The Harpy, A Feminist Retelling

The Harpy, A Feminist Retelling

Oil Painting, 40” x 34”

This is a new painting from Ewen's Flora and Fauna series currently in progress.
Please feel free to contact us to inquire about these works.

Recently, I came across some delightful old etchings depicting harpies that I found inspiring. These mythological figures of ancient Greece with the head of a woman and the body of a bird were so appealing to me, but then... wait a minute...

Weren’t the Harpies BAD?

That made me think.  
History is written by the victors, but so is myth, religion, aesthetics, science…

The word harpy is a derogatory term for a very unpleasant female person.

There’s also the Siren – Half-bird, half-woman creature of Greek mythology, who lured sailors to their deaths with their singing voices.

Gimme a frickin’ break.

Last year I read the novel Circe, by Madeline Miller, which re-imagines the story of Circe (“the witch”) from her own perspective rather than as a minor character in Odysseus’ journey. It’s a wonderfully empathetic look at what it’s like being punished by the patriarchy in ways subtle and overt for not hiding your strength and power. It's also about being misunderstood and under-appreciated in a neurotic family dynamic and, as time goes on, romantic relationships. And it's a celebration of what it can look like to live through all that and thrive on the other side with an even greater since of your power and who you are deep down in your bones. One really savors her coming into her own.

The Harpy made me think again about being vilified for being strong and different. How the “official” story of who you are can be so wrong. I thought I would paint her, not as a monster, but as someone who is comfortable in her skin and thriving in her sublime world. 

I love this Harpy,
with her crown of flowers, feeling at home, enjoying the view from her high perch, camouflaged in the beauty of her surroundings.

It’s easy to imagine her summoning the power of her natural strength if she needs to right some wrong, defend her boundaries, or thwart injustice with her sharp talons.  

I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember, but I’d never thought about the Harpies like this before a few days ago. I’m curious to consider what other thoughts and practices might shift for me examining them from this perspective, asking:

  How might this be different if it wasn’t created and enforced by an oppressor with an agenda?


The Harpy by Anne-Louise Ewen



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