IImages of Women in the World of Myths and their Reception in Slovenian Literature

This course is part of the programme
Master in Slovene Studies - Literary Science

Objectives and competences

The aim of the course is a literary analysis of classical mythology, folklore and Biblical motifs in literary texts from antiquity to the present that incorporate images of women shown in similar or varied literary models. The method of intertextuality calls for a comparative analysis of relevant mythical and biblical texts and the study of their reception in recent Slovenian literature at a literary level.

Students will deal with images of women and their real and symbolic significance and order them into the broader social and cultural-historical contexts; they will do so by means of thematic and comparative analyses as well as by means of literary interpretation that encompasses interdisciplinary awareness of anthropology and philosophy.


Previous knowledge from literary-theoretical courses is required, and the course is linked to the fields of Slovenian and world literatures, anthropology, cultural studies and gender studies. Knowledge from the field of feminist literary studies is recommended, especially views of female characters in literature (studies of images of women). The course makes use of independent use of various methodological approaches in investigating images of women, among them methods from reception theory, hermeneutics, intertextuality and structural anthropology in investigations of archetypes and myths in literature.


Students will become familiar with representations and roles of female literary characters in influential works from Slovenian and world folk and mythological traditions as well as from artistic literature.

At the forefront of literary analysis and interpretation are tales, stories, narratives and songs about the actions of female mythological characters – heroines in the Babylonian-Assyrian, Ancient Egyptian, Indian, Ancient Greek and other mythological traditions; about images of female characters in the biblical texts and about influential female characters in the Slovenian folklore tradition in the European context (the Slovenian Fair Vida as compared to female characters from European Mediterranean countries, etc.).

Students will compare older traditions with contemporary literary works – recent interpretations of classic texts – in world and especially in artistic Slovenian literature of various types and genres from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. They will discover the original elements of the authors in using the rich motifs and symbolism linked associated with showing female characteristics, especially their virtues and weaknesses.

The content of the 15 lectures will cover:


  1. Students will become familiar with the fundamental concepts and methodological approaches of dealing with images of women in mythology and literature. Interpretation of the texts in terms of their importance and formal aesthetic features is carried out with the use of various theoretical approaches to literature, each of which emphasizes, according to its perspective, what it considers particularly important for culture and society (New Historicism, reception theory, sexual politics, etc.). This immanent interpretation necessarily complements the integration of works into higher historical links and themes, especially, for example, into social-historical, spiritual-historical and literary genre ones.


  1. The image of the goddess Ishtar as a refused demonic temptress and her revenge in the Old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. The image of abducted wife, Rama’s abducted wife Sita in the Indian epic Ramayana. The seduction of the brother’s wife in the Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers and parallels in the Slovenian folk tradition and in the artistic tradition (the stories about the Snake Queen or The Obstinate One).


  1. Selected images of women in Ancient Greek mythical traditions and literature: the image of Helen in Homer’s Iliad, the image of Penelope, Nausicaa, etc. in Homer’s Odyssey; the image of Eurydice in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice; the image of Niobe, and Antigone, as well as their transformation in Slovenian literature (F. Prešeren, S. Gregorčič, J. Murn, I. Cankar, B. Vodušek, G. Strniša, V. Taufer, D. Jovanovič, B.A. Novak, etc.).

  2. Images of women in the tragedies of Euripides: Medea and subsequent literary interpretations and tragedies of women in the literature (Flaubert, Madame Bovary; Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

Students learn about the dramas of Euripides, which are marked by an independence of thought and the acuity for subtle variations in mood. Their depictions of female characters, whether heroines of virtue or their contradictions, were also exceptional.

Dealing with ethically shocking character of Medea, the first known ancient Greek myth of infanticide, in which a woman coolly manipulates her children in order to take revenge on her husband for betrayal.

Students deal with the interpretation of these images in Slovenian and / or world literature. Cf. Jenko’s lyrical-dramatic dialogues Orestes (1868) and Medea (1870); the monologues Orestes and Medea which J. Stritar wrote as fragments of incomplete plays, Medea by D. Zajc, 1988, etc.

