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International Symposium and Public Lecture by Prof. Edith Hall

The Past is a Female Country

Ancient Women and their Reception in Medieval and Early Modern Europe 

International Symposium, University of Warwick, 3 June 2024

Convenor: Claudia Daniotti

Over the past twenty years, an unprecedented scholarly interest has grown up around ancient Famous Women and the rich afterlife they had in European culture. If the fascination for heroines like, to name only a few, Helen and Medea, Semiramis and Cleopatra never really faded, the prominence that these women assumed in the visual and literary tradition of medieval to early modern Europe has come fully into focus only recently. As the extensive work of both academics and museum curators has shown, women from ancient myth and history and from the Old Testament featured heavily in educational treatises, moral literature and historical compilations of the period, and stories from their lives were illustrated in a variety of artefacts including paintings, sculptures, tapestries and domestic furnishings. Whether praised or condemned for the good or evil deeds they carried out, Famous Women from the past lent themselves to serving as either virtuous models or cautionary tales, offering moral guidance to medieval and early modern women as to what emulate or avoid.

The aim of this one-day (10:30am-4:30pm), interdisciplinary Symposium, which is generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust, is to explore ways of reception of ancient heroines in medieval to early modern Europe and the impact that these models had on the developing notion of female identity in the period.

The keynote address will be delivered by Prof. Carole Levin (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) on Boudicca and Queen Elizabeth I: Parallel British Amazonian Queens.

A public lecture by Prof. Edith Hall (University of Durham) will follow (5.30-6.30pm) on Repurposing Tomyris from Deschamps to Queen Anne, with an introduction by Prof. Helen Wheatley (University of Warwick). Lecture will take place in the Faculty of Arts Building (FAB) 0.03. All welcome.

Abstract: Most of the great heroic women of classical literature and history who defied mighty empires ended up defeated, or dead, or both. The exception is Tomyris, Queen of the Massagetae, who defied and executed Cyrus the Great to keep her people free. This talk traces her repurposing in art and literature from her inclusion in the medieval canon of female worthies and her representation in Renaissance and Early Modern visual art to her popularity in Restoration English theatre.

Attendance to the symposium and public lecture is free and everyone is welcome.

The programme can be viewed HERE. Abstracts are available HERE.

For the symposium, registration is required via the link HERE.

Questions can be sent to the convenor Claudia Daniotti (

Symposium venue:
Oculus Building, first floor,OC1.06

Public lecture venue:
Faculty of Arts Building, ground floor,0.03