Week 1: Meeting Medea
Hey everyone! I’m Aayushi and I’ll be spending the next few months reading contemporary fiction about Medea – a character from Greek mythology – and analyzing the literature from different lenses including feminist, postcolonial, and classical reception theory.
If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, it’s just a fancy way of saying that I’ll be doing A LOT of reading over the next few weeks and sharing my insights through these blog posts. Quick disclaimer: I have no idea how to blog, so I’ll be learning along with you guys!
So, who is Medea?
Let’s introduce the heroine (or villain, based on your interpretation) of my project. Medea is more commonly known in relation to her husband Jason, who pursued the Golden Fleece and stole it with Medea’s powers of sorcery. She’s the granddaughter of the Greek God of the Sun, Helios, and the niece of the enchantress Circe, who also possesses powers of witchcraft. In the play by Euripides – the classic text that I will be referencing throughout my research – Medea is angered by Jason’s infidelity as he plans to marry the princess of Corinth. In acts of vengeance, she poisons the princess and the king, and later kills her two sons to destroy Jason’s family and future heirs (bet you didn’t see that coming).
The killing of her children shocked audiences during Euripides’ time and left her a disputed figure, though centuries of social and historical change may allow for modern audiences to understand her reasons for taking such rash actions. The contemporary works I’ll be reading will provide more diverse interpretations of the ancient tellings, and I look forward to reviewing Medea’s portrayal in light of historical and social progress.
The three works I plan to analyze are: The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea by Cherríe Moraga, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, and Circe by Madeline Miller. As much as I love reading, I’ve been advised by my internal advisor and other teachers to reduce the sources I’ll be researching in order to have a better focus for my project. My current plan is to work with all three pieces, though I may eliminate one or two depending on the connections I can draw between my lenses and the literary works.
Now, let’s break down some of the theories I’ll be delving into.
Classical Reception Studies:
I understand it as interpreting ancient Greco-Roman texts in a modern context. Scholars describe the theory as an interaction between the readers and the text, saying that a text only conveys meaning in the context of a reader’s experiences. Modern works of classical reception acknowledge the historical context of a work, usually focusing the story on an ancient telling, and apply the concepts to current situations, allowing today’s readers to better connect to the stories. A few famous examples are the beloved Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and the popular Webtoon comic Lore Olympus.
Modern Myths Medusa by Kristen Pauline
Here’s a modern take on the infamous Medusa, now seen shopping for groceries.
Feminist theory is the understanding of social, political, and economic gender inequality in theory, philosophy, and fiction. In addition to reviewing specific works of contemporary fiction about Medea, I’ll be reading works from feminist theorists like Chandra Talpade Mohanty and applying their analyses to the literary works concerning Medea.
Oxford Bibliographies states, “that the world we inhabit is impossible to understand except in relationship to the history of imperialism and colonial rule.” While the theory more broadly concerns the understanding of European imperialism from the 18th to 20th century, I’ll be focusing on the roles of racial classifications and the understanding of the cultural “other.” I plan to analyze Medea’s characterization as a “foreigner” in both the original play by Euripides and the modern retellings.
By exploring the theoretical perspectives of different scholars, I hope to understand the modern works about Medea and provide a better analysis of the literary works in my own paper, while finding connections between the feminist and postcolonial theories within the chosen contemporary works.
Why is this important?
Now for the big question, why am I doing this?
I love exploring Greek mythology and making connections from history to real-life. While I didn’t know who Medea was before this project, I was instantly fascinated with her story after reading Euripides’ play.
Although she was originally criticized for rebelling against the ideal image of Greek women and was associated with barbarism, I think modern audiences might have a better understanding of her actions and recognize the broader struggle she was facing as an ethnic female with unique abilities. This conflict can be readily seen in today’s world in relation to immigration and gender equality in the workplace. Just as classical reception studies reintroduce ancient texts to modern audiences, I hope to connect ancient tellings and their contemporary versions to everyday challenges while incorporating minority representation in myths where it is often excluded from the canon.
My overall goal is to fill certain gaps in current scholarship regarding contemporary works and how they address Medea’s foreigner status and motherhood.
How will I do it?
As described above, I’ll be reading three main works of contemporary literature connected to Medea while understanding the major theories mentioned above to provide context for my analysis.
Earlier this school year, I attended the Antiquity in Media Studies (AIMS) virtual conference and watched videos of other scholars’ works ranging from the ancient Greek translation of Harry Potter to comparisons between Tokyo Ghoul and the Odyssey. I’ll re-watch videos to understand others’ research in the broad field of classics and hopefully share insights from the engaging presentations.
And with whom?
Ms. Banga has been my guide to classical receptions this year, introducing me to Medea, The Hungry Woman, and reviewing my drafts for each Senior Project submission (there’s a lot), so a big ‘thank you’ to her, and for those who find this project interesting, check out the “Contemporary Renditions of the Classics” capstone!
My other amazing mentor is Dr. Melissa Funke from the University of Winnipeg. Through virtual meetings, she has helped me narrow my focus for the project, identify postcolonial scholars to research, and understand the relevance of classics to better connect my project to modern issues. Plus, she’s been working on her own novel while helping me with my project, so props to her!
That’s it for my first post, check in next week for updates on the project. Thanks for reading!
- James Tatum. “A Real Short Introduction To Classical Reception Theory.” Arion: A Journal Of Humanities And The Classics, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2014, Pp. 75–96. JSTOR, Https://Doi.Org/10.2307/Arion.22.2.0075. Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.
- Smythe, Rachel. “Lore Olympus.” Edited By Bekah Caden. 2018. Webtoon.
- Pauline, Kristen. Modern Myths Medusa. Etsy. Https://Www.Etsy.Com/Listing/535097436/Modern-Myths-Medusa-Fine-Art-Print
- Burkett, Elinor And Brunell, Laura. “Feminism”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 Mar. 2023, Https://Www.Britannica.Com/Topic/Feminism. Accessed 9 March 2023.
- Elam, J Daniel . “Postcolonial Theory”. In Obo In Literary And Critical Theory. 9 Mar. 2023. <Https://Www.Oxfordbibliographies.Com/View/Document/Obo-9780190221911/Obo-9780190221911-0069.Xml>.
- Euripides. Medea. Norton Critical Editions, 2018