Ancient Greece In Film And Popular Culture
This book explores the changing fortunes of the heroes of Greek myth and history in the melting pot of popular culture. Using little-known examples, classicist and film fan Gideon Nisbet charts the hidden history of Greece in the twentieth-century imagination, from film to science fiction and comics.
As the twenty-first century began, no less than seven production companies were declaring their intention to turn Alexander the Great into a wide-screen hero. The rivalry was intense, the resulting media circus unprecedented. How could a long-dead warlord generate so much movie-industry gossip in the present day? And why, in a century of film-making, had so few versions of his story – or that of Troy’s fall – made it to the big screen? When did we last see Classical Athens or Sparta in a movie? In the aftermath of Gladiator (2000), with Hollywood studios rushing to revisit the ancient world with Troy and Alexander (both 2004), these questions take on renewed significance.
Nisbet here unpacks the ideas that continue to make Greece hot property in Hollywood. His lively exploration, which assumes no prior expertise in classical or film studies, will appeal to anyone with an interest in ‘reception’: the present day’s continual re-use and re-invention of the past.
Contents: Introduction: The Dog in the Night-time Chapter 1: Socrates' Excellent Adventure Greece as Anti-cinema Greece at the Drive-in Atlas (1960) Colossus of Rhodes (1961) Helen of Troy (1953) Greece is not the Word... Cleopatra and the Bible Belt Chapter 2: I was a Teenage Hercules - Myth as Spin-off Hercules in the Sahara Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur (1995) 'Hylas lives with Hercules and Iolaus' 'I'm Hercules - and so is my wife' Hercules and Xena Chepter 3: Wars of the Successors - History as Hype Alexander the Great (1956) Alexander the Great (1964 TV pilot starring William Shatner) The New Alexanders (Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Mel Gibson etc) 'Alexander, Queen of the Desert': Sand, Sex and Stars Alexander (2004) Chapter 4: Greece in Popular Culture Leonidas at Thermopylae Troy (2004) Conclusions Glossary, Guide to Further Reading, Filmography, Index
‘Nisbet has succeeded quite admirably with a thoughtful and insightful study of the problems that Greece presents as both a concrete and an abstract image in film and popular thought. This study is sustained by a nuanced understanding in a clear and lucid way with which even the most conservative of readers would feel comfortable. Nisbet’s volume is a relatively short and succinctly written exploration. Jargon is avoided when at all possible, but he does provide an extremely helpful glossary of technical terms. One of the great strengths of his work is the effortless command he has of both the classical and modern material, whether he is discussing Socrates or Scorsese.’
‘Nisbet’s volume is a thoughtful and thought-provoking work on the issues of reception that I foresee becoming a standard text for both students and scholars of classics and film.’ (Intertexts, 10.2, 6/1/07, p.191/192)
‘…in his entertaining book, the latest in the Bristol Phoenix press ‘Greece and Rome Live’ series, Gideon Nisbet, who is Lecturer in Classics at the University of Glasgow, draws on a range of popular media, including film, TV and comics to explore and expose the preconceptions that have for so long dictated the mise-en-scène of our imaginations.’ (The Anglo-Hellenic Review, No. 36, Autumn 2007) ‘Gideon Nesbit injects his own distinctive style and an infectious sense of enthusiasm into his Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture.’ ‘As a result one is forced to consider more interesting and provocative questions: not ‘Why is Troy a bad film?’, but rather ‘Why is Greece such a hard concept for the modern world – particularly Hollywood – to think with?"' (Greece and Rome, 54:2, 2007)
‘… the time is ripe for turning scholarly (and student) attention to what Greece means in modern popular culture (and why). Gideon Nisbet’s book, part of Bristol Phoenix Press’s Greece and Rome Live series, serves as a brief but punchy account of the topic, and will be of considerable value to a wide audience.’ ‘… this book should be of as much interest to those working in reception study, and classics and ancient history more generally, as it is to students and teachers at whom it is notionally aimed.’ (Joanna Paul, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2008.02.31)
‘It is well suited to sparking discussion among undergraduates as well as introducing new perspectives to scholars. Course logistics permitting, I think it would be especially useful in combination with other recent studies as a stimulating introduction to the current scholarly conversation on Classics, media, and popular culture.’ (Seán Easton, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2009.08.43)
‘a swift and enjoyable read, accessible to anyone with an open mind – there is much to be learned about film and classics alike. Over the course of three chapters and an epilogue, Nisbet again and again offers revelations on his subject that warrant long and deep thought.’
‘Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture is the result of a great deal of thought by an intelligent scholar. It inspires in the reader new reflections on popular culture and how it shapes our understanding of the ancient world and will leave them keen to explore the more “academic” discussions.’
‘“Classics and Cinema” courses are fast gaining popularity in North America. For a decade Maria Wyke’s Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema and History has served the students of “Hollywood Rome.” Nisbet has now produced a companion for those ready to explore the often humourous, always fascinating trials of Ancient Greece in modern mass media.’ (George Kovacs, Journal of the Classical Association of Canada, Vol. LXIII No.1-2)
Patrick Leary is a historian based in Evanston, Illinois who has published widely on Victorian authorship and is currently in the last stage of completing a book on Punch for the University of Toronto Press; he is founder and manager of VICTORIA, the listserv for Victorian Studies.