By Tracey L. Walters (auth.)

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Extra resources for African American Literature and the Classicist Tradition: Black Women Writers from Wheatley to Morrison

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99) CLASSICAL DISCOURSE AS POLITICAL AGENCY 45 Adding these sentimental images of Niobe and her children to the opening of the poem shifts our attention from Niobe’s insolence to Niobe’s maternal love. Where other renditions of the narrative introduce Niobe as a reckless woman whose actions bring harm to her children, Wheatley introduces us to a proud mother who oversteps her boundaries. A final difference between Wheatley’s version of the narrative and Sandys’ and Croxall’s is the manner in which the male authors treat the conclusion of the story.

Modern translations of the Persephone and Demeter myth remain close to the Homeric, Ovidian, and Orphic versions. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology (1940), for example, seems not to deviate too much from the Homeric Hymn. Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths (1955) and Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology (1959), each a marriage of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Orphic texts, make some subtle changes to the story. Bulfinch downplays Cyane’s role in trying to dissuade Pluto from taking Proserpine. In fact he narrates that when Cyane sees Ceres searching for Proserpine she is too afraid to anger Pluto and remains silent: “The river nymph would have told the goddess all she had witnessed, but dared not, for fear of Pluto; so she only ventured to take up the girdle which Proserpine had dropped in her flight, and waft it to the feet of the mother” (53).

Once again, anxious to assist Ceres, Cyane informs Ceres that Pluto took Proserpine to hell. Ceres appeals to Jove (Zeus) to have Pluto return their daughter. In contrast to the Homeric Hymn, Jove tries to encourage Ceres to allow Proserpine to remain with Pluto, reminding Ceres that Pluto loves Proserpine. Ceres is not swayed by Jove’s plea to leave their child with Pluto and she demands that Proserpine be returned. Jove concedes, but warns Ceres that if Proserpine has eaten food of the dead she must return to Pluto for part of the year.

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