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
B. Du Bois, and Ann Julia Cooper were all credited for their mastery of classical languages. Cooper was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn classical languages because during the nineteenth century serious academic classical study was limited mostly to men. While a number of nineteenth-century universities such as Oberlin, Fisk, Wilberforce, and Ann Arbor, were liberal in their admissions policies for women, female students were relegated to taking Ladies’ courses. The Ladies’ courses consisted of literature, music, and art; classes in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek were not offered to female students.
It is written as a short epic, complete with a ten-line invocation to the muse, esoteric language, scenes of gods doling out punishment, and passages describing brutal bloodshed—although here the bloodshed does not take place on the battlefield but rather in the domestic sphere. Ovid’s story portrays Niobe as a proud queen whose hubris is her tragic flaw. 4 Much like contemporary writers of her time, Wheatley’s version of the story is more in the form of paraphrase in that the original story is loosely reinterpreted.
To begin with, we bid the highest price in dowries just to buy some man to be dictator of our bodies. . When a man gets bored with wife and home, he simply roams abroad, relieves the tedium of his spirit: turns to a friend or finds his cronies. We women, on the other hand, turn only to a single man” (Roche 40–41). After her speech, Medea appeals to the women to not judge her for the actions she will take to punish Jason. Jason arrives and tries to placate Medea, suggesting that the marriage is a selfless act to afford a better life for himself as well as for Medea and their children.