lecture

Ovid’s Heroines.

Identifications
Ovid’s Heroides
— ancient fan fiction

1. Ovid (1st c. BCE and CE), Tristia 2.361-376. Translated by A. L. WheelerRevised by G. P. Goold.

Moreover, not I alone have written tales of tender love, but for writing of love I alone have been punished. What but the union of love and lavish wine was the teaching of the lyric muse of the aged Tean bard [=Anacreon, 6th c. BCE]? What did Lesbian Sappho teach the girls if not love? Yet Sappho was secure, the Tean also was secure. It did not injure thee, scion of Battus [=Callimachus, 3rd c. BCE] that thou didst often in verse confess to the reader thy wanton pleasures. No play of charming Menander [4th/3rd c. BCE] is free from love, yet he is wont to be read by boys and girls. The very Iliad—what is it but an adulteress about whom her lover and her husband fought? What occurs in it before the flaming passion for Briseis and the feud between the chiefs due to the seizure of the girl? What the Odyssey except the story of one woman sought in her husband’s absence for love’s sake by many suitors?

2a. Peter Knox, Ovid: Heroides. Select Epistles (1995: 86, 87):

“Our evidence for the role of Penelope in post-Homeric accounts of the story is scanty…but it seems clear that it was Ovid who took the imaginative step of representing the events of the Odyssey from her point of view. In so doing, he has taken her character far beyond the traditional role of a paradigm of fidelity.”

“Ovid’s epistle of Penelope is not simply a rhetorical reworking of a Homeric theme, but a masterly exploration of character, making new the material of the oldest literary tradition available to him.”

2b. Fresco from the north interior wall of the Macellum in Pompeii c. 65 CE. Thought to depict Penelope and Odysseus as beggar (cf. Odyssey 19.51-360).

2c. Ovid, Heroides 1.1-12. Translated by Grant ShowermanRevised by G. P. Goold.

These words your Penelope sends to you, O Ulysses, slow of return that you are; writing back is pointless: come yourself! Troy, to be sure, is fallen, hated of the daughters of Greece; but scarcely were Priam and all Troy worth the price to me. O would that then, when his ship was on the way to Lacedaemon, the adulterous lover had been overwhelmed by raging waters! Then had I not lain cold in my deserted bed, nor would now be left alone complaining of slowly passing days; nor would the hanging web be wearying now my widowed hands as I seek to beguile the hours of spacious night. When have I not feared dangers graver than the real? Love is a thing ever filled with anxious fear.

2d. Ovid, Heroides 1.59-63, 66-80:

Whoso turns to these shores of ours his stranger ship is plied with many a question ere he go away, and into his hand is given the sheet writ by these fingers of mine, to render up should he but see you anywhere…[1.66] In what lands are you abiding, or where do you idly tarry? Better for me, were the walls of Phoebus still standing in their place—ah me inconstant, I am wroth with the vows myself have made! Had they not fallen, I should know where you were fighting, and have only war to fear, and my plaint would be joined with that of many another. But now, what I am to fear I know not—yet none the less I fear all things, distraught, and wide is the field lies open for my cares. Whatever dangers the deep contains, whatever the land, suspicion tells me are cause of your long delay. While I live on in foolish fear of things like these, you may be captive to a stranger love (peregrino captus amore potes, 1.76)—such are the hearts of you men! It may be you even tell how rustic a wife you have—one fit only to dress fine the wool. May I be mistaken, and this charge of mine be found slight as the breeze that blows, and may it not be that, free to return, you want to be away!

2e. Ovid, Heroides 1.83-94:

Let him chide on — yours I am, yours must I be called; Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, ever shall I be. Yet is he bent by my faithfulness and my chaste prayers, and of himself abates his urgency. The men of Dulichium and Samos, and they whom high Zacynthus bore—a wanton throng—come pressing about me, suing for my hand. In your own hall they are masters, with none to say them nay; your goods, my very life, are being pillaged. Why tell you of Pisander, and of Polybus, and of Medon the cruel, and of the grasping hands of Eurymachus and Antinous, and of others, all of whom through shameful absence you yourself are feeding fat with store that was won at cost of your blood?

2f. Ovid, Heroides 1.115-116:

As for myself, who when you left my side was but a girl, though you should come straightway, I surely shall seem grown an aged dame.

