Poetry & Pomegranates. Feminist Empowerment and Post-Anorexic Reappropriations of the Myth of Persephone
My dissertation analyzes the ancient myth of Persephone and focuses on two contrasting tendencies that are inherent in most versions: anorexic self-renunciation and female empowerment through eating. Food refusal and the consumption of a pomegranate being core aspects, recent clinical psychology frequently uses Persephone’s rite of passage as a model to explain modern eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa or voluntary self-starvation. While such retrospective diagnoses for mythical goddesses appear audaciously anachronistic at first, the constituents of modern eating disorders come from the same misogynist logic that has started in Graeco-Roman antiquity and continued through Christian morals and Cartesian dualism: a logic that disparages corporeality, femininity, and nature, and values only “masculine” categories such as mind, rationality, and culture. These verdicts are still pervasive in Western thinking, and they produce and nurture eating disorders today: food, independence, and sexuality are still largely considered inappropriate for women. As it is told in the “Homeric” Hymn to Demeter, in Callimachus, and Ovid, the myth of Persephone thematizes the hunger strike as a means of protest that preserves the protagonist’s juvenile status and inhibits autonomous agency. Reading the myth subversively, we can see its enabling potential. Today, many female poets refer to Persephone when digesting their own eating disorder histories: offering recalcitrant, “post-anorexic” re-tellings, they liberate the goddess from the archetypal role of a passive victim and highlight her agency in the autonomous act of eating that ultimately renders her a mighty goddess. The ancient myth, thus, helps to explore ways out of the anorexic Underworld. The selected versions advocate for gender equality and body positivity and serve as examples of feminist re-claiming of ownership over antiquity, myth, canon, and literature.