Bad Air: Pollution, Sin, and Science Fiction in William Delisle Hay’s The Doom of the Great City (1880)

Coloured aquatint, ca. 1862, depicting a man covering his mouth with a handkerchief, walking through a smoggy London street / Wellcome Library Deadly fogs, moralistic diatribes, debunked medical theory — Brett Beasley explores a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse. By Brett Beasley PhD Student in[…]

The Eternal Guffaw: John Leech and The Comic History of Rome

Detail from John Leech’s illustration “Tarquinius Superbus makes himself king” featured in The Comic History of Rome – Internet Archive At the beginning of the 1850s, two stalwarts from the heart of London-based satirical magazine Punch, Gilbert Abbott à Beckett and John Leech, cast their mocking eye a little further back in time and published The Comic History of Rome.[…]

Ossian, the European National Epic (1760-1810)

Ossian’s Cave front door at The Hermitage, Scotland / Photo by Roger Griffith, Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gauti Kristmannsson / 11.09.2015 Professor of Translation Studies Universitet Háskóli Íslands Introduction Fragments of ancient poetry, collected in the highlands of Scotland and tr. from the Galic or Erse language / Oxford University The Poems of Ossian are a[…]

Fairies and Pagan Mythologies in the Medieval Spanish Ballad

Modern rendering of a tree fairy By Dr. David A. Wacks / 05.24.2017 Professor of Spanish Department of Romance Languages University of Oregon It is well known that many pre-Christian beliefs and practices survive some fifteen hundred years after the Christianization of the Iberian Peninsula (see my earlier post on Asturian mythology). Some of these have been[…]

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

‘ Frontispiece to the 6th edition of Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (published under the pseudonym Democritus Junior) – Internet Archive In 1621 Robert Burton first published his masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy, a vast feat of scholarship examining in encyclopaedic detail that most enigmatic of maladies. Noga Arikha explores the book, said to be the favorite of[…]

The Mystery of Lewis Carroll

Self-portait taken by Dodgson, circa 1895 – Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains to this day an enigmatic figure. Jenny Woolf explores the joys and struggles of this brilliant, secretive, and complex man, creator of one of the world’s best-loved stories. By Jenny Woolf / 07.09.2014 When Charles L. Dodgson was[…]

The Hero as Savior in Classical Literature and Mythology

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector’s lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy. (From a panoramic fresco on the upper level of the main hall of the Achilleion) / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of sōzein and sōtēr The key word here is the[…]

The Hero’s Agony in the Bacchae of Euripides

Pentheus torn apart by Agave and Ino. Attic red-figure lekanis (cosmetics bowl) lid, ca. 450-425 BCE / Photo by Jastrow, Louvre Museum, Paris By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of agōn The key word here is agōn, plural agōnes. I give three[…]

Ancient Greece and the Garden: The Ideal Homeric Polis

Ancient Greek garden / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Annette Lucia Giesecke Chair, Department of Languages, Literature and Cultures Elias Ahuja Professor of Classics University of Delaware It is at dawn, the time of new beginnings, that the Phaiakian ship, with Odysseus onboard, draws near to the island of Ithaka. There the spectacular harbor of Phorkys,[…]

Heroic Aberration in the Agamemnon of Aeschylus

Mask of Agamemnon, from shaft grave V, grave circle A, c.1550-1500 B.C.E., gold, 12 inches / 35 cm (National Archaeological Museum, Athens) By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of atē The key word here is atē, the meaning of which can[…]

An Introduction to Ancient Greek Tragedy

By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University In considering the traditions of tragedy, it is important to keep in mind that the medium of tragedy in particular and of drama in general was the central context for the evolution of traditions in[…]

Sources for History and Epic in Ancient Iran

“Feridun Strikes Zahak With The Ox-Headed Mace,” watercolor on paper, Tabriz, Iran, circa 1525, from Firdawsi’s “Shahnameh” / Smithsonian Institution By Dr. M. Rahim Shayegan Professor, Amuzegar Chair in Iranian Director, Program of Iranian Studies University of California, Los Angeles Old Persian Epigraphy: The Bisotun Inscription Behistun (Bisotun) Inscription, describing conquests of Darius the Great[…]

Orbis Sensualium Pictus: John Comenius and the First Children’s Picture Book, 1658

Illustration for “God’s Providence”, from the 1705 English edition of Orbis Sensualium Pictus / Internet Archive In the mid 17th-century John Comenius published what many consider to be the first picture book dedicated to the education of young children, Orbis Sensualium Pictus – or The World of Things Obvious to the Senses drawn in Pictures, as it was rendered in[…]

What Did ‘Hero’ Mean in Ancient Greece?

