The Classical Myths by Mino Milani

Marta Selleri – the author of this post – graduated in March 2022 from the Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies, Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna, with the MPhil thesis “Il mito classico narrato da Mino Milani” [The Classical Myth as Narrated by Mino Milani], supervised by Prof. Valentina Garulli. The thesis combines her interest in children’s literature with the classical world. In June 2022 Marta took part in the conference “Antiquity Today: Fascinating, Relevant, Beneficial” organized by the Cluster: The Past for the Present and the Our Mythical Childhood Project.

The aim of my thesis was to analyse how the classical myth was narrated by Mino Milani, combining philological and pedagogical perspectives.

Mino Milani (19282022) was a children’s book writer born in Pavia (Italy), where he lived most of his life. He was a very prolific author and he wrote novels, comic strips, short stories, and more, set in very different eras. His production is held together by the desire and the ability to “stage the adventure”[1]. I chose three novels, published between 1993 and 1995 by EL Edizioni (Trieste): La storia di Dedalo e Icaro (1993), La storia di Orfeo ed Euridice (1994), La storia di Ulisse e Argo (1995). All of them are set in ancient Greece, in the distant and a historical time of gods and heroes.

Illustration by Nella Bosnia for Mino Milani’s La storia di Dedalo e Icaro, Edizioni El, 1993, used with the Publisher’s kind permission, photo by Marta Selleri.

First of all, as an introduction to the analysis of these novels, I analysed some definitions of “myth”, starting from those in common use, with a focus on Mircea Eliade’s studies which highlight, above all, the sacred and significant value of myth, considered by certain societies as a real, active, and living event[2]. Secondly, I analysed the difference between “myth” and “fairy tale”, starting from Vladimir Propp’s considerations on the subject[3]: according to him, fairy tales would derive directly from myth, deprived of its sacredness. This theory has not gained full consensus among researchers. However, may the fairy tale derive from myth or not, it is now accepted that myth has lost its sacred dimension in our society. Myth is depicted as a literary heritage of stories that continue to live in all forms of art in occidental society.

Illustration by Nella Bosnia for Mino Milani’s La storia di Orfeo ed Euridice, Edizioni El, 1994, used with the Publisher’s kind permission, photo by Marta Selleri.

In order to contextualise the aforementioned three novels by Milani, I reviewed the production of mythological topics for children in Italy during the twentieth century: Laura Orvieto – the first Italian writer of mythology for children, Gherardo Ugolini, Gianni Rodari, and Roberto Piumini.

In the second part of my thesis, I provided a textual analysis of Milani’s books, with a close comparison – when possible and appropriate – with classical sources. In addition to classical authors such as Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Valerius Flaccus, Apollonius Rhodius, Apollodorus, and Diodorus Siculus, it was sometimes necessary to refer to authors such as Dante – a crucial reference for Milani, Alessandro Manzoni, and the operas by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Milani’s writing is very rich in intertextual references and allusions. In this way, he succeeded in restoring the profound stratification of these stories. Among the many possible ones, I chose some thematic strands. Through them, I was able to explore the three stories transversally (e.g., the protagonists’ childhood, the initiation, the plots, the fairy-tales elements, the animals, the death and the kingdom of the dead). My aim was to identify the texts that were at the basis of Milani’s narrative choices in terms of vocabulary, characters, plots, imagery, and tones.

Illustration by Paolo D’Altan for Mino Milani’s La storia di Ulisse e Argo, Edizioni El, 1995, used with the Publisher’s kind permission, photo by Marta Selleri.

Subsequently, I used two pedagogical tools to analyse the stories. The first one is the “inactual” – a pedagogical principle theorised by Giovanni Maria Bertin in 1977 and based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought. Bertin claims that the pedagogical idea must be “inactual”: this means that it does not have to respond to or coincide with the prevailing tendencies of the present, but rather has to highlight the possible inconsistencies and partiality of these tendencies. This idea has to propose – within the present tendencies or against them – alternative instances[4]. The second tool is Edgar Morin’s paradigm of complexity, which suggests an overcoming of the classical, simple logical system[5]. In particular, it is employed and studied as an educational paradigm which is now indispensable in educational practice, based especially on metacognition – meaning the need for knowledge to reflect on itself – and on the intersection of interpretative and recontextualising methods.

Map for Mino Milani’s mythological stories – illustration by Marta Selleri.

