Battles and gods: Stories from the ancient Greeks


Ground floor, Baillieu Library

Although very little is known about the life of the ancient Greek poet Homer, who is credited with being the first to write down the epic stories of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the impact of his tales continues to reverberate through Western culture. Battles and gods: stories from the ancient Greeks is drawn from the collections of the Classics and Archaeology Collection within the University Art Collection, and the Rare Books Collection of the University Library. The exhibition has been arranged by Elodie Peart, with the assistance of Susan Thomas and Dr Andrew Jamieson. Homer was born sometime between the 12th and 8th centuries BCE, possibly somewhere on the coast of Asia Minor. Homer’s style falls more in the category of minstrel poet or balladeer, as opposed to a cultivated poet who is the product of a fervent literary moment, such as a Virgil or a Shakespeare. The stories have repetitive elements, almost like a chorus or refrain, which suggests a musical element. However, his works are designated as epic rather than lyric poetry, which was originally recited with lyre in hand, much in the same vein as spoken-word performances.

The ceramics in this exhibition date from c.570 BCE to c.450 BCE and depict characters from Greek mythology including Dionysus, Hermes, Apollo and Artemis. Displayed alongside the ceramics are volumes from the University Library’s Rare Books Collection. The earliest book in the exhibition was printed in Strasbourg, France in 1525, and tells the story of The Odyssey. There are a number of eighteenth century editions of Homer’s writings represented in Battles and gods including those printed in the Netherlands and in Glasgow, Scotland. The bindings and marbling in these books is particularly handsome. The fascination with Homer’s stores continues to entrance all ages: visitors will delight in the colourful and quirky 1960 children’s publication by Jacques Lemarchand (1908–1974), The adventures of Ulysses, with illustrations by André François, which is from the Morgan Collection of Children’s Literature within the Rare Books Collection, University Library.

Image: Endpaper illustration [detail] by André François from Jacques Lemarchand's The adventures of Ulysses, Faber and Faber, London, 1960. Morgan Collection of Children’s Literature, Rare Books Collection, University Library, University of Melbourne