  1. Images of women in the tragedies of Euripides: Phaedra and Elektra, and subsequent literary interpretations

Students deal with the image of Phaedra, Theseus’s wife, who had confessed her passion for Hippolytus; because of unfortunate and unrequited love, she prompts her husband to take revenge on Hippolytus, and then commits suicide.

They also examine the character of Elektra, who helped his brother kill their mother Clytemnestra in order to carry out justice because their mother, along with her second husband, killed their father Agamemnon, or perhaps even killed him herself.

Students deal with the interpretation of these images in Slovenian and / or world literature, for example, in the drama by Zupančič, Elektra’s Revenge, 1988/89.

  1. Images of women in the tragedies of Euripides: Helen and later interpretations in literature, theatre, art and film

Students consider one of the most famous images of Greek mythology, the beautiful Helen, who is shown in brighter tones in Euripides’ play.

With regard to the character of Helen, talk will be of the symbolism of beauty and of the passionate, destructive power that a beautiful woman can unleash. In considering the background of this mythic figure we will, assisted by Homer’s record of her life, search for the identity of this woman and follow the cultural influence that she had on the ancient world and on Western civilization.

We will come to know her role and the representations of her image in art and in literature (comparing the character of Helen in Prešeren’s early poems, etc.).

7. Images of women in Heroides: Penelope, Dido, Sappho, Hera

Students will become familiar with Heroides, in which the Roman poet Ovid wittily presented fifteen female characters from myth and literature and created a fiction in which each woman writes a letter to the hero who left her. These poignant literary letters reveal the mystery of love, while expressing the pain of separation, forgiveness of infidelity, or anger at betrayal. In giving voice to women, the question arises of whether Ovid writes as a woman, which encourages reading from the perspective of rhetoric and narratology. In dealing with fictional letters students will take into account the method of close reading, in which is seems that each of the women relates her own story.

Among the images of women are Penelope, who is suspicious about Odysseus’s long absence; Dido, who bitterly criticizes Aeneas for leaving her bed too soon; the Greek poet Sappho, a historical figure who describes her passion for Phaon where he roughly refuses her. In the poetic letters between Helen and Paris the lovers try to forget the fate which is their augur, while the youthful Leander recklessly risks his life to be with his beloved Hera.

Students compare their letters and discover their similarities and differences, while in the interpretation of their striking similarities they will use, among others, Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of desire.

Students consider the influence of these images on the Slovenian and / or world literature (cf. Gregorčič, etc.).


  1. Images of the female characters in the Bible and their interpretation in the literature: a general overview

Students become familiar with portrayals of exemplary female characters in the Bible: temptresses, heroines, saviours of their people, among others. They discover their resonance in world and Slovenian literature and culture. Among the characters are the female images of Eve, Hagar and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Deborah, Delilah, Ruth and Naomi, Abigail, Bathsheba, Esther, Judith, Susanna, Elizabeth, and Mary, Jesus’ mother; Herodias and Salome, and Martha and Mary Magdalene.

Students deal with the interpretation of these images in Slovenian and / or world literature.

  1. Images of biblical heroines as symbols of courage and strength: Susanna, Esther, Judith – and their literary interpretations

Students discover how these individuals have, throughout history, figured in art and culture as symbols of courage and strength, among others, by being marked by loyalty to their people.

Susanna would rather face death than be unfaithful to her husband. Esther was prepared to sacrifice her life for her people. Judith saved the city that killed the enemy general Holofernes. In stories which have arisen on the bases of biblical narratives, students will pay attention to the motifs of courage and independence of spirit in female characters, etc.

Students deal with the interpretation of these images in Slovenian and / or world literature.

  1. Biblical heroines as images of beauty that can enslave and cheat: Salome, Delilah, Potiphar’s wife – and their literary interpretations

Some heroines used their charm and beauty to make events develop in their favour – Salome had King Herod behead the enemy of her mother (John the Baptis); Delilah used the power she had over her lover Samson to learn the secret of his power; Potiphar’s wife convinced her husband to unjustly punish the slave Joseph after she was insulted when she failed to seduce him.

Students deal with the interpretation of these images in Slovenian and / or world literature (O. Wilde’s verse play Salome, T. Mann’s novel Joseph and His Brothers, etc. J. Snoj, Joseph, etc.)

