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date: 28 June 2022

feminism and ancient literaturefree

feminism and ancient literaturefree

  • Helen Morales


Feminism does not refer to one coherent theory, doctrine, or political movement. The range of movements and ideologies that thrive under the term feminism, however, are all committed to political and social change. Feminism recognises that we live in a patriarchal world, that is to say a world in which women are, and have historically been, oppressed by and unequal to men. It opposes this, and strives to change existing power structures so that people of all genders and races have control over their own bodies, have equal opportunities and value, can participate fully in community life, and are allowed to live with dignity and freedom.

What has this to do with ancient literature? There are several significant ways in which feminism and ancient literature interact. Ancient literature, particularly ancient Greek tragedy and myth, has played a formative role in shaping feminist theory. Feminism encourages scholars to uncover and reevaluate a tradition of women’s writing. Feminism has provided the tools for us better to understand how ancient literature functioned to promote, and sometimes to challenge, the misogynist practices of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Scholars have detected feminism, or proto-feminism, in ancient writing. Queer theory and feminism join forces to mine ancient literature for alternatives to hetero, cisgender, and gender binary models of identity. Feminism has changed the field of ancient literary studies by valuing authors and genres that are sensitive to the perspectives of women of all ethnicities and statuses. Finally, ancient literature is used to serve contemporary activism: Greek and Latin texts are used by modern feminist authors who rewrite and creatively adapt ancient literature, and classicists resist the use of ancient literature to promote misogyny and white supremacy.


  • Gender Studies
  • Greek Literature
  • Latin Literature
  • Reception

Overview: How Can Feminism and the Study of Ancient Literature Benefit One Another?

Feminism does not refer to one coherent theory, doctrine, or political movement. The range of movements and ideologies that thrive under the term feminism, however, are all committed to political and social change. Feminism recognises that we live in a patriarchal world, that is to say a world in which women are, and have historically been, oppressed by and unequal to men. Feminism opposes this and strives to change existing power structures so that people of all genders and races have control over their own bodies, have equal opportunities and value, can participate fully in community life, and are allowed to live with dignity and freedom.

What has this got to do with ancient literature? There are several significant ways in which feminism and ancient literature interact. Ancient literature, particularly ancient Greek tragedy and myth, has played a formative role in shaping feminist theory. Feminism encourages scholars to uncover and reevaluate a tradition of women’s writing. Feminism has provided the tools for us better to understand how ancient literature functioned to promote, and sometimes to challenge, the misogynist practices of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Scholars have detected feminism, or proto-feminism, in ancient writing. Queer theory and feminism join forces to mine ancient literature for alternatives to hetero, cisgender, and gender binary models of identity. Feminism has changed the field of ancient literary studies by valuing authors and genres that are sensitive to the perspectives of women of all ethnicities and statuses. Finally, ancient literature is used to serve contemporary activism: Greek and Latin texts are used by modern feminist authors who rewrite and creatively adapt ancient literature, and classicists resist the use of ancient literature to promote misogyny and white supremacy.

Feminism as a theoretical approach to society and culture cannot be separated from feminism as a political movement.1 For ancient literature, this means that feminist interpretations cannot be divorced from actively working to improve the institutions within which we research and teach, and the wider contexts in which we read ancient literature and see it performed. Feminism insists not only that we think about how to interpret ancient literature in ways that make women visible, consider female perspectives, and dismantle the complexities of gender relations, but also that we prioritise making ancient literature available for all to appreciate, and for editions, translations, and theatrical performances to be affordable and accessible.2

Foundational to our being able to read and interpret ancient literature are the publication of editions and translations. Textual criticism has long enjoyed a privileged status in Classics. From the mid-19th to the early 20th century, especially in Germany, textual criticism was the core of the work carried out on ancient literature, and was afforded greater value than literary criticism. Despite the fact that women did, and do, edit texts, textual critics were, and sometimes still are, celebrated as part of an elite men’s club.3 Textual critics sometimes assume that their work is neutral and objective, whereas feminist classicists believe that the identity and subject position of the scholar matter and that the personal voice has a role to play in classical scholarship.4 There is greater acknowledgement now that scholarly practices and institutions, none of which are agenda-free, shape our source material.5 Sensitivity, or lack of sensitivity, towards gender politics shapes how a textual critic chooses to emend the text.6

Translation is another scholarly practice that can benefit from a feminist consciousness. Two examples: translations have imposed modern racial and sexual stereotypes on a text, as Shelley Haley has shown in her examination of translations of Virgil’s Moretum, and translations have turned an episode of sexual violence into a consensual encounter, as Stephanie McCarter reveals in her analysis of translations of Leucothoe’s rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.7 Translation is a field that is still dominated by men. It has taken until 2008 for an English translation of the Aeneid by a woman to be published (Sarah Ruden), until 2015 for one of the Iliad (by Caroline Alexander), and until 2017 for one of the Odyssey (by Emily Wilson).8

Feminism also prompts us to zoom out from a close reading of a text and reflect on bigger questions. Where does the value of ancient literature lie? Should ancient texts that take pleasure in sexual violence be taught in university courses, and if so, how? Embracing feminism means contemplating our own prejudices and privileges, and those of our discipline. In the words of one young feminist scholar, “Classics has a history of deliberate racism, sexism, and elitism. When we don’t fight against that, we’re working with it.”9

How Ancient Literature Has Shaped Feminist Theory

Without ancient literature, feminist theory would look quite different. Feminism is not just a modern tool that can be used to interpret ancient works; rather Greek and Roman texts and myths have informed and shaped feminist theory. Ancient literature is woven into the fabric of modern feminism.

The history of Anglo-American feminism is conventionally visualised in terms of a series of waves of the movement (a metaphor that suggests a misleading homogeneity in feminism as a political movement at any one time10 and that implies that each wave supersedes the previous one; in fact, the goals of second-wave feminism have yet to be achieved).

First-wave feminism (the 19th and early 20th century) focussed on the women’s suffrage movement. EuripidesMedea was a “founding drama” in the genre of suffragette plays in London from 1907 onwards, and passages from the tragedy, Medea’s first monologue and the chorus’s speech on the misogyny of myths (410–430), were read out at suffragette meetings.11 In the United States, abolitionists also appropriated Medea; her story became fused with that of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who, in 1856, tried to kill herself and her children to avoid being returned to slavery.12

A key feminist text that inspired second-wave feminism was Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, written in 1949 and translated into English in 1952. De Beauvoir argued that man was the “self” and woman “the other,” and that this was a result of a long tradition of philosophical, religious, social, and cultural conditioning: “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” Ancient literature was important to de Beauvoir’s thesis in two major ways. First, she turned to the works of Aristotle and Aeschylus (amongst others) to trace the historical roots of the oppression of women. Second, she used characters from ancient poetry and myth as examples “to think with.”13 One of the writers whom de Beauvoir much valued was the novelist Virginia Woolf (1882–1941). Woolf herself became a feminist icon and was much discussed in second-wave feminism; she too was influenced by Greek literature.14

Second-wave feminism coincided with the Women’s Liberation Movement, from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. The focus was on achieving equal rights for women: legal, economic, political, and civic. Distinct groups emerged. Radical feminists located the cause of women’s oppression in patriarchal gender relations. Unlike socialist and Marxist feminists, who saw class conflict as the cause of the problem, radical feminists highlighted that sexual violence affects all women, across class boundaries, to the benefit (whether they wanted it or not) of all men. One of the aims of radical feminism was to eradicate the violence done to women, by men, in pornography and prostitution (see prostitution, secular, female). Sheila Jeffreys exposed how the myth of the glamorous and liberated Greek “courtesan” had been lifted uncritically from ancient representations of Aspasia and other hetairai and was used to normalise and romanticise prostitution.15 Radical feminism clashed with prostitutes’ rights groups who rejected the claim that sex work was demeaning. They too sought validation in ancient models, arguing that sex work had its origins in temple prostitution, and that prostitute priestesses enjoyed sexual freedom; in fact, classicists have debunked the idea of “temple prostitution.”16

