Journey on pause?

In advance of the upcoming BSR at the British Academy lecture—formatted as four short lectures exploring Origins and endings in Italian history—speaker Elena Isayev (Exeter) shares a preview of her topic on journeys.


… Now my mind trembling in anticipation longs to roam,

now happy in their zeal my feet grow strong.

O sweet band of comrades, fare you well,

whom having set out all at once, far from home,

diverse routes bear back in varied ways…                                Catullus, Poem 46

So Catullus captures the anticipation and thrill of setting out on a journey – yet tinged with longing for companions, the return home, and that which is left behind or even lost. It signals the unknowing of what will come to pass and expectations of time-space traversed and with it transformations, not least within oneself. Whether it is with zeal or trepidation that journeys are begun, their endings are unknown – this at least is held in common.

elena 22

Fresco from the villa ‘Grotte di Catullo’, Sirmione (BS), Italy. Showing merchant galley approaching a coast under sail and oars. (End of 1st century B.C. – beginning of 1st century A.D).
Image: Soprintendenza alle antichità della Lombardia

elena 2

Meshworks after Catullus, by Catrin Webster, 2016, Water Colour on Paper. After anonymous painter of the blue boat scene fresco from the villa ‘Grotte di Catullo’ Sirmione (pictured above).
Image: Elena Isayev/Catrin Webster.

Each age tells of itself through journey stories to understand the then and now:

the 3000 year old Homeric nostos of Odysseus – a hero’s long return from Troy to Ithaca, his home, which made him know it again,

the tracing of emerging worlds, as Jason and the Argonauts do in their (space) ship Argo, revealing the North African jewel of  Alexandria as the new hub of the Hellenistic world,

the exile routes of bishops trailed for belief that attract followers in their quest for the divine,

the forged pathways of explorers towards ‘new’ worlds that, as Americas, in the end make ‘old’ worlds new,

the scientific journey such as Linnaeus’ into Lapland, crafts neighbouring land as magical and remote, while tracking knowledge dependent on encounters made there,

or the journey against one’s will, an escape into the unknown that extracts strength, talent – denies knowledge – puts life on pause … on pause … on pause…

Calais at Court in LIlle Defiant 23 Feb 16

Challenging Eviction from Calais Jungle Camp. Lille Court 24/02/2016.
Image: Elena Isayev

Is that the journey story of today – or is it paused – until we rediscover the power of journeys again.

… you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey….                                           Warsan Shire, Home


Map of Texúpa (1579). Modern Santiago, Oaxaca, Mexico. Native mobile routeways with footsteps overlie the Spanish Conquest Grid.
Image: La Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid (9-25-4/4663-xvii)

The event Origins and endings in Italian history will take place on MONDAY 19 NOVEMBER 2018, 18.00–19.30. British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH. To reserve a place, please RSVP to This event is part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities 2018: ‘Origins & Endings’.

Click here for more information and how to RSVP: