [Mom wants to fly], Athens: Diaplasi, 2016). Kapatsoulia has illustrated dozens of books by Philippos Mandilaras, and their latest mythology book is about Aphrodite (Αφροδίτη, η θεά της ομορφιάς [Aphrodite, goddess of beauty], Athens: Papadopoulos Publishing, 2017). Earlier in her career, Kapatsoulia illustrated books by Eugenios Trivizas, the best-known Greek author of children’s and young adults’ literature with translations in many languages. Trivizas’ books include The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, London: Heinemann Young Books, 1993). Mandilaras’ and Kapatsoulia’s The Twelve Gods of Olympus is an extremely popular book and it has, so far, been translated also into French, German, Russian, and Spanish. This book makes mythology accessible to a wide and international audience, and, as with Trivizas’ work, opens up Greek children’s literature to the world. We had an extremely lively discussion by learned members of the Reading Group as well as by postgraduate students. In particular, we debated on the following five main points. Firstly, we contested the value of a distinction between telling a story and telling history, as implied by Classical scholarship that places Hesiod in a pre-Herodotan tradition. Secondly, we agreed on the salience of visual imagery in understanding how mythology relates to History, Archaeology, and Classical Art, but also to western modernity. For the latter, we watched President Obama’s speech before the Parthenon in Athens in November 2016, and we thought about the symbolic terms the President used, such as ‘civilisation,’ ‘humanity,’ and ‘democracy.’ Thirdly, we considered how mythographers, including Akousilaos of Argos (ca. 500 BCE) and Apollodoros, The Library (perhaps 2nd century CE), filled ostensible gaps in a story by inserting details and variations to an existing myth. These insertions are comparable to young children’s tendency to conflate narratives and to create additional stories when hearing a myth. Fourthly, we discussed when and how children develop a sense of the sacred, and whether or not creation myths impact on children’s (religious) beliefs. Fifthly, we examined the illustrations of The Twelve Gods of Olympus, noting their magnificent colour contrasts, their fun elements, and their potential for allusions to popular characters from cartoons and the news, such as Disney’s mermaid for Gaia and Richard Branson (the founder of the Virgin Group) for Zeus. We made a passing reference to the influential book Gods of Management by business thinker Charles Handy, where Zeus represents a leadership style that is based on relations of trust.

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The cover of the book Gods of Management by Charles Handy [source]

At the end of the session, we returned to the argument of ‘seeing’ with the mind’s eye. The Theogony did not appear to pertain only to Classical scholarship, and to its ancient oral and mythographic traditions. Popular culture, news items, and myths from outside the Greek world were all powerful in shaping our expectations from the Theogony and from creation stories more generally. Somehow, the visual language of a creation story did not simply relate to the images within a given book, but also to images and ideas we carry in our heads, allowing each one of us to create and re-create more myths, perhaps akin to the actions of ancient mythographers and to the thinking of young children.

 

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Based on participants’ feedback, the discussion was stimulating and wide-ranging, and it brought to the fore different strands in studying mythology, such as Classics, children’s literature, and the relation between text and image. I am grateful for this opportunity to present at the University of Essex and to all participants for their extremely insightful comments. I hope we can have a follow-up session on myth, Classical art, and visual culture, all of which continue to intrigue and inspire my research and teaching at the University of Roehampton.

Katerina Volioti 

See more:

  • Centre for Myth Studies link
  • Myth Reading Group link
  • The Meeting with Dr. Katerina Volioti link

 

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“Reflection – Medusa” by Patricia Satjawatcharaphong

“Reflection – Medusa” is an animation created in 2007 by Patricia Satjawatcharaphong – a visual designer from the US. The movie is accompanied by the music by Nik Phelps. It starts with a quote from Phaedrus, which points out that:

“Things are not always what they seem; outward form deceives many; rare is the mind that discerns what is carefully concealed within”.

The animation seems to concentrate the recipient’s attention mainly on Medusa’s feelings as a woman, not as a monster (following the introductory quote). As the author of the animation states:

Reflection tells the tale of the mythological gorgon Medusa, where there is no good or evil—just sorrow.”

The whole story partly follows the Ovidian version of Medusa’s myth:

Dorota Bazylczyk and Anna Mik (PhD students from the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”) decided to talk about the interpretative potential of “Reflection – Medusa” in the context of the 21st-century problems, during their recent presentation about the “Monstrous Women in the Globalized World: Images of Selected Female Characters from Classical Mythology in the Contemporary Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture”, given during the international conference “Topographien der Globalisierung / Topographies of Globalization” (Humboldt-Kolleg supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation) at the Institute of German Studies, University of Warsaw (19–21 Jan.)

 

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Centaurs as Police Officers in “Bright” by David Ayer (2017)

“Bright” is a new movie with Will Smith distributed by Netflix. It talks about two policemen – human (Will Smith) and orc (Joel Edgerton) who try to save the world from the upcoming danger.

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  The official movie poster [source]

Directed by: David Ayer

Release date: December 22, 2017 (United States)

Genre: fantasy, science fiction, action, crime

Running time: 118  minutes

Age range: +16

In the movie we get to know the vision of the world in the future, where humans live togheter with (inter aila): orcs, elves, centaurs, dwarves. Centaurs play the role of police officers.

