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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/31970

Title: Tragic Desire: Phaedra and her Heirs in Ovid
Authors: Westerhold, Jessica
Advisor: Keith, Alison
Department: Classics
Keywords: Ovid
Augustan poetry
Ars Amatoria
Issue Date: 11-Jan-2012
Abstract: In this thesis, I explore the construction of female erotic desire in Ovid’s work as it is represented in the form of mythical heroines. Phaedra-like figures appear in Ovid’s poetry as dangerous spectres of wildly inappropriate and therefore destructive, bestial, or incestuous sexuality. I consider in particular the catalogue of Phaedra-like figures in Ars Amatoria 1.283-340, Phaedra in Heroides 4, Byblis in Metamorphoses 9.439-665, and Iphis in Metamorphoses 9.666-797. Their tales act as a threat of punishment for any inappropriate desire. They represent for the normative sexual subject a sexual desire which has been excluded, and what could happen, what the normative subject could become, were he or she to transgress taboos and laws governing sexual relations. I apply the idea of the abject, as it has been formulated by Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler, in order to elucidate Ovid’s process of constructing such a subject in his poetry. I also consider Butler’s theories of the performativity of sex, gender, and kinship roles in relation to the continued maintenance of the normative and abject subject positions his poetry creates. The intersection of “performance” and performativity is crucial to the representation of the heroines as paradigms of female desire. Ovid’s engagement with his literary predecessors in the genre of tragedy, in particular Euripides’ and Sophocles’ tragedies featuring Phaedra, highlights the idea of dramatically “performing” a role, e.g., the role of incestuous step-mother. Such a spotlight on “performance” in all of these literary representations reveals the performativity of culturally defined gender and kinship roles. Ovid’s ludic representations, or “citations,” of Phaedra, I argue, both reinvest cultural stereotypes of women’s sexuality with authority through their repetition and introduce new possibilities of feminine subjectivity and sexuality through the variations in each iteration.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/31970
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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