Subject Area



What does it mean to be a woman today? Perhaps to start exploring an answer to that question, we need to look to history, to one of the cultures that has profoundly influenced our own: ancient Greece. The myths and culture cultivated by the Greeks in the first millennium BCE are of deep import to many modern societies, and they are still utilized as a common cultural touchstone for diverse populations. But what is the point of harkening back to a dead civilization from two thousand years ago to talk about modern womanhood? What can those women, the real ones who were largely silenced by patriarchal systems or the literary ones who were written by men, tell us about what it means to be a woman?

Here will be a discussion, focusing on the literary tradition, of four representations of ancient Greek women: Antigone, Helen of Troy, Athena, and Artemis. Their classical origins and their modern personas, as well as the differences between them, can reveal much about how different cultures have adapted and adopted these figures for their own purposes. What will follow such discussion is an exploration of how these characters, and the various literary tradition journeys they have been on, are still useful to the modern woman. These classical women represent those who have stepped outside of their assigned gender roles but, in their own context, exist in spaces that are both subversive and conformist. In the modern conception of womanhood, these women have either been reclaimed as figures of resistance to traditional gender roles, or disregarded as useless for the goals of feminism. However, all four of these women, whether or not they are overtly useful for the often limited goals of feminism, can still be seen as rebelling against the standards society has forced upon them by giving voice and agency to those who are usually silenced.


Providence College

Academic Year



Spring 2024





.pdf (text under image)