Courtesy for the papyrus photo: Saphhos' poem "An Old Age" (lines 9-20). Papyrus from 3 cent. B.C. The exhibit from Altes Museum Berlin. WikiCommons & Masur
On that significant (for all women and, hopefully, not only) date, I would like to share with you one book that drew my attention with, certainly, its subject but also with the information and insights it communicates.
Women poets in ancient Greece and Rome (edited by Ellen Greene, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 2005) is a collection of nine essays that cover almost all preserved women poetry of the Ancient World. The motivation of those writings is presented in the introduction of the book, part of which says:
“The interpretation of women’s literature in Greek and Roman antiquity is a notoriously challenging enterprise.
To be sure, the relative obscurity of historical knowledge surrounding Greco-Roman texts in general invites a higher degree of speculation than modern literary texts generally do. Yet the texts of women authors in ancient Greece and Rome present especially difficult challenges.
Most obvious, the fragmentary condition of much of extant women’s writing in Greco-Roman antiquity makes it particularly susceptible to ambiguity. More important, women’s status in antiquity—the constraints on their legal and political rights, their limited educations, and the extreme restrictions placed on their involvement in the public sphere—renders knowledge about the conditions attendant on women’s literary productions especially obscure.
In addition, much of what we “know” of ancient women has come down to us through the images created of them in male-authored texts. While women’s own writing might seem to make the possibilities of ancient female subjectivity accessible to us, we cannot be certain about the effects of male constraints on female agency within the performative contexts of women’s poetry in the male-dominated societies of Greece and Rome.
Indeed, classical scholars over the years have often lamented the extreme paucity of extant women’s writing. On the other hand, we have to wonder how women in Greece and Rome wrote and performed their poems at all, considering their apparent marginality within the cultures in which they lived and wrote.
While it is certainly true that for the most part Greek and Roman women occupied marginal positions in society, there is much evidence to suggest that in certain periods women had at least some exposure to male literary culture.
Even in archaic and early classical Greece, where adult women were segregated from the larger public sphere except on ritual occasions, there are indications that women might have produced their own discourses in isolation.
The world Sappho inhabited, for example, as represented in her poems seems to be comprised of a community of women within a socially segregated society—a society that appears detached from male “public” arenas.
Overall, in spite of the formal exclusion of women from the public domain in both Greek and Roman culture, women poets clearly had some familiarity with literary culture as well as with traditionally masculine forms of public and political expression.
The references in Greek and Roman (male) texts to women as practitioners of literature strongly suggest that a tradition of female authorship flourished from the Archaic Age (ca. 700 bce) into the Hellenistic and Roman periods. A canonical roster of women poets was first compiled by the learned scholars of Alexandria and was in circulation by the time of Augustus in imperial Rome.
Sappho was not only the earliest but by all accounts, the most highly regarded woman poet in Greek and Roman antiquity. Both classical and Hellenistic women writers looked back to Sappho as their exemplar.
While Sappho’s work has received considerable scholarly attention in recent years (as have the representations of women in male-authored texts), there are currently no published collections that examine a women’s poetic tradition in Greece and Rome or even focus exclusively on women’s own voices in Greek and Roman literature. The nine essays collected here treat nearly all of the surviving poetry written by Greek and Roman women.”
In the book, you’ll read about:
1. Sappho’s Public World, written by Holt Parker
2. Corinna’s Poetic Metis and the Epinikian Tradition, written by David H. J. Larmour
3. The Power of Memory in Erinna and Sappho, written by Diane J. Rayor
4. Dico ergo sum: Erinna’s Voice and Poetic Reality, written by Elizabeth Manwell
5. Homer’s Mother, written by Marilyn B. Skinner
6. Nossis Thêlyglôssos: The Private Text and the Public Book, written by Marilyn B. Skinner
7. Playing with Tradition: Gender and Innovation in the Epigrams of Anyte, written by Ellen Greene
8. Sulpicia and the Art of Literary Allusion: [Tibullus] 3.13, written by Carol U. Merriam
9. Sulpicia and the Rhetoric of Disclosure, written by Barbara L. Flaschenriem
At the end of the collection, you can also find a useful appendix with the names of about fifty ancient Greek and Roman women writers as well as helpful instructions where to find their translations and more information.