The idea of a pre-patriarchal matriarchy was, and is, important to many feminists; it suggests the possibility of a return to such a time. The Roman legal scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen first proposed the theory that matriarchy existed before patriarchy in his 1861 book Das Mutterrecht (Motherright), and his ideas were developed in the 1970s and 80s by, among others, the Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeologist and anthropologist, Marija Gimbutas.17 Ancient mythical societies where woman rule, like those of the Amazons, were also read as evidence for pre-historical matriarchy.18 Goddess worship is another practice that harks back to antiquity, to envisage an alternate to patriarchy. Mary Daly, a radical feminist theologian and philosopher, argued, in Gyn/Ecology (1978), that, in order to dismantle patriarchy and avoid environmental catastrophe, we need to replace the gods of patriarchal religions with goddess worship.19 She urged women to take up worshipping ancient Greek and Roman goddesses and was criticised for her white, Western and European focus, and her exclusion of African goddesses, by Audre Lorde in an open letter to Daly in 1979.20

Ancient literature and philosophy were also an important point of engagement for French feminists. Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous turned to Plato and Greek tragedy to trace genealogies of gender construction, dismantle the structures that have excluded women, and radically reimagine more equitable, celebratory, and woman-centred ways of thinking and acting. French feminist work is in dialogue with major thinkers of modern European intellectual history (including Hegel, Freud, and Lacan), as well as with ancient literature. It is very different in tone and methodology from much Anglo-American feminism. French feminists deploy a different conception of history in their approach to ancient texts and are strategically essentialist, while also taking on board the socially constructed nature of gender.21 The teaching of Plato and other philosophers is hardwired into the French education system, and Plato was a key figure for French left-wing politics. Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Sarah Kofman, and Luce Irigaray all re-read Plato, and, to a lesser extent, Greek tragedy; in turn, these feminist philosophers influenced the Italian feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero and Anglo-American feminists Judith Butler and Kaja Silverman.22 As a result, “[t]he ancient world in general, and Plato in particular, function as our theoretical unconscious.”23

Third-Wave feminism, from the early 1990s through the beginning of the 21st century, sought to challenge the grand narratives of second-wave feminism, and to decentre white, heterosexual, cisgender, and other privileged perspectives. Queer theory, itself influenced by ancient Greek conceptions of sexuality, emerged (see the section “Queering Ancient Literature”). SophoclesAntigone was a central text for third-wave feminists. In Antigone’s Claim, Kinship between Life and Death (2000), Judith Butler examines Antigone as a figure who is, as a product of incest, outside the norms of kinship, as she explores what Antigone, and previous theoretical receptions of the play, can do for people living on the sexual margins. She also asks, “What would have happened if psychoanalysis were to have taken Antigone rather than Oedipus as its point of departure?”24 Feminist political scientist Bonnie Honig also turns to Antigone in her 2013 book Antigone, Interrupted. Honig critiques a response to sovereignty (the violence of the powerful) that is limited to “a lamentation of politics.” She reads Antigone as more than an icon of mourning, but a character who offers, along with her conspirator Ismene, a politics of counter-sovereignty: vital action towards equality. Because their drama involves the relationship of women to the political sphere, and because authoritarianism is increasing in some parts of the modern world, Antigone and Ismene are likely to continue to shape feminist theory.

Fourth-wave feminism has just begun.25 It shows an increased emphasis on intersectionality, the approach that recognises that oppressive systems like sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, and classism, cannot meaningfully be addressed separately from one another. Feminist legal scholar and critical race theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw first coined the term intersectionality in 1989, and the idea has been significant in second- and third-wave feminism, but it is increasingly important in 21st century feminism.26 In 1997, in the introduction to the only book-length study of the impact of feminism on the discipline of Classics, Barbara McManus wrote, “I have concentrated on questions on gender rather than related constructions of race, and ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation.”27 The lack of intersectionality in this important book reveals the shift between then and now, and between second- and fourth-wave feminisms. That said, there is still a long way to go before Classics becomes a truly inclusive discipline, especially in relation to race.28 Fourth-wave feminism is also distinguished by its assumption that gender and sexuality-based binaries are things of the past. It is trans-inclusive. It is a movement that is connected, above all, through technology. It is hard to say what, if any, role ancient literature will have in shaping fourth-wave feminist theory, but technology, especially social media, has enabled different platforms for debates about ancient literature, and Classics more broadly (see section on “Ancient Literature and Contemporary Activism”).

Women Writers

A major goal of feminist classicists has been to uncover and analyse the works of women writers of the ancient world. This is driven by a sense of responsibility towards ancient women and towards modern women who want, and need, the underpinning of a long tradition of women writers. Some modern scholarship has devalued women’s writing as more “personal” than men’s, and as only of interest for the biographical information that may be gleaned from it; feminist scholarship sees inherent value in women’s creative output.

We have the names of about one hundred Greek and Roman women writers, although identification is sometimes difficult because some names are likely pseudonyms.29 That works by women comprise only a very small fraction of ancient writing is not surprising; far fewer women than men were literate, and women were not expected to become public figures or cultural authorities. This makes the women who did write all the more remarkable. The majority of women authors were poets, but women also wrote works of medicine, mathematics, alchemy, philosophy, and history, as well as letters. The works of about fifty women writers survive, often in a fragmentary state. We know little about the circumstances of women’s literary production. In Greece, women’s literary output increased when their educational opportunities increased, and the largest surviving body of women’s poetry comes from the Hellenistic period. It is perhaps surprising that the greater social status that women enjoyed in Rome did not result in a greater flourishing of women poets. A funerary epigram by one Roman woman reveals that female slaves were involved in the creative process; a poet called Sulpicia (probably Sulpicia 1) honors her slave named Sulpicia Petale, who had worked as her lectrix [reader].30

By the Hellenistic age, a canon of women writers had been compiled. Sappho was the earliest and most renowned of these, and later women poets looked back on her as their paradigm. Opinions differ about the circumstances that enabled Sappho to write, but it is clear that she was widely quoted by ancient writers. Very little of her poetry survives, yet she was a uniquely celebrated Greek woman poet, the “tenth Muse,” in Plato’s estimation. Sappho’s distinction, and the homoeroticism of some of her poems, has made her a feminist icon, and the mystery of her life and creative contexts has allowed successive generations of feminists to project their fantasies and desires upon her.31

Two other women writers deserve special mention here for the radical (one could say proto-feminist) nature of their writing: Sulpicia 2 and Perpetua. Only two lines survive from the work of the 1st-century ce Latin poet Sulpicia (a different Sulpicia from the Augustan elegist), but they, along with testimonia from Martial and others, reveal her to have written erotic and satirical poetry.32 This is exceedingly bold for a woman; ancient satire is structured around the social and sexual subordination of women.33 The account of martyrdom known as the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas includes the prison diary of a young woman who was executed in 203 ce. It is the earliest surviving work written by a Christian woman, and its remarkable gender dynamics, including a vision in which Perpetua sees herself in the gladiatorial arena having been changed into a man, make it an important work for feminist study.34

Key questions: is women’s poetry different from that written by men? Is there a distinctively female poetic tradition? No ancient literary critic discusses this issue, which is commonly associated with French feminist theory of the 1970s.35 French feminists argued that women’s writing can be a source of liberation if women subvert the rules of masculine writing and embrace non-linear, diffuse, l’écriture feminine (“feminine writing,” to use Hélène Cixous’s phrase) or parler femme (“womanspeak,” Luce Irigaray’s term).36 It may be prudent to avoid “over-feminisation,” the attempt to explain everything in women’s writing by gender, as well as “under-feminisation,” the stubborn refusal to look for signs of gender in women’s texts.37

Feminist classicists have been unable to develop an overarching, positive definition of what marks ancient women’s writing as different from men’s writing.38 However in individual poems and authors, they have discerned female perspectives that undermine the dominant discourse.39 They have also identified in some women’s poetry “bilingual” or “coded” writing: writing that can be read as both conforming to the dominant cultural discourse, and, more subtly, as having a double, and subversive meaning.40 Turning to the terminology of authorship used by individual female poets to describe their own work, feminist scholarship has argued that it is configured differently from that of male poets.41 Because of the paucity and fragmentary nature of the material, these interpretations are often speculative rather than certain. This needs no apology; it is an important part of feminist literary criticism consciously to employ different reading strategies to enable a deeper understanding of ancient women’s voices.