By using these tools, I finally identified the classical myth narrated by Milani as an adventure tale that is both inactual and complex. In fact, myth – also beyond Milani – narrates situations where “it is not possible to dominate a contradiction or a tragedy”[6], and as such they are complex, detached from simplifying logic, perhaps also because they arose at a time when this logic had not been created yet. Milani transformed this mythical matter into the genre of adventure, which has important characteristics of “inactuality”. The presence of adventure as a genre in children’s bookshelves is decreasing and the heroism, the ability to make a choice, and to deal with death are often removed from children’s imaginary. However, adventure, in whatever place or time is set, can offer the readers a deep and real growth, a passage to an “elsewhere”[7], in which that growth is an existential one.

All these things considered, the mythological adventure told in Mino Milani’s novels – which, as it has been shown, can be defined both inactual and complex – can therefore play an important role in a pedagogical perspective, as it allows young readers to confront themselves to relevant issues and to gaze at contemporary society and beyond

References

[1] “Anche quando scrive romanzi storici o sceneggiature di fumetti, in realtà, fondamentalmente, mette in scena l’Avventura” (Giorgia Grilli, “Scrivere d’avventura per ragazzi. L’opera di Mino Milani”, Oblò 3, 2018, 55).

[2] Mircea Eliade, Mito e realtà, trans. Giovanni Cantoni, Torino: Boria, 1966 (ed. pr. Paris 1963).

[3] Vladimir Propp, Morfologia della fiaba, ed. and trans. Gian Luigi Bravo, Torino: Einaudi, 1966 (ed. pr. Sankt-Peterburg 1928).

[4] Giovanni Maria Bertin, Nietzsche. L’inattuale, idea pedagogica, Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1977.

[5] Edgar Morin, Introduzione al pensiero complesso, trans. Monica Corbani, Milano: Sperling & Kupfer, 1993 (ed. pr. Paris 1990).

[6] Morin, Introduzione al pensiero complesso, 63.

[7] About “elsewhere”: Antonio Faeti, I tesori nelle isole non trovate, Bergamo: Junior, 2018.

Post by Marta Selleri, placed by Olga Strycharczyk

The Child and the Book 2022 Conference

Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek – the author of this post – is a student of the Artes Liberales curriculum at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw.

On April 26–28, 2022 L-Università ta’ Malta hosted “The Child and the Book Conference: The Role of the Child as Citizen: Constructing Childhood through Agency and Activism”, where I had the pleasure of giving a talk entitled: We Support Girls Today so They Change the World Tomorrow. Shaping Girls’ Agency in the Contemporary Polish Magazine “Kosmos dla Dziewczynek” (“Cosmos for Girls”).

Presentation by Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek We support Girls Today so They Change the World Tomorrow. Shaping Girls’ Agency” in the Contemporary Polish Magazine “Kosmos dla Dziewczynek (“Cosmos for Girls”) – photo by Piotr Mikusek, used with permission.

It was a fantastic time! During the three days of the conference I met amazing people from all over the world who, regardless of their age or academic background, shared a passion for children’s literature and art, both past and more contemporary. However, it was not only the love of books for young readers that made this conference so special, but above all the sense of mission and the belief, expressed among others by Meg Rosoff, American author of books for children and adults, during the conference, that dealing with children’s literature is not only a privilege, but also a duty. I also cannot count how many times words like agency and activism were mentioned. The conference was outstanding, the speakers were compelling and the sessions I attended were very informative. I also enjoyed the networking as I was able to meet people who have been for years giving direction to both Polish and foreign research on children’s literature, as well as beginners who, like me, are just starting their adventure with children’s literature.

Presentation by Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek We support Girls Today so They Change the World Tomorrow. Shaping Girls’ Agency” in the Contemporary Polish Magazine “Kosmos dla Dziewczynek (“Cosmos for Girls”) – photo by Piotr Mikusek, used with permission.

If I were to try to briefly sum up “The Child and the Book 2022 Conference”, I would say: countless inspirations, pages of scribbled notes, and reaffirming once again how important children’s literature is. And all in a unique atmosphere and a real willingness to act.

A narrow street in the center of Valletta leading to the sea – photo by Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek.
St. Publius in Floriana – photo by Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek.

An important element creating the atmosphere of the event was Valetta itself with its wonderful Mediterranean climate, diverse cuisine, and fascinating culture. I am very happy that I was able to participate in “The Child and the Book 2022 Conference” and I am already looking forward to other academic opportunities and challenges. 

Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek on the day of the conference – photo by Piotr Mikusek, used with permission.
View of the sea from Valetta’s ancient walls – photo by Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek.

Post by Gabriela Niemczynowicz-Szkopek, placed by Olga Strycharczyk

Further reading:

Conference website: https://www.um.edu.mt/event/childandbook2022

Conference programme: https://www.um.edu.mt/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/495635/TheChildandtheBookConference_CoreProgrammefinal_24051.pdf

Our Mythical Hope Is with Us

We are happy to present the results of the stage “Hope” of the Our Mythical Childhood project (ERC Consolidator Grant No 681202). The volume Our Mythical Hope: The Ancient Myths as Medicine for the Hardships of Life in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture, edited by Katarzyna Marciniak, Warsaw: University of Warsaw Press, 2021, 836 pp., is available in Open Access on the Publisher’s website.

