Tuesday, 21 March 2023

Classical Mythology and Children's Literature... An Alphabetical Odyssey

Spring is here! And with it – a free book! The latest publication from Our Mythical Childhood is Classical Mythology and Children's Literature... An Alphabetical Odyssey, by Elizabeth Hale and Miriam Riverlea. An exciting bonus – it’s illustrated by Panoply’s very own Steve Simons!

Alphabetical Odyssey takes you on a journey through the oceans of children’s books inspired by ancient Greek and Roman mythology. The 26 chapters discuss elements important in literature for young readers, providing insights into how mythical adaptations, retellings, and allusions connect with aspects of childhood and adolescence. The chapters are arranged alphabetically, such as E is for Emotions, J is for Journeys, N is for Nature, and O is for the Olympians, and each comes with their own illustration.

You can download a free copy here. Share the download link as much as you like. The book will have a special appeal to anyone interested in classical mythology, classical reception, and/or young people’s literature.

You can find other free downloads from the Our Mythical Childhood series, and hard copies of the books available for sale here

All too soon, they will be joined by Teaching Ancient Greece: Lesson Plans, Vase Animations, and Resources, a book based around Panoply’s Our Mythical Childhood animations featuring 15 lesson plans by teachers from all over the world and all sorts of bonus resources to go with them. We’ve been working on that for a good while now and can’t wait for you to see it. Watch this space for news. If you’ve managed to miss the OMC animations and documentaries, take a look here: https://www.panoply.org.uk/our-mythical-childhood

Above, entrance to The Allard Pierson Museum of Antiquities in Amsterdam

We’ve had a busy start to the year. January saw us at the Allard Pierson Museum at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Panoply’s Sonya Nevin was there to present at the Ancient Vases in Modern Showcases conference, organised by Laurien de Gelder and Vladimir Stissi. Kate Cooper of the Royal Ontario Museum gave a stonking key note speech, outlining all sorts of factors that must be considered when planning a vase gallery or exhibition. Consider even the difference between arranging vases chronologically, arranging them by type of vase, displaying artefacts according to their decoration to express themes such as Trojan War, Sport, or Warfare, or the effect of grouping similar objects from different cultures. These are all solid options, yet they create a different experience for the museum visitor and a different impression of the objects and their meanings.

We also heard from Jill Hilditch, who has tackled the display of prehistoric ceramics and objects with unknown functions. You may recall the interview that Dr Hilditch did for Panoply a little while back discussing her research project, Tracing the Potter’s Wheel. Sally Waite and Olivia Turner presented a public programme, You Echo Through Time , which they ran at the at the Great North Museum in the UK, helping modern women explore their own experiences through an artefact-based search for the voices of ancient women. David Saunders of the J.Paul Getty outlined the approach that will be taken in a forthcoming exhibition, placing Mayan, Moche, and ancient Greek ceramics beside one another to prompt reflections and comparisons. One to look out for.
Above, David Saunders outlines the ideas involved in the Getty's forthcmoing exhibition of Mayan, Moche, and Greek Pottery

Sonya’s presentation outlined the way in which vase animations provide a bridge between the museum and the wider community – creating opportunities for people to see artefacts outside the museum space – seeing them in a new form in the classroom, in theatres and cinemas, projected onto walls, on tablets in parks – all sorts of spaces - and offering a prompt for further creative engagements with the artefacts, be it drawing, pottery-making, poetry, storytelling and more besides. Enjoying an ancient artefact does not have to mean simply looking at it; seeing can be only the beginning.
Above, Vases beyond the museum: a school event in Poland sees teens watching Panoply vase animations in a theatre before giving their own research presentations and making their own ceramic designs.

Sonya recently gave a different sort of talk closer to home in Cambridge, at the Digital Education Futures Initiative ( https://www.deficambridge.org/). This initiative, developed at Hughes’ Hall, Cambridge, creates opportunities for developing new models of education and new research priorities arising due to the growing prevalence of digital technology. Recent talks have explored digital tech’s ability to harness collective intelligence; Camtree, also based at Hughes’ Hall, which creates opportunities for teachers to conduct and share research and improve learning outcomes; and Sonya’s presentation on how digital technology has enabled new insights into the study of ceramics and ancient iconography.

