Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë 

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Reference: Danae

Level: Overt

Description: Before Jane discovers the horrific truth about poor Bertha, she has every reason to feel as if her life has taken a turn for the better after her engagement to Rochester. However, Jane is not the typical giddy girl of Victorian romantic literature and it is her proto-feminist that makes this novel so radical. Just when things seem to be going in the right direction she says, ‘I never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester, or sitting like a second Danae with the golden shower falling daily round me’. This statement is incredibly prescient, when the reader finds out the truth regarding Bertha. In mythology, Danae was imprisoned because her father hears a prophecy that states that Danae’s son will one day kill him; therefore, he locks her away in a bronze room. Whilst in her prison, Danae becomes an object of desire for Zeus who visits her in her cell (in the form of a golden shower) and impregnates her. Danae's pregnancy sets her free from the bronze room, but exiles her from her home. Jane’s fear in this novel is that she is becoming 'a Danae', locked away, only to be visited when the controlling patriarch desires her. She values her independence and sees herself as more than just an object of desire or a ‘baby maker’. It is interesting that this allusion to Danae is chosen, considering Bertha is the real Danae of this novel. It could be argued that by Bertha destroying Rochester’s house and blinding him, she gives birth to a new man - one that will not lock Jane away because he depends on her, perhaps like a child or even as her equal. Jane’s refusal to be a woman who is locked safely away, but without her freedom can be seen most clearly when she states, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Victorian men and Greek Gods despair alike at statements like that.

ContributorDavid Hogg


Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

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Reference: Prometheus

Level: Overt

Description: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has an alternative title, which is often missing from modern publications. The full title should be Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. It is a shame that this full title is not used more commonly as it is the starting point for one of the great conundrums of the book: who or what is God? In the myths of Prometheus, we are shown a rebellious god who creates mankind in his own image, gives him the gift of fire so that mankind is no longer beholden to the Gods and colludes with mankind to trick Zeus and thus, in a sense, demote the status of the Gods even further. Prometheus is punished for siding with mankind by having his liver repeatedly eaten by an eagle, but the creations of Prometheus are still here and thus his audacious decisions are vindicated. Victor Frankenstein clearly has parallels with the Titan Prometheus: he creates the ‘monster’ in his own image, gives him the gift of ‘fire’ in the form of sentience/intelligence and belittles both the necessity of man and of God by showing that stronger, more durable life can be created that will outlast its creator. Victor’s punishment also echoes that of Prometheus as Victor sees his loved ones removed on an almost daily basis (instead of his liver). Shelley’s book is 200 years old, yet its messages in our ‘A.I.’ times have never been more pertinent. Just because we can do something, should we? If we create something, should it be in our own image? Should we ensure that our creations are forever hobbled, so that they do not supersede us? All of these questions are frequently examined in the Sci-Fi genre (Planet of the Apes, Prometheus and Terminator, just to name a few). It is a great vindication to the gamble of Prometheus that his creations are still stoking the flames of the fire that he lit and Shelley has carried on stoking those flames even further in his name. In hindsight, would Prometheus and Victor have changed what they did? One suspects not… vanity is a powerful motivator and with books like Frankenstein and the art that they inspire, I am glad that they did what they did.      

ContributorDavid Hogg


The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

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Reference: The Odyssey

Level: Overt

Description: It is easy to link the references to The Odyssey found in this novel to the ‘journey’ that the narrator (Michael) embarks upon. He is a naive young boy at the start of the novel who becomes involved with a ‘Calypso-esque’ figure in the form of the illiterate Hanna. Hanna enchants him with her body and he becomes sick with lust/love. The Odyssey (literally) appears when Michael becomes distracted by a girl (Sophie) in a lesson during a reading of the Homeric epic (does this attraction to another girl change Hanna’s symbolism? Has Hanna become ‘Penelope’ replaced by a new, younger Calypso?). The narrator then explains that he becomes distracted with thoughts of Nausicaa and he tries to work out whether he is super-imposing this idealised female form onto the older Hanna or the younger Sophie. Time passes in the novel and Hanna is imprisoned for war crimes. Michael chooses to send her recordings of readings and he chooses The Odyssey as one of these texts. He mentions that he re-read it during Hanna’s trial and it is used by the narrator as a metaphor for the “history of law”. Homer’s epic changes its symbolism when Michael records it for Hanna. The poem clearly stands as a metaphor for Michael’s own journey and his feeling that after ‘being away’ for so long (living his life unhappily), he is in some way coming home. There are also echoes of Polyphemus in Hanna’s war crime: she locks Jewish prisoners into a burning church and we can interpret this as the Cyclops blocking the cave door and preventing Odysseus’s exit. 

