TCS Talk | Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines | January 31st 2020

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 31st January

Antonio Tempesta, pl. 75 from the series Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 17th century. Courtesy: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

As January rolls towards its end, the Traditional Cosmology Society returns from the winter break with a new, and already rich season of talks. First to the dances is James Parkhouse, an Oxford postgraduate student who, on Friday 31th, will deliver a lecture, excellently titled Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, to TCS members as well as members of the general public:

Mr Parkhouse is a a fourth-year doctoral student in the English Faculty at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research project is provisionally entitled ‘Preliterary Classical Influences on Early Germanic Heroic Legends’. He completed his undergraduate degree in Classics at Oxford in 2015, before ‘going medieval’. His wider research interests focus on Old Norse mythological and heroic poetry; the nature of Old Norse oral traditions and performance contexts; and the extent of Classical learning in medieval north-western Europe.

In his talk, Mr Parkhouse will take into account the myth of the revenge and escape of the master smith Wayland, attested in medieval literature and iconography from England, Scandinavia and Germany. The myth has been noted for its striking resemblance to the Graeco-Roman myth of Daedalus, the architect of the Cretan Labyrinth, who, like Wayland, escapes from captivity by building a set of mechanical wings. Indeed, the similarity was not lost on medieval Icelanders, who translated the term ‘labyrinth’ as Vǫlundarhús (House of Wayland) in vernacular adaptations of Classical texts.

The question of a genealogical relationship between the two stories has been hotly debated, and details of the date and means of horizontal transmission remain elusive. Mr Parkhouse, however, proposes to sidestep the issue of genealogy, to focus instead on how the two myths may be read against each other, from an historicist and culturalist perspective. In his talk to the Society, therefore, he will focus on the presentation of the respective myths in the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses VIII (c. 8 CE) and the Old Norse Eddic poem Vǫlundarkviða (c. 900 CE), situating each text in its own broader cultural context before considering the theme of dynastic collapse which is common to both traditions.

Both texts, he will claim, evince a shared cultural anxiety concerning technology as a potential threat to social stability. Against the background of this common concern, different emphases speak of the contrastive cultural outlooks at play in the periods in which the respective traditions took shape. Additionally, in the roles assigned to the respective royal women, the two narratives share a gendered pattern of causality through which they assert the importance of patriarchal control over technology and its practitioners for the preservation of social order. In the final part of his talk, Mr Parkhouse will consider how this gendered structure fits in with the broader gender dynamics of Graeco-Roman and Norse myth respectively, as well as suggesting an analogous connection between metallurgy and patriarchal authority from anthropological fieldwork in sub-Saharan Africa.

Full Bio

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