We will have more news for you soon. Coming up are a new About Dionysus documentary to complement our Dionysus animation; news on an exhibition in the US that we've contributed to; and insights into the Islanders exhibition, which is on now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Iris – Rainbow Goddess, and Munich - Classical Playground

We are delighted to share our new documentary with you: About Iris – Rainbow Goddess. This mini doc is a companion piece for the Iris animation. Both can be found on the Iris webpage, and they’re shared here for your convenience too:

These videos were made as part of the project Our Mythical Childhood… The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. The project was generously funded by the European Research Council (a wing of the EU), and headed by Professor Katarzyna Marciniak of the University of Warsaw.

For the last year or so, we have been busy preparing a publication to complement the Our Mythical Childhood animations. Teaching Ancient Greece: Lesson Plans, Animations, and Resources is a collection of lesson plans based around the five Our Mythical Childhood animations. They have been prepared by experienced teachers from all over the world. Every lesson plan contains guidance for delivering a class and an interesting and challenging activity. The lesson plans have been brought together with further resources to support teaching about antiquity, including materials about pottery and resources for making your own animations. The Iris section contains lesson plans by Kay Brown in New Zealand, taking a cross-cultural look at mythology, and by Dean Nevin in Switzerland, introducing a messenger themed writing challenge for younger children. As a bonus, Teaching Ancient Greece will be available as an Open Access publication, meaning that it can be downloaded for free. A hard copy will be available to purchase for those who love a physical book! We’ll have more news for you as the publication date approaches.
Above, a screenshot from 'About Iris', also found in 'Teaching Ancient Greece' in a section on Iris in 'The Iliad'.

In other news… a throwback to earlier in the summer. We took a trip to Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich, in southern Germany. The conference Mythological Education in Britain and Germany was part of the University of Cambridge-Ludwig Maximilian Strategic Partnership: an opportunity to visit each other’s universities and share good practice in Classics teaching and teacher training. Here are some images of the event:

Above, Panoply’s Sonya Nevin talking about using vase animations in the classroom.
Above, Emily Rushton describes ways of making Classics more inclusive, particularly for those who are neurodivergent.
Above, Lisa Hay from the Cambridge Schools’ Classics Project discusses the much-celebrated revamp of the Cambridge Latin Course.
Above, Our host, LMU's Markus Janka, presents the varied tradition of Ovid in education.
Above, Markus and his colleagues have published this Latin translation of Suzanne Collins’ 'Hunger Games' (complete with a Latin-German vocab guide).

Above, Raimund Fichtel describes the Classics teacher training programme at LMU and the top-up days which teachers from across Bavaria can attend at the university to keep them up-to-date with research and to share ideas and approaches.

Above, Berkan Sariaydin on the tradition of Virgil’s 'Aeneid' within education.

Above, pupils from the Gymnasium Schäftlarn near Munich, with their Latin teacher Michael Stierstorfer. The students gave excellent presentations on their research projects into various classical reception topics.
Above, the programme for Mythological Education in Britain and Germany.

We also had the opportunity to visit Wilhelmsgymnasium, a secondary school in Munich with a fine tradition of teaching Latin and Classical Civilisation. Many thanks to everyone who made us so welcome and let us crash the classes! And a big thank-you to everyone at Ludwig Maximilian and at Cambridge's Faculty of Education for bringing it all together.

Munich is sometimes called the most northerly Italian city - for its great tradition of Classics and neoclassicism. A trip there wouldn't be complete without a visit to the city’s superb museums, so Steve and I had a very enjoyable trip to the Staatliche Antikensammlungen, which holds Bavaria's extensive collections of antiquities from Greece, Etruria and Rome. Many thanks to curator Astrid Fendt for showing us around. We will have more news about our experiences with the Munich collections in due course…
Finally, above, a scene of vase-making from the magnificent collection at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen.

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Constructing the African: A Panoply Interview with Najee Olya.