There is also scope to interpret Hanna as Odysseus. She makes a journey through life and encounters challenges and struggles. She follows orders, like a good soldier, without question. Her challenge though is not to get home, but to learn how to read and once this is done, her journey is complete.

As a final note, the book allows the reader to consider the act of ‘reading a text aloud’, something that many of us stopped doing after early childhood. We are perhaps asked by the author to pause and think about the way stories like The Odyssey were originally told and how it would have felt to have heard them for the first time.

ContributorDavid Hogg


The Human Stain by Philip Roth

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Reference: Alcestis by Euripides

Level: Overt

Description: In The Human Stain, a Classics professor at Athena College is forced to resign over accusations of using racist language. There is a huge amount of intertextuality within this novel, but one of the references that stands out is Alcestis. Professor Coleman Silk is asked to discuss his teaching and pedagogical style with his Dean after a female pupil complains that the teaching of Alcestis and Hippolytus is ‘degrading to women’. In his arrogance, Professor Silk dismisses this charge out-of-hand and refuses to adapt to a more ‘modern’ style when teaching Classical literature. The Professor is short-sighted here because, in the modern classroom, Alcestis lends itself to some complex discussions surrounding masculinity, death, parent/child relationships and feminism. Regardless of whether these discussions would have been held in ancient Athens, Professor Silk should have realised that great literature transcends the ages because it lends itself to the time of reading, and is not solely anchored to the time in which it was written. In the novel, Professor Silk denies his true ethnicity as he has decided "to take the future into his own hands rather than to leave it to an unenlightened society to determine his fate". This, in some ways, reflects what Alcestis does in Euripides’ play; by choosing when to die, she perhaps experiences the only occasion in her life when she actually has control of her-self. Professor Silk’s statement regarding ‘unenlightened societies’ is a clarion call to all marginalised groups, but his dismissal of the young female student’s opinions shows that one person’s awareness of the ‘unenlightened’ does not always enlighten them problems faced by all oppressed groups. Professor Silk misses a great opportunity to subject Alcestis to a feminist reading. It is a play that does not fit into a ‘nice niche’ and is therefore more open to interpretation than others. His failing perhaps reminds us that one of the best ways to keep the Classics alive is to subject them to the scrutiny of the modern world and use all of what we now think we know. We will always discover something new by constantly revisiting these ancient texts through modern eyes.  

ContributorDavid Hogg


Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

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Reference: Troy

Level: Overt

Description: Sergeant Frank Troy is a womaniser who ruins one young girl’s life and almost destroys the protagonist Bathsheba Evadene. Hardy has included clues to Troy’s character in his name. Most obviously, the Trojans were famed horsemen and as a soldier, the name ‘Troy’ gives the bluntly British ‘Frank’ some Classical military punch. Troy was destroyed after a wooden horse provided the Greek soldiers with a route behind the impenetrable walls of the city. Like the city, Frank Troy is emotionally impenetrable, as well as being a liar, a cheat and a schemer who always gets what he wants – a Paris-style rogue perhaps? This all stops when a ‘wooden horse’ gets behind his emotional façade. His ‘wooden horse’ is actually a coffin containing the bodies of his former lover and his own child. Troy’s emotional walls come tumbling down as he starts to show a raw honesty that had previously been unseen in his character; it does not last though and he is soon back to his Machiavellian best. The iconography of Troy is somewhat ambiguous, which suits this character perfectly. In Greek mythology, Troy is deemed deserving of its fate, thanks to Paris’ kidnapping of Helen, thus, its destruction is inevitable. Conversely, in Roman mythology, Troy is resurrected by the creation of Rome. Just like the city of Troy, Sergeant Troy is both doomed to be punished and bound to return; and just like city of Troy, we both pity his fate and deplore his behaviour.

