Pasts Imperfect (4.21.22)
The Silence of Medusa, Rome's Birthday, and More
This week, Aimee Hinds Scott explores the ancient myth of Medusa and what two new films can tell us about silence, “monsters,” and her impact today. Then, the missing Egyptian deities in the new Disney+ series Moon Knight, a theatrical troupe hires an expert in Ancient Greek theater for their reimagining of Troy, Rome’s 2775th birthday (sorry, Remus), and more.
Modern Medusas (Aimee Hinds Scott)
As I wrote about this week for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Medusa seems in some ways to be a foundational figure in classical reception. Despite her relative marginality in ancient literature, she is well represented in popular culture and beyond. Best known to many of us as Ray Harryhausen’s snake-bodied creation in the 1981 Clash of the Titans, Medusa’s image is almost ubiquitous in modern media and material culture, from Barbie to the Versace logo. Her most recent incarnation is as spokeswoman for victims of sexual assault, tying into her myth through its most famous version, found in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. In this account, Medusa is raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, resulting in the goddess bestowing the victim-blaming punishment of the infamous petrifying gaze. Ovid’s rendition adds crucial detail and, most significantly, humanity to Medusa’s monstrousness.
Reclaiming Medusa and finding strategies for rejecting victimhood through her story are, like all reception, a way of keeping the myth alive and relevant for the contemporary world, and many of those who have been affected by sexual assault find power in the comparison. This strand of the gorgon’s reception has grown out of feminist engagements with her story and image, but such engagements lead heavily on the potential of Medusa’s voice. In this week’s LARB Pasts Imperfects column, “Modern Medusas: Rethinking “monsters”, silence and cinema”, I explore Medusa’s complex relationship with speech and its lack, through her identification with the protagonists of the recent films Black Medusa (2021) and Photocopier (2021).
For those seeking a starting point from which to study Medusa more generally, the short bibliography provided below should prove fruitful. Garber and Vicker’s edited reader is invaluable as a source book for Medusa from antiquity to modern day, while Leeming’s volume provides a slightly more general overview of the myth’s influence throughout time and across different disciplines. Deacy’s Athena and Ogden’s Perseus both include dives into the ancient sources on the encounters between Perseus, Athena and Medusa. Although not an academic text, Zimmerman’s Women and Other Monsters opens with a wonderfully up-to-date feminist appropriation of Medusa, and worth surveying in light of more traditional feminist narratives.
Deacy, S. Athena. Routledge, 2008.
Garber, Marjorie and Vickers, Nancy J., eds. The Medusa Reader. Routledge, 2003
Gloyn, Liz. Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture. Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.
Goffredo, Stefano & Dubinsky, Zvy, eds. The Cnidaria, Past, Present and Future: The world of Medusa and her sisters. Springer, 2016. (This volume largely concerns the animal Cnidaria, but the final section invites exploration of Medusa in myth and art).
Leeming, David. Medusa: In the Mirror of Time. Reaktion Books, 2013.
Ogden, Daniel. Perseus. Routledge, 2008.
Taylor, Rabun. The Moral Mirror of Roman Art. Cambridge University Press, 2008. (Although out of print, this book is fairly freely available second-hand).
Wilk, Stephen. Medusa: The Mystery of the Gorgon. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Zimmerman, Jess. Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology. Beacon, 2021
Public Scholarship on the Web
At Comic Book Resources, Mark Millien addresses the missing ancient Egyptian deities in the new Disney+ series Moon Knight in an essay titled, “Where Are Moon Knight's Missing Egyptian Gods?” As many have noted, the series works hard to be inclusive of Egyptians. The Hollywood Reporter discussed this in an article on “How ‘Moon Knight’ Harnessed the Power of Egypt’s Top Creatives — and Even Flew Over a Taxi Driver — to Push for Authenticity and “Avoid the Orientalist Look.” The Director and executive producer Mohamed Diab centers modern Egyptians in the show and behind the camera. THR notes, “this was key to [Diab’s] mission and saw him hire top Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih, editor Ahmed Hafez and ensure that 90 percent of the Egyptian roles went to fellow countrymen.” Notably, Egyptologist Zoltán Horváth served as historical consultant on the show. Although experts have noted that the dialogue in ancient Coptic is a bit hard to make out, we are looking forward to viewing the rest of the episodes in the coming weeks.
