Category Archives: Publications

Translating Myth: A Q&A with Pietra Palazzolo and Ben Pestell

TM editorsPietra Palazzolo is an Associate Lecturer at the Open University, and has taught a number of OU modules with Classical Studies components. She also serves on the executive committee of the Centre for Myth Studies at the University of Essex, and is a Visiting Fellow there. Along with her Essex colleagues Ben Pestell and Leon Burnett, she is co-editor of a new book, Translating Myth, which was published by Legenda in June 2016. This week we talked to Pietra and Ben to find out more about the volume and their work on myth.

Q: Congratulations on the publication of your book! Could you tell us about where the idea for the volume came from?

Ben: Thank you. We’re very pleased with how the book has turned out and the jobTMCover that Legenda has done with it. The idea for the book developed from discussions between Leon Burnett, the founding director of the Centre for Myth Studies at Essex, and a former colleague, Kopal Gautam. Leon and Kopal share an interest in myth and literary translation, and these two areas seem natural companions in the distinct ways they both evoke the migration of ideas across cultures. The theme ‘translating myth’ informed an international conference in 2013 and an MA module before finding lasting form in the book.

Q: Your title is Translating Myth, but you explain in the book’s introduction that for you and your co‐editors ‘translating’ means something broader than simply the act of rendering a story written in one language into a different language. Can you explain what other kinds of things ‘translation’ might mean in the sense in which the book’s contributors have interpreted it?

Ben: A myth is always translated: whether from a mythologem or an image or idea. Our experience of myth is mediated through tales or pictures which adapt primordial material. While some chapters in the book look very specifically at instances of literary translation (as in Eliza Borkowska’s illuminating investigation of Blake’s Polish reception), we felt it important to state at the outset that we adopt a broad definition – what is sometimes called ‘cultural translation’. For example, Jessica Allen Hanssen examines the repurposing of Greco‐ Roman myth for children in Hawthorne’s Wonder Book; Sheila A. Spector explores the evolution of Blake’s mythopoeia through his reconfiguration of Christian and kabbalistic motifs; Rached Khalifa re-examines Yeats’s assimilation of diverse mythologies; Terence Dawson charts the twentieth‐century renewal of the Faust myth in Pessoa’s poetry and Jung’s Red Book; and Suman Sigroha considers the reception of Indian myth by European writers. The unifying principle is the re‐emergence and translation of mythic material in new contexts.

Pietra: What emerges from all the contributions to the volume and in our own work as editors is that literary translation and cultural translation work in unison. When considering adaptations of myth, it is impossible to talk about literary translation without considering cultural translation.

Q: The British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) at the University of East Anglia recently held a launch for Translating Myth. Could you tell us more about the event and the way translation studies and myth studies intersect in your book?

Pietra: We were very pleased with the Book Launch Symposium organised by Duncan Large at the British Centre for Literary Translation. The event offered the opportunity to explore the links between myth and translation through a series of contributions by Ben Pestell and myself, by Giuseppe Sofo, who contributed the final chapter to the book, and Tom Rutledge of UEA. The event ended with a lively round table debate led by Leon Burnett, where we were joined by another of our contributors, Sharihan Al-Akhras (whose chapter is an impressive study of the Middle Eastern influences on Paradise Lost).

If myth is an act of communication, an experiential act, it is also an act of translation, to use George Steiner’s useful formulation that ‘to hear significance is to translate’. Myth studies and translation studies are cognate disciplines, as they both deal with ways in which translation can be carried out. In applying the concept of ‘cultural translation’ to myth we follow some of the key approaches to translation studies. One, offered by our co-editor, Leon Burnett, proposes the concept of translation as accommodation and reflux. The concept of accommodation takes the focus away from the dichotomy of source text and target text to encompass, instead, a more dynamic understanding of the process involved in translation. In this sense, we can view translations as ‘conduits for cross-currents between native and foreign traditions, whose influence and interaction shape, renew, re-focus and refresh the literary traditions that receive them.’

