Date of Graduation

5-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

David Fredrick

Committee Member

Daniel Levine

Second Committee Member

Mohja Kahf

Keywords

Apuleius Metamorphoses, Roman gender history, Witches Rome history, female voices, Latin literature, Roman literature, social norms, theory of the abject

Abstract

Through a close reading of Apuleius’ Golden Ass, I argue that characters such as Byrrhena, Photis, and Psyche function as positive examples of female sexual authority and autonomy and effectively challenge the phallocentric theories commonly applied to Greek and Roman gender and sexuality, the Penetrative Model associated with Foucault, and structuralism, associated in classics with French historians Marcel Detienne, J-P Vernant, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet. While still penetrated, many of these women actively claim their agency in sex through pleasure and narrative. Additionally, in correlation with Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, while Apuleius’s female witches behave in horrific and chaotic ways that effectively emasculate their male prey, they do not fall within the same topos as other female witches. Instead, Apuleius’ witches appear to wield their magic in a way that allows them to maneuver through a gender restrictive society and claim agency that may not be available to them otherwise. This empowerment of the abject is solidified in Isis’ role in the novel, which functions to redeem the abject horrors of the novel and establish female supremacy in their role as Lucius’ savior. Through this analysis, I seek to reevaluate what ‘passivity’ means in the ancient world and to challenge past readings of monstrous females through close analysis, not only of sexual dynamics but also of their function within their larger narratives.

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