We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

'Lethe in Moyola': The Classical Underworld as a Memoryscape

4th September 2019, 17:30 to 18:30, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, Dr Madeleine Scherer

Travel down to the Greek underworld in our third Late Summer Lecture. Madeleine Scherer will guide you through the significance of this place in classical tradition and later literary reimaginations. Free and open to all, from students and schools to members of the public.

About this Public Lecture

This talk will detail the reception history of the Graeco-Roman underworld as a conceptual memoryscape, both in antiquity and in its reception in the twentieth century.

Journeys to the underworld to see the dead have been popular all throughout the history of literary writing. Famous descent narratives include such varying texts as Dante's Inferno, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, James Joyce's Ulysses, Wole Soyinka's Season of Anomy, and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea.

In his famous The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre uses the example of the underworld to explain the creation of what he terms ‘representational spaces’, spaces ‘embodying complex symbolisms, sometimes coded, sometimes not, linked to the clandestine or underground side of social life’, ‘the dominated – and hence passively experienced – space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate’. He begins with the description of the mundus, a pit, dust hole or public rubbish dump in the middle of ancient Roman cities which are imaginatively turned into underworld-like spaces, whereby the Romans were able to incorporate what Lefebvre terms ‘the abyss’ into their everyday lives in a ‘graspable manner’.

Inspired by readings like Lefebvre’s, I propose that spatial embodiments of the underworld hold an inherently mnemonic significance. Since antiquity, connotations of Hades have been interwoven with real-world spaces, establishing or reinforcing the mnemonic significance of these spaces and thereby preserving links to a past that ought not to be forgotten. Conceived, perhaps, as one of the earliest memoryscapes, the underworld provides a stimulating and self-reflexive framework for an analysis of the connection between space and memory, and therein between time and place.

About Dr Madeleine Scherer

Madeleine Scherer is a recent Ph.D. graduate from Warwick University’s English and Comparative Literary Studies Department and an Early Career Fellow with Warwick’s Institute for Advanced Study. She works primarily on classical reception, comparative literature, and memory studies, with a specific focus on the reception history of the Graeco-Roman underworld in twentieth-century postcolonial literature. More broadly, she is interested in theories of reception that veer into the realm of intertextual memory. Early next year, together with co-editor Prof. Rachel Falconer, she will publish an edited collection on katabasis and memory with Routledge.


Is the lecture suitable for me?

Late Summer Lectures is designed to be open to a wide audience, from university or sixth-form students to members of the public. It aims to convey the latest postgraduate and early career research, so lectures will be rooted in academic ideas and principles; however, lecturers should present these in a clear way. There will be an opportunity to ask questions afterwards or to chat further over refreshments. You can get a sense of what to expect by listening to some of our previous lectures (although most live lectures are accompanied by visuals which can help to convey ideas):

Is the venue and lecture accessible?

The Ritson Hall in Alington House is located at the end of a corridor, wide enough for wheelchair access. A lift is available at the end. The organisers or Alington House reception staff will be available to assist. Unfortunately we are not able to provide sign language interpreters for each lecture. If there are any ways in which we could help you to attend the event please contact the organisers at

What are my transport/parking options for getting to and from the event?

Please visit the Alington House website for full details.

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

If the event reaches its limit, priority will be given to those who have reserved a ticket in advance via Eventbrite. We advise that you bring a copy on your phone just in case.

Contact for more information about this event.

Related Links


Research in English At Durham (READ) blog showcasing the the literary research emerging from the Department of English Studies


We host a large number of conferences, lectures and seminars each year, many of them open to the public. Find out more on our Events page.


Many of our public lectures, seminars and conferences are recorded, and can be listened to as podcasts.

Follow English Studies on Social Media

Research English At Durham Facebook Twitter Mixcloud

Next Event