The Sexual Exploitation and Oppression of Women

Feminism, especially second-wave feminism, has been much concerned with exposing how women are represented in ways that diminish them, humiliate them, or otherwise suggest that they are less valuable than men. This section considers three interrelated areas: the objectification of women, and the literary representations of prostitution and of rape.

Objectification is the act of treating someone as an object rather than a subject, a thing rather than a person, and thereby dehumanising them. In ancient literature it is common for women and boys to be objectified by men. Feminist gaze theory has demonstrated that men are typically represented as the active viewers (and voyeurs), and women and boys as the objects of their gaze. The gaze is a “technology” of gender and also of race.42 These gender dynamics are underpinned by mythical narratives in which women are literal objects before they are brought to life, such as Hesiod’s account of the creation of Pandora, the first mortal woman, who was fashioned as an object by the gods and given life as a “beautiful evil,” a punishment inflicted on men, and Ovid’s tale of Pygmalion, the archetypal male artist who sculpted a wife for himself.43 Mythical female figures who are active viewers are depicted as transgressive and often terrifying, for example the Amazon Antiope (“the oppositional eye”), and the monstrous Medusa, whose gaze turned men into stone, a metaphor, according to Freudian psychoanalysis, for the castration of men by dangerous female sexuality.44

Women are objectified in most ancient literary genres, high and low, from the aestheticised killing of Iphigenia in AeschylusAgamemnon, to the eroticised deaths of women in Latin epic, to the sexual consumption of women in AthenaeusSophists at Dinner, and the sexual abuse of women in satire and invective.45 Greek and Roman concepts of obscenity differ from our own (see sexual representation, visual), but, according to one influential feminist approach, sexually explicit representations that denigrate women constitute pornography.46 Eroticised sexual violence in literature, runs the argument, normalises, encourages, stimulates, authorises, and is itself a form of sexual violence. This anti-pornography analysis has been criticised by “pro-sex” feminists (a tendentious label because it implies that feminists who are critical of pornography are anti-sex, rather than against the commodification of sex at the expense of women’s safety) for its insistence that women are victims and men their oppressors, and for its refusal to treat pornographic literature as an imaginative space that is different in kind to, and has no detrimental impact on, real life. Nevertheless, the majority of feminist scholarship on pornography in ancient literature and art understands it to be a form of violence against women; exposing and critiquing this form of misogyny remains an important part of feminist Classics.

Pornography and prostitution both involve women being made sexually available for men, and men’s entitlement to control and abuse women’s bodies. Prostitutes are commonly featured in ancient literature, and were probably also involved in the dramatic performances of mimes and comic dramas; the lines between actor, musician, and prostitute were not always clear.47 Ancient writers often represented the (Greek) hetaira and the (Roman) meretrix as glamorous figures: independent, educated, and wealthy. Feminist scholarship has argued that this representation was a romanticising one that bore little reality to the lives of most real prostitutes, and that supported the sexual exploitation of women by perpetuating the fantasy that women enjoyed the lifestyle and benefited from it. There is a marked difference between the glamor of the fictional hetaira and meretrix and the harsher representations of prostitutes’ lives in rhetorical sources and Pompeian graffiti.48 It is also important to realise that the divisions between “high-class” prostitutes and prostitutes who worked in streets and brothels were not always fixed; many prostitutes were slaves, but others would have moved in and out of prostitution and through different types of prostitution.

Rape, meaning the imposition of sex without the other person’s consent, is commonplace in ancient literature. However, sex crimes in antiquity were conceived differently from the ways in which they are today (typically as crimes against the woman’s father, husband, or owner), and the vocabulary used in ancient texts to describe sexual acts is sometimes vague, and can obscure the issue of a woman’s consent.49 There was a deep-rooted rhetorical tradition in the ancient world that included what we what we call rape within the social and cultural discourses about marriage. Myths of rape were used to express the physical and social violence of marriage, which involved the bride being separated from her home and the defloration that marked her transition from girlhood to womanhood. The myth of the rape of Persephone is an important example. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Persephone’s abduction by Hades, the giving up of his daughter by her father Zeus, and the grief of her mother by their separation, prior to Persephone’s return, dramatises the symbolic death of a bride prior to her symbolic rebirth when she reenters society as a new wife.50 Narratives of rape also operate allegorically to represent the violence of colonisation, with the body of the woman or nymph symbolising the conquered land and its inhabitants.51 Accounts of rape in the founding myths, such as the rape of the Sabine women, have a similar function. However, feminists have also warned against only reading these narratives as metaphors for political conquest. Women were in antiquity, as they are in modern times, raped en masse in warfare. Livy’s account of the rape of the Sabine women has been compared to the testimonies of women who have been raped in modern Bosnia and in First World War France. This comparative study suggests that symbolic readings of rape should not preclude, but rather might be read as evidence for, real violence against women during territorial conflicts, ancient and modern.52

One of the most direct discussions of rape is found in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. The expert advice on how to get a girl includes the following: discount women’s dissent, know that women enjoy being raped, and take mythological descriptions of women enjoying being raped as validation. Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Fasti describe the rapes of women repeatedly, and, although the descriptions differ in length and tone, many of them eroticise women’s fear, and some depict women being raped and then being punished for having been raped. Ovid’s writings are sophisticated and complex, but feminist interpretations have made it impossible simply to read rape in Ovid as political allegory, or to look at the style and not the content of a description.53

Ancient literary depictions of rape were not written in a vacuum, but were in dialogue with contemporary ideology and politics.54 It is probable that fictional depictions of rape influenced laws about sexual crimes.55 Very occasionally, ancient literature gives us a glimpse into the emotional effect of rape on a woman, for example in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Creusa’s account of her rape by Apollo in the tragedy Ion by Euripides, and in Menander’s comedy Epitrepontes, which perniciously characterises rape as having a greater impact on the free woman than on the woman who is a slave and prostitute.56 However, Augustine is the earliest writer to recognise that rape might warrant “consolation”; that it was an experience that required support for the survivors so that they could live with dignity and not shame.57 In doing so, Augustine challenged the example set for Roman women by Lucretia, whose chastity after being raped was proven by her subsequent suicide.

Was Ancient Literature Feminist?

