Epic stories are like wild beasts – beautiful and powerful. But if they are mishandled, they can really bite, so says travel writer Nick Jubber, who comes to Bridport on Monday 4 November.
‘Across Europe, stories are being retold and retooled, ancient stories that speak to us about some of the trickiest issues we face in our world today,’ he says.
Travelling between Turkey and Iceland, in the slipstream of six of our most iconic epic stories, writer Nick Jubber met Basque activists demonstrating at the site of an eight century battle, Serbian folk-singers who’d recited epic songs in the trenches of the Bosnian War, German playwrights reimagining Hitler’s favourite epic as a paean for tolerance and Syrian refugees responding to the themes of the Odyssey.
‘Epic stories can help us to contextualise our most extreme experiences, and they are particularly strong on themes like grief and the aftermath of war. But they are also vulnerable to political exploitation.
‘In the course of my journey, I met with storytellers and artists as well as political activists, war veterans and refugees. In Greece, I attended an open mic reading of the Odyssey led by a renowned lyre-player.
‘Members of the public took turns to read passages from Homer’s epic, and afterwards discussed what it meant for them. “We see this as our story,” one of them told me, “All our troubles in Greece today, all the things we are suffering.” “It is not from that time only”, another insisted, “but every time… It gives you hope.”.’
In the Pyrenees, Jubber met Basque demonstrators who gathered on the hilltop where their ancestors slew the epic hero Roland, the greatest of Charlemagne’s mighty paladins, the first and only war the Basque people have ever won.
‘At a time when history is being marshalled by politicians – from the Vox Party in Spain using the narrative of the Reconquista to the Alternativ für Deutschland in Germany citing the myth of the Nibelungen, from the exploitation of Anglo-Saxon identity by Nigel Farage and his followers to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s exploitation of nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire – it is all the more important that we understand the truth behind these myths,’ Jubber says.
‘It also showed me a version of Europe that is very different from the one peddled by so many populist leaders: where stories overlap and intersect, eluding simplistic definitions, reminding us how widely they have travelled, and illustrating the tangled roots on which our identities are built.
‘In dramatising the importance of alliances, along with the interconnectedness of European storytelling, these stories remind us of our deeply-rooted connections with our European neighbours – a lesson we need to heed, now more than ever.’
Award-winning travel writer Nick Jubber will be talking about Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Story of Europe at The Bull Ballroom on Monday 4 November at 11.30am. Tickets are £10 and can be obtained from Bridport Tourist Information Centre on 01308 424901 or from bridlit.com