UWICAH Conference 2019- Narratives of Power.

This week’s blog post is by Thomas Husøy on the conference ‘Narratives of Power’ that took place on 16th November in Singleton Abbey. A huge congratulations to the committee for coordinating this event! Full details of the programme and speakers can be found here.

The conference organisers (front centre: William Clayton, Thomas Husøy and Urška Furlan) with conference delegates outside Singleton Abbey.

On behalf of the UWICAH 2019 committee, Thomas writes:

For the third time since the beginning in 2013, Swansea University was responsible for the organization of the Universities of Wales Institute of Classics and Ancient History Postgraduate Conference. Over the last eight months or so I have worked with two other PhD students in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology (William Clayton; PhD in Classics and Urška Furlan; PhD in Egyptology) to organise this event. The UWICAH Postgraduate Conference is an annual event organized at one of the three UWICAH Universities and we are already looking forward to the next conference which will be hosted at the University of Wales Trinity St. David in Lampeter.

The theme for this year’s conference was Narratives of Power. The call for papers was sent out in June and attracted a wide number of speakers from all the UWICAH Universities, the rest of the UK and the wider world. Traditionally, the UWICAH conference has been hosted in one room throughout the day with three panels following one another. However, owing to the success of the call for papers, we had to book extra space to accommodate the papers that were submitted and we utilised both the Council Chamber and Committee Room 2 in Singleton Abbey. All together we had six panels, running parallel in the two rooms.

The speakers at the conference came from across the world, including the United States, Egypt, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and France and the topic was interpreted in a variety of ways. We had talks in topics representing narratives of power in linguistics, mythology, politics, symbology and reception studies. The majority of the speakers were able to attend in person with the exception of four Egyptologists who delivered their talks via Skype. All of the papers were of high quality, prompting much discussion and the conference was a resounding success. As organisers, we were encouraged by the response and reach of this event as we had requests from scholars in both Europe and America to live stream the conference. While we were unable to facilitate this, the event was live tweeted by @suancientworld and @uwicah2019 to capture the day as it unfolded.

Everyone in the Council Chamber for the discussion of the day.

After the conference was over, several of the delegate and organizers headed down to Pub on the Pond for dinner, a few drinks and a post-conference chat. We are now looking into the possibility of publishing papers from the conference in an edited volume and look forward to working more on this.

We extend our gratitude to everyone who aided in making the UWICAH 2019 a successful international conference, including but not limited to Singleton Abbey reception, the College of Arts and Humanities at Swansea University and the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology. Particular thanks go to Professor Mark Humphries (the Head of Department) for opening the conference and Dr. Maria Pretzler for providing fantastic baked goods and finally, UWICAH itself.

Thomas Alexander Husøy (PhD in Ancient History).


Thomas Husøy giving his talk about identities and Thessaly.


KYKNOS Colloquium

KYKNOS Research Colloquium


The Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology and KYKNOS, The Centre for Research on the Narrative Literatures of the Ancient World, hosted a COAH-sponsored Research Colloquium on Friday, 25 October 2019, in the Mall Room, Taliesin, on Singleton Campus.


The international event – part of the regular biannual Colloquia programme of KYKNOS – centred around four exciting lectures on Greek and Latin texts and their historical and cultural contexts.


Alan Lloyd (Swansea)                          ‘Timeo Danaos: Motifs can walk’

Rachel Bird (Swansea)                        ‘The Greek Novel: Voyeurism, Sophrosyne and Heroines as Text’

Olivier Demerre (Ghent)                     ‘Catching Bodies, Catching Texts: Longus and Ovid on hunting’

Koen de Temmerman (Ghent)            ‘Stories of Erotic Desire in Late Antique Hagiography:

the curious case of Euphemia and the Goth (and Callirhoe)’


The Colloquium, organised by Ian Repath and Fritz-Gregor Herrmann, marked the 15th anniversary of the foundation of KYKNOS at Swansea, and at the same time celebrated the 40th anniversary of the arrival at Swansea of Prof. em. John Morgan, at whose initiative KYKNOS was established as a research centre in 2004. At the end of the formal proceedings, John Morgan was presented with a Festschrift with contributions by former colleagues and students, many of whom were present at the event. Some Organic Readings in Narrative, Ancient and Modern contains seventeen original essays which reflect both the wide range of John’s interests and the high esteem in which he is held internationally.


KYKNOS promotes research on the narrative literatures of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Near East.


