Classical Mythology, Day 19

Corinna, fr.644 (Apollonius Dyskolus, Pronouns)

“I sing of the virtues of heroes and heroines.”

ἱώνει δ᾿ εἱρώων ἀρετὰς / χεἰρωάδων

In this lecture we turn back to the age of heroes to reconsider myth from the perspective of heroic women. In most cases from the ancient world, the stories of heroic women are told from the perspective of men in narrative patterns that privilege and center male life experiences. Women are mere instruments and objects in their tales. In this lecture, we will try to tell the life stories–the mythical fabula–of some heroic women from beginning to end, trying to understand how their voices and experiences communicate the position of women in Greek culture. In particular, we will consider central and variant traditions of the ‘big three’ from Trojan War Myth: Helen, Klytemnestra, and Penelope.

Ancient Authors Discussed

Homer, Archaic Age

Hesiod, Archaic Age

Semonides, Archaic Age

Alcaeus, Archaic Age

Gorgias, Classical Period


Some Suggested Course Texts

Hesiod’s, Works and Days (Myth of the Ages; Marriage Advice)

Hesiodic Catalogue of Women

Iliad, Book 3

Iliad, Book 6

Odyssey, Book 23

Odyssey, books 19

Odyssey, book 24

Semonides of Amorgos, “Diatribe Against Women”


Gorgias, Defense of Helen


Links to Blogposts

The Reason Helen and her Sisters were Unfaithful

Helen and Penelope were Cousins

Helen’s Serving Girl and the First Sex Manual

What does Helen Look Like?

Klytemnestra’s First Husband and Child

Penelope’s Infidelity


Other Articles for Additional Reading

Hilary Ilkay, “Mixing Memory and Desire: Helen’s Eidolon in Sappho 16.” Eidolon April 26, 2016.

Phillip Walsh, “The Importance of Being Helen.” Eidolon April 25, 2015


Modern Re-imagining of Heroic Women

Here’s a list of modern receptions of Trojan War narratives on wikipidia. The list below is both more specific (focusing on women’s narrative) and more general (including non Trojan War narratives)


Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad, 2005

Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls 2018

Amalia Carosella, Helen of Sparta 2015

Amanda Elyot, The Memoirs of Helen of Troy

Margaret George, Helen of Troy 2008

Sue Goyette,  Penelope 2017

Jo Graham, Black Ships (Aeneid) 2018

Kerry Greenwood, The Delphic Trilogy 1995-1997

Emily Hauser, For the Most Beautiful; For the Winner; For the Immortal (2016-2018)

Natalie Haynes, The Furies, and The Children of Jocasta 2014, 1027

Daisy Johnson, Everything Under (Oedipus Myth) 2018

Ursula LeGuin, Lavinia 2008

Madeline Miller, Circe 2018

Francesca Petrizzo, Memoirs of a Bitch 2011

Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice 2011

David Vann, Bright Air Black 2017

Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire (Antigone Reimagined) 2017

Christa Wolf, Cassandra  and Medea 1983 and 1996

Poetry [TBA]

Music [TBA]


Things to Read

Barber, Elizabeth J. Wayland and Atchity, Kenneth. 1987. “Greek princes and Aegean Princesses: The role of women in the Homeric poems.” Critical Essays on Homer. 15–36.

Bergren, A. L. T. 1983. “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought.” Arethusa 16:69-95.

Clayton, B. 2004. A Penelopean Poetics: Reweaving the Feminine in Homer’s Odyssey. Lanham,    MD.

Doherty, Lillian E. 1992. “Gender and Internal Audiences in the Odyssey?” AJP 113: 161-177.

Doherty, Lillian E. 2006. “Putting the Women Back in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women.” In Laughing with Medusa V. Zajko and M. Leonard (eds.) 297–325.

Emlyn-Jones, C. 1984. “The Reunion of Penelope and Odysseus.” G&R 31: 1-18.

Felson-Rubin, N. 1994. Regarding Penelope: From Character to Poetics. Princeton.

Felson-Rubin, N. 1996. “Penelope’s Perspective.” in Reading the Odyssey: Selected Interpretive Essays. S. Schein (ed.). Princeton: 163–183.

Franco, Cristina. 2012. “Women in Homer.” In A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. Edited by Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon. London: 55­–65.

Hernandez, Pura N. 2008. “Penelope’s Absent Song.” Phoenix 62: 39–62.

Holmberg, I. E. 1995. “The Odyssey and Female Subjectivity.” Helios 22: 103–122

Larson, Jennifer. 1995. Greek Heroine Cults. Madison.

Katz, M. A. 1991. Penelope’s Renown: Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey. Princeton.

Jensen, Minna Skafte. 1994. “Homer’s portrayal of women: a discussion of Homeric narrative from an oralist point of view” Contexts of Pre-Novel Narrative. Roy Eriksen (ed.). Berlin:  27–38.

Lowenstam, S. 2000. “The Shroud of Laertes and Penelope’s Guile.” CJ 95(4):333-348.

Lyons, D. 2011. “Marriage.” The Homer Encyclopedia. M. Finkelberg (ed.): 499.

Marquardt, Patricia A. 1989. “Love’s labor’s lost: Women in the Odyssey.” Daidalikon: Studies in memory of R. Schoder. Robert F. Sutton Jr. (Ed). Wauconda, IL: 239–248.

Mueller, M. 2010. “Helen’s Hands: Weaving for Kleos in the Odyssey”. Helios 37: 1–21.

Murnaghan, S.. 1987. Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey. Princeton.

Murnaghan, S. 1995. “The Plan of Athena.” The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer’s Odyssey, edited by Beth Cohen. New York: 61-80.

Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin. 2011. “Greek Tragedy: A Rape Culture?” EuGeStA 1–21.

Redfield, James. 2003. The Locrian Maidens: Love and Death in Greek Italy. Princeton.

Richlin, Amy. 1991. “Zeus and Metis: Foucault, Feminism, Classics.” Helios 18: 160–180.

Rougier-Blanc, S. 2009. “Héroïsme au féminin chez Homère.” Clio 30: 17–30.

Wagner-Hasel, B. “Marriage Gifts in Ancient Greece.” In The Gift in Antiquity. M. L. Satlow


Some Additional Material

Ruby Blondell. Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation. Oxford: 2013.

Linda Lee Clader. Helen: The Evolution from Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition. Leiden: Brill, 1976.

Lowell Edmunds. Stealing Helen: The Myth of the Abducted Wife in Comparative Perspective. Princeton 2016.

R. Farnell. The Cults of the Greek City States. 5 Volumes.

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek myth: a guide to literary and artistic sources. Baltimore.

Robert Fowler. Early Greek Mythography. 2 Vols. 2000 and 2013.

Student Links



Detail of an Attic red-figure krater c. 450–440 BC (ParisLouvre)

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