03. Before Alexander, 3.2 Ancient Greece, 3.2.1 Culture and Society, Alexander - Non Fiction Book, Reviews

English Book Review/Collaboration: “Dalla Grande Madre alla Madre. La maternità nel mondo classico e cristiano: miti e modelli. Vol. I: La Grecia” by Roberta Franchi

Recensione in italiano: QUI.

Good day everyone, thanks to be here on Alessandro III di Macedonia- your source about Alexander the Great! Today I’m talking about a book I discovered for some reasons but that I liked very much for others. I’ll speak to you of:

Dalla Grande Madre alla Madre- La maternità nel mondo classico e cristiano: miti e modelli, Vol. I: Grecia

by Roberta Franchi

publisher: Edizioni dell’Orso

Series: Hellenica

ISBN: 978-88-6274-888-9

Pages: XII-376

It’s in the heart of the Anatolian plateau that a fascinating journey begins, dotted with references, overlaps and resonances, aimed at retracing the traces of that archetypal female image, the dominant symbolic figure in the ancient religious pantheon, with which the majority ends up identifying part of the female deities: the Great Mother. Venerated in Anatolia by the Hittites and the Phrygians, in Greece her face overlaps with that of Cybele, Gaia, Rhea and Demeter. A name, many names or many goddesses to indicate a belief in the uncontested power of a primordial and cosmo-theogonic mother, an elusive and multifaceted mother, who ends up settling on the Agora of Athens, becoming the custodian of justice and the ancestral soul of the city. Expression of fertility and fruitfulness, the procreating and generating force of the Great Mother, declined already in the myth of Demeter and Kore, finds a parallel in that single living female figure, capable in turn of generating, nourishing, protecting and loving: the mother. Next to nurses and nurses, Greek literature offers various maternal typologies: from the mother of the state to the terrible or vindictive one, from the murdering mother to the good and maternal one. But perhaps the most usual dimension of the mother is crying: Niobe, Thetis, Hecuba, Andromache or the supplicant mothers of Euripides raise their voices to remember the joys and torments of raising and raising children, the loss and pain caused by their death. And if it is true that the woman, relegated to the oikos, remains as impossible on the philosophical-medical side as in the patriarchal society, because of her antithetical characteristics to those of man, the love for her children redeems her from its natural weakness, granting it a privileged status, which touches the strings of heroism and virility. For Spartan mothers it is part of a sort of civic ‘normality’ not to cry when their children die, since these are generated for the defense of Sparta. The death of childbirth, like the ‘beautiful death’ in battle for a man, makes women’s life memorable, otherwise destined to be erased from history. If the woman fulfills her duty when she gives birth to her children, motherhood, contributing to generate citizens, could fully aspire to the status of civic activity. And how can we forget the role played ‘behind the throne’ by some mothers of sovereigns, including Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great? Through careful contextualization and timely reference to the texts, without neglecting the iconographic contribution, the volume, starting from the remote events of the Great Mother, shows how the deep commitment with which the mother works in the social and religious context of the Greek world transforms motherhood in an essential and ennobling function.


ROBERTA FRANCHI, DOCTOR OF RESEARCH IN GREEK AND LATIN PHILOLOGY, IS RESEARCH FELLOW AT THE RESEARCH CENTER FOR THE HUMANITIES – INSTITUTE OF HISTORY OF THE BUDAPEST ACADEMY OF SCIENCES. COLLABORATES WITH THE CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY IN BUDAPEST, WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF SEVILLE AND THE COASTAL CAROLINA UNIVERSITY. HAS SPENT RESEARCH PERIODS AT MANY EUROPEAN UNIVERSITIES (VIENNA, DENMARK, GERMANY) AND CANADA (UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO). Was SUMMER FELLOW IN DUMBARTON OAKS (WASHINGTON, D.C.) AND FELLOW OF THE HERDER-INSTITUT IN MARBURG. DEALS WITH RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND PHILOSOPHY, OF CHRISTIAN POETRY, LATE-BYZANTINE LITERATURE AND GENDER STUDIES. In addition to numerous articles and essays in specialized magazines and conference proceedings, he has published two volumes: NONNO DI PANOPOLI, PARAFRASI DEL VANGELO DI S. GIOVANNI, song VI, introduction, critical text, trad. AND COMM., BOLOGNA 2013; METODIO D’OLIMPO, IL LIBERO ARBITRIO, MILAN 2015

4 and a half stars!

