A classical experience at the Pythian Games

From Roman legionaries to dramatic readings

Rebecca Schneidereit - March 20, 2012

Assistant professor Jack Mitchell takes on the role of a Roman legionary. (Bruce Bottomley photo)

If your Friday evening featured apocalyptic ramblings, verbose philosophers and an MC-ing Roman legionary, chances are you were at the Pythian Games.

Not the original Pythian Games – those were an Ancient Greek festival celebrating athleticism and artistic prowess, and they were millennia ago, so you’re a little late to get in on that action. Dalhousie’s Department of Classics, however, has resurrected the Pythian Games as an annual showcase where students of all majors can show off their Greek grammar, recite a favourite poem or otherwise indulge their dramatic side. And on March 16, indulge they did, togas a-flapping and tongues planted in cheek.

The Games were hosted by a Roman legionary who, rumour has it, strongly resembled assistant professor Jack Mitchell. “I’m only a humble legionary,” he introduced himself. “I’ve come here to see whether Apollo still breathes!”

The ancient soldier’s troubled soul was set at ease by the evening’s 17 performers, whose offerings ranged from skits to original translations to dramatic readings.

Standouts including Mr. James Campbell-Prager’s Gilbert and Sullivan send-up “I’ve Got a Little List,” a sung inventory of characters “whose loss would be a distinct gain to society at large” (textbook publishers, “idiot guest lecturers,” Helvetica hipsters, and people who eat chips in the library were all named and shamed); Cat Migliore and Sarah Black’s comedy sketch “An Ancient Squabble”, in which a Greek and Roman soldier bickered in oddly Cockney accents; Emily Varto’s Ever-Victorious Second-Year Greek Class performing their original work “The Dicaeopolidea” (subtitle, “a journey in Greeklish”); and Dominic Lacasse’s concluding Ancient Greek performance from The Book of Revelation (the audience, suitably chastened by Mr. Lacasse’s warning of dire days to come, quietly crept out to hide behind the reception’s chip bowls).

Cultural foundations


“I think [the Pythian Games are] a good chance to show what you’ve worked on… it’s a nice arena to do that,” says Zoe Vatter, secretary of the Classics Society and originator of the role of the woebegone farmer Dicaeopolis in “The Dicaeopolida.” Ms. Vatter has a passion for the Classics that goes way back.

“I have always been obsessed with the Greek gods ever since I was a child,” she says. “Classics kind of ties everything together… it’s a very versatile degree because the foundations of the world, I guess, are in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece.”

Ms. Vatter was also kind enough to explain the mysterious “Dicaeopolida.” “[Dicaeopolis] was a character in our Ancient Greek textbook. Anybody who’s taken Ancient Greek would get the irony.”

The inside jokes and community spirit that characterized the Pythian Games is also one of the attractions of Dalhousie’s classics department generally. “I know all the professors and they all know me,” says Ms. Vatter. “Everybody who is very involved in the department was at the Pythian Games.” Best of all, this year’s games raised the bar: “Last year was a little crowded. It was nice to have a bigger space… there was a ton more people this year.”

While the contest winners haven’t been announced yet, prizes up to $250 await some lucky Sappho or Orpheus. And if you missed it this time around, keep an eye open (and a lyre tuned) for next year’s third annual Pythian Games.


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