Source Analysis

  • Primary source: i.e. image of woman attended by a slave, who made this? Be very critical, can we trust it? Is this an ideal image of the men or reality?
  • We don’t have any sources from women, all evidence is for men made by men
  • Oikos: family, just the immediate family living under the household
  • All men are required to take part in the polis: debating, at war, at the gym
  • The woman took on a leading role in the oikos, they would run the family
  • they would marry young wives so they could learn and work, fulfill their duty
  • Pandora’s Box, don’t do “x” and they turn and do “x,” how women are portrayed
  • Men would rely on these outsiders (wives) to maintain their perfect bloodline, to produce children
  • Ambiguous position, called upon for the task of bearing children, running a family that is not their own

Women’s Role

Most sources written by aristocrats

  • Can a woman be trusted to produce legitimate children?
  • No such thing as a career women, they couldn’t own property, had no legal rights, their chief role was marriage and have children
  • In the sources, two types: one that fulfills the stereotypes and ones that don’t
  • The easiest and one of the only ways to earn a living as a single girl is to be an aristocrat’s mistress (have a life of luxury)
  • No respectable women, from upper class families would turn down a proper marriage and produce illegitimate offspring, living a single life
  • Can’t even take their cases to court, women couldn’t sue
  • If those mistresses were abandoned they would be left to fend for themselves, no common law benefits, no rights
  • Greeks really supported the virgin ideals or the matron, motherhood
  • E.g. Artemis, a and band of virgin huntresses that would be banished if they had sexual encounters, nothing to do with men or women who had anything to do with men

3 Stages of a Womans’ Life

  • Parthenos: maiden, even if you knew she was not a virgin, she was presumably a virgin, ready for marriage (fit to bear children)
  • receives most attention in artwork, it’s the most desirable stage in a women’s life, she’s desirable but you can’t have her
  • if you despoiled an aristocratic daughter, it would ruin her chances of a respectable marriage, she would be disqualified as reliable, trustworthy
  • only priestess of Demeter, to a particular goddess could sit at Olympics
  • The Greek wedding: girl’s function is to have children, any health concerns – just marry her off, that would be the solution, average age 14, men are 30
  • She comes with property (dowry), if she’s divorced, she can take back the property and go back to her father
  • Definite double standard, man can’t adulterate their bloodline, only the women can, no restriction on men, women had to be 100% faithful
  • Eros: cupid, winged gods, when a couple made eye contact, you see Eros
  • In a marriage that would last, you need some kind of attraction, in the artwork (vases), the ideal, falls in love
  • Respectable women always wore veils, in artwork, artists want to show face
  • In upper classes, only father can arrange the marriage of their daughters
  • showing the girl is an item of erotic desire
  • For ancient Greeks, what’s desirable isn’t just sex itself but the virgins you can’t have, to win her heart
  • they would throw nuts at the bride and groom, make fun of esp the men, shape up, you’ve got a wife, you can’t sleep with men anymore
  • Nymphe
  • Married women who doesn’t yet have children
  • Women were in charge of all household duties, ritual sacrifices, domestic work, this outsider played such a significant role
  • Gyne
  • married women who has legitimate children
  • at religious ceremony for her husband’s family funeral, a woman takes a lover, and the jury would just find that horrendous
  • law said, if you catch a guy sleeping with your wife, you can kill him

Spinning and weaving

  • doesn’t just sit around idly, diligent wife, there for her family
  • so difficult to make thread, whenever she has a spare moment, she’s making thread, and then she’d have to weave the thread

The Oikos (House itself)

Men’s and women’s areas:

  • when male guests come over, the women of the house all leave
  • the men would not sit down to dine with women other than their wives
  • house was segregated, women are upstairs, tucked away, not seen

Female seclusion

  • women never left the house, never allowed to have a male visitor in the house without her husband present, if visitor present, she would retreat
  • vase paintings showed women going out and meeting people, we don’t know where to dry the line
  • some literary sources by aristocrats have women utterly dominated, some say reality, they were not that secluded
  • its’ accepted that men would have out of marriage activities


  • when the women conceives, the man has 10 days to decide whether he recognizes the child, once he picks it up, it’s declared, no going back
  • even if it’s positive that the child is yours, you can not recognize it, abandon the child at a designated area, girls more unwanted than boys
  • illegitimate children are sometimes kept within the household, no rights
  • imagery really exemplifies the intimacy and affection between parents and children, between husband and wife, totally different from the aristocratic sources

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