ANCIENT MAGIC AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN THE MODERN VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS

by Filippo Carlà and Irene Berti

Bloomsbury (2015) h/b 335pp £70 (ISBN 9781472527837)

The international research group ‘Imagines: Antiquity in the Visual and Performing Arts’ was founded in 2007; the group held its first international conference in the same year, with the second following in 2010. The proceedings of the 2012 meeting in Mainz form the basis of this eclectic collection of papers. In the words of C. and B., ‘the collection of papers in this volume aims to show the innumerable transformations that religious ideals and practices undergo, when “travelling” through time and space. Additionally, it shows what relevance classical antiquity still has to our imagination of the transcendental, the superhuman and the supernatural.’

The range of topics is truly astonishing: from defixionum tabellae (curse texts) found in a nymphaeum in Rome, to the traces of Graeco-Roman mythology in ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.’ In between, the reader will find much to engage with: Greek tragedy (as one might expect, our favourite witch Medea is considered in 3 papers), Celtic magic and rituals, mythical beasts in Harry Potter and mythology in anime (Japanese animations). The collection therefore has much to offer readers of different persuasions: the classicist will doubtless be intrigued by Walde’s paper on Canidia and Erichtho’s postclassical life; the theologian will find points to discuss in Campanile’s essay on how Celtic magic is presented in ‘The War Lord’; the sociologist may find Gietzen and Gindhart’s consideration of the metamorphoses of ‘Wonder Woman’ a real insight into the changing face of American society in the mid twentieth century. Despite my initial scepticism, I found this paper one of the most intriguing.

However, I found myself pondering how many general readers would be interested in the reception of Circe in Baroque opera; moreover, a paper on ‘The Colours of Medea in Nineteenth Century Painting in France and England’ is accompanied by black and white illustrations, resulting in tedious descriptions of the said colours. The discussion of the mythical creatures in the Harry Potter novels and film adaptation by Hofmann may have more popular appeal, but I suspect has little new to intrigue the academic.

Nevertheless, one man’s smörgåsbord may be another man’s feast, and the sheer diversity of papers means there is something to whet the appetite of many. The hardback price is rather daunting, and I suspect will put it beyond the reach of more modest pockets. However, for anyone interested in the reception history of the ancient supernatural, this is both a satisfying selection of papers and a springboard for deeper analysis.

Cath Milnes

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