The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Georgina Homer
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
My true love is the reception of Greek tragedy and it is in Ovid’s Heroides 12, Medea to Jason, that I find comfort. I have been a Medea obsessive since my first reading of Euripides’ play. What excites me most about her myth is its receptive nature and how it lends itself to many genres and possible alternatives. Some may find it strange that a myth where a mother kills her children could be a comfort, particularly to a parent, but Ovid’s Heroides 12 gives me a feeling of strength; it has an empowering effect and a feeling of familiarity.
When did you first come across this text?
The Heroides are actually a fairly new discovery for me. Having studied the Metamorphoses as part of my undergraduate degree, it was not until my Masters dissertation (about 21st Century “Medeas”) that I found this amazing collection of letters. Giving a first-person voice to these women seemed incredible to me and completely ahead of its time.
Can you tell me a bit about this poem and its context?
Ovid wrote the Heroides between c. 25-15 BCE (the exact date is debated); there are twenty-one poems in total, that take the form of letters. 1-15 (the single Heroides) are letters penned by women for men that they love or once loved and 16-21 (the double Heroides) are written by smitten men to mythological women who write a response.* Medea’s letter reveals her anguish at Jason’s betrayal; not just his leaving of her, for another princess, but how he used her for her skills and her position. Ovid is no stranger to the myth of Medea; he tells her story in book seven of the Metamorphoses and he composed a Medea tragedy (his one and only) that is now unfortunately lost to us. It is a myth he is clearly well acquainted with, and to have produced numerous adaptations suggests that he liked, or at least felt some kind of affinity with, her story (not unlike I do, which is comforting in itself).
*For a good run-down of each poem I highly recommend Natalie Haynes “Ovid not Covid” series that she filmed over lockdown.
What is it about this source that appeals to you most?
For me it is the way Medea describes herself and her journey from naïve young girl to wronged, but strong, woman. This is the quintessential aspect of Medea that captures my attention; she always had her skills, but she was once young and inexperienced. Now she is older, wiser and stronger. It is a coming of age story in many ways: not the general type we would expect, and certainly our knowledge of the infanticide may detract from this, but underneath this is a story about a girl who fell for the wrong person. He turned out to be a selfish, arrogant cheater (who had previous, see Heroides 6) who took advantage of her. I think that I speak for many people when I say that ‘we have all been there’.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I really enjoy walking, particularly in the autumn: it’s a great way to exercise with my family and my two beautiful huskies. I also like to run, but I have unfortunately been on the injury bench for a while. After a long day I love to curl up on the sofa and escape into a good film or TV series and when I have the time, which doesn’t happen as often as I would like anymore, I love to bake.
Georgina is a PhD student at Coventry University, researching the reception of minor characters from Greek drama, primarily in film and TV. She graduated from the Open University with both a BA (2017) and a MA (2019) in Classical Studies.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.