Saturday, September 18, 2021

Greece's lost all-female epics

It's a little known fact that Euripides, always a man ahead of his time, once had an ambitious plan to reboot the Homeric epics with an all-female cast of characters. Since there weren't enough legendary female warriors to meet the needs of the plot, he ended up deciding to press the goddesses themselves into service. The great warrior Achilles, for example, was to be replaced by Athena, the most martial of the goddesses. This led to trouble when it came time to choose a suitable Odysseus-analogue, though. Athena was once again the most natural choice but had already been taken for the Achilles role. In the end, he decided on Hera, thinking her vengeful jealousy would make her perfect for the scene where Odysseus slaughters the suitors who had been courting his wife in his absence.

However, neither of these planned epics was ever written. The priests soon got wind of Euripides's plan, and they flatly forbade him to go through with it.

"The first epic is out of the question," said one of the priests. "Imagine portraying Pallas Athena as a sulky, temperamental Achilles. It would be blasphemy!"

"Quite right," said another priest, "and the second would be even worse."

"Worse than blasphemy against Pallas Athena?" 

"The first epic would be blasphemy,” the second priest replied, “but the second would be Herassey."

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