Centaur police officer in “Bright” movie [source]
Another centaur policeman in “Bright” movie [source]
See more:

  • The Official Trailer of “Bright”This video may contain content inappropriate for some users. This video may be unsuitable for children.

 

  • “Bright” on Netflix – link
  • On Internet Movie Database – link

Found by Dorota Bazylczyk

 

“Great Experiments for Little People” by Wojciech Mikołuszko

“Wielkie eksperymenty dla małych ludzi” (“Great Experiments for Little People”) by Wojciech Mikołuszko illustrated by Joanna Rzezak is a Polish children’s non-fiction book from 2016 published by Wydawnictwo Agora.

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The cover of the book

“Wielkie eksperymenty…” is a book about the great experiments from our history, not only those important for chemistry, physics etc., but also psychology. Each chapter contains a historical information about the scientist and the experiment itself and a guide how to prepare similar experiments at home, step by step. The first chapter is dedicated to Archimedes, who c. 265 BC in Syracuse shouted “Eureka!” (“Εὕρηκα!”) when taking a bath and came up with an idea which later was called after his name an Archimedes’ principle!

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Archimedes in a bathtub, il. Joanna Rzezak
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Archimedes running through Syracuse, il. Joanna Rzezak
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Archimedes explaining his idea to the King Hiero II, il. Joanna Rzezak
Author in a modern bathtub, il. Joanna Rzezak
Author in a modern bathtub, il. Joanna Rzezak

The text is written in a humorist manner and the illustrations by Joanna Rzezak make it even more funny (especially the naked author in a modern bathtub). Though all the informations are specific (i.a. there were no “scientists” in the Antiquity, they all were called “philosophers” etc.).

See more:

  • About „Wielkie eksperymenty dla małych ludzi” (in Polish) – link
  • The official website of Agora publishing house – link
  • The official website of Wojciech Mikołuszko (in Polish)  – link
  • The official website of Joanna Rzezak (in English) – link

Found by Krzysztof Rybak

All the photos of the book were made by the author of this post.

“The Reformator Martin Luther” by Michał Rzecznik and Piotr Nowacki

“Reformator Marcin Luter” (“The Reformator Martin Luther”) is a graphic novel written by Michał Rzecznik and illustrated by Piotr Nowacki published by Wydawnictwo Widnokrąg on 31st October 2017, precisely 500th years after Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg.

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The cover of the book

“Reformator” is a funny, biographical story about Luther, who as a storyteller explains everyday life in the times between the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and how he came with the idea of the Reformation of the Church and so on. The story finishes in the modern times, as Luther presents numbers considering the protestant churches etc. Each second page is a set of illustrations, the others contain descriptions of the important terms, objects, and people, such as Schwabacher, “The Autumn of the Middle Ages” (by Johan Huizinga), simony, or Jan Hus.

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Luther as a storyteller, il. Piotr Nowacki
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Reformation spreading through Europe, il. Piotr Nowacki

One of the illustrations presents Luther’s visit to Rome, another one is the mythological she-wolf with two boys, Romulus and Remus:

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See more:

  • About “Reformator Marcin Luter” (in Polish) – link
  • The official website of Widnokrąg publishing house (in Polish) – link
  • The Facebook page of Piotr Nowacki – link

Found by Krzysztof Rybak

All the photos of the book were made by the author of this post.

An Unbelievable New Demigod: Poseidon Is Part of the “Justice League”

A current and famous example for a messianic Poseidon-figure is the hero of Aquaman in the Marvel-movie Justice League (USA, Snyder 2017), in which Poseidon is shown as a superhero.

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A modern Poseidon as part of the biggest heroes of all time: Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Flash [source]

In the plot, he is a king who rules over the sunken empire of Atlantis, and he also has a five times jagged trident, with which he is able to cause big waves to fight against tyrannical enemies like the Parademons. Furthermore, he is a very fast swimmer and can talk to fish and other animals that live in the sea.

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Jason Momoa plays the role of the Aquaman in “Justice League” [source]
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Aquaman with his red haired and beautiful wife Mera, an Atlantean queen, played by Amber Heard [source]

As far as his iconography is concerned, he looks like the Poseidon statues of fountains of the Renaissance: He has a beard, long and curly hair, and an athletic body. By having bright sea-blue eyes, blond-brown hair, tanned skin, and fish-scale-tattoos all over his strong body, he is also modernized and hybridised with a handsome surfer boy.

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[source]

If you wish to get to know the power of Aquaman-Poseidon, you can watch this stranger, raising from the sea:

Found by Dr. Michael Stierstorfer from the University of Regensburg.

“Mythical Realms®” Collection of Toys by Safari Ltd®

Mythical Realms® is one of the collection of toys created by Safari Ltd®. The pieces from the collection depict various figures and monsters from the world of mythology, like for example PoseidonMinotaur, Chimera.

 

The figurine of Poseidon [source]

The age category of the collection is 3+, however, the figurines may contain small parts that may constitute a choking hazard.

The great advantage of the Mythical Realms® are the fine-tuned details of the figurines that makes them look very realistic. All the characters have interesting descriptions on the manufacturer’s website.

Outside the collection, Safari Ltd® offers the Mythical Realms® TOOB® with 8 small figures from Greek mythology, containing Chimera, Griffin, Phoenix, Unicorn, Sea Dragon, the Minotaur, Poseidon and a Mermaid.

 

See more:

Found by Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson (University of Oxford)