Women at the Thesmophori
The ancient texts describe women in two ways: as either good or bad. Women become good if they properly manage and keep oikos (family, household), and women disrupting it are bad. It can be illustrated by the characters of Helen, her sister Clytaemnestra and Penelope in the myth of Trojan War. The function of Helen in the myth is to show the cause of the Troian War. (Dowden K. 1995). Paris removes Helen to Troy, it destructs oisos and as a result the destruction of oikos leads to the destruction of the city.
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Helen’s beauty and sexual attraction therefore are shown as a dangerous for men, because they can distort men’s sound judgment. The adultery of Clytaemnestra destroyed the oikos of Agamemnon, who returns home after the war and reveals the betrayal of his wife. In Homer’s Odyssey Clytaemnestra is treated as faithless and faulted, demonstrating the opinion that women are weak and therefore are passive victims of adultery. Homer’s Agamemnon says that there is nothing worse than a woman, especially a woman like Clytaemnestra, who fails to support oikos.
Agamemnon claims that Clytaemnestra’s deed has brought disrepute upon all the women, even good ones. (Odyssey 11. 427-34). Furthermore, Agamemnon admits that Penelope (who has proved her fidelity and has preserved her oikos) is an instance of a good woman. (Odyssey 11. 444-6). Dowden K. concludes that the ancient division of women into good and bad reflects a very limited view of their place. “They are there to make an oikos work and the failure to do so may even be, as Aeschylus depicts it in the Agamemnon, to lose the claim to woman-hood, to live in some sort of androgynous no-woman’s land.
” (Dowden K. 1995, p. 33) In addition the ancient cultures were misogynists, which can be evidenced through the following: women were urged to perform their traditional gender roles (wives, mothers, child-bearers), the limit of jobs outside the home (the alternative to domestic chores was only prostitution), the portrayal of women as treacherous, fierce and adulterous in ancient texts (Life and Career by Euripides, Works and Days by Hesiod, Women at the Thesmophoria by Aristophanes). In the drama written by Aristophanes women are depicted as household thieves, drunkards, adulterers.
The author of Women at the Thesmophoria argues that thought men defame women; they do not stop pursuing them. Another idea expressed by Aristophanes is that in Greece the status of a matron should depend on the devotion of her son to the State. While describing women in Works and Days, the narrator divides them into good and bad, like Agamemnon in Odyssey. Works and Days dwells more on bad women and demonstrates extreme pessimism about women’s ability to improve and become socially valuable. In contrast, Greek males are shown as righteous by Hesiod.
The author advises all Greek men ‘First of all get yourself a house, a woman, and a ploughox’ (Works and Days 405), where women are referred as the next step, a necessary thing for a man’s well-being. Also Hesiod warns against the woman’s nature: she talks smoothly, shows off her kindness and caress, but after becomes a man’s granary. (Works and Days 373-4) Misogyny as a prevailing attitude to women in the ancient cultures led to the exclusion of women. Beloch (1893) in his research Griechische Geschichte asserts that the Ionians’ attitude towards women was much influenced by the neighboring cultures of Asia minor.
Ionians excluded their women from public sphere, confined them to home and to the company of their female friends. The Athenians followed the example of Ionians and adopted the same practice, however, Beloch notes, that non-Ionian Greeks let women enjoy their freedom. According to Beloch, prostitution appeared among the Ionians under the influence of the Lidians and as the inevitable consequence of the practice of homosexuality and the seclusion of the well-born women. (1. 1:406-408).
The social exclusion of women in ancient Greece, according to many historians, is very close to that of orient countries. Dowden K. (1995) holds that in ancient Greece the laws concerning women have many similarities with the laws of Slavonic Nations and the Orientals. The study of ancient texts demonstrates that women were treated as undifferentiated mass, which has no distinctions between economic and social classes. Moreover, women as citizens are characterized as a lower class which lives a different kind of life.
The only difference in status can be noticed between hetairas (non-citizens) and legitimate wives. The province of legitimate wives was household duties and the nurture of the children, and their area was limited by the gynaeconitis. In contrast, hetairas accompanied men during festivals, important events and celebrations, got better education and as a result – were more respected than legitimate wives. Ancient wives were bounded by only private life, but most of the ancient life was lived in public.
On the whole, the low status of women in ancient cultures was caused by the social system, the existing cultural and moral values (devotion to the State, sacrifice of love for the sake of duty) and the influence of neighboring countries. More specifically, it was found out that due to patriarchy only patrilineal lines provided with the right to rule and among the royal predecessors men were honored more than women. The old Persian and Near East sources mentioned only the royal women with no reference to their distinctive title.
In ancient Greece and Rome the attitude to women was influenced by the neighboring orient cultures and pagans (Slavonic nations). Ancient women were estimated due to their fidelity and capability of supporting oikos. A mother was respected only if her son had proved his devotion to the State. Women’s sexuality and beauty were seen as dangerous and negative, because, as in the case of Helen, they impaired men’s judgment. The limited place of women in ancient society is evidenced by the fact that men distinguished between good and bad women.
A good woman was seen as a thing necessary for a man’s well-being. The ancient misogyny resulted into women’s orient seclusion from public life. The ancient hedonistic approach caused the division of women into wives (for children and household) and hetairas (for pleasure).
Bibliography: Birds. Lysistrata. Women at the Thesmophoria: by Aristophanes, published by Harvard University Press. 2000. Brosius, M. (1998). Women in Ancient Persia, 559-331 B. C. Oxford. : Clarendon. Beloch, (1893) Griechische Geschichte. 2nd ed. Berlin. 1914.
Dowden, K. (1995) in the book Women in Antiquity: New Assessments. Edited by Hawley R. , Levick B. New York. : Routledge. Euripides, Cyclops, Alcestis, Medea (Vol. I). Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1994. Hesiod. Works and days. Transl. by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. 1914. Internet Classics Archive. Retrieved 17 June 2006 from <http://classics. mit. edu/Hesiod/hes. wd. html> Homer. Odyssey. Senate Books. Reissue edition (September 27, 1996) Keuls, E. (1985). The Reign of the Phallus: sexual politics in ancient Athens. New York.