English, Department of


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly, Fall 2022, Vol. 42 No. 4


© 2023 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


This essay describes interpretive strategies widely applied to Ovidian mythic materials during the period of Cather’s early career, especially those operative in Alexander’s Bridge and O Pioneers! The article assumes that widely held conventional interpretations of myths, in this case Ovidian myths, in a specific time and area are part of their semantic content, or iconology, and are tools Cather used in communicating with her audience. The essay then looks at a passage in the 1912 Alexander’s Bridge and two disputed passages in the 1913 O Pioneers! along with extended Bacchic themes in the latter novel that employ conventional Ovidian iconology. These symbolic clusters were available to her in the early decades of the twentieth century. The historicizing of the interpretation of classical myth makes a significant difference to the understanding of Cather’s novels. Traditional Ovidian iconology, the essay argues, rather than alternative, later approaches to classical myth projected back in time, are crucial to the novels’ meanings. The essay finally examines how an understanding of historical semiological usages undergird our understanding of mythic meanings.