Title

The Figuration of Phantoms: Helens from Homer to Walcott

Presentation Type

Presentation

Abstract

Since her introduction in Homer’s Iliad, Helen of Troy has remained an endlessly captivating figure, shrouded in contradiction and serving, as Classicist Robert Meagher states, as the ultimate symbol of woman. Her infamous character has endured throughout history, recreated in a thousand books, poems, and films that trail in her wake. What these multifarious recreations share is Helen’s troubling silence through a singularly masculine perspective. Perhaps the most significant contemporary conjuring of Helen is that of Caribbean poet and Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, whose epic Omeros echoes the Classical tradition in its form as well as its Greek-named characters. Unlike former representations of Helen, however, Omeros addresses an additional, complex component: the poet’s awareness of the ethical dilemma of aesthetic representation. Through a close reading of Omeros informed by feminist and postcolonial criticism and research on ancient portrayals of Helen of Troy and her mythological counterparts, I examine the influence of the Classical tradition on Walcott’s Caribbean woman. Drawing parallels between Helen of the West Indies and the women of Homer, Hesiod, and Euripides, I explore Walcott’s adoption of the Greek eidōlon, a phantom image of a human form, and the ways in which this particular portrayal of Helen works surprisingly to break the mold of her namesake. The paper affirms Walcott’s creation of a character who subverts the poet’s representation and her inherited boundaries, giving a voice to both the silenced woman and the emerging culture of the Caribbean.

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Apr 12th, 3:20 PM Apr 12th, 3:40 PM

The Figuration of Phantoms: Helens from Homer to Walcott

UC 332

Since her introduction in Homer’s Iliad, Helen of Troy has remained an endlessly captivating figure, shrouded in contradiction and serving, as Classicist Robert Meagher states, as the ultimate symbol of woman. Her infamous character has endured throughout history, recreated in a thousand books, poems, and films that trail in her wake. What these multifarious recreations share is Helen’s troubling silence through a singularly masculine perspective. Perhaps the most significant contemporary conjuring of Helen is that of Caribbean poet and Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, whose epic Omeros echoes the Classical tradition in its form as well as its Greek-named characters. Unlike former representations of Helen, however, Omeros addresses an additional, complex component: the poet’s awareness of the ethical dilemma of aesthetic representation. Through a close reading of Omeros informed by feminist and postcolonial criticism and research on ancient portrayals of Helen of Troy and her mythological counterparts, I examine the influence of the Classical tradition on Walcott’s Caribbean woman. Drawing parallels between Helen of the West Indies and the women of Homer, Hesiod, and Euripides, I explore Walcott’s adoption of the Greek eidōlon, a phantom image of a human form, and the ways in which this particular portrayal of Helen works surprisingly to break the mold of her namesake. The paper affirms Walcott’s creation of a character who subverts the poet’s representation and her inherited boundaries, giving a voice to both the silenced woman and the emerging culture of the Caribbean.