Hercules: a hero for all ages

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Classics

Abstract

The ancient Greek hero Herakles, better known by his Roman name 'Hercules', survived beyond the end of antiquity to become a ubiquitous presence in western culture through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and onwards, right up to the present day. An overview of the hero's post-classical afterlife is provided in the final chapter of the applicant's monograph 'Herakles' (London 2012), but a fuller understanding requires the input of scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, with specialisms in the many periods, countries and media concerned. Just such a group of scholars came together for the international conference, 'Hercules: a Hero for All Ages' (Leeds, June 2013), as well as several contemporary writers/artists talking about their Hercules-themed work (for full details, see http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/homepage/400/hercules_conference_2013).

Following on from the conference, the proposed network will develop a series of four volumes for Brill's series Metaforms: Studies in the Reception of Classical Antiquity. Each volume will treat a particular period and aspect of Herculean reception, taking a selection of papers from the original conference as a starting point, but revising and adding papers via correspondence, a series of meetings between the international team of editors, and a colloquium (Leeds 2017).

1. 'Herakles Inside and Outside the Church: from the first Christian Apologists to the end of the Quattrocento' will consider Herakles-Hercules' adoption inside and outside the early Church as an allegorical figure, effectively mediating between paganism and the new religion, and later Christian appropriations of this figure.

2. 'The Exemplary Hercules' will focus on the period from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment and beyond, examining the hero as the incarnation of virtue in a wide range of literature and art, and in political as well as moralising contexts.

3. 'Hercules Performed' will explore Hercules' development in works written for performance, encompassing new works as well as re-workings of ancient tragedy and comedy, opera as well as stage plays, and other media such as radio.

4. 'The Modern Hercules' will cover Hercules' appearances in various media from the nineteenth century to the present day, including consideration of contemporary art, children's literature, cartoons, film, video-games, political and commercial discourses.

In addition to these academic publications, the project will develop its website (http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/homepage/401/hercules_project) to include accessible summaries of its research and a variety of open-access resources, such as podcasts and vidcasts of talks highlighting the links between the ancient hero and Hercules in modern popular culture. It is also associated with two activities aimed at public audiences:

i) 'The Labours of Herakles' exhibition: this is based on the work of contemporary New Zealand artist Marian Maguire ((http://www.marianmaguire.com/), which superimposes an ancient Greek image of Herakles onto nineteenth-century New Zealand landscapes, wittily casting the hero as a European Pioneer. Previously exhibited in New Zealand, since January 2015 the series has been on tour in the UK, Germany and Belgium.

ii) A new Hercules-themed oratorio, commissioned by Todmorden Choral Society, West Yorkshire, from local composer Tim Benjamin (http://timbenjamin.com/). This is to be premiered in April 2017 by the amateur choir and members of Todmorden Orchestra, alongside a number of professional soloists and an actor-narrator, with further performances later in the year.

Planned Impact

In addition to the academic beneficiaries, several other groups will benefit from this research, either directly or indirectly via the project's associated public engagement activities:

1. Impact of the volumes in Higher Education:

The four volumes will be marketed as suitable for the increasing number of university courses in the UK, USA and elsewhere on Classical reception and on Classical mythology. Individual papers will also be suitable for undergraduate reading-lists in other disciplines (as detailed under Academic beneficiaries). The measures taken to ensure the volumes' accessibility to researchers from a variety of disciplines will facilitate their use by undergraduate students, for whom they will provide a way into research in disciplines other than their own. The extent of this impact may not be apparent for some time, but the applicant will conduct regular surveys to track usage of the volumes in HE.

2. Impact of the website:

The website (http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/homepage/401/hercules_project) will present the project in an accessible way, including summaries of its research and materials pitched for a general audience. It will be promoted by means of regular postings to the JISC list 'Hercules: a Hero for All Ages' (https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=HERCULES) and social media, alerting subscribers/followers to news items and the addition of resources. Usage statistics will provide one measure of interest in the project, while a Comments facility will be used to elicit qualitative, discursive feedback from users.

3. Impact of the 'Labours of Herakles' touring exhibition:

While some legs of the tour pre-date the current project, (measurement of) the impact on the venues concerned is ongoing. The exhibition is innovative in its combining of contemporary artworks with antiquities and other artefacts from each host's regular collection. Measures of its impact on the venues concerned will include feedback from both museum professionals and visitors, and the extent to which it influences the institution's future public engagement practice. There has also been impact on the artist herself, in terms of exposure and recognition of her work in Europe, which can to some extent be measured in financial terms.

