Faculty Author Q&A: Froma I. Zeitlin on “The Retrospective Muse”

January 22, 2024

Froma I. Zeitlin is Ewing Froma I. Zeitlin is Ewing Professor of Greek Language and Literature, Emeritus, and Professor of Comparative Literature, Emeritus. Her most recent book “The Retrospective Muse: Pathways Through Ancient Greek Culture and Literature” was published in December 2023 by Cornell University Press.

How did you get the idea for this project?

Over the years, I published a number of essays that are scattered in a variety of publications, especially collective volumes, whether on a particular topic or in a Festschrift for other scholars, or included in assorted periodicals, handbooks, etc. Judging by the frequency of their citation, many continue to attract attention, whether regarding Classical literary genres (tragedy, comedy, romance) or explorations of relations between human and divine, as well as cultic formations, mythic scenarios, and above all, of gendered approaches in which I was an early pioneer. I believed in the heuristic value of addressing large topics to which I have consistently returned to in one way or another on different occasions, in different venues, as a source of conversation in their own right and a stimulus to others for further research and response.

How has your project developed or changed throughout the research and writing process?

I reviewed a long career from 1965-2023 with some surprising conclusions. I revised several essays, brought the bibliography up to date, added further addenda, and confronted intellectually a long career of publications, both those included and those that were not. I revised also to fit within the series, “Myth and Poetics,” published by Cornell University Press.

What questions for future investigation has the project sparked?

Confrontation with what this selection of essays is not, in terms of trendy theoretical outlooks. Some useful, some less so. [I was also] encouraged to return to a long-term project, “Vision, Figuration, and Image from Theater to Romance” where, as the title suggests, it engages another long-term interest in the visual arts or more precisely ‘art and text.’

Why should people read this book?

I will quote one of the reader’s reports: The topics are at the cutting edge of the Classical field of study… ‘Erotics, Myth and Gender’ opens to view the heady interface of fantasy, desire and the narratives we live and love by; ‘Encounters with the Divine’ reminds us that what is beyond the human is integral to understanding the human, and the polytheism of Greek literature has proved fundamental to the Western imaginary; ‘Urban Mythographies’ also shows how the city represents itself to itself is one of the most pressing questions of modern thinking about the city; ‘Reception: later echoes’ speaks immediately to the biggest growth topic in classics, namely, the study of what used to be called the classical tradition.

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