The concept of accommodation can be aptly applied to myth, since the work of myth entails a transfer of meaning from one spatiotemporal context to another. Our volume reflects myth’s versatility and malleability, its capacity to retain a constant core while showing a high margin of variation, as Hans Blumenberg observed in Work on Myth. The stories of myth relate to specific groups but also travel across periods and cultures.

Q: The book looks at myths from a whole range of different societies, including those from ancient Greece and Rome. Why do you think it is important or interesting to compare the ways in which different cultures use myth?

Ben: Although the word ‘myth’ derives from Greek, the religious or social characteristics of mythology are essentially universal. Yet, as Harish Trivedi shows in his opening chapter on Indian myth, the pre-eminent ‘classical’ status which is conferred on the Greco-Roman tradition has not historically been attributed to myths from other sources. Even now, non‐Greco‐Roman myths tend to be ironically exoticised. Trivedi’s chapter pithily describes a world of myth and religion – and its secular reception – which is as rich and wondrous as the Greek and Roman worlds. Moreover, his reading of the comparative responses to Indian and Classical myths allows us to see the more familiar mythologies in a new light.

Q: For the benefit of our readers who are interested particularly in classical mythology, could you give us a taster of the Greek and Roman themes or stories which are discussed in the volume?

Ben: The book combines an international outlook with a focus on transactions with English or European literature. As such, it is suffused with the Greek and Roman heritage of Western culture. Thus, in addition to Jessica Allan Hanssen’s chapter which I mentioned earlier, we have Leon Burnett’s survey of nineteenth‐century depictions of the Sphinx (of both Greek and Egyptian varieties), which emphasises the pictorial primacy of myth over the narrative element. Similarly, Michaela Keck applies Warburg’s pathos formula to echoes of Pygmalion in Alcott’s A Modern Mephistopheles, while elsewhere Christina Dokou considers structural echoes of classical epic in the poetry of the early years of the United States. Three chapters will be of particular interest to classical reception studies. Emanuela Zirzotti’s discussion of Seamus Heaney’s appropriation of Virgilian katabasis finds Aeneas returning in the guise of ‘Pius Seamus’; Barbara Goff analyses the structural and political implications of Jacqueline Leloup’s Guéidô, which relocates Oedipus to Cameroon; and Giuseppe Sofo’s concluding chapter follows Derek Walcott’s stage Odyssey as it undertakes a further voyage into Italian, illuminating Walcott’s revivification of Homeric dialect techniques.

Q: What else have you got planned at the Centre for Myth Studies, and where can our readers find out more about the Centre’s work?

Pietra: The Centre for Myth Studies promotes the study of myth with weekly sessions of the Myth Reading Group, together with open seminars, international conferences and publications. We would be very happy to hear from people and institutions interested in myth and mythology from an interdisciplinary perspective. We would especially welcome suggestions for topics to discuss at our reading group. The format we use in these sessions is quite informal, with a short presentation (up to 30 minutes) addressing the theme we have each term, followed by group discussion. Our theme for the Spring term is ‘Journeys’, understood as journeys within myth and in mythical tales as well as in relation to the way texts or mythical objects—such as the image of the Golden Fleece used in our call for proposals—travel across cultures and historical periods. Our next theme, for the Summer term sessions, will be ‘Myth and Magic’, and we would be delighted to have proposals from anyone who is interested either in the intersection between these two dimensions or in interrogating the possibilities of such a connection.

In addition to weekly meetings at the Myth Reading Group, we also organise open seminars and special events. Our latest event was a performance of ‘Babayaga’s Daughter’ by storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton followed by discussion about the forest in Russian fairytales. This year we are planning a one-day symposium entitled ‘Translating Eurydice’ to be held at the University of East London (Stratford campus) in the autumn.

Our centre has an active presence on social media with Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a dedicated WordPress website. If you wish to keep track of our events, I recommend that you subscribe to our website, and send us an email to be included in the mailing list ( We are also very interested in networking with scholars and institutions working on myth and mythology across disciplines, cultures, and periods.


