On Friday 16th November, we were very fortunate to be able to welcome professional storyteller Ben Haggarty to the classics centre to perform a retelling of classical myth to Year Eight and Nine Classics students. Ben amalgamated two well-known stories, the myth of the birth of Dionysus and the myth of Orpheus descending to the Underworld to rescue his new bride Eurydice. In doing so, he created a visceral, gripping and very moving story which saw Dionysus being born twice, and Orpheus meeting the tree nymph Eurydice, who then fled the advances of the beekeeper Aristaeus, only to be bitten by a snake and killed.
Orpheus and Dionysus’ stories were embellished with vivid details, from the sinister, clown-faced Titans in disguise who tore the baby Dionysus to shreds, and the moment Semele was incinerated in a forest by seeing Zeus in his true form thanks to Hera’s jealous trickery, to the charming of the grim ghosts of the underworld and Charon the boat man by Orpheus’ transcendent song. There is no one fixed version of any classical myth, but instead the stories were constantly being changed in the minds and words of oral storytellers, and even once they were committed to paper, there existed very many variant versions. Ben’s striking and mesmerising storytelling performance was an example of how various details can be interwoven to create a new story.
After his performances, Ben took questions from the audience, ranging from where he had performed to what sources he used to what was the strangest story he had ever heard or told! Ben spoke in his answer of the inherent wonder of being alive in the world, and how telling stories was about recognising the strange and the surprising and the vivid in reality. Classical myths, like many stories, are full of the beautiful, the grotesque, the comedic and the tragic, and the students experienced all of these in these storytelling sessions!
We are very grateful to him for visiting and for delivering such enjoyable and transfixing performances.