Classical Scholars: A Highlight on Marguerite DeMarco

DeMarco’s research concerns how the myth of Clytemnestra emphasizes the inequalities between men and women in Greek mythology.

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Created by Abby Thomas ’23.

Hannah Gunn '23, Science & Technology Editor

At St. Luke’s, the Classical Scholars program is offered to seniors with a special commitment to the study of classical languages and cultures. In the program, students engage in a research project or paper on a topic of interest. These students complete their project and present it at the SLS Scholars Symposium in April.

This year, the only Classical Scholar is Marguerite DeMarco ‘21, who is working on a project that explores gender roles in Archaic Greece. She is focusing on how the character Clytemnestra from Greek mythology challenges the traditional female mold with her stereotypically masculine traits. Clytemnestra is an intelligent and cunning woman, and while these are not unusual characteristics for modern women, they would have been odd for an Ancient Greek woman to possess. Clytemnestra would be praised in mythology for these traits if she were a man, yet they classify her as a villain in the story.

Marguerite DeMarco ’21.

Clytemnestra is often overlooked in mythology, as she was the sister of the much more famous Helen of Troy. She was antagonized because she killed her husband, who sacrificed their daughter to have good sailing winds and received no penalty. The fact that Clytemnestra desired revenge against her husband is what put her in “the wrong,” since it was believed that, as a woman, she should simply forgive him. The way Clytemnestra took this revenge also challenged gender norms, as the ‘womanly’ way to attack in mythology was to use poison or curses, yet Clytemnestra used an ax. Her weapon of choice demonstrated an agency that was not typically associated with women at the time. 

DeMarco found Clytemnestra extremely interesting, as she emphasized the disparities between the treatment of men and women that DeMarco was exploring.

“She has the quintessential aspects of an archaic Greek man, yet every time she acts on those instincts, her actions [are] blown out of proportion, and she is punished for them,” DeMarco said. This overdramatization made it appealing for DeMarco to look at Clytemnestra’s overall treatment, especially emphasizing her punishments compared to her rewards.

DeMarco originally became interested in the myth of Clytemnestra after reading the myth of Eros and Psyche. In this myth, Eros was instructed by his mother Aphrodite to make Psyche fall in love with a hideous monster, but instead, he fell in love with her himself. They eventually got married, yet Eros appeared invisible to Psyche. She grew curious about her husband’s looks, so one night Psyche looked at him when he was asleep and realized he was a god. As punishment for looking at her husband, Psyche had to do a multitude of labors to win back the favors of the gods.

Psyche’s punishment was similar to that of the Greek hero Hercules, who also had to perform a series of labors because he killed his entire family in a fit of rage. Their crimes were extremely different — with one looking at her husband and the other committing multiple murders — yet they received virtually the same penalty. This disparity lead DeMarco to find the focus of her project.

“I wanted to do something with how women were treated in [Ancient Greece] and the discrepancy between males’ punishment and actions and females’ punishments and actions,” DeMarco said.

When asked how Clymenestra’s myth compared to feminist issues today, DeMarco described that it was difficult to bring her myth into a modern light because things were so different thousands of years ago, but she still finds it interesting to look at how women are treated today compared to back then. While there is a much smaller difference between the treatment of men and women, DeMarco explained,  “we can still find relevance in Clymenestra’s myth in modern-day inequalities like the wage gap.” 

To gather evidence for her project, DeMarco is translating four plays from Ancient Greek. With the help of Upper School Latin teacher Magistra Mahler, she is translating “Iphigenia in Aulis” by Euripides and the “Oresteia” trilogy by Aeschylus.

These translations are the most challenging part of DeMarco’s project, as some Greek words don’t have English equivalents, leaving much room for interpretation. In addition, the orders of words are different in sentences because Ancient Greek employs a free word order, meaning every sentence is essentially scrambled. 

“I find the nuances of translation the most difficult because most people have gone to college to become translators, and I am trying to do translations after one year of Greek,” DeMarco said.

The process of becoming a Classical Scholar wasn’t easy for DeMarco, either. St. Luke’s students only have seven class periods available to them, yet DeMarco has managed to take eight classes two years in a row by doing the extra work whenever she could. As the only Classical Scholar, she does not have a class period to work on her project the way the Global and STEM Scholars do. Thus, she works on her project on her own time, utilizing club and meeting times to complete her work. DeMarco said this was one of her biggest challenges, as she had to figure out how to complete all of her prerequisites while keeping classes like French and Band in her schedule. 

Yet, DeMarco’s passion for her project makes these challenges worth it. DeMarco explained that she has always loved myths, and she is eager for an opportunity to share that with people through the Scholars program. DeMarco also enjoys teaching in general, especially when it comes to things that aren’t typically well-known.

“The most rewarding thing will be getting to teach people about [myths],” DeMarco said, “especially because Clytemnestra is a character that a lot of people don’t really know who she is and what she’s done.” 

In terms of her next steps, DeMarco has already done all of the research and reading for her project and is now working on making the presentation and writing her culminating paper. DeMarco is striving to create a presentation that is understandable to a general audience while balancing information between her paper and presentation to avoid repetition.  

When giving advice to aspiring Classical Scholars, DeMarco encouraged students to choose projects that truly excite them. 

“I’d tell them to do something they are passionate about because it really writes itself once you are interested in something,” DeMarco said.  “As long as you do something you genuinely care about, it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be exciting.”