Margaret Fuller, H.D., Joanne Kyger

December 7, 2011

Why is it that all of them reach back to ancient Greece, and not always out of any reverence for the classics?   Of the three, Margaret Fuller is the most law-abiding: in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, she devotes pages and pages to an august volume called Cyropedia, finding in it the exemplary figure of “Panthea… a view of Woman which no German picture can surpass.”  (American women, it seems, are not in the running.)   Xenophon is the authority here, and she takes him straight, changing nothing.

H.D. is not so restrained.  Her Helen in Egypt doesn’t exactly contradict Homer, or disparage him in any way.   She just gets at him from the side, with an alternative history that more or less removes the ground from under his epics, taking her cue instead from Hesiod, Herodotus, Euripides, and Stesichorus of Sicily.   According to these folks, Helen was never in Troy.   What went there was just an effigy, a phantom (“eidolon”): “The Greeks and the Trojans alike fought for an illusion.”  The real Helen was spirited away to Egypt, the southern shores of the Mediterranean that kept her safe and sound.   The first instance of the “global south”?    Martin Bernal’s Black Athena offers an archaeological argument; H.D. offers a poetic one.

And Joanne Kyger?   The most thoroughgoing of the three, though not speculating on any grand scale.  In  “12.29 & 30 (Pan as the son of Penelope),” she just wonders about a small point:

Refresh my thoughts of Penelope again.

Just HOW

Solitary was her wait?

I  notice Someone got to her that

barrel chested he-goat prancing

around  w/ his reed pipes

Is no fantasy of small talk.

More the result of BIG talk

And the absence of her husband.

Panthea, Helen, Penelope: not three sisters, not a genealogy or line of descent.   Just a convergence of some sort, a shared figuration of gender mapped against a compounding of ancient and modern, far and near.   Surely something is going on here.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
This entry was posted in ancient Greece, Classics, Egypt, epic, Gender, Global South, Translation, Uncategorized, world literature and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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