This post is written by Naama Zahavi-Ely, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies.
Why should one teach (or study) Greek and Roman mythology? Why should 21st-century young people care about the stories that the Greeks and the Romans told about their gods and heroes? One answer is that these stories have provided abundant material to some 2800 years of all arts, from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to a 2011 rock musical from Boston based on Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. They still provide a mirror through which artists can touch us, a rich treasure trove of plotlines and characters. They are still relevant.
I am a great believer in exposure to the arts. Descriptions of plays, or poems, or music, are not a substitute to actually watching the play, reading or hearing the poem, seeing the painting or sculpture, or listening to the music. When I lecture about Greek and Roman mythology, I embed in my talks opportunities to see and listen to artistic interpretations of the myths we deal with. I am lucky enough to teach in the age of YouTube: among its millions of clips, I can find the art I am looking for and incorporate it into my lectures. Others out there share my love of mythology and my passion for the arts; some of them spend time and effort to create fabulous combinations of music and paintings.
But YouTube can go only so far. Often I found the very clip I was looking for – but in a pirated version, or without English subtitles. At other times I knew that I really wanted to show another segment of the piece, one that did not happen to be on YouTube. The Rich Media Grant will acquire streaming rights or DVDs of wonderful operas and theater productions on mythological themes. Opera, with its magnificent combination of music, words, and theatrical effects, has a special affinity to mythological themes. Opera composers have been making use of mythology for the last 400 years, ever since the genre was invented. And performers and producers today still perform the best of their works, often using it to probe contemporary issues. Once we have the DVDs or streaming rights at Swem Library, they could be used not only for the mythology class but also for students’ independent research and for classes in music and in theater. For my own mythology class in Fall 2013, I plan to embed clips from the productions in my lectures and PowerPoint presentations. Now at last I would be able to pick any segment I want.