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The Nature of Social Relationships. Ancient to Early-Modern Times. The Traditional Image of Classical Greece. The Greeks were the founding civilization that “invented” many attributes we associate with Western Civilization.

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The Nature of Social Relationships

Ancient to Early-Modern Times


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The Traditional Image of Classical Greece

  • The Greeks were the founding civilization that “invented” many attributes we associate with Western Civilization.

  • Our modern notions of literature, drama, philosophy, science, mathematics, and political theory were strongly influenced by Greek thought.

  • Greek artisans are noted for producing classical models of architecture and sculpture that still endure.



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The Role of Women in Greek Life

  • Ancient Greece was a very patriarchal (male-dominated) society.

  • A wife was viewed as the property of her husband and was kept in seclusion.

  • Dominance (and hatred) of women often bordered upon misogyny.

  • Love of women considered secondary (or suspect) compared to the love of fellow men.


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“The authority of the ancients”

  • Aristotle wrote, “The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules and the other is ruled.”

  • In his famous “Funeral Oration,” Pericles advised the women of Athens to (1) rear more children for the sake of Athens; (2) not show more weakness than is natural for their sex; and (3) avoid gossip, good or bad.


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A Lesser Sense of Personhood

  • Origin of the word feminine – “fe” from faith + minus. Women were even weaker to hold and preserve the faith.

  • Ancient Greeks used the same word for woman and wife.


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Facts for Consideration

  • The normal ratio of girls to boys at birth is 100 : 105.

  • Census figures from ancient Greece suggest that 10% of female babies in Athens were not raised by their families. Many were left to die by exposure to the elements.

  • In ancient Greece, life expectancy for men was 42 years; for women 36 years.


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“Prostitutes we have for pleasure, concubines for daily physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”

- an Athenian orator –

Note: In ancient Greece seduction was viewed as a crime greater than rape.


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Phokylides of Miletus, physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”Satire on Women, c. 440 BCE

“The tribe of women is of these four kinds---that of a dog, that of a bee, that of a burly sow, and that of a long-maned mare. This last is manageable, quick, fond of gadding about, fine of figure; the sow kind is neither good nor bad; that of the dog is difficult and snarling; but the bee-like woman is a good housekeeper, and knows how to work. This desirable marriage, pray to obtain, dear friend.”

Hipponax, On Women, c. 580 BCE

“Two happy days a woman brings a man: the first, when he marries her; the second, when he bears her to the grave.”


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Hiram Powers’ “The Greek Slave” (1844) physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”

Displayed at the Crystal Palace in London (1851).

The image evoked renewed

discussion of women and slaves

in Greek society.


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Sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”- Critical of Greek Attitudes Toward Women and Slaves –(a response to “The Greek Slave” sculpture)


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The Hidden Side of Ancient Greek Society physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”

  • One of the the things that contributed to the quality of life that the Greeks experienced was their creative use of leisure time.

  • The city-states of ancient Greece relied very heavily upon the labor of slaves.

  • This practice exempted citizens from much of the drudgery of hard physical labor.


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An Old and Extensive Practice physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”

  • In Works and Days – written about 705 B.C.E., Hesiod acknowledges that a class of slaves exist in Greek society.

  • Slaves were generally foreigners, captives of war, or the children of captives held in bondage.

  • Aegean islands like Delos became slave-trading centers – capable of sending and receiving 10,000 slaves per day.


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Strabo: physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”Geographia, [written c. 20 A.D.],circa 550 BCE

“And the temple of Aphrodite [at Corinth] was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves---prostitutes---whom both free men and women had dedicated to the goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these temple-prostitutes that the city was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship captains freely squandered their money, and hence the proverb, “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth.”


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Demosthenes: physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”Against Timocrates. c. 350 BCE

“If, gentlemen of the jury, you will turn over in your minds the question what is the difference between being a slave and being a free man, you will find that the biggest difference is that the body of a slave is made responsible for all his misdeeds, whereas corporal punishment is the last penalty to inflict on a free man.”


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Standards and Double Standards physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”

  • Solon, the wise Athenian lawgiver, forbade all sales of children into slavery except the sale of a young girl who had lost her virginity.


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Antigone physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”

  • Meaning of the name Antigone = “A woman who has failed to regenerate.”

  • What does the playwright Sophocles say about Greek society when he creates a play that features a headstrong woman?

  • Should we read the play as social satire? As a commentary on the way that things should be (or actually were)?


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The Book of Proverbs physical attendance, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.”

  • Old Testament book (of Writings) associated with post-exile Judaism.

  • Most include use of simile or metaphor.

  • Short pithy statements designed to form a portable code of morality and conduct.


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  • Change from hunting/gathering lifestyle to agrarian society forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • This development gave birth to new issues that had to be dealt with:

    • Public vs. private space

    • Civility

    • Intimacy

    • Role of family/children (children are largely absent from writings until the 17th century)


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Jean-Jacques Rousseau forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • 1712-1778

  • An Enlightenment writer who influenced Romanticism

  • His writings focus on individualism and the rejection of imposed patterns of behavior, often using emotional and sentimental language


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Rousseau (writings) forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • In Emile (1762), Rousseu advocates a “return to nature” as the best education for a boy

    • A simple life in the country with instruction in reading, writing and nature studies

    • Girls should be educated “to please men, to be useful to them, and make themselves loved and respected by them”

Rousseau’s tomb – Pantheon (Paris)


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Discourse on Inequality (1753) forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • Attempts to define man’s true character

  • Rousseau believes that man was at his best “in nature”, and that man’s interaction with others in society impeded the development of man’s best characteristics

  • Focuses on:

    • Man’s physical nature

    • Use of language

    • Human passions (including sexuality)


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Women forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • Two options available

    • Marriage

    • Religious life

  • Neither option gave women equal power to men

    • Exception: widows could own property, sign their own documents


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Christine de Pisan forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • 1363-1430

  • Her father was the court astrologer for King Charles V of France

  • Widowed at 25 with three children, she began writing to earn money

  • The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) is an allegory (symbolical narrative) written in response to the Romance of the Rose, another allegory which defamed the character of women


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Christine de Pisan forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • Pisan’s writings urge that women be allowed to participate more fully in society

  • She is quoted as saying that a man once told her that an educated woman is unattractive, since there are so few; she responded that an ignorant man was even less attractive, since there are so many


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La Cité des Dames of Christine de Pisan forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others, 1410sIllumination on parchment, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris


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Jane Austen forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • 1775-1817

  • Daughter of English clergyman; never married

  • Her novels are comedies of manners that depict the self-contained world of provincial (middle-class) ladies and gentlemen

  • Her writings primarily deal with the issue of finding a spouse from the female perspective


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Pride and Prejudice forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others

  • Written c. 1797; published anonymously in 1813

  • Focuses on the Bennet family, with five daughters that need to be married and an estate that is entailed to a distant (male) cousin

  • Primary characters:

    • Elizabeth Bennet (2nd daughter)

    • Fitzwilliam Darcy (landed gentleman with large estate)

    • Jane Bennet (1st daughter)

    • Charles Bingley (landed gentleman)


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Regency family life forced people to learn how to live in closer proximity with others~ Life in England c. 1820s ~


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