Sigrid Schottenius Cullhed

Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Department of Literature

+4618-471 2902+46-73 4697298
Visiting address:
Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3 P

Postal address:
Box 632
751 26 UPPSALA

Short presentation

I am Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at Uppsala University, currently running the research project "Philomela Returns: Ancient Myth and the Public Secret of Rape", funded by the Swedish Research Council 2020–22 and collaborating as Work Package leader in the H2020-funded project "MotherNet" (2021–23). I am affiliated to the interdisciplinary research centre WOMHER, Women's Mental Health during the Reproductive Lifespan. In 2021, I was elected to the Young Academy of Sweden.

Keywords: gender history philology french literature hermeneutics cultural history classical studies comparative literature reception history swedish literature medical narratology narratology

I studied Literature, French and Latin in Stockholm and Paris before receiving my Master’s degree from Stockholm University in 2007. The following year, I was admitted to the PhD program in literature at the University of Gothenburg. One of these academic years was spent at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa (2009–10). I defended my dissertation in late 2012.

In 2013, I was awarded a five-year postdoctoral position as Academy Research Fellow at Uppsala University in the project "Late Antiquity in the Scholarly Imagination". In 2019, the Swedish Research Council awarded me a grant for the three-year research project “Philomela Returns: Ancient Myth and the Public Secret of Rape”. The same year, I was appointed docent/Associate Professor in Literature at Uppsala University.

During the years 2021–2023, I collaborate as Work Package leader in the H2020-funded project "MotherNet" (2021–23)”. I am affiliated to the interdiciplinary research centre WOMHER – Women's Mental Health during the Reproductive Lifespan, where I supervise Daniela Lillhannus PhD-project "Stories of Rape Trauma: Narratological and Psychotraumatological Perspectives".

In 2021, I was elected to the Young Academy of Sweden.

I am married to Eric Cullhed since 2011 and we have two children, born in 2013 and 2014.

Current Research projects

Philomela Returns: Ancient Myth and the Public Secret of Rape

My research addresses questions about how literary narratives about sexual violence and its aftermath affect the way we conceptualize, talk about, deal with and maybe even experience and react to such episodes in real life. My material is mainly contemporary stories and reworkings of a limited number of vastly influential ancient stories about rape and sexual abuse.

I am particularly interested in how the victim’s experience is dramatized and configured in these stories, and how characters articulate it. I want to find out how stories about sexual violence are constructed, how they function and what they do in a society. Theoretically, the project engages with ongoing discussions in cultural and social anthropology (mainly Pratiksha Baxi’s theory about rape as a public secret in Michael Taussig’s sense); methodologically, I work with (post-) narratological, reception-historical and rhetoric-analytical tools.

Project funded by the Swedish Research Council (2020–2022):


Since January 2022, I have been one of the Work Package Leaders of the MotherNet project, "Developing a New Network of Researchers on Contemporary European Motherhood MotherNet”, which is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 952366.

MotherNet is a small consortium consisting of three universities, Vilnius University (Lithuania), Uppsala University (Sweden) and the National University of Ireland Maynooth. The project is coordinated by Vilnius University.

Earlier Research

Ancient and Medieval Women Authors

Since I was a student, I have been interested in Ancient and Medieval women writers and issues relating to gender. The first major case study is a monograph on the Cento of the fourth-century Roman poet Faltonia Betitia Proba and its reception in the medieval and modern period (Proba the Prophet: The Christian Virgilian Cento of Proba, 2015). Not only is this poem one of few extant Latin texts from antiquity by a woman writer, but it is also one of the oldest preserved Christian Latin poems and an early example of cultural amalgamation of the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman exegetical and literary traditions: it is almost exclusively composed with verses excerpted from Virgil’s Aeneid, Georgics, and Eclogues, but narrates key episodes from the Old and New Testaments. The first part of the book examines the various constructions of the author ‘Proba’ and their relationships to the reception of the poem; in the second part, a series of new analyses and interpretations of the Cento are offered. I have also written the article on Proba for the new digital edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary.

I have also studied aspects of the tenth-century poet Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim (”Desire in Hrotsvith’s Hagiographical Legends”, 2013), as well as the reception and translations of Sappho in Sweden (”När Sapfo kom ut”, 2015; ”Parallella levnadsberättelser: Sapfo, drottning Kristina och Victoria Benedictsson”, 2014).

Late Antiquity in the Scholarly Imagination

The field of Late Antique studies has involved self-reflexion and criticism since its emergence in the late nineteenth century, but in recent years there has been a widespread desire to retrace our steps more systematically and to inquire into the millennial history of previous interpretations, historicization and uses of the end of the Greco-Roman world. This project contributes to this enterprise. It emphasizes an aspect of Late Antiquity reception that ensues from its subordination to the Classical tradition, namely its tendency to slip in and out of western consciousness. Narratives and artifacts associated with this period have gained attention, often in times of crisis and change, and exercised influence only to disappear again. When later readers have turned to the same period and identified with what they perceive, they have tended to ascribe the feeling of relatedness to similar values and circumstances rather than to the formation of an unbroken tradition of appropriation.

In 2015, I organized the international conference Reading Late Antiquity (in collaboration with Professor Mats Malm) at the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities in Stockholm. The proceedings were published in Reading Late Antiquity (2018). My own contribution to the volume treats the previously unexplored reception history of the Late Antique poet Rutilius Namatianus, form Edward Gibbon, to French post-revolutionary intellectuals and Italian fascism (”Rome Post Mortem: The Many Returns of Rutilius Namatianus”, 2018). The volume was well received with favourable reviews in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, Journal of Late Antiquity, The International journal of Classical Reception and The Classical Review.

The project has also resulted in articles published by Brill (”Below the Tree of Life”, 2018) and DN (”Så har myterna om ‘raserna’ och Roms undergång hållits levande”, 2016), and a forthcoming chapter for a volume entitled The New Late Antiquity, which is currently under publication. In this book, scholars in Late Antique studies today reflect on the how the field emerged in the twentieth century. My chapter discusses how World War II affected Pierre Courcelle and his generation of French Classical philologists and their view on Late Latin intellectual culture.

Financed by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, 2014–2020

Representations of rape in Greek and Roman literature and the Classical tradition

This project started in connection to my work on the fourth-century poet Ausonius’ Wedding Cento, focussing on its violent representation of the consummation of the marriage (”In Bed with Virgil: Ausonius Past and Present”, 2016). I continued to explore wider theoretical questions on how experiences of sexual violence is expressed in ancient literary works and found that it is seldom spelled out but articulated through a set of metaphors and euphemisms or ellipses (”Tystade kvinnors berättelser: Våldtäkt i grekisk och romersk litteratur”, 2019). Silence, concealment and disrupted accounts are often systematically thematized in retellings of the Persephone myth, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Claudius Claudianus’ late antique epic poem On the rape of Proserpina or Goethe’s monodrama Proserpina (1778/1786) (”Persefone: missbrukare eller missbrukad?”, 2017). I initially interpreted this as an expression of what literary trauma studies or psychological literature on the freeze syndrome would predict, but eventually realized the need to consider the possibility that these works participate in and contribute to a culturally specific discourse of rape (”Proserpina in Pieces: Claudian on her Rape”, 2019).

Financed by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, 2014–2020

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Sigrid Schottenius Cullhed