Prof. Rebecca Langlands and Dr Emma Cole

In Term 1 of 2017-18, we moved our CA talks down to Exeter College. We are very grateful to Exeter College for hosting these events, and we would particularly like to thank Mike Beer for all his help and hard work promoting the lectures! We have been very fortunate this term to have heard two fascinating lectures on very different themes. Both talks inspired lively discussion from the audience, and we hope they have inspired lots of you to join us for more lectures in the New Year.

On Thursday 28 September, Prof. Rebecca Langlands (University of Exeter) spoke on ‘No-Win Situations: Roman Heroes and Military Ethics’. This research derives from Prof. Langlands’s latest research project on how Romans understood and received stories about their history.

The heroic, blood-soaked tales of their ancestors intoxicated the youth of ancient Rome, revealing moral truths and inflaming them with desire for virtue. This lecture will argue that such exemplary stories were also used to dramatise ethical dilemmas and encourage Romans to reflect on fundamental moral issues – indeed, they can still serve this purpose today. Roman exempla tend to show people of great courage, virtue and tenacity who face very tough decisions about the best way to respond. We will see how a particularly distressing military situation – the desperate suffering of the besieged city – provided for the ancient Romans a wealth of ethical material inviting us to reflect on what we should value most highly in our lives.

On Wednesday 6 December, Dr Emma Cole (University of Bristol) spoke on Greek Tragedy and the Australian Psyche’. This work drew on productions of adapted Greek tragedies in Australian theatre, which Dr Cole has worked on both during her PhD and now during her most recent project.

The reception of Greek tragedy in Australia largely mimicked its reception in England until the mid-twentieth century. The establishment of state theatre companies and the New Wave Theatre movement in the second half of the twentieth century, however, resulted in a series of more localised engagements, and today Australian classical performance receptions are frequently more playful and experimental than their British counterparts. Adaptations now trump translations, and radical reinventions which use the classics as a springboard for entirely new plays are more common than either. Recent productions, for example, have involved Euripides’ prize-winning Bacchae set in a urinal, a chorus of Trojan women murdered, a gender-bending Antigone, and an Iphigenia at Aulis written in a form devoid of named characters and staged without an Iphigenia present on stage at all. In this lecture I discuss a series of these receptions and both suggest and problematise ways that these engagements reflect the Australian psyche. I argue that today’s ‘gloves-off’ attitude towards the classics is tied to Australia’s complex colonial history and involves an intense localising of Greek tragedy to explore issues of national identity. The plays under discussion indicate that Australian productions of Greek tragedy are an overlooked part of contemporary classical performance reception, and that the classics today are being reclaimed and refashioned to explore pressing socio-political issues in twenty-first-century Australia.


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