  1. The symbolism of Eve and Mary in the Bible and interpretations in literature, art and music

Students deal with the interpretation of images Eve and Mary in Slovenian and / or world literature. They compare the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible with interpretations from the Slovenian folklore tradition and literary interpretations.

They deal with the image of Mary in France Prešeren and/or with his Baptism at the Savica, in which, in addition to the theme of the Christianization of Slovenians, we see a transition from pagan worship of the goddess Živa to Christian worship of Mary.

They deal with symbolic representations of Mary in the literature of Ivan Cankar. Special emphasis is placed on the symbolic comparisons between the writer’s mother and Mary, Jesus’s mother, as well as the various roles that the writer assigns to Mary – the role of the mother, the guardian, intercessor, etc.


  1. The image of Fair Vida Slovenian folk tradition and in Mediterranean versions

The tradition of Fair Vida, from a social perspective, portrays women as victims of various forms of violence carried out by men in power. In this sense, Fair Vida is revealed as a very important figure throughout the Mediterranean region, especially in the Slovenian space. There it emerged from the medieval folk tradition and up to the present it was been a constant literary motif in Slovenian literature. In the existential sense the chapter of Fair Vida expresses every conceivable version of the tragic fate of vulnerable women who have fallen into the hands of demonic forces and violent men.

This motif is found not only in Slovenian, but also in Italian and Albanian national poetry, in the company of its southern sisters as Donna Cannfura, Donna Candia, Zogna Riin, Ta bucurana – La bella, Scibilia Nobili. From this we can assume that the ballad of the kidnapped Fair Vida does not arise solely from the life and suffering of the Slovenian people and that it is not limited to the Adriatic or Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, but it is generally Mediterranean.

For us, the ballad is generally preserved in three forms of folk tradition. As interesting as each version of the song of Fair Vida is on its own, it is even more interesting to the whole tradition of the story of Fair Vida, with its manifold designs. The first is the Dolenjska tradition, evident in the Ribniška area; the second branch of the versions of the ballad of Fair Vida is the Gorenjska tradition; a third branch of the Fair Vida tradition that should be emphasized is in the Rezija Valley.
13. The image of Fair Vida in Slovenian literary interpretations: in F. Prešeren and I. Cankar

The motif of a seduced or abducted Fair Vida who, abroad, longs hopelessly for her home and family has grown in the Slovenian space into an inspirational source for many works of art which reflect the experience of the entire Slovenian culture and history. It has inspired many Slovenian poets and writers of the Romantic period onwards. These creators retained the old themes from the Fair Vida ballads, which are universal, but changed the elements that are characteristic for individual authors and periods. In Slovenia there are more than 50 literary works that use this theme. The most important Fair Vida texts are Prešeren’s poem Fair Vida and Cankar’s lyric drama Fair Vida.

  1. The image of Fair Vida in Slovenian literary interpretations: other authors (J. Jurčič, M. Kranjc, Z. Simčič, B. Pahor, etc.)


  1. Images of mermaids, nymphs, sirens, rusalkas, etc. as symbols of human temptations and desire in Romantic poems by Prešeren, Jenko, Pushkin, Goethe, Mickiewicz, Heine

In the European pre-Romantics we discover many romantic ballads with the theme of longing, weakness and temptations of the main individuals. Whereas in Prešeren’s ballad Fair Vida or in The Water Man the main character is a woman who, in a moment of trial, succumbs to temptation and the man abducts her, in many ballads temptation takes the form of a personified naked woman (or several women), which is used as a metaphor for the state of the human psyche. Through personified temptation (in the Bible this occurs, for example, in the anthropological metaphor of the snake) the poets express their personal feelings, feelings which were often associated with a critical view of society in which their ideals were not in harmony with reality. Extreme denial of such a world and society are reflected in such ballads through the death of the main character.

Intended learning outcomes

Students come to know portrayals of exemplary female characters in mythical, biblical and folk tradition: the temptress, heroine, the saviour of her people, etc. – and comparatively (intertextual) juxtapose them with their literary (in Slovenian literature and partly worldwide), as well as other artistic interpretations of (mostly art).

They discover new interpretations of the role of women in myths and literature as well as images of women as archetypes and symbols that are relevant even today.


