Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben is the rare writer whose ideas and works have a broad appeal across many fields, and his devoted fans are not just philosophers, but readers of political and legal theory, sociology and literary criticism as well. Agamben’s intuition and meditation are fascinating, and not least when he turns his critical eye to the mysteries and contradictions of early religion.
The Unspeakable Girl: The Myth and Mystery of Kore is a book of three richly detailed treatments of the myth of Kore. Kore, also called Persephone, and referred to poetically by the Greeks as ‘the unspeakable girl’, was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus who was abducted by Hades and made queen of the netherworld. Kore and her story gave rise to a mysterious cult at Eleusis, the site of the well where Demeter mourned her lost daughter. This book opens with an innovative and insightful essay that focuses on the mysterious indeterminacy of the figure of Kore/Persephone—at once a woman and a girl, a virgin and a mother—as well as the attendant divisions of speech and silence, the sacred and the profane, the animal and the human, and the mortal and the divine. Here, tracing these dichotomies, Agamben is in top form, able to articulate paradoxes that in another writer’s hands might be ineffable. In the second and third parts of the book the reader is treated to a series of beautiful paintings by acclaimed artist Monica Ferrando, as well as her translation of crucial Greek and Latin source materials. As a whole, The Unspeakable Girl will not only be welcomed by Agamben’s many readers across the disciplines, but also by enthusiasts of classical mythology in general.