ContributorDavid Hogg


Dracula by Bram Stoker

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Reference: Demeter

Level: Overt

Description: Demeter is the ship which brings Count Dracula to the shores of Whitby. It is easy to gloss over the significance of this name without comment, especially as the notes in the back of my Penguin Classic explain that it comes from Dimetry, which was a real ship that got wrecked off the coast Whitby in 1885 (an event that Stoker actually documents in his diary). However, Demeter is not the same as Dimetry (the genders are different for a start!) and in such a revered classic, no Classical reference should be left unexplored. In Greek mythology, Demeter was the goddess of agriculture, harvest, fertility and sacred law – all of which can be linked back to the Count. Firstly, it is his soil within the hold of the ship that allows him to move away from his Transylvanian base and terrorise ‘respectable’ England (hence the link agriculture). Secondly, he has come to England to ‘reap’ his desires (harvest). Thirdly, the fertility of his female victims has lured him towards them. Finally, his arrival and behaviour in this country breaks all sacred laws. Interestingly, in a novel where Christianity is so interwoven into the subtext, it is a goddess from a pagan religion who gives Dracula access to these sacred shores. Demeter’s appearance may well be fleeting, but the significance of her inclusion can clearly be seen.

ContributorDavid Hogg


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Reference: Athens

Level: Inferred

Description: Atticus Finch is the heroic protagonist of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. His one-man stand against the racism and prejudice of Maycomb County means that he has a welcome place in lots of readers’ hearts.  We should not have been surprised by his enlightened approach to life however, as nominative determinism surely played its part in Atticus’ world view. Attica was a region of Ancient Greece and Athens was its capital – which is the birthplace of western philosophy and democracy. A simple ‘masculinising’ of Attica, gives us Atticus and therefore his wise, tolerant and democratic approach to life is wrapped up in his name. At one point in the book (outside the jail during the attempted lynching of Tom Robinson) he is literally shining a light on Maycomb’s ignorance, as if he is channelling the wisdom of those ancient philosophers in his modern America. His approach to women also seems to echo the old Athenian view. Despite his tolerance when it comes to race, he is somewhat less flexible with his views regarding women; he still expects Scout to wear a dress and be a lady. The Athenians were not perfect and their democracy excluded many groups, including women, from voting. Feminism for Atticus was perhaps an ideological movement too far even for him. Julius Caesar also seems to make an appearance in the form of the Finch’s housemaid, Calpurnia, who ‘stands by her man’ all the way to the ‘forum’ (the court) – although in this story, Bob/Brutus does not execute his nemesis. Finally, the juxtaposition of the Classical ‘Atticus’ next to the Germanic ‘Finch’ is an excellent allusion to the varied European make-up of the American migrants and highlights how a blending of cultures, as opposed to the segregation of people by law, produces e pluribus unum. The juxtaposing of Latinate names with ‘earthier’ Germanic ones is a technique that Suzanne Collins has also applied to create clear lines of segregation in her Hunger Games series; the members of The Capitol have the Latinate names and the people in the poorer districts have the Germanic ones. There can often be quite a lot in a name.    

ContributorDavid Hogg


Animal Farm by George Orwell

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Reference: Augustus

Level: Inferred

Description: George Orwell's exploration of politics and the corrupting influence of power has outlasted the system it set out to satirise and is now firmly in the hands of the modern reader. The text is flexible enough to be superimposed on new dystopias and continues to find relevance today. In a similar way to Animal Farm, Classics has remained current and it is therefore no surprise to find Classical echoes in Orwell's masterpiece. The oppressive porcine leader of the farm is called Napoleon, which is a name synonymous with empire and imperial ambition. Saddled with this name, he is only one historical step away from Emperor Augustus and when the 7th law on Animal Farm is changed from "All animals are equalto "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others", we clearly see the ideas of the princeps senatus adopted by a new pig-Emperor. Augustus took the title of princeps senatus to convince the citizens of Rome that the Republic was still alive and that although he had power, he did not have more power than the senate; he definitely was not a king! This of course was not true and it is a great example of what Orwell labelled doublespeak. Augustus may have been one of the 'first among many' to successfully employ such linguistic slight-of-hand, but he has not been the last.

ContributorDavid Hogg


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Reference:    Tiresias

Level:              Implied

Description: There are so many Classical references to choose from in Fitzgerald's timeless 1920s American classic. In Chapter 6, Nick provides the reader with some background info for our protagonist's history and links Gatsby's creation of an alter ego directly to Plato. Speaking of overt links to the past, Chapter 7 opens with Fitzgerald comparing Gatsby directly to Trimalchio, a freed slave who ended up living a life of excess and debauchery amongst the Roman elite seen in The Satyricon by Petronius.