We’re delighted to have the chance to speak to Najee Olya, a PhD student at the University of Virginia, USA, working on the dissertation, Constructing the African in Ancient Greek Vase-Painting: Images, Meanings and Contexts. Before beginning doctoral study, Najee earned a B.A. in Anthropology and Classical Civilization at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an M.A. in Classics at the University of Arizona. In the field, he has participated in archaeological excavations in Italy at Etruscan Populonia at Poggio del Molino, and since 2018 at Mt. Lykaion in Arcadia, Greece. Najee is currently a William Sanders Scarborough Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, researching vases in Greek collections and their archaeological contexts. The next academic year will see him take up a post as the Bothmer Fellow in the Department of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In this interview, Najee offers insight into his research on Africans in ancient Greek pottery…

1) What contexts do you think ancient Greeks and ancient Africans are encountering each other in?
I think that the primary context would be in Egypt. Given that there are Greeks in Egypt in the Archaic period as mercenaries and at Naukratis, it must be there that Greeks are encountering not only Egyptians but people from elsewhere in Africa, especially from south of Egypt itself—what the Greeks generally referred to as Aithiopia (not to be confused with the modern state). I also suspect that major hubs of maritime trade would have been the sorts of places where Greeks encountered people from Africa, at various ports and emporia – trading posts - around the Aegean and the wider Mediterranean. Conversely, I’m inclined to think that direct contacts on the Greek mainland were somewhat limited. That said, in a major city like Athens, for example, the interest in Africans among potters and vase-painters seems to indicate at least some kind of familiarity with what Africans looked like that doesn’t appear to come from just seeing artistic depictions. Moreover, there were almost certainly foreigners and people of foreign descent working in the Kerameikos in Athens, so it's impossible to rule out that at least one or two may have been from Africa. There’s also Athens’s port at Piraeus, which saw a lot of traffic from a variety of traders and merchants.
Above, a janiform cup (ie. two heads back-to-back like the god, Janus), showing an African and a European, Attic c.500-450BCE, The Art Museum, Princeton University: 33.45.

2) Who are the Africans depicted in Greek pottery – what trends are there?
There are three categories, as far as I can tell, into which the Africans depicted in Greek pottery can be grouped. Two of these are fairly straightforward mythological episodes and scenes of daily life. The third is more difficult, and consists of imagery that doesn’t fit neatly into either of the two other categories.

In terms of the mythological episodes, the main figures from Africa are Memnon and Andromeda. The pair are both said to be royalty from Aithiopia in the mythological tradition. Memnon was king of Aithiopia and an ally to Troy in the Trojan War, where he led a huge army from Aithiopia before eventually being killed by the hero Achilles. Andromeda was an Aithiopian princess who was offered up as a sacrifice to appease the ketos serpent, a sea monster sent by Poseidon to ravage the coasts of Aithiopia after Andromeda’s mother Cassieopeia had boasted that she (Cassieopeia) was more beautiful than the Nereids. Andromeda was rescued by Perseus, and the two married. In vase painting, Neither Memnon nor Andromeda are shown as African themselves, but there are instances in the iconography where Memnon is shown preparing to depart for Troy attended by African warriors.

In the Andromeda scenes, she is shown being bound between stakes for the ketos monster, sometimes in Persian dress. There are Africans on a number of the Andromeda vases. There are some mythological traditions which associate Memnon and Andromeda with the Near East, so this might explain why they are not depicted as African themselves.
Above, Andromeda with African attendants, Attic pelike c.475-425BCE, Boston Museum of Art, 63.2663.

Next, there are depictions of the hero Herakles in Egypt and Libya. In Egypt, he encounters the pharaoh Busiris, who wants to sacrifice the hero to end a drought. On pottery Herakles is shown routing Busiris and his priests, who are always depicted as African men. In Libya, Herakles is accosted by the earth giant Antaios, who waylays strangers, forces them to wrestle, and then adorns the temple of Poseidon with their bones after he has killed them. Herakles defeats Antaios by lifting him from the ground as they wrestle and cutting him off from the Earth, from which he derived his strength. On pottery, physical contrast is shown between the two as they wrestle—Antaios has a long unkempt beard and hair, similar to Egyptian depictions of Libyans.
Above, Heracles fights Busiris, Attic pelike c.500-450BCE, Athens, National Museum: CC1175.

As for images from daily life, we have African stable-hands, warriors, and some attendants at the grave. These figures can generally be identified by their very curly hair and prominent noses. The last set of objects includes things like plastic vases, which show either full African figures or African faces alone or paired with women, satyrs, Herakles, and Dionysos. Finally, there are alabastra, a shape that rather circuitously made its way to Greece from Egypt, used for perfumed oil which depict African warriors.
Above, An African groom cares for a horse, Attic kylix c.490, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.281.71.

