The classical story of the Widow of Ephesus tells of a woman who undermines her reputation as a faithful wife by offering the body of her recently buried husband for crucifixion in order to save the life of a guard with whom she has suddenly fallen in love. The story made its way from Petronius Arbiter's Satyricon into Latin and vernacular fable collections, some of which were used as curricular texts in grammar schools, and it also appears on the Jacobean stage as George Chapman's The Widow's Tears. This article analyzes the ways in which writers in three languages across sixteen centuries attempted to impose interpretive closure and unambiguous morality on this notoriously resistant narrative. The article concludes with a consideration of the ways in which Marie de France's version of the fable occludes the possibility of a closed, antifeminist reading.
Rereading the Story of the Widow of Ephesus in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
edward wheatley, professor of English at Loyola University Chicago, has published two books, Mastering Aesop: Medieval Education, Chaucer, and His Followers (University Press of Florida, 2000) and Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind: Medieval Constructions of a Disability (University of Michigan Press, 2010). He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies and was also an Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow in the Humanities at Harvard University. His articles have appeared in such journals as Studies in the Age of Chaucer, The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, and Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He has served on the editorial boards of The Journal of the Early Book Society, Disability Studies Quarterly, and Essays in Medieval Studies.
Edward Wheatley; Rereading the Story of the Widow of Ephesus in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Comparative Literature Studies 1 December 2014; 51 (4): 627–643. doi: https://doi.org/10.5325/complitstudies.51.4.0627
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