Reading time: from 10th to 22nd December 2019.

First of all I’d like to thank the publisher Edizioni dell’Orso for allowing me to buy this book at a discounted price in order to be able to review it here.

I immediately post the photo of the index of the volume because I need to explain one thing:

I was interested in this book for the fifty final pages, those dedicated to Alexander the Great and Olympias and those on the various Cleopatra in the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt, but it’s a surprising book: the author Roberta Franchi has carried out a masterful research: she has analyzed ancient archaeological and numismatic sources and finds to understand the role of the Mother in antiquity. As you can see from the index, Franchi also analyzes Greek tragedies to understand what role woman had, or rather her mother, in the ancient world.

The concept of motherhood is fascinating and complex. It embraces other related topics such as childhood, family, education, sexuality, marriage, and invests the field of investigation of the natural, legal and psychological sciences, revealing a history that isn’t monolithic, but subject to transformations and changes over time, since in every culture the construction of maternal identity brings with it mixed notions to the experience of that culture with life, death, sex, gender.

the translation is mine

In this book we find splendid pages dedicated to mothers and motherhood, their relationship with their children, their insertion more or less in society; mothers who are no longer so because they have lost their children; of divine mothers; women who cannot be mothers because they are sterile; women who are mothers even if the society of that time doesn’t “see them well” because they aren’t married; prostitute mothers who have sons and daughters; the different way in which breastfeeding was seen in the Greek and Roman world. In short, this book is a monumental work if you consider the fact that it is the first of three volumes, because the work is composed of:

  1. Greece
  2. Rome
  3. From the Bible to the Church Fathers

Cases like this, when I start a reading for one reason but then I like it very much for others, they’re beautiful and surprising because thanks to the fifty final pages I achieved my goal of getting a more precise idea of how mothers were seen at the time of Alexander the Great, but thanks to all the first part of extreme beauty I managed to get the big picture and fill all the pieces as I wanted.

The author examines all that is possible: where the cult of the Mother Goddess was born; of how from the 6th century BC the Mother is seen as the earth in a parallelism between the woman and the soil; of some mothers who sacrifice their children for the good of the city; vindictive mothers seeking revenge for their children’s death; the close relationship between a mother who expresses herself in the need to touch her son one last time when he died; how mothers reciting fairy tales to their children not only form their own bodies by feeding and nurturing them, but they shape their soul; she gives examples of women and mothers in the various Greek tragedies; she also examines the relationship between mother and daughter less treated by the ancients because the male son was more important to them; speaks of incomplete women because they cannot be mothers The author also analyzes maternity from a medical and philosophical point of view, mothers who died in childbirth and shows how the thesis which claims that the archaic age was characterized by indifference towards the youngest is overcome.

This review seems like a list because the book is a real mine of information, but if from my analysis it would seem a discontinuous or didactic book, it’s not so because is a beautiful narration of the mother. Reading this book I felt like reading Greek tragedies, especially those of Euripides – also because Alexander the Great used to quote it – but because some of them interest me very much thanks to this book. The part dedicated to Thetis and his son Achilles reminds me very much of the relationship between Olympias and Alexander.

The book is also accompanied by many photographs (in black and white), by a rich set of notes and by the bibliography.

In my opinion, this reading is suitable, as well as obviously for scholars, for the curious ones, for those who are in search of an exciting but not pedantic reading. However, I feel like reporting a single flaw: the keywords that the author analyzes in the paragraphs aren’t often translated from Greek. When the author reports the quotations from the works there’s the translation, but when she analyzes in detail a passage of the text she doesn’t translate the word itself. It can therefore be a bit difficult for those who don’t know ancient Greek, but it’s still very enjoyable and I can testify it because I don’t know Greek. A completeness is lost that many could seek – or probably those who want exhaustiveness know Greek, better that way, but it’s an aspect that I wanted to point out.

I hope I have made you discover a reading that may interest you because for me it turned out to be excellent and went beyond my expectations, in fact it’s not said that I won’t also read the other two volumes later because they analyze the Mother during the birth of our history, that of Rome and Christianity.

You find this book in all the best physical and online bookstores and on the Edizioni dell’Orso‘s website. Thanks again to the editor for the discounted copy!

For now I leave you and wish you a merry Christmas! I hope to wish you a Happy New Year in the next review! Let me know if I have intrigued you!

Merry Christmas to all and thanks for everything,

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