Korinna (c. 400 BCE?)

     The freedom with which Korinna moves among mythic and contemporary subjects suggests that Boeotian women, like those of Lesbos, wrote without any constraints due to her gender. She sometimes specifically addresses her work to women, but at other times her audience is specifically male or mixed. Raynor’s note (181) points out that Korinna describes her art in gendered terms, remaking the logia pateron or father-songs to delight her town’s women.

1) In #1’s reference to Terpsichore, muse of dance, Korinna aligns her poesis with the use of words to organize human movement. This could be compared with Alkman’s parthenaeia (#1 on 31-4). How does Korinna’s gender figure into her project of revision? Can you see this as a kind of danced "conspiracy" (especially in the word’s root sense of a "breathing together")?

2) Later in #1, she refers to having "adorned the leader Kephisos with stories. Think about the way a poem "hangs words upon" its subject. Can the adornment of the subject also adorn the poet? (Compare the dual achievement of kleos or fame by both poet and subject in Ibykos #5 (93-4 and see Raynor’s notes on 173 and 175).

3) #2’s singing contest between two mountains plays with a human social custom attributed to geographical features. What might be meant by the "singing" of mountains? Does Goucher’s campus "sing" to Towson and vice versa?

4) #3’s speaker is involved in one of the many "bride thefts" or socially orchestrated rapes by which the ancient gods were said to bring forth heroes by mating with moral women. The practice is social reality in some cultures, where the groom’s male relatives "raid" the bride’s home in a prearranged mock combat to carry her off to the groom’s household. (This might even follow a normal "courtship" in which the bride’s free consent was involved.) Its use in myth also can result from aristocratic families which wish to claim descent from the gods. What does Korinna’s tone tell you about her attitude toward the gods’ abduction of Asopos’ daughters?

5) Fragment #9 is a perfect example of all that tantalizes and frustrates the reader of early women poets. See Raynor’s note (183-4) for a good summary of the possible ways this apparently unambiguous statement might be read. Note, too, the tradition that Myrtis was Korinna’s and Pindar’s teacher—this suggests that poetic authority among women was well-established in the early Classical era (c. 600-500 BCE). Also see the note to fragment #10, which may be part of the same poem (184).

6) #13’s reference to Thespia, a town at the foot of Mount Helikon with a sanctuary sacred to the Muses, gives us a useful example of where mythic beliefs which inspire poets may arise from ordinary social practice. The town’s "mouseion" was one of three different places in Greece which claimed to be the site of the Muses’ birth. Each site told the story differently, with a different mother and father deity. Competition among the sites for pilgrims seeking inspiration encouraged poets to promote the sites and their own relationship to them as sources of poetic authority, not unlike alumni/ae magazines’ praise of colleges to promote the reputations of their graduates. All this crass commercialism might obscure the inspiring function of such a place, however, unless we allow ourselves to believe as an honest, well-informed classical poet might believe, that the site of the Muses’ origin might really possess the power to enhance the gift of song.