Exploring ancient Greece by Jan Doskocil


In this week’s post Jan Doskocil, a third year Ancient History undergraduate, writes about his travels to Greece over the Summer. With the support of his academic mentor, Dr Janja Soldo, Jan applied for a Society of Dilettanti Travel Scholarship to fund this study trip. This is a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate students to apply for funding to support independent travel to classical sites and museums in Greece, Italy or the Eastern Mediterranean. More information about this scheme – and many others that support and encourage exploration of the ancient world – can be found here. Reflecting on the application process, Janja says, ‘When Jan asked me if I would support his application, I was happy to help him with the application letter and to write a reference – his enthusiasm for Greece is contagious and inspiring. I am very glad that he received the scholarship and that he had the opportunity to see the ancient sites, which he learned so much about in his classes, with his own eyes.’


Exploring ancient Greece by Jan Doskocil

Images by Jan Doskocil: The Temple of Hephaestus, Athens; The Temple of Apollo at Corinth with the acropolis in the distance; Palaestra of Ancient Messene; Fortress at Rhamnous; The Lion Gate, Mycenae.

“Awesome! So, this is the place I’ve heard so much about. How could they build that thing?” Such were my thoughts as I visited ancient monuments and wondered which king, hero or famous statesman stood at the same spot thousands of years before me. Although I admit I had to use my imagination quite a lot sometimes, the sites, which some call mere ruins, have still preserved a magical sense of mystery.

First, on my two-week trip around Greece, I explored Pella and Vergina. This area formed the heart of ancient Macedonia. Among the remains of the city of Pella there were elaborated mosaics, and the museum contained a number of fine objects – especially the exhibition of weapons decorated with gold, but what really impressed me was the scenery. Dark green mountains in the distance, red roofs of tiny villages, columns made of white stone, olive trees covering the flat land, and the sea mirroring the azure sky… And after this colourful play I entered the underground museum of Vergina and could observe the royal tombs in near darkness. It is worth visiting for lively frescos depicting mythological stories and hunting scenes, gold crowns imitating a wreath of oak leaves, or armour and weapons that may have belonged to Philip II himself. Further south I was fascinated by the epic view of cloud-covered Mt Olympos, the highest mountain in Greece and seat of the gods.

Next I spent some time wandering around Athens. Imagine you sit under the temple of Hephaestus listening to the sound of cicadas early in the morning, feeling the aura of the place. Then you look up at the Acropolis and can’t believe your eyes. There were tourists everywhere, almost falling over the edges. As I went up, it got very hot. Crowds were pushed into one long queue that moved at a snail’s pace. Guards with whistles were screaming at us: “Quick photos and keep moving! Don’t touch it!” Classical monuments, like isolated islands lost in that turmoil of the modern city, were being attacked by roaring masses of selfie hunters. Still, popularity of the place is a proof that the ancient world with its splendour and staggering megalomania has something to say even today. For those who appreciate more peaceful places, I would recommend Rhamnous, situated near the Marathon battlefield, where you can find the temple of Nemesis and fortress. But it is quite an adventure to get there.

Olympia and Delphi also enjoy extraordinary prestige. To visit both sites, I took serpentine roads in the mountains. Then I walked around the temples of Zeus and Apollo respectively. It had to be amazing to be a spectator of the Panhellenic Games or to ask the oracle for advice. Another impressive places were Mycenae and Tiryns – the Lion Gate, citadels, massive walls composed of huge pieces of rock – frankly, some Cyclops were surely assisting… I chanced to attend Epidaurus theatre festival and watched Euripides’ play Iphigenia in Aulis. The performance took place at the ancient theatre in the open air at night. Even though it was in Greek (with English subtitles), I was drawn in the play, the atmosphere and experience were fabulous.

Sometimes I can’t find enough words to describe everything, or, maybe, I use to many – nothing can compare when you see it for yourself.

WOW Opportunity: Social Media and Digital Marketing Assistants (Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology)

Interested in a career in broadcasting, journalism or marketing? Enjoy creative writing and Social media? Want to work with like-minded people to share knowledge about the ancient world to a wider audience?

Look no further! The Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology is inviting students interested in developing a range of transferable skills to apply for a one of a number of Week of Work (WOW) placements.


 The Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology is offering up to four WOW placements to support the department’s web officer with the development and maintenance of the department’s blog, newly launched newsletter and their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

This is a fantastic opportunity to gain employability skills, meet new people, and create web and media content for our department! Ella Thomas (a second year Media and Communication Student) held a WOW placement last year and was a Social Media Assistant to Dr. Ersin Hussein, Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology. Ella said the following of her experience:

“I have been responsible managing future contributions to the departmental blog Hieroglyphs, Heroes, and Heretics and I have worked closely with Ersin to create an official annual departmental newsletter. Duties have included emailing staff and students (current and alumni) for contributions to the newsletter’s content and helping in the design and layout of the newsletter. The placement greatly helped me to develop and implement marketing and PR skills that I had been taught on my course, such as managing social media platforms and designing layouts for public facing documents (e.g. leaflets). I have also developed valuable administration skills, such as time management. As a result of my placement I am eligible to gain the SEA award, which will greatly enhance my career prospects after University. The amount of support received from Ersin has been amazing and has greatly enhanced my confidence and belief in my own capabilities. I would recommend undertaking a placement to all students who wish to improve upon their academic and personal  skills.”

