Although buildings rise for numerous other faculties at the University of Victoria, the administration has no immediate plans to construct any for the Faculty of the Humanities; however, crumbs do fall, since Humanities gets assigned the vacated space of other faculties. Nevertheless, the faculty remains rich in many other ways—one of its treasures, the Lansdowne Lectures, has brought outstanding scholars to UVic for over 30 years. At a recent GRS gathering for Ian Morris, the most recent Lansdowne recipient, the conversation turned to modern portrayals of ancient Greece and Rome. Due to the labours of scholars, such as Keith Hopkins, moderns have a much more comprehensive view of ancient Roman society. Gritty productions, such as HBO’s Rome, have supplanted Sword-and-Sandal epics and portrayed the city’s eastern lavishness:
From every land and sea are brought the fruits of each season, whatever all the farms and rivers and lakes produce, by Greek or barbarian techniques. It follows that, if anyone wishes to behold all these things, he must travel the known world to gaze on them—or he must be in Rome (Aelius Aristides, To Rome 10–11).
The lowest estimate has India, China, and the peninsula of Arabia removing from our Empire each year some 100 million sestertii. That is the price our luxuries and our wives cost us (Pliny, Natural History 12.84). (Both translations from Greek and Roman Technology, p. 494–5).
Nevertheless, the same cannot be said for ancient Greece: modern society still view this culture through the clean crisp lines of fluted columns. Sanctuaries (the focus of my research) were lively gathering places that fulfilled a variety societal functions: exhibition, mediation, and protection; furthermore, Greek democracy comprised a series of public oaths, duties, and oratories.
One exception, however, is modern portrayals of Greek drama. Ground breaking productions, such as The Gospel at Colonus have led the charge and scholars, such as Helene Foley, who requires senior students to produce a play themselves, have supported these productions. Over the years, UVic’s Phoenix Theatre has produced a number of Greek tragedies and comedies, and garnered abundant praise for their efforts. Euripides’ Medea, their latest offering, stunned audiences.
Not only did modern events, such as a father murdering his five children, make the play extremely relevant, but the play was stellar from the foundations. Linda Hardy, the director, embraced Euripides version of the myth in which Medea murders her own children to spite Jason. The changes the director made to the text were sensible, such as expanding the role of the tutor and adding a nurse. The stage designers also excelled, creating a functional and mystical setting:
The choreography successfully integrated the chorus with the rest of the cast. The chorus itself, consisting of vocalists specialized in various genres, scintillatingly oscillated between screams, hums, and cries. Lastly, and most deserved of praise, the actors, in particular Katie Takefman who played Medea, provided the audience with an emotional/philosophical roller-coaster ride that evoked the cathartic intention of ancient Greek tragedy.