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Faculty Lecture Series: Sarah Olsen

Thu, February 29th, 2024
4:15 pm
- 5:30 pm

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Associate Professor of Classics Sarah Olsen presents “The Virgin’s Promise: Euripides’ Helen and the Tragedies of Women” as part of the spring 2024 Faculty Lecture Series. Lectures will begin at 4:15 p.m. and take place in the Lawrence Hall Auditorium (L-231). Enter via the main WCMA entrance or through the Art Department corridor. Students, faculty, staff, community members – all are welcome!

Since the 5th century BCE, the Greek playwright Euripides has been famous (or infamous) for his representations of bold and transgressive women. His Helen (412 BCE), however, rehabilitates the notorious mythical heroine by dramatizing the possibility that she never actually went to Troy, but was instead reunited with Menelaus in Egypt during his journey home. In my lecture, I will argue that even as this play scripts the restoration of normative womanhood for its protagonist, it provides a model of alternative femininity through its characterization of a minor character: the virgin seer Theonoe. Drawing from queer and feminist frameworks for the interpretation of literature and drama, I will explore how Theonoe emerges as a potent counterpoint to Helen herself, carving out an unusual – if also precarious – position for herself beyond the structural and temporal confines of marriage.

Sarah Olsen, , is a scholar of ancient Greek literature, art, and culture. She is the author of Solo Dance in Archaic and Classical Greece: Representing the Unruly Body (2021) and co-editor of Queer Euripides (2022) and Imprints of Dance in Ancient Greece and Rome/Improntas de danza antigua (2024). Her current research projects include an ongoing collaborative investigation of ancient dance, a co-authored commentary on Euripides’ Orestes, and a study of female intimacy in ancient Greek tragedy.

The image: detail from Angelica Kauffman, “Venus Induces Helen to Fall in Love with Paris,” 1790. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

This talk is presented as part of the spring 2024 Faculty Lecture Series. The series was founded in 1911 by Catherine Mariotti Pratt, the spouse of a faculty member who wanted to “relieve the tedium of long New England winters with an opportunity to hear Williams professors talk about issues that really mattered to them.” From these humble and lighthearted beginnings, the Faculty Lecture Series has grown to become an important forum for tenured professors to share their latest research with the larger intellectual community of the college.

The Faculty Lecture Series is organized by the faculty members of the Lecture Committee. The aim of the series is to present big ideas beyond disciplinary boundaries.  All lectures will begin at 4:15 p.m. and will take place in the (new) Lawrence Hall Auditorium (L-231). Enter via the main WCMA entrance or through the Art Department corridor. All talks are free and open to the public and will be recorded for posting on Williams YouTube.

Upcoming Faculty Lectures

  • Mar 7 – José Constantine: “A Journey Through the Historical Impacts and Modern Challenges that Face Tropical River Ecosystems”
  • Mar 14 – Christophe Kone: “The House of Lagerfeld: Fashioning Homes for an Alternative German Homeland”

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