Not all of ancient writing obviously upholds gendered power relations designed to subordinate women; some texts have been read as feminist or proto-feminist. In addition to the poetry of Sappho and other women authors (see “Women Writers” section), ancient philosophical writing sometimes challenged prevalent ideas about women. The fifth book of Plato’s Republic voices some revolutionary ideas about women; that guardianship should be performed by men and women alike; that for the guardians, the private household and the institution of marriage be eliminated, and that the raising of children become a communal responsibility. Plato was not interested in the liberation of women per se; rather he wanted to create the best conditions for the guardians to rule the ideal state. However, in envisioning that some women could rule the city as equals to men, and in arguing for the abolition of the traditional family unit, Plato provided radical alternatives to Greek social norms and has, therefore, attracted much feminist attention.58

The philosophical schools of Cynicism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, were more gender-inclusive than Plato’s philosophy.59 Stoicism recognised that women were equally as capable as men of rationality and virtue, although it often prescribed for them domestic roles. The Cynic philosopher Hipparchia (early 4th century bce) did not remain in the domestic sphere; anecdotes told about her life characterise her as a bold radical who rejected gender norms with gusto; she has been called “the first feminist” (see further women in philosophy).60

Among the many literary genres in whose characters and ideas readers have seen food for feminism, Latin love poetry and Greek tragedy stand out. The mistresses in Latin love elegy, alluring women of indeterminate social status, are characterised as compelling, forceful, and masterful. This represents a striking reversal of the roles traditionally assigned to Roman woman, an observation that led one feminist critic to characterise Propertius and other elegists as having created a “counter-cultural feminism.”61 This has initiated an on-going debate about love elegy’s feminism, or lack thereof.62 Does love elegy reveal the increased political marginalisation in Augustan Rome of Roman male citizens? What does it mean for the male poetic personae to identify as feminine? Is the self-characterisation of elegy as a “soft” genre subversive? Do the active roles afforded the elegiac mistresses within the poems reflect or provoke the disruption of gender roles outside the poems? Can Ovid’s Heroides help us distinguish between the voice of a man writing like a woman, and a woman writing?63 Are the gender dynamics reflective of other disruptions, such as a crisis in language?64 The gender relations in and of Latin poetry are more complicated than the misogynistic aggressions of Roman satire and epigram. As so often with feminist approaches to literature, feminism makes the reader aware of their own investment in what questions about, and aspects of, a text, to emphasise. It is in the processes of reading—ambivalent reading, resistant reading, renegade reading, that much of the feminism in Latin love poetry (and other ancient literary genres) lies.

Greek tragedy, with its extraordinary female characters and occasional remarkable reflections on the status of the status of women, has also attracted feminist interest.65 Early feminist work examined tragedy as a source for the lives of contemporary women.66 Later work moved beyond tragedy as a reflection of “real life” and towards understanding tragedy as a “symbolic system” that informed concepts of gender, both within the plays themselves and within democratic Athens as a whole.67 Feminist work has illuminated the importance of female characters as objects of exchange (in marriage, war, and sacrifice) to facilitate male identities and relationships.68 Feminist scholarship has analysed female speech in Athenian drama and argued that it was viewed as potentially subversive, socially and politically, and therefore needed policing.69 It has argued that the genre of Greek tragedy was associated with the feminine in Athenian thought, and that tragedy involved “playing the other”: through entering into the world and minds of women, including foreign women, men were allowed to explore and affirm what it meant to be Greek men.70 Feminist work has also analysed satyr-drama, the “comic relief” that would have been watched after the performances of tragedies, as policing excessive masculine behavior (sexual aggression and drinking), in a similar way to tragedy’s policing of female behavior.71

Athenian tragedy and Roman love poetry cannot be neatly pigeonholed as feminist or anti-feminist. Both genres are privileged sites for the exploration and negotiation of gender, and both have attracted feminist attention, including psychoanalytic feminist interpretations. Feminist criticism of ancient literature that is informed by psychoanalytic theory is rather sparse; but where it is used, it tends to be in analyses of Athenian tragedy and Roman love poetry, a mark of the complexity of the material, and its preoccupations with the self and its relations to others.72

Queering Ancient Literature

Queer theory emerged in 1990, with the publication of two foundational texts, Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler, and The Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and the organisation of a conference entitled “Queer Theory” (the first known pairing of the terms queer and theory) by Teresa de Lauretis.73 Queer theory as a field arose from feminist studies, sexuality studies, lesbian and gay activism, and postmodernism. The goals of queer theory sometimes overlap or align with those of feminism; at other times they are opposed.

Queer theory is resistant to fixed categories, which makes providing a concise definition difficult. One of its aims, however, is to challenge heteronormativity: the privileging of male-female sexual relations above others, and the division of the field of sexuality into the binary heterosexuality and homosexuality. Of course, Graeco-Roman antiquity is already, from a modern perspective, “queer” in that it has been understood by scholars to offer a different sexual paradigm, and, in that sense, has played a part in combatting heteronormativity.74 From Pindar’s fragment 123, in which a man describes his desire for the beautiful young man Theoxenus, to the wild shenanigans in PetroniusSatyrica, ancient literature provides plentiful evidence that men in Greece and Rome were expected to take male lovers as well as wives and other female lovers. Factors like the age of the male lovers (one should be older, one younger) were more important than any homosexual/heterosexual divide. In ancient Greece, pederasty was not queer, but being a cinaedus was.75 Recognition of the centrality of pederasty enables us to understand the contingency of our own sexual norms. It is hard to argue that certain relationships and acts are natural or unnatural when norms differ so radically over time. However, female-female sexual relations were not normative in antiquity, and excavating these is a common goal of queer and feminist theory.

The evidence for female homosexuality, lesbianism in our terms (although modern and ancient constructions of sexuality are rather different), is sparse and often uncertain.76 Sappho’s poetry positively conveys female homoeroticism, but most literary representations suggest that women’s love for women was considered abnormal, and involved women displaying male appetites. Stories like the one in the fable by Phaedrus (see Phaedrus 4) that tells of the origins of the female tribades (hyper-masculine women) and “soft men” (Prometheus became drunk and stuck the wrong parts on the wrong sexes; Fable 4), are likely to have perpetuated prejudice against lesbians. Other literary representations are more complicated. The ancient Greek novel Babylonian Tales, by Iamblichus 1, survives only in fragments and an epitome, but it may have featured a marriage between two women that also functioned in the narrative as a metaphorical response to Roman conquest.77 Ovid’s tale of Iphis and Ianthe (Metamorphoses 9.666–797) is the only mythological account of female same-sex desire and love. Iphis was born female, brought up male, and fell in love with the girl Ianthe. Immediately before the wedding, the goddess Isis gave Iphis a male body. This tale has been interpreted in different ways: as reinforcing heterosexual norms, as showing that gender is performative, and not necessarily tied to biological sex, and as confirming the idea that penetrative sex was the norm.78 Iphis and Ianthe might also be seen as an early transgender myth. One area of queer feminism that is likely to develop is the construction of a history of representations of transgender people that goes back to, and gains validation from, antiquity. Accounts of cross-dressing, representations of deities like Aphroditus, and myths about Hermaphroditus will be important here.79

However, queer theory is concerned not just with sexuality and desire. Queer theorists challenge “the very ideas of normality which underpin social institutions and practices. From a queer perspective nothing is natural, nothing is normal. Everything is a social and cultural construct and gender identities are acquired, at least in part, through performance.”80 To “queer” a work of ancient literature can therefore mean to interpret it looking for dimensions to sexuality, gender, and desire that are typically marginalised, or it can mean to question the foundations of the text, to defamiliarise its properties, and to offer a resistant or renegade reading. Feminist literary criticism has queered (though it does not use that term) the very notion of gender in classical Greece, arguing that the primary framework for assessing women’s behavior in the civic sphere was not “woman” in opposition to “man” (a binary conception of gender), but three female roles in relation to one another: the prostitute, the wife, and the performer of rituals.81

Feminism can be at odds with queer approaches. Queer theory can be anarchic, always challenging norms and dismantling stable boundaries. It is hard to argue that women in ancient Athens were oppressed, as feminists might want to do, if the category of “woman” is decried as essentialist, and its stability and meaningfulness dissolved. Moreover, queer theorists are likely to valorise eroticised power relations; feminists are likely to critique them. A queer approach to Greek epigram, for example, focuses upon the genre’s playfulness and transgressions; feminist approaches foreground its misogyny.82 The goal of queer theory is not necessarily to address imbalances of power and work toward a more equal society. Queer theorists are as likely to attack the grand narratives of feminism as they are those of patriarchy.

