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Forming a gendered memory through the reception of Medea

Kyriaki Athanasiadou. Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Greece.

Forming a gendered memory through the reception of Medea

Kyriaki Athanasiadou. Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Greece.

kyriakiathana@gmail.com

 

This paper focuses on three cases of the reception of Medea, in order to explore how readers in the 21st century reread the classical myth of Euripides and the complex ways memory interweaves with the re-interpretation of antiquity. Recalling the “phantom” of the Kolchian princess offers the opportunity to de-construct narratives that haunted both personal and collective memory in order to construct, negotiate and possibly radicalize a gendered memory. The reception of notions related to the role of women in antiquity reveals the way readers tend to return to the classical myth seeking evidences in order to form memories as gendered subjects. Hugguette Junod, for example, declares in her poem that her Medea is a feminist and traces her own personal road back to classical antiquity through her reading of the Euripidean myth. Translators of the Euripidean tragedy, on the other hand, seem to be quite puzzled when they have to translate words of the classical text that concern the nature of women and their gender construction. Furthermore, scholars dealing with the interpretation of Ancient Greek tragedy focus their attention on Medea seeking to shed light on the different forms of representation of women in Euripides’ tragedy, as well as on the way classical myth inaugurates a dialogue about gender hierarchies. The presence, absence or suppression of women’s personal voice and memory in the representations of Medea offers a privileged field for discussing the construction of gendered identities against collective ones.

As long as memory inscribes and forms our notion of self, the reception of classical myth calls into question the depiction of female portrait as well as the factors that have formed a solid ground for prejudice against women.“Myth is important to feminism because it is one element of literate culture that has the potential to incorporate women’s traditions and perspectives” (Doherty 2006). It is this very tradition to which we are inclined to return in order to legitimize or re-negotiate the classical narratives that contributed to the development of gendered identities. The depiction of female figures through the reception of classical myth as an act of looking back to the antiquity from a new critical direction contributes to the survival of female subjects who bear a specific identity over the centuries. The enigmatic figure of Medea, for instance, personifies a “conflict of natures”, as Lorraine Daston accurately remarks, as she oscillates constantly between binaries that try to capture her “nature”: “is she goddess or human? human or animal? masculine hero or feminine mother? civilized or savage? mad or sane?” (Daston 2002). Re-visioning the myth of this ambiguous heroine challenges the reader’s ability to re-interpret classical antiquity by trying to answer these questions and thus (re)form an identity for Euripides’ protagonist. The dis-continuities detected in the reception of the classical myth of Medea bring into question the way memory is shaped when it comes to gender construction. Since remembering antiquity comes as an act of re-visioning and rewriting classical texts it renders classical mythology a key vehicle for shaping our gendered selves.

  • Daston, L. The Morality of Natural Orders: The Power of Medea. The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Harvard University, November 6, 2002.
  • Foley, H. P. (2001). Female acts in Greek tragedy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press..
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  • Hardwick, L., & Classical Association (Great Britain). (2003). Reception studies. Oxford ; New York: Published for the Classical Association by Oxford University Press.
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  • Zajko, V., & Leonard, M. (2006). Laughing with Medusa: Classical myth and feminist thought. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
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