Identification is a phantasmatic trajectory and resolution of desire; an assumption of place; a territorializing of an object which enables identity through the temporary resolution of desire, but which remains desire, if only in its repudiated form.

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, page 99

In the course Women in Antiqutiy, I am interested in examining how identities are constructed and desire leads individuals to establish places uniquely their own. In the literature and art of ancient Greece and Rome a number of scenes demonstrate a trajectory of desire that creates the place wherein individuals assume their identification. These scenes draw us into their territory as we reach out with our eyes and our minds and our feelings to recreate the lives there represented.

Some Stories: In the Homeric epic, the Iliad (VI.181.335), we read of Hector, who rushes to find his wife Andromache. She in turn runs to meet him and "presses close ." He, after placing their child in her arms,"strokes her gently." After she leaves, turning time and again to look back at him, he lingers "slow to turn from the spot where he had just confided in his wife" (Robert Fagles' translation in the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Volume I

In a lyric poem (96), Sappho reminds a friend, Atthis, of a woman who has gone far away but is represented as remembering Atthis with desire. The two are reunited imaginatively in the poet's recalling their past experiences and in her envisioning the woman's desire for Atthis. The two are drawn together furthermore through the comparison of the woman to the moon whose light spreads over the sea and fields: the light shines imagistically from the woman to Atthis over the territory that separates them.

Desire is seen as uniting individuals even in death. An elegy by Anyte (Anth. Pal. 7.646) describes a dying woman, Erato, whose name suggests the love felt for her and by her. The poem represents Erato "throwing her arms around her dear father"and addressing him, even as she is "melting away in moist tears" (Jane Snyder's translation). The description of Erato's words and movements unite her with her father for all time in the place where they last had been together.

Death, of course, brings that final moment in which our identities are fixed forever. Whether or not the poem actually was an epitaph composed to console a grieving father, the description of Erato identifies her for all time as a loving daughter placed in the act of desire. Similarly, the pictorial representations on tombstones frequently identify individuals in terms of the close relationships and activities they had enjoyed during their lives. In the photograph reproduced here, of an Athenian stele for Iostrate, two women face one another. The seated woman, presumably Iostrate, reaches out toward a box held by the other, who stands before her. Immortalized is the relationship between the two women centered on the box, a symbol of what it means to be a woman, i.e., a vessel containing the source of life.  (Cf. "Pandora's Box: The Role of Women in Classical Greece," videorecording, Institute for Mediterranean Studies, Cincinnati, OH, 1995.)   Marybeth Burdelak discusses the image of woman as vessel in her paper, "Myself as Vessel: Women's Poems from Antiquity," presented at the National Women's Studies Conference in June 1999. For a discussion of the stele, click here.

My Approach: In the course Women in Antiquity, CLST 295, which offers credit as core literature for students in Classical Studies and Women's Studies, I examine the places held by women in ancient Greece and Rome, their identities, and the "trajectory" by which they both desire and are desired.

Careful attention is paid to how individuals speak: How do they address and respond to others? How do they express their concerns and objectives? How do they influence the attitudes and reactions of others? Additional attention is directed to body cues: Do a person's physical expressions and movements reinforce or undermine the content of that person's speech?

Still further questioning seeks to identify what we might call the territory in which a person speaks and acts. What do we know about the expectations, limitations, and opportunities for individuals in that society--as we can determine from the text or from external sources? How might literary conventions, i.e. the types of stories told and the ways these stories are told, influence the representation of individuals and their interaction with one another?

We read with an awareness of how women may be represented as archetypes or stereotypes and how their positions may be restricted by hierarchical stratification. Nonetheless, we read also how women can subvert stereotypical expectations. We seek to determine the emotional impulses and intellectual resources which empower an individual to transcend the limitations imposed from without--or from within, to achieve integrity, and to enjoy mutual affect.

The objective of this course is to hear and understand the voices of Women in Antiquity and to develop our own as we learn.

Links to this course:

For further study on women in antiquity, see:

Page Image: Stele of Iostrate
Greek, Athens, early 4th century B.C.
Marble, 41 1/4 x 23 "
Purchased with funds from the Reuben Wells Leonard Bequest

"From the fourth century of a fine grave monument in golden Pentelic marble inscribed below the pediment with the name of a lady called Iostrate. Such Greek monuments customarily show the dead person as though alive and parting quietly from a relative or friend".

J. W. Graham, "A Greek Grave Relief,"
Royal Ontario Museum, Bulletin of the Division of Art and Archaeology
December 1957, pages 2-4.
If you would like to discuss this course, please email me at

Web page developed by Judith Reymond, Loyola University Center for Instructional Design.

Last updated, June 13, 2000