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Larson, Jennifer Greek Heroine Cults. University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. Jennifer Larson's extensive knowledge on the subject of ancient women, goddesses, gods, and mythology is very apparent in this book. I found the book difficult to read as one would read a novel or even a textbook. However, I thought that Larson's very detailed (and referenced and cross-referenced) descriptions of heroine cults would make an excellent reference book. This comprehensive book details Greek heroin cults and their place in Greek society, from the worship of them, to a definition of who could be considered a heroine, to stories about them.
Citing many sources and references, Larson gives an unbiased view to the many different theories and interpretations of the evidence found about the heroine cults. Larson's studies have concluded that there were many more heroine cults than history would lead one to believe (p. 4). She says that in the time of the ancient Greece, many individual families, or larger extended families worshiped their own heroines that might not be known to other Greek citizens. An other reason why heroines might not get much recognition is that they were often paired with a hero, and thus overshadowed by him. In our discussions in class, we too have talked about the fact that women are not as equally represented in history as men are, and this seems to be the case for heroines as well as for regular women. Since men were writing the histories, they wrote about their version of a hero.
The famous history writers from ancient Greece would undoubtedly consider the traits of a fearless warrior to be the great heroic standard. The trials, tribulations, and wisdom of women would likely not be as interesting to the notable Greek history writers, and certainly not considered heroic, therefore the many heroine cults would not have been written about. Heroes may be defined by their courage and military prowess, but what makes a heroine in ancient Greek culture? According to Larson, many of the heroines are defined by their death (p. 136). These women (and girls) die from wrongful deaths, i. e.
as a scapegoat, rape victim, or sacrifice. Others die by suicide precipitating from escape from rape (p 137). Unlike some scholars, Larson deems only women which were at one time mortal to be considered as heroines. Although some nymphs and goddesses are listed as heroines, they begin as mortal women who are later transformed into immortal status.
Larson analyzes various heroine stories in the book. A common theme to some of the stories is the heroine committing suicide. According to Larson, The strongest form of female aggression it these stories, the dying curse, is paradoxically combined with the act of suicide. The womans physical violence is directed toward herself, while the vengeance on the one who wronged her is carried out through impersonal agencies (p. 135). An example of this is the story of a Thracian princess named Phyllis.
Phyllis was in love with an Athenian prince named Demophon. Evidently Phyllis and Demophon had a love affair which ended when Demophon had to leave Phyllis country for a while. He promised her that he would come back for her in one year, but did not, opting instead to settle in Cyprus. Her love denied and betrayed, Phyllis hangs herself after calling down curses upon her former lover. Demophon meanwhile, had a box that Phyllis had given him and told him not to open unless he had given up all hope of returning to her. Upon learning of her death, Demophon opened the box and he and his horse were stricken with panic.
The horse threw him, and he fell on his sword and died. Larson concludes her book questioning why so many heroine cults existed, but few were written about. She cites the bias of modern historians and scholars who, in their works on heroes, purposely left out any mention of heroines in their quest to highlight the importance of heroes in Greek culture. She feels that although ancient Greece was an anglocentric society, it wasnt as anglocentric as some scholars would have us believe when it came down to heroes and heroines. Bibliography: Larson, Jennifer Greek Heroine Cults. University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.
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