From the Age:

HELEN Madden runs the Stork Hotel, a cozy pub in Elizabeth Street. She also has a classics degree, so a staged reading of Homer's Iliad was an obvious way to attract new clientele.

Public recitations of The Iliad are rare, though an open-air performance is being discussed in Rome.

"Pubs are ideal places to encourage discussions about ideas," Madden says. "They are the ultimate democratic institution, where anyone can feel confident and at home. Homer is my first love," she says.

The acclaimed actor, Helen Morse, is part of the presentation and says The Iliad could not be more relevant now. "Globally, we are in the middle of a contemporary Iliad," she says, referring to the terrorist threat.

Homer's poetic account of the siege of Troy from the eighth century BC is the first record of war's tragic emotions. The French philosopher, Simone Weil, wrote that the poem's real subject was force and how it swept away any attempt of human control. "The forces involved in wars turn human beings into objects," Morse says.

She is only one of a star-studded cast that includes Melbourne Theatre Company regular Richard Piper and long-time Stingers star Kate Kendall, who will give six readings of extracts from The Iliad from tonight. The performances have become an annual event at the Stork, alternating with excerpts from The Odyssey since 2001.

"I want to give people the chance to experience some of the great works of literature close up," Madden says.

Little is known of Homer, or even if he existed at all. But the two works credited to him are part of the bedrock of Western culture. It is thought they were recited from memory.

The hotel, opposite Queen Victoria Market in Elizabeth Street, first opened in 1855 and is named after the good-luck symbol in European folklore.

When Madden and her partner, Paul Madden, took over in 1996, it was a faded early opener that had an almost all-male clientele. They painted it orange and blue, and transformed the rear bistro into a cafe by discarding the carpet for floorboards and installing French windows.

Earlier this year, Madden presented an extended season of Marcel & Albertine: Proust on Love, an adaptation from Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. She has staged plays based on works by Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus and Iris Murdoch, and introduced a series of monthly dinners to consider various philosophic topics.

She has a classics honours degree from Monash University and has taught Latin at Brighton Grammar and Whitefriars College. Monash's Professor Jane Griffiths is providing a transliteration of two lines from The Iliad, so that people will hear how the original sounds. The selection of excerpts was made by classicist Dennis Prior using the Penguin translation by Robert Fagles.

Morse says there are few outlets to perform epic poetry. "It's extraordinary stuff, in both form and content. The horror and violence are so graphic."

The actors will take turns to read the lines of Homer, irrespective of gender, although Piper will play Achilles and Morse will be Helen of Troy.