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Monday, June 13, 2022

Misogyny in the Myths (and Theseus)

Seven Years Ago on Facebook, I asked this question, and I feel like it summarizes my entire BRAND as Amalia Carosella:

"How much misogyny do we read back into the myths because we're expecting it to be there, or even assuming that it is the only possible interpretation? For Classical Athens, yes, there certainly was a good bit of it -- but these stories predate Classical Athens. Is it possible the Mycenaeans with their imagery of women seated upon thrones accepting offerings, their goddesses accepting gifts, their daughters through which kingdoms were inherited, might have lived differently?"

I think this is why so many mythic retellings fall short and disappoint me--because they're not interrogating this element of the retelling, usually. They're just telling the story inside the same assumed misogynistic framework from the perspective of a woman, instead. And sure, that has its place, too. But why trap yourself in that box when there is room to give these women true agency and real power, too? When there is a whole society in which people might have lived differently, during which, if they happened at all, most of the events of these myths would have taken place.

This is also part of why the current cultural fashion of reading Theseus as nothing more than a monster bothers me--because in the source material of his mythology there is a parallel thread of a hero who loved a woman and was forced to give her up at the command of the gods, who grieved that loss, and whose grief then caused him greater grief again. If he didn't coldly abandon Ariadne, and he didn't just "forget" to change the sails, but was emotionally compromised by the sacrifice the gods demanded of him as a result of a true and very real attachment to Ariadne, he is a different man, and the framing of his future relationships shifts, too. 

(And let's not forget that when this all goes down, Theseus can't be older than 18. He was still a youth, which was why he was able to go to Crete as one of the tributes at all. I don't know about you, but when I was 18, I was emotionally compromised more than I wasn't, and I hadn't just faced down a monster to save my people and only escaped with the help of a princess who should have been my enemy, only to receive a command from my gods to leave her behind--and Theseus himself is a son of Poseidon. The command of the gods, in his world, would not have been something he imagined or a sign he misunderstood.)

There is SO MUCH ROOM in that story for us to see a hero worthy of admiration, a hero who truly values women (he was raised by a single mother, fam! He brings her with him to Athens as his ADVISOR after he becomes king!), but instead we've gutted all that EXTANT nuance to make him a vainglorious self-centered, callous jerk, who uses women for his own ends and drops them. 

That is a choice WE have made in our supposedly "enlightened" and "feminist" modern age, to make him MORE misogynistic, rather than less. How many similar choices were made by people before us along those same lines, winnowing down the story to refocus it toward patriarchy and misogyny each time? 

The threads are still there though! SOMEHOW they survived thousands of years to reach us. Maybe we should think twice before we discard them, AGAIN, entirely. 

And not just when it comes to Theseus.

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If you're looking for a different read on my favorite hero, you'll find my alternate take on Theseus and his myths in my short story retelling the events of that fateful trip to Crete, Ariadne and the Beast, as well as in my novels TAMER OF HORSES (Theseus is a secondary character, married to the Amazon Antiope--who you will ALSO love) and HELEN OF SPARTA (in which he is unquestionably our hero in the truest sense of the word!) 

Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
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