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.
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.