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Women in Antiquity: CLAS 330/HUM 330/WS 330 (3 units)
Presession, Summer 1995: Monday, May 15 - Saturday, June 3
9:00 -11:50 AM MTWTHF ML 312
Instructor: Marilyn B. Skinner (

Lecture 14: Greek and Roman Women Writers

Lefkowitz and Fant: 1-6, 16-21, 22-23
Snyder, Woman and the Lyre 1-37, 64-98, 128-36

Context for Women's Poetic Composition

  1. Denial of creativity to women in modern society
    1. The artist's "muse" as his mistress
    2. Discrediting of women's writing as trivial
  2. Classical Greek world: female poets read and honored
    1. Muse emblem of poetic inspiration, not sexualized
    2. Traditions of oral song and dance gave women training in myth, poetic composition
  3. Roman world: greater access to education for women, but fewer women poets

Sappho (6th century B.C.)

  1. Wilamowitz: "mistress of a girls' school"
  2. "Sappho question": is her poetry homoerotic?
    1. Archaic Greek poetry as a public profession of communal values
    2. Clear expression of homoerotic desire
  3. Institutionalized homoerotic activity as vehicle of communal bonding: social purposes
  4. Later constructions of Sappho
  5. Discussion of poems: frags. 1, 2, 31, 16, 94

Women Poets of the Hellenistic Period

  1. Anyte (300 B.C.)
    1. Arcadian pastoral setting: invents bucolic epigram, animal epitaphs
    2. Characteristics of funerary epigrams
    3. "Female Homer"
  2. Nossis (300 B.C.)
    1. Close imitator of Sappho (defines herself as such in her two programmatic poems)
    2. Use of metronymics in poem 3: an indication that she writes of and for women (thelyglossos)
    3. Inscriptions for dedications by women in 4 through 9: both respectable and non-respectable women
  3. Moero (300 B.C.)
  4. Erinna (350 B.C. - imitated by both Anyte and Nossis)
    1. Controversy over the Distaff
    2. Erinna's relationship to Sappho

The Greek Female Poetic Tradition

  1. Reason for its existence
  2. Themes of women poets


  1. Tradition of the puella docta
  2. Problems of the aspiring Roman woman writer:
    1. Sappho not a viable role model
    2. need to write within a male tradition
    3. sexualized stereotype of the muse/mistress
  3. Sulpicia's solution: "Cerinthus" as a clearly fictive construct
  4. The poems as the site of a struggle for erotic and poetic autonomy