3. Ovid, Heroides 10.1-16. Go back and reread Catullus 64.

Gentler than you I have found every race of wild beasts; to none of them could I so ill have trusted as to you. The words you now are reading, Theseus, I send you from that shore from which the sails bore off your ship without me, the shore on which my slumber, and you, so wretchedly betrayed me—you, who wickedly plotted against me as I slept. ’Twas the time when the earth is first besprinkled with crystal rime, and songsters hid in the branch begin their plaint. Half waking only and languid from sleep, I turned upon my side and put forth hands to clasp my Theseus—he was not there! I drew back my hands, a second time I made essay, and o’er the whole couch moved my arms—he was not there! Fear struck away my sleep; in terror I arose, and threw myself headlong from my abandoned bed. Straight then my palms resounded upon my breasts, and I tore my hair, all disarrayed as it was from sleep.

4. Dani Bostick (@danibostick), “The Voice of the Heartbroken.” In Medias Res. Nov. 20 2018.

‘How well did Ovid write in the female voice? From the perspective of one 19th-century male, he nailed it. Among Heroides’ merits are “its insights into the female heart,” per Arthur Palmer in 1898. Modern scholarly reception of Heroides tends praise the work’s intertextuality while remaining critical of Ovid’s narrative voice. Ovid has been described as a caricaturist who diminishes female power. Others have accused him of ascribing “verbose powerlessness” to the heroines and creating female characters who use the epistolary genre “in the service of self-marginalization.”

As I read the Heroides, I was struck by how accurately Ovid portrayed the emotions associated with abandonment and unrequited love. Nonetheless, I was not left with the impression that Ovid has special “insights into the female heart.” Ovid did not need special insights because certain experiences transcend both gender and time. Ovid, like Tredget, could relate to the heroine’s experiences and imagine himself in their position.’

5a. Peter Knox, Ovid: Heroides. Select Epistles (1995: 278-279):

“Phaon was a ferryman who worked the route between Lesbos and the mainland. The goddess Aphrodite came to him disguised as an old woman seeking transport, which he provided free of charge. As a reward the goddess endowed Phaon with attractiveness irresistible to any woman. It was almost inevitable that this figure of local lore on the island of Lesbos would eventually be associated with the celebrated female poet who wrote so much about love…It is reasonable to assume that the story of her love for Phaon originated as a speculative reconstruction derived from a reference in her poetry to the local tradition of the ferryman. No fragment of her poetry refers to this, but one ancient mythographical treatise (Palaeph. De incred. 48) explicitly records that Sappho wrote about this Phaon….The author of the Heroides 15, unlike Ovid, struck out on an original path, taking the biographical traditions about a literary figure as the basis for an epistolary fiction.”

5b. Glenn Most, “Reflecting Sappho” (1996: 17): 

“The earliest surviving example of this strategy is Heroides 15, attributed, perhaps correctly, to Ovid*. This poem, in the form of a letter written by Sappho to Phaon, is by far the most influential document in the history of the reception of Sappho: when it was discovered in the early 15th c., it was thought to be a genuine letter by Sappho, translated into Latin; and for centuries after, when its author had been identified as Ovid, its elegance, massive availability, and easy comprehensibility ensured that it would dominate over the few, scattered, difficult genuine fragments in establishing the image of the poetess. Indeed, the text Sappho is clutching in Raphael’s fresco Parnassus [1509-1511] in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican is most likely to be this very epistle.”

*in a note here, Most writes: “I deliberately avoid taking a firm position here on the controversial question of the authenticity of this poem,…; but I will remark that none of the arguments that have been brought against its Ovidian authorship seems to me decisive.”

5c. Raphael’s fresco Parnassus in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican. Image: Wikimedia. The god Apollo, seated at the centre, plays the lyre surrounded by the nine Muses, and by ancient and modern poets, among whom Homer (blind), Virgil and Dante are easily recognisable behind him, as well as the poetess Sappho seated at the bottom left, with her name written on the scroll she holds in her left hand.

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Sappho Rafael Parnassus close-up, w Most 1996:17.jpg

6a. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.1-12. Translated by Grant ShowermanRevised by G. P. Goold.

Tell me, when you looked upon the characters from my eager right hand, did your eye know forthwith whose they were—or, unless you had read their author’s name, Sappho, would you fail to know whence these brief words come? Perhaps, too, you may ask why my verses alternate, when I am better suited to the lyric mode. I must weep, for my love —and elegy is the weeping strain; no lyre is suited to my tears. I burn—as burns the fruitful acre when its harvests are ablaze, with untamed east-winds driving on the flame. The fields you frequent, O Phaon, lie far away, by Typhoean Aetna; and I—heat not less than the fires of Aetna preys on me.