• Avsenik Nabergoj, Irena,2007. Transformation of sensuality in the Slovenian ballad of Lepa Vida (Lovely Vida). V: Traditiones: zbornik Inštituta za slovensko narodopisje in Glasbenonarodopisnega inštituta ZRC SAZU = acta Instituti ethnographiae et Instituti ethnomusicologiae Slovenorum. Ljubljana : Založba ZRC, ZRC SAZU: Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti, 209−225.
• Avsenik Nabergoj, Irena, 2010. Hrepenenje in skušnjava v svetu literature: motiv Lepe Vide. Ljubljana : Mladinska knjiga (726 str.).
• Avsenik Nabergoj, Irena, 2012. Temptation and abduction in epic poems and short narratives from antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times: intertextuality and the Slovenian motif of Fair Vida. V: Schnittpunkt Slavistik: Ost und West im wissenschaftlichen Dialog. Teil 2: Einflussforschung. Göttingen : V & R unipress, 263−275.
• Goljevšček, Alenka, 1982. Mit in slovenska ljudska pesem. Ljubljana : Slovenska matica.
• Jensterle-Doležal, Alenka, 2004. Mit o Antigoni v zahodno- in južnoslovanskih dramatikah sredi 20. stoletja. Ljubljana: Slovenska matica.
• Kos, Janko, 2003. Recepcija antičnih mitov v slovenski literaturi. Separat. Ljubljana : Nova revija.
• Meletinski, Jeleazar, 2006: Poetika mita. Prevedel Borut Kraševec ; spremna beseda Miha Javornik. Ljubljana: Literarno-umetniško društvo Literatura.
• Pogačnik, Jože, 1988. Slovenska Lepa Vida ali Hoja za rožo čudotvorno: motiv Lepe Vide v slovenski književnosti. Ljubljana : Cankarjeva založba.
• Slapšak, Svetlana, 2006. Ženske ikone antičkog sveta. Beograd : Biblioteka XX vek : Knjžara Krug.
• Snoj, Vid (ur.) in Tomo Virk (ur.), 2003: Antični mit in literatura : antična razlaga antičnega mita, Homerjeva in Porfirijeva votlina nimf, Dioniz in Kristus pri Hölderlinu, "mitologizem" v literaturi 20. stoletja, recepcija antičnih mitov v slovenski literaturi, Kasandra Borisa A. Novaka. Ljubljana: Nova revija, 2003
• Šmitek, Zmago, 2004. Mitološko izročilo Slovencev: svetinje preteklosti. Ljubljana: Študentska založba.
• Vernant, Jean-Pierre, Pierre Vidal-Maquet, 1994. Mit in tragedija v stari Grčiji. Spremna študija: Svetlana Slapšak. Ljubljana: Študentska organizacija Univerze.

Selected Chapters from these works:
• Adam, Alja, 2009. Evridika in Orfej : od zrcalne k mnogoteri ljubezni. Ljubljana : Sophia.
• Armstrong, Carole, 1998. Women of the Bible: with paintings from the great art museums of the world. London : Frances Lincoln. (Se ne dobi – kupi jo prek google books). – ta knjiga je poljudna in bogata s slikami.
• Avsenik Nabergoj, Irena, 2009. Longing, weakness and temptation: from myth to artistic creations. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing (321 str.).
• Avsenik Nabergoj, Irena, 2013. The power of love and guilt : representations of the mother and woman in the literature of Ivan Cankar. Frankfurt am Main : Peter Lang (463 str.).
• Brooke, George J., 1992: Women in the Biblical tradition. Lewiston, N.Y. ; Lampeter : Edwin Mellen Press.
• Fantham, Elaine et al., 1994. Women in the classical world : image and text. New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press.
• Frankel, Valerie Estelle, 2010: From girl to goddess : the heroine’s journey through myth and legend. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co.
• Hughes, Bettany, 2005. Helen of Troy: goddess, princess, whore. London: Jonathan Cape.
• Koosed, Jennifer L., 2011. Gleaning Ruth: a biblical heroine and her afterlives. Columbia, S.C. : University of South Carolina Press.
• Lindheim, Sara H., 2003. Mail and female: epistolary narrative and desire in Ovid’s Heroides. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
• Lynos, Deborah, 1997. Gender and immortality: heroines in ancient Greek myth and cult. Princeton, NJ; Chichester : Princeton University Press.
• Meletinski, Jeleazar Mojsejevič , 2001. Bogovi, junaki, ljudje : izbrani članki in razprave. Prevod Drago Bajt; spremna beseda Igor Škamperle. Ljubljana: Založba /*cf.
• Mihurko Poniž, Katja, 2008: Labirinti ljubezni v slovenski književnosti od romantike do II. svetovne vojne. Ljubljana: Sophia.
• Millgram, Hillel I., 2008: Four biblical heroines and the case for female authorship: an analysis of the women of Ruth, Esther, and Genesis 38. Jefferson, NC; London: McFarland & Co.
• Ovidius Naso, Publius, 2000. Heroides: select epistles. Ur. Peter E. Knox. Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press, 2000. (knjigo ima tudi FF UL).
• Powers, Meredith A., 1991: The heroine in Western literature: the archetype and her reemergence in modern prose. Jefferson, N.C.; London : McFarland.
• Radulescu, Domnica, 2002: Sisters of Medea: the tragic heroine across cultures. New Orleans : University Press of the South.

