Clara Bosak-Schroeder: Women as a Natural Resource in Greek Literature and the Handmaid’s Tale
April 15 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Women as a Natural Resource in Greek Literature and The Handmaid‘s Tale
Ancient Greek writers were fascinated by other peoples and their customs, especially sex and marriage customs very different from their own. One of these was called mixis epikoinos or “sex in common,” in which men would “share” wives. Though some Greek historians were shocked by the practice, others associated it with utopia: if women circulated as a common resource, they thought, strife would diminish and material prosperity could increase. This idea influenced Plato’s Republic, where Socrates advocates similar sexual customs as part of a larger commitment to communalism (457d).
In this talk, I bring the Republic and other stories of mixis epikoinos into dialogue with The Handmaid‘s Tale (2017-), a Hulu series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name. Not only does the series allude to the Republic and other sources of classical learning, its world depends on a form of mixis epikoinos. In the near-future imagined by Atwood, fertility has plummeted and people who have successfully given birth are enslaved as sexual “handmaids” to elite men. Analyzing this system through Greek literature allows me to explore The Handmaid‘s Tale as a classical reception and explain its confusing environmental politics, which tie the subjugation of women to environmental conservation and stewardship.