Blumenberg, Hans, Work on Myth, trans. by Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985)

Burnett, Leon, and Emily Lygo (eds), The Art of Accommodation: Literary Translation in Russia (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013)

Steiner, George, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975)

Iambus and Elegy: New Approaches (A Q&A with Laura Swift)

iambus_coverThis week we chatted with OU Classicist Laura Swift about her newest publication – a volume co-edited with Chris Carey (UCL) entitled Iambus and Elegy: New Approaches (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Please can you define iambus and elegy for us?

LS: Iambus and elegy are two important types of early Greek poetry, and along with melic poetry, they’re often grouped under the category of ‘early Greek lyric’. They flourished in the seventh and sixth centuries BC (though they were almost certainly performed long before that), and in chronological terms our surviving examples come in the period between Homer and Athenian tragedy that often gets skipped over in undergraduate courses. The famous authors include Archilochus and Solon (who wrote both iambus and elegy), Tyrtaeus, Theognis and Simonides (who wrote elegy), and Semonides and Hipponax (who wrote iambus). Neither form is particularly easy to define, which was one reason that we wanted to compile an edited volume on them. Normally ancient scholars divided up poetic forms according to metre, but iambus and elegy both use metres that cross genres. Elegy is more straightforward in a way, as it can be defined as poetry that uses the elegiac couplet, but it’s very hard to pin down in terms of any core content or style, since we have narrative or mythological elegy, drinking songs, love poetry, and political philosophy. The one thing it doesn’t seem to contain is anything ‘elegiac’ (in the sense of the English word ‘elegy’, meaning a lament), and that’s often muddied the waters in trying to define it. Iambus is rather a hotch-potch of different metres, so people have often tried to define it in terms of content instead, and it’s usually thought of as abuse poetry. It’s true that there’s plenty of abuse, vitriol, and dirty language in iambus, but it’s not only blame-poetry: it can also be humorous, or even moralising and philosophical. So both are very wide-ranging and diverse forms, and are hard to pin down.

How have these subjects traditionally been studied?

A lot of scholarship has focused on definitional questions, and so one aim of the book was to move beyond this and study the poetry itself for what it is. Iambus and elegy have also been considered the poor cousin of melic poetry, and so they’ve had less attention than (say) the poetry of Pindar or Sappho. But they’re also a dynamic area, not least because new poems continue to turn up regularly. Over the course of the twentieth century, the amount of iambus and elegy that is available to scholars increased dramatically, and that has carried on in recent years. For example, a major new elegy by Archilochus was published in 2005, and some more fragmentary lines of his iambics were found in 2012. Because we’re dealing with quite a small corpus, new finds can really change what we think about a poet or a genre, and that makes it an exciting field to study.

How did you get the idea for the book?

The book was based on a conference that my co-editor Chris Carey and I organised in 2012, as part of a Leverhulme Fellowship that I had at that time. I had originally thought of having a conference just on Archilochus, the author I was working on, but then decided to broaden it out to iambus and elegy (the two forms Archilochus composed in), because I thought that would allow more variety and help us make connections between different poets. Lyric poetry is a vibrant sub-field in Classical Studies, with a very lively community, but most of the conferences in lyric are dominated by papers on the melic poets. Chris pointed out that there hadn’t ever been a conference focusing exclusively on iambus and elegy, and it was a great opportunity to put them centre-stage. We were really happy with how the conference went, and OUP was interested in publishing a volume inspired by it, and so we worked alongside some of the scholars who gave papers at the conference to put a collection together.

How long did it take to put the book together?

The conference took place in July 2012, and we started talking to contributors about a volume and putting together a draft proposal for OUP that autumn. The whole process of getting together the contributions, getting feedback to the contributors on their chapters, and then working with them to get revised versions took just over two years, and we submitted the completed manuscript to the Press in December 2014. After that, the copy-editing and typesetting process took about another year, and so the book appeared in print this February.

What was the hardest part of the process, for you as an editor?