4. Impact of the oratorio:

The oratorio is both an example of the impact of the applicant's previous work and a conduit for dissemination of the ongoing research of the project:

i) On the composer: Stafford's monograph 'Herakles' influenced the composer in his original choice of subject, and the final chapter in particular has been a point of reference in the early stages of development of a work which will use 'found' text to tell the story of the hero across the ages. Later stages of the libretto's development will be informed by the research of the proposed network, mediated by collaboration with the applicant.

ii) On the performers: the majority of the performers are likely to engage directly with the research only via an introductory session provided by the applicant on the background to the work. However, resources will be made available to any who wish to pursue the research in more detail, and all will be influenced by their experience of participating in the work itself. Corroboration of the impact will be sought from both amateur and professional performers via a questionnaire and via oral testimony.

iii) On the eventual audiences: the audience at the premiere and later performances will be asked to complete a short questionnaire, including questions designed to elicit answers on how their understanding of classical myth has changed as a result of attending.

Publications

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Title Herakles oratorio 
Description Composer Tim Benjamin produced a new work, "Herakles" based on the story of the Choice of Herakles as re-told by Dio Chrysostom in his "Discourse on Kingship", delivered to the new Roman Emperor Trajan in 98CE. Work on the libretto and choral elements of the score was completed in December 2016, with further work on the orchestration continuing into February 2017. This musical drama was performed by Todmorden Choral Society and Todmorden Orchestra together with a cast of professional soloists at the premiere in Todmorden Town Hall on 30 April 2017. This performance was filmed, and the resulting film screened in Leeds on 8 July 2017, as part of the conference "Celebrating Hercules in the Modern World" (the event was open to the public as well as conference delegates). 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact See entry s.v. "Performance": "Tim Benjamin's Herakles oratorio: world premiere and film" 
URL http://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/musical-drama/
 
Title Tim Benjamin's Herakles oratorio: world premiere and film 
Description In last year's report I outlined the composition and early stages of rehearsal of Tim Benjamin's oratorio 'Herakles'. The world premiere duly took place in Todmorden Town Hall on 30th April 2017. It was performed by Todmorden Choral Society and Todmorden Orchestra, together with a number of professional instrumentalists; five professional singers played the roles of Zeus, Hermes, and the two Titans, Royalty and Tyranny; the story was masterfully narrated by the professional actor who portrayed Time herself. The Town Hall was full to capacity. This performance was professionally filmed, with financial support from the project. The resulting film was first screened at the conference in early July (see Engagement Activities) in Leeds' University's Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, open to the public as well as conference delegates; a subsequent screening was arranged in October at Todmorden's Hippodrome at the request of members of the Choral Society. A DVD of the film is available for sale via Leeds University's Store (https://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/news/dvds-of-tim-benjamins-herakles-available-to-purchase-online/). 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact As noted last year, the work itself is evidence of the impact of the Hercules Project. In turn, the performance of the work has had impact on all concerned. Feedback was elicited from both performers and audience at the April premiere in Todmorden, and at the screening of the film in Leeds at the July conference; t. An analysis of this feedback will inform a paper which is to be published in the project's volume Hercules Performed, as well as an impact case study for REF 2021. Impact can be demonstrated on three user-groups: i) On the composer: Benjamin settled on Hercules as his subject after reading Stafford's monograph. In discussion with Stafford, he decided to base the narrative on the 'Vice or Virtue' scenario explored in two of her research papers, following Dio Chysostom's version of the story (Discourses 10.48-83), in which a young Herakles is faced with a choice between Tyranny and Royalty. Benjamin has provided extensive feedback via an interview (available on the project website): the collaboration allowed Benjamin to reach a new academic audience and laid the ground for a subsequent project. ii) On the performers: The impact of the research on the performers was mediated by Stafford, who gave an introductory talk to the choir on the classical and post-classical background to the piece, and made further resources available via the Hercules Project website. Feedback was sought from both amateur and professional participants via a questionnaire, answers indicating that 80% had had their idea of the myth changed, as well as finding the "modern music" surprisingly agreeable. iii) On the audiences: The audience at the live première and later screenings of the film were asked to complete a short questionnaire. Answers indicated that 90% had changed their understanding of classical myth a result of attending, one respondent particularly commenting on the political message: "The interpretation of the music goes very well together with the academic research that underlies it. I had never heard of Dio Chrysostom's version before, and am glad to have been introduced to it... Thematically it was scarily timely, especially the second half". The success of the collaboration with Stafford prompted Benjamin to develop a further piece on a classical-mythological theme, the opera The Fire of Olympus: or On Sticking It to the Man, for which AHRC Follow-on Funding of c.£30,000 is now sought (see Other Outputs). 
URL https://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/musical-drama/
 