6b. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.15-20:

Neither the maids of Pyrrha charm me now, nor they of Methymna, nor all the rest of the throng of Lesbian daughters. Naught is Anactorie to me, naught Cydro, the dazzling fair; my eyes joy not in Atthis as once they did, nor in the hundred other maids I loved here to my reproach; unworthy one, the love that belonged to many maids you alone possess.

6c. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.31-41:

If nature, malign to me, has denied the charm of beauty, weigh in the stead of beauty the genius that is mine. If I am slight of stature, yet I have a name fills every land; the measure of my name is my real height. If I am not dazzling fair, Cepheus’ Andromeda was fair in Perseus’ eyes, though dusky with the hue of her native land. Besides, white pigeons oft are mated with those of different hue, and the black turtledove, too, is loved by the bird of green. If none shall be yours unless deemed worthy of you for her beauty’s sake, then none shall be yours at all. Yet, when I read you my songs, I seemed already beautiful enough.

7. P. Oxy. 1800 fr. 1, Oxyrhynchus papyrus (late 2nd or early 3rd c. CE).

Sappho was a Lesbian by birth, of the city of Mytilene. Her father was Scamander or, according to some, Scamandronymus, and she had three brothers, Erigyius, Larichus and Charaxus, the eldest, who sailed to Egypt and associated with one Doricha, spending large sums on her; Sappho was more fond of the young Larichus. She had a daughter Cleis, named after her own mother. She has been accused by some of being irregular in her ways and a woman-lover. In appearance she seems to have been contemptible and quite ugly, being dark in complexion and of very small stature. The same is true of (Alcaeus?) who was smallish . . .

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lecture

Penelope II.

Identifications
— female sociality
— lies
— Eurycleia
— status (free, enslaved)
— Homeric women

1. Dora Wheeler, “Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night” (1886). Silk embroidered with silk thread. Image: Metropolitan Museum.

Dora Wheeler..jpg

2Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 2.93-112: Antinous speaking:

We suitors have not done you wrong.
Go blame your precious mother! She is cunning.
It is the third year, soon it will be four,
that she has cheated us of what we want.
She offers hope to all, sends notes to each,
but all the while her mind moves somewhere else.
She came up with a special trick: she fixed
a mighty loom inside the palace hall.
Weaving her fine long cloth, she said to us,
‘Young men, you are my suitors. Since my husband,
the brave Odysseus, is dead, I know
you want to marry me. You must be patient;
I have worked hard to weave this winding-sheet
to bury good Laertes when he dies.
He gained such wealth, the women would reproach me
if he were buried with no shroud. Please let me
finish it!’ And her words made sense to us.
So every day she wove the mighty cloth,
and then at night by torchlight, she unwove it.
For three long years her trick beguiled the Greeks.
But when the fourth year’s seasons rolled around,
a woman slave who knew the truth told us.
We caught her there, unraveling the cloth,
and made her finish it.

+Compare Penelope’s version: Odyssey 19.137-163 (p429).

3. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 9.312-314: Achilles speaking to Odysseus:

I hate that man like the very Gates of Death
who says one thing but hides another in his heart.

4. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.50-72; 89-97:

Then the queen,
her wits about her, came down from her room,
like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
Slaves pulled her usual chair beside the fire;
it was inlaid with whorls of ivory
and silver, crafted by Icmalius,
who had attached a footstool, all in one.
A great big fleece was laid across the chair,
and pensively Penelope sat down.
The white-armed slave girls came and cleared away
the piles of bread, the tables, and the cups,
from which the arrogant suitors had been drinking.
They threw the embers from the braziers
onto the floor, and heaped fresh wood inside them
for light and warmth. And then Melantho scolded
Odysseus again. “Hey! Stranger! Will you
keep causing trouble, roaming round our house
at night and spying on us women here?
Get out, you tramp! Be happy with your meal!
Or you will soon get pelted with a torch!
Be off!” Odysseus began to scowl,
and make a calculated speech. “Insane!
You silly girl, why are you mad at me?”

Penelope
had listened warily, and now she spoke
to scold the slave. “You brazen, shameless dog!
What impudence! I see what you are doing!
Wipe that impertinent expression off!
You knew quite well — I told you so myself —
that I might meet the stranger in the hall
to question him about my missing husband.
I am weighed down by grief.”

5. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.370-381: Eurycleia speaking:

And when that poor Odysseus
stays at the palaces of foreign kings,
I think the women slaves are mocking him
as these bad girls are hounding you. You have
refused to let them wash you, to avoid
abuse. But wise Penelope has told me
to wash you, and reluctantly I will,
for her sake and for yours — you move my heart.
Now listen. Many strangers have come here
in trouble and distress. But I have never
seen any man whose body, voice, and feet
are so much like my master’s.

6. The other side of the Penelope loom vase (see wk 2). Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Odysseus (inscribed) wearing a hat (pilos) with staff and vessel; his leg is washed by the old slave woman, named Eurycleia in the Odyssey but here called “Antiphata” (in the inscription). Eumaeus (inscribed), the swineherd, stands behind. Image: perseus.tufts.edu.

Penelope loom vase b side.jpg

7. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.483-503:

“Nanny! Why are you trying to destroy me?
You fed me at your breast! Now after all
my twenty years of pain, I have arrived
back to my home. You have found out; a god
has put the knowledge in your mind. Be silent;
no one must know, or else I promise you,
if some god helps me bring the suitors down,
I will not spare you when I kill the rest,
the other slave women, although you were
my nurse.” With calculation, Eurycleia
answered, “My child! What have you said! You know
my mind is firm, unshakable; I will
remain as strong as stone or iron. Let me
promise you this: if you defeat the suitors,
I will tell you which women in the palace
dishonor you, and which are free from guilt.”
Odysseus already had a plan.
“Nanny, why do you mention them? No need.
I will make my own observations
of each of them. Be quiet now; entrust
the future to the gods.”

8. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.419-432:

“… But tell me now about the household women.
Which ones dishonor me? And which are pure?”
The slave who loved her master answered, “Child,
I will tell you exactly how things stand.
In this house we have fifty female slaves
whom we have trained to work, to card the wool,
and taught to tolerate their life as slaves.
Twelve stepped away from honor: those twelve girls
ignore me, and Penelope our mistress.
She would not let Telemachus instruct them,
since he is young and only just grown-up.
Let me go upstairs to the women’s rooms,
to tell your wife — some god has sent her sleep.”
The master strategist Odysseus
said, “Not yet; do not wake her. Call the women
who made those treasonous plots while I was gone.”

9. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.461-480:

Showing initiative, Telemachus
insisted, “I refuse to grant these girls
a clean death, since they poured down shame on me
and Mother, when they lay besides the suitors.”
At that, he would a piece of sailor’s rope
round the rotunda and round the mighty pillar,
stretched up so high no foot could touch the ground.
As doves or thrushes spread their wings to fly
home to their nests, but someone sets a trap —
they crash into a net, a bitter bedtime;
just so the girls, their heads all in a row,
were strung up with the noose around their necks
to make their death an agony. They gasped,
feet twitching for a while, but not for long.
Then the men took Melanthius outside
and with curved bronze cut off his nose and ears
and ripped away his genitals, to feed
raw to the dogs. Still full of rage, they chopped
his hands and feet off. Then they washed their own,
and they went back inside.

10. bell hooksAll About Love (2001: 37):

“Males learn to lie as a way of obtaining power, and females not only do the same but they also lie to pretend powerlessness. In her work Harriet Lerner talks about the ways in which patriarchy upholds deception, encouraing women to present a false self to men and vice versa. In Dory Hollander’s 101 Lies Men Tell Women, she confirms that while both women and men lie, her data and the findings of other researchers indicate that “men tend to lie more and with more devastating consequences.” For many young males the earliest experience of power over others comes from the thrill of lying to more powerful adults and getting away with it. Lots of men shared with me that it was difficult for them to tell the truth if they saw it would hurt a loved one. Significantly, the lying many boys learn to do to avoid hurting Mom or whomever becomes so habitual that it becomes hard for them to distinguish a lie from the truth. This behavior carries over into adulthood.”

11. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 23.178-184:

“…Now, Eurycleia, make the bed for him
outside the room he built himself. Pull out
the bedstead, and spread quilts and blankets on it.”
So she spoke to test him, and Odysseus
was furious, and told his loyal wife.
“Woman! Your words have cut my heart! Who moved
my bed?”

English translations: Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018); Homer’s Iliad, Robert Fagles (1990).

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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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