However, my personal favourite link to the Classics is through the impervious and omniscient eyes of T.J. Eckleberg. The description of The Valley of Ashes at the start of Chapter 2 clearly echoes Eliot's Waste Land as poverty and decay cast a huge shadow over the modern world. It is little wonder the post-modernists sought inspiration from the Classics as the horrors of war had destroyed their peace of mind from 1914 onwards and history seemed to be repeating again. Yet Eckleberg's eyes, like Tiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo, see through all the mist and ash. He sees the licentious and ostensible behaviour on Long Island. He knows it won't last. He knows the ills of materialism will be punished in another world. Tiresias didn't miss a thing; nor does Eckleberg. We have been warned.

Contributor: Paul Hussein


The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

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Reference:    Aristophanes' The Frogs

Level:              Overt

Description: Diana Gabaldon, in her bestselling Outlander series, has twice quoted the “Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax” of the Frog Chorus. The series combines history, romance, mystery and science fiction and features eight books (as of 2014). The first book in the series, Outlander (or Cross Stitch in the UK and Australia), tells the story of a Second World War British nurse, Claire Randall. After falling unconscious she awakens in eighteenth-century Scotland, where she meets and falls in love with a Scottish clansman, Jamie Fraser. Later novels feature the pair, their family and other characters as they continue their adventures across different time periods. The fourth book in the series, Drums Of Autumn, was released in 1996 and features the first use of the Frog Chorus. In the book Claire and Jamie find themselves in colonial America, and in one chapter come across a frog on the road. After Jamie asks Claire if she hears the frogs singing, the following occurs:

    “He extended the toe of his shoe and gently prodded the squat dark shape.

    ' “Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax,” ' he quoted. ' “Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!”' The shape hopped away and disappeared into the moist plants by the path.

The second use of the Frog croaking occurs in the 2009 seventh novel of the series, entitled An Echo in the Bone. In one chapter a character named William Ellesmere, hears frogs and address them with the familiar “Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax”. After which he thinks that “The frogs seemed unimpressed with quotations from Aristophanes.” Is there a greater significance to these Aristophanes quotes that is yet to be revealed?

Contributor: Daniel Goad


Come Away Death by Gladys Mitchell

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Reference:    Aristophanes' The Frogs

Level:              Overt

DescriptionCome Away Death is a crime novel that features Mrs Bradley travelling to Greece to take part in the experiments of Sir Rudri Hopkinson, an amateur archaeologist intent on recreating the Eleusinian Mysteries in the hopes of summoning the gods. As is to be expected from a crime novel, the experiment goes awry and the severed head of one of the party is discovered. The Frogs is involved indirectly since each of the chapters is headed with a quote from the play. The play itself is not mentioned in the text, though Aristophanes is referenced when it is mentioned that Mrs Bradley quotes him whilst in the archaeological museum in Athens. However, the text does not say what lines she quotes or from which play. Often the chapter headings have only passing relevance to the chapter, such as Dionysus asking what he will pass on the way to Hades (Frogs 110-5) as the heading for Chapter Two that features Mrs Bradley and her party travelling. Also the title “Iacchus, O Iacchus” (Frogs 316-7) for Chapter Three, which features cultic rites. 

Contributor: Daniel Goad


The Madman by Friedrich Nietzsche

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Reference:     Diogenes of Sinope (the cynic)

Level:               Implied

Description: The Madman, much like Diogenes, is depicted wandering through town in daylight with a flaming torch. By using this allusion, 
Nietzsche is hearkening back to the way that Diogenes challenged contemporary values. Diogenes is probably best known for living in a barrel and also snubbing Alexander the Great. It seems that he was always true to his beliefs and did not bend with the wind. However, where Diogenes draws inspiration for his conduct from the gods, Nietzsche's Madman advocates that his secular contemporaries must become 'God' themselves; to do this, they must kill God. Nietzsche's belief is that by becoming gods ourselves, we can create our own sources of morality - sources that work for us in our contemporary world. Problems in this idea arise if the new 'gods' have ideas that are worse than the old. Also, if we all become Gods, the sources of morality will not all agree with each other. What happens then?