Description The AHRC Networking funding has allowed the development of four edited volumes which collectively explore the significance of the figure of Herakles (often known by his Roman names 'Hercules') in a wide variety of media from the end of antiquity to the present day: 'Herakles Inside and Outside the Church' (2019) considers the hero's adoption inside and outside the early Church as an allegorical figure, effectively mediating between paganism and the new religion, and later Christian appropriations of this figure; 'The Exemplary Hercules' (2020) follows on both chronologically and thematically, focusing on Hercules in the Early Modern period, when he appears as the incarnation of virtue in a wide range of literature and art, and in political as well as moralising contexts; 'Hercules Performed' (2020) surveys the hero's treatment in a variety of performance media from the early modern period to the present day, including a section specifically on musical adaptations, while 'The Modern Hercules' (2020) covers a wide range of twentieth- and twenty-first-century media, including film. The first of these is already in press with Brill, due for publication later in 2019; the other three volumes are all under contract for Brill's series Metaforms: Studies in the Reception of Classical Antiquity, and are in the late stages of editing, their MSS due for submission during 2019, for publication in 2020. An element of the original award supported the filming of Tim Benjamin's oratorio 'Herakles', premiered in Todmorden Town Hall in April 2017: the film is available via the project website either to stream or to purchase on DVD (https://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/musical-drama/).
Exploitation Route The project's findings might be put to use by a variety of groups:
i) academics: the papers in the four volumes will be of relevance to academics working on (primarily) European history, literature and culture;
ii) primary and secondary level education: the project website includes accessible material on Greek myth and ways in which it has been used since antiquity, which might inform teaching of the topic on the Greeks in KS2, and myth components of GCSE and A-level Classical Civilisation.
iii) museum professionals: my own paper 'Herakles the New Zealand Pioneer on tour', in the Modern Hercules volume, reviews the touring exhibition which was associated with an earlier stage of the project, reflecting on the potential for the juxtaposition of ancient and modern art-works to create innovative displays and attract different audiences.
iv) musicians/composers: my own paper 'A Hercules oratorio for Todmorden', in the Hercules Performed volume, likewise reviews the creation and production of Benjamin's 'Herakles', exploring the process by which ancient myth might be drawn on as the inspiration for works with modern resonance, again reaching out to new audiences.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/
 
Description As detailed in the section 'Artistic and Creative Products', the Hercules Project has had impact via the public engagement activities associated with Tim Benjamin's oratorio 'Herakles'. Impact is described there on the composer, the performers, and the audiences. Further impact on the composer is evident in the new work 'The Fire of Olympus', on which see the section 'Other Outputs'.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Establishment of conference programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In December 2017 a CfP was published for the conference 'Celebrating Hercules in the Modern World', to take place at the University of Leeds 7-9th July 2008. The aim of the conference is to boost progress on the project's four volumes, by bringing together the editorial team and existing contributors, while allowing for the 'trying out' of a range of supplementary papers. By the deadline in late January 2017, over 30 abstracts had been received, most of good enough quality to be considered for inclusion in the conference: acceptance of papers for publication in one of the volumes will be subject to further scrutiny. The draft programme for the conference is now available on the project website, where updates will be posted, and a link to the online booking system will soon be available.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/conferences/conference-2017/
 
