For our October event we’re bringing together a poet, a novelist and a dramatist to reflect on their work and its place in a rich seam of Irish literature inspired by the Greeks. The continuing interest of Irish writers in Greek and Latin classical literature as a model and source for inspiration is somewhat surprising given the almost complete disappearance of the teaching of classical languages in Irish schools over the last 50 years. Yet the myths and stories of the ancient world still fascinate audiences and our writers continue to deliver fresh interpretations which reflect on Irish society.
‘The violence lies in Carr’s language, shocking and extraordinarily vivid: we almost hear the buzzing of carrion flies, smell the stench of carnage.’The Times
The nationalist attempt to recover the native, suppressed, literary tradition of Ireland found a model in 5th century BCE Athenians and their reaching back to the foundational epics of Homer. From the 19th century Irish translations of Greek tragedy were tied up in a project of recovery of a bardic tradition; from Yeats to Heaney this poetic tradition continued and absorbed great figures of modern poetry like MacNeice, Boland, Mahon and Kennelly. More recently that tradition has broadened and our dramatists and novelists have found intriguing correspondences in form and culture with the Greeks e.g. Alan McMonagle’s novel Ithaca, Theo Dorgan’s collections Orpheus and Greek, Peter Fallon’s versions of Hesiod and of the Georgics of Virgil, and Frank McGuinness’ startling new versions of Greek drama. Our three guests representing the dramatic, poetic and prose novel forms will discuss their work and the appeal and relevance of ancient literature.
‘Part of the thrill is recognising the correspondences between the characters and Homer’s originals . . . the language is enough to keep you enthralled . . . Hughes’s achievement is to prove that Homer remains ignoble, messy and horribly familiar — Guardian’The GuardianMarina Carr’s plays bring alive the Greek classics in a uniquely contemporary and Irish manner. In By the Bog of Cats she reconstructs Medea, in her Hecuba she positions the Queen at the centre of a drama clearly intended as a corrective to Euripides, who portrays Hecuba as an enraged avenger. Michael Hughes’s widely praised second novel Country transposes the Illiad to border country, Northern Ireland, post-ceasefire, 1996. After a woman turns informer, an IRA gang takes matters into its own hands and storms the local British army base. But there is a falling out between Pig, the gang’s leader, and the sniper, Achill. Death and betrayal follow. The poet Peter McDonald’s has lately developed an interest in verse translation from Greek and in 2016 produced The Homeric Hymns (2016), a series of verse translations into different English forms, along with detailed notes on the ancient Greek poems themselves.