Dying Warrior sculpture from the East Pediment of the late archaic Temple of Aphaia in Aegina,c.500-480 BCE, Munich, Glyptothek / Photo by Barbara McManus, Creative Commons By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The key word here is sēmainein, which means ‘mean [something],[…]

Krinein: Defining the Cult Hero

Statue of the ancient greek historian Herodotus at the parliament of Vienna / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of krinein The key word for this hour is krinein, the “middle voice” for which is krinesthai, and the meaning of[…]

The Cult Hero in Homeric Poetry and Beyond

Detail of a relief depicting the “Apotheosis of Homer,” attributed to Archelaos of Priene, ca. 225 BCE–205 BCE. In the British Museum. / Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of “olbios” “Ulysses Departing[…]

Inside the Empty House: Sherlock Holmes, For King and Country

Detail from a Sydney Paget illustration to ‘The Final Problem’ which appeared in The Strand Magazine in December, 1893. Holmes and Moriarty tussle over Reichenbach Falls before Holmes falls to his apparent death. / Wikimedia Commons Andrew Glazzard investigates the domestic and imperial subterfuge beneath the surface of Sherlock Holmes’s 1903 return to Baker Street in Conan[…]

Sir Arthur and the Fairies

Spirit photograph of Arthur Conan Doyle taken by the ‘spirit photographer’ Ada Deane in 1922, the same year in which Conan Doyle’s The Coming of the Fairies was published / Wikimedia Commons In the spring of 1920, at the beginning of a growing fascination with spiritualism brought on by the death of his son and brother in[…]

Coleridge and the Doctors

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Romantic poet and co-author of ‘Lyrical Ballads’. Image credit: National Portrait Gallery Much of the poetry in the Wellcome Library is anonymous – in many cases, it is amateur material bad enough for the author to be grateful for a cloak of anonymity – but our archives do also contain material by ‘proper’ poets[…]

The Mind of Odysseus in the Homeric Odyssey

Odysseus departs from the Land of the Phaeacians, painting by Claude Lorrain (1646) / Louvre Museum, Paris By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of “noos” This diagram shows the medieval understanding of spheres of the cosmos, derived from Aristotle, and as per the standard explanation by Ptolemy.[…]

The Return of Odysseus in the Homeric Odyssey

Illustration from Schwab, Gustav: “Die schönsten Sagen des klassischen Altertums” (1882) By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of nostos Odysseus and his crew escape the cyclops, as painted by Arnold Böcklin in 1896. / Wikimedia Commons The key word here[…]

The Sign of the Hero in the Visual and Verbal Art of the Iliad

The Triumph of Achilles by Franz von Matsch. Achilles is seen dragging Hector’s lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy. / A fresco on the upper level of the main hall of the Achilleion at Corfu, Greece. By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of sēma[…]

Patroklos as the Other Self of Achilles

The body of Patroclus is lifted by Menelaus and Meriones while Odysseus and others look on (Etruscan relief, 2nd century BC) / Photo by Jastrow (Wikimedia Commons), Museo Nazionale Archeologico Nazionale, Florence By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The Meaning of Therapōn The key word here is therapōn, ‘attendant; ritual[…]

When Mortals become ‘Equal’ to Immortals: Achilles – Death of a Hero, Death of a Bridegroom

Thetis immersing her son, Achilles, in the River Styx by Antoine Borel, 18th century / Galleria Nazionale, Parma, Italy By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of daimōn In Greek mythology, Lamia, the Queen of Libya, was transformed into a child-eating dæmon.[…]

Achilles as Lyric Hero in the Songs of Sappho and Pindar

Achilles sacrificing to Zeus for Patroclus’ safe return, from the Ambrosian Iliad, a 5th-century illuminated manuscript. / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of aphthito- The key word here is aphthito- in the sense of ‘imperishable’. And, by the time we reach the end,[…]

The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Pencil drawing of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm from 1843 / Historisches Museum in Hanau, Wikimedia Commons Exploring the importance of this neglected first edition and what it tells us about the motives and passions of the two folklorist brothers. By Dr. Jack Zipes / 12.20.2012 Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature University of Minnesota[…]

Achilles and the Poetics of Lament

Dying Achilles (Achilleas thniskon) in the gardens of the Achilleion / Photo by Dr.K., Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of akhos and penthos There are two key words for this hour, akhos and penthos, and the meaning of both words is ‘grief, sorrow; public[…]