Person Specification

  1. Good organisational skills and the ability to complete a task to a deadline
  2. Excellent attention to detail and accuracy
  3. The ability to work independently, and to know when and how to seek guidance
  4. Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  5. Good interpersonal skills
  6. A quick learner and able to adapt to change/display flexibility



Est. 04/11/19 – 04/05/20

18 teaching weeks, 1-2 hours per week. Scheduled workshops of 2-3 hours throughout the term.


Application and Closing Date

To apply, please send your CV and covering letter to COAHEmployability@swansea.ac.uk by midnight on Sunday 20th October. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch with the employability office (using the email above) or with Dr Ersin Hussein (ersin.hussein@Swansea.ac.uk).

We look forward to receiving you applications!



Welcome back and looking forward to the 2019/2020 academic year!

A very warm welcome back to everyone!

We may have been a little quiet on the blog front last term, but by no means did this mean that we weren’t busy! For example, we saw the completion and launch of the Ancient World on Film project and the successful delivery of new, innovative modules (including handlings sessions in the Egypt Centre and a trip to the British Museum) – you can read about these in the COAH College newsletter here. Towards the end of term, many staff and students delivered papers at The Egypt Centre’s conference ‘Wonderful Things‘, an event that showcased the history of the museum and current research that is taking place there in conjunction with our department. The Egypt Centre Collection Blog is a fantastic read as it regularly features news about its volunteers, the research that our students undertake,  collaborative work with the department and the current renovations to its store rooms. All in all it has been an exciting year and the 2019/20 academic year promises to be equally as busy for all staff and students here in the department…

Along with the rest of the university, we are celebrating the Swansea 2020 centenary! This academic year will also see the official launch of OLCAP – our new research group for object and landscape centred approaches to the ancient past. More on this to come! In April, the department will also host the Classical Association conference in April 2020 – a truly international event that draws attention to cutting edge research, innovations in pedagogy across all stages of education provision and pressing issues for our fields of study and work. So watch this space as more information about these events, as well as many others, will be featured on the blog! We also have a number of contributions from our undergraduate and postgraduate researchers to look forward to.

To kick start the year, I draw your attention to the UWICAH postgraduate conference that will take place on 16th November on the theme of Narratives of Power! This conference has been organised by our postgraduate research students and, as you can see below, promises to be a fantastic event. We look forward to seeing you there!

From the organisers:

On the sixteenth of November the Universities of Wales Institute of Classics and Ancient History Postgraduate conference will take place in the Council Chamber and Conference Room 2 in Singleton Abbey. PhD candidates in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology at Swansea University have this year organized the conference. The topic of this year’s conference will be Narratives of Power, and explores powerful narratives in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East. After a successful call for papers, the conference has drawn speakers from across Britain and beyond. The conference will feature twenty-two speakers, from eighteen institutions (including all three UWICAH Universities, Swansea, Cardiff and Trinity St David’s, Lampeter) and run from 09:30-17:30; followed by a roundtable debate and drinks in a nearby pub.

The delegates have interpreted Narratives of Power in a wide variety of ways, and therefore there will be talks on many topics including mythology, material culture, rulers, identity and more. Furthermore, we are thinking of publishing some of the papers from the conference in an edited volume. Food and drinks will be provided for attendees of the conference, and we hope to see as many people as possible from Swansea to support the event. If you are interested in attending, email uwicahconference2019@gmail.com and/or sign up on Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/uwicah-2019-narratives-of-power-tickets-73538673151).


Eventbrite QR code:

Best Regards

Thomas Alexander Husøy, William Clayton, Urska Furlan.