More books gathering the research results of all the stages of the Our Mythical Childhood Programme (est. 2011):

Loeb Classical Library Foundation Grant (2012–2013):

Katarzyna Marciniak, ed., Our Mythical Childhood… The Classics and Literature for Children and Young Adults, vol. 8 in the series “Metaforms: Studies in the Reception of Classical Antiquity”, Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2016, 526 pp., Open Access

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Alumni Award for Innovative Networking Initiatives (2014–2017) and ERC Consolidator Grant (2016–2022):

Katarzyna Marciniak, ed., Chasing Mythical Beasts: The Reception of Ancient Monsters in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture, vol. 8 in the series “Studien zur europäischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur / Studies in European Children’s and Young Adult Literature”, Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2020, 623 pp., Open Access

ERC Consolidator Grant (2016–2022), in the series “Our Mythical Childhood” at the University of Warsaw Press:

Lisa Maurice, ed., Our Mythical Education: The Reception of Classical Myth Worldwide in Formal Education, 1900–2020, published 2021, 580 pp., Open Access

Katarzyna Marciniak, ed., Our Mythical History: Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to the Heritage of Ancient Greece and Rome (forthcoming)

Elizabeth Hale and Miriam Riverlea, illustrations by Steve K. Simons, Classical Mythology and Children’s Literature… An Alphabetical Odyssey (forthcoming)

Susan Deacy, illustrations by Steve K. Simons, What Would Hercules Do? Lessons for Autistic Children Using Classical Myth (forthcoming)

Sonya Nevin, ed., Teaching Ancient Greece: Lesson Plans, Animations, and Resources (forthcoming)

Katarzyna Marciniak, ed., Our Mythical Nature: The Classics and Environmental Issues in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture (forthcoming)

See also here: http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/our-mythical-hope

Our Mythical Childhood Educational Activities in Ukrainian

Within the Our Mythical Childhood project, we are preparing educational materials for children of all ages;-). The materials result from our research and they popularize Classical Antiquity. We wish to support in this way the efforts of brave teachers, educators, parents and tutors who are searching for ideas on how to spend time together with their children and by involving all generations in a creative way. We call this initiative Find the Force!, as we believe that the Classics can be one of the sources of force and inspiration.

Find the Force! Image by Zbigniew Karaszewski.

We are pleased to present two activities (in English: Paint the Muses! and Iris – the Rainbow Goddess) that have been translated into Ukrainian by Olha Kolesnyk. More coming soon!


Розмалюй Муз!


Ірида – Богиня Веселки

Post by Olga Strycharczyk

Chasing Mythical Beasts in Open Access

The volume Chasing Mythical Beasts: The Reception of Ancient Monsters in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture, edited by Katarzyna Marciniak, in the series “Studien zur europäischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur / Studies in European Children’s and Young Adult Literature” 8, Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2020, 623 pp. is available in Open Access via publisher’s website.

The book sums up the Chasing Mythical Beasts stage of our research, conducted within the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Alumni Award for Innovative Networking Initiatives, with some results elaborated within the ERC Consolidator Grant.

Cerberus (2012) – illustration by Maja Abgarowicz

“Olympus Ready-to-Wear”: Mythological Game by Alessia Borriello and Ludovica Lusvardi

Fragment of the Athena’s Olympic Identity Card.

“Once upon a time, in the mythical era, at nearly 3,000 m above the sea level, there lived Twelve Supreme Gods at the heart of Greece”… Alessia Borriello and Ludovica Lusvardi invite us to use our imagination and enter the mythical world by using a simple DIY game “Olympus Ready-to-Wear” they created within the Our Mythical Childhood Project and the Cluster: The Past for the Present – International Research and Educational Programme. Alessia, MA-student at the Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies, University of Bologna, in Winter term 2019/20 accomplished her Erasmus training in the OMC Project at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw. The game originates from this experiece and, to our utmost joy, permits us to continue our mythical cooperation. Ludovica is a graduate from Fashion Design at Politecnico of Milan and continues her training at the Theatrical Tailoring at Accademia della Scala. In the short interview Alessia and Ludovica describe their academic and artistic creation.

How to use your game to learn and play?

It is a very simple type of game, which only requires: scissors, paper, paints, glue. We are talking about dressing dolls, only the dolls are the ancient gods of Greek Olympus. The drawings of characters, pets, and attributes are to be downloaded and printed out from the game’s website. A textual component is added to the visual one: so as to know which accessories belong to which gods, children need to read the myths relating to the gods, written on their IDs. In the meanwhile, we are designing a digital interactive version of the game on app: we will talk about it in due course!