Feminism and the Value of Ancient Literature

Feminist approaches to ancient literature raise some questions about feminism, literature, and value. In prizing texts because women wrote them, or because they are politically progressive, do feminists lose sight of what is important about ancient literature? Has ideological critique replaced aesthetic critique?

For those readers who only want to enjoy, for example, the witty intertextual game in a Greek epigram that describes the gang rape of an old woman, or the beautiful language employed by Ovid as he describes Philomela’s tongue flapping about on the ground after she has been violated, then feminist criticism can indeed spoil the fun. But it is not fair to say that feminist critics overlook aesthetic appreciation of texts. Indeed, the elevated literary play in the epigram and the eroticisation of violence in Ovid, are part of these poems’ technologies of misogyny; it is impossible to separate the aesthetics from the ideology. Moreover, it is essential to recognise that “aesthetic experience is inseparable from memory, context, and meaning, and hence from who we are, where we are, and all that has already happened to us.”83 In other words, the aesthetics of a text are not simply its formal properties, but also what the reader brings to the text as they discern and appreciate those properties.84 It is also worth bearing in mind that most ancient readers would not have recognised the separation of aesthetics from ideology that some opponents of feminist criticism insist on. From Aristophanes’ Frogs to Plutarch’s How the Young Man Should Study Poetry, Greek and Roman critics emphasised the ethical as well as aesthetic importance of literature.

Feminism has also played a role in transforming which literature is deemed valuable by scholars. It was feminist literary criticism, along with scholarship on the history of sexuality, which rehabilitated the ancient Greek novel as a genre worthy of classicists’ attention. Much early scholarship assumed, because romance is a central theme, the ancient Greek novels must have been read by women and “the poor-in-spirit.”85 The novel was also derided for having “oriental” roots.86 However, the meatier roles for female characters and the novels’ geographical and cultural expansiveness are aspects that feminist classicists have positively valued.87 Most remarkable is the Ethiopian Tales by Heliodorus, a novel that rewrites the Odyssey with an Ethiopian woman as its wandering heroine.88 It is also now widely recognised to be a novel of unsurpassed narrative sophistication and beauty. In sum, by redefining literary quality, feminist criticism has expanded the field of ancient literary studies.

Ancient Literature and Contemporary Activism

One creative feminist mode of engagement with ancient literature is when poets, novelists, and playwrights rewrite individual Greek and Latin texts in ways that supply women’s perspectives that were absent, or only hinted at, in the original works. Three powerful examples among many: The Darker Face of the Earth (first published in 1994, and revised and performed in 1996), a play by Rita Dove that rewrites Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus and sets it on a southern plantation; The Penelopiad (2005) a novel by Margaret Atwood that tells the story of the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view, and Lavinia (2008), a novel by Ursula Le Guin that gives voice to the mute female character in Virgil’s Aeneid.89

Black women and black feminist writers (including Dove) have imaginatively rewritten works of ancient literature in ways that inscribe the perspectives of black women. Scholarship on the adaptations of ancient literature by black women is part of an area of classical reception known as Classica Africana. Classica Africana emerged as a distinct specialisation in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.90 It analyses the impact of ancient literature on black writers, especially African Americans, an area that has often been overlooked in scholarship on the classical tradition.

Sophocles’ Antigone, Euripides’ Medea, and AristophanesLysistrata in particular have been repeatedly performed and adapted in the modern era, on stage and screen, to promote feminism politics worldwide.91 Antigone has been embraced because it questions the relationship of women to the political sphere, and (arguably) celebrates the disempowered woman who speaks truth to power. Medea resonates with modern audiences for its insight into sexual double standards and immigrant women’s experiences.92 Lysistrata is heralded as an anti-war play, a victory for female pacifist co-operation against male warmongering.

However, turning to ancient literature is not always a positive strategy for feminists. It is necessarily backward looking, and it might be better to support new playwrights and screenwriters than to look to the past. Furthermore, sometimes the ancient can serve the modern poorly. For example, the Liberian feminist activist Leymah Gbowee, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her role in bringing peace to Liberia, is misrepresented when the media calls her “the Liberian Lysistrata.”93 Movie director Spike Lee’s campaign for women students in the United States to go on a sex-strike to prevent male sexual violence on campuses was, it has been argued, irresponsible.94

As the culture within higher education changes, so do responses to ancient literature. Classes on Ovid’s Metamorphoses have prompted heated debates about whether universities should teach material that might be disturbing for students who have experienced rape, and whether this kind of material needs trigger warnings; feminists have been divided on the issue.95 Changes in the larger political landscape have led to the rise in visibility of fascists (called the alt-right) who have used classical antiquity and the medieval world to promote white supremacy.96 On-line men’s rights groups use ancient Stoic texts to justify their belief that women and people of color are morally inferior to white men.97 Ovid’s Ars Amatoria gives ideas and validation to “pick up artists” (communities of men online who discuss the best ways to seduce and rape women).98

Feminists have responded by more overtly and assertively calling out the appropriation of ancient literature for misogynist and racist ends. Newer and speedier forms of publishing have supported this: blogs and on-line articles that are disseminated quickly, widely and without cost to the reader. From this has emerged a more politicised model of the reception of antiquity, conceived by Johanna Hanink: Critical Classical Reception Studies. She characterises it as follows:

It has an open activist agenda.

It uses a strong personal voice and engages in storytelling.

It acknowledges, even implicitly, that Greek and Roman antiquity have played a major role in constructing and authorising racism, colonialism, nationalism, patriarchy, Western-centrism, body-normativity, and other entrenched violent societal structures.99

In the 21st century, feminists are re-envisioning, interrogating, and fighting over classical literature with renewed urgency.

Links to Digital Materials


This is a selected bibliography.

  • Beard, Mary. Women & Power: A Manifesto. London: Profile Books, 2017.
  • Felski, Rita. Literature after Feminism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Greenwood, Emily. “Re-Rooting the Classical Tradition: New Directions in Black Classicism,” Classical Receptions Journal 1, no. 1 (2009): 87–103.
  • Gutzwiller, Kathryn J., and Ann Norris Michelini, “Women and Other Strangers: Feminist Perspectives in Classical Literature.” In (En)gendering Knowledge: Feminists in Academe. Edited by Joan E. Hartman and Ellen Messer-Davidow, 66–84. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
  • Haley, Shelley P. “Be Not Afraid of the Dark. Critical Race Theory and Classical Studies.” In Prejudice and Christian Beginnings: Investigating Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies. Edited by Laura Nasrallah and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, 27–50. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.
  • Hanink, JohannaIt’s Time to Embrace Critical Classical Reception,” Eidolon (2017, May 1).
  • Holmes, Brooke. Gender: Antiquity and its Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • McManus, Barbara F. Classics and Feminism. Gendering the Classics. New York: Twayne 1997.
  • Plant, I. M., ed. Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome. An Anthology. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
  • Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin, and Lisa Auanger, eds. Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.
  • Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin, and Amy Richlin, eds. Feminist Theory and the Classics. New York and London: Routledge, 1993.
  • Richlin, Amy. The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, rev. ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Richlin, Amy, ed. Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Richlin, Amy. Arguments with Silence: Writing the History of Roman Women. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014.
  • Söderbäck, Fanny, ed. Feminist Readings of Antigone. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2010.
  • Walters, Tracey L. African American Literature and the Classicist Tradition: Black Women Writers from Wheatley to Morrison. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Wohl, Victoria. “Tragedy and Feminism.” In A Companion to Tragedy. Edited by Rebecca Bushnell, 145–160. Oxford: Blackwell, 2009.
  • Wyke, Maria, ed. Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Body in Antiquity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.
  • Wyke, Maria. The Roman Mistress. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Zajko, Vanda. “‘What Difference Was Made?’ Feminist Models of Reception.” In A Companion to Classical Receptions. Edited by Lorna Hardwick and Christopher Stray, 195–206. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.
  • Zajko, Vanda, and Miriam Leonard, eds. Laughing with Medusa. Classical Myth and Feminist Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Zeitlin, Froma I. Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Zuckerberg, Donna G. Not All Dead White Men. Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2018.