Description Herakles Oratorio - pre-rehearsals talk and preliminary performer feedback 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This activity relates to the Herakles oratorio, which is one of the major activities detailed in the project's Pathways to Impact. The first rehearsal for the choir was on Wednesday 4th January 2017, at which the work was introduced to Todmorden Choral Society through short talks by Emma Stafford and the composer Tim Benjamin. Emma's talk on the origins and previous development of the story of Herakles' Choice was supplemented by an information booklet which is available to download from the Project website. Tim gave an engaging account of his version of the story, highlighting the chorus' role at every point, especially as commentators who reflect on the action as it unfolds. Following on from this, the 80+ members of the Choral Society started work on some highlights from the piece, focusing on the opening and closing sections (based on Emma's translation of the Homeric Hymn to Herakles, which dates from the seventh century BCE) and some of the colourful sections in the middle where the chorus represent the peoples of various collapsed civilisations, past which Herakles travels with Hermes, the messenger god. The reception of the work was overwhelmingly positive. The chorus particularly liked the idea of the story being held together by a narrator, so that everyone is clear about what is going on, and saw the music as "modern" and "challenging" but felt it to be well-written for the capabilities of a Choral Society, so everyone is confident that they can deliver the piece as it is meant to be heard. On Wednesday 22nd February the Project's administrative assistant attended a rehearsal in order to solicit feedback from participants on their experience of the piece so far: a summary of responses will be included with later reports on the impact of the work, and indirectly the research which underpins it, on a variety of audiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/musical-drama/
 
Description International conference: Celebrating Hercules in the Modern World 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The international conference signalled in last year's report took place at Leeds 7-9th July 2017. This was a follow-up to the June 2013 conference 'Hercules: a Hero for All Ages, and likewise brought together classical reception specialists and scholars from the fields of modern European (art) history, drama and film. The packed programme included 26 papers on a wide range of topics, from serious and comical political appropriations of Hercules to his appearance in video games, as well as in film, theatre and young adult literature. In addition there was a screening of a film of the newly commissioned musical drama 'Herakles', with an introductory talk by the composer, Tim Benjamin (cf. Artistic and creative products). Feedback from delegates was overwhelmingly positive: many paid informal compliments to the organisers, and 62.5% returned a questionnaire. A full report on the conference, and details of the conference programme (including abstracts) can be found on the project website. Papers from the conference have now been assigned to the relevant volume in the series which will form the project's major outputs (see Publications).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/conferences/conference-2017/
 
Description Launch of new website and social media accounts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Hercules Project's new website (http://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/) was launched in December 2017. It replaced the website originally developed for the 2013 Leeds conference 'Hercules: a Hero for All Ages', which initiated the contacts which have since built up into the current network. The new website is on a different platform, Wordpress rather than jadu, though still with the Leeds University branding -- the change will facilitate the posting of audio- and video-recordings, as well as making still images easier to handle. The new website's existence was advertised alongside the first CfP for the 2017 conference (see separate Engagement entry) via the Hercules mailing list (HERCULES@JISCMAIL.AC.UK), which currently has 147 susbcribers, and more widely via the Classicists list and a number of other lists concerned with classical reception. It is now the 'public face' of the project, the aim being to grow its reach during the course of the project, and to cater for a variety of audiences. For example, academic participants are likely to be interested in the site's Conference area, while participants in the Herakles oratorio (see separate Engagement entry) have already been directed to the website for information and resources associated with the performance. The site also includes an archive section on the touring Exhibition which was the major public-engagement activity of an earlier stage of the project. The project's social media presence now includes a Facebook site 'Hercules 2017' (https://www.facebook.com/groups/437722113284854/) and a Twitter account @Hercules_Leeds (#Hercules2017).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/
 
Description Project website development 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The launch of the Hercules Project's new website in December 2017 was reported in the project's first year. Since then it has been extensively developed to be the 'public face' of the project, the aim being to grow its reach during the course of the project, and to cater for a variety of audiences. For example, academic participants are likely to be interested in the site's Conference and Publications areas, while audiences of, and participants in, the Herakles oratorio (cf. Engagement) were directed to the website for information and resources associated with the performance. The site also has an illustrated record of the international touring exhibition based on contemporary New Zealand printmaker Marian Maguire's series 'The Labours of Herakles', which was the major public engagement activity of an earlier stage of the project, before the period of AHRC funding. Whenever new material is added to the website, it is promoted via the project's social media presence, which includes a Facebook site 'Hercules 2017' (https://www.facebook.com/groups/437722113284854/), a Twitter account @Hercules_Leeds (#Hercules2017) and Pinterest Board. The website and social media accounts will be essential to a further element of the project for which AHRC Follow-On Funding is currently being sought (application submitted 5/3/19).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL http://herculesproject.leeds.ac.uk/