November 23, 2014, by Esther Eidinow

The Power of (Moving) Pictures

Esther Eidinow reports on the first seminar of the Teaching and Learning Ancient Religion Network (TLAR), and the power of Panoply…

Sonya Nevin is working magic.

It’s a cold, wet evening, and 15 people, seated around a table in a room in Senate House, London (kindly sponsored by the ICS), are staring up at a screen in wonder.

The eerie hum of Tibetan singing bowls, punctuated by the ring of metal on metal, enfolds us. On the screen, the figures on an ancient Greek vase begin to move…

An aged seer inspects a liver, and widens his eyes in astonishment. He holds out the liver to a hoplite, who nods in recognition, dons his helmet and sets off to war. Then… ranks of soldiers shuffle into line, thrust and parry with their spears. The dead fall; the vase cracks… The victors build a tropaion and pump their fists in silent, fierce joy.

This is the magic of Panoply, Dr. Sonya Nevin and Steve K. Simons, who animate the scenes on ancient Greek vases, literally bringing the past to life.

Panoply’s work, already widely acclaimed, is gaining increasing recognition. As the absorbed faces of the audience testified that evening, it made a perfect focus for the first seminar of the Teaching and Learning About Ancient Religion (TLAR) Network. TLAR aims to bring together students of ancient religion to explore the challenges of and innovatory approaches to teaching and learning about this topic—and Sonya provided an inspiring start…

Panoply’s animations demonstrated the power of the image, but Sonya also reminded us of the role of the imagination. She described how she uses the films in her teaching practice: reflecting on the ways that single scenes on vases can be unfolded to create stories—often encompassing religious aspects. She showed us how she uses the process of story-boarding to encourage students of all ages to engage with the ancient world, bringing characters and events to life, and kick-starting their own curiosity.

And then we all had a go at story-boarding, in groups of two or three, a few brave souls working alone. Starting from a single vase image featuring Nike and a sacrificial bull, we told each other the stories it inspired, and then, laughing at our stick-figures, we drew a sequence of scenes from our narratives. Pens were chewed, hands flew in animated gestures, shaping the air into axes, wreaths, gods in flight: ‘The victors dance… Nike dances… And then the bull dances!’

Image: one of the story-boards from the TLAR session.

Posted in Ancient Greek warfareClassics and popular cultureconferencesGreek godsGreek mythGreek religionHoplitesPanoplyTeaching and Learning Ancient ReligionTLARUncategorized