  • 1. See Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).

  • 2. See the Classics for All project; and Jessica Wright, “Latin Behind Bars: Teaching Latin in an American Prison,” Eidolon (2017, January 16).

  • 3. See Richard Tarrant on the cult of “the heroic editor” (men), whom he compares to ancient Greek heroes (men): Richard Tarrant, Texts, Editors, and Readers: Methods and Problems in Latin Textual Criticism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 19–21. See also the satirical articles on textual criticism and feminism by Sarah Scullin, “Just the Texts, Ma’am,” and Yung In Chae, “The Feminist Theory of Everything,” in Eidolon (2017, June 8).

  • 4. See Judith P. Hallett and Thomas van Nortwick, eds., Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship (London: Routledge, 1997).

  • 5. See Sean Gurd, ed., Philology and its Discontents (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010).

  • 6. For example, Neil Hopkinson emends line 38 of Musaeus’ Hero and Leander, substituting “Aphrodite” for “Athena,” due to insufficient understanding of the sexual politics of the poem: Neil Hopkinson, Greek Poetry of the Imperial Period (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press: 1994), 147; with the criticisms of Helen Morales, “Gender and Identity in Musaeus’ Hero and Leander,” in Constructing Identities in Late Antiquity, ed. Richard Miles (New York: Routledge, 1999), 41–69, especially 59–60.

  • 7. Shelley P. Haley, “Be Not Afraid of the Dark: Critical Race Theory and Classical Studies,” in Prejudice and Christian Beginnings. Investigating Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies, ed. Laura Nasrallah and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 27–50; Stephanie McCarter, “Rape, Lost in Translation,” Electric Lit (2018, May 1).

  • 8. Sarah Ruden, transl., The Aeneid (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008); Caroline Alexander, transl., The Iliad (New York: Harper Collins, 2015); Emily Wilson, transl., The Odyssey Homer (New York: W. W. Norton, 2017). On women classical scholars and the challenges they have faced, see Yopie Prins, Ladies’ Greek: Victorian Translations of Tragedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017); and Rosie Wyles and Edith Hall, eds., Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

  • 9. Yung In Chae, “Who’s Afraid of Simone de Beauvoir?” Eidolon (2016, July 14).

  • 10. See Kimberly Springer, “Third Wave Black Feminism?” Signs 27, no. 4 (2002): 1059–1082.

  • 11. Edith Hall and Fiona Macintosh, Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre 1660–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 511–520.

  • 12. Helene Foley, Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 198; and Steven Weisenburger, Modern Medea: A Family Story of Slavery and Murder in the Old South (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998).

  • 13. Yung In Chae, “Who’s Afraid of Simone de Beauvoir?” Eidolon (2016, July 14).

  • 14. See Virginia Woolf, “On Not Knowing Greek,” originally published in 1925 as part of The Common Reader, now published separately with introduction by Elena Gualtieri (London: Hesperus Press, 2008); and Nancy Worman, Virginia Woolf’s Greek Tragedy (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018).

  • 15. Sheila Jeffreys, The Idea of Prostitution (Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex, 1997), 48–54.

  • 16. Mary Beard and John Henderson, “With This Body I Thee Worship: Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity,” in Gender and The Body in the Ancient Mediterranean, ed. Maria Wyke (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 56–79; and Stephanie Lynn Budin, The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

  • 17. Johann Jakob Bachofen, Das Mutterecht (1861), (Whitefish, MT: Kessinge, 2010); Marija Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe: 7000–3500 BC (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974); reprinted as Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Ancient Civilization (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989). See also Cynthia Eller, The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won’t Give Women a Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000).

  • 18. See Page duBois, Centaurs and Amazons (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press). Adrienne Mayor challenges the widely held view that Amazons were entirely mythical: Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).

  • 19. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978).

  • 20. An Open Letter to Mary Daly.” See Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, eds., Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).

  • 21. See Miriam Leonard, “Irigaray’s Cave: Feminist Theory and the Politics of French Feminism,” Ramus 28, no. 2 (1999): 152–168.

  • 22. Paul Allen Miller, Diotima at the Barricades: French Feminists Read Plato (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Adriana Cavarero, In Spite of Plato: A Feminist Rewriting of Ancient Philosophy (New York: Routledge, 1995); and Adriana Cavarero, Inclinations: A Critique of Rectitude (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016), 45–56.

  • 23. Miller, Diotima at the Barricades, viii.

  • 24. Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 57.

  • 25. Kira Cochrane, All the Rebel Women: The Rise of the Forth Wave of Feminism (London: Guardian Shorts, 2013).

  • 26. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989): 139–167. See also Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Intersectionality as Method: A Note,” Signs 38, no. 4 (2013): 1019–1030.

  • 27. Barbara F. McManus Classics and Feminism (Woodbridge, CT: Twayne, 1997).

  • 28. See Yung In Chae, “White People Explain Classics to Us: Epistemic Injustice in the Everyday Experiences of Racial Minorities,” Eidolon (2018, February 20); and Mathura Umachandran, “Fragile, Handle With Care. On White Classicists,” Eidolon (2017, June 5).

  • 29. Collected and translated by I. M. Plant ed., Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004). See also Ellen Greene, ed., Women Poets in Ancient Greece and Rome (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004).

  • 30. On Sulpicia 1, see Judith P. Hallett, “Scenarios of Sulpiciae: Moral Discourses and Immoral Verses,” EuGeStA 1 (2011): 79–97, with further bibliography.

  • 31. See Ann Carson, Eros the Bittersweet (Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1998); Yopie Prins, Victorian Sappho (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Ellen Greene, ed., Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches (Berkeley: University of California Press: 1996); and Ellen Greene, ed., Re-Reading Sappho: Reception and Transmission (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

  • 32. The two lines are preserved in the scholia on Juvenal. There is a seventy-line hexameter satire poem that purports to be written by Sulpicia, but that cannot have been; scholars now date it to the end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th century ce. On Sulpicia, see Amy Richlin, Arguments with Silence (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press), 110–129.

  • 33. See Amy Richlin, The Garden of Priapus (revised edition Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

  • 34. See Jan. N. Bremmer and Marco Formisano, eds., Perpetua’s Passions: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). It includes text and translation by Joseph Farrell and Craig Williams. See also Barbara K. Gold, “Gender Fluidity and Closure in Perpetua’s Prison Diary,” EuGeStA 1 (2011): 237–151; and Barbara K. Gold, Perpetua: Athlete of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

  • 35. The treatise on music by Aristides Quintilanus does, however, discern difference in male and female styles of music (De Musica 2.8. 30).

  • 36. It is possible for men to do this also: one of Cixous’s examples of an author who employs “l’écriture feminine” is James Joyce. See especially Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, Signs 1, no. 4 (1976): 875–893; and reprinted in Isabelle de Courtivron and Elaine Marks, eds., New French Feminisms (Minneapolis: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981).

  • 37. Elaine Showalter, Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 18; quoted and followed by Rita Felski, Literature after Feminism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 91.

  • 38. Simon Goldhill, “What Is Ekphrasis For?” Special issue, Shadi Bartsch and Jas Elsner, eds., Classical Philology, 102, no. 1 (2007): 1–19.

  • 39. See Marilyn Skinner, “Woman and Language in Ancient Greece, or Why Is Sappho a Woman?” in Feminist Theory and the Classics, ed. Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz and Amy Richlin (London: Routledge, 1993), 125–144; Ellen Greene, ed., Women Poets in Ancient Greece and Rome (Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 2005); and Kristina Milnor, “Sulpicia’s (Corpo)reality: Elegy, Authorship, and the Body in [Tibullus] 3.13,” Classical Antiquity 21, no. 2 (2002): 259–282.

