Romantic Hellenism and Women Writers by Noah Comet (auth.)

By Noah Comet (auth.)

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The Lady’s Monthly Museum, whose staff evidently admired this serial, ran its own version for twenty months beginning in July 1817. One wonders if it struck the magazines’ readers as a bit outlandish to see reference works published in this manner, particularly during the eighteen months (of a combined fifty-four) when the two encyclopedias ran contiguously. 28 The Court Magazine’s encyclopedia was amply titled “Olympus; or, A Didactic Treatise on Mythology; with a description of the heathen gods, and the mode in which they were worshipped.

After all, schoolboys learned lessons on classical culture, morality, and history as a consequence or side-effect of their tuition in the Greek and Latin languages; women, who did not learn classical languages, had no such consequential pattern to follow, and were, in this sense, free from topical constraints. For them, new items of interest included women’s fashion, the history of dancing, and ancient methods of cooking, to name but a few. However, notwithstanding such differences in subject matter, these examples of a particularly “feminine” Hellenism generally maintained a secondary paradigm shaped by moralizing editors and authors who manipulated classical knowledge as a source of authority, often in questionable ways.

Plutarch’s life of Pericles, Plato’s Menexenus, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Oeconomicus offered mixed accounts of Aspasia as someone admired for her beauty, revered for her wisdom and eloquence, and frequently denounced as a prostitute. Whatever their opinions of Aspasia herself, these authors established the Aspasian legacies that would appeal so strongly to nineteenth-century women: her intellect and rhetorical skill both as a consultant to a brilliant man, Socrates, and as a persuasive advisor to a powerful one, Pericles.

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