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Women, Heroines, Mothers: Motherhood in Ovid’s Heroides

MARTORANA, SIMONA (2021) Women, Heroines, Mothers: Motherhood in Ovid’s Heroides. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



My thesis navigates the maternal experience in the Heroides, thereby resituating them within the most recent gender-based readings of Ovidian works, and Latin literature as a whole, as well as addressing works that deal with motherhood in the Roman world. Ovid’s elegiac epistles, which – almost uniquely in classical literature – give a subjective voice to female characters, offer a fertile ground of enquiry to broaden the scholarly debate on motherhood in Latin Literature, as well as contributing to discussions on gender-informed interpretations of Ovidian poetry. By building on a combination of a philological approach and gender theory, my thesis uncovers the subversive content of the Heroides, as well as leading us to appreciate their stylistic, thematic, and narratological peculiarities, including: a high degree of ambiguity; ironic discourse; interplay with previous sources; references to their contemporary context; polyphony; and the coexistence of literary genres.
Chapter 1 (Her. 1) navigates Penelope’s relationship with Telemachus to show how motherhood serves the heroine’s appropriation of a central role within her household. Chapter 2 shows Phaedra’s self-empowerment in Her. 4, as well as Canace’s (re)appropriation of her maternal experience (Her. 11). Chapter 3 mainly draws from Butler’s gender performativity to explore Deianira (Her. 9), but also from Braidotti’s posthuman feminism to analyse Medea’s motherhood (Her. 12), which contributes to her self-construction as a female (posthuman) subject-in-becoming. Chapter 4 focuses on Hypsipyle’s and Dido’s letters (Her. 6 and 7) through the lens of Ettinger’s recent theorisations on the maternal body and narrative theory, respectively. My thesis demonstrates that the heroines’ motherhood enhances their self-empowerment and catalyses the gender-role reversals that feature in their epistles. By showing how these mothers express their independence, in ways that are perhaps subtle, ironic, and highly rhetorical, my thesis also engages with contemporary discussions about women’s leadership, maternity, and gender equality.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Ovid; Heroides; Gender; Motherhood
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Classics and Ancient History, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Mar 2021 12:00

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