Death and the Female Body in Homer, Vergil, and Ovid Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Simons, Katherine
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Classics
  • This study investigates the treatment of women and death in three major epic poems of the classical world: Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I rely on recent work in the areas of embodiment and media studies to consider dead and dying female bodies as representations of a sexual politics that figures women as threatening and even monstrous. I argue that the Odyssey initiates a program of linking female death to women’s sexual status and social class that is recapitulated and intensified by Vergil. Both the Odyssey and the Aeneid punish transgressive women with violent and bloody deaths, but Vergil further spectacularizes violent female deaths, narrating them in “carnographic” detail. The Metamorphoses, on the other hand, subverts the Homeric and Vergilian model of female sexuality to present the female body as endangered rather than dangerous, and threatened rather than threatening. In Ovid’s poem, women are overwhelmingly depicted as brutalized victims regardless of their sexual status, and the female body is consistently represented as bloodied in death and twisted in metamorphosis. I argue that Ovid re-reads previous epic and disrupts the gendered system that uses the female body as a means of enforcing social values. His representations of female death and suffering expose a vulnerability of the female body that is inherent in the ancient (as well as the modern) world: women suffer from a constant risk of ruin and death due to male desire and violence. Rather than presenting female sexuality as threatening to male heroes and heroic projects, Ovid presents male sexuality as threatening to women.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Race, William H.
  • O'Hara, James
  • Fulkerson, Laurel
  • Keith, Alison
  • James, Sharon
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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