Conference Programme

Singleton Abbey, Swansea University, SA2 8PP


Time Council Chamber Conference Room 2
9.30 Registration
  Classics Egyptology I
10.00 Rebecca Rusk (Reading): The Rule of Zeus in Hesiod’s Theogony Thomas Humphrey (UWTSD): Power and Diplomacy in the Amarna Letters: Cypro-Egyptian Relations in the 14th Century BCE
10.30 Brian McPhee (North Carolina): Brawn Without Brain? Mythopoetic Trajectories in Heracles’ Teratomachies Rachael Cornwell (Liverpool): The Power of Change: The Accumulated Impact of Minor Linguistic Changes on the Egyptian Verbal System
11.00 Georgina Homer (Open University): Infamous Medea: Power Through Reputation and Infamy John Rogers (Swansea): “I Made This as an Act of Praise”: Power and Agency in 7th-Century BCE Egyptian Non-Royal Statuary
11.30 Gina Bevan (Cardiff): Medusa’s Rape: Lady Gaga and Victimhood Marwa Abdel Razek (Cairo/Cairo Museum): The Mystery of Female Figurines (Concubines) Represented on Plaques and Beds in the Cairo Museum
12.00 Lunch
  Archaic and Classical Greece Egyptology II
12.45 Thomas Alexander Husøy (Swansea): Thessaly and the Narrative of Identities in Central Greece Lonneke Deipeut (Leiden): Horses in Egypt: A Status Symbol or a Status Marker?
13.15 Richard Phillips (Birkbeck College, London): Cultural and Political Soft Power in the Ancient Greek World: Paros and Athens Islam Alwakeel (Ain Shams): Offering of the Field (sḫt) in the Egyptian Temples of the Greco-Roman Period (Edfou-Dendara)
13.45 Matt Thompson (Nottingham): Projecting Power By Displaying Nothing? Possible Motivations for the Apparent Refusal of the Spartans to Dedicate Captured Arms Henry Bohun (UWTSD): Exploring Ptolemy II Within the Narrative of Ancient Egyptian Kingship: Ruler Cult and Material Culture
14.15 Ana Garcia Espinosa (Cardiff): Mercenary Armies and Power: The Narrative of Leadership in Xenophon’s Anabasis Frédéric Rouffet (Paul-Valéry): Title TBC, Egyptian Magic
14.45 Tea/Coffee



Time Council Chamber Conference Room 2
  Late Classical Greece Egyptian and Roman History
15.15 Maria Gisella Giannone (Exeter): Narratives of Power By and Within Athens in Isocrates’ On the Peace Ella McCafferty Wright (Cambridge): The Meroe Bust of Augustus and Narratives of Rebellion
15.45 Leon Battista Borsano (Scuola Normale Superiore): Kyrios Estō: Narrative(s) of Power in Late Classical Lycia Consuelo Martino (St. Andrews): The Last Republican or the First Emperor? Discussing Suetonius’ Divus Iulius and the Political Power of Biographical Writing
16.15 Roberta Dainotto (Crete): Building Concepts of Power Through Narrative in Forensic Speeches: The Case of Apollodorus Domiziana Rossi (Cardiff): Sasanian Kings as Decision-Makers: Reshaping the Ērānshahr
16.45 Roundtable Discussion of Day
17.30 Close


Calling all filmmakers – Job advert for the project The Ancient World on Film!

This week’s blog is a call for filmmakers interested in working on an exciting new collaborative project between staff and students at Swansea University, local communities. Details below:

The Ancient World on Film is an exciting new collaborative project between staff and students at Swansea University, local communities, and filmmakers. Filmmakers will work with staff and students in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology to produce a short film (5-10 minutes) about the ancient world which opens up the subject to new audiences. Staff and students will be responsible for writing the script in consultation with local communities so that the films can be targeted effectively at our ideal audiences. However, we hope that filmmakers will embrace this opportunity to mentor our students and help them explore the creative potential of the medium. We are particularly keen to develop new ways of presenting information about the ancient world which go beyond the traditional documentary format and will welcome suggestions from filmmakers about how to do this. The films will be shown at a big launch at the Taliesin theatre in May 2019, where filmmakers and students will have the opportunity to discuss the production process with members of the public and invited guests.

We are producing four films in total and invite pitches from filmmakers to produce one or more of those films. For each film:

You Will Need:

* Demonstrable experience producing short films; ideally you will be able to demonstrate experience delivering a contracted film on schedule and on budget.

* To supply your own filming and editing equipment.

* Public liability insurance.

* To be prepared to undertake a DBS check if necessary.

* Ideally you will have experience producing films as part of a team, and particularly of working with community groups and/or students.

* Ideally you will be available to attend a workshop with members of the local community in late January or early February 2019. Dates will be confirmed after further consultation with all parties involved.

* To consult with students and staff during the script-writing period (February-March 2019). This can be done remotely if necessary.

* To be able to shoot the film in March or early April 2019. Filming is expected to take no more than one day.

* To provide a rough cut of the film for discussion by mid-April 2019.

* To deliver the final film by 30th April 2019.

* To attend a film screening at the Taliesin theatre on the University’s Singleton Park Campus on Monday 13th May from 4.30 to 7.30.

You Will Receive:

* A fee of £1,500 to be paid in two instalments (the first instalment to be paid after filming, the second upon delivery of the final film).

* A budget of £1,000 to make the film.


* 1 film (5-10 minutes in length) shot in Full HD format (1920×1080)

* Delivered as an MP4 file and one copy on a blue-ray disc

* Deadline for completion: 30th April 2019

* You will also be required to discuss a rough cut of the film with students at an appropriate moment in the process, likely in March or April 2019.