• Euripides, 1962. Medeia ; Hipolitos ; Ion. Iz grščine prevedel Fran Bradač. Maribor: Obzorja.
• Euripides, 1978. Elektra. Poslovenil in spremno besedo napisal Marijan Tavčar. Maribor: Obzorja.
• Euripides, 2000. Medeja ; Ifigenija pri Tavrijcih. Prevedel in spremno besedo napisal Marko Marinčič. Ljubljana : Mladinska knjiga (Knjižnica Kondor : izbrana dela iz domače in svetovne književnosti; zv. 292).
• Euripides, 2006. Helena. Prevedla in opombe napisala Jelena Isak Kres. Ljubljana: Modrijan.
• Homerus, 1992. Odiseja. Izbral, prevedel, vsebino preostalih spevov povzel ter spremno študijo in slovarček lastnih imen in strokovnih izrazov napisal Kajetan Gantar ; likovne priloge izbral in komentiral Milček Komelj. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga.


Completing the required for lessons, completion of a seminar paper with a public presentation, oral or written exam.

Lecturer's references

Dr. Irena Avsenik Nabergoj, a literary historian and professor of art history, is an associate professor of literature at the University of Nova Gorica and a Senior Research Fellow in the field of literary studies at the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts as well as in the field of religious studies and religious anthropology at the University of Ljubljana.

Her research focuses on Slovenian and comparative literature, literary theory, literature and mythology, and literature and other art forms. To date her studies have dealt with: the themes of love and guilt in Slovenian literature; the literature of Slovenian writers of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially Ivan Cankar; representations of reality and truth in literature; the image of Jews in Slovenian Literature, Biblical motifs in modern Slovenian and European literature.

In 2009 she received the Zois Award for significant achievements in the field of literary studies.

1. AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena, 2005. Ljubezen in krivda Ivana Cankarja. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 2005 (zbirka Kultura), 794 strani, ilustr.
2. AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena, 2008. Mirror of Reality and Dreams: Stories and Confessions by Ivan Cankar. Frankfurt am Main [etc.]: Peter Lang, 309 strani, ilustr.
3. AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena. 2009. Longing, Weakness and Temptation: From Myth to Artistic Creations. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, XII, 321 strani.
4. AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena. 2010. Hrepenenje in skušnjava v svetu literature: Motiv Lepe Vide, (Zbirka Kultura). Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 726 strani, ilustr.
5. AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena. 2011. Literarne vrste in zvrsti: stari Izrael, grško-rimska antika in Evropa. Ljubljana: Cankarjeva založba, 623 strani; 2. del knjige je pripravljen v souredništvu s prof. dr. Dietrom Lampingom, Univerza v Mainzu.
6. AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena. 2012. Power of Love and Guilt: Representations of Mother and Woman in the Literature of Ivan Cankar, 463 strani. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang – Inernationaler Verlag der Wissenschften.
7. AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena. 2013. Reality and Truth in Literature: From Ancient to Modern European Literary and Critical Discourse, 223 strani. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht unipress.