Week 0: Introduction to Ancient Women in Modern Texts

Mar 29, 2021

Welcome to Ancient Women in Modern Texts! This project seeks to understand how modern female authors reinterpret the tales of female characters from classical mythology. Readings of select novels and works of literary criticism form the basis of this investigation. Specifically, this project focuses on the aesthetics of modern retellings by examining an array of questions. For instance, what aspects of classical characterization do contemporary authors highlight? What aspects of these stories remain unchanged? Which aspects of these stories do they challenge? What role does authorship play in storytelling? How do representations of gender change with authorship and era? How do the experiences of classical women in myth contribute to modern literary criticism? Whose voices are celebrated?  Have the purposes of these types of stories changed?                 

In my past seven years of studying Latin, I’ve consistently been most fascinated by myths. Myth’s unique style, structure, appeal, and sustained relevance have enraptured me. Although there is no shortage of myths, there is an obvious dearth of those which focus on women. And, when myths do mention women, they are often victimized, belittled, and demeaned. However, there has been a recent movement among modern female authors to reclaim these narratives. For instance, Madeline Miller has garnered widespread acclaim for her novel Circe which retells the tale of the famed witch from the Odyssey. Miller is one of many modern authors who are seeking to deconstruct, and subsequently reconstruct, the stories of women in classical mythology. Through their retellings or expansions to ancient texts, Madeline Miller, Margaret Atwood, and Pat Barker give voice to the women whose voices were silenced by other authors and steadily chip away at the male hegemony in this subject.                                                     

Myths are a form of power, and since this power of myths is cemented through repetition, a constant reevaluation of these classic tales and the “truths” we derived is crucial to challenging power structures. Through this research, the understanding of how modern myths work to dismantle and reconstruct patriarchal narratives will be expanded. My primary research will be reading the three novels that center on the experience of one female character from Greek mythology: Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, and Circe by Madeline Miller. For context, I will first read the works of literary critics including Michel Foucault’s “The Subject and Power” and Hélène Cixous’s “The Laugh of Medusa”. A final essay response to each novel summarizing the themes, approach, and notable aspects of each work will advance our collective understanding of translation studies.                                                                                                                                                                                                   

For more information, I invite you to view my full proposal here



4 Replies to “Week 0: Introduction to Ancient Women in Modern Texts”

  1. Asha W. says:

    This looks really interesting Elizabeth! I’m excited to see how much these amazing women will alter these ancient patriarchal tales. I can tell how passionate you are, good luck!

    1. Elizabeth C. says:

      Thank you!

  2. Jacob H. says:

    The idea that myths are a form of power is so interesting! I love your discussion of how myths and the “truths” society derives from them have been built up over time, yet still have the capacity to change. I’m really excited to see how you evaluate these modern retellings from the standpoint of dismantling patriarchal narratives in culture and history.

  3. Brett G. says:

    This seems really interesting Elizabeth! I think it will be really fascinating to learn about the ways modern authors are reclaiming the female myth narratives. I look forward to learning more about the books you have selected to read and am excited to see the final essay!

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