What do the Greek gods need clothes and attributes for?

The Greek gods must be equipped and dressed up, in order both to complete and colour their figures, as well as to verify that the children have understood the myths concerning them: why does the aegis belong to Athena? What is the most typical Apollo’s attribute? What is the pet of Zeus, eagle or dolphin? This is a visual expedient to fix in the minds of children some main ancient Greek traditional stories, i.e. myths, making use of traditional iconography.

One of the cards ready to colour from the game Olympus-Ready-to-Wear.

Why are Olympic pets so diverse? Why don’t any of the Greek gods have a dog or a cat?

The types of animals, ranging from the most common owl of Athena to the three-headed dog of Hades, Cerberus, mirror the animals found in the Greek traditional stories on the deities.


Does vestis virum facit?

The proverb fits perfectly indeed! The presence of an attribute is strongly characterizing for a deity. For example, from the presence of the hearth next to Hestia, the children deduce her connection with the household. The thunderbolt is a menacing attribute of Zeus, who is nonetheless made more familiar by the fact that he too has a pet, even if it is the majestic eagle. Aphrodite, beautiful and vain, holds a mirror. The snake characterizes the chthonic deities; the dolphin – the marine ones; etc.


Is the Olympic style fashionable today?

We have tried to update the iconography of the gods, and make them pleasant for children, while respecting their most typical features, such as the drapery of the clothes and hairstyles. We have also been careful not to create too thin figures, especially female ones, so as to respect today’s sensitivity on the subject of models of thinness for young girls.

Presentation of the game Olympus-Ready-to-Wear at the international conference Our Mythical Nature at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, in September 2021.

Alessia Borriello and Ludovica Lusvardi presented the game Olympus Ready-to-Wear at the international conference Our Mythical Nature at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, in September 2021, and also at the Roehampton University as part of the the lecture on History of Ancient Art led by Katerina Volioti.

The game is at the dissemination stage and the Authors are looking for feedback from teachers and students. We are looking forward to hearing from you, Dear Reader, if you played the Olympus Ready-to-Wear and would like to share your Olympic creations with us. We will publish the most inspiring ones on the website of the Our Mythical Childhood project.  You can find the game here.

The creators of the game Olympus Ready-to-Wear.

Placed by Olga Strycharczyk, also in the role of interviewer:-).

“Aeneas and the Roots of Rome” by Michał Kuźmiński

This post has been prepared by Michał Kuźmiński, a student of Cultural Studies – Mediterranean Civilization at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, within the Our Mythical Childhood Seminar. Michał spent the Summer term 2020/21 in Rome, at his Erasmus Plus stay, and, as much as the situation permitted, he was preparing these reports on the traces of some ancient gods, goddesses, and heroes in Urbs aeterna. At present he works on his PhD thesis at the UW’s Faculty of Archaeology. 

Of all the ancient heroes, Aeneas seems to be the most Roman one. Though he originated from the Greek mythology, in the Roman culture he enjoyed a special status of a superstar. His story was a central one among the founding myths of Rome, telling about its origins and glorious destiny. Thus, Aeneas became a symbol of early victories and a bright future.

He was mentioned already in homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and the Iliad. Of royal and divine origins, he could boast about a truly noble blood in his veins. The father of Aeneas, Anchises was a member of Trojan royal family as a son of the king of Dardania. Aeneas, in turn, was born as a result of love affair of Anchises and Aphrodite. Being so proud of his intimate relations with the goddess of love, Anchises did not listen to her warning and revealed the secret to some bystanders. For that he was punished by Zeus, who struck him with a thunderbolt and Anchises became lame for the rest of his life.

Aeneas is mentioned in the Iliad several times but he does not play there a crucial role. He is just one of the noble warriors fighting on the Trojan side, without any spectacular achievements, however with a substantial help from the gods. Aeneas became a central character only in Roman culture, being present almost always in the works describing the origins and history of Rome, such as Origines by Cato the Elder, Ab Urbe condita by Livy, or Antiquitates Romanae by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. But the most important in promoting Aeneas as the national hero was the epic poem written in Latin by Virgil – Aeneid. It was composed at the time of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Through the family relations he claimed to be the descendant of Julus, Aeneas’s son, therefore being also the descendant of Venus. In his reign Augustus wanted to set peace in the state and restore the social order among the Romans based on the traditions. The poem of Virgil served several objectives: it reinforced the position of Augustus, set for Romans clear examples to aspire to and promoted their noble origins.

