Modern cinema and Greek tragedy illustrate that few things elicit a fear more profound than parents killing children. Horror movies have often grappled with figures of “monstrous” mothers in particular, from the obsessive, hypochondriac Sonia Kaspbrack in Stephen King's IT (1986), to the lonely, murderous Olivia Crain in Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House (2018). In Greek tragedy, too, mothers are often monsters: women like Medea, Agave or Althaea are all tragic examples of women who have killed their children. In both genres, these gestures of extreme violence are meant to shock and unsettle the audience by pushing back against “normal” familial bonds, bringing into question relationships of gender, the body and motherhood.
Of the slew of Disney’s new live-action remakes, perhaps the most anticipated release was this summer’s The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau. After all, the original 1994 version was arguably the crown jewel of the ‘Disney Renaissance’, enjoying massive commercial and critical success (followed by a highly successful Broadway production). More importantly - at least for those like me who grew up in the 90’s - it was a cultural touchstone, a perennial source of references, parodies, and praise.
In March of 2019, Jordan Peele's Us was released in theaters. Much like his previous project, Get Out (2017), Us took the horror world by storm. Unlike Get Out, whose direct references to U.S. racism were the foundation of the plot, Peele left Us intentionally vague; allowing for a flurry of online theories to be born as to what his intended meaning may have been.
In spring 2018, students enrolled in the upper-level seminar “Antiquity Through a Lens” at Miami University engaged in critical study of the ways the classical world and, more specifically, ancient war narratives have been used in modern film and television to reflect on contemporary society and its conflicts. Alongside study of ancient primary sources, students thus explored a range of concepts such as gender, class, race, religion, and even the meaning of victory itself in Troy (2004), 300 (2007), 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), Spartacus (1960), Masada (1981), and Dragon Blade (2015). It was the latter film, however, that provoked the most intriguing reactions from students in the course, since it forced them to view classical history for the first time through a distinctly non-Western lens.
Q. How did you first get interested in Classics and the ancient world?