“Potterversity” Episode 53: “Harry, Aeneas, and the Foundational Text”

Venture to the ancient past to explore Harry Potter and the Aeneid as foundational texts.



Dr. Mitchell Parks (Knox College) joins us to discuss intertextuality and Harry Potter’s dialogue with classical works like Virgil’s Aeneid. In his chapter in The Ivory Tower, Harry Potter, and Beyond, he examines what it means for a text to be “foundational” in various ways – as a work of literature, on a personal level, for identity groups, and as a political foundation.

While the Aeneid can tell us about Roman society and later periods from readers’ reactions and literary responses, Harry Potter set the tone for young adult literature at the turn of the 21st century. The diversity of responses to Harry Potter compels us to consider how people besides the elite men whose commentary was preserved might have reacted to the Aeneid, which itself draws on Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad.

Mitchell sees the strongest echoes of the Aeneid in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because of the darker atmosphere, heroes facing a difficult mission, and a great deal of wandering followed by battle.

While it can be interesting to think about what sources the author actually read and intentionally referenced, intertextuality can be more of a process by which readers make connections themselves and put the text in dialogue with other texts the author may not have even read. Intertextuality is as much about finding differences as it is finding similarities.

Putting his classics skills to further use, Mitchell also shares his mind-blowing revelation about a nearly illegible Latin epitaph on Ignotus Peverell’s tombstone in The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Finally, we consider how long the Aeneid has endured and how Potter might fare in the future. How will it evolve in the next 20 years? Could it last 2,000 like the Aeneid? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please send us an email at PotterversityPodcast@gmail.com, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.