Late at night on the Lakefill, Northwestern students will experience a different kind of Greek life as they conduct a marathon reading of “The Iliad” from May 23 to 24.
Participants will read Homer’s famous epic about the end of the Trojan War beginning at 10 p.m. on May 23 and continuing until dawn the next day.
The Department of Classics, which is hosting the event, received funding in the fall from the Alumnae of Northwestern University, a volunteer organization, to bring to NU a production of “Socrates Now,” an interpretation of Plato’s “Apology of Socrates,” featuring Emmy-winning actor Yannis Simonides.
Francesca Tataranni, a professor of classics, said the idea for “The Iliad” reading was inspired by a group called The Readers of Homer, which performs marathon readings of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” all over the world.
Weinberg senior Maria Kovalchuk, co-president of the NU chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, a classics honor society, said those organizing the event wanted to mimic the epic poem’s original presentation.
“Greek epic poetry was sung by a bard often over the course of a few nights, and people would come to these recitals to be entertained,” Kovalchuk said. “Here at Northwestern, we’re trying to recreate this ancient Greek experience. I think it’s going to be a humanizing and educational event for Northwestern.”
Weinberg senior Brian Earl, also a co-president of Eta Sigma Phi, said he and other members worked on editing “The Iliad” down to fit in the allotted time.
“The whole thing takes about 24 hours to read if you do it uncut, so we’re going to do about a third of it,” Earl said.
Earl said he hasn’t studied the Iliad, but is familiar with the story as a criticism of war.
“It’s just about actually a very short period in the Trojan War — it takes place over a couple of weeks in the whole ten-year war,” he said. “’The Iliad’ has been called the greatest peace story of all time because it shows war how it really is — very bloody, grim, somber, heart-wrenching, terrible.”
Tataranni said as of now, she has received more than 60 requests to read passages from the text. Readings will be 50 to 100 lines long, and some readers will be responsible for multiple readings, Earl said. Students can sign up to read by sending an email expressing interest to Tataranni by April 30.
“We have people from the School of Communication, people from Weinberg, people from Medill,” Tataranni said. “The 60 people who contacted me are really from everywhere on campus.”
The group also organized an opening event which will be held in Harris Hall from 6-7:30 p.m. and will be dedicated to translations of “The Iliad,” Tataranni said. During this event, faculty members and students will read parts of the text in multiple languages, including Italian, German and Russian.
However, Tataranni said she is still deciding whether readers can use any language in the main Lakefill reading, because they will not be able to project translations to help people follow along.
Earl said he thought a variety of languages would enhance the experience.
“Because the Iliad is such a universal poem, it’s been translated I think into just about every language,” he said. “It allows people to read in the language that is most comfortable to them or that they feel most at home speaking. We want this experience to be both deeply personal and bringing the community together … and our community is not one language-speaking.”
Katie Hartsock, a fifth-year graduate student in comparative literary studies and assistant director of the reading, said community members don’t have to have knowledge of “The Iliad” to participate.
“Whatever experience you have with ‘The Iliad,’ please come, whether you’ve just heard of it and never read it or if you’ve spent a lot of time reading it,” she said. “Bring blankets and hang out for the night and listen to this poem unfold.”
Hartsock said the outdoor, nighttime locale would add atmosphere to the reading. She added that she hopes the reading will conclude just as the dawn breaks.
“Just as Achilles is wandering the beach at dawn, we’ll be reading those lines,” she said. “I think it’s going to be so awesome when Achilles is walking up and down the beach, and the sun is rising over Lake Michigan.”