How Women Became Poets

Examining ancient Greek literature, this week's review uncovers how women challenged a genre occupied by men and created their own vocabulary to describe themselves as poets.

How Women Became Poets: A Gender History of Greek Literature

Hauser, Emily. Princeton, 2023
376p bibl index, 9780691201078 $39.95, 9780691239286 $27.97

How Women Became Poets book cover.

Hauser (Univ. of Exeter, UK) points out, first, the absence in ancient Greek of a proper term to designate women as poets; she then demonstrates the rejection on the part of women poets of the terms that were traditionally employed by and for their male counterparts (aoidos, and later, poiêtês); finally, she shows how women developed their own terms to describe their poetic activity. In searching for these terms Hauser treats the reader to an exhaustive review of all types of texts, from the Homeric poems to Hellenistic epigrams, including oracles and inscriptions. The result is an exciting and elegant survey of the entire ancient Greek literary tradition as a male construction, a book that forces the reader to rethink many common assumptions about “women’s” poetry from antiquity to today. That Hauser succeeds, given the meager evidence for women’s poetry that has come down through time, is testimony to her sensitivity and meticulous scholarship. Women, Hauser shows, had to make a case for their own existence as poets and for their right to authorship. An important book for all who are interested in Greek poetry and gender in antiquity and beyond.

Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
: P. Nieto, Brown University
Interdisciplinary Subjects: Classical Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies
Subject: Humanities – Language & Literature – Classical
Choice Issue: Mar 2024

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