Performing Epic

The APGRD’s 'Performing Epic' programme began life as a 3-year, Leverhulme-funded research project exploring the vital life of the classical epics in the performance arts.  The scope of the project is broad, encompassing the reception of epic in any performance medium (including theatre, opera, dance, film, and radio), in any language and country, and any era since antiquity.  The central aim of the project is to examine the reception of Greek and Roman epic across all performance genres.

Front cover of the book, Performing Epic or Telling TalesThe latest publication arising from this project is Performing Epic or Telling Tales (Oxford University Press, 2020) by Fiona Macintosh and Justine McConnell. Further information and ordering available on the Oxford University Press website.

This follows on from Epic Performances from the Middle Ages into the Twenty-First Century (Oxford University Press, 2018). Epic Performances book coverIt is edited by Fiona Macintosh, Justine McConnell, Stephen Harrison and Claire Kenward, and includes chapters by the following contributors: Graeme Bird, Rachel Bryant Davies, Colin Burrow, Imogen Choi, Marie-Louise Crawley, Cécile Dudouyt, Tatiana Faia, Barbara Graziosi, Emily Greenwood, Edith Hall, Lorna Hardwick, Stephen Harrison, Stephe Harrop, Tiphaine Karsenti, Margaret Kean, Claire Kenward, Robin Kirkpatrick, Fiona Macintosh, Justine McConnell, Pantelis Michelakis, Laura Monrós-Gaspar, Frederick G. Naerebout, Georgina Paul, Emily Pillinger, Tanya Pollard, Henry Power, Deana Rankin, Patrice Rankine, Margaret Reynolds, Tom Sapsford, Arabella Stanger, Henry Stead, Tim Supple, Marchella Ward, David Wiles, and Wes Williams.

Chapter 16, 'Homer as Improviser?' by Graeme Bird (pp. 228-49), is accompanied by a recording of the author's own improvisations. Listen below: 

See the Oxford University Press website for more information on the volume.

Why now?

Verse narratives of quest, adventure and destiny – the Greek and Roman IliadOdysseyArgonauticaAeneidMetamorphoses alongside Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata, the Inuit Atanarjuat and the West African Sundiata – have been inspiring new theatrical, danced and sung productions in every continent of the world in recent years.  Numerous productions, such as the Franco-Indian collaborative version of The Odyssey by Footsbarn Travelling Theatre and the Kerala-based Abhinaya Theatre Group (1995), and the Ramayan Odyssey (2001) by Tara Arts in London, have been discovering new resonances in the fusion of eastern and western epics in an intercultural performance arena.

Epic poetry was the staple of the early operatic repertoire (Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689), and Handel’s Acis and Galatea (1739) take their inspiration from the Aeneid and Metamorphoses respectively).  It continues to provide a rich storehouse of themes for contemporary creative artists working in divergent traditions, ranging from Tim Supple and Simon Reade’s RSC adaptation for the stage of Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid (1999) to Paper Cinema’s live animation Odyssey (2012).  Epic poetry in performance has a long tradition, which seems no less potent and resonant for contemporary audiences than it was for those in the early modern period.Production photograph of A Ramayan Odyssey by Tara Arts

At any one time there are a number of classical epics in production on stages around the world, testifying not only to their enduring appeal, but also to their continued adaptability; many are by innovative and experimental theatre companies, who successfully recast the ancient epics in ways that ensure they resonate in the modern world.  From the Chicago Court Theatre’s one-man Iliad (2011) to Tom Wright’s Australian Odyssey (2005), Mario Vargas Llosa’s 2006 Peruvian stage-play Odiseo y Penélope, and the Ugandan singer Geoffrey Oryema’s 2002 album, The African Odysseus, epic performances capture audiences across the globe.

The APGRD research project is cataloguing all such performances of epic and making the information available to researchers via the APGRD’s online database.  There are regular events and artists in residence, and numerous publications arising from the research.


