October 2, 2021 - Monmouth College Classics Day, Monmouth, Illinois

For all the time I (and many of my co-classical reception folks) spend preaching how classical art and literature portray universal human experiences, a lot of this material and culture is profoundly strange and entirely alien.

Over the last few years, I've found myself more and more drawn to the time periods of classical studies from before the Homeric epics were recorded in writing and part of that attraction is to the wildness of much of pre-Archaic Greece. Geometric pottery, Bronze Age Mycenaean and (particularly) Minoan Art... the absolutely perfect and spooky austerity of Cycladic Art. 

There's a strangeness there that wanes a bit as we get into the more familiar later classical culture period.

I was thinking a bit about this as I set up to perform my Odyssey at the Monmouth College Classics Day in western Illinois. With covid protocols in place, this event was going on in a big high-ceilinged field house. A couple hundred masked folks milled about the exhibits that featured a "real live" oracle, some military reenactment, a virtual reality tour of several archeological sites, and a lot more. Many were in appropriately themed garb.

I tested the PA system and could hear my voice boom through the space designed to make voices boomier for sporting event spectators.  It sounded great especially to be back in person and, because of the size of the room, I was even able to perform without a mask on for the first time in an academic setting since February of 2020.

My host introduced me and away I went. A nice-sized crowd gathered in the folding chairs set up near me to listen but all the other activity continued. I could hear the clang of the soldiers fighting with swords and shields.  The ululating of the oracle punctuated my strums every few minutes. There was a buzz of energy like you feel at an outdoor market.

Pre-pandemic, I would have found this a little distracting and detracting from my performance but this time it was comforting and appropriate.  These performances by bards I suspect had much different (and weird) rules about them when it came to audience and environment etiquette and the activity in the room felt appropriate and comforting.

I finished and the gathered crowd applauded, the wave rippling back into the rest of the event.

Afterwards, I had a number of people (including the oracle herself) tell me they enjoyed listening from a distance as they wandered through the event. My performance filled the room and one audience member said it sounded like my voice was falling down from the sky.

One of the outcomes of the pandemic on my work is that it's made me much less precious about my Odyssey performance and ready to try it in slightly (or maybe more than slightly) different formats and environments: on Zoom, with narration between the songs, in less austere environments.

I also think embracing the strangeness of some of the earlier eras of ancient Greece has led me to be more comfortable embracing the strangeness of what I do.

Stay weird, Homer.  Stay weird.

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