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"Faint though the voices of the women of Greek and Roman antiquity may be in some cases, their sound, if we listen carefully enough, can fill many of the gaps and silences of women’s past."—from the Conclusion
Beginning with Sappho in the seventh century B.C. and ending with Hypatia and Egeria in the fifth century A.D., Jane McIntosh Snyder listens carefully to the major women writers of classical Greece and Rome, piecing together the surviving fragments of their works into a coherent analysis that places them in their literary, historical, and intellectual contexts.
While relying heavily on modern classical scholarship, Snyder refutes some of the arguments that implicitly deny the power of women’s written words—the idea that women’s experience is narrow or trivial and therefore automatically inferior as subject matter for literature, the notion that intensity in a woman is a sign of neurotic imbalance, and the assumption that women’s work should be judged according to some externally imposed standard.
The author studies the available fragments of Sappho, ranging from poems on mythological themes to traditional wedding songs and love poems, and demonstrates her considerable influence on Western thought and literature.
An overview of all of the authors Snyder discusses shows that ancient women writers focused on such things as emotions, lovers, friendship, folk motifs, various aspects of daily living, children, and pets, in distinct contrast to their male contemporaries’ concern with wars and politics.
Straightforwardness and simplicity are common characteristics of the writers Snyder examines. These women did not display allusion, indirection, punning and elaborate rhetorical figures to the extent that many male writers of the ancient world did.
Working with the sparse records available, Snyder strives to place these female writers in their proper place in our heritage.
Posted July 6, 2014