The Female Homer:

An Exploration of Women's Epic Poetry


by Jeremy M. Downes


The Female Homer opens with simple questions: Are there any women's epic poems? If so, what are the central characteristics of these epics, and how do they relate to the traditional vision of epic poetry as male-authored and masculinist, as powerful and patriarchal? The book explores relations among women's epic poems over a great span—from the ancient Sumerian Descent of Inanna to Rita Dove, from the oral epics of the Russian bylinists to contemporary "language" poets. Through brief, accessible chapters, the book opens up the mythic structure of women's epic, developing its relations with feminism and patriarchy, with religion and democracy, with the personal and the political, with its literary grandmothers and its grandfathers. The Female Homer, though aware of the divergences, focuses on bringing together the strong affinities between these diverse epic voices. In doing so, it charts—for the first time—the otherwise invisible tradition of women's epic.


  1. For Love and Glory, by way of a Preface
  2. Introduction
  3. Historical Overview
  4. The Sympathetic Magic of Genre: Hybrids, Creoles, Mongrels, and Contagions
  5. Laundry: Cyclical Mythic Structure in Women's Epic
  6. Laundry, Myth, and Modernity
  7. Psyche: Internalized Mythic Structure in Women's Epic
  8. Oral Culture and Women's Performance
  9. Making it up out of Whole Cloth: Textual Textiles and Textilist Readings
  10. Invisible Child: Anonymous was a Woman and Other Stories
  11. Tomboy Epic: Epics of Girlhood
  12. Father's Daughter's: Against the Fathers' Amnesia
  13. My Mother, Myself: Symbiotic Recursion in Women's Epic
  14. Exits and Entrances: Monumental Time in Women's Epic
  15. Ironing Things Out: Cyclical Time in Women's Epic
  16. My Woman-Naming Roar: Feminist Discourse and Women's Epic
  17. Divine Machinery: Religious Discourse and Women's Epic
  18. It Gets Hard Core: Materialist Girls
  19. Mowing the Lawn: Democracy and Women's Epic
  20. Small Dynasties: The Local, the Familial, the Global
  21. The Heroic Text: Poetry as Heroic Action
  22. Conclusion

Primary Bibliography and Checklist of Women's Epic

Secondary Bibliography



Cover Image



The University of Delaware Press


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This page last updated August 31st, 2010