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Voices at Work

Women, Performance, and Labor in Ancient Greece

Andromache Karanika

Publication Year: 2014

In ancient Greece, women were part of the labor force, but their experiences have largely been forgotten. Andromache Karanika has examined Greek poetry for depictions of women working and has discovered evidence of their lamentations and work songs. Voices at Work explores the complex relationships between ancient Greek poetry, the female poetic voice, and the practices and rituals surrounding women’s labor in the ancient world. The poetic voice is closely tied to women’s domestic and agricultural labor. Weaving, for example, was both a common form of female labor and a practice referred to for understanding the craft of poetry. Textile and agricultural production involved storytelling, singing, and poetry. Everyday labor employed—beyond its socioeconomic function—the power of poetic creation. Karanika starts with the assumption that there are certain forms of poetic expression and performance in the ancient world which are distinctively female. She considers these to be markers of a female “voice” in ancient Greek poetry and presents a number of case studies: Calypso and Circe sing while they weave; in Odyssey 6 a washing scene captures female performances. Both of these instances are examples of the female voice filtered into the fabric of the epic. Karanika brings to the surface the words of women who informed the oral tradition from which Greek epic poetry emerged. In other words, she gives a voice to silence.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xii

My main goal in writing this book has been to argue for deeper connections between work and poetics in different genres of ancient Greek texts and to highlight some of the channels through which oral discourse shaped and transformed ancient daily experience and the way it is refracted in our sources. I am grateful...

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Note on Transliteration and Translation

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pp. xiii-xvi

Transliterating Greek names and terms into En glish and maintaining consistency is not always easy for a variety of reasons. I use the Latinate spelling for most familiar names and places but have opted for Greek forms for some (e.g., Linos as opposed to Linus). In transliterating Greek words, as well as names and...

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pp. 1-20

To give silence a voice is the main task I undertake in this book, further exploring the fascinating relation between women’s daily work and poetry. I aim to answer the following questions: How is the theme of female work reflected in ancient Greek poetry, and how does it permeate early Greek poetics? What kind...

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1. Women, Labor, and Performance in Homer

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pp. 21-51

Early Greek literature had a social function and was thought, in the framework of a performative context, to engage the performer and the audience, as well as the depth of a tradition from which each performance sprang. Any performance is in constant contact with a tradition that is perpetually regenerated.1 This tradition...

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2. Gender, Genre, and Women’s Work in the Odyssey

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pp. 52-77

While the imagery of females working wool is prominent in verbal as well as visual representations, in both archaic and classical vase iconography, and woolwork and its role in gender construction have attracted significant scholarly attention, it is by no means the only activity that reflects women’s work.1 In this...

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3. Work and Performance in Captivity

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pp. 78-105

When creating an oral text, the bard’s talent in amplification of a textual kernel determines the success of the narrative. What someone would say in one or two sentences in an everyday setting takes more time, nuance, and color for a professional to present. Genres of speech or song are in this way transposed and...

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4. Fragments of Songs, Moments at Work

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pp. 106-132

The transmission of oral traditional poems and songs depends largely on reiteration of phrases in metrical schemes and recomposition in performance that allows distribution in space and eventually time.1 Although there are various models of composition and distribution of oral poetry, work songs offer an insight...

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5. Finding Work Songs, Dances, and Ritual Acts

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pp. 133-159

Athenaeus had a profound engagement with his literary and cultural past and remains one of the most important sources for a great diversity of material that otherwise would have been lost. In the Deipnosophistae, a work that reflects Platonic models and inspiration, with the symposium featured as the shaping motif...

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6. From Lullabies to Children’s Songs: Some Diachronic Perspectives

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pp. 160-181

It is often mentioned that poems and rituals passed from one generation to another, yet classical scholarship has neglected the role of children in the transmission of traditional activities, rituals, and poems.1 While from a macroscopic perspective tradition is shared in a nexus of intergenerational dialogue, a closer...

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7. No More Weaving: The Poetics of Interruption

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pp. 182-200

A famous Attic red- figure bell krater in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York depicts Persephone rising from the Underworld to join her mother with Hecate guiding her with torches. Another vase, from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, shows Pandora emerging from the earth to meet Epimetheus, her...

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8. The Tradition of Harvesting Songs

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pp. 201-218

Agricultural work provides an ample forum for song and ritual activity. Prayers and rituals that reveal their performers’ close connection with labor and its product, however brief or fragmented, can give significant information not only as vestiges of what survives but as tokens of a much larger and richer repertoire of...

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pp. 219-222

My purpose in this book has been to highlight aspects of ancient oral tradition and daily life and reflect on a poetic heritage that has absorbed, enriched, and illuminated human labor and life. I have taken a diachronic approach, seeking deeper meanings and broader associations between ancient Greek poetry...


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pp. 223-254


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pp. 255-290


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pp. 291-300

E-ISBN-13: 9781421412566
E-ISBN-10: 142141256X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421412559
Print-ISBN-10: 1421412551

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2014