Modern critics often interpret ancient literature according to their own standards ad preoccupations, as if they were reading the works of a contemporary author. Most recently, feminists have applied their own criteria to the rich variety of female characters in Greek mythology. The Amazons are seen as representatives of an original matriarchy, Clytemnestra as a frustrated individualist, Antigone an oppressed revolutionary. The Greek myths reflect a world in which men dominate women, largely out of fear of women's sexuality.
Mary R. Lefkowitz argues in this controversial book that this view is justified neither by the myths themselves nor by the relevant documentary evidence. Concentrating on those aspects of women's experience most often misunderstood―women's life apart from men, marriage, influence in politics, self-sacrifice and martyrdom, misogyny―she presents a far less negative account of the role of Greek women, both ordinary and extraordinary, as manifested in the central works of Greek literature.
Lefkowitz shows that the darkness of Greek mythology suggests not the wretched lot of women in particular, but of mortals generally. Women in Greek myth, she contends, play a rather more enlightened role than their biblical or Christian counterparts. And what Greek men feared in women, if they feared anything, was not women's sexuality but their intelligence.
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