Philomela and Her Descendents: Re-membering Traumatized Women in Literature

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Audrey Gradzewcz/NEMLA
contact email: 

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Philomela is devoted sister, is victim of a brutal rape and mutilation, is weaver, is revenger, is nightingale. The specter of Philomela haunts the western canon, where she is a shorthand for rape, where the song of the nightingale is shorthand for suffering. Where Philomela is invoked, the ingenious weaver of the Metamorphoses is newly silenced by threadbare retellings. In Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, Philomela is severed from both revenge and transformation; as Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, she is severed from the consolation and commiseration of other women; and in Eliot’s The Wasteland, her “inviolable voice” is severed from her violated body, laments to the crude unhearing. While often in literature, Philomela-as-nightingale suggests, if not rape, then female pain and powerless, Philomela-as-nightingale is often metamorphosed into the embodiment of male longing, whether it be love-longing, as in Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona or as in the speaker of Sydney’s poem, “The Nightingale,” or poetic longing, as in Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” Her story of rape shunted aside to make room for male suffering, Philomela is silenced even in her own song. This panel seeks papers that explore the ways in which the figure of Philomela is invoked, mutilated, and silenced in literary retellings. In this age of Time’s Up and #MeToo, the stories of women are still too often unheard, unbelieved, and overwritten. This panel will consider the ways in which the fullness of Philomela’s story can be returned to texts where it has been dissected and dismembered, and how embracing Philomela’s complexity may allow us to better understand the complexity of other literary and living women who have faced sexual trauma.


Submit abstracts by SEPTEMBER 30, 2020 through the NEMLA Portal:


This is a hybrid event; participants can give virtual presentations should they wish.