Live theatre was the popcorn fare of the ancient Greeks.
“People came from all over the Mediterranean to view these tragedies,” enthuses Professor Leona MacLeod. “Today, everyone comes to film. Film performs the same role in our society as it (drama) did in Athens.”
Skeptics doubting that such classical literature could be “entertaining” to modern crowds are directed to Homer’s epic poems. Filled with dramatic love affairs, massive action and tons of beach scenes, The Iliad is the original summer blockbuster.
The Iliad’s staying power is epic; after presumable millennia in development hell, a silver screen Iliad remake – Troy – was released in 2004. Featuring Eric Bana as Hector and an implausibly stalwart Brad Pitt as Achilles, Troy is just one of many films on the syllabus when Dr. MacLeod premiers her new course offering – Myth into Film I: the Greek World (CLAS 2515).
Nor is Prof. MacLeod stopping at Troy. During our interview, I’m boggled to see the DVD of 300 sitting on her desk. “You can go and watch them as entertainment or you can get something more out of it… There’s a lot of enthusiasm out there for something like this,” she says cheerfully, describing the course as an “introduction to the ancient world through the medium of film.”
“My second love after classics is film, so this is just perfect for me, (but) I wasn’t sure how well it would go over,” she adds. “Some classicists are a little, um, reluctant to bring in the popular culture.” When the course was proposed, however, her peer response was overwhelmingly supportive. Now, as September looms closer, Prof. MacLeod is fine-tuning the “reading list” for Myth into Film.
It won’t all be swashbuckling adventure flicks, of course. She will be teaching historical texts as well, including Homer’s Iliad.
“You can divide people into two kinds of people,” Professor MacLeod declares, “Iliad people and Odyssey people.” She is an Iliad person. “The very first work I read (in university) was The Iliad, and I just fell in love. Homer is a fantastic storyteller. I find myself today still impressed by his storytelling capabilities... he takes this little slice out of what is a much larger story and makes that the main level. I sometimes think we’ve never surpassed it in terms of storytelling techniques.”
Of course, no one’s going to argue that The Iliad isn’t literature. But the movie version is a harder sell. “The first time I watched it (Troy)…” Professor MacLeod shakes her head. “(But) you have to kind of look beyond that, see why things are the way they are. He’s much more sympathetic to the Trojans than the Greeks… Why is (the director) so uncomfortable with a character like Achilles? Why all these changes? ... This movie is far more about us than it is about the ancient world.” The divergences, the “modernizations” and anachronisms, are part of the point. “We return to the Greek world again and again… we find something in those stories.”
So, what will this class have that you can’t get anywhere else? What are people going to ‘find’?
“A blend of the ancient and modern world,” Prof. MacLeod replies. “What the ancient world can do is offer us a broad perspective, a new way of looking at the modern world.”
Plus Brad Pitt. Really, what more do you want?