Blog for the international research project "Our Mythical Childhood… The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges", financed by the ERC Consolidator Grant led by Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak, Faculty of "Artes Liberales" of the University of Warsaw. Team members: Prof. Susan Deacy and Steve K. Simons, University of Roehampton; Prof. Elizabeth Hale and Dr Miriam Riverlea, University of New England; Prof. Lisa Maurice and Dr Ayelet Peer, Bar-Ilan University; Prof. Daniel A. Nkemleke, Dr Divine Che Neba and Dr Eleanor A. Dasi, University of Yaoundé I; Dr Elżbieta Olechowska, Dr Hanna Paulouskaya, Dr Sonya Nevin, Dott. Edoardo Pecchini, Marta Pszczolińska, Angelina Gerus and the Project Officers: Magdalena Andersen, Maria Makarewicz, and Olga Strycharczyk from the Faculty of "Artes Liberales" UW.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Placed by Olga Strycharczyk, also in the role of interviewer:-).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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”. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and Proximity Doctors to organize a day of health and fun at the Foundation Fact Orphanage. The purpose of this event was to teach children about proper hygiene and entertain them with Cameroonian oral stories.
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 by Ayelet Keshet and Black Boys, Big Dreams Coloring Book 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.
I referenced certain three myths from the Our Mythical Childhood Survey. The Bamoun myth “Myth of Ntiteuh” was used to describe the power of love within the African Mother. The Mboum myth, “Autan and the Monster”, was used to describe the Baby Hero character. The Bafut folktale, “The Orphan Child and Her Uncle’s Wife” 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” for the trickster turtle and the Tikar folktale “Hare and Lion: Lion Is My Horse!” for the strong but easily fooled lion.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
 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/.
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:
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… 😉
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!
Minerva was the main theme of the recent patchwork competition: “Minerva – bogini rzemiosła” [Minerva – The Goddess of Crafts] organized by Stowarzyszenie Polskiego Patchworku [Polish Patchwork Association] together with the distributor of Minerva sewing machines. The first “Minerva” was created in Austria in 1871, during the second wave of the industrial revolution. It was adorned with an image of the goddess and the motto “MELIORA SUNT BONO INIMICA”.
Minerva has many mythical cousins in the family of sewing machines. Vesta popular for its home machines, Titan, Trojan, Vulcan miniature and toy machine, or Venus overlock are just a few examples.
Ariadne also finds her place among those mythical heroes as a patron of the Polish thread factory called “Ariadna”. The company’s website proudly tells the story of the goddess. The list of Ariadna products includes: Heros, Flora, Iris, Titan, Hector, Daedalus, Icarus, Maia, Talia, Leto, and Muse.
A fascinating international workshop – Proletarian Classics? – took place online during the weekend of 23–24 October, 2021. It was organized by the University of St Andrews, School of Classics in collaboration with Classical Reception Studies Network, University of Ljubljana, and Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw. The workshop, under the direction of Henry Stead, explored the relationship between ancient Greek and Roman culture and world communism from 1917. It constituted a follow-up and further development of three projects, Classics and Class and Brave New Classics conducted by Henry Stead (University of St Andrews) and Edith Hall (King’s College London), and Classics and Communism currently continued by David Movrin (University of Ljubljana) and Elżbieta Olechowska (Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw).
Twenty-five scholars discussed in five panels topics ranging from The Ancient Proletarian Hero, Classics and Communism in and beyond the Soviet Block, Greek Tragedy and the Left, Leftist Ancient History to Animating the Past, Classicising the Future.The workshop ended in a roundtable offering comments and conclusions for future research. Faculty of “Artes Liberales” was represented in the workshop by Hanna Paulouskaya and Elżbieta Olechowska.
Warsaw has its own mythical housing estate! In the Bemowo district, incorporated into Warsaw in 1951, there are small settlements of houses built in the last forty years, encircled with streets named after Hera and Zeus, intersected with streets named after Prometheus, Artemis, Poseidon, Aphrodite and Electra. Four fenced-in multifamily buildings in the middle form the Zeus Housing Estate surrounded by single-family houses. The local housing community named after the Acropolis and the Hera Housing Estate are close by.