ANTONIOS PONTOROPOULOS

Friends of the Swedish Institute in Rome Annual Fellowship

Literary representations of women and female subjectivity in Greek fictional letter collections

During the Hellenistic and the Imperial period, letter-writing became an important part of the Greek and Roman literary canons. In the context of Latin literature, Ovid’s Heroides, a collection of letters in verse purportedly written by mythological heroines, has been read as one of the first instances of fictional letter-writing. On the Greek side, fictional letter collections are part of the wider culture of the second sophistic and Greek Imperial literature. Unlike their Latin counterparts, most of the Greek epistolary corpora remain widely understudied due to the lack of modern critical editions and updated translations. This project focuses on the Greek fictional letter collections of Aelian and Alciphron. My principal aim is to investigate how Greek fictional letters construct representations of women and female subjectivities through the lens of specific literary motifs, such as (failed) epistolary communication and erotic gifts. By the term female subjectivity, here, I intend the construction of women as speaking, rhetorical subjects who express their desire and subvert the letters’ perspective from the male to the female point of view. The collections include a variety of female voices from prostitutes to wives of farmers and fishermen testifying to a shift in the construction of female subjectivities. Out of the whole of Alciphron’s corpus, for instance, the fourth book is dedicated to correspondences of famous 5th and 4th century historical prostitutes or hetairai. This project is an interdisciplinary one: It partly focuses on issues of manuscript tradition and reception as well as on the letters’ construction of gender. By employing modern feminist theories, I wish to explore a) how female gender is constructed in the context of these male-written texts; b) and how are our modern concepts, such as gender identity, informed by ancient historical realities. In this sense, the project makes an important contribution to the study of ancient fictional letters as well as the study of the representation of women in ancient literature.