A-musement in the Modern Age

A-musement in the Modern Age

Classics student Lisa Marie Haasbroek muses on the muses, shares a quirky ‘Covid’ dream, and highlights a few Greek monsters you might find in the Bible.

From the Classics Collection at Victoria University: a kylix (wine-drinking cup), c. 490-475 BCE, which depicts the Labours of Herakles, shown here killing the Nemean lion. Catalogue number: VUW Classics 1950 A1.

When I was a girl, I once had a dream that I wandered into a beautiful garden, and found a tree full of shiny golden apples. I took one of the apples down, and imagined tasting it. I imagined it would be soft, with a texture like a ripe pear, and it would taste as sweet as honey.

Alongside me were two beautiful figures. One was a man, with a pure white beard that reached all the way down to the ground. Next to him was a woman, with marble-smooth skin and flowing amber-coloured hair. The man looked at me sternly, but the woman wasn’t bothered.

“She’s a child,” she said, casually, taking the apple out of my hand. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

From the Classics Collection at Victoria University: Silver coin from Thrace, c. 297 – 281 BCE.  On the left, the head of Alexander the Great. On the right, Athena enthroned, holding Nike. Catalogue number:2010.1.

Then I woke up. It was a strange dream, and I mused over it. My first thought was of the biblical book of Genesis. But here’s the thing: this wasn’t Genesis. It was more like a Greek myth. The apples were golden, like the apples of immortality which Herakles snatched from their serpentine guardian. And Greek myths? They aren’t in the Bible. Or, are they?

Alexander the Great conquered Israel, and the earliest existent biblical translations are written in Greek. The history of Israel is complex, with the tiny desert region often caught between clashes of powerful Empires like Greece and Persia, Egypt and Rome.

So…nearly thirty years after having my ‘apple’ dream, I had another. This time, I had drifted off to sleep reading the biblical Book of Samuel, and when I awoke, I saw Michelangelo’s David, standing there at the edge of my bed. Blame it on the infamous ‘Covid’ dreams if you wish, but suddenly, things made a lot more sense.

From the Classics Collection at Victoria University: a terracotta model of a new comedy mask, c.150-50 BCE. Catalogue number: VUW Classics 2004.1.

As the pandemic raged around us, I spent lockdown documenting the overlaps between biblical literature and classical Greek theatre plays. To this end, I also returned to school as an adult, and have been studying Latin and Greek literature with Victoria University for around two years. Ancient languages are more challenging then living ones, since there are no native speakers to converse with, and far fewer ‘modern’ learning materials – especially when it comes to Ancient Greek. Languages change a lot over time, so at Victoria, we focus on Attic Greek. This is the poetic dialect used by the tragic poets Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. For each ancient language, it takes three terms to get most of the grammar down. After that, it’s a jump into the literature itself, gradually learning how the language was used in practice.

The results of my personal research would become two published articles: one on the overlaps between Attic theatre and biblical literature, and the second on ways in which parts of biblical literature conform to criteria in Aristotle’s Poetics. It’s been an exciting research journey, full of gods fighting giants, multiheaded serpents, monsters with a thousand eyes, powerful hairstyles, and beehives found in the most peculiar places — in both the Greek literature and the Bible.

Lisa Marie Haasbroek is studying for a Graduate Diploma in Greek with the Department of Classical Studies.

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