Women are currently represented by less than 18% of the biography pages on Wikipedia, and in academia it’s even worse – just 12% of the subjects of pages about academics are women (data from here). I’ve written before about joining WCCWiki, a project run by the Women’s Classical Committee aiming to improve the representation of women classicists, archaeologists, and other scholars of the ancient world on Wikipedia, which people of all genders and backgrounds (not just women, and not just classicists!) are encouraged to join. I’m organising a training session and editathon for anyone interested in finding out more about this project and learning how to edit Wikipedia on May 8th, 1:30-4:30pm, in room 2.03 of the Cambridge Classics Faculty. (This room is on the second floor; step-free access is available via a lift, and a wheelchair-accessible toilet is available on the ground floor near the lift. Please note the doors to access the lift and toilet are not automatic; we can provide help with these if required).
Happy International Women’s Day! To celebrate, I’d like to share a quick round-up of a few relevant blogposts and articles about women (and more broadly about gender and sexuality) in the ancient world, as well as about women classicists and archaeologists.
Sententiae Antiquae has been sharing ancient literary texts written by women, such as Erinna (shown with the better-known Sappho in the painting above) and Nossis – keep following them all month for more!
Eidolon published a great piece a little while ago by LKM Maisel about transgender people in ancient literature (content warning for discussions of misgendering and transphobia), and another one by Rachel Herzog on retellings of the Iliad focusing on the experiences of women, particularly Briseis, and particularly regarding issues of sexual violence (content warning applies). I also recently wrote a review of one of the novels this article discusses, The Silence of the Girls.
I’ve written before about the #WCCWiki project, which aims to improve the representation of women classicists and other scholars of the ancient world on Wikipedia – why not check out some of our recently-created articles, such as Frazelia Campbell, a black classics teacher in the late 19th/early 20th century US; Raksha Dave, an archaeologist and TV presenter who featured on Time Team; Véronique Dasen, who works on ancient magic and medicine; and many others. We’re also always looking for new people to join the project – no previous Wikipedia experience required!
And finally, I wrote a post last International Women’s Day about Alice Kober, who made incredibly important contributions towards the eventual decipherment of Linear B, and whose story is well worth a read!
Please do share any other articles you’ve enjoyed reading lately (or have written!) in the comments 🙂
I’m very pleased to be able to share a podcast I recorded for the Classical Youth Society of Ireland‘s “Conversing the Classics” series, in which I talk to Oscar McHale about the Linear B writing system: what it is, what kinds of text were written in it, and what it can tell us about Greece in the Late Bronze Age, as well as how it was first discovered and deciphered. You can listen/watch here:
“We have always made monsters: in art, in myth, in religion; out of clay or bronze, pixels or hybrid flesh; from the stuff of human nightmares; by cursing women with bestial traits. This anthology brings together fiction and accessible academic writing in conversation about monsters and their roles in our lives—and ours in theirs.”
So says the blurb from the back cover of Making Monsters. A collaboration between Emma Bridges (Public Engagement Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies) and Djibril al-Ayad (a speculative-fiction editor and publisher), it’s an anthology collecting a mixture of short stories, poems, and essays about (mostly) classical Greek and Roman monsters and our responses to them. Medusa, as shown on the wonderful cover illustration, and Sirens seem to be the most popular of the monsters – and are used by many of the entries to explore the ways in which women in particular are viewed as monsters – but the Furies, Circe the sorceress, and Talos the bronze giant all make appearances too, and there are even some monsters from further afield like the Japanese tengu. It’s a wonderfully varied collection – some of my favourites are Megan Arkenberg‘s re-imagining of Danae as an inventor of living mechanical creations that I would have loved to have seen animated by Ray Harryhausen; L. Chan‘s “Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement”, in which a harassed Singaporean civil servant attempts to get a group of monsters to agree to relocate from the locations they haunt; and Margaret McLeod‘s poem “Helen of War”, putting a different spin on the mythological tradition that says that Helen of Troy never went to Troy at all. There’s definitely something for everyone in this anthology, and I’d highly recommend getting hold of a copy to anyone who likes mythology and/or speculative fiction!
Wikipedia, according to its tagline, is “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” – and yet according to the most recent survey only around 14% of the people who actually do edit the English language version are women, and the percentage of its biography pages which are about women is only slightly higher, at c.18%. Increasingly, projects are trying to address this gender imbalance by getting more women involving in editing and by creating and improving more pages about notable women: “Women in Red“, for instance, aims to turn “redlinked” references to women – for pages that don’t yet exist – into existing “bluelinked” ones. To improve the representation of women classicists in particular, the UK Women’s Classical Committee has been running a project called WCCWiki. I thought getting involved would be an interesting way of learning about women in Classics I might not know much about (as well as being a productive way of procrastinating from other writing…), so yesterday I went along to one of their training sessions to find out more about the project.
I’ll be travelling to Exeter next week to give a seminar in the Department of Classics and Ancient History there – the title is “Learning to spell in Linear B: evidence for scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos” and it will be at 3pm on Wednesday May 30th. The abstract is below – I hope to meet any readers from Exeter there!
I’m always interested to see how contemporary writers retell stories from the ancient world. When it’s done well, it can lead to a fascinating interplay between the ancient and modern versions of the stories – for instance, see my previous review of a wonderful collection of short stories based (loosely) around the Odyssey. I had pretty high hopes when House of Names, by the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, was published in 2017. The book is based on the myths of the House of Atreus, as told in various Greek tragedies such as Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy: Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia on his departure to the Trojan War; his murder, and that of the Trojan princess Cassandra, by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus on his return; her subsequent murder by her son Orestes, encouraged by his sister Electra). Plenty of scope for a novelist of Tóibín’s talents (his novel on Irish migration to America, Brooklyn, won the Costa Book award and became a bestseller, and I can definitely recommend it) – and also, I have to say, an excellent cover, with the swallows from the Spring Fresco of Akrotiri.