  • 40. See Emily Hauser, “Optima tu proprii nominis auctor: The semantics of female authorship in ancient Rome, from Sulpicia to Proba,” EuGeStA 6 (2016), 160, on the “coded” speech of Sulpicia 1; and J. J. Winkler, “Double Consciousness in Sappho’s Lyrics,” in The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece, ed. J. J. Winkler (New York: Routledge, 1990), 162–187, on Sappho as “bilingual.”

  • 41. Emily Hauser, “In Her Own Words: The Semantics of Female Authorship in Ancient Greece, from Sappho to Nossis,” Ramus, 45, no. 2 (2016): 133–165; and Hauser “Optima tu proprii nominis auctor,” 151–186.

  • 42. “Technology of gender” is Teresa de Lauretis phrase: Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987). See Helen Morales, Vision and Narrative in Achilles’ Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 8–35, for feminist gaze theory and where it coincides with and differs from ancient theories of the gaze; Shadi Bartsch, The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge, and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006); and David Fredrick, ed., The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

  • 43. On Pandora see Vered Lev Kenaan, Pandora’s Senses: The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008). On Pygmalion, see Alison Sharrock, “Womanufacture,” Journal of Roman Studies 81 (1991): 36–49; and Alison Sharrock, “The Love of Creation,” Ramus 20, no. 2: 169–182.

  • 44. See Morales, Vision and Narrative, 8–35, 220–226; and Helen Lovatt, The Epic Gaze: Vision, Gender, and Narrative in Ancient Epic (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 205–261).

  • 45. See A. M. Keith, Engendering Rome. Women in Latin Epic (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 101–131; See Madeleine Henry, “Athenaeus the Ur-Pornographer,” in Athenaeus and His World: Reading Greek Culture in the Roman Empire, ed. John Wilkins and David Braund (Exeter, U.K.: Exeter University Press, 2000), 503–510 ; Laura McClure, Courtesans at Table: Gender and Genre in Athenaeus (London: Taylor and Francis, 2003); and Leslie Kurke, “Gender, Politics, and Subversion in the Chreiai of Machon,” Cambridge Classical Journal 48 (2002): 20–65; On satire and invective see Amy Richlin, The Garden of Priapus. More generally on objectification and pornography, see Amy Richlin, ed., Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1992).

  • 46. See Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (New York: Putnam, 1981); Drucilla Cornell, ed., Feminism and Pornography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Amy Richlin, ed., Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome; and Leslie Kurke, “Pindar and the Prostitutes, or Reading Ancient ‘Pornography’,” Arion 4, no. 2 (1996): 49–75.

  • 47. See Leslie Kurke, “Inventing the ‘Hetaira’: Sex, Politics, and Discursive Conflict in Archaic Greece,” Classical Antiquity 16, no. 1 (1997): 106–150; Christopher A. Faraone and Laura K. McClure, eds., Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006); Konstantinos Kapparis, Prostitution in the Ancient Greek World (Berlin: De Gruyter: 2017); Thomas A. J. McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); and Allison Glazebrook and Madeleine M. Henry, eds., Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE200 CE (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011).

  • 48. See Anise K. Strong, Prostitutes and Matrons in the Roman World (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

  • 49. See Rosanna Omitowoju, Rape and the Politics of Consent in Classical Athens (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Susan Deacy and Karen F. Pierce, eds., Rape in Antiquity: Sexual Violence in the Greek and Roman Worlds (London: Duckworth, 1997; reprinted with new material: London: Bristol Classical Press, 2012); and videos of the conference Rape in Antiquity: 20 Years On (Roehampton, June 22–23, 2017).

  • 50. See Helene P. Foley, ed., The Homeric “Hymn to Demeter”: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretative Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

  • 51. For example in Pindar’s Pythian 9; see further Carol Dougherty, The Poetics of Colonization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 136–156.

  • 52. Carol Dougherty, “Sowing the Seeds of Violence: Rape, Women, and the Land,” in Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Body in Antiquity, ed. Maria Wyke, 267–284 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

  • 53. Amy Richlin, “Reading Ovid’s Rapes,” first published in Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome, ed. Amy Richlin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 158–179; and revised in Richlin, Arguments with Silence.

  • 54. Helen Morales, “Rape, Violence, Complicity: Colluthus’s Abduction of Helen,” Arethusa 49, no. 1 (2016): 61–92.

  • 55. Judith Evans-Grubbs, “Abduction Marriage in Antiquity: A Law of Constantine (C Th IX.24.1) and its Social Context,” Journal of Roman Studies 79 (1989): 59–83.

  • 56. Allison Glazebrook, “A Hierarchy of Violence? Sex Slaves, Parthenoi, and Rape in Menander’s Epitrepontes,” Helios 42, no. 1 (2015): 91–101.

  • 57. See Melanie Webb, “‘On Lucretia Who Slew Herself’: Rape and Consolation in Augustine’s De civitate dei,” Augustinian Studies 44, no. 1 (2013): 37–58.

  • 58. Natalie Bluestone, Women and the Ideal Society: Plato’s Republic and Modern Myths of Gender (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987); Julia Annas, “Plato’s Republic and Feminism,” Philosophy 51 (1976): 307–321; and Nancy Tuana, ed., Feminist Interpretations of Plato (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).

  • 59. See Kathy Gaca, The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Martha Nussbaum, “The Incomplete Feminism of Musonius Rufus,” in The Sleep of Reason, ed. M. C. Nussbaum and J. Shivola, 283–325 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Lisa Hill, “The First Wave of Feminism: Were the Stoics Feminists?” History of Political Thought, 22, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 13–40; and Scott Aiken and Emily McGill Rutherford, “Stoicism, Feminism, and Autonomy,” Symposium 1, no. 1 (2014): 9–22.

  • 60. Ethel Kersey called Hipparchia “the first feminist”; see further Kristen Kennedy, “Hipparchia the Cynic: Feminist Rhetoric and the Ethics of Embodiment,” Hypatia, 14, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 48–71.

  • 61. Judith Hallett, “The Role of Women in Roman Elegy: Counter-Cultural Feminism,” Arethusa 6 (1973); and reprinted in Latin Erotic Elegy: An Anthology And A Reader, ed. Paul Allen Miller (London: Routlege, 2002), 329–347.

  • 62. See Maria Wyke, The Roman Mistress (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2002), 11–191; Denise Eileen McCoskey and Zara Martirosova Torlone, Latin Love Poetry (London: Tauris, 2014), 41–78; and Victoria Rimell, Ovid’s Lovers: Desire, Difference, and the Poetic Imagination (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006), all with further bibliography.

  • 63. See Sara H. Lindheim, Mail and Female: Epistolary Narrative and Desire in Ovid’s Heroides (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003).

  • 64. See Paul Allen Miller, “Why Propertius Is a Woman: French Feminism and Augustan Elegy,” Classical Philology 96, no. 2 (2001): 127–146.

  • 65. See Victoria Wohl, “Tragedy and Feminism,” in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2009), 145–160.

  • 66. Sarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (New York, NY: Schocken, 1975).

  • 67. Helene P. Foley, “The Conception of Women in Athenian Drama,” in Reflections of Women in Antiquity, ed. Helene P. Foley (Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1981), 127–168.

