Mulcahy Scholars Panel at the National Women's Studies Association, 1999

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Three undergraduate students enrolled in the Women in Antiquity course in the fall semester of l998 were granted Mulcahy scholarships from Loyola University’s College of Arts and Sciences. The scholarships enabled them to do further research on topics studied during the academic term and to present their findings in a panel I organized for the June 1999 meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association. The panel, entitled "Ancient Greek Women Poets and Women’s Studies," examined how women poets from ancient Greece represented values congruent with those advocated by contemporary feminist scholars.

My paper, entitled Desire, Fulfillment, and the Reciprocity of Grace, examined the constellation of terms in Sappho’s poems, which provide, in my opinion, a paradigm for personal, social, and divine values.

Michelle Lewis’ paper, Aphrodite: Sexual Temptress or Powerful Friend, considered how Sappho’s poems to Aphrodite differ from those of male Greek poets. She contrasted with Sappho’s representation of mutual pleasure the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite’s emphasis on deception and shame.

Carina Pasquesi spoke on Sappho’s Lyrical Voice: a Woman’s Assertion of What is Best in Life, Love, and Relationships. In her investigation of Sappho’s depiction of loving reciprocity, she focused on the ongoing exchange between lover and beloved as both subject and object of desire.

Marybeth Burdelak provided a diachronic analysis of the women’s poetry in her paper Myself as Vessel: Women’s Poems from Antiquity. Referring to both the art of ancient Greece and the psychological theories of Jung, she contrasted with the ancient male poets’ representation (e.g., as in Hesiod’s vision of Pandora) the loving representations by Sappho, who composed in the early sixth century B.C.E., and Moero and Erinna, who lived in the fourth-third centuries B.C.E.

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We found that even though the women lived in different periods, they articulated similar values: these values are consistent with the work of contemporary scholars. We found examples of how women’s talk creates and demonstrates friendship (cf. Deborah Tannen), posits an attitude of caring (cf. Nell Noddings) and replaces domination with intimacy, mutuality, and camaraderie (cf. bell hooks).

The women poets we studied were concerned with expressing how the positive feelings felt by women for deities followed through in the strong enduring bonds that connected them with other individuals, male and female. Their words furthermore had the power to reactivate the longing that individuals had felt for one another, to demonstrate that individual’s commitment to act on behalf of her beloved, and to assert a belief in the everlasting endurance of their love.

For the bibliography that I put together and handed out to our audience at the panel, please click here. This list is by no means all inclusive but refers to the texts I used in my discussion of Sappho.

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