There were two aspects that I found challenging. The first was keeping on top of all the contributions at the stage where we were dealing with revisions: for example, keeping track of which stage each paper was at, when we had last been in touch with each contributor, and whether there were outstanding queries we needed to resolve or we were waiting for them to respond to something we had raised. In any edited volume, some contributors are in a position to turn around their piece very quickly and others need more time to fit it in with their other commitments, and so there’s a certain amount of diplomacy needed in encouraging those who still needed to get papers in, while making sure that the people who had already done so didn’t feel we’d forgotten all about them or that the project had lost momentum. 

The second thing was that I hadn’t realised how much work would be required from the editors after the final submission of the manuscript, during the copy-editing and typesetting process. Although I’ve been through that process with monographs, it’s much easier when you’re dealing with something that’s just your own work. Dealing with copy-editing queries on someone else’s article and checking consistency across chapters is much more challenging. Fortunately, Chris had done all of that before, and so it was fantastic to have an experienced co-editor.

Can you tell us about your own chapter on Archilochus’ erotic imagery?

My chapter is about how Archilochus uses imagery associated with the natural world in his erotic poems, particularly images of plants and fertility. This is a very common strand of imagery in Greek poetry, where a woman’s body is compared to the landscape (so a young girl is like a beautiful wild meadow, and a married woman is like fertile ploughland). But I argue that Archilochus plays with this imagery and turns it around. For example, rather than praising a young woman by comparing her to a beautiful landscape, he abuses a woman for being ‘past it’ by comparing her to a dried up wintry landscape, or to a fruit that’s starting to get flaccid and over-ripe. So Archilochus is reworking imagery from other poetic genres in a provocative and playful way, which showcases his creativity as a poet.

Iambus and Elegy: New Approaches is published by Oxford University Press.

Publication announcement: War as Spectacle

War as SpectacleThis autumn sees the publication of an edited volume to which several members of the OU Classical Studies department have contributed. War as Spectacle: Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Display of Armed Conflict  (Bloomsbury) originated in an OU conference organised by Anastasia Bakogianni during her time in the department, and is co-edited by Anastasia and Valerie Hope, as well as featuring essays by Laura Swift, Naoko Yamagata and Emma Bridges.

The book takes an interdisciplinary and transhistorical approach, comprising eighteen essays which examine the ways in which war was presented as a multi-sensory spectacle in ancient texts and material culture as well as considering the reception of ancient conflicts since antiquity. Themes include the spectacle of combat in epic and lyric poetry, historiography and commemorative monuments as well as post-classical responses to ancient warfare, with chapters on film and the media, theatre and political propaganda.

To mark the publication of War as Spectacle Anastasia has recorded two interviews for Classics Confidential. You can see Sonya Nevin talking about her work animating hoplite scenes on ancient vase paintings here, and Anastasia talks here about her own chapter discussing the Euripidean anti-war trilogy of film director Michael Cacoyannis.

Producing ‘New Voices’


New Voices in Classical Reception Studies is one of two e-journals published out of the Classical Studies Department of the Open University. Classical Reception Studies has been one of the fastest growing areas of Classical Studies in recent years and has been a traditional strength of our department. We therefore felt it would be particularly apt to harness this strength to the wider OU vision of expanding participation and access and promote a journal that particularly targeted early career researchers looking to publish their work for the first time.

In line with this mission, we aim to provide early career researchers with a highly supportive pathway through the publication process. Submissions to the journal go through the due process of peer review by anonymous readers but we also endeavour to maintain very high standards in giving feedback to authors and in supporting them during the editing and revision stages. This means authors can work towards publication in a quality journal (New Voices was an ‘A’ ranked journal in the 2010 ERA and is included in the MLA Directory of Periodicals and the databases of EBSCO Publishing) but can also feel that this process helps in their wider development as scholars and researchers. We aim to give the contributors to the journal a sense of a wider supportive research community in this subject area, and we hope that authors will move on from their interaction with the journal with confidence in their ability to thrive within this community.