3) Some Africans seem to be represented rather beautifully; other depictions feel a bit… off. What’s the balance between realism, idealism, and hostile caricature in ancient Greek depictions of Africans?
On the whole, I would say that most of the depictions are not hostile caricature. I can think of one example, a lekythos in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, which shows what seems to be an African woman being tortured by satyrs. There is also at least one image of a figure who may be African shown wearing shackles and is unambiguously an enslaved person. I do not think, however, that it is possible to definitively call either instance caricature.

Plastic vessels made in the form of African youths being attacked by crocodiles have sometime been interpreted as cruel, mocking images, but one can just as easily say that these show interest in the river Nile and awareness of its dangerous fauna. Aside from these examples, however, I think that many of the images are either ambiguous or benign. It is difficult to know what the representations were meant to convey to ancient Greek users. When it comes to realism, the images are realistic to a degree, but as with all ancient Greek art, it is superficial and illusory. Especially when it comes to pottery, I think that one has to remember that the medium and its convention limit just how true-to-life the representations can be. The end result is something of a pastiche of reality and imagination—the vase-painter selects the subject matter and then executes it in his own way, but the final product will always be constrained by things like the limited colour palette and the curving surface of the vase.

Above, an African youth attacked by a crocodile, Attic rhyton, c.350BCE, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge GR.58.1865.

4) Overall, what does pottery add to our understanding of ancient Greek ideas about Africans and Africa?
First and foremost, I think it reminds us that ancient Greece was part of an interconnected ancient Mediterranean. Also, that “ancient Greece” spanned three continents, with settlements and poleis not just in Europe but also in North Africa and Western Asia. Pottery tells us that ancient Greeks were interested in depicting foreign people such as Africans, and while it is difficult to interpret all of the different representations, it is clear that potters and vase-painters found Africans an intriguing subject, and that the purchasers of Athenian vases did too. The representations, in a general way, seem to indicate that Athenians were thinking about North Africa in particular, especially Libya and Egypt, where there were permanent Greek settlements. What they specifically thought about Africans is harder to determine from the pottery itself, but it does not seem to be the case that Africans were viewed any differently than other foreigners. Certainly, there was a general chauvinism toward non-Greeks, but Africans do not appear to have been singled out more than other groups, such as Persians or Scythians.
Above, An African in trousers, Attic alabastron, c.500-450, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 71.AE.202.

5) What would you like to see improved in terms of using pottery to increase general understanding of Black people within ancient Greek culture?
One thing that could use some improvement is the terminology used to describe the artifacts, which is often simultaneously both outdated and anachronistic. In scholarship this is due in part to the rather small corpus dealing with Africans on Greek pottery, much of which is several decades old now. Also, you will often see in museums or on museum websites descriptions that assume the depictions of Africans on vases are slaves, without any explanation, or descriptions that make use of discredited race-essentialist anthropology to discuss their physical characteristics.

I think that it’s extremely important to rethink how Greek vases with depictions of Africans are presented in museums, as those are the spaces where the wider public is most likely to encounter the artifacts. Some museums are already making efforts to rethink their use of language for the objects, such as the J. Paul Getty Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art. I was recently asked by a curator at the latter to write a new label for an Athenian black-figure vase in their collection which has a depiction of Memnon and one of his African warriors. Hopefully the number of museums revamping their descriptions will increase going forward.
Above, King Memon with African attendants, Attic amphora by Exekias, c.575-525, British Museum, B209, previously 1849,0518.10.

6) Perhaps you could tell us a bit about your Fellowships – what they are, how they work?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been awarded several fellowships that allowed me to study in Greece — from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) and the American Philosophical Society (APS). I started out at the American School in 2017 with a scholarship for the Summer Session, which is a six-week course involving travel around Greece to archaeological sites and museums. I came back to the ASCSA two years later in 2019 with a fellowship to participate in the Regular Program, which is an academic year spent in Athens, travelling around Greece more than the Summer Session. Now, I’m wrapping up my third stay at the American School with a fellowship as an Associate Member. This time, I’m focused entirely on working on my dissertation and taking the opportunity to revisit artifacts in museums relevant to my research, in addition to obtaining special permission to photograph many of the vases outside of their displays.

