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Stop bending the classics into “womanly shapes”

Circe and Her Lovers in a Landscape by Sosso Dossi (1525). The Print Collector/Getty

The publishing world is currently “obsessed with so-called feminist retellings of the classics”, says Finn McRedmond in The New Statesman. In recent years, there have been novels about a Greek encampment through the eyes of Achilles’s enslaved courtesan (The Song of Achilles), Odysseus “reappraised through the domestic lens of his betrayed wife” (The Penelopiad), and the “wily and vindictive Circe” struggling through the challenges of single motherhood (Circe). The aim is always the same: to recast “ancient stories of male heroism as tales of female adversity”. It’s as though the #MeToo movement has filtered into the Greek and Roman worlds, and with it a 21st-century language to “chastise the wrongdoing of men”.

This pressure to judge the past by our “new moral code” and keep a “hawk-eyed awareness” of sexism is cumbersome for authors and readers alike. The “shores of Troy or the banks of the Styx” are, quite obviously, not good places for modern morality plays, because their worlds lacked the concepts of “sexism” and “feminism”. “Admonishing The Iliad for being un-feminist is rather like criticising a horse for not being able to juggle.” Besides, one of the most important elements of Greek and Roman classics is their “masculine rage”. Bending them into “womanly shapes” just strips them of their greatness.