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Ovid: Heroides

5. Gendered Space in the Heroides

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In this lecture, we think about the extent to which Ovid’s heroines live up to the ideal of the Roman matrona, focusing in particular on the concept of gendered space. As we move through the module, we consider: (i) the expectation in Roman society that woman should be confined to the domestic sphere to fulfil their roles as wives, mothers and managers of the household; (ii) the association between women and land, and men and sea in the Heroides; (iii) Catherine Bolton’s argument that Penelope’s (self-imposed) confinement to the domestic sphere establishes her identity as the faithful wife; (iv) the extent to which Briseis’ (partly self-imposed, partly enforced) confinement also establishes her sexual fidelity; (v) Dido’s recognition that her decision to leave the domestic sphere was the day “the damage was done” (7.93) in terms of her relationship with Aeneas; (vi) Anastasia Belinskaya’s argument that while Penelope is literally confined to her bedroom, she nevertheless undergoes a metaphorical odyssey that evokes her husband’s reputation as a traveller and a storyteller; (vii) the extent to which Ovid exploits the ebb and flow of the elegiac couplet to move the reader back and forth between the plains of Troy (hexameter line) and Penelope’s imagination (pentameter line); (viii) the extent to which Penelope challenges the association of the domestic sphere with females by characterising Ithaca through the male figures in her life: her father, the suitors, her son and her father-in-law; and (ix) the tension in poetry between (literally) staying where one is and (metaphorically, imaginatively) travelling far and wide.

Suggested reading:
– A. Belinskaya, ‘Penelope’s Odyssey’, Classical Journal 115.2 (2019), pp. 175-199
– M. C. Bolton, ‘Gendered Spaces in Ovid’s Heroides’, Classical World 102.3 (2009), pp. 273-290
– H. Jacobson, Ovid’s Heroides (1974)
– K. Milnor, Inventing Private Life (2005)


In this course, Professor Sharon Marshall (University of Exeter) explores Ovid’s Heroides. In the first module, we think about the relationship between Ovid’s version of the myths of Penelope, Briseis and Dido, and the ‘original’ versions found in Homer and Virgil. After that, in the second module, we think about the self-presentation of Penelope, Briseis and Dido as authors, with a particular focus on the relationship between gender and power. In the third module, we consider the Heroides as a text that spans the literary genres of epic, elegy and the letter, before turning in the fourth module to think about the politics of the Heroides, focusing in particular on it relation to Augustus’ moral legislation. Finally, in the fifth module, we think about the relationship between space and gender in the Heroides, and the extent to which the heroines live up to the ideal of the Roman matrona.


Dr Sharon Marshall is Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter, specialising in Roman epic, love elegy and the Roman novel.

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APA style

Marshall, S. (2022, August 08). Ovid: Heroides - Gendered Space in the Heroides [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Marshall, S. "Ovid: Heroides – Gendered Space in the Heroides." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 08 Aug 2022,

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