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“The dream doesn’t rescue the maiden”: Feminist Revision of the Archetypes of Greek Mythological Women in Postmodern Poetry

Natalie Eleanor Patterson
Natalie Eleanor Patterson
Faculty Advisor(s)

In exploring the landscape of contemporary poetry, one might notice the unusual frequency of women poets choosing to engage with female characters and themes from Greek mythology. Why do so many of these writers choose to rewrite characters like Persephone, Penelope, and Circe into their poems? In comparing the original myths these characters appear in to close readings of the poetry of Rita Dove, Louise Glück, and Margaret Atwood, there emerges a clear revision not only of characters but of character archetypes. The archetypes of maiden, mother, and monster become well-rounded, complex women in modern poetry, usually through the use of persona, in which the poet takes on the voice of the character and speaks for her. This work illustrates a need to move beyond literary archetypes into a realm grounded not in misogynistic distinctions but in true feminist and human identity.  

Project Media

Natalie Eleanor Patterson is half-Cuban femme lesbian poet and editor from suburban Georgia and a senior at Salem College studying English and creative writing. Her poems have appeared in Sinister Wisdom, Hunger Mountain, and more, and she has received Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominations. Her debut chapbook, Plainhollow, is forthcoming from dancing girl press in 2021. She is an editor with Jacar Press and Sable Books.


First, congratulations on your publications.

Second, as a once maiden, mother of one, and monster to most, I identify well with the mythology and the works of Dove and Atwood. I'll have to investigate Glück now, as that's not on any of my bookshelves!

Submitted by Paula_Young on Tue, 04/13/2021 - 20:53 Permalink

I've never heard of the three feminine archetypes as maiden, mother and monster; I was under the impression that it was maiden, mother, and crone. Where do you think a crone would fit into your project's viewpoint?

Submitted by kathleenwagner on Wed, 04/14/2021 - 20:06 Permalink

Natalie - That was just amazing! I really enjoyed your work and presentation - so insightful. I do believe there are ways modern women can reclaim the Triple Goddess - Maiden, Mother, Crone - that the Greeks reformed in their own patriarchal world. And have you ever heard of a Sheela-na-gig? The imagery is connected with the Triple Goddess - I think you would really enjoy learning about that!

Submitted by Amy Rio on Thu, 04/15/2021 - 18:20 Permalink