One of the characteristics of modern global culture is incorporation of ancient Greek and Roman culture in the media. For example, ancient myths are constantly re-emerging in modern films. Visual culture is always adapting classical iconography to entertain the viewers. On the other hand, literary works, such as poems, have many responses to classical literature and history. This practice of adaptation can be traced from the past times. In most cases, the entire text is not rewritten or adapted fully, instead, text and story manipulations are used in order to fit the story to the current situation. For example, a story of victory or defeat in the past war can be used to explain about a similar situation in the present, but in a different way. In order to explain these trends, a critical examination of these classical receptions alongside the primary texts they respond to is given in this paper.
Adaption and reception as it seems is not a modern trend. The style of reception dates back to the times of Homer, who is known for his use and adaption of traditional myths in order to fit them to the modern myth situation at his time. For example, one of his famous adaptations was his ability to innovate the Milagros myth into the Iliad. In this context, the Calidonian bear was used by Phoenix on Achilleus in order to persuade him to accept the gift offerings, stop anger and go back to fighting. From this adaption, Homer had added various details to the traditional myth. First of all, Homer added anger and withdrawal from the fight and a gift offering. It is as if Homer rewrote the entire story and then re-used it in a new situation. This story depicts the adaptation as a way of relating reception to classical sources. While the Greek scholars were re-adapting and rewriting ancient myths, Romans were known to have readapted from Greek works. Similarly, re-adaptation and adaptation is still being used in the modern times.
To start with, films adapted from ancient Greek and Roman myths can be divided into the following categories: art house films, which represent ancient Greek and Roman visuals in their primary forms and popular entertainment. For example, a number of films were made to explain the events that occurred in the Third Servile War. The first film was Spartacus (1960), which can be classified as the art house film and the recent Spartacus: Blood and Sand film, which lies in the popular entertainment films category.
Spartacus (1960) is a replica of the graphic novel in its every aspect while Spartacus: Blood and Sand film stems from the director’s unique interpretation of the ancient world. Because of this, the individual’s response of Spartacus (1960) and Spartacus: Blood and Sand films are different in the commercial market. Despite their differences in reception, we cannot deny the fact that both films offer exciting knowledge about the ancient Greek and Roman empires.
However, different techniques used by the different directors and actors introduce viewers to different cultural themes that are embedded within each of the film narration. As such, a systematic understanding of each filmmaker’s elucidation of the ancient world and how different themes are incorporated to connect with the concerns of modern society is gained by the viewers.
Similarly, modern adaptations of ancient religious literature show some evolution of thoughts and differences in interpreting the ancient happenings into happenings at the modern times. Difference in interpretation of the modern and ancient literatures result in difference in their reception and understanding of these two aspects. For example, the film The Passion of Christ is adapted from the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While the four gospels are differently expounded in each reader’s mind, the Passion of Christ gives further details about the happenings from the Garden of Gethsemane to Crucifixion of Christ according to the film maker’s interpretation.
Viewing the film leaves an impression of brutal, grotesque torture.. On the other hand, with detailed proceeding of that night the film maker intended to evoke emotions of somberness, fright and shock.
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Being a Hollywood production, the film must accomplish its purpose through relentless brutality and nonstop bloodshed coupled with torture and anguish. This brings the difference between a Hollywood production or a popular entertainment film and religious phenomenon that happened many years ago.
Although, the film captured attention of the evangelical communities, there is still a great difference between the film and the four Christian books.
There is no doubt that the film catches the aspect of the story of Christ from I terms of describing his death and suffering. However, the film fails to capture the larger theme of atonement of sin intended by writers of the four gospels. This distinguishes the writings from films with a lot of violence made in Hollywood.
The film starts with a view of Jesus stepping on a snake in order to symbolize the overcoming of snake at the Garden of Eden. The film shows that the same snake that deceived Adam and Eve is the same snake that tempted to sleep.
This episode is different from the four Gospels, which do not give an account of any snake that was stamped on in Gethsemane. Instead, the four Gospels only give the account of the travailing of Jesus in Gethsemane and the failure of his disciples to join him in prayers because of heavy sleep.
Although, the Gospel teaches people that the father of Jesus was a carpenter, it does not specify on the things he used to make. Thus, it is surprising to see Jesus and his father building a dining table in the film. This contrary to many people belief’s that the dining table is a part of the modern civilization.
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In this film, the Jews are described as blood thirsty individuals instead of the common image of rebellious and individuals who do not listen to God sent prophets. On the other hand, people like Pontius Pilate are represented as decent and willing to help Jesus. This is from the usual image of the ruler that was ready to rule over the Jews by force. Eventually, viewers are left to watch the imaginative views of the film maker, which fits modern Christians as opposed to Christians in the past.
Another modern adaptation of ancient Greek literature is O Brother, Where Art Thou? Film, which is adapted from The Odysseys. This film bases its plot on the Odyssey, but its episodes are not exactly like The Odyssey. However, the film uses direct references in order to keep the original meaning of the Odyssey. The Odyssey is based on the need of the main character to shed his pride and realize himself as nothing without the deity.
While adapting this, the named film uses its own visual elements, but uses the words in the Odyssey to accomplish its purpose. Instead of using the real name of Odyssey, the main character in this film uses the word Ulysses and has been charged with the act of unlicensed law practicing.