The New York Times reports on a new production by the British theater troupe Punchdrunk, who hired Greek theater expert Emma Cole to help them to design an immersive set for their retelling of the fall of Troy called, “The Burnt City.”
When Emma Cole, an expert in ancient Greek theater at the University of Bristol, wove through a maze of apartments, back streets and piazzas inside two huge warehouses in South London recently, she excitedly pointed out every nod to Greek mythology that she passed, including a shrine to the goddess Artemis and graffiti written in Linear B, an ancient form of Greek writing.
The Global Times reports that the Shaanxi Archaeology Museum has finally been completed in Northwestern China. It is China’s first archaeological museum.
A total of 4,218 of the 5,215 cultural relics in the collection, accounting for 90 percent, are on display. Pottery figurines from the Mausoleum of Emperor Wen of Han from the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC-771 BC) and the epitaph of famed calligrapher Yan Zhenqing from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) will be presented to the public for the first time, according to a report from CCTV.
And last but never least: Happy Birthday, Roma! It may be your 2775th (MMDCCLXXV), Amor, but you don’t look a day over 1,000. For more on the celebration events today in Rome, see the Natali di Roma page.
Public Lectures, Conferences, and CFPS
There will be a virtual webinar for Sarah F. Derbew’s new book, Untangling Blackness in Greek Antiquity, scheduled for Monday, May 2, 2022, from 9-10am PST / 12-1pm EST / 5-6pm GMT. If you are interested and available, please register here.
Over at the AIA-Iowa Society, Maria Liston will be lecturing on “Death comes to the Theban Sacred Band: Skeletons from the Battle of Chaironeia (338 BC)” on April 25, 2022 @ 5:30 pm CST. Prof. Liston looks at the Battle of Chaironeia and its role as a turning point in Greek history.
Macedonian forces under the command of Phillip II and his son Alexander defeated a combined Greek force of Athenians, Thebans, and others near the town of Chaironeia, establishing Macedonia dominance over much of the Greek mainland. Anchoring the Greek line on the right was the Theban Sacred Band, an elite military unit consisting of 150 pairs of hoplite soldiers, who were purportedly lovers as well as comrades in arms. Opposite them on the Macedonian left was the cavalry force led by Alexander, then 18 years old. In the course of this decisive defeat of the Greeks, the Theban Sacred Band was almost entirely annihilated. Excavations in the 19th century recovered skeletons of the Theban soldiers interred at a battle monument near the acropolis of Chaironeia. This lecture presents evidence from these skeletons for death on the battlefield and subsequent mutilation of the corpses, and explores the use and efficacy of weapons and armor in ancient warfare.
The next speaker in the lecture series “Historical Linguistics and Philology” will be José Luis García Ramón, who will give a lecture, “Sui nomi degli dèi in Grecia e Italia antiche: linguistica, filologia, ricostruzione comparativa,” on April 27, 2022 (2:30-4:30 PM, Milan time). The lecture will take place exclusively online. To participate please register in advance by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants will receive a Microsoft Teams link the day before the lecture.
New Online Journal Issues @YaleClassicsLib
Colin is on paternity leave for the month of April. We celebrate and respect this. This section will return in May; however, we would like to underscore the new issue of TAPA (Volume 152, Number 1, Spring 2022). Particularly of note are Chiara Sulprizio and Ric Rader’s “Classics and the Precariat”; Joy Connolly’s “Let’s Open Our Eyes and Leap”; Mathura Umachandran’s “Disciplinecraft: Towards an Anti-racist Classics”; and Joel Christensen’s “Digital Classics” articles—among many other exceptional pieces.
The Public Books section "Antiquities" continues to take pitches for articles to be published in 2022. You can pitch to our “Pasts Imperfect” column at the LA Review of Books using this form and to the new JSTOR column here.
Thanks for reading!