Visual Mythology Ancient and Modern: The Case of Narcissus

Conversations on Philosophy & Ideas

Date: Friday, April 1, 2022
Time: 1 pm EDT

A participatory discussion with Harvard Classics graduate students Sarah Eisen and Nate Herter, moderated by Professor Caroline Stark of Howard University.

What does mythology express about our innermost nature? When 20th century artists of the Surrealist movement approached antiquity, they did so with this question in mind. While simultaneously rejecting the influence of prior notions of classical antiquity over contemporary European culture, artists and literary figures such as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Andre Masson and others turned to classical mythology and, in many cases, the ancient artistic traditions in which these myths were represented, to create startling new and multi-layered visions of myth that highlighted the deep psychological truths they found within.

This event will examine the representation of classical myths in both ancient and modern contexts, with a focus on the myth of Narcissus in both Roman wall painting and the surrealist art of Salvador Dalí. Through a participatory discussion with Harvard Classics graduate students Sarah Eisen and Nate Herter, moderated by Professor Caroline Stark of Howard University, students will learn the basics of “reading” a mythological image, will consider the function of mythological painting in Roman culture, and will discuss the influence of both classical art and later renditions of the Narcissus myth on Dalí’s own representation. Students will then have the opportunity to put their new skills and perspectives to the test in analyzing other representations of the Narcissus myth in facilitated break-out room discussions.

The event is part of the CHS series on Philosophy and Ideas. It is organized by the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University, in partnership with Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Greece/High School Summer Program, the International School of Boston, and the Lycée Jean Macé in Vitry-sur-Seine.


Sarah Eisen is a PhD candidate in Classical Archaeology at Harvard University. Sarah has excavated in Greece, Turkey, and England, and her research interests center around Greek archaeology, ancient comparative religion, ceramic workshops and iconography, and the construction of gender identity in the ancient world. Her dissertation topic focuses on ancient Greek animal sacrifice from a synaesthetic approach. She has a MA in Art History from Columbia University and a BA in Archaeology and Classical Studies from Dickinson College.

Nathaniel Herter is a Ph.D candidate at Harvard University. His research focuses on anthropological and theoretical approaches to classical literature as well and 20th century classical reception. His dissertation research focuses on the reception of classical mythology and ancient patterns of ritual thought by the inter-war French avant-garde, and especially by George Bataille and the dissident surrealists. He has an MA in Comparative Literature and a BA in Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies from the University of Connecticut.


Caroline Stark is an Associate Professor of Classics at Howard University. She received her Ph.D. in Classics and Renaissance Studies from Yale University. Her research interests include ancient cosmology, anthropology, ethnography, and classical receptions. She is the creator of the Io Project, an online resource for the history and reception of classical antiquity in Africa and the African diaspora, and was one of the founding members of Eos: Africana Receptions of Greece and Rome. She was a research fellow at Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies and a Humanities Writ Large faculty fellow at Duke University.