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Bitch That I Am.

Overview

This dissertation is a comprehensive analysis of women's self-image in the canonical epic literature of Classical antiquity. The Homeric epics and Virgil's Aeneid are essential starting places for looking at women's self-image because their ideologically central positions in their respective cultural systems provide a necessary baseline for looking at how real women viewed themselves as a response to the socio-cultural conditions of the Greco-Roman world. Chapters on the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid analyze...
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Overview

This dissertation is a comprehensive analysis of women's self-image in the canonical epic literature of Classical antiquity. The Homeric epics and Virgil's Aeneid are essential starting places for looking at women's self-image because their ideologically central positions in their respective cultural systems provide a necessary baseline for looking at how real women viewed themselves as a response to the socio-cultural conditions of the Greco-Roman world. Chapters on the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid analyze the presentation of women's self-image in these works using critical notions of categorical opposition, the gaze, habitus, and honor and shame, and drawing heavily on feminist theory, film theory, and post-structuralist anthropology. This study concludes that a woman's self-image in ancient epic clearly depended on how she measured up to a male-prescribed ideal. The particular characteristics of this ideal---traits like beauty, chastity, modesty, industry, and passivity---worked to bolster male honor, primarily by ensuring women's fidelity. Women tend to self-deprecate when they fail to live up to this ideal, or when their relationship with a male is threatened. Women's expressions of self-image are also influenced by social context: they act with assertiveness and confidence in exclusively women's contexts or when working on behalf of their male relatives, while outside these realms, they are usually silent, hesitant, and passive, a phenomenon I refer to as "The Topography of Shame." According to the logic of the Topography of Shame, these behavioral guidelines were needed because women by nature are inherently weak, unrestrained, and uncontrolled, subject to both verbal and sexual leakage. While the Topography of Shame expected women to subordinate themselves to male authority in order to maintain the self-restraint that enables them to maximize their feminine virtue, it also needed them to exhibit these negative female traits in order to justify such controls, and to provide a negative standard against which men could measure and define their own identities. At the same time, however, female characters in epic demonstrate considerable tension with, and resistance to, this system of expectations. For example, some women exert a sort of unofficial power by utilizing the tools that the Topography of Shame made available to them, such as displays of beauty, emotional outbursts, claims of self-pity, and proclamations of loyalty, in order to influence the actions and attitudes of others. While women in epic therefore generally position themselves according to the Topography of Shame, they also self-consciously test its limits. These women thus serve the essential function of questioning the ideological framework socially dictated for them in much the same way that male characters occasionally work to challenge the heroic values generally taken to be fundamental in Greece and Rome. By first examining the broad ideologies and ideals that governed women's behavior in the ancient world and then analyzing how women both accepted these notions and also learned to forge complex strategies of resistance, we can better understand the interior lives of these women, which the lack of more direct evidence have kept at a distance for so long.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781243547835
  • Publisher: BiblioLabsII
  • Publication date: 9/3/2011
  • Pages: 398
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.82 (d)

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