By Tricia Duke
A performance of Joe Goodkin's Odyssey, a modern version of Homer's classic, showcased the value of studying ancient stories in modern times.
"He converts the entirety of an epic poem into a very modern, psychological profile of the characters," said Mitchell Parks, assistant professor of classics. The half-hour-long musical version of Homer's The Odyssey was funded by alumni Mark ‘86 and Kathryn Morgan Leider '85.
Parks said that the performance complimented and enhanced the curriculum in classics courses.
"In one of my classes this [spring] term, my Classical World of Harry Potter course, we read this part of The Odyssey, so that's a natural bridge for students to think about," he said.
He says that the class is about how Harry Potter theories are taken from ancient literature and culture. "In other words, how is J.K. Rowling adapting ancient stuff into a modern work?" Parks said.
He said that Goodkin's conversion of The Odyssey into a modern, folk-like song demonstrates the same principle.
"He's created a very modern, original work using ancient ingredients," Parks said. "It's how we [Parks and Assistant Professor of Classics Hilary Lehmann] like to approach the classics, by looking through the lens of what people have done and what people can do with this ancient literature as ingredients in their work."
Kaitlyn Agress '20, secretary of the Classics Club, took Introductory Greek with Parks. Having written children's and young adult fantasy stories as a hobby throughout middle and high school, Agress was drawn to Knox for the creative writing program. After taking a mythology course with the classics department, she knew that classics studies could help to shape her developing works.
"Knowing about the Greek monsters absolutely helps with knowing what could be in [my] world," Agress said. "I created my own gods, but the idea that they are deeply rooted in mortal affairs is very Greek, very ancient."
Agress worked with Jenny Murphy '20, president of the Classics Club, to help Parks organize a student reading of The Odyssey preceding Goodkin's performance.
The students in Introductory Greek led the event, reading the first lines of The Odyssey in the original Greek. From there, students jumped ahead to book 9, just as Odysseus comes face-to-face with the towering cyclops, Polyphemus.
Classics students, and students who were drawn to the epic reading as they wandered by, volunteered to read portions of Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey, through book 10 when it was time to see Goodkin's rendition.
After Goodkin's performance, he offered a time for the audience to ask questions and make comments about his performance. Students and Parks took the opportunity to question the final stanza of Goodkin's work, which portrays Odysseus embarking on another journey.
When asked, Goodkin would not specify whether this journey was literal or symbolic.
Instead, he said that while his piece is a melding of past and present, he also crafted it with future artists like Agress and Murphy in mind.
"I felt like it wasn't my story to end but to leave for the next bard to pick up and continue," Goodkin said.