Session Two Abstracts

Panel A – Greek Myth in the Twentieth Century

  • Estelle BaudouUniversité de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense: An Orthodox Way of Staging the Ancient Tragic Chorus: the Model of Peter Stein’s ‘Die Orestie’ 

Abstract: When Peter Stein produced Die Orestie at the Schaubühne (Berlin) in 1981, he created a new way to stage the chorus of Greek tragedy. The chorus of Agamemnon consisted of men in contemporary black suits, who looked like a municipal council. They watched the all trilogy sitting around a big wooden table. The text of the stasima was shared between them, as if it were an everyday dialog. This production has been a great success in Berlin and during the tour in Europe. It became immediately (and it still is) a reference for theatre critics commenting upon other contemporary performances of ancient theatre. Directors who want to stage Greek tragedies also use this production as a model or a counterexample. For example, Georges Lavaudant staged the Oresteia in 1999 at the Odeon theatre (Paris) and the two men of his chorus wore hats and black contemporary suits and just like Peter Stein’s chorus, they also carried sticks: the tribute is obvious. On the opposite, in König Ödipus staged by Alexander Lang in 1996, the very little stools used to materialize the chorus’ space on stage seem to replace the democratic table of Peter Stein’s Die Orestie. Making this choice, the production criticizes the traditional reading of Greek tragedy that focuses on democratic issues.

Peter Stein – because his chorus has become a model – seems to have created orthodoxy and dissent. We will try to understand why this specific way of staging the chorus have become an orthodox way. Do the different elements (costumes, setting, acting) play the same part? How does this model evolve throughout Western Europe (UK, France, Germany) until today? Why do stage directors need orthodoxy (particularly for the chorus) when they stage Greek tragedy? What does this reveal about the reception of ancient Greek culture by these countries, these times and this art?


  • Maria Gierszewska, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań: Reconciling irreconcilables: Judeo-Christian Antiquity in works of Roman Brandstaetter

Abstract: A twentieth-century Jewish writer and Catholic convert, Roman Brandstaetter stands for a watershed character in the history of postwar Polish literature. Having received excellent education in Classics, Brandstaetter was a man of Graeco-Roman culture, captivated by ancient myths and oblique truths they hinted at. However, he remained a deeply religious man, first a Jew and then a Catholic Jew, who labored to reconcile his attraction to the pagan Antiquity with his religious beliefs. The aim of my presentation is to present such a clash of opposites in Brandstaetter’s works, as two cultural heritages (of Rome and Jerusalem) are transformed synergistically into new, polyvalent wholes. Analysing fragments of Brandstaetter’s selected ‘mythological’ plays (MedeaUlisses CryingThe Death on the Coast of Artemis and The Silence), I will demonstrate how two—in theory irreconcilable—cultural backgrounds merge into a discordant harmony, imbuing his works with a sharply distinctive flavor of common humanity that transcends differences.


  • Nicoletta Bruno, Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”/Oxford University: Inside the film Mirror (1974): an analysis of Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem ‘Eurydice’

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to analyse the poem Eurydice, by the Russian poet Arseny Tarkovsky, read by himself in the film Mirror (the original title is Zerkalo, 1974), written and directed by his son, Andrei.

The myth and the classical world are a crucial topic of Russian poetry of the XXth century, especially in the Acmeism, well represented by the works of Mandel’stam, Achmatova, Cvetaeva, Tarkovsky and Brodsky.

Mirror is a fascinating work, a collage of scenes, past and present: an elusive self-portrait of the director’s life, describing a story of his near relatives belonging to different generations. The agonizing melancholy of the mother (the actress Margarita Terechova plays both the mother and the wife of the director, in a game of mirrors), left by her husband, the poet Arseny, in the Forties, with a son to raise (the director), is the protagonist of the film. Eurydice is the last poem read by the voiceover: the role of Eurydice, who embodied the mother, as a mythical character, is not very prominent in the poem. Eurydice is taken as a mere archetype of the abandonement and lamentation of life and death at the same time. The tale of Orpheus’ lost love, her beloved poet, is not properly quoted in the poem but there is a remarkable allusion between the myth and the personal loss, happened in the mother’s life. The theme of the poem is death, not read as a tragic event in a particular person’s life, but as an abstract category.

Before the voiceover reading the poem the scene is this: the husband appears to be standing by a bed with the wife lying down on it, and after the man disappears and the woman is left on her own, floating in the dark room. The soul struggles to free itself from the limitations of the body, and aspire to reach a celestial realm. In the poem, there is a description of the disembodied soul and its subsequent transfiguration. The poem ends with an address to the ‘child’ to stop lamenting Eurydice and to live on.


