Université de Strasbourg

Kirk Ormand

Biography - Kirk Ormand

Department of Classics, Oberlin College, United States & USIAS Fellow, Archaeology and Ancient History in the Mediterranean Area (ArcHiMedE), University of Strasbourg and CNRS

Kirk Ormand, USIAS Fellow 2020

Kirk Ormand received in a BA in classical languages from Carleton College (United States) and a PhD in Classics from Stanford University (United States). He is the Nathan A. Greenberg Professor of Classics at Oberlin College.

Professor Ormand is the author of Exchange and the Maiden: Marriage in Sophoclean Tragedy (1999), Controlling Desires: Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome (2nd ed., 2018), and The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and Archaic Greece (2014), editor of A Companion to Sophocles (2012) and co-editor (with Ruby Blondell) of Ancient Sex: New Essays (2015). He has published articles on Homer, Hesiod, Hipponax, Sophocles, Euripides, Ovid, Lucan, the Greek novel, and Michel Foucault.

Kirk Ormand is the recipient of the John J. Winkler Memorial Prize for an essay in a “risky or marginal area of classics”; the Barbara McManus Prize of the Women’s Classical Caucus for work on gender in ancient Greece and Rome; and the Basil Gildersleeve Prize from the American Journal of Philology. He has served as the Elizabeth Whitehead Professor of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Professor Ormand’s current research deals with the fragments of Greek invective poetry as a form of poetic and political discourse during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE in Greece. 

Professor Michel Humm, from the unit for Archaeology and Ancient History in the Mediterranean Area (ArcHiMedE), will welcome Kirk Ormand during his time in Strasbourg.

Project – Invective poetry, social class, and gender in archaic Greece

01/09/2020 - 31/08/2021

During his USIAS project, Professor Ormand proposes to write a book examining the discursive phenomenon of archaic Greek invective poetry, looking at its characteristics in relation to the social changes that took place during this turbulent period of Greek history. He plans to examine the fragments of Archilochus, Hipponax, and Semonides, as well as invective poems by poets better known for other themes, including Alcaeus, Anacreon, and Sappho. In addition, he will consider the elements of these poets’ biographies, usually regarded as fictional, which serve as testimony to the way that the ancient Greeks thought of their poetry as a reflection of their lives. He will examine this evidence through two lenses of scientific study: their interactions with social class, and their depictions of gender relations. Both structures, as Professor Ormand has argued elsewhere, went through significant changes in the archaic period (Ormand 2014); he sees invective poetry, therefore, as symptomatic of social structures in a state of flux.

The two poets most famous for invective in the archaic period are also poets who adopt an anti-elite or “middling” persona. Rather than expressing the values of noble birth, physical beauty, and aristocratic gift-exchange, they champion a moderate lifestyle in the service of the community.  Archilochus in particular presents a persona who opposes the elitist values of other genres of poetry (especially epic). He suggests that the target of his attack, a man he calls Lycambes, has violated social agreements, and is therefore subject to public ridicule.

The discourse of invective reveals different modes of thought about women and gender in several ways. First, the genre of invective is in some texts linked to women’s ritual practice, through the figure of Iambe (to whom the iambic sub-genre is linked). Iambe is best known for having relieved Demeter’s grief by making obscene gestures and/or engaging in obscene jokes. In this way, the genre of invective appears to be a “feminine” genre, or at least to have obscure origins in rituals in which men were not allowed. When male poets write invective, however, it has a distinctly masculine slant. Women are sometimes the object of invective attack (though this is much more common in Roman invective): their bodies can be depicted as grotesque, and their behaviour – especially sexual behaviour – is expressed as a violation of social norms. Even when the target of an attack is another man, the narrator frequently ridicules him through a depiction of improper sexual behaviour, or by presenting him as an unsuccessful rival for a woman’s sexual attentions. In this way, invective provides us with insight into men’s anxieties about women and about gendered behavioural norms in the archaic period. 

Critical to Professor Ormand’s examination will be the question of why invective, especially iambic invective, flourishes for about 150 years (c. 650-500 BCE) and why it ceases to be an effective genre in the emerging classical poleis.

France 2030