Online: HelRAW: Elina Pyy 13.12.2021

The Helsinki Research on the Ancient World (HelRAW) is a monthly research seminar. HelRAW is organized by the SpaceLaw project together with the Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri (PapyGreek) project.

13.12.2021 at 17.15 (UTC+2)
Meeting ID: 696 0286 8719
Passcode: 679918

Elina Pyy (Finnish Institute in Rome): I Speak Because I Can: Gender, Violence, and the Rewriting of Ancient Myth in Contemporary Pop Music.

Sexual violence is among the most predominant themes in the Graeco-Roman narrative tradition. In Athenian tragedy, in Homeric epic, and in Roman historiography and poetry alike, rape wields great narrative significance – it is an act that sets events in motion and defines the dynamics between humans and gods, and between peoples, cities, and states. It is noteworthy that the ancient rape tales often tell us more about the aggressor than about the survivor who tends to disappear from the scene as soon as violence has served its narrative function. Intriguingly, this is the same phenomenon for which contemporary Western popular culture has been repeatedly accused: in both literature and screen fiction, sexual violence is used in abundance to explain and motivate the male protagonists' actions, while the subjectivity of the survivors is often lacking entirely.

This presentation discusses contemporary writers and artists who seek to challenge this dominant storytelling tradition – by utilising the very mythology from which it stems. In this seminar, I explore what is known as "feminist revisionist mythology": a narrative tradition that rewrites ancient myths of gender-based violence, often by putting emphasis on the survivors' viewpoint. While the influence of this tradition can nowadays be observed widely in literature, cinema, and visual arts, I will here limit my discussion to its applications in the field of pop music. I examine select examples from Anglo-American (folk) pop, written and performed by female artists, where the events, characters, or topoi of Graeco-Roman mythology are deliberately reinterpreted. With the help of these examples, I discuss how, through narratological choices concerning focalization and agency, victims have been metamorphosed into survivors and patriarchal myths into feminist fairytales of inclusion and empowerment.

Elina Pyy is the vice director of the Finnish institute in Rome. She has published several articles on gender and identity in Roman literature, as well as the monographs "The Semiotics of Caesar Augustus" (Bloomsbury, 2018) and "Women and War in Roman Epic" (Brill, 2020). She is currently working on a classical reception studies project “Rewriting Rape: Narratives of Sexual Violence in Ancient Myth and on the Contemporary Screen”.