Representations of 'Witches' in Epic: Circe and Erichtho

| August 22, 2015

I’ve had a quick read through your piece, and I want to give you some direction on it before I’m away next week.
Firstly, it’s great that you’ve read the texts carefully and have done this work of identifying themes and starting to compare and contrast the ways in which the two women are characterised. But it reads to me like you are getting a lot of thoughts down on paper quite quickly, without being entirely sure of your structure or where you’re going with it.
That’s completely understandable, because you are under pressure and writing at speed, but I think it would be a good idea now to take a step back and clarify what your main points are, and what the structure of the thesis is.
I’d suggest you call it something bland for the moment, such as:
‘Representations of ‘Witches’ in Epic: Circe and Erichtho’
Your basic question ‘Compare and contrast representations of Circe and Erichtho in their respective epics’ is interesting, but you need to break it down into sections. I also think you might get a better angle on the material, if you focus on the fact that Lucan comes later and may be playing with Homer, as well as Virgil, in his representation of Erichtho.
I would suggest splitting up your thesis into the following sections based on what I think are the key themes you’ve identified (but of course you may choose others):
1. Introduction.
Here you need to tell us what the secondary sources say about ‘witches’ in antiquity – is there any such thing, who are the key figures, how are classical ideas about ‘women who do magic’ different or similar to the more familiar, later ideas of the witch. You’ve already done work on this for your Horace essay.
Introduce Lucan’s epic, explain how he draws on and plays off the earlier epic tradition and what is new about his work (you’ve done a lot of work on this with Martin).
Tell us that Lucan’s Erichtho is similar to, but different from, Circe in various ways – tell us that these are the key themes that you will focus on and outline the structure of the rest of the thesis.
2. Gender and Magic
This is something you looked at in relation to the witches in Horace and is also something that you talk about in this piece. Why are witches women? How are these two women described as women here? Why does it matter? Is this like or unlike how other women/witches are described elsewhere?
Avoid generalisations as much as possible, and stay within antiquity. Look at the passages where the women are described, put the quotations in the thesis and then comment on the passages – basically do your own close readings, like we did in the Petronius class and in the Rome and the Natural World modules.
3. Power and Magic
This will lead into your interesting second point about types of power, and the ways in which those powers can be seen as an alternative to the strengths of the male hero. What sorts of powers are these women represented as possessing? How are these powers linked to erotic power? How are they associated with death?
4. Structure and Narrative
Your third point is less a theme than an exploration of the different functions that these two characters have on the narratives in the two texts. Do they disrupt the narrative? What effects do they have on the progress of the heroes’ journeys?
5. Conclusions
This can be very brief – just a summary of each chapter and your main arguments.
In each of the chapters, I think a simple structure would work where you have a brief introduction setting out your main points, a subsection on Circe, a subsection on Erichtho, and a conclusion that draws out the similarities and differences.

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