Call it Rape →

Margot Singer · Longreads ·

Originally posted to The Normal School (paywall) in 2012 and then reposted by Longreads, Margot Singer — an Associate Professor of English and the Director of Creative Writing at Denison University in Granville, Ohio — writes about the cultural and real life meaning of rape.

What is it about ‘no means no’ that you all don’t understand?

The word “rape” comes from the Latin verb rapere: to seize, to take by force, to carry off…

Other words come from the same Latin root as “rape”: rapture, ravage, rapt, ravenous, rapacious, ravishing. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is filled with stories of ravishing nymphs seized and carried off by rapacious gods: Io, Daphne, Callisto, Europa, Andromeda, Leda, Persephone. (There are more than fifty sexual attacks in Ovid, by one scholar’s count.) Correggio paints Io in an erotic swoon, her head tipped back, her lips parted, her body one long, sensuous curve of flesh. You might be forgiven for forgetting that Jupiter has just chased her into the woods, whereupon, in Ovid’s words, “he hid the wide earth in a covering of fog, caught the fleeing girl, and raped her.” Titian pictures Europa in a similar state of rapture, sprawled blowsily across the back of a muscular white bull (Jupiter), her fleshy thighs parted, her translucent gown in disarray, a milky breast exposed. Inspired by Titian, Rubens depicts the abduction of the daughters of Leucippus by the twins Castor and Pollux as a Baroque spiral of rearing horses, gleaming armor, flowing golden hair, creamy female skin. The daughters, languidly reaching out for help, do not look exactly happy, but neither do they seem especially distressed.