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Listening to the voiceless: Briseis and Lavinia in modern fiction.

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Research on female characters from ancient epic has steadily increased over the years and especially in recent times. Despite this, research on the female characters Briseis and Lavinia from Homer’s Iliad and Vergil’s Aeneid, and their reception in modern fiction, has been somewhat neglected in Classical scholarship. I will examine Homer’s Briseis and Vergil’s Lavinia, as well as their depictions in the modern novels The Silence of the Girls (2018) and Lavinia (2008) by authors Pat Barker and Ursula K. Le Guin respectively, focusing specifically on themes of objectification and subjectivity. My examination will be aided and informed by two main theories, in addition to Reception Studies theory: Martha Nussbaum’s theory concerning objectification and Monique Wittig’s gender theory involving subjectivity, structure and personal pronouns. The main reason I believe this topic is important lies in the modern engagement with ancient texts, as evident in the modern works chosen for this dissertation. The works of ancient Greek and Roman authors, such as Homer and Vergil, have gripped the attention of audiences since they were created and have spawned hundreds of receptions. In more recent years, female authors have acted to create their own interpretations of these ancient works, focusing especially on marginalised or demonised women. These modern receptions involving a female-centric narrative are especially significant given the current social climate of feminist movements. The topic of this dissertation is therefore of importance as its focus on two marginalised female characters and themes of objectification and subjectivity may contribute to the ongoing discussions regarding the place of ancient texts and Classics as a discipline in modern society. Chapter 1 will focus on Briseis from Homer’s epic with Chapter 2 focusing on Briseis from Barker’s novel, The Silence of the Girls, while Chapter 3 will focus solely on Lavinia from Vergil’s epic with Chapter 4 focusing on Lavinia from Le Guin’s novel, Lavinia. This dissertation will be my contribution to the scholarship on female characters in ancient Greek and Roman epics and their modern receptions.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.