Aeneid describes what happened after the Trojan war. When the city fell, a few people managed to flee, among them Aeneas and his father Anchises. Then began their exile, which was not, however, senseless. As Aeneas found out on several occasions, his destiny was to reach Italy and found there a city which would conquer the whole world some day. In the course of the journey, he had to struggle with many adversities, had a passionate love affair with the queen of Carthage, Dido, but eventually he fulfilled his destiny and reached Italy. Many times Virgil calls Aeneas as “pious”, underlining his devotion to gods and respect for the traditional rituals. This very specific feature of character is also exposed on the other monument from that time, though not the literary but material one – Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace). When Augustus finally seized full power in the empire, he proclaimed the beginning of Pax Romana (Roman Peace) – the state of calm prosperity without disastrous wars which kept disturbing lives of Romans for many decades before. To celebrate the return of Augustus to Rome after settling matters in the West, Senate decreed the construction of a special monument – the Altar of Augustan Peace. It was completed in 9 BC and stood in the Field of Mars, facing Via Flaminia. The structure consisted of a proper altar surrounded by a high enclosure made of marble and decorated with the reliefs that served above all one purpose: the glorification of Augustus and his golden age. The altar did not survive untouched, its scattered fragments had been recovered from the ground throughout the centuries and reassembled in the modern period. In the time of Mussolini, the archaeologists reconstructed the altar using the available remains. The special building was constructed, exclusively for display of this monument. It was rebuilt in the beginning of the 21st century and the altar, though not in the original ancient location, can be still admired today.

Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) in Rome, completed in 9 BC, reconstructed in 20th century — photo by Michał Kuźmiński.

The external side of the enclosure is richly decorated with reliefs: the procession of political elite members from the Augustan period, floral motifs, and mythological figures. On the right side of one of the entrances (very exposed today, since it is in front of the museum entrance) we can spot a bearded man making an offering at the small altar beside him. The figure was identified as Aeneas soon after reaching Italy. He is sacrificing to the Penates, the household gods, whose statues can be seen in the small temple on the hill in the background of the whole scene. Aeneas brought Penates with him from the falling Troy, saving them from destruction and ensuring welfare of the new settlement which he was destined to found. In this relief Aeneas is depicted as the pious pater familias (head of the family), setting a good example for his son Julus who is standing next to him. This figure expresses also the respect for tradition, patriotic care for home and focus on a proper way of worshipping gods – Aeneas does not try to spare money, he is about to sacrifice a very fat and undoubtedly expensive sow. All these features fit perfectly the ideology of Augustus so it is unsurprising that we find Aeneas on one of the most prominent monuments of emperor’s propaganda.

Marble reliefs on Ara Pacis Augustae. The top panel depicts Aeneas and his son Julus sacrificing a sow — photo by Michał Kuźmiński.

However, Aeneas was not a flawless hero. Among the most iconic episodes of his journey from Troy to Italy was his love affair with Dido, queen of Carthage. Their relation was full of passion, yet very short. Mercury was sent by gods to remind Aeneas of his destiny and make him leave Carthage, what the hero did stealthily. When Dido found out what happened, she was outraged and very resentful. She cursed Aeneas and his people and eventually committed suicide. This subject, although not presenting Aeneas in a completely positive manner, was quite popular in art. We can find it in the same area of Rome as the Altar of Augustan Peace – the Field of Mars. There are a lot of old palaces which hide the true masterpieces of art inside. One of such places is Palazzo Spada, a magnificent residence built in the 16th century. Almost a century later the palace was bought by cardinal Spada to whom it owes its present name. He had the residence rebuilt with help of a famous Baroque architect, Francesco Borromini, and placed his very rich collection of art inside the palace. In the 20th century Palazzo Spada was bought by Italian State and part of it was adapted as a public gallery in order to display the paintings and other objects from collection of cardinal Spada. The gallery gives a very good impression of how it looked like in the 17th century. The paintings do not hang in the order typical for modern galleries but rather that of private art spaces from the past – the works of art cover almost the whole surface of the walls, with the smaller ones hanging higher, above the large ones. In those splendid rooms some paintings attract special attention, among them Death of Dido by Guercino.

Guercino (1591–1666), Death of Dido, 1631, oil painting on canvas in Palazzo Spada, Rome — photo by Michał Kuźmiński.

The work was commissioned by cardinal Spada for Marie de’ Medici, queen of France. However, after her banishment and loss of fortune, Bernardino Spada decided to buy the painting for himself and include it in his collection. Guercino’s work shows the climax moment of the story of Dido and Aeneas. In the foreground there is a group of elegant court members who surround queen of Carthage in the middle. Dido, wearing beautiful and sumptuous robes is depicted in the most dramatic moment as she is lying on the pile of wood with her chest pierced right through with a long sword which she gave to Aeneas as a gift. And the wooden beams which Dido is lying on are not just an ordinary pile, since it is a funeral pyre. Dido had told her sister before that she wanted to burn all the belongings of Aeneas to free herself from him. And now Anna is standing next to her sister looking at this horrifying scene with her arms spread in disbelief.

