Professor Edith Hall on Homer, Sappho and Aesop

2017-18 Free Public Classics Lectures

Professor Edith Hall on Homer, Sappho and Aesop


Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution, is delighted to announce a series by Visiting Professor in Classics Edith Hall.

Few academic subjects have influenced the history of the world as much as ancient Greek history and culture, yet today few people enjoy opportunities to study this important area. This series of lectures by Professor Edith Hall (King’s College London) will cover ancient Greek history by means of looking at depictions of key events and themes in film, opera and the arts

1)     Homer’s Iliad via the MovieTroy (2004) Thursday 23 November 2017 1 pm at Barnard’s Inn Hall

Homer’s Iliad, the earliest Greek poem, narrates the archetypal war between ‘Europeans’ and ‘Asiatics’ divided by the Hellespont. Beginning with Wolfgang Peterson’s blockbuster Troy (2004), the lecture describes the genesis of the Iliad  between the Mycenaean Late Bronze Age and the 8th century, when it was first written down with the aid of the new, phonetic script adapted from the Phoenician civilisation of the Levant. It explores the poem’s plot, tragic perspective on the human condition, and the despair caused by untimely death on an immense scale.

2)     The Age of Tyrants: Sappho via Gounod’s Opera 18 January 2018 1 pm at Barnard’s Inn Hall

The heroine of Charles Gounod’s French opera Sapho (1851) sings her last aria O My Immortal Lyre on a Greek cliff before plunging to her death. Sappho, the most famous poet of the ‘Lyric Age’ of Greece, in the 7th to 6th centuries BC, addressed passionate love poems to women. This lecture uncovers what we know about the ‘real Sappho’, an aristocrat who lived between 630 and 570 BCE on the island of Lesbos and socialised in the lavish courts of parvenu tyrants. But this historical context in no way diminishes her songs’ astonishing immediacy and erotic power.

1)     Slave Stories: Aesop and Walter Crane Thursday 8 March 2018 1 pm at Barnard’s Inn Hall

In 1887 the influential arts-and-crafts book illustrator Walter Crane published The Baby’s Own Aesop, bringing the homespun wisdom of ancient Greek peasants to a new generation of children. This lecture uses these fables to tackle the least attractive feature of ancient Greece – institutionalised slavery. Beneath the semi-legendary figure of Aesop himself, a barbarian sold to a Greek slave-owner in the 6th century BCE, lie tens of thousands of his real-life equivalents. The lecture asks how the ancient fables address power relations in a slave society. Were they primarily stories for and by slaves, or did they serve ruling-class interests?

Notes to Editors: further information and photographs from Lucia Graves in the press office: 020 7831 0575 or

1)     About Professor Edith Hall

Hall is Professor in the Classics Department and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s College London. Her specialism is ancient Greek literature, but she enjoys putting the pleasure as well as the rigour into all aspects of ancient Greek and Roman history, society, and thought.

She has published more than twenty books, broadcasts frequently on radio and television, works as consultant with professional theatres, lectures all over the world, and publishes widely in academic and mainstream journals and newspapers. She is a world leader in the study of ethnicity, class and gender in ancient sources, of ancient theatre, and of the continuing instrumentality of ancient ideas–especially those of Arisotle–in world culture since the Renaissance.

She has held posts at Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Reading and Royal Holloway, and visiting positions at Notre Dame, Swarthmore, Northwestern, Leiden, and Erfurt.

2)     About Gresham College

The College fills lecture halls for its four or so free public lectures every week amounting to around 130 a year. All Gresham lectures are made available online after the event.

A series of six lectures a year is delivered by each of our ten Professors. These are augmented by a number of Visiting Professors and as many as 40 individual lectures from a range of illustrious speakers selected from the worlds of academia, politics and industry.

Gresham College is an independent institution funded from the estate of our founder, Sir Thomas Gresham. After his death in 1579, Sir Thomas’ estate and control of his benefaction was left to the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers, which operate through the Joint Grand Gresham Committee to support the College.