I received a Lewis and Clark Grant from the APS in 2019, which allowed me to do field research in Greece. I travelled to archaeological sites that are documented as having had material from Egypt excavated there, created an archive of photographs, and got a better sense of the sites and their topography from first-hand observation. Finally, in September 2022 I’ll be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a year as the Bothmer Fellow in the Department of Greek and Roman Art. The fellowship will allow me to complete my dissertation and to access a number of the vases included in it, as well as the Met’s libraries. It’s worth keeping your eyes open to see what opportunities and funding are available.

7) Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
It might be an obvious answer, but I will say Herodotus. I first read the Histories almost fifteen years ago as a Classics undergraduate, first in translation in a course taught wonderfully by Nanno Marinatos, and then in ancient Greek language courses. I think that it must be Herodotus’s interest in different cultures and his efforts to understand and make them legible for his readers that resonated with me, especially as someone who had already studied a bit of anthropology and archaeology before I came to Classics. As much as I enjoyed Herodotus years ago, I had pretty much left him behind until I selected my dissertation topic at the end of the first year working on the PhD. Since then, I’ve been revisiting him, as he famously writes about both Egypt and Aithiopia. I still read the Histories with a sense of wonder, but now I appreciate the complexity and sophistication of the work even more. Herodotus is one of the people from antiquity that I’d love to have a chat with if time travel were possible!

Many thanks to Najee for sharing his expertise!
If you enjoyed this topic, you may enjoy our previous blog post, Black and White Andromeda.
We'll have more news soon regarding a new Iris video!

Friday, 1 April 2022

Marathon Adventures

Good news! Panoply’s Sonya Nevin has a new book out: The Idea of Marathon: Battle and Culture . Published by Bloomsbury, it’s a rip-roaring ride through 3000 years of history. In this post we’ll be talking to Sonya about the book, including where ancient vases fit into all this. Sonya also had the pleasure of talking to podcaster Ancient History Hound recently, so you’ll find a link to their podcast chat here too.

1) What’s the book about?
The Battle of Marathon has had a huge impact on culture ever since it happened. The Idea of Marathon introduces all the players and gives you the build up to the battle. We get the battle itself – what kinds of weapons are being used, what kind of wounds do people get, what we can and can’t know about an ancient battle. We get the fall-out – how ancient armies deal with the wounded and the dead. While a battle takes place over a short time, the fall-out is forever – so the second half of the battle takes a look at how the battle quickly began to influence politics, art, education and all sorts. It then follows that thread, and look at how and why Marathon remained significant for all the generations that followed – from ancient Greeks looking back at their past, to other ancient peoples comparing their own conflicts to Marathon, and then the way that it remains relevant post-antiquity – still influencing art, education, rhetoric, and shaping how people talk about struggles, whether you’re in the Renaissance, the wars of the 18th century, or you’re running a marathon in the 21st century. In a way it’s a big story, but I’ve also kept a human quality to it – we see what the battle means to some of the people who participate and their families. So we get to know the commanders of the Persian force – Artaphernes and Datis the Mede, and we follow what Marathon means to the Athenian Miltiades and his children Cimon the general, Elpinice, and Metiochus – a Greek who lived his life as a Persian. They’re a fascinating bunch who lived through a fascinating era.

2) Did anything surprise you while you were researching it?
The Greco-Persian Wars are something I’ve been interested in for many years, so it was a pleasure to get so stuck into them. Surprise-wise – this was the first time I had read much about the importance of spells in relation to healing wounds – that was interesting. I had always known about Metiochus, Miltiades son, going off to lead a Persian life, but I was surprised to find out more about how he and Miltiades became the protagonists an ancient novel, and from there persisted in Persian poetry. There’s a section in the book called The Colonels and the Shah, which looks at the ancient past under regimes in 20th century Greece and Iran. The stuff about the last Shah of Persia and how he tried to make use of the ancient past – that’s a wild ride.

3) How did ancient pottery contribute?
Ancient pottery is often a great compliment to literature and to other material culture. We can see through pottery, for example, that the ancient Greeks took an interest in what was happening in Persia. The earliest surviving vase depicting a satrap or perhaps the Great King was made in around 520BCE – it shows attention to detail regarding the clothing specific to an elite figure of that culture.

