For screenings and presentation, contact:

Principal Investigator:
Prof. Dirk Obbink

Dr. James H Brusuelas

Research Associate:
Dr. Chiara Meccariello



sketchFor quite some time now scholars of the Greco-Roman world have been part of a larger momentum to integrate our discipline into the digital sphere through websites and applications based on visual and textual data. The goal has been to produce tools that professional scholars and students can use, and the field of papyrology has been quite successful in this respect. Be that as it may, public engagement, outreach, and education initiatives aimed at communities beyond the academic sphere have only recently been addressed in the development of digital Classics applications. The use of animation, in particular, to visually render famous scenes from mythology and to bring to life paintings on ancient vases for use in the classroom has been implemented with success by the Panoply project. Animating well-known stories with defined plot lines indeed has a didactic effect, but it also raises a larger question about the potential relationship between animation and the study of the ancient world in general. Can the artistry of animation be integrated with ancient manuscript studies to visualize and help resurrect lost ancient performative voices preserved only in fragmented papyri?

thumbnail Although not in great abundance, we do find manuscripts like P.Oxy. 5189, a fragment from a sixth century C.E. Greek ‘Mime’, a popular form of live-entertainment in antiquity. In the papyrus we find not a straightforward script, but a narration and description of the staged action, with quotations of the words to be uttered as well as indications of entrances and exits. What we generally see is a moment of slapstick physical comedy and joking – beating and slapping, perhaps for bad cooking, and bodily elements familiar from earlier comedy and sexual innuendo – amongst, as of yet, an undetermined number of players. The written evidence for this kind of popular entertainment did not make it into the familiar channels of the mediaeval transmission of Greek and Latin literature. Our reconstruction of it is contingent upon the randomness and fragmentariness of papyrus findings. And the papyri reveal a submerged world of popular entertainment, here and there illuminated by the testimony of ancient sources, which are often contemptuous and critical in tone due to its use of characters and scenes drawn from everyday life, no matter how banal, vulgar, or especially sexual. The Mime was associated with ‘low’ culture. However, it is not simply the Mime’s culturally ‘low’ and submerged status that presents a problem for modern reconstruction, in that it was not a part of the mediaeval transmission. The bigger issue is that the Mime was an unstable literary/perfomative construct, i.e. it was not one thing but many. P.Oxy. 5189, for example, is distinct from the prose Mimes of Sophron in Doric dialect, the iambic meters of Herodas in old Ionic, and the plays of Decimus Laberius. The text of 5189 was also very much to be acted and seen rather than read.

In Broken Scenes: Resurrecting Ancient Fragmented Voices Through Animation we haven taken P. Oxy 5189 as a test case upon which to ask a few questions. Can the practice-based art of animation, as a modern form of art associated mostly with popular rather than serious entertainment, help scholars not only reconstruct ancient popular performances, as a way of re-inventing the text for further study or teaching, but also produce an artistic creation that invokes a larger human experience? Can scholars work with the animation industry to produce an animated short film that has synchronic and diachronic cultural impact in the context of human joking and staged play? Moreover, can we produce a Classics based work of modern art that also engages the world of contemporary animation and film? To begin to answer these questions, we have collaborated with Ron Diamond (Executive Producer), Tara Beyhm (Producer), and Greg Holfeld (Animator/Director) of Acme Filmworks, a BAFTA and Academy Award winning animation studio in Los Angeles, California.


In reconstructing a script, engaging the methodologies of adaptation vs. documentary (balancing historical reality with ‘poetic license’), and striving to create a short film that can speak to, well, anyone, we now present Trashy Humour: A Comedy in Pieces.

All content is copyright of Imaging Papyri and Acme Filmworks.