GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘FROM PENELOPE TO PUSSYHATS, THE ANCIENT ORIGINS OF FEMINIST CRAFTIVISM’ by STEPHANIE MCCARTER

Homer is of course no feminist. Penelope’s cunning intelligence offers her a means of resisting her suitors, but it also makes her a good match for her husband’s own mental agility. She complements rather than challenges him. The dangerous potential of her craft is neutralized by her use of it to reinforce Odysseus’s patriarchal authority. Odysseus in fact remains skeptical of his wife as he cautiously reintegrates himself into his house. His beggar’s disguise allows him to put her through a series of tests; only when he is certain no other man has been in his bed does he finally reveal himself to her. Even in faithful Penelope there is the lurking danger that she may outcraft him.

Ovid’s most famous weaver is Arachne, who surpasses all women in wool-work. She boldly challenges Minerva, herself intent on demonstrating her fearsome power, to a contest of skill. Arachne’s tapestry is the work of an artist in her prime, and it finds a parallel in Ovid’s own “fine-spun” epic song. Like Ovid’s poem, it depicts the rapes of women, especially those perpetrated by gods. Minerva’s tapestry, however, also evokes Ovid’s text; it shows us, just as Ovid has, the might of the gods and the sufferings of those who challenge them. The story puts into competition two opposing views of art: one subverts established power and the other enforces it.

Ovid makes it clear that Arachne is the superior artist: “The golden virago, incensed at Arachne’s spectacular success, ripped the fabric apart with all its embroidery of celestial crimes.” Minerva violently strikes Arachne, then transforms her into a voiceless spider whose webs no longer have the power to articulate resistance. Outmaneuvered by such craft, the powerful have recourse only to brute force, but they cannot quell speech entirely: “All of Lydia buzzed with the story, which spread through Phrygia, too, and filled the world with talk.”

Ovid does not tell us how these talkers interpret the story, whether they draw the lesson of Arachne’s tapestry or Minerva’s. But the final act of defiance is achieved whenever anyone grants the win to Arachne; artist, object, and interpreter join together in an unruly alliance of which we can still be a part.

[Via]

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘Is Homer’s Calypso a Feminist Icon or a Rapist?’ by Stephanie McCarter

But of course the affairs male gods have with mortal women are often best described as rape, a term that likewise fits Calypso’s sexual domination of Odysseus as she replicates the very system with which she finds fault.

As Mary Beard has ably demonstrated, “We have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.” This is exceedingly true of Calypso in the Odyssey, who uses her divine authority in ways that replicate the nastiest aspects of patriarchal power, such as sexual domination and enslavement. As long as Calypso’s island mirrors Zeus’s own hierarchical structure, as long as she occupies the masculinized position of power, there are no feminist lessons to be learned here, only new iterations of the same ancient forms of male domination.

Like its hero, Homer’s epic cannot imagine its way into a new paradigm even as it recognizes the precarious positions that women and the oppressed too often find themselves in. Though it fails to offer better solutions, it does have lessons to teach about the damaging ways authority gets wielded and about those who unjustly get to wield it — and perhaps that is why we should all read it, for its negative rather than positive representations of power so that we can be on guard against them.

Or, to quote Mary Beard, “You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently.” Calypso offers not a hopeful possibility for women but a warning to any woman who climbs the tiers of power without questioning or transforming the asymmetrical system that keeps women as a whole in check. If the structure is not changed, in can waltz Hermes, armed with Zeus’s authoritative command, to overpower you in turn. As long as it is built upon the oppression of others, the same hierarchy that at one moment works for you can now work against you. Unlike Odysseus, we can choose to really see ourselves in the disempowered and by doing so change who we are for the better. That is the challenge for anyone reading the Odyssey today.

[Via]

Gabbler Recommends: ‘Taking Flight, The Throne, Or The Spellbook: The Ways We Process Anxiety Over Women In Power’

“I think women are held to the impossible standard of having to be perfect, not being allowed to make mistakes,” Miller said of her giving more voice to the inner life of Circe. “The ancient Greek heroes made horrendous mistakes all the time — Odysseus and Achilles are full of flaws, as much as they’re full of virtues and strengths. So I wanted Circe to make mistakes, and be flawed, and to not have the answers. Women should be allowed to be just as messy and complicated as the male heroes have been by right for centuries.”

[Via]

 

See also:

ON ANGELS AND GENDER FROM ‘WOMEN WHO FLY: GODDESSES, WITCHES, MYSTICS, AND OTHER AIRBORNE FEMALES’ BY SERENITY YOUNG

EMILY WILSON: “STYLISTIC POMPOSITY IS ENTIRELY UN-HOMERIC.”

EMILY WILSON’S TRANSLATION OF APHRODITE’S AFFAIR & HEPHAESTUS’S SNARE – THE ODYSSEY, BOOK 4, LINES 265-367:

 

Hello, I’m an author.

 

BookTuber Tuesday – Books I Never Should Have Read