lecture

Epic Heroines or Antagonists? Penelope.

Identifications
— 
Penelope
— women and speech
— muthos
— masculinity

1. [Drawing of] Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Penelope, seated on a stool. Telemachus with spears. Loom. Cloth with pegasus and griffin pattern. Image: perseus.tufts.edu. See Mary Beard 2017: 5.

penelope loom vase.jpg

2. Penelope’s name derived from pēnē (πήνη) = “the threads of a spool.” Or…?:

3. Tatiana Blass (2011), “PENÉLOPE.” Chapel of Morumbi (São Paulo, Brazil). Photography: Everton Ballardin.

Tatiana-Blass-Penelope-12.jpg

Tatiana-Blass-Penelope-1.jpg

4. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 1.345-361:

Sullen Telemachus said, “Mother, no,
you must not criticize the loyal bard
for singing as it pleases him to sing.
Poets are not to blame for how things are;
Zeus is; he gives to each as is his will.
Do not blame Phemius because he told
about the Greek disasters. You must know
the newest song is always praised the most.
So steel your heart and listen to the song.
Odysseus was not the only one
who did not come back home again from Troy.
Many were lost. Go in and do your work.
Stick to the loom and distaff. Tell your slaves
to do their chores as well. It is for men
to talk, especially me. I am the master.”
That startled her. She went back to her room,
and took her son’s uneasy words to heart.

5. Mary BeardWomen and Power (2017: 4-6):

“But it is a nice demonstration that right where written evidence for Western culture starts, women’s voices are not being heard in the public sphere. More than that, as Homer has it, an integral part of growing up, as a man, is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species. The actual words Telemachus uses are significant too. When he says ‘speech’ is ‘men’s business’, the word is muthos [μῦθος] — not in the sense that it has come down to us of ‘myth.’ In Homeric Greek it signals authoritative public speech, not the kind of chatting, prattling or gossip that anyone — women included, or especially women — could do.”

6. Mary Beard, Women and Power (2017: 28)citing Henry James (1843-1916, American novelist)

 “Under American women’s influence, [James] insisted, language risks becoming ‘a generlised mumble or jumble, a tongueless slobber or snarl or whine’; it will sound like ‘the moo of the cow, the bray of the ass, and the bark of the dog’.”

See the This American Life podcast episode about young women and “vocal fry” from Jan. 23rd 2015. This episode also contains an astonishing account of Lindy West confronting her internet troll, which is a story she also tells in her 2016 book Shrill.

7. Mary Beard, Women and Power (2017: 30): 

“It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they do not hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it; they don’t hear muthos.”

8. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Advice to Bride and Groom 31 = Moralia 142d. See Mary Beard 2017: 16.

Theano [=wife? of philosopher, Pythagoras], in putting her cloak about her, exposed her arm. Somebody exclaimed, “A lovely arm.” “But not for the public,” said she. Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything  in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.

9. Dio Chrysostom (1st/2nd c. CE), Speech 33.38. See Mary Beard 2017: 19.

Well then, supposing certain people should as a community be so afflicted that all the males got female voices and that no male, whether young or old, could say anything man-fashion, would that not seem a grievous experience and harder to bear, I’ll warrant, than any pestilence, and as a result would they not send to the sanctuary of the god and try by many gifts to propitiate the divine power? And yet to speak with female voice is to speak with human voice, and nobody would be vexed at hearing a woman speak. 39 But who are they who make that sort of sound? Are they not the creatures of mixed sex? Are they not men who have had their testicles lopped off?

English translations: Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018). Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom from old Loebs reproduced by Lacus Curtius.

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  1. Pingback: Penelope II. | CL 206 — women in antiquity — Fall 2018

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