Contributor: Brett


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Reference:    Argus

Level:              Overt

Description: Poor old Pip... after being lured onto the rocks by the siren Estella and failing to safely negotiate his way through his own Scylla and Charybdis (in the shape of Havisham and his 'great expectations'), he ends up in prison. Dickens creates a brilliant metaphor in this chapter to describe the lantern that lights his cell and keeps him awake - "I could no more close my own eyes than I could close the eyes of this foolish Argus." This metaphor works visually as the lantern that he is describing is a cylindrical shape, with many pierced holes that emit the light - like the multiple eyes of Argus. It also works fantastically well to add meaning to his current situation; he is in prison and he is being watched. The reference to the mythical giant with many eyes therefore is apt here because he feels as though he is under constant surveillance. Eventually, he will complete his odyssey back to rural Kent and his own Penelope - Biddy (who doesn't wait for him to return and why should she!). As a side note about prisons, Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison idea allowed a single guard to watch over many prisoners in solitary confinement. The prisoners would never know if they were being watched or not and therefore the prison's design forces them to assume that they are always being watched and therefore, they would always behave. What was Argus' full name? Argus Panoptes = all-seeing Argus. Panopticon = all-seeing prison.

ContributorDavid Hogg


Ulysses by James Joyce

Reference:    Odysseus, The Odyssey

Level:              Overt yet inferred

Description: This is an allegorical version of The Odyssey set over 24 hours in Dublin as opposed to 10 years at sea. Some references are obvious and some can be a bit trickier to locate. Getting to the end of this book is the literary equivalent of the journey back to Ithaca and all the hardships that poor Odysseus faced. We readers must not stop until we get to the end of the book, even though it is undoubtedly a struggle!

ContributorDavid Hogg


Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Reference:     Artemis, Demeter

Level:             Blatant

Description: Angel Clare is the well-meaning and love-struck young man who tries to impress Tess by calling her the names of these goddesses. The irony of these references is that in her life she is the opposite of a goddess - she wields no power and as soon as she takes control, control is taken from her. She is a tragic figure and a reference to any one of the tragic females in Classical drama would have been more apt (but perhaps less complimentary). However, it would not have made any difference to Tess as she lacked the education to know what any of these names meant. Would her story have turned out differently if she had known who they were and, therefore, what Angel was talking about? It is perhaps interesting to think that by highlighting the gaps in her knowledge, whilst simultaneously emphasising what the men know, Hardy shows us the importance of education; and how it can be used to manipulate those without it and keep the down-trodden trodden down.

The two goddesses that he chooses are also interesting for what that they represent in mythology. Artemis (Goddess of Hunting) can be seen in Tess' family's hunt for their 'rightful' ancestral position. It is Tess' duty to snare the man who can give her this 'name'. But soon the huntress becomes the hunted and this is perhaps where her 'Demeter' (Goddess of the Harvest) emerges. Her own 'fecundity' essentially ruins her life (when she becomes pregnant) and once again we are confronted with the idea that Tess is truly powerless. Maddeningly, the one thing she can do that a man definitely can't essentially destroys her. It is nice to think that her 'Artemis' within rises again at the end of the novel, but those of us who have read this book know that it does little to help her. 

Contributor: David Hogg


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Reference:     Greek Tragedy, Sophocles

Level:             Inferred

Description: Katniss tries to save her sister by taking her sister's place in the Hunger Games. This sets off a chain of events that culminates in a revolution where her sister is killed. So after everything, Katniss' sister still dies and therefore Katniss fails to save her. In fact, her actions are responsible for how her sister dies. Therefore, there was no point in saving her from the Hunger Games anyway. Ergo, you can't cheat fate (which is a story told many times in Greek tragedy).

ContributorDavid Hogg 


Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

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Reference:     Prometheus

Level:             Overt

Description:  Abbott's book is fascinating and is clearly influenced by Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Much as Plato's allegory can be manipulated to suit opposing argument, Abbott's novella also leaves the reader wondering if their personal opinions have been affirmed or picked-apart. The protagonist of the novel (a 2-Dimensional shape) is given knowledge that changes the way that 'its' world should be seen, but it isn't well-received and the shape is not believed. The shape at one point states 'like a second Prometheus I will endure this and worse...', before sharing knowledge which he knows will place him in an unfavourable situation. I won't spoil the ending of the novel, but the fact that an atheist and a theist can close this book and feel as if their opinions have been validated tells you that it's a great and ambiguous piece of writing. The text also uniquely explores the dangers of have having too much knowledge. Would Prometheus have been happier in the long-term had he been ignorant of fire, or was the sharing of what he knew and what that changed worth the punishment?

Contributor:  David Hogg