Museum Council Prepare their Greek Underworld Gallery

Next Friday 26th November, Year Eight Museum Council students, very ably supported by Sixth Form Museum Council volunteers, will be running their own gallery themed on the Greek Underworld. The students have spent the past few weeks planning stalls and activities, and preparing displays and costumes.

The gallery will feature a range of Rumble artefacts connected to stories from the Underworld. Students will tell stories to visitors, introduce the artefacts, and engage people in a range of games and activities themed on different aspects of Greek ideas about the afterlife. Famous characters such as the boatman Charon, the daughter of Demeter, Persephone, and the King of the Underworld, Hades, will be there! There will also be some lesser known creatures such as Melinoe, and the hundred-handed monsters.

We were very lucky that Professor Nick Havely met virtually with the group on Thursday to talk to them about their ideas. Nick had been told a bit about the stalls and activities the students were all running, and prepared a very helpful presentation which gave some information and further ideas for each stall. Nick started by pointing out that hell in Dante's poem was a much more "fleshed out" idea about the underworld than could be found in either the ancient Greek poet Homer or the Roman poet Virgil. In classical literature, there exists an idea of judgment, but it is usually quite vague. We saw how in Dante, the various "rings" of hell corresponded to quite particular sins. 

We looked at the character of Medusa, who appears in Dante's poem when the furies invoke her to try and prevent Dante's journey. Nick also explained how Medusa had been used in more modern times as a sort of talisman against evil or a even a symbol of female power. We looked at some of the other monsters which Dante uses from Greek mythology. The harpies appear, creatures who were part women, and part birds. Nick explained how often monsters have been Christianised in the poem. We looked at Charon, who is detailed in Virgil's Aeneid as a grim, frightful figure, and is even more so in Dante. We also looked at the rivers in the Greek Underworld, which appear in Dante as a way of creating the geographical layout of hell. 

Finally, we looked at some of the trees in Dante's hell, such as the suicide trees, where souls have become encased in the bark. 
It was a fascinating overview of some of the many connections between the Greek Underworld and Dante's Inferno, and we will really look forward to meeting Nick in person next week at the Late Opening Event! Tickets are free, but need to be booked through the Ashmolean website. As well as our gallery, there will be lots of other exciting things to explore, including a robot called Ai-da who has written some poetry inspired by Dante. As well as our gallery, there will be lots of other exciting things to explore, including a robot called Ai-da who has written some poetry inspired by Dante!