To regender the monomyth:

“Le Guin believes in the ‘necessity of myth for culture’ – for our culture – yet she recognized that traditional myth and traditional definitions of myth, such as Jung’s and Campbell’s, have excluded women as speaking subjects, as heroes, as active – and that this exclusion has failed us. Her ow ‘poetic fabulations’ she offers as ‘part of the process of developing a new mythology for the future.’…Le Guin says myth uses her to reveal its truth, and through her own revisioning and reimagining she revitalizes myth to contain its essential truths and the contemporary reinterpretations of such truths. Her use of myth becomes rhetorical as she argues for an alternative way of seeing, thinking and being that connects rather than separates, includes rather than excludes, gives voice rather than silences.

It is worth noting here that the language used by both Jung and Campbell indicates the universality of the myth and its psychological parallel. Gender is not mentioned, but as Le Guin notes in Earthsea Revisioned, the hero-tale, a human universal, is male-gendered: ‘The hero is a man.’ After all, until farily recently, when a writer wrote of anything that was meant to be a human universal, the gender pronoun used to include everyone was male. And as the hero’s quest is typically a public event and on a large scale, little attention, if any, was paid to the small and the personal and the feminine.” …As an ideal, the quest becomes an assumed truth about the human experience of coming of age. Le Guin questions this assumption in her examination of the myth and expands its paradigm to include other kinds of quests, other ways to come of age, particularly female ways.

And it is the language of fantasy and myth – expressed in the monomyth – that gives us the exterior shape to these journeys. But Le Guin is not simply retelling – she is reimagining the monomyth: by asserting that gender is a force in the quest, by  making the personal and the public connect, by giving value to the small, the private, the feminine. The essential elements are all there, the journey, the quest and the hero, but as her reimagining subverts and inverts these elements, the monomyth becomes rhetorical. Or, in other words, to regender the myth, to leave it open-ended and to give value to both personal and private deeds as well as public ones, is to argue what has been changed is a s much of worth as what has been taken out.”

Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin by Warren G. Rochelle

BookTuber Tuesday : Emily Wilson in “Translating the Odyssey: How and Why”

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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.


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.