In order to understand the use of the Odyssey character in this film, a viewer has to first understand the myth of Odyssey and the plot development by Homer. For example, it is necessary to understand that Penny is the short form of the name Penelope in the Odyssey. It is also necessary to pay attention to the real incidences of direct use of the words in the Odyssey in order to indicate their implications in the film.
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For example, the film starts with the words,
O muse! Sing in me, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all the ways of contending……A wanderer, harried for years on eng…..”
This shows that the filmmaker is willing to tell the story in his own way while using the Odyssey as the framework. Just like the difference in the passion of Christ and the four gospels, there is also a great difference in interpretations of the readings and the film.
A person who has read the Odyssey and then watched the film would not see a large difference. In addition, the mind setting of the different stories are created differently since the film is based on e imagination of the filmmaker and the writer of the Odyssey leaves the reader to create an imaginary environment based on his/her level of understanding or his/her level of imagination.
Apart from adaptation for entertainment purposes, there is another trend in classical reception where authors use Greek literature to build their case against modern wars. For example, the current American war against Iraq has been compared, criticized or, on the contrary, supported by several authors through using classical receptions.. An excellent example is Victor Davis Hanson’s writings about the Iraq war. According to Gary Brecher, Hanson uses the same formula when explaining about American wars, which has been well received by many people. In his recent book, A War Like No other, Hanson adapts his writings from the work of Thucydides, a Greek historian. In this book, Hanson retells this story in the present context. The adaptation can be seen from the very title.
In this book the ancient Athenians are compared to modern Americans. For example, the September bombing is compared to the Peloponnesian War. The only difference among these wars is that the 9/11 bombing did not lead to the fall of the entire empire. In addition, there were no naval wars, sieges and battles in 9/11, as in the Peloponnesian War.
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In his story, Hanson compares American power and insecurity to the Athenian power during the two wars. He also compares their pacifist nature and their way of engaging in different conflicts with that of Athenians. He argues that Americans, just like Athenians, are desirous of respect and liking while they are skillful in all ways including wars and arts among others.
As seen earlier, adaptation does not mean that the entire text is similar to the original. Even Homer did not create an exact copy of the adaptation of Milagro’s myth into the Iliad. Instead, adaptation, as has been proven in this article, twists the story or the text into something similar to the original.
Just like in other adaptations, this adaptation and its differences from the original; the story has been criticized. For example, the author argues that comparing America to Athens is wrong since Athens were not as powerful as America is in the current world. Apart from this, Gary refuses to acknowledge that Americans are peacekeepers and neither were Athenians pacifists because all are proud of going into war with other countries, which causes loss of lives The Thucydides story has been remodeled by Hanson into a happy tale. However, critics like Gary are not ready to accept this since they argue that it is not right to spin such a sad tale into a happy tale.
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From the primary sources and the film adaptations, it is necessary for the reader and the viewers to understand the difference in the intent of different experts. The modern films are characterized by the need for commercial popularity. However, past writings especially Greek and Roman literatures were characterized by the need of telling the story as it was without making it more attractive for the reader. In most cases, these stories were written from a true story whereby every part was an accurate narration of the proceedings at that moment. However, modern films offer a comprehensible and flexible approach to these stories. This means that hurting the original interpretation of the primary story is not a major concern of modern adapted films. Because of this, it is necessary for viewers and readers to understand the role of an adapted film and the role of ancient and classical Greek and Roman literature so as not to lose focus on the main story. This will also help in appreciating modern adaptations instead of criticizing and discarding these films.
Analysis of these adaptations proves that ancient Greek and Roman stories have the capability of rise above time and still remain applicable in the present because, thus, they have universal and timeless nature. In fact, they are relevance stems from their ability to be applied to ongoing events of the presented time. Sometimes, they seem to adapt better in the time they are presented than their former adaptations. This fact proves that man’s nature has not changed since the ancient times. This fact makes the ancient stories and adaptations meaningful in the context of the modern world. Apart from this, the texts and the films are not rigid. They have been written or adapted with a capacity to change according to the changing times, but still connect themselves to the original texts. A good example, is the text discussed earlier, The Odysseys with the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which have been adapted from the text. There is still some relevancy and some connections with the original texts despite major changes in the film. Apart from these two, other texts and their adaptations still have the same characteristics.
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In conclusion, adaptation and reception in literature and art have long history. One of the noticeable adaptations was that of Homer, who adapted Milagros myth into the Iliad. The Romans, in their turn, used to adapt Greek works in their writings. Most of the modern films have been adapted from the Greek and Roman writings, plays and poems. In this case, adaptation does not mean that the original work is copied directly; this rather means that some ideas are adapted from the original work. In most cases, adaptation is done in order to match the classical story into its modern context. For example, Greek works on war have been used to describe the wars in the modern time while some Roman stories have been mostly used to reach entertaining effect in the film. In most cases, current adaptations are meant for entertainment purposes. This means that a past story is manipulated to match the current expectations. Some people receive these adaptations with much delight and amusement. However, not all people receive modern adaptations with delight. Some feel that the adaptations are too much since they fail to tell the original story as it should be told. For example, one of the film adaptation of the
Gospel, The Passion of Christ, has been received with mixed feelings because of its inability to keep the flow of the story as it was explained by the eyewitnesses. Another adaptation of Thucydides work into a book A War Like No Other has not been accepted by critics who argue that the comparisons are not genuine. However, the fact remains that adaptations are based on the adapter’s unique understanding of the primary materials. Because of this, adapted work should be received with much respect and acceptance as it shows the uniqueness of thought and the need to explain current times with the help of past events.
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