D. G. 'Josh' Beer (Adjunct Professor, Department of Greek and Roman Studies, Carleton University), "The Athenian Plague and Eros as a Killer Virus in Euripides’ Hippolytus"
In 430-29 B.C. a plague devastated the Athenian population. Pericles, the statesman, died of it; Thucydides, our main historical witness, caught it but survived. In 428 Euripides presented his Hippolytus and won the tragic prize. In the play Aphrodite decides to kill Hippolytus by making his young stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him because he rejects her godhead. For the Greeks Eros (Love) was a madness that first attacked the eyes before assailing the mind. In both Thucydides’ account and Euripides’ play, the main recurring thematic term is nosos, disease. Of the plague some believed that it had a divine cause, others a natural explanation. The same division of opinions is expressed by the chorus of women in Hippolytus about Phaedra’s illness. Similarly, Aphrodite can be viewed in two ways; 1) as a vindictive deity; 2) as a force of nature in the form of Eros. I shall treat Eros metaphorically as a virus. Although only Phaedra suffers the full effects of Eros’ madness, the contagion spreads by means of Phaedra’s nurse, her main caregiver, and deranges the minds of the other characters. The primary visual image of Hippolytus is Phaedra’s sick-bed which morphs into the bier on which the dead queen is laid out. As a piece of theatre the bed/bier has a numinous existence that is as vital as that of the human characters.
Judith Fletcher (Professor, Department of History, Wilfrid Laurier University), "The Underworld in Contemporary Culture"
Stories of a visit to the realm of the dead and a return to the upper world are among the oldest narratives in European culture, beginning with Homer’s Odyssey and extending to contemporary fiction and art. Judith Fletcher examines a variety of different genres by twentieth- and twenty-first century authors and artists, including Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, Elena Ferrante, and Anish Kapoor, who deal in various ways with the descent to Hades in literary fiction, comics, film, sculpture, and children’s culture. The analyses of these “haunted texts,” consider how their retellings relate to earlier versions of the mythical theme, including their ancient precedents by Homer and Vergil, but also to post-classical receptions of underworld narratives by authors such as Dante, Ezra Pound, and Joseph Conrad.