  • 68. Victoria Wohl, Intimate Commerce: Exchange, Gender, and Subjectivity in Greek Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998). On marriage, kinship, and social exchange, see also Nicole Loraux, The Children of Athena: Athenian Ideas about Citizenship and the Division between the Sexes, transl. Caroline Levine (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984); Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); Kirk Ormand, Exchange and the Maiden: Marriage in Sophoclean Drama (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999); and Helene P. Foley, Female Acts in Greek Tragedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

  • 69. Laura McClure, Spoken Like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999). For discussion of women’s speech in Roman comedy, see Dorota Dutsch, Feminine Discourse in Roman Comedy: On Echoes and Voices (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • 70. Froma I. Zeitlin, Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

  • 71. Edith Hall, “Ithyphallic Males Behaving Badly; or, Satyr Drama as Gendered Tragic Ending,” in Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Body in Antiquity, ed. Maria Wyke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 13–38.

  • 72. On Greek tragedy, see Victoria Wohl, Intimate Commerce: Exchange, Gender, and Subjectivity in Greek Tragedy (Austin: University of Austin Press, 1998); and Page duBois, Sowing the Body: Psychoanalysis and Ancient Representations of Women (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). On Latin love poetry, see Sara H. Lindheim, Mail and Female: Epistolary Narrative and Desire in Ovid’s Heroides (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003); Micaela Janan, “When the Lamp Is Shattered”: Desire and Narrative in Catullus (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994); Micaela Janan, The Politics of Desire: Propertius IV (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001); Effrosini Spentzou, Readers and Writers in Ovid’s Heroides: Transgressions of Genre and Gender (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Paul Allen Miller, Subjecting Verses: Latin Love Elegy and the Emergence of the Real (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004). On classicists’ neglect of psychoanalysis, see Miriam Leonard, “Antigone, the Political and the Ethics of Psychoanalysis,” The Cambridge Classical Journal, 49 (2003): 130–154.

  • 73. At the University of California, Santa Cruz. Papers arising from the conference were edited by Teresa de Lauretis and published in a special issue of Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3, no. 2 (1991).

  • 74. See Alastair J. L. Blanshard, Sex: Vice and Love from Antiquity to Modernity (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); Daniel Orrells, Sex: Antiquity and Its Legacy (London: Tauris, 2015); and Shane Butler, “Homer’s Deep,” in Deep Classics: Rethinking Classical Reception, ed. Shane Butler (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), 1–20.

  • 75. See Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Amy Richlin, “Not before Homosexuality: The Materiality of the Cinaedus and the Roman Law against Love between Men,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 3 (1993): 523–573.

  • 76. See Bernadette J. Brooten, Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); Beert C. Verstraete and Vernon L. Provencal, eds., Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West (New York: Haworth Press, 2005); and Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz and Lisa Auanger, eds., Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002).

  • 77. See Helen Morales, “Marrying Mesopotamia: Female Sexuality and Cultural Resistance in Iamblichus’ Babylonian Tales,” Ramus 25, no. 1 (2014): 78–101.

  • 78. See Diane T. Pintabone, “Ovid’s Iphis and Ianthe: When Girls Won’t Be Girls,” in Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World, ed. Nancy Sokin Rabinowitz and Lisa Auanger (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002); Shilpa Raval, “Cross-Dressing and ‘Gender Trouble’ in the Ovidian Corpus,” Helios 29, no. 2 (2002): 149–172; and Deborah Kamen, “Naturalized Desires and the Metamorphosis of Iphis,” Helios 39, no. 1 (2012): 21–36.

  • 79. See Donatilla Campanile, Filippo Carlà-Uhink, and Margherita Facella, eds., TransAntiquity. Cross-Dressing and Transgender Dynamics in the Ancient World (Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 2017).

  • 80. Chris Weedon, Feminism, Theory, and the Politics of Difference (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 73. See also David Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); and Kathy Rudy, “Queer Theory and Feminism,” Women’s Studies, 29, no. 2 (2000): 195–216.

  • 81. Kate Gilhuly, The Feminine Matrix of Sex and Gender in Classical Athens (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

  • 82. Gideon Nisbet, Greek Epigram in the Roman Empire: Martial’s Forgotten Rivals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) is inspired by queer theory, and the book both enjoys and mirrors the laddishness of its subject. Compare Amy Richlin’s feminist approach in The Garden of Priapus.

  • 83. Rita Felski, Literature after Feminism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 142; paraphrasing Barbara Hernnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 69.

  • 84. See Alison Sharrock and Helen Morales, eds., Intratextuality: Greek and Roman Textual Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

  • 85. “The poor-in-spirit”: Ben Perry’s phrase; see also Bryan Reardon’s dismissive comparison with stories told in women’s magazines, discussed in Morales, Vision and Narrative, 2–3, esp. n. 9.

  • 86. See Tim Whitmarsh, “The Romance between Greece and the East,” in The Romance between Greece and the East, ed. Tim Whitmarsh and Stuart Thomson, 1–21 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013); and Phiroze Vasunia “History, Empire, and the Novel: Pierre-Daniel Huet and the Origins of the Romance,” in The Romance between Greece and the East, ed. Tim Whitmarsh and Stuart Thomson (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 322–335.

  • 87. From Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Essays on the Greek Romances (New York: Longmans Green, 1943), to Margaret Anne Doody, The True Story of the Novel (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996).

  • 88. See Tim Whitmarsh, Narrative and Identity in the Ancient Greek Novel (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 108–136.

  • 89. See Susanna Braund, “‘We’re Here Too, the Ones without Names’: A Study of Female Voices as Imagined by Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, and Marguerite Yourcenar,” Classical Receptions Journal 4, no. 2 (2012): 190–208; Thomas E. Jenkins, Antiquity Now: The Classical World in the Contemporary American Imagination (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 184–220; and Gregory A. Staley, ed., American Women and Classical Myths (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009).

  • 90. Michele Valerie Ronnick gave it this name in 1996, patterning it on Meyer Reinhold’s Classica Americana. See Patrice Rankine, Ulysses in Black (Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 2006); Tracey L. Walters, African American Literature and the Classicist Tradition (New York: Hampshire, 2007); and Emily Greenwood, “Re-rooting the Classical Tradition: New Directions in Black Classicism,” Classical Receptions Journal 1, no. 1 (2009): 87–103. See further, Emily Greenwood, Afro-Greeks: Dialogues between Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Classics in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Patrice D. Rankine, Aristotle and Black Drama: A Theater of Civil Disobedience (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013); and the website of the society Eos, dedicated to Africana Receptions of Classical Antiquity.

  • 91. See Kathryn Bosher, Fiona Macintosh, Justine McConnell, and Patrice Rankine, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Greek Drama in the Americas (Oxford: Oxford Classical Press, 2015); Erin B. Mee and Helene P. Foley, eds., Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage (Oxford: Oxford Classical Press, 2011); Carlos Morais, Lorna Hardwick, and Maria de Fátima Silva, eds., Portrayals of Antigone in Portugal: 20th and 21st Century Rewritings of the Antigone Myth (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017); Betine van Zyl Smit, ed., A Handbook to the Reception of Greek Drama (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016); and Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson, Crossroads in the Black Aegean: Oedipus, Antigone, and Dramas of the African Diaspora. (Oxford: Oxford Classical Press, 2008).

  • 92. Medea Luis Alfaro, Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.

  • 93. Helen Morales, “Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, the Liberian ‘Sex-Strike’, and the Politics of Reception,” Greece and Rome 60, no. 2 (2013): 281–295.

  • 94. In interviews while publicising his movie Chi-Raq: see Helen Morales, “(Sex) Striking Out: Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq,” Eidolon (2015, December 17).

  • 95. See Helen Morales, “On Microaggressions,” in Cloelia (2017, March 27); more broadly on these issues, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz and Fiona McHardy, eds., From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classroom (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2014).

  • 96. The appropriations of Classics by hate groups are documented and responded to on the platform Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics.

  • 97. Donna G. Zuckerberg, Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2018).

  • 98. Zuckerberg, Not All White Men.

  • 99. Johanna Hanink, “It’s Time to Embrace Critical Classical Reception,” Eidolon (2017, May 1).