Many of us have seen blockbuster movies based on the stories told in Homer’s epic poems. Now there’s a rare chance to see an accessible dramatisation of part of the Iliad in the original Greek with English surtitles at St John’s College, Cambridge.

Achilles: the End of his Wrath goes to the very heart of the Iliad

Professor Patrick Boyde

A dramatisation taken from one of the greatest stories of all time – Homer’s Iliad – is to be performed next week at St John’s College. The script-in-hand production of scenes from towards the end of the poem will bring together the original Ancient Greek poetry with accessible English surtitles and stunning images from classical art to convey the narrative clearly and simply.

Performances of Achilles: the End of his Wrath will be staged on Wednesday, 20 February and Thursday 21, February in the theartre of the newly-refurbished Old Divinity School, opposite the main entrance to St John’s. The hour-long play is open to the public and suitable for ages ten and upwards. There is no charge for tickets but advance booking is required.

One of the oldest works of Western literature, the Iliad is an epic poem of some 16,000 lines with a narrative set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by an alliance of Greek states. The siege, famously prompted by the abduction of Helen of Troy by Paris, a son of King Priam, is one of the key events in Greek mythology and the subject of the movie Troy in which Achilles is played by Brad Pitt.

The Iliad describes a tumultuous few weeks in the final year of the war – and in particular a rancorous quarrel between King Agamemnon, commander of the besieging armies, and the Greek warrior Achilles, the flawed hero whose consuming wrath forms the central strand of the whole poem.

The dramatisation of six scenes from the epic has been devised by Professor Patrick Boyde, Emeritus Professor of Italian and well known for his public lectures on Italian narrative painting. He now holds the post of Fellow Borderer at St John’s College, a role that tasks him with bringing people together to share cultural experiences.

The adaptation is the eighth annual production of a Greek classic staged under the direction of Professor Boyde, who has a passion for bringing ancient texts to life by reading them aloud in the original. All the works performed have dealt with universal themes and come from the heart of Greek literature: the myths of Prometheus and Oedipus; love stories of the five women who gave their hearts to Odysseus; and the exploits and sufferings of leading heroes in the Trojan War — Sarpedon, Ajax, and now, Achilles.

The leading parts in Achilles: the End of his Wrath will be played by Christos Tsirogiannis, as the moody Achilles, and Gail Trimble, as his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis. The same duo starred in last year’s acclaimed production of Sophocles’ rarely performed masterpiece, Ajax.

“Achilles: the End of his Wrath goes to the very heart of the Iliad,” says Professor Boyde. “Passing over the first, immediate consequences of Achilles’ angry withdrawal from the war, the play picks up the trajectory of his fury at a key moment and traces it upwards to its ferocious climax and down again to the moment of ‘closure’ at the end of the poem.”

Each scene shows the hero interacting with a different person (companion, mother, commander, enemy), and in so doing reveals a different aspect of Achilles’ complex character. He is cruel and yet tender; a fantasist, who knows exactly his worth in the market; obsessed with reputation, but resigned to fate; blind to others’ feelings and needs, but capable of insight and tact.

Christos Tsirogiannis is an archaeologist whose expertise lies in the tracking of looted and stolen antiquities. Dr Gail Trimble is a senior member of the Faculty of Classics at Oxford University and shot to fame as leader of the Corpus Christi (Oxford) team in the 2009 series of University Challenge.

Watch a trailer of Achilles: the End of his Wrath at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ8remPBk3g To book tickets for the performances go to www.tinyurl.com/greekplay

Anyone interested in reading the text of the play in advance is invited to email Professor Boyde for an electronic version: pb127@cam.ac.uk


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