Classics Department Carries on Bardic Reading Tradition with Seneca’s Troades


Courtesy of Kirk Ormand

Classics students finish reading the Iliad at 4 a.m. in the ‘Sco in 2003. The annual Bardic Reading will take place this Saturday over Zoom.

For over 30 years, the Classics department has hosted an annual Bardic Reading of an epic, available to all students. This year, participants will collaboratively perform Seneca’s Troades, a Roman tragedy centering several Trojan women as they are taken into captivity and sacrificed in the aftermath of the Trojan War. The play’s poignant theme presents an opportunity to students to process their experiences and heal from the disruptions of the past year.

The Classics department began doing Bardic Readings in the 1980s under the leadership of Jim Helm, Thomas van Norwhich, and Nate Greenberg. Since Greek and Roman epics were originally written to be read aloud, this event originated to give classics students that opportunity.

“It’s interesting when you do those epic texts,” said Associate Professor of Classics and Chair of Classics Chris Trinacty. “You really see how that could have worked. There’s ways in which it ties together in that oral way that makes you pay attention to certain sections.” 

The readings also provide a space for Classics majors and faculty to bond within the small department. 

“It’s a great time, and people will read the texts in different accents and get really into it,” College third-year Emily Hudson said. “I think it’s really important to the overall culture of our department.”

To keep everyone excited, Trinacty has tried to alternate between Greek and Latin texts each year, often experimenting with other mediums of oral performance. The Troades offer a particularly unique perspective on women and gender-based violence in ancient Rome. 

“An entire play dedicated to a group of women and their experience of trauma is very, very special to have in the ancient world, particularly the Greek and Roman world,” Hudson said. “The women of Troy are divided up and given to the Greeks as war prizes essentially. … It’s a very visceral portrayal of those feelings of trauma.”

Although the Classics department did not choose Seneca’s Troades because of the past year’s unrest, the play’s themes of trauma and recovery are especially auspicious within this context. Through an unrestrained approach and thought-provoking monologues, Seneca’s text helps his audiences, both ancient and contemporary, process and heal after difficult situations.

“There’s this sense of great separation and great loss that I think a lot of people can relate to feeling right now,” College third-year Emma Glen said. “Reading about other people processing that pain [can] of course be deeply cathartic.”

The reading will take place this Saturday at 4 p.m. Participants are invited to pick up snacks and sandwiches outside of the King Building at 3:30 p.m. The Zoom gathering will allow students to come and go freely, but participants are strongly encouraged to stay for as long as they can. For a copy of the text, participants should email administrative Assistant Joan Kaatz ([email protected]) in advance.