The Film

We are looking to create exciting, new films about the ancient world and we intend to give filmmakers and students plenty of scope to utilise their creative vision and skills to develop the film. In particular, we want to move beyond the traditional documentary format and find innovative ways to communicate information about the ancient world. For an idea of what we mean by all of this, feel free to have a look at an earlier project led by Dr Harrison.


To Apply

Send a brief (1 page max) cover letter detailing your experience and including a link to a showreel or equivalent to Dr Stephen Harrison (stephen.harrison@swansea.ac.uk) and Dr Joanne Berry (j.t.berry@swansea.ac.uk) by 23.59 on 31st December 2018. Shortlisted applicants will be contacted in the first week of January 2019 with a view to further discussion.

We would love to hear from interested filmmakers, so please send informal queries and expressions of interest to Drs Berry and Harrison.

The revenge of the killer dictionary: the story of Liddell, Scott, and a disgruntled octopus

This blog post was originally posted on Gorffennol.

Most of us use dictionaries on a regular basis and take their existence utterly for granted. We expect a dictionary to give us usable definitions and translation(s) of a word so we can read, write, and speak in other languages. That this dictionary was created by other humans, with a social background, political agenda, emotions, and restrictions (such as health and finances) in their lives which may have had an impact on their translations, doesn’t generally enter our thoughts. But researching the history of dictionaries is absolutely fascinating, and reveals that the process is a much more subjective one than you might think.

I’m currently researching the most renowned Greek-English dictionary of them all (and with Greek I mean ancient Greek): the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon (or LSJ in short). Everyone who studies ancient Greek will at one point in their lives pick up a copy of the LSJ (or turn to it online at http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/), and introducing the massive lexicon to my Beginning Greek students each year is always a great moment in the module, with students eagerly taking turns to look up words. I would like to tell you the story about how it all began.


School pupil visit to our Department in March 2017

On the 16th March, we had our annual Classics Schools’ day. Pupils from four local schools attended the day and took part in workshops and talks by our academic staff as well as an object handling session at the Egypt centre. Pupils from Castle School in Pembrokeshire reflect on their experience:

Swansea University

We arrived at Swansea at about 10:30 at the large, phenomenal university. We were a bit late due to traffic and parking problems but that didn’t matter much! On the way to the entrance I couldn’t help but notice the big buildings and the green garden areas. Beautiful. The inside was equally as nice and after getting lost we found our way to the first talk. Sadly we had missed a bit because we were late.

When we got there (a bit late because it takes an hour to get there and there were some traffic and parking problems) we saw lots of people, so it must be a big university.

Classics in Wales

The first talk was taken by Dr. Evelien Bracke. It was about the Romans and some Roman artefacts in Wales. It was very interesting. She talked about some Roman Artwork and buildings in Swansea that were inspired by Roman architecture. The students mentioned many museums in Swansea that held proof that the Romans did play a big role in British society. In fact we had just recently visited Caerleon where there is a theatre and some cool Roman baths. It’s amazing there.



Epicurean Legacy

Written by Jack Brooker
2nd Year Ancient History Student at Swansea University
Published: February 2017

I chose to write about Epicurus because I think he is important. The world we live in has recently become, undeniably, highly politicised. I see the teachings of Epicurus, generally ignored as the basis for a moral code, as a solid foundation for friendly interaction between people. Perhaps if his philosophy was studied more closely, we would be further from the war of attrition between a myriad of inflexible groups, in which we currently find ourselves.

Epicurean Legacy

When we, the general public, hear the words ‘ancient philosophy’ our thoughts are generally drawn to Aristotle and Plato, the great beardy philosophers of the Greek Classical Period. Perhaps the more well-read amongst us will think of, gods forbid, the Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius (whose morose Meditations have plagued the world of Hellenistic Philosophy with dreariness for far too long).

But the Hellenistic world, fortunately, produced far more than just Stoicism; nor were the Stoics the only school of philosophy to influence modern thought. Indeed, one could argue that modern thought has been influenced more by the chief opponents of the Stoics, and the subjects of this piece: the Epicureans.

Born on Samos in 341 BCE, Epicurus founded his philosophical school – the Garden – outside the walls of Athens in 306. There he lived amongst his friends and fellow members of the school (with Epicurus considering the former the more important qualification) and constructed his philosophy, based upon the attainment of pleasure through the removal of both physical and mental pain. He died there in 270, leaving his school and home to his disciples.