Aeneas is not present on the painting, we can only think of him looking at the ships far in the distance. The hero is clearly preparing for departure, unaware of the horror taking place in Carthage. Surely, Aeneas had to leave because of the gods’ decision, but while looking at the painting of Guercino we can’t help but think of him as a coward. Dido, in turn, is a beautiful, full of dignity woman. It is hard not to sympathize with the betrayed queen, upon whom the fortune and love (in person of a putto painted above) turned their backs.

A far more positive and heroic depiction of Aeneas we can find in the celebrated Villa Borghese, a splendid house of masterpieces of art. Among various paintings and sculptures there are a few stunning works of Gianlorenzo Bernini, genius of Baroque art. One of them is a statue of Aeneas escaping from Troy.

Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius, 1618–1619, marble sculpture in Galleria Borghese, Rome — photo by Michał Kuźmiński.

The muscular, young hero is accompanied by two other figures. Just behind follows him his little son, Julus. But attention is attracted mostly by an old man carried by Aeneas on his shoulder – his father, Anchises. The lame man had to be carried from the fallen city, as we know it from Virgil’s Aeneid.[1] Anchises holds above his son’s head the figures of Penates, the divine household’s protectors. They would be transferred by Aeneas to Italy to serve the people in their new homeland. The sculpture is beautifully carved, with great care of details. The differences between figures of father and son are striking: the young, muscular body versus an old and sinewy one; determination on the face of Anchises and calm concentration on the face of Aeneas. The sculpture of Bernini is a true masterpiece, therefore it is even more impressing that he was only twenty years old when he started the work. Symbolic is also the fact that Bernini worked on this depiction of father and son with his own father, Pietro. This fragment of the story of Aeneas was definitely one of the most popular ones and it still attracts attention of artists today.

In the very heart of Rome stands Palazzo Valentini, a 16th-century building which today houses provincial and prefectural administration of Rome. In front of the building we can find a sculptural group very similar to that of Bernini – Aeneas carrying his father and accompanied by his son.

Sandro Chia (b. 1946), Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius, bronze sculpture placed in 2005 in front of Palazzo Valentini, Rome — photo by Michał Kuźmiński.

The author of the statue is Sandro Chia and as we learn from the plate in front of it, it was placed in 2005 on the “135th anniversary of the establishment of the Province of Rome”.[2] It refers to the events connected with the Risorgimento movement that lead to foundation of the united Italian State. In 1870 Rome which had been a part of Papal States was captured by the forces of the Kingdom of Italy. Then the creation of the Province of Rome followed, the city became the capital of Italy and the whole process was completed. The choice of the subject to be used to commemorate the fight for freedom seems to be very accurate. The story of Aeneas who fled the fallen city to found a new and independent one corresponds very well with the story of Italian fight with external oppressions and willingness to create a new, united state. The sculpture of Chia gives also a good impression of human solidarity in face of serious troubles. It is far less detailed than the work of Bernini, the figures are roughly sculpted, wearing simple clothes, without Penates in the hands of Anchises. Thus, the most eminent aspect of the statue is the tender relation between the figures: their visible closeness, caring and support expressed in physical contact.

Aeneas was a very important hero of ancient Rome and has remained a significant figure for centuries, until today. He is a character full of ambiguities, tender and impulsive, pious and insidious, brave and treacherous. His story was capable of inspiring many generations of artists who used it to promote certain ideals of the state and a citizen. Perhaps, it was this internal inconsistency that made Aeneas such a popular and powerful symbol – a hero, who at the same time remained very humane, similar to the ordinary people.

Sources

Wergiliusz, Eneida, trans. Zygmunt Kubiak, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1987.

Claridge, Amanda, Rome. An Oxford Archaeological Guide, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010, pp. 207–213.

Leeming, David, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005, pp. 5–6.

Roman, Luke and Monica Roman, Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology, Facts On File, New York 2010, pp. 13–28.

About Death of Dido by Guercino: http://galleriaspada.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/93/guercino-la-morte-di-didone.

About Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius from Villa Borghese: https://galleriaborghese.beniculturali.it/en/il-museo/la-villa/sala-6-sala-%E2%80%8Bdel-gladiatore/.

See also Michał Kuźmiński’s posts 

References

[1] Wergiliusz, Eneida, trans. Zygmunt Kubiak, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1987, pp. 90–94.

