Domestic Heroes

Ancient epic is all about great heroes, wars, travels and the quest for glory. Or is it? In this project, I explore the voices of women and children in ancient epic and ask some questions about the home lives of the ancient heroes. It is remarkable how Gilgamesh, the greatest hero of the ancient Near East, travels in search of eternal life, but is ultimately confronted with the advice of a wise woman: ‘You will not find the eternal life you seek, Gilgamesh. So let your stomach be full, day and night, dance and play, and wear fresh clothes. Keep your head washed, bathe in water, appreciate the child who holds your hand, let your wife enjoy herself in your lap.’ Many other epics show how women's perspectives on life differ radically from those of men: I look at Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Jason and the Golden Fleece, and the Aeneid, in order to ask how the great heroes of the ancient world interacted with women and children. Ultimately, my question concerns what has changed and what has remained the same in the domestic sphere. A simile in the Iliad reveals that children have been busy building and destroying sandcastles at the seaside for something like 3,000 years. There are aspects of the ancient world, and particularly of ancient domestic life, that are instantly recognisable (and often disturbingly so) in our own present experience.

Barbara Graziosi