Epicureanism thereafter spread rapidly through the classical world, eventually becoming a major philosophy within the Roman Empire. Gaius Cassius Longinus, the tyrannicide, was an Epicurean (though seemingly in breach of the Epicurean principle of not getting involved in politics). The Roman philosopher Lucretius, writing in the 1st Century BCE, penned the definitive distillation of Epicurus’ philosophy in Latin, De Rerum Natura (‘On the Nature of Things’). Both Cicero and Seneca discussed Epicureanism in their works, and the charred papyrus scrolls discovered in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum are a treasure trove of Epicurean works, including the works of Philodemus.

A series of Stoic emperors and the rise of Christianity, coupled with the general reluctance of Epicureans to engage in public life, led to the decline of the philosophy in latter half and aftermath of the Roman Empire, with its only echo to be found in the monastic communities of the Christian monks (environments which, I suspect, were much less joy-oriented). However, the ideas of the Epicureans would be rediscovered in the early Renaissance, and went on to become the cornerstone of modern thought.

Epicurean atomism, the theory that everything in the universe consists of invisible atoms of a fixed shape, size and weight, would be developed by 16th and 17th Century scholars to develop the heliocentric solar system model of Copernicus into something defensible, and by Renaissance alchemists to develop the theories that would eventually become the science of chemistry.

Epicurean philosophies have also informed some of the greatest historical social thinkers: Epicurus’ view that supernatural entities (like gods) are unable to have any direct influence in the natural world informed the metaphysical views of Kant and Hume, Epicurean ideas about natural law and justice informed the social contract theories of Hobbes and Rousseau, and the principle of maximising pleasure and reducing pain was a driving idea for the founders of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Epicurus’ ideal of living a contented life even informed the walking, talking controversy that was Karl Marx.

The works of Epicurus and his successors have had an immeasurable impact upon the social and scientific thought of the modern world. Their slip back into obscurity, in an age where ever increasing numbers of people report being unhappy or discontent with daily life, cannot be allowed to stand. So, whilst Aristotle and Plato are all well and good, I would argue that we all need to inject a little Epicureanism into the mix. And, yes, I suppose we can study the Stoics too…

For a more comprehensive discussion of Epicurean philosophy and its influence on modern thinking, see Catherine Wilson’s Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction, in the popular Oxford Very Short Introduction series.

A comprehensive collection of works by Epicurean philosophers can be found in The Epicurean Philosophers, edited by John Gaskin and published by Everyman.






Figure 1: Bust of Epicurus, Roman, 3rd/2nd C. BCE

Charon doesn’t have a great job, but he Styx with it – the representation of Charon in O’Connor’s graphic novel ‘Hades’

Note: For the module ‘Classics in Popular Culture’ (CLC315), students were asked to write blog posts on Classical Reception in the TV series Plebs or Once Upon a Time, and on the comics Asterix or George O’Connor’s Olympians. Some of the best blogs are featured on our departmental blog site.

I’ve always been a fan of comic books and graphic novels and was surprised to find that someone had created a  series about the Greek gods. Finding out that the target audience of the Olympians was young children I was worried that I would not be able to fully enjoy them; how wrong I was! After reading Zeus I decided to read Hades as I view Hades as the most underrated Greek god. I call him a Greek god instead of an Olympian because just as O’Connor says in his author’s note that ‘He cheated. Hades is not an Olympian.’ That being said I had expectations before sitting down to read Hades of a quite morbid and dark visual novel and my expectations were fully met by O’Connor.

 At its core the Hades novel’s primary purpose is to teach its reader about how Hades came to be married to Persephone. But any piece of work writing about death and the underworld contains deeper meanings. O’Connor chooses to describe the journey into the underworld as if it were you yourself embarking on the journey. This not only allows him to fit as much information about the underworld as possible in a short period of time, but also allows him to touch on much more existential meanings

The Hardworking Ferryman

The ferryman Charon is one of the staples of the Underworld in the ancient world. He did not have to be included in this visual novel as O’Connor’s focus is primarily on the Olympians. However O’Connor has him appear in 8 panels throughout Hades with most of these appearing at the start of the visual novel. We can say that by including Charon at the start of Hades, O’Connor bases the structure of this graphic novel on the journey a dead person would take as they enter the underworld. Charon also acts as O’Connor’s ‘tour guide’ as he ferries the soul past all the noticeable criminals in the underworld allowing O’Connor to describe them to his reader.

Sullivan sums up Charon’s depiction in Greek literature as ‘the busy, impatient ferryman, anxious to get the shades aboard’.[1] It is important to look at the depiction of Charon in Greek literature as O’Connor himself revealed he used Hesiod’s Theogony as a model for his Zeus. Euripides mentions Charon in his Alcestis as Alcestis says ‘the ferryman of the dead, Charon, has his hand on the quant and calls to me now: “Why delay? Hurry! You’re holding me up”.[2] This is further evidence of O’Connor taking his model of Charon from Greek literature, much in the same way he modelled Zeus on his representation in the Theogony. O’Connor has clearly gone to great lengths to create an authentic depiction of his characters, even minor ones such as Charon.