[2] Direct quotation of the inscription on the base of the monument.

Placed by Olga Strycharczyk

Tolkien and Classical Myth

Dr Hamish Williams is from The University of Groningen. From November 2021 to February 2022 Dr Williams was a junior fellow at The Polish Institute of Advanced Studies (PIASt) in Warsaw.

Dr Hamish Williams, during his research stay at PIASt, gave lectures on Tolkien and Classical Myth. The meetings were held within the Our Mythical Childhood project on December 8th and 14th, 2021. Students of Mikołaj Rej XI High School in Warsaw, Bartłomiej Nowodworski I High School in Kraków, and “Strumienie” High School in Józefów met with Dr Williams to learn about the reception of Classical Antiquity in& J.R.R. Tolkien’s literature. The lectures were followed with questions from the audience and interesting discussions.

Meeting with students from Mikołaj Rej XI High School in Warsaw and from Bartłomiej Nowodworski I High School in Kraków. Photo by Olga Strycharczyk.

Lecture at “Strumienie” High School in Józefów.

Dr Williams presented his upcoming monograph J.R.R. Tolkien’s Utopianism and the& Classics within the cycle OBTAmistic Meeting at the Centre for Studies on the Classical Tradition (OBTA), Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, on January 24, 2022. You can watch the recording on Our Mythical YouTube channel:


Dr Williams also gave a lecture on The Modern Evolutions of the Minotaur: Epic, Horror, and Postmodern Narratives (October 20th, 2021) which was part of the seminar Our Mythical Childhood: “Metamorphoses” at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw.

Post by Olga Strycharczyk

A Day of Health and Myths with Foundation Fact Orphanage

This post has been prepared by Heliana Onomo, an American Fulbright Scholar. Heliana was researching oral literature, traditions, and women experience at École Normale Supérieure in Cameroon as part of the 2020–2021 Fulbright Scholar Program. She worked under the tutorship of our team member Prof. Daniel A. Nkemleke. May her uplifting text be a source of hope and inspiration to us all!

On July 11, 2021, I partnered with the organizations Come Over II[1] and Proximity Doctors[2] to organize a day of health and fun at the Foundation Fact Orphanage[3]. The purpose of this event was to teach children about proper hygiene and entertain them with Cameroonian oral stories.

A day of health and myths at the Foundation Fact Orphanage in Essos, Yaoundé. Photo by Heliana Onomo.
Ms Suzane Liheb the Head of the Foundation Fact Orphanage. Photo by Heliana Onomo.

At the start of the event, each child was given a coloring book. This coloring book was divided into three sections. Come Over II designed the first section with drawings about hygiene. The third section, titled “Career Paths”, featured drawings of different careers from Like a Girl! A Girl-Powered Coloring Book[4] by Ayelet Keshet and Black Boys, Big Dreams Coloring Book[5] by Abby Baldeh. I designed the second section of the book, titled “Popular Characters in Cameroonian Oral Stories and Their Meanings”. John Onomo, a student at the University of Dallas, prepared original drawings and photoshopped designs based on existing myths and folktales to create the coloring pages.

The coloring book prepared for the workshop. Photo by Heliana Onomo.
Coloring pages. Photo by Heliana Onomo.
Illustration of the folktale “The Birds Are Going to the Sky”.
Photo by Heliana Onomo.

I referenced certain three myths from the Our Mythical Childhood Survey. The Bamoun myth “Myth of Ntiteuh”[6] was used to describe the power of love within the African Mother. The Mboum myth, “Autan and the Monster”[7], was used to describe the Baby Hero character. The Bafut folktale, “The Orphan Child and Her Uncle’s Wife”[8] was used to describe the Powerful Old Woman character. Other myths and folktales were referenced to describe other characters such as the Beba folktale “The Birds Are Going to the Sky”[9] for the trickster turtle and the Tikar folktale “Hare and Lion: Lion Is My Horse!”[10] for the strong but easily fooled lion.

Illustration of the myth of Ntiteuh. Photo by Heliana Onomo.
Illustration of the myth “The Orphan Child and Her Uncle’s Wife”. Photo by Heliana Onomo.

The first part of the event was dedicated to health and hygiene. Members of Come Over II used drawings from the coloring book to give a presentation on healthy hygiene habits. They focused on important aspects such as how to brush teeth, hand-washing, and COVID and malaria prevention. To make sure that the children understood the lessons, the presenters asked questions and gave treats for every correct answer. As a result, the children were engaged and excitedly blurt out the answers to questions such as how to wash your hair. After the presentation, we gave the children crayons, markers, and stickers to use on their new coloring book.

