A man dressed in black stood on the south side of The Oval. A beat played on the speaker stationed beside him as he held a microphone up to the golden mask covering his face. With a stage presence that seemed all too natural, Brandon Bourgeois passionately rapped the first 50 lines of the Iliad as a crowd formed around him.
“Second in command to Aries, war-lord God,” he spat. “Come to comp the lovely gift of the rap gods.”
Bourgeois, a graduate student in classics, is creating what he said is the world’s first hip-hop audio book, “The Trilliad,” a musical translation of Homer’s The Iliad, to streamline Greek poetry into today’s culture.
“Homer was popular culture back then, [and] now it’s the stuff you academically pursue, but it shouldn’t be that way,” he said.
The project began his second year into his graduate studies during a Greek survey course. Tom Hawkins, an associate professor of classics and director of graduate studies in the Department of Classics, first exposed Bourgeois to the many connections between hip-hop and early Greek poetry.
“Both Homer and hip-hop are verbal art forms,” Hawkins said in an email. “They can exist independent of texts and writing and even the idea of having a fixed and finished version of a story.“
Other parallels between the two include meter, rhythm and social register, Hawkins said.
“I was really fascinated by it,” Bourgeois said. “I had been thinking about it and tinkering around with it for quite some years.”
When Hamilton –– the award-winning, hip-hop musical retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s life –– was released, Bourgeois said he noticed there was an audience for that kind of show.
He began translating fragments of Greek lyric. Once he conquered Greek poet Archilochus and an extensive erotic epigram –– a type of Greek literature in the form of a short, satirical poem –– he moved on to the next big thing.
“I translated the first 50 lines of the Iliad,” Bourgeois said. “It was pretty good, so I put it to some music I composed on GarageBand.”
Bourgeois’ friends and professors quickly realized the potential of the project, he said. He then began to plan out the entirety of the Iliad.
“That’s what this project is now,” he said. “The world’s first hip-hop audio book, The Trilliad.”
Tyrrell Davidson, a member of the Committee of Graduate Students, heard about the project and approached Bourgeois.
“We do series of pop-up performances to showcase the creative work of students and further enrich campus by offering brief, public and free encounters with its students’ original art,” Davidson, a graduate student in theater, said.
It was the perfect opportunity to advertise Bourgeois’ audiobook to the public, while giving students something to enjoy, she said.
With the first two tracks recorded and out, Bourgeois said he is excited to complete the rest of the project.
“Once this is done I’m going to sketch out the entire Odyssey,” he said. “I want it to be a completely crazy revamping.”
Bourgeois said he hopes to stage the show and find a diverse cast interested in bringing Homer to the masses.
“This is one of the great virtues of any project like Brandon’s,” Hawkins said. “It revivifies Homer for us and reminds us that these stories were never intended to be experienced as books that we read silently.”
For a look at Bourgeois’ work check out: http://fb.me/hypeforhomer.