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‘The Babe Bromios’: Jane Ellen Harrison, Nietzsche, and the Greek Chorus

September 14, 2020 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Attic Red-Figure kylix by Hieron depicting ten maenads dancing, c. 490-80 BCE. Berlin, Antikenmuseem, F2290. (Harrison 1895: XX, Plate XXI)
Attic Red-Figure kylix by Hieron depicting ten maenads dancing, c. 490-80 BCE. Berlin, Antikenmuseem, F2290. (Harrison 1895: XX, Plate XXI)

[Due to COVID-19, this event has been moved to a digital conferencing platform. For more information about participation, contact IRH at info@irh.wisc.edu.]

Monday Seminar:

Laura McClure

Senior Fellow (2019-2023)

Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, UW-Madison


Reception studies, an emerging subfield of Classics, challenges the notion of classical antiquity as a static, fixed tradition, arguing instead that it is always mediated by new readings, translations, and interpretations that are conditioned by broader cultural processes. An important new focus has been the influence of women in shaping Hellenism, particularly through their understanding of Greek tragedy. This talk examines the engagement of the first female classical scholar, Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928), with the Greek chorus as both a dramatic form and ritual practice. It situates this analysis within the broader context of Victorian Hellenism, a key period for the transmission and reception of Greek tragedy in Britain and the U.S. In particular, it explores how Nietzsche’s ideas about the chorus and Dionysian worship propounded in the Birth of Tragedy (1872) helped Harrison to formulate a theory of the origins of Greek religion in her first major book, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903). Whereas Nietzsche embraced an exclusively masculinist view of the chorus, Harrison in a feminist revision of his theories focused instead on the god’s female attendants, the Maenads, viewing them as vestiges of an original matriarchal and matrilinear order. Through the chorus, Harrison reimagined Greece as a culture grounded in a female religious impulse and in so doing expanded the disciplinary boundaries of Classics beyond its narrow philological focus to include new discoveries in anthropology, archaeology, art, and the history of religions.


Laura McClure is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an affiliate of Gender and Women’s Studies. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Classical Languages and Literatures before taking up her position at UW. Her research focuses on Athenian drama, the study of women and gender in the ancient world, and classical reception. Her books include Spoken Like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama (Princeton, 1999), Courtesans at Table: Gender and Greek Literary Culture in Athenaeus (Routledge, 2003), and Women in Classical Antiquity: From Birth to Death (Wiley Blackwell, 2019). She has edited several volumes of essays, including Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society, with André Lardinois (Princeton, 2001), Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World, with C. A. Faraone (Wisconsin, 2006), Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World (Wiley Blackwell, 2008), and the Blackwell Companion to Euripides (Wiley Blackwell, 2017). She has also published articles on women and gender in Athenian drama and religion, Greek prostitution, and women writers and the reception of Greek tragedy.


September 14, 2020
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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