Literary Criticism / Classical Studies / French Literature


Grafting Helen
The Abduction of the Classical Past
Matthew Gumpert

Classicism = cultural embezzlement

History is a love story: a tale of desire and jealousy, abandonment and fidelity, abduction and theft, rupture and reconciliation. This contention is central to Grafting Helen, Matthew Gumpert's original and dazzling meditation on Helen of Troy as a crucial anchor for much of Western thought and literature.

Grafting Helen looks at "classicism"—the privileged rhetorical language for describing cultural origins in the West—as a protracted form of cultural embezzlement. No coin in the realm has been more valuable, more circulated, more coveted, or more counterfeited than the one that bears the face of Helen of Troy. Gumpert uncovers Helen as the emblem for the past as something to be stolen, appropriated, imitated, extorted, and coveted once again.

Tracing the figure of Helen from its classical origins through the Middle Ages, the French Renaissance, and the modern era, Gumpert suggests that the relation of current Western culture to the past is not like the act of coveting; it is the act of coveting, he argues, for it relies on the same strategies, the same defenses, the same denials, and the same delusions.

"Grafting Helen is impressive in its scholarly range, its intellectual verve, and its successful grafting of contemporary literary theory onto classical representations of Helen, beginning with Homer's."—Mary Lydon, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Matthew Gumpert is assistant professor of core curriculum at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He has taught comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Harvard University. His published work includes the English translation of Murder and Difference: Gender, Genre, and Scholarship on Sistera's Death by Mieke Bal.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Our e-book logo, green, with a stylized book under a lower case e.Also available in e-book format, visit ebook info

cover image of Grafting Helen by Matthew Gumpert , showing an old print of a Classical Greek couple

October 2001
432 pp.   6 x 9
ISBN-10: 0-299-17120-5
ISBN-13: 978-0-299-17120-9
Cloth $50.00 s

ISBN-10: 0-299-17124-8  
ISBN-13: 978-0-299-17124-7
Paper $21.95 s

Add this book to cart
Review cart contents
Secure checkout

Add titles to your shopping cart by clicking on the "Add this book to cart" link above. You can submit your order electronically, paying for it with your credit card.
Click here for a further explanation of the shopping cart feature

Never ordered from us before?
Read this first.

Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated July 7, 2009

© 2009, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System