Shirley, Skye (Latin Teacher, Boston, MA)
While taking Latin in high school, I became fascinated by the story of the Trojan War. I loved the interconnected perspectives of soldiers, royalty, deities, and ordinary people. The family trees and catalogues of soldiers seemed endless, and I was thrilled to discover that each individual inspired stories, plays, and art. As I began to master the intricacies of the myths, I prided myself on recognizing the differences between movies like “Troy” or Disney’s “Hercules” and the original story. I watched eagerly to notice what they got wrong or right about the myth.
My beloved Latin teacher Dr. Fiveash soon introduced me to “Helen,” a play by the Greek playwright Euripides. The Trojan War is said to have started when Helen runs away to Troy with a prince named Paris. But in “Helen,” the story is turned on its head; she never goes to Troy. Instead, a cloud that resembles her was placed at Troy while the real Helen lived in Egypt and wondered when her husband could come to pick her up. I realized the story of the war is so complex that even the most fundamental aspects can be reinterpreted.
The beautiful thing about the humanities is that the search for truth need not be a matter of “right” or “wrong” — there is room both for the mastery of facts as well as for creativity and innovation. Through Euripides’ play, I realized that the story of the war really belongs to everyone; if even the ancient Greeks had creative and radically different versions, that frees up modern classicists to similarly transcend the traditional narrative. This experience invited me into the field because I could finally see myself doing something new within the discipline, and I was eager to be part of a long tradition of reinterpreting the story in a way that resonated with my own experiences. In the years that followed, I have written poetry about mythological subjects, and the process of writing about mythology helped me see connections across the disciplines of the humanities. From history to literature and art to music, the myths of ancient Greece continue to be reinvented and Euripides’ imagination has passed on to a new generation of artists, scholars, and thinkers.