Recent Posts

Coronavirus The Movie

Picture The Scene

If a scriptwriter had walked into a pitch meeting ten years ago and suggested a film about Covid19, just imagine how it would have gone down.
“Okay, so – it’s the near future – 2020.”
“Why 2020?”
“No particular reason – it has a ring to it.”
“Okay, gotcha. Early in the year, or later?”
“Um, beginning. Let’s say January. In the US, President Donald Trump –”
“Wait, WHAT?”
“Oh, there’s a whole backstory. He was elected by an evil coalition of Wikileaks, Facebook and Putin.”
“That’s… a hell of a backstory. And in the film, is this public knowledge?”
“Yeah.”
“But he’s still president?”
“Yeah.”
“I don’t know, that plotline seems like a bit… much.”
“Oh don’t worry, it’s totally in keeping with his character. Everything about him is dialled up to eleven. You know how present-day Trump is kind of nuts? We just really leaned into that.”
“Right, well, I’ll trust you. What’s going on with President Trump in January 2020?”

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Imperial Winter Ball

A few months ago I was Artist in Residence at a charity gala. The same people very kindly invited me to the Imperial Winter Ball in Belgravia, an event to raise money for the Children’s Burns Trust. So once again, I turned up with my sketchbook and got to work.

The dress code was black tie or Tsarist Russia. There were splendid costumes of military uniforms and ball gowns, tiaras, white gloves and shining buttons. There were auction prizes and other things to buy, all in aid of the charity. Continue reading →

Odyssey Summary 2: Ithaca

My summary of The Odyssey Books 13-24 is below this short discussion about xenia.

The Odyssey and Xenia

The Odyssey is a deeply complex text, but perhaps its most important theme is the sacred relationship between guest and host (the Greek word for this concept is xenia). Almost every part of The Odyssey can be seen as an exploration of this relationship: Nestor and Menelaus are good hosts for Telemachus, and the Phaeacians provide an idealised form of hospitality for Odysseus. Odysseus expects hospitality from the cyclops and instead discovers his brutality; Odysseus’s men are bad guests on Thrinacia, eating their host’s sacred cattle, and they are punished accordingly; Calypso’s seemingly perfect hospitality is spoiled by her refusal to let her guest leave; and Circe, an inscrutable sorceress, shifts from being a nightmarish host to being a very generous one.

Board games
Two Greek heroes play a board game during the long siege of Troy. (A Classical Greek vase in the Troy Exhibition)

In the second half of the poem, Eumaeus the swineherd will show the value of generous hospitality even when the host does not have much to give. And of course, the suitors are the main villains of The Odyssey because they are terrible guests, consuming their host’s wealth and plotting against the life of his son. In the second half of the poem, they become equally terrible hosts, abusing the disguised Odysseus rather than showing him kindness. Xenia is so important that the suitors’ abuse of this sacred bond is presented as an even more serious crime than their plans to murder Telemachus. Continue reading →

Odyssey Summary 1: Travels

A Very Quick Introduction to The Odyssey

My book-by-book summary of The Odyssey is below; but first, a short introduction.

The Odyssey is the oldest work of literature set in Europe. It’s a sort of sequel to The Iliad – its hero, Odysseus, was one of The Iliad’s supporting characters. The Odyssey and The Iliad are the link between the lost world of the Bronze Age on the one hand, and on the other, the classical Greek civilisation that Western culture is built on. Every educated Greek and Roman knew both of these masterpieces intimately, giving them a massive impact on our literature and culture.

Mycenaeans fighting
Actual Bronze Age Greek depiction of what Bronze Age Greeks (known as Mycenaeans) looked like in battle. (It’s not quite as majestic as it seems in The Iliad.) From the Archaeological Museum of Nafplio; all photos in this article are by the author.

The history of these two epic poems is deeply complicated and mysterious. We know that by about 600 BC they were revered masterpieces across the Greek world, and that we also know that there are historically-accurate details reflecting the Greek Bronze Age civilisation that collapsed around 1100 BC. Scholars believe that legends and poems set in the Bronze Age were passed down in an oral tradition by bards. The Odyssey and The Iliad seem to take for granted that their audience already knows various stories about the ten-year Trojan War, so the poems appear to be based on these existing stories. The best guess is that the two epics were composed in the eighth or seventh centuries BC. They may or may not have been composed by the same person, who may or may not have been a blind bard called Homer. Archaeologists have proved that several places in the stories – including Troy – did exist; whether the Trojan War really happened, and whether any of the characters were based on historical individuals, is unknowable. Continue reading →