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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 19 November 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 19 NOVEMBER 2016 19 FEATURE an understanding of the poetry of Homer − what it sounds like, as well as its meaning. Because we all have this sense that we know these epics, but we don’t really. None of us reads The Iliad any more, it sits on library shelves.” For her, it is important to go back and revisit these epics. “I think we understand that The Iliad is not just a war story. It’s the story of Achilles, who really wanted to question the heroic ethos and wanted to just leave the war and go home to his family and his father and in the end he couldn’t. The heroic ethos just held him too fast. But he tried and he’s our first existentialist hero; he questioned his role in the world and the meaning of his life and the meaning of war," she explains. "In the same way, in The Odyssey, after 10 years of warfare, Odysseus is sailing home and is learning how to live again and what it means to be alive. Odysseus is offered immortality by Calypso if he stays with her and he says no, he chooses life and to be human because that is how he can be true to himself. These are two epics written in the eighth century BC, which, for the first time, had expressed the futility of war and the sheer adventure of being alive.” How does this daunting task even start to come to life? “We focused on Achilles”, Madden explains. “It’s his story that ties in all the themes of The Iliad. The Iliad begins with Achilles and his rage against Agamemnon and in the end, in one of the last, wonderful scenes, is where Achilles meets with his enemy, the Trojan king Priam. As enemies, they understand and empathise with each other, which happens for the first time in literature and that empathy, what they say to each other, has in fact been interpreted as the beginning of humanism and western civilisation.” It is at this point that she states her favourite passage: “What Achilles says in response to Agamemnon’s offer of limitless wealth if only he would return to the battlefield because the Greeks are losing.” In it, Achilles articulates a hugely radical reappraisal of the heroic warrior ethos and the meaning of human life: “I say no wealth is worth my life. Not all the treasure they tell was won for Troy in the old days … a man’s breath cannot come back again − it cannot be lifted or won by force once it has crossed the teeth’s barrier.” Helen Madden makes a strong case for the staging of The Iliad, and her belief is fuelled by the rewards of running the Stork Theatre, often getting back to the sources of literature, Greece. “We’re all Greeks, basically,” she says. “We all consider Ithaca our home, really. We all relate to that in essence. That’s the most energising and stimulating aspect of being involved in Greek culture.” The biggest reward of her 30-year experience has been just this − “taking great works of literature and turning them into riveting theatrical experience, giving people the chance to understand them in a different way, or come to them for the first time”. “Nowadays, in Melbourne, we feel as though we’re in the vanguard of this western resurgence of interest in Homer. Melbourne audiences are leading the way, and it is all about connecting with the wellsprings of our culture.” That’s why she insists on the outdoor theatre experience. “Homer and his forebears would have been telling these stories around a campfire, at night under the stars. Ideally, for that same reason we’d like to do it in an outdoor theatre, because that is open, welcoming and non- exclusive. We try to be as non-exclusive as possible, that’s how we attract people. This is not meant to be high art, it’s popular art. These stories are meant for everybody.” To book tickets for The Rage of Achilles: Homer’s Iliad, visit www.trybooking. com/Booking/BookingEventSummary. aspx?eid=239155&bof=1&_ga=1.164 760383. Humphrey Bower will be turning Homer’s The Iliad into a one-man theatre performance.
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