There’s also attention to detail regarding the Scythians – a nomadic people who lived to the north east of Greece. A ceramic plate survives that actually names Miltiades. It’s a ‘kalos vase’, so there’s an inscription on that says ‘Miltiades kalos’ – ‘Miltiades is beautiful’. It depicts a Scythian, probably because Miltiades was going to an area where the Scythians often were. So the plate shows the Athenian interest in other cultures and there’s a sensitivity to the Scythians’ distinctive wearing of trousers, their use of the bow and of horse equipage.

Above, Miltiades kalos, Miltiades is beautiful. Plate made in Athens, c.520-510BCE, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, AN1879.175.

Pottery also shows us how Greek attitudes towards the Persians changes over time. From scenes of Greeks versus Persians fighting as equals, depictions of them begin to be less respectful, there is less sense of them as an equal, formidable foe. On the other hand, we see the persistence of interest in the era of the Greco-Persian Wars. We had an adventure to Italy just before the pandemic took off in Britain, and in the fabulous Archaeological Museum in Naples we saw the famous Darius Vase. That was made around c.340-330BCE, yet it depicts a play which features Darius, the Great King of Persia.

Above, The Darius Vase, made in Apulia, c.340-330BCE, Naples Museo Archeologico Nazionale H3249.

4) What are you working on now?
Oh, there’s always plenty going on. On the Panoply front, we’re making two new mini-documentaries to accompany the Dionysus and Iris Rainbow Goddess animations. These join the About Sappho 44 and About Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar documentaries which you can fin don the Panoply website. I also have a year-long post as an Assistant Professor at the University of Warsaw. That’s enabling me to put together a volume of activity and lesson plans that go with the Our Mythical Childhood animations. There are contributions from teachers at the top of their game all over the world, so I think it will be a really useful and fun collection. There will also be a chapter of mine about the Panoply vase animations in a collected volume edited by Anastasia Bakogianni and Luis Unceta Gómez; Classical Reception, State of the Discipline and New Directions will be a great read, so it’s exciting to be part of that.

5) Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
When I did a Panoply interview for my first book, Military Leaders and Sacred Space, I gave Miltiades as my favourite ancient Greek. That’s still my answer. Maybe he’s not entirely a good man, but he is a great man, and his life is such an adventure – I love that kind of thing in ancient history. I’m also tempted to give a second answer, which would be quite different – Plutarch. We can know more of Plutarch's mind than we do of Miltiades, as we can read so much of his work. He was a wise man and I’ve learned a lot from him in all sorts of ways; he’s been a very positive influence on my life and I’m very grateful for that. Still, Miltiades for the win – what a life!

You’ll find The Idea of Marathon on the Bloomsbury website here and in all good bookshops. To check out Sonya’s Marathon chat with the Ancient History Hound, take yourself to: https://ancientblogger.libsyn.com/the-idea-of-marathon-with-dr-sonya-nevin

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Ancient Music: A Panoply Interview with Aliki Markantonatou

We're delighted to be talking to Aliki Markantonatou, an artist and music teacher based in Athens, in Greece. Aliki trained at the National Music Academy before specialising in ancient style music. We recently had the pleasure of working with her when she recorded Sappho Fragment 44 for the Our Mythical Childhood project. Aliki talks to us today about the lyre, ancient music, and cross-cultural collaboration...

1) What attracted you to ancient Greek music?
I studied piano and Western music, but I was feeling that I was missing something. Soon, I started listening to our traditional music and ethnic groups from all over the world. It was back in 2004 that I came across the lyre, and started experimenting and, a little later, playing my music on it. The need to use poetry arose and the ancient Greek poets, such as Sappho and Alkman offered me amazing lyrics of beauty. But the turning point was when I met Dr Chrestos Terzes and I realised that, yes, the ancient sound can be approached and reproduced. I was also lucky enough to attend three short seminars with Dr Stefan Hagel, and since then my interest in ancient Greek music became realistic, and not just wishful thinking. My mother is a passionate Classicist and the lullabies and fairy tales she was narrating to us were all fragments from Homer, Aesop, lyrical poetry and so on. I think that this was crucial for me to feel that antiquity is close to my heart.
Above, Aliki and other musicians at a performance of the Orphic Hymn to Hera at the Heraia festival at the Pythagorion, Samos 2016.

