Love Magic: A research project and performance of an ancient Greek play

Monday, 16 September 2019

Ancient Greek magic rituals brought to life in a theatre performance.

Love Magic performance
Siobahn Caulfield as Simaitha. Photo by Debra Hely.

What would an ancient Greek poem look like if it was performed now and is it relevant to a modern day audience?

These are the questions that were explored in a research project involving a theatre performance of Love Magic.

Love Magic was written around 280-260 BCE by the ancient Greek poet Theocritus. The story features a young woman scorned by her lover. Watch a 5 minute summary video of the performance.

The performance was funded by the Centre for 21st Century Humanities and was led by Professor Marguerite Johnson, a researcher of Classics, magic and gender. Conjoint Professor Michael Ewans translated the play and directed the performance.

Their research process investigated whether Theocritus' Poem 2, the monologue which they titled Love Magic, could be effectively re-created for a modern Australian audience, and to investigate how it might have been performed for audiences in Theocritus' own time.

Prof. Ewans said this was necessary because most scholars believe that this and other poems by Theocritus using dramatic forms were only meant for readers.

“We have concluded that the monologue is highly performable; it is an example of the genre that the ancients called mime– a short, spoken play which was almost certainly performed with imaginary props, as was our production, and probably before a mixed, popular audience rather than a literary elite,” he said.

The performance was held over 4 nights in August 2019 and the audiences were surveyed after each performance. Watch a 13 minute video below of the full performance.

“There was an overwhelmingly favourable audience response to the performance of a new, accurate and actable translation,” Prof. Ewans said. “Several people remarked how the young heroine's predicament (she has been dumped by an upper-class lover) came across as freshly as if it had been written by one of our contemporaries.”

This research will allow Prof. Marguerite Johnson to investigate further the practice of magic in ancient Greece.

“Our successful production also shows how little the human heart has changed in more than two millennia. The past can illuminate the present, and it is good for people in the twenty-first century to realise this,” Prof. Johnson said.

The research has already generated one article: 'Love Magic': a New Performing Translation of Theocritus 2, with an Introduction and a Theatrical Commentary', forthcoming in Practitioners' Voices in Classical Reception Studies. The video recording of the production will also be uploaded to the AusStage Digital Repository.

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