Panel B – Classics as Contemporary Political Critique (Chair: John Bloxham)

  • Guendalina D.M. Taietti, University of Liverpool: Alexander the Great Screaming Out for Hellenicity: Greek Songs and Political Dissent

Abstract: The aim of this paper is a discussion of the reception of Alexander the Great in Modern Greek music, in order to shed light on the use of the Macedonian hero as a means to express the Greeks’ dissent to the political agenda of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

This study concentrates on a set of about 30 songs, belonging to the Hellenic musical production of the 20th/21thcentury. The set includes different genres – metal, rock, folk music, rap, a ‘Macedonian’ anthem, and music for orchestra -, and it covers various themes, which refer to the wide-spread myths and interpretations of Alexander the Great that flourished throughout the centuries since his lifetime. Among the others, Greek songs deal with the conqueror’s invincible nature and greatness; with his mother Olympias’ interest in magical practices; with the folk tradition on his sister, the mermaid, already attested in the Alexander-Romance; and even with the Persian-Islamic reinterpretation of his persona (Dhul-Qarnayn). Notwithstanding the wide pool of stratified traditions where to draw inspiration, Greek songs seem to share the same aim: to express the Greeks’ dissent for the yet unanswered Macedonian question, and to reaffirm Alexander’s – and thus, Macedon’s – Hellenicity.

The paper offers a translation of the lyrics together with a comment on the themes deployed by the composers, comparing them against the previous Greek receptions of Alexander. Furthermore, it seeks to highlight the links between a song’s date composition (if known), the feelings expressed in it, and the international developments of the Macedonian Question.


  • Stefanos Apostolou, University of Nottingham and Vasilis Vlachos: Falling into Darkness: Kawir, Naer Mataron and the Golden Dawn. Black Metal Frontman for MP

Abstract: It was thirty years ago when the idea that lyrics in ancient Greek might be appealing to European audiences emerged in the Greek Black Metal stage. The purpose of this paper is to present and contrast the reception of antiquity and the course of two leading Greek BM bands from the beginning of the 1990s until present day; we will also attempt to trace and explain the significant changes in style, ideology and raison d’ être both bands have undergone. More specifically, our paper will outline the different pathways of two leading Greek bands with worldwide audience and connections, Kawir and Naer Mataron, both active since 1993 and 1994 respectively. Furthermore, we shall discuss the use of symbols drawn from a vague pool of an “esoteric ancient spirit”. In terms of inspiration and influences, the “historical BM band” Kawir make a great effort to present their songs as ancient hymns to the Gods (following the footsteps of Orhpeus, Callimachus, Proclus, even Homer), while Naer Mataron initially stood for more than religion and plead their allegiance to a once united Europe of the Old Ways under the aegis of the ancient Gods. Their perception of an ancient European unity collapsed by 2008 and was gradually replaced by “the Praetorians’ mission”: to act as defenders of “the cause” and guardians of the “Spirit of the Ancient World”. After 2012, when their leader, Kaiadas (K. Germenis), was elected MP with the neo-nazist party Golden Dawn, the group gained nationwide fame and Kaiadas creatively attempted to reconcile Satanism with Hellenism (and this hybrid with his devoted Christian voters). To conclude, given the restricted range of the Greek BM stage, the two bands exhibit surprisingly different, yet equally distorted, perceptions of the ancient world.


  • Rosa van Gool, University of Leiden: Inter Arma Silent Leges: appeals to Cicero’s authority in the 9/11 aftermath

Abstract: Appeals to the authority of Marcus Tullius Cicero appear all the way through American political history, well into our own times (Lawatsch Melton 2013; Malamud 2009). This paper will present a case study of appeals to Cicero’s authority in the media, debating the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.

 One sentence from Cicero’s Pro Milone keeps appearing in English-speaking media, no less than 43 times over the five years following 9/11:

‘The philosopher Cicero recognized the dilemma in Roman times. “Inter arma silent leges,” he wrote. In times of war, the laws are silent.’
12-04-2003, ‘In wartime, freedoms Americans fight for can be restricted’ in: The Associated Press.

To what extent are these modern users aware of the original context of the phrase? Or has the name of Cicero simply become a symbol, representing Romanness and therefore authority, regardless of historical context and contemporary relevance?  If so, is Cicero’s name then chosen arbitrary and interchangeable with other famous Romans?


This paper will outline the reception history of inter arma silent leges, following the sentence all the way from Cicero’s Pro Milone up to its appearance in The New York Times. We will see how a long process of mediated reception gradually leads to decontextualization. Yet, that is not to say that Cicero’s authority is completely random and void of meaning. The final part of this paper will deal with the question as to why precisely Cicero has become such an important exemplum and authoritative point of reference in the United States, proposing both his reception history and Ciceronian self-representation as an explanation (van der Blom 2010; Dugan 2006).


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