Reflections on the 7th Conference on Feminism and Classics

by Alberto A. Requejo, PhD Candidate, Classics, UW Seattle

For us, graduate students at UW (especially those of us finishing our formal academic training) the opportunity of hosting the Seventh Feminism in Classics Conference at our institution has been unique at many levels. Now that we face new challenges on how to present our discipline to a new generations of students and researchers, having the innovative outlook of feminism being presented through as many critical angles as we witnessed during the weekend conference gave us the opportunity to challenge and reconsider our own approach to research and teaching. This event has been particularly helpful because we are in a discipline with many centuries of built-in traditions and which should and will always be changing with new forms of discourse. For me in particular, witnessing the multiplicity of voices that can arise in such discourses of antiquity was a true eye-opener.

Just as an example, hearing the interpretation of Martial’s tonstrix in Epigram 2.17 as a poor or enslaved woman in the eyes of the ruling class Roman male, as Grace Gillies did in the panel ‘Roman Social History’, opens up the intersection between poetry and social analysis in order to offer a convincing critique of the dynamics of gender, class, and power in Martial’s Rome. In the panel ‘Later Latin Epic’, also as an example, Laura Zientek gave an interpretation of the matron scene at the end of Lucan’s first book of the Civil War as a prophetic act intersecting with a type of ‘metempsychosis’ featured in other passages of the poem, such as Nero’s apotheosis near the beginning of book I, or Pompey’s ghost soaring to heaven at the beginning of book IX. Her analysis pointed to the socio-political function that the anonymous matron-as-prophetess would have vis à vis the figures of Nero and Pompey and thus, indirectly, to the particular character of poetic gender-construction in the early Principate and its reflection on the Republican wars narrated by Lucan.

It was also particularly enlightening to hear the perspectives of young scholars from across the Atlantic Ocean such as Florence Klein (Université Lille III) who spoke about ‘Female gaze and desire in Moschos’ Europa and Neoteric poetry’ in the context of Elegiac poetry. Aislinn Melchior in the presentation titled ‘Revisiting Ovid’s Venus: writing empire of rape’ gave her examples through a lively performance in collaboration with one of her students, thus showing in the process new and engaging ways of presentation of academic research. Learning from Catherine Connors about the precursors of feminism in Classics in our own institution at UW, and the view of Tara Mulder of where feminism can keep enlightening the study of Classics now and in the immediate future brought in a clear view of the position of our discipline with respect to feminist critiques. I cannot attempt to give a reasonably comprehensible overview of the richness and variety of the conference presentations just through these few examples, but they demonstrated for me, along other very interesting papers, the actual and possible facets that feminist critique can bring to the enrichment of the discipline of Classics, as well as the depth that can be attained by the specific applications of feminist critical discourse.

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