22 October 2012: Tim Supple, ‘Theatre on an Epic Scale’
12 November 2012: Alice Oswald, ‘Performing Memorial
4 February 2013: Pantelis Michelakis, ‘Homer and Early Cinema’ 
3 June 2013: Michael Ewans, 'Ancient Epic in Early Opera: Gagliano's La Dafne and Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria'

28 November 2013: Stephen Langridge, 'Theseus Operas'
24 February 2014: Kae Tempest, 'In Conversation'
12 May 2014: Colin Burrow, 'Shakespeare and Epic'
19 May 2014: Sukanta Chaudhuri, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream': Metamorphosing the Classical

12 October 2015: Marina Carr (playwright) in conversation on Hecuba

 26 January 2015: Henry Power,’Henry Fielding’s Homer’

Performances/Artists in Residence

12 November 2012: Alice Oswald (poet) performed Memorial

21-22 September 2013: EDOX (Early Drama in Oxford) Performances of Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage and William Gager’s Dido (Performing Dido conference). 

September 2014: Kae Tempest (poet) performed Hold Your Own

1-5 June 2015: ‘Choreographing the Katabasis’

Choreographer, Cathy Marston (Artistic Director, Bern Ballett (2007-2013), Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow (2013-14)) and Tom Sapsford (Professional Dancer and Doctoral Student at USC, Academic Visitor APGRD 2014-15) worked with 2 professional dancers and a group of APGRD-led Oxford Classicists in Oxford for a week on the Homeric text, using both the form (dactylic hexameter verse) and the content of Homeric epic, to produce a new short piece that was presented in lecture-demonstration format with live performances by the dancers.

January 2016: APGRD, together with OUDS, organised a student-focused five-day developmental workshop with the acclaimed RSC director, Iqbal Khan (RSC's Much Ado About Nothing, 2012 and Othello 2015) and playwright Shomit Dutta to work on a new play, Changing of the Guard (based on the Iliad with a view to show-casing the piece for professional producers/theatre directors/actors for further development and ultimately a professional staging).

27 June 2016: William Zappa performs Homer’s Iliad (Book 1)

17 October 2016: Alice Oswald (poet) reading from Falling Awake

January - June 2017: Marie Louise Crawley

Choreographer and dance artist, Marie-Louise Crawley was APGRD Artist in Residence for six months from January to June 2017. During her residency, Marie-Louise developed a solo, masked, ancient pantomime-inspired, site-specific dance piece, Likely Terpsichore? (Fragments) for the gallery spaces in the Ashmolean. Based on four female figures from Ovid’s Metamorphoses - Galatea, Myrrha, Philomel and Medusa - Likely Terpsichore? (Fragments) has been performed on numerous occasions in the Museum. Watch a film of the performance on the APGRD YouTube channel.

Dancer wearing mask

24 March 2017: Odyssée 24: a global mass reading. Part of the European Festival of Latin and Greek. Translators/Speakers: Gregory Hutchinson; Molly Janz; Grace Linden; Kalina Allendorf; Spencer Klavan; Sam Norman; Arabella Currie; Marchella Ward; David Raeburn; Guy Brindley; Lucy Serocold; Melinda Letts; Jason Webber; Lucy Jackson; Nic Liney; Sean Kelly; Oliver Taplin.

27 October 2017: Week’s residency of Chaos Company, culminating in a performance of Crossing the Sea, a new version of the Aeneid

20 November 2017: Emily Wilson reading from her translation of The Odyssey

29 January 2018: Screening of Metamorpheus by Tony Harrison, directed by Peter Symes. Peter Symes in conversation with Oliver Taplin.

23 March 2018: Metamorphoses Book 10: a global mass reading. Part of the European Festival of Latin and Greek, accompanied by kithara-player, Michael Levy.  Translators/Speakers: Arabella Currie; Oliver Taplin; Kitty Low; Emily Clifford; Grace Linden; Gregory Hutchinson; Guy Bridley; Lucy Serocold; Marchella Ward; Melinda Letts; Alison Middleton; David Raeburn; Olivia Thompson; Xavier Buxton; Spencer Klavan; Talia Boylan; Nic Liney. 

