Storytelling at The British Museum

Posted on Posted in Myths, Storytelling

Telling ancient Egyptian and Greek myths

Storytellig at the British Museum - Wendy Shearer
Photography by Benedict Johnson

I recently had the pleasure of storytelling at The British Museum during an exciting evening of events for their members.  The evening was part of a celebration following the launch of the exhibition ‘Sunken Cities, Egypt’s Lost Worlds‘.  Two lost ancient Egyptian cities ‘Thonis-Heracleion’ and ‘Canopus’ had been submerged under the sea for over a thousand years.  Their remarkable discovery at the mouth of the Nile River has brought to life a deeper understanding and connection between the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece.

Stories of love, envy and betrayal

My task was to bring to life some of the legends and myths from these ancient civilisations.  These tories  have captivated me since childhood, but my storytelling at the British Museum was for grown-ups. So I prepared two stories which would engage experts and those new to the tales, with emphasis on the themes of ‘love, envy and betrayl’.

Storytelling at the British Museum - Wendy Shearer
Photography by Benedict Johnson

I told the story of the Death of Osiris, god of the underworld and focused on the relationship between him and his brother Seth the God of desert and chaos.  As with any intricate myah, it’s a good idea to give your audience a bit of background to set the scene. I asked everyone to suspend their disbelief for a moment and go right back to the beginning of time when the ancient Egyptian God Ra pronounced a curse to prevent the birth of Osiris and his siblings. It’s quite a horrendous curse to his grand-daughter Nut and I think I managed to get that across to everyone watching:

“As light turns to darkness and darkness to turns to light, Nut you will NEVER ever bear any children on any day in any year”

In my story, Seth lives in his brother’s shadow, watching Osiris have everything and be everything he ever wanted – a beautiful, devoted wife, a kingdom and popularity.  I tried to paint a picture of why brotherly betrayl happened.  There were a few knowing nods when I broke out of the story to ask the audience “have you ever wanted someone you shouldn’t have or couldn’t have?”  There were even a few uncomfortable moments when I asked them if they’d “ever had a wicked thought?”

Storytelling for grown-ups

I’ve done lots of storytelling with children and they often want to hear the guts and gore of a story, enjoying what could happen to someone else.  When storytelling for grown-ups, I’ve noticed that they love capturing that forbidden moment in the story they can relate to – the moment no-one else really knows about themselves.

At the end of the evening, after three wonderful storytelling sessions, people came and chatted with me about their own work which drew on some of the themes in my stories and the exhibition – the transformation and power of the sea and representation of cities.  We discussed their most loved aspects of classical literature and a few questions on the symbolism created from the ancient gods of the sea and the underworld.  Joe Hambrook told me about some of the amazing objects he’d acquired from archaeological digs many decades ago.  He recommended I read the story of Homer’s daughter ‘Nausicaa’.

Storytelling at the British Museum - Wendy Shearer
Photography by Benedict Johnson

The British Museum team that hired me, also enjoyed my performances and gave some really lovely feedback:

Your performance was captivating and dynamic. It was a pleasure to see you breathing life into the legends of Osiris and Odysseus, which fitted so well with our theme for the evening – British Museum

If you haven’t gone to see the Sunken Cities exhibition as yet, try and get along to it.  It’s such a wonderful exhibition.  If you’d like to ask me about storytelling at your event, museum, visitor attraction or London school just send me a message and let me know the details. I’ll get back to you with my rates and availability.