Part of the event dedicated to health and hygiene, prepared by the Come Over II organization and the Proximity Doctors group. Photo by Heliana Onomo.

The next events were the dentist and doctor consultations. The Proximity Doctors group graciously donated their time and supplies to provide the children health care. While waiting to be consulted, the children worked on their books and had lunch.

The workshop continues. Photo by Heliana Onomo.

Afterwards, it was storytelling time! Professor Emmanuel Matateyou, author of many children’s books and professor of oral literature at École Normale Supérieure, performed the folktale, “La dette de Kimanga” (“The Debt of Kimanga”) from his book, Les Mervilleux récits de Tita Ki (The Wonderful Stories of Tita Ki).

Professor Emmanuel Matateyou. Photo by Heliana Onomo.

With grand gestures and comical voice-acting, he captured the children’s attention and recited how the tortoise tricked the pig into giving his food. He also incorporated a participation tactic from Caribbean storytelling. When he said “Crick”, the children were to respond “Crack!”. This made the children part of the story. They even danced and sing along with Professor Matateyou. This oral performance was entertaining to watch. After storytelling, the last activity was hand-painting, where the children decorated a wall with blue, orange, and green handprints.

Children decorating the wall with hand-painting. Photo by Heliana Onomo.

Overall, the children responded well to the lessons and had a great time. This event taught me that coloring pages are a fun and effective activity to teach children about cultural stories. They were enthusiastic to read the descriptions of the myths. At the end of the event, we donated necessary items to the orphanage, such as medical supplies, hygiene products like toothpaste and toothbrushes, food like fish and rice, and a TV. Working on this event was an inspiring and heartwarming experience.

Post by Heliana Onomo, placed by Olga Strycharczyk

References

[1] Come Over II is a local non-profit organization based in Yaoundé whose mission is to visit local villages and orphanages to teach proper hygiene and provide healthcare. To learn more about them, visit: https://m.facebook.com/ComeOver2Cameroon/.

[2] Proximity Doctors is a local non-profit organization in Cameroon whose mission is to provide medical care to places in need. To learn more, visit: https://www.facebook.com/proximitydoctors/

[3] Foundation Fact orphanage is a private Christian-based orphanage situated in Essos, Yaoundé. It currently has 55 children in its care. To learn more about them, visit their site: https://www.fondation-fact.cm/ or their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Orphelinat-Fondation-Famille-Chretienne-FACT-554699851386639

[4] Keshet, Ayelet, Like a Girl! A Girl-Powered Coloring Book, Raindoe Publishing, 2016. 

[5] Baldeh, Abby, Black Boys, Big Dreams Coloring Book, Independently Published, 2020. 

[6] “Myth of Ntiteuh (the Most Beautiful Woman on Earth) Who Married the Sky King by Emmanuel Matateyou”, collected by Daniel A. Nkemleke for the Our Mythical Childhood Survey: http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/184.

[7] “Autan and the Monster by Tidjani Yaya”, collected by Daniel A. Nkemleke for the Our Mythical Childhood Survey: http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/434

[8] “An Orphan Child and Her Uncle’s Wife by Peter Numfor Ambe”, collected by Divine Che Neba for the Our Mythical Childhood Survey: http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/412

[9] “The Birds that Went to the Sky”, published in The Sacred Door and Other Stories: Cameroon Folktales of the Beba by Makuchi, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008. 

[10] “Hare and Lion: The Lion is my Horse! by Assamahou Ndouyou”, published in Anthology of Myths, Legends, and Folktales from Cameroon by Emmanuel Matateyou, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. 

“Our Mythical Nature” Conference

The international conference “Our Mythical Nature: The Classics and Environmental Issues in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture” took place online at the Faculty of „Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, on 29–30 September, 2021, to summarize the third stage of the Our Mythical Childhood Project:

Zbigniew Karaszewski, A Girl with Doves Googling Arcadia (2020)
– logo of the 3rd stage of the Our Mythical Childhood project.

Here you can read the conference materials – the programme:

and the conference booklet:

The lectures and presentations from the conference are available as a playlist on our YouTube channel, so if you search for a nice background for jogging in the middle of Nature… 😉

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The subject of Nature was also taken up by high-school students. Here you can watch their films on ecology, prepared within the competition Antiquity–Camera–Action!:

Moreover, the students of three high schools in Poland (Bartłomiej Nowodworski from Kraków, Mikołaj Rej from Warsaw, and “Strumienie” from Józefów) prepared a joint publication Naturae cognoscere causas (Open Access: http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/naturaecausas). They present their research results in the reportage:

We wish You All a good start into the New Year MMXXII!

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For more information see the conference page: http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/our-mythical-nature

Post prepared by Katarzyna Marciniak and Olga Strycharczyk