Charon as the grim reaper: O’Connor’s hybrid ferryman


Figure 1: Charon and Hermes Psychopomp, Athenian red-figure lekythos C5th B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art

Figure 2: Detail from Athenian red-figure white-ground clay vase circa 450-400 BC. Munich, Antikensammlungen 2777. © Antikensammlungen, Munich

Looking at these two images we can see that O’Connor’s inspiration for his Charon was not just limited to literary descriptions as there were many vases depicting Charon. Sullivan speaks about this saying that Charon was ‘glorified in Greek art’ often depicted with Hermes guiding the soul of the dead.[3] This means that O’Connor had many ancient literary and visual depictions of Charon as a base model. But we can see a break from the ancient visual depiction of Charon as when looking at his clothing in O’Connor’s Hades we see a very dark and cloaked old man. The vases above show Charon as wearing a tunic that barely covers his body whilst also looking more approachable to the dead person he is ferrying across. What O’Connor has clearly done here is move away from the Charon of the ancient world. Instead he creates a hybrid of the modern interpretation of the Grim Reaper with the dark cloak and the animal skull on the front of his boat. Neither of these elements is present on the Greek vases.

Importance of the Coin

The coin to pay the ferryman is a very prominent concept that is found in many literary works. The most notable of these are Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, and the story of Cupid and Psyche from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses.[4][5] Stevens speaks of the custom of putting a coin in a deceased person’s mouth as being found in Greek and Latin literature from 5th Century BC to 2nd Century AD.[6] At first glance it is just a simple coin but Stevens writes that ‘the low value of the coin is a symbol of the poverty of death’.[7] What this can also mean is that no matter how rich or poor you are when you die, it is the same low amount of money that lets you pass on.

Coinciding with this, when looking at the picture to the right, O’Connor writes that ‘hopefully a loved one placed a coin in your mouth’. This at first glance can mean that you physically cannot put the coin in your mouth when you’re dead, which is true. However it has much more weight behind it in a modern view, as you are made to think about your own family and loved ones. They are the ones who decide what happens to you when you die, such as what coffin you have and whether you are buried or cremated.

What I personally take from this comic is that when we die we are all worth the same value, except to your family and loved ones who will mourn your loss. This is emphasised by the comic itself as Hades no longer wants to be alone in the underworld.

Written by Adam Smith

[1] Sullivan, F. A (1950) ‘Charon, the Ferryman of the Dead’, Classical Journal, 46.1, 12.

[2] Euripides Alcestis 252-63.

[3] Sullivan, F. A (1950) ‘Charon, the Ferryman of the Dead’, Classical Journal, 46.1. p.12.

[4] Virgil Aeneid 6.299-317.

[5] Apuleius Metamorphoses, 6.18.

[6] Stevens, S.T. (1991) ‘Charon’s Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice’, Phoenix, 45.3, 215.

[7] Stevens, S.T. (1991) ‘Charon’s Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice’, Phoenix, 45.3, 219-220.

The devil you thought you knew: Hades in Once Upon a Time

Note: For the module ‘Classics in Popular Culture’ (CLC315), students were asked to write blog posts on Classical Reception in the TV series Plebs or Once Upon a Time, and on the comics Asterix or George O’Connor’s Olympians. Some of the best blogs are featured on our departmental blog site.

Greek mythology has a tendency to be misrepresented, as apparently ‘many of its heroes transfer very badly to the screen…even Homer proves surprisingly intractable as Hollywood material’.[1] Deviations of the original myths thus abound[2]. There is one figure however, who has (literally) been demonised over the centuries to the point that he is often associated with the Judeo-Christian devil and his area of influence with notions of hell. This figure is, of course, Hades.

  [3]   [4]

See the difference?

Hades, as the Greeks knew him, was the brother of Zeus and Poseidon, and ruled over the Underworld, the realm of the dead. I could list multiple instances in popular culture where Hades is portrayed in a devilish light, but instead I will limit myself to a few episodes of the fantasy series Once Upon a Time (OUAT), in which several fairy-tale characters go to the Underworld to bring back Captain Hook, and find themselves opposed by Hades. This depiction of Hades is based on that of the Disney children’s film Hercules.

