Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Music

The ancient Greek tragedy that inspired Hole's name

@SamWKemp

With their riotous blend of post-punk, unpredictable live shows, and no-fucks-given attitude, Hole defied categorisation. Formed in 1989 by Courtney Love (guitar and vocals), Eric Erlandson (guitar), Jill Emery (bass) and Caroline Rue (drums), the group quickly established themselves as one of the most successful and critically acclaimed bands to emerge from the alternative rock scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

As they rose to the top, journalists and label representatives alike tried their best to pigeonhole Love and co. In the past, groups like The Slits had been labelled as ‘girl bands’ and little more; Hole represented something new and far harder to categorise: a post-punk group fronted by a female songwriter with an authorial control over her craft.

Hole moved to their own rhythm, embracing myriad influences that many found utterly baffling. Almost as a response to this complexity, the group – and specifically Courtney Love – were frequently sensationalised, transformed into a caricature of grunge-era sexual defiance. It is perhaps this that led many to assume that Hole’s name was some crass reference to sex. Love finally set the record straight in a 1992 interview with the BBC, during which she explained that the band’s name was in fact a reference to something a little more high-brow.

“It’s a greek tragedy by Euripedes,” Love said of Hole. “The woman is called Medea, and she killed her children. And apparently – there’s different translations – but she said, ‘there’s a hole that burns right through me’. And she’s talking about the void, the abyss that she feels and which needs to be filled, but she doesn’t know what with. It’s not a gential reference or anything, it’s the void in all of us.

Euripides’ Medea is one of the most powerful explorations of the female psyche in pre-modern times. The titular protagonist’s murder of her own children is a calculated act of revenge against her husband, Jason, who leaves her to marry Glauke, the princess of Corinth. Medea is the most notorious anti-mother of all time, a woman who holds no reverence for male ideas of what a good woman and mother should be. It would be easy to argue that Love’s incorporation of Medea into her musical life was a self-conscious effort to draw parallels between the play’s central character and herself. After all, both Love and Medea were women in a man’s world.

In actuality, the reference seems to have stemmed from a conversation between Love and her own mother, who didn’t, I should add, have infanticidal tendencies. “When she kills the bride and her own child, she says “There’s a hole that pierces my soul. [And] my mother’s this kind of new-age psychologist, and I said ‘You know, I had this terrible childhood,’ and she said ‘Well, you can’t have a hole running through you all the time, Courtney’,” Love told Jools Holland in 1995. “You know, and then [there’s] the genital reference, go ahead and make it if you will.”

It’s easy to forget Love’s storied career thanks to her intertwining with one of the most profound rock stars the world has ever known in Kurt Cobain. However, it is worth reminding ourselves, every now and then, that she deserves her own credit too.