Row of ancient Greek female busts
Row of ancient Greek female busts

Chatterboxes, Seductresses and Emotional Wrecks

Anchoring Innovation in Female Characterization in Hellenistic Poetry
1 September 2021 until 31 August 2026
Project member(s)
M.A.P. Derksen (Marije)
Project type

In the Hellenistic period, the preferred aesthetics of poetry shifted to an elevated sense of realism and a focus on characters who existed mostly in the literary margins of the preceding Archaic and Classical periods. Consequently, women of various backgrounds feature more prominently in the known corpus of Hellenistic poetry and are depicted in innovative ways. For example, typical domestic scenes are treated as stand-alone subject matter, and women discuss sex and relationships both inside and outside the house as part of ordinary conversation. In other words, common themes and motifs associated with women and the feminine in previous literary traditions appear in reimagined ways throughout the known corpus of Hellenistic poetry.

My PhD research project studies the ostensible dichotomy between tradition and innovation in the portrayal of women in Hellenistic poetry, using the framework of anchoring innovation. The underlying assumption of this project is that the innovative portrayal of women in Hellenistic poetry is anchored in the occurrence of gendered themes and motifs that are prevalent in previous depictions of female characters.

In order to research the anchoring of these innovations, I employ a close-reading analysis centered around four literary themes that have been recognized as female verbal genres by sociolinguistic scholarship, and have subsequently found their way into literary texts. These themes – namely lament, gossip/volubility, seductive persuasion, and deception – are employed frequently in various forms and genres within Hellenistic poetry, and also have a long (and widely researched) tradition within earlier Greek poetry. The corpus used is a selection of Hellenistic poetry written by Apollonius of Rhodes, Callimachus, Herodas, Lycophron and Theocritus, as well as some epigrams and fragments written by female authors.


This project is part of the Anchoring Innovation program of OIKOS, the research school for Classical Studies in the Netherlands.


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