With a sparkling wit and a knowledge of the Classics that matches her humor, Natalie Haynes has recently become my go-to source for a bit of educated escapism. Her stand-up series on BBC is downright funny – but it’s not just for laughs. Her work is also at a level that brings me back to my own time studying for my degree Classics and leaves me reaching for my Latin texts.
She creates a tapestry of comedy and Classics: references to Ovid mixed in with punchlines, old stories by Suetonius reinterpreted, and a new sensitivity to imagining a woman’s perspective in the Greek and Roman world. Her books revisit Helen, Pandora, and Jocasta, just to name a few (and I’ve read all of those, too).
But perhaps what I find so refreshing about tuning into her work is the way that she looks at stories – and her ability to make an old story new and fresh. Natalie writes:
“And I hope that means that you see a story that even if you knew beautifully well, that I hope it sheds some extra light. There’s no reason why women — who have pretty well always been half the world — shouldn’t be shown in the stories that we’ve been telling ourselves for a couple of millennia.”
For me, I’ve been returning to my own relationship with the Classics lately, partly inspired by Haynes’ work and her encouragement to seek the extra light. Athena, Venus, the muses- while these goddesses have always been my radar, I’ve been even more drawn to these motifs recently. And from a Latinist’s perspective, I’ve even been realizing how the old story of the “city mouse” and “country mouse” has ancient roots.
When I step back, I see how it all seems to tie together. Whether weaving (and unweaving) for a long-gone Odysseus à la Penelope, or weaving the strands of contemporary life and Classic culture like Natalie Haynes, it is compelling to watch a person create something beautiful, something original. I highly recommend listening to give yourself your own moment of educated- and inspired- escapism.
The works depicted are from my Iconics series. Top: Selene & Endymion, Bottom: Pallas.