On Friday 22nd March 2019 the Classics Department led the University of Reading’s participation in the European Festival of Latin and Greek. This global event encourages academic communities to introduce and seduce public audiences with passage readings of ancient literary works. This year’s choice was Homer’s Iliad, an ancient Greek tale spanning many books of legendary battles, bravery and beloveds. After much thought, it was decided that Book Six would be suitably enticing and informative. In this Book Homer describes the honour and bereavement of war, detailing the pride of the soldier Hector and the grief of his wife. Book 6 provides detailed scenes of war, brotherhood and an importantly detailed portrayal of the ancient custom of guest-friendship. Book 6 also provides dialogues between lower ranking soldiers, such as the friends Glaucus and Sarpedon. These Trojan allies give short conversational speeches to each other through which Homer highlights the complexities of military relationships, the compelling nature of heroism, and the grim reality of war. As the battle commences, low ranked soldiers are killed by higher ranking soldiers, who in turn are killed by the leading characters Hector and Achilles. The narrative provided by this wide range of characters, emotive circumstances and moral conflicts produces the epic battle, which is still remembered through Homer’s work in the present day.
At 1pm, with Book 6 in hand, professors, undergraduates, postgraduates, curators and volunteers from the University and the town marched into the open air quad and surrounded on three sides by the Edith Morley building, they gathered on the green stage of this temporary theatre. PhD Researcher James Lloyd opened the event with a musical rendition of an ancient Greek song, thought to have been used thousands of years ago to begin such recitals. Subsequently, Head of Department Dr Emma Aston read, in ancient Greek, lines 1-11 recalling a fierce battle the led against the Trojans by Ajax. Each passage was then narrated by attendees who described the torment of Hector, Andromache and Paris in English, Italian, Chinese and German. The event was uplifting for all those taking part, with many onlookers stopping to observe. James Lloyd of Classics said: “the event was well attended and enjoyed by all. It was particularly good to hear the variety of different languages spoken during the reading, which is testimony to the thriving international community present in the Department of Classics”.
The reading of Homer’s Iliad was a success and a credit to those who organised it. The event was short, precise and rekindled a passion for the storytellers of old whilst introducing the works to those unfamiliar with the tales. If you missed the event, fear not. The video of the recital is on YouTube and can be viewed here.
Photo credits: James Lloyd, Amy Smith & Bunny Waring.