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
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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