Fiona Macintosh
Fiona Macintosh.

Fiona Macintosh is Professor of Classical Reception and Fellow of St Hilda's College, University of Oxford. She joined the APGRD as Senior Research Fellow in 2000 after holding a lectureship in the Department of English, Goldsmiths' College, University of London. She was Reader in Greek and Roman Drama (2008-2014) and has been the Director of the APGRD since January 2010. Her publications include Dying Acts: Death in Ancient Greek and Modern Irish Tragic Drama (Cork, 1994; New York, 1995), Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre, 1660-1914 (Oxford University Press, 2005, co-authored with Edith Hall), Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus (Cambridge University Press, 2009). She is editor of The Ancient Dancer in the Modern World: Responses to Greek and Roman Dance (Oxford University Press, 2011), and co-editor of Choruses, Ancient and Modern (Oxford University Press, 2013).


Amy Wygant, in her pioneering study, Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France: Stages and Histories 1553-1797 (2007), draws attention to two markedly different French dictionary definitions of Medea at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries: Chompré’s Dictionnaire abrégé de la fable (1766), where Médée is ‘grande magicienne’ tout court; and Noël’s Dictionnaire de la fable (1810), where there is no mention of the infanticide, merely a statement that the Corinthians paid off Euripides to make Medea responsible. And according to Noël’s 1810 entry, Medea’s magical powers serve to assist mankind rather than simply effect revenge.

Clearly something happened to the French popular perception of Medea between 1766 and 1810. For Wygant, it is Cherubini’s opera Médée of 1797 that accounts for the transformation; and Wygant is no doubt correct that Cherubini’s reintroduction of the ancient detail regarding the Corinthian crowd’s fury is a decisive factor in the changing reception of Medea’s story. But it is also important to emphasise that the foundations for that change had already taken place in Noverre’s ballet d’action, Médée et Jason (1762) and especially in its expanded version (from 1776), which was performed across Europe. 

This talk will examine Noverre’s ballet d’action in order to probe the verity of the choreographer’s claims in his treatise Lettres sur la danse (1760) that ‘there are undoubtedly, a great many things that pantomime can only indicate, but in regard to the passions there is a degree of expression to which words cannot attain or, rather, there are passions for which no words exist. Then dancing allied with action triumphs.’