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.

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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.”

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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:

 

Emily Wilson: “stylistic pomposity is entirely un-Homeric.”

Emily Wilson and Book Cover for Circo del Herrero imagery ‘The notion that Homeric epic must be rendered in grand, ornate, rhetorically elevated English has been with us since the time of Alexander Pope. It is past time, I believe, to reject this assumption. Homer’s language is markedly rhythmical, but it is not difficult or ostentatious. The Odyssey relies on coordinated, not subordinated syntax (“and then this, and then this, and then this,” rather than “although this, because of that, when this, which was this, on account of that”). I have frequently aimed for a certain level of simplicity, often using fairly ordinary, straightforward, and readable English. In using language that is largely simple, my goal is not to make Homer sound “primitive,” but to mark the fact that stylistic pomposity is entirely un-Homeric. I also hope to invite readers to respond more actively with the text. Impressive displays of rhetoric and linguistic force are a good way to seem important an invite a particular kind of admiration, but they tend to silence dissent and discourage deeper modes of engagement. A consistently elevated style can make it harder for readers to keep track of what is at stake in the story. My translation is, I hope, recognizable as an epic poem, but it is one that avoids trumpeting its own status with bright, noisy linguistic fireworks, in order to invite a more thoughtful consideration of what the narrative means, and they ways it matters.

All modern translation of ancient texts exist in a time, a place, and a language that are entirely alien from those of the original. All modern translations are equally modern…I have tired to make my translation sound markedly poetic and sometimes linguistically distinctive, even odd. But I have also aimed for a fresh and contemporary register. The shock of encountering an ancient author speaking in largely recognizable language can make him seem more strange, and newly strange. I would like to invite readers to experience a sense of connection to this anent text, while also recognizing its vast distance from our own place and time. Homer is, and is not, our contemporary.’ -Emily Wilson, “Introduction,” The Odyssey. 

BookTuber Tuesday – Emily Wilson: On Gender and Being the First Woman to Translate Homer’s Odyssey into English