Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

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Journal Article

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Classical Antiquity





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The mythological tradition expressed in early Greek hexameter poetry offers an ancient and influential witness to one of the most pervasive assumptions shaping Western cultural constructions of gender, the assumption that there is a link between two inescapable aspects of the human condition: the fact of being born from a woman and the fact of having to die. That body of poetry, which includes not only the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, but also a number of roughly contemporary texts, such as Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days and the narratives concerning the Olympian gods that form the Homeric Hymns, is preoccupied with defining human life by exploring the line that separates men and gods. As they carry out this project, these poems follow a widespread tendency to identify mortality, the necessity of dying, with women. Those who bring people into the world by giving them birth are especially linked to their passing out of it as well, an association often expressed in the special place of women in funerary ritual and lamentation.

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Published as “Maternity and Mortality in Homeric Poetry,” Classical Antiquity 11.2 (1992) 69-91. © 1992 by the Regents of the University of California. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the Regents of the University of California for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center.

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Date Posted: 27 July 2016

This document has been peer reviewed.