22 March 2019: Iliad Book 6: a global mass reading as part of the European Festival of Latin and Greek. Participants: Melinda Letts; Olivia Thompson; Nicole Man; Marchella Ward; Lucy Serocold; Felix Clive; Xavier Buxton; Alex Swanson; Emily Clifford; Martina Astrid Rodda; and Rhiannon Easterbrook. 

30 April to 1 May 2023: All-Night Epic: a 10-hour overnight performance of Gilgamesh. Artists: Badia Obaid; Wafa’ Tarnowska; Ammar Haj Ahmad; Archana  Ramaswamy; Frances Reynolds; Saju Hari; Xanthe Gresham; Tim Supple; Barry Ganberg; Will Keen; Thembe Mvula; Anna Mullett;, Cara Garrow; Cordelia Scotter Mainprize; Delilah Purchess; Dora Grandy; Giulia Murphy; Hafsah Ahmed; Joseph Noble; Julianna Strickland; Leo Noble; Ruth Conmy; Will Ogden; Jaqueline Watts; Alice Oswald; Peter Oswald; Lily Penrose; Marcus Bell. Annina Lehman; Daniel Eikeboom; Ella Paul; Ellie Robins; Isabella Jones; Jessica May; Romain Roch; Ruby McGowan; Timo Marchant; Amelia Wyckoff; Dowon Jung; Faith Wong; Finlay Miles; Flynn Hallman; Io Oswald; Leo Dakin; Lily Penrose; Olivia Boyle; Shaw Worth; Sylvie Leggatt,; Wang Sum Luk; Jennifer Wong; Stephe Harrop; Alva Orr; Claire Barnes; Zoë Jennings; Estel Baudou; Alex Silverman; Helen Eastman; Sam Brown; Tarik Beshir. A collage of 6 black and white photographs capturing moments from the All-Night Epic performance of Gilgamesh held in the JdP Music Building 30 April to 1 May 2023. Clockwise from top left: Thembe Mvula stood in a white shirt; Archana Ramaswamy lying on t



19–20 September 2013: ‘Performing Epic to 1800’
Speakers: Tania Demetriou (York), William Fitzgerald (KCL), Edith Hall (KCL), Robin Kirkpatrick (Cambridge), Andrew Laird (Warwick), Frederick Naerebout (Leiden), Tanya Pollard (Brooklyn College, CUNY), Deana Rankin (RHUL), Helen Slaney (Oxford), Henry Stead (KCL), David Wiles (RHUL), Wes Williams (Oxford), and Susanne Wofford (NYU). With performances by soprano Emma Kirkby with lutenist Jakob Lindberg.

18-19 September 2014: 'Performing Epic into the Twenty-First Century' 
Speakers: Graeme Bird (Gordon College), Rachel Bryant-Davies (Leys School), Cécile Dudouyt (Paris 13), Laura Monrós Gaspar (València), Barbara Graziosi (Durham), Emily Greenwood (Yale), Lorna Hardwick (Open), Stephe Harrop (RCSSD), Pantelis Michelakis (Bristol), Emily Pillinger (KCL), Patrice Rankine (Hope College), Margaret Reynolds (QMUL), Tom Sapsford (USC) and New Movement Collective, Arabella Stanger (Roehampton), Brad Wilson (Oxford). With performances by Barbara Köhler (poet) & Georgina Paul (Oxford), Mark Usher (Vermont) & John Peel (composer).


Fiona Macintosh (Principal Investigator)
Justine McConnell (Leverhulme Postdoctoral Research Associate)
Edith Hall (Advisor)
Stephen Harrison (Advisor)
Oliver Taplin (Advisor)
Stephe Harrop (Professional Storyteller)
Rachel Bryant Davies (Researcher)
Claire Kenward (Researcher)
Marchella Ward (Researcher)