2) You create many projects and collaborate with different musicians. Could you tell us how you work together with other musicians and what you do?
I feel very lucky to have met so many amazing musicians and personalities because of the lyre. I participate regularly with the Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody female ensemble, and I've performed and recorded music with Turkish musicians, Chinese, Swiss and Indian among others. The way I view the lyre is that, besides ancient Greek music, it can exist in harmony with all kinds of traditional instruments and it can be integrated in modern soundscapes. What I usually do is to study the style of the musician I am going to collaborate with and the scales of the tradition that he or she carries. The lyre is very flexible in tuning. Once I tune on the right notes, I am ready to follow and exchange musical phrases with the other artist. My main focus is to create a conversation between the instruments. As for Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody, that is my main band, all of us create music and we work on Greek traditional songs, ancient poetry set to music and fresh compositions.

3) Your recording of Sappho 44 for Animating the Ancient World within Our Mythical Childhood has been such a great success. How did you work with Professor D'Angour's score to create the sound-scape?
That was really an amazing project, I enjoyed every moment of it! Professor D’Angour did the arrangement for the first verse, and offered me through Skype and emails all the information I needed to proceed and set to music the other three verses. He sent me the text explaining word by word the rhythm that was hidden in the vowels, the notes of the scale I could use, the proper pronunciation and instructions of what I should avoid. In the same time, he was open to my ideas and was very helpful with all the questions that arose. When I finished the first recording I sent to him and I still remember the relief I felt when he answered, yes, everything is in place….Then it was just a matter of making it really a nice piece, and I would like to thank here the amazing sound engineer Nenad Radosevic, who is always next to me with patience and ideas.

4) Could you tell us a bit about the lyre that you play?
The lyre I play is made by the luthier Nicolas Bras, who is famous for his excellent violins, cellos and all kind of repairs on instruments. It is a pretty long one, closer to varvitos (or barbitos) sound than the lyre. It has a large soundbox and 12 strings. For ancient pieces I use only 9 strings. For Greek traditional songs and other kind of music 12 strings are very helpful. I tried many combinations of strings and it took me some years to find the ideal one. I use guitar strings for the high notes and gut for the lower. It is a vintage, for sure, that can be arranged according to the project. I use a cardio mic for concerts and usually I attain wonderful sound. Still, when I can play in a place with natural amplification, such as churches, I prefer no mics.
Above, Aliki Markantonatou with her lyre.

5) With Lyre n' Rhapsody you collaborate with Meet Culture in a cultural exchange between Europe and China. What have you learned from each other?
This cultural exchange has been so deep. I could never guess the depth when it started. We were invited by Miao Bin and Eley Yuan, the founders of Meet Culture, to participate in a crossover album. Their close friend, Jang Jing, a world famous Guchen (Chinese santoor) musician received as a gift our first CD, Awakening of the Muse. She shared with us that she was playing it repeatedly until she made up her mind to visit Athens with Jang Di - an amazing Xiao flutist - and record with us. We were listening to their music for some months to get in tune; and when they arrived, we were ready. The recording happened in 5 days. We recorded 20 tracks, all of them beautiful. We chose the 10 best for the album Aegean. We learned that language is not important, just flow with the sound, trust the moment and play when is needed. We learned that we share the same dreams and can enjoy friendship with a glass of wine having Greek or Chinese food. A strong bond developed and the feeling of family is there when we meet. We joke with each other, share our problems and help and support each other. Meet Culture organised a tour in and around Shanghai for all of us and two performances in Athens. The joy of that trip and the wonderful people we met is beyond words. Elegance, care, passion, generosity, kindness to name a few. And then another surprise occurred! Discussing the poetry of ancient Chinese and ancient Greek poets we found so many things in common, we could not resist. We created a performance in which ancient Chinese and Greek poems interact, one after the other in a dialogue of similar ideas and values. It was not easy to do all this translation, but was worth it, and I can assure that you can find many poems in similar forms between these two nations.
Above, the poster for Meet Culture's celebration of ancient Greek and ancient Chinese music and poetry.

