Agora Speaker 2021 May - Dr Robert Cowan

Agora Speaker Series 2021 - Dr Robert Cowan

Ugly Cows and Maternal Branches: Ecofeminism and Classics

Ecofeminism, as a branch of literary criticism, of other academic disciplines, and of activism outside the academy, centres on the association of women with nature, and in particular the oppression and exploitation of both. Sometimes the association is positively valorized and used to re-assert the value of ‘feminine’ and ‘natural’ values vis-à-vis ‘masculine’ and ‘cultural’ values. Sometimes the construct itself is rejected and deconstructed as part of the very patriarchal discourse which employs it to subordinate women and nature.

Classicists have so far engaged little with ecofeminism, but it is a powerful tool with which to approach key texts, such as Virgil’s Georgics, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Horace’s Odes, and Lucan’s Civil War. The farmer’s subjugation of the land is gendered, gods rape nymphs who transform into trees, the Roman countryside and Roman women are idealized, exploited, brutalized, equated, and sometimes contrasted. Ecofeminism illuminates much about Roman attitudes to women and to nature, but Roman poetry can also contribute much to the study of ecofeminism.