24th – 26th June 2013
The first stage of the Hercules Project was an international conference 24th – 26th June 2013, which brought classical reception specialists together with scholars from the fields of medieval and later European history, art history, literature and drama, in order to scope the extent of Hercules’ significance as a cultural figure and to provoke interdisciplinary discussion of methodological approaches.
The conference programme combined talks by academics and contemporary writers and artists. There were papers on Hercules’ appropriation by Christianity; emergence in the Renaissance as the type of virtue; role as political emblem; particular relevance to France, as supposed forefather of the monarchy and paradoxical hero of the Revolution; appearance in Victorian Britain; role as a hero for children; appearance in contemporary popular media from comic books to the modern Greek press; emigration to Australasia; re-workings of Sophokles’ and Euripides’ tragedies on Hercules’ death and madness.
An important aspect of the conference was the involvement of contemporary writers and artists talking about their Hercules-themed work. This provided a rare opportunity for academics to interrogate the creators of art-works featuring the hero, posing questions for which no answer is usually available – why did the artist choose to focus on Hercules, what influenced their treatment of the story? Two writers talked about very different dramas, both produced in 2010: George Rodosthenous’ The Wife of Heracles was a re-working of Sophocles’ tragedy Trachiniae, while Helen Eastman’s Hercules was a comedy based on the twelve labours. Marian Maguire’s series of lithographs and etchings The Labours of Herakles, exhibited in New Zealand 2008-12, aptly casts the hero as a European colonist, superimposing an image taken from ancient Greek vases onto nineteenth-century New Zealand landscapes.