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
What a wonderful opportunity to praise Pericles!!! As an Athenian woman I enjoy Acropolis energy and light! Athens wouldn’t be what it is if the area around Acropolis did not exist. It would be just another town… But, now is an amazing town!!! When I feel tired or sad, I just stroll around Acropolis and feel refreshed and encouraged - thanks to this wonderful soul who managed to challenge the citizens to create this beauty! Thanks to this wonderful soul who offered equality to his spouse Aspasia, and respected democracy, I am enjoying my life in Athens, me, one person out of million people who live here and are showered by the grace of the golden ages. I am always amazed by what Pericles inspired in so many generations!

Many thanks to Aliki for these fascinating insights. Below you'll find some further examples of Aliki's performances and her interview with a Greek lyre-maker working with traditional techniques.

Above, from the 2016 Aegean Music Tour in China.

Above, Meet Culture's Greek and Chinese collaboration on a performance of The Iliad.

Above, a Meet Culture interview in which Aliki Markantonatou talks to lyre-maker Yiannis Stathakos in Xerokampi, near Sparta, about traditional lyre-making techniques.

You'll find more videos of Aliki's performances on her website: https://www.alikimarkantonatou.net/videos
and on Meet Culture's site: https://www.meetculture.com/media

Sunday, 25 April 2021

New Animation Extravaganza!

Hooray for new animations! We are delighted that we have new animations for you – all the videos made for the Our Mythical Childhood project are now online! You can find them on their own page on the Panoply website: http://www.panoply.org.uk/omc.html . There are five new vase animations: Sappho 44, Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar, Dionysus, Libation, and Iris- Rainbow Goddess. There are two mini-documentaries: About Sappho 44 and About Heracles, and a brand new recording of Sappho 44 sung in ancient Greek by Aliki Markantonatou according to the score written by Prof. Armand D'Angour – a version of the tune that the poem would have been sung to in antiquity. You will also fine a wealth of bonus material – information about the vases and the animations, downloadable information and activity sheets, and PowerPoint presentations to help integrate the animations into lessons and lectures. We hope you have fun exploring these resrouces and trying them out.

Above, Panoply's Sonya Nevin concentrating hard during the online launch of the Our Mythical Childhood animations and Panoply's new partnership with the Cambridge Schools Classics Project.

Many thanks to everyone who attended or spoke at the launch event for the videos. In addition to introductions to the videos, we heard from Our Mythical Childhood Principal Investigator Professor Katarzyna Marciniak, from Lisa Hay, Olivia Gillmann and Rob Hancock-Jones on their pioneering teaching with Panoply vase animations, and from Head of CSCP Caroline Bristow about where the OMC animations, videos and other resources can fit into the UK and Irish curriculums. It was great to see lots of positivity and creative teaching practice.

This event also marked the launch of our new partnership with the Cambridge Schools Classics Project - a long-standing organisation at the University of Cambridge committed to supporting classics teaching. In due course, CSCP will be hosting our website - it will remain at the same www.panoply.org.uk address but will get a revamp and some extra materials. More on that as it happens. All the Our Mythical Childhood materials will soon be available on the Our Mythical Childhood website too – where you'll also find links to the other supercool projects under the OMC banner.

As you've reached the Panoply blog, I'm going to take the opportunity to point out some of its highlights. You can explore simply by scrolling through or using the Labels on the right of the page, but to jump straight in, you might fancy:

Ancient pottery meets ancient theatre, an interview with Dr Rosie Wyles

On Greek Myth Comix, by classics teacher and comic-maker L.E. Jenkinson-Brown

Symposiums, an interview with vase king Prof. Sir John Boardman

On Ancient music, an interview with Prof. Conrad Steinmann, who provided music for the OMC animations Dionysus, Libation and Iris.

You'll also find discussions of events, vases, and other art related to classical culture, such as:
Black and White Andromeda - a discussion of the representation of the Princess of Ethiopia, from ancient vases to modern young people's literature.
Happy Birthday Panoply - a potted history of our adventures with vase animations.

The Force Awakens Greek Vase Scenes - a look at Star Wars-Greek Vase fan mash-ups.

A big thank-you to everyone who has contributed to creating the Our Mythical Childhood videos. We hope you have a great time using them.