The journal publishes a very wide variety of content (this reflects the field of Classical Reception Studies) and actively encourages submissions that cross discipline boundaries. We attract submissions from a wide international community: published authors have come from not only the UK but also from Argentina, Australia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Holland, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Spain. We always work with our international contributors to ensure that language won’t be a barrier to publication in the journal. Our international advisory board means the editorial team has access to wide-ranging expertise over the broad spectrum of the subject area that the journal covers.

We used to publish New Voices at a set time of year, following an annual call for papers. Instead, we publish each issue as soon as there are sufficient finished articles available. This enhances the turnaround time of the journal so that early career researchers to see their publication plans come to fruition. There is also now a conference proceedings imprint of the journal which similarly aims to bring research in Classical Reception into the public domain in as timely a fashion as possible (whilst still maintaining peer review).

In his final tweet before he passed away, Leonard Nimoy compared life to a garden full of perfect if transitory moments. For an academic one of life’s fleeting perfect moments ought to be the publication of one’s first article.  At New Voices we aim to provide the gardening advice to make this happen.

by Trevor Fear (‘New Voices’ Editor)

New Voices in Classical Reception Studies – Issue 10 out now!

We are very pleased to announce that Issue 10 of our e-journal New Voices in Classical Reception Studies has now been published, and is available to view on the journal’s website. This issue includes articles on Homeric narrative motifs in L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, classical imagery in pre-Raphaelite paintings of sorceresses, ancient mythological archetypes in The Hunger Games, and much more.  We hope you enjoy reading!



Journeys across time and space: researching classical reception

by Emma Bridges

A common thread running through the research and teaching of many of us who work in the department of Classical Studies at the OU is the study of classical reception – that is to say that we think about the ways in which, and the reasons why, ancient Greek and Roman ideas, texts and material culture have been revisited and refigured by later cultures and societies.

One of the most challenging aspects of thinking about classical reception is also, for me, one of the most exciting. In order to develop an understanding of the ways in which themes and ideas have been adopted and adapted in new contexts, a researcher must frequently step outside her own comfort zone, looking beyond the texts with which she is most familiar and exploring a range of genres, historical periods and geographical settings. Following the journey of a theme across time and space can yield fascinating and sometimes unexpected results, and the researcher who does so often needs to become familiar with areas of study of which she had little prior knowledge.

My recent book, Imagining Xerxes, took me on one such journey; in tracing the ancient cultural responses to the figure of the Persian king whose invasion of Greece was famously defeated against seemingly overwhelming odds, I found myself examining ancient sources which spanned a period of around 700 years, with a geographical spread incorporating Greece, the Roman empire and ancient Persia itself, and in a vast – and sometimes daunting – array of diverse literary genres.

Xerxes crosses the Hellespont. Original illustration from Imagining Xerxes (2014). Image copyright Asa Taulbut. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Xerxes crosses the Hellespont.
Original illustration from Imagining Xerxes (2014). Image copyright Asa Taulbut. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

As a scholar, I have always felt most at home with the Greek texts which were written in the fifth century BC – thus, when I started out, I knew a fair bit about Aeschylus’ Persians, in which a defeated Xerxes appeared on the Athenian tragic stage, and about Herodotus’ historiographical account of the course of the Persian Wars. In the course of my research, however, I also needed to tackle sources ranging from the inscriptions and relief sculptures of the royal palace complex at Persepolis, to biblical texts (Xerxes appears – named as Ahasuerus – as a key figure in the Book of Esther), to Roman and rhetoric and satirical poetry. Along the way I would discover that the historical figure of Xerxes was reimagined and reshaped in astonishingly diverse cultural settings, and that portrayals of his character – shaped by the historical circumstances in which they were produced as well as by the literary agendas of the authors who wrote of him – ranged from images of him as the archetypal and destructive enslaving aggressor, to a figure synonymous with the luxury and exoticism of the Persian court, or as an example of the vacillations of human fortune.

The joy of this kind of work is that there is always more to discover; every text or artefact encountered, every ‘reception’ of an ancient work or idea, has a context – literary, artistic, intellectual, historical – which needs to be investigated and explained if we are to understand why themes from the ancient world recur where and when they do. That’s good news for people like me, who love the challenge of getting to grips with something new!