The Dying Achilles

The Durrell School of Corfu opens each annual session with a symposium that examines themes of importance to the Durrells and to our world. The first symposium in 2002 took "Understanding Misunderstanding" as its central theme and it included distinguished leaders in politics, economics, the arts and environmental studies among its participants.

Keynote speakers and Moderators have included: Gayatry Chakravorty Spivak, Joseph Boone, Jan Morris, Lee Durrell from the Durrell World Wildlife Trust, internationally acclaimed ecologist and botanist David Bellamy, Harish Trivedi, Terry Eegleton, and Aaron Jaffe.

Previous participants have included: John Brandon of the Asia Foundation; Elemer Hankiss, dean of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Marwan Bishara from the American Univerisity of Paris; and the environmentalist David Bellamy.

The Venetian Winged Lion



The Garden of the Gods
24-29 May, 2009

The Durrell School of Corfu will host 'The Garden of the Gods', an international seminar at its Library and Study Centre 24-29 May 2009. Dr David Bellamy and Hugh Bennison will act as moderators. We invite submissions on all aspects of botany, horticulture, landscape history and Mediterranean gardens and gardening. We also hope to receive submissions addressing the topics:

  • How did civilization change the landscape and vegetation in order to meet their needs.
  • Origins of wine production
  • What did the Greeks contribute to floral gardening
  • The modern decorative garden
  • Commercial horticulture related to tourism
  • Geographical origin of garden plants i.e. edible, medical, decorative
  • Cooperation with nature
  • Plant cultivation
  • Observance of nature
  • Bird- and insect-watching
  • Reflection on the changing seasons

Gerald Durrell moved with his family to the Greek island of Corfu in 1935, where as a young boy he began to collect and keep the local fauna as pets. The family stayed until 1939. This interval was later the basis of the book three books written about Corfu the last being The Garden of the Gods.

Gerald's childhood mentor in Corfu was the Greek doctor, scientist, poet, and philosopher Theodore Stephanides, and his ideas left a lasting impression on the young naturalist. Together, they examined Corfu fauna, which Durrell housed in everything from test tubes to bathtubs. Another major influence during these formative years, according to Durrell, was the writing of French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre.

We aim in this seminar to study the flora and fauna which so interested the young Durrell and how the garden of Corfu has changed since his childhood.

We aim to draw on expertise in as many areas as possible linking the ancient Greek concept of pleasure gardening; which was originated from the Greek farm gardens, which served the functional purpose of growing fruit. These were originated by Alexander the Great, who conquered parts of Western Asia and brought back with him new varieties of fruits and plants that prompted a renewed interest in horticulture amongst Greek people.

In Greek civilization, gardens were used to beautify temple groves as well as to create recreational spaces. Cimon of Athens is said to have torn down the walls of his garden to transform it into a public space Open peristyle courts were first designed by the Greeks to fuse homes with the outside world. In Ancient Latium, a garden was part of every farm. According to Cato the Elder, every garden should be close to the house and should have flower beds and ornamental trees. Horace wrote that during his time flower gardens became a national indulgence. Augustus constructed the Porticus Liviae, a public garden on Equitine Hill in Rome. Outside Rome, gardens tended to proliferate at centers of wealth.

The works of Homer contain many references to gardens, made during the Homeric Age which preceded the Classical Age. He writes of sacred groves of palace gardens and of flower and vegetable gardens. Sacred groves and flower/fruit gardens were made amongst the fields outside towns like Athens, Mycenae and Tyrens. The palace gardens within their city walls were essentially courtyards but may have contained a few plants grown in pots. The gardens of Classical Greece were of the same three types as in the age of Homer. It late classical times the peristyle form became dominant. This was a paved courtyard, possibly with pot plants, surrounded by a roofed colonnade. It was used for palaces and gymnasia. Today a "gardener" is any person involved in gardening, arguably the oldest occupation.

David Bellamy OBE, originally trained as a botanist at Durham University, where he later held the post of Senior Lecturer in Botany until 1982, and still holds the post of Honorary Professor for Adult and Continuing Education. The word Botany is from the Greek βοτανη, which means "pasture, grass, fodder", perhaps via the idea of a livestock keeper needing to know which plants are safe for livestock to eat. Botany, the study of plants, began with tribal efforts to identify edible, medicinal and poisonous plants, making botany one of the oldest sciences. From this ancient interest in plants, the scope of botany has increased. David Bellamy, is a honorary patron of the Durrell School and a frequent visitor to Corfu, will give his usual exuberant walks in Gerald Durrell's footsteps, hi-lighting appreciation and changes in The Garden of the Gods.

Hugh Bennison B.Sc., MA, DTA, is a part-time resident of Corfu, an early pioneer who fell in love with the beauty and flora of the island and bought a house here some thirty years ago. Hugh studied horticulture and then tropical agriculture at Cambridge University. He had a career in international rural development and poverty alleviation. He started in the Kenyan Colonial Agricultural Service; stints in Botswana and Brussels followed; and his final post before retirement was in Thailand where he was the EU diplomat in charge of EU aid to South and South East Asia. Hugh is currently involved in a commercial peony project and travels extensively throughout the world studying and collecting specimens.

Proposals (2 pages maximum), together with the author's CV, should reach the Durrell School by 1 February 2009 . Presentations will be limited to 30 minutes each, with another 30 minutes allocated for discussion by participants including resident faculty and the moderators.

Papers Full texts of accepted presentations must be received by the DSC by 1 May 2009 in electronic form. This is to facilitate circulation of the papers to all participants in advance. The papers should not be read at the seminar, but spoken to, since they will have been read by participants before the seminar opens. In other words, participants should discuss their papers in order to engage and begin discussion with an audience already familiar with the written copy. A selection of papers will be published as part of the DSC's Proceedings.

The registration fee for the seminar will be 300 euros for participants (to include costs of field classes) and 350 euros for those who wish to take part in the discussions but who do not wish to present papers. The authors of accepted proposals will be asked to give the DSC an assurance that they have secured adequate funding to enable them to take up the places offered to them. The DSC cannot be responsible for any costs associated with travel or accommodation. Intending participants should consult the DSC website for details of accommodation available in Corfu.

A limited number of scholarships is available: in the first instance, contact the Administrative Director at: [email protected].

Disclaimer and Release of All Liability
When registering please copy, sign and return a copy of the text below. This will be included in registration materials and correspondence with participants. The DSC recommends participants have appropriate travel insurance for the EU:

'For and in consideration of being allowed to participate in the Durrell School of Corfu Seminar, "An Investigation of Modern Love" and associated optional excursions, I agree to release and hold harmless the Durrell School of Corfu, its staff, its Board of Directors and the seminar organizers from any and all liability which might be incurred by them during these activities. I have taken steps to ensure that my physical condition allows me to participate. I assume all responsibilities for myself, and I am participating at my own risk. I have taken out appropriate medical insurance which includes repatriation cover and (if a national of a member state of the EU) I have obtained my EU Health Card.'

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