About the project

The reception of classical mythology, art and historical figures in political cartoons (1918-2018)

Project leader: Dr Alexandre G. Mitchell.

There is much debate, even outside of the “classics world”, on who reads classics, whether it is only of interest to the elites of this world, or whether it is useful to non-specialists. There is however a huge and uncharted territory which has been overlooked by most classicists: the world of editorial cartoons. They are very accessible, challenging and mass-produced, in numerous languages and throughout the world.

Indeed, what should we make of the many thousands of editorial cartoons in popular and prominent newspapers, propaganda leaflets, from the 19th century to this day, which make classical references, which use (and abuse) Greek and Roman visual myths, events or statesmen, to mock current affairs? Printed newspapers and online papers have grown exponentially in recent years, and their readership has increased not only in numbers but also in popularity, encompassing readers from all social horizons. Newspapers thrive in democracies.

This project, supported by a very large and growing database of political cartoons with classical references, includes mainly publications from most European countries, the USA and Canada, but also some random finds from more “exotic” countries (e.g. Singapore). The many cartoons mocking the ancient world are not considered in this project: only those using the ancient world to comment on current affairs.

There needs to be a move, stronger than ever to study “popular”; art forms, maybe part of what we call media today (theatre, films, documentaries, comics, art, visual and verbal humour, poetics, political rhetoric; new media such as the internet) to tap in the immense reservoir of references to the classical world and understand better both our own categories of thought, and our special relationship with Greek and Roman antiquity.

This project is the latest one to come under the concept invented by Alexandre G. Mitchell, The Archaeology of humour which underlies all his past and current research projects. His interests lie in popular visual culture and the study of humour from antiquity to the present day.

For further information on any of these aspects, visit www.alexmitchellauthor.com