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Rape Culture in Classical Mythology

Tarquinius und Lucretia, Hans von Aachen, ca. 1600

Tarquinius und Lucretia, Hans von Aachen, ca. 1600

I’m a little ambivalent about putting this take-home exam essay I wrote in second year up on the blog. On the one hand, it’s something I’ve thought about posting up for a while. On the other, I feel that even though I’ve learned more about Classics and grown as a person since second year, I still find this essay disturbing in many ways. It’s an answer to the question, “Why did Greek and Roman myths have so much rape in them?” A nasty subject at the best of times. But I’ve weighed up my options, and found two reasons why I feel this was worth posting.

Firstly, there’s a bit of bragging on my part. I’m pretty sure this is one of the highest marked essays I ever wrote in my first three years of undergraduate study. It was graded in the 90’s (whereas any mark over 80 would have put the essay in the top 10%). That didn’t necessarily happen because it was the best essay I wrote, but it was very well received by the university. Feminist essays are satisfying like that. I don’t think there’s any other ideology that the university would be happy to see you jump on your figurative high-horse and lambast your ideological opponents with. Looking back, I wonder if this essay is slightly overdone at times; but your reading of it may vary. Clearly my examiners very much enjoyed it.

The second reason I have for posting it here is that this essay very much resonates with the modern issue of Rape Culture. In the twenty-first century, we’re still consuming so many stories, films and TV series which shove images of violent, pushy, rapey sex in our faces, whenever directors want to make sex look more exciting or the protagonists more virile. I would say that these rapey depictions of sex are cheap thrills in movies, but they’re worse than that. The movies we watch tap into a deeper narrative which justifies a rape as understandable, that it’s the normal way for a man to react to seeing a woman – that woman – the one who takes your fancy, the one who’s dressed just slutty enough, the one who’s supposedly asking for it.

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