[5] [6] [7]

The first episode of interest is ‘The Brothers Jones’, which shows Hades making a deal with Captain Hook’s brother Liam, to allow the ship they are on to sink and the crew to die, in exchange for the lives of Liam and his brother. This does not reflect the actual myths and beliefs about Hades held by the Greeks, as there are no myths involving him orchestrating events that lead to the deaths of humans. The only myth where he makes any sort of deal with a human is when Orpheus asks Hades to allow him to take his wife Eurydice back to the land of the living. This request backfires but only because Orpheus himself broke the terms of the agreement by looking behind him. In any event, Hades would have lost nothing if Orpheus had not looked back, as everyone went to him when they died. The OUAT version of Hades, however, appears to want the souls of mortals and he is angered whenever people attempt to escape the Underworld (to the point of beating Hook bloody in an earlier episode). It is even stated by Hook that Hades prevents people from going to a better place: “Hades has the game rigged so no one can leave. My brother’s proof of that. Never did a bad thing in his life”. To compound this seemingly diabolic image, when Hades reveals his non-human nature (picture 4 above), Liam reacts by crying out “You’re a demon!” to which Hades responds “Technically I’m a god, but a lot of people make that mistake”. Hades does make a good antagonist in this episode, as when Hook escapes Hades’ prison and Liam stands up for him, Hades attempts to throw them both into a fiery pit that is said to lead to a place worse than the Underworld (a really subtle allusion to hell).


But there is some justification in ancient literature for such depictions of Hades. In the Iliad, Hades is referred to as ‘of all gods most hated by men’[8] and ‘loathsome’[9]. There is also his portrayal in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when the author recounts his abduction of Proserpina (Persephone) thus: ‘Proserpina desperately cried for her mother and friends…poor innocent girl! Her abductor was off in his chariot, urging the horses forward’[10]. While these do make Hades appear malevolent, they are to be expected, given the innate human fear of death, as he was feared to the extent that even mentioning his name was avoided. But, many other gods tormented humans and abducted or forced themselves on women, and far more frequently than Hades did!

A more sympathetic version of Hades does appear in the episode immediately after ‘The Brothers Jones’, ‘Our Decay’, in which we witness the first meeting of Hades and Zelena/The Wicked Witch. In this episode, Hades and Zelena bond over their shared dislike for their siblings, in Hades’ case for his brother Zeus. Hades declares that “[Zeus] got everything he ever wanted…while I’m trapped ruling the Underworld…Love, happiness, joy, they’ve all been taken from me”. He goes on to state that he plans to overthrow his brother someday, and wants Zelena’s help to do it. This depicts Hades as someone who became what he is due to feelings of being treated unfairly by his family, resulting in him lashing out at the rest of the world. This bond with Zelena blossoms into romance, showing not only that Hades is capable of love, but also that he is someone capable of being loved. This is a sentiment echoed in a poem from the Late 1800’s, As Persephone tells us “I knew no terror while the God o’ershadowed me…My mother came too late to seek me. She had power to raise life from out Death’s grasp, but from the arms of Love she might not take me, nor undo Love’s past for all her strength’.[11] This poem, while not a classical work, does show that the idea of someone loving Hades is not a recent development. As for him loving someone, Ovid tells us that the abduction of Persephone was motived by love, albeit love brought on by a mischievous Cupid: ‘no sooner espied than he loved her and swept her away’[12]. Hades is presented more accurately in ‘Our Decay’ than in most depictions. It even points out that he is not demonic when, in response to the Wicked Witch asking if ‘the Devil’ is flirting with her, Hades responds, “I’m not the Devil. People are always conflating us”. This is itself a critique of most of his depictions.


In conclusion, this version of Hades is multifaceted, and not entirely inaccurate. While it does perpetuate the image of Hades as a malevolent figure, it does have some classical basis, and depicts him as having some positive characteristics as well. All of which forms a rather interesting character and a successful villain.

Written by Charlie Wade


[1] Nisbet. G., (2006), Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture, Exeter: Bristol Phoenix Press, 18

[2] See also: C. Martindale, & Thomas, R (eds.) (2003) Classics and the Uses of Reception, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

[3] Statue of Hades and Cerberus, Archaeological Museum of Crete. Image sourced from ancient.eu

[4] Image of Hades in Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief (2010 film). Image sourced from riordan.wikia.com/wiki/Hades

[5] Modern illustration sourced from www.greekmythology.com

[6] Image sourced from disneywikia.com/wiki/Hades

[7] Image of Hades sourced from buddytv.com: 12 Emotional and Unsettling Moments from the 100th Episode of ‘Once Upon a Time’

[8] Homer, Iliad; trans. M. Hammond (1987), London: Penguin Books, 137

[9] Homer, Iliad; trans. M. Hammond (1987), London: Penguin Books, 127

[10] Ovid, Metamorphoses; trans. D. Raeburn (2004), London: Penguin Books, 193

[11] Morris. L., (1879) The Epic of Hades, London: C. Kegan Paul & Co, 166-168

[12] Ovid, Metamorphoses; trans. D. Raeburn (2004), London: Penguin Books, 193