- Classical Myth on Screen by Monica S. Cyrino & Meredith E. Safran
It is no longer radical to suggest that mythology's new place in the cultural consciousness comes by way of the silver screen. Hercules (2014), Immortals (2011), and the Clash of the Titans remake series (2010, 2012) are just a few examples of the glut of modern takes on Greco-Roman myths. Instead, it becomes the duty and mission of editors Monica S. Cyrino and Meredith E. Safran, in their collected volume of essays Classical Myth On Screen, to explore what contemporary films' deviations from Homer and Ovid mean for the cultures for which the films were distributed. Though both editors are classics professors at esteemed institutions, they make it a point to separate Classical Myth from the majority of scholarship on mythological adaptation, which until now has mostly been concerned with "the representation of ancient history on screen" (5). Skirting the criticism more interested in preserving photo-realism and faithful cultural renderings of ancient Greek and Roman life, the editors err more on the side of treating the tradition of adaptation as more sacred than the original text being adapted.
The book's seventeen essays spread widely in both perspective and theory, ranging from feminist critiques of modern cinematic culture to meta-analysis of the role of film director as Homeric storyteller. No matter the disparity in subject matter, all chapters of the book conform to the premise, presented in the book's introduction, that mythos should be understood by its "functional" rather than "ontological" definition (2). Cyrino and Safran position Classical Myth as resolutely [End Page 73] anticanonical with the assertion that any single "authentic" version of Homer or Ovid upheld by scholarship or society is a misguided one that forgets the pre-textual era of oral tradition (3). Withholding value judgments on any adaptation, no matter how contemporary and untested by time, becomes problematic only insofar as it is never challenged within the book by dissenting voices. In its desire for diverse but relevant conversation, Classical Myth is therefore best approached as a smorgasbord of various critical attitudes towards adaptation: a robust introductory course, but an introductory course nonetheless.
Despite the co-editors' preoccupations with cinematic departures from its ancient predecessors, "The Hero's Struggle," Classical Myth's opening section, is devoted exclusively to the similarities between Greco-Roman myths and the films fashioned, no matter how indirectly, after them. The first and fourth chapters of this section, Lisl Walsh's '"Italian Stallion" Meets Breaker of Horses"' and Seán Easton's "Orpheus in a Gray Flannel Suit: George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau," prove the standouts of the chapter for taking rather simplistic parallelisms between the film and myth subjects and re-contextualizing them for the post-World-War-II United States in which the films were distributed. For example, "Italian Stallion" studies the title character in light of the Achillean mythos, resulting in a reading of the film not as slavish servant to its Reagan-era patriotism but as a knowing agent of subversion to the same.
The second section, "Fashioning the Feminine," continues the above-mentioned chapters' interests in juxtaposing the ancient and modern understandings of the ancient's own mythology, only this time through the lens of gender studies. The first two chapters of "Feminine" address the archetype of the Amazonian woman. The authors of these chapters often cover similar territory, but Cyrino and Safran wisely pair the two because of their split resolutions on the potential good or ill cinema's manipulations do for social discourse. A fine companion chapter, "Magic, Music, Race," comes in the third section of the book, "Negotiating The Cosmic Divide," with co-editor Monica Cyrino offering a brief walk through the history of the "magical" black man in cinema (123). Like the chapters on the Amazonian, "Magic" is primarily concerned with destabilizing the staid sacredness often attributed to mythological archetypes. All three chapters also expose culture's collective attitude toward the Other, be it gender or race, during the exampled periods in history. In tune with the...