Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Inventing Jane Harrison

I have received Mary Beard's The Invention of Jane Harrison--there goes the evening. (And all hail the interlibrary loan staff for producing it so quickly.)

Ronald Hutton writes of Harrison in his book The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft:

"Savagery and barbarism both frightened and excited her. She admitted that 'ritual seizes me: a ritual dance, a ritual procession and vestments and lights and banners, moves me as no sermon, no hymn, no picture, no poem has ever moved me.'"

She was both Puritan and would-be Bacchante in the same body, a fascinating character, described when lecturing at Cambridge as "a tall figure in black drapery, with touches of her favorite green and a string blue Egyptian beads, like a priestess's rosary." Hutton suggests that she did much to create the notion of a Great Goddess who preceded the familiar Greek pantheon. He quotes Beard, so now I will see what Beard has to say.

Beard herself describes the myth of Harrison thus in her preface:

"Jane Ellen Harrison changed the way we think about the ancient Greeks; she infuriated the academic establishment at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with her uncompromising refusal to play the submissive part; she fell repeatedly and hopelessly in love--usually with entirely unsuitable men, who were also her academic colleagues; she gave some of the most remarkably theatrical lectures that the University of Cambridge has ever seen; in the very male intellectual world of a century ago, she put women academics and women's colleges (dangerously) on the map."


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