A study of the receptions of classical heroism in wartime and in the cultural legacies of war in communities of Yorkshire, Britain and regional Europe.

Academic Lead –  Elizabeth Pender ( Leeds)

The Ancient Greeks created the concept of the hero.  From the very beginning of the literary record – in Homer’s Iliad and Greek Tragedy – the hero is both paradigm and paradox. Born of the battlefield, the Greek hero stands between the beauty of the gods and the vulnerability of mortals in combat. Sacrificed to war and the demands of personal glory, he is bound to yet isolated from the community he seeks to defend. In his fragile balance of daimonic aggression and pity for his victims, the hero is elevated but conflicted. The paradoxes of heroic nature are further pressed in ancient thought by the courage of women. Ancient heroines emerge from sites of struggle removed from the fields of war yet fully implicated in them – in crises where family and political loyalties clash and where violent death is the only means of resolution. These ancient mythological paradigms of heroism are a persistent feature in European cultural attempts to process the trauma of World War I and its aftermath.Angel statue

This Network explores reflections on male and female heroism and their expression in a range of media of the war and post-war period: political rhetoric, poetry, art, sculpture and public memorials. In tracing the various responses to classical influence, three particular angles will be kept in view:
• Since the classical tradition was a shared European inheritance, how did different communities create their distinctive regional responses? How were these remnants of a cross-cultural heritage re-woven in the making of peace?
• Since the classical tradition before WWI was largely the preserve of an elite, through exclusive education and in aristocratic identity-formation, how and why were classical voices and images appropriated by more mainstream culture in the war and post-war years, continuing into the contemporary period?
• How was the concept of heroism mobilised during and in the aftermath of conflict both to validate military strength and support resistance to war? How did military defeat (Germany), occupation by enemy forces (France), victory (England) and national liberation (Ireland) affect the discourses of heroism and anti-heroism?

The Network brings together a new grouping of academics, each with distinctive expertise in their particular field but sharing a strong central core of interests in regional and global politics, gender, and class. The PhD projects have been shaped to stimulate individual creativity within a flexible but firm structure and with a clear purpose: to reflect on the war effort and peace movement across Yorkshire, the UK and the regions of Europe using the polarities of male/female heroism; individual/community values; and the dynamics of elite/mainstream culture. In all three projects encounters with classical tradition will serve as a departure point for further investigations. The Network as a whole will analyse redefinitions and new understandings of heroism in the modernist context and in the manifold legacies of WWI to the present.

This multidisciplinary Network arises from “Legacies of War 2014-18”, a major cross-Faculty project at Leeds to analyse, throughout the centenaries, the impacts of the First World War. The Network will create opportunities to extend the already considerable scope of LoW by forging new, exciting and sustainable White Rose collaborations across various fields: Classics, German and French Literature & Culture, History, Irish Poetry, English Literature & Creative Writing, and the History of Art.

The complementarity of the collaborators is exceptionally strong. In addition to their mutually supportive research interests, the partners also share a commitment to recognising human courage and endurance, especially in marginalised communities, in an intense period of political crisis and dislocation. Given the world-wide centenary commemorations planned for 2014, the theme of heroism in WWI and its aftermath could not be more timely. The added value is great, since the twelve experts of the Network bring not only an exceptionally rich and diverse knowledge-base but also an extensive set of partners in academia and external stakeholder groups. The strategic relevance is evident: the international importance of the centenary offers a genuinely unique opportunity for significant new research, using the perspectives allowed by the passing of 100 years to help reflect on 21st century conflicts and the importance of the European Union in efforts to sustain peace, as recognised by the 2012 award of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Network Projects

Classical influences on European discourses of heroism in the war effort and peace movement 1914-24. How the experience of war and its aftermath in the European context reflected and modified the concept of heroism and how gendered understandings differed between distinctive national experiences of victory, enemy occupation and defeat.

Principal Supervisor – Joint Supervision – Alison Fell / Ingrid Sharp (student support) Leeds

Revival and Reconstruction: classical influences in European public commemorative sculpture from the First World War onwards. How the aesthetic vocabularies of remembrance in public memorial sculpture, a complex site for the depiction of heroism, adapted classical imagery and iconography to create permanent and fitting monuments for specific communities

Principal Supervisor – Sarah Turner (York)

Stylistic and creative critical approaches to heroism and anti-heroism in early 20th century poetry exploring the deployment of classical archetypes in reflections on the trauma of World War I, viewed against the vexed politics of Irish, British and European literary history.

Principal Supervisor – Joint Supervision – Adam Piette / Joanna Gavins (student support ) (Sheffield)