Ancient Greek and Roman Gods were not really a feature of my childhood in 1980s Liverpool, and so I reached young adulthood assuming that knowledge of them was the preserve of classically-educated rich people and those who are excellent at pub quizzes.
My seven-year-old daughter is neither of these things, one assumes; though having said that, she might actually be handy in a music round. Yet she is as fascinated by Zeus as she is by K-pop. A beeline was therefore made for the World Museum’s new exhibition showcasing more than 100 sculptures and ancient objects never previously displayed together, with this reviewer only mildly trepidatious about the junior critic’s reaction given her frankly encyclopaedic knowledge of the field.
I needn’t have worried. Despite the lack of any real hands-on or interactive element, which felt like a missed trick and might be more of a challenge with less enthusiastic young visitors, Return of the Gods was deemed a hit by the whole family. With a central theme that these Gods were created and revered by real people looking for meaning and security in their lives, the exhibition pulls off the neat trick of being educational but not overly didactic.
Huge, ancient statues of star players including Zeus, Hera and Athena are given the requisite space and lighting to look suitably imposing, and signage summarising the major myths in which they feature is written in digestible English. There is a neat section depicting life in a Roman villa, including busts of some of the emperors, which gives mortal context to the Gods of that empire. A similar window into ancient Greek life would have been welcome, but the exhibition draws heavily on the collection of 18th century Merseyside local Henry Blundell, who gathered his haul primarily in Italy.
While the Gods are given both Greek and Roman names throughout, there is an inevitable Roman slant. Certain big hitters, including Poseidon, don’t get much of a look-in, much to the chagrin of the seven-year-old. But, on the plus side, there were a couple that were unknown, even to her. Kybele, who was called the Great Mother and protector of Rome, is a new one for her mental Filofax and, ultimately, her pub quiz arsenal. She deemed Return of the Gods “excellent”, and who am I to argue, though an activity sheet or two might be an idea for less invested kids.
All images: Return of the Gods, copyright Pete Carr Photography
Return of the Gods is at the World Museum, Liverpool until February 24, 2024. For more information, click here.