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The Status of Women in the Hellenistic Period. Aristophanes and Plato revisited (pp. 113-119) Primary Source Section (handout) Pomeroy 120-148. Classical Greece. Aristophanes (from Lysistrata ) on bublious ♀. CLEONICE Well, what oath shall we take then?

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the status of women in the hellenistic period

The Status of Women in the Hellenistic Period

Aristophanes and Plato revisited (pp. 113-119)

Primary Source Section (handout)

Pomeroy 120-148

aristophanes from lysistrata on bublious
Aristophanes (from Lysistrata) on bublious ♀

CLEONICE Well, what oath shall we take then?

LYSISTRATA Listen to me. Let's set a great black bowl on the ground; let's sacrifice a skin of Thasian wine into it, and take oath not to add one single drop of water.

LAMPITO Ah! that's an oath pleases me more than I can say.

LYSISTRATA Let them bring me a bowl and a skin of wine.

CLEONICE Ah! my dears, what a noble big bowl! what fun it will be to empty it.

LYSISTRATA Set the bowl down on the ground, and lay your hands on the victim. ....Almighty goddess, Persuasion, and thou, bowl, boon comrade of joy and merriment, receive this our sacrifice, and be propitious to us poor women!

CLEONICE (as LYSISTRATA pours the wine into the bowl) Oh! the fine red blood! how well it flows!

LAMPITO And what a delicious bouquet, by Castor!

CLEONICE Now, my dears, let me swear first, if you please.

aristophanes from lysistrata on urban snobbery and women s conversation
Aristophanes (from Lysistrata) on urban snobbery and women’s conversation

LYSISTRATA.... Ah! here comes Lampito. (LAMPITO, a husky Spartan damsel, enters with three others, two from Boeotia and one from Corinth.) Good day, Lampito, dear friend from Lacedaemon. How well and handsome you look! what a rosy complexion! and how strong you seem; why, you could strangle a bull surely!

LAMPITO Yes, indeed, I really think I could. It's because I do gymnastics and practise the bottom-kicking dance.

CLEONICE (opening LAMPITO'S robe and baring her bosom) And what superb breasts!

LAMPITO La! you are feeling me as if I were a beast for sacrifice.

LYSISTRATA And this young woman, where is she from?

LAMPITO She is a noble lady from Boeotia.

LYSISTRATA Ah! my pretty Boeotian friend, you are as blooming as a garden.

CLEONICE (making another inspection) Yes, on my word! and her "garden" is so thoroughly weeded too!

aristophanes from lysistrata on lewd
Aristophanes (from Lysistrata) on lewd ♀

LYSISTRATA Yet, look you, when the women are summoned to meet for a matter of the greatest importance, they lie in bed instead of coming.

CLEONICE Oh! they will come, my dear; but it's not easy, you know, for women to leave the house. One is busy pottering about her husband; another is getting the servant up; a third is putting her child asleep or washing the brat or feeding it.

LYSISTRATA But I tell you, the business that calls them here is far and away more urgent.

CLEONICE And why do you summon us, dear Lysistrata? What is it all about? LYSISTRATA About a big thing.

CLEONICE And is it thick too?

LYSISTRATA Yes, very thick.

CLEONICE And we are not all on the spot! Imagine!

LYSISTRATA (wearily) Oh! if it were what you suppose, there would be never an absentee. No, no, it concerns a thing I have turned about and about this way and that so many sleepless nights.

CLEONICE (still unable to be serious) It must be something mighty fine and subtle for you to have turned it about so!

LYSISTRATA So fine, it means just this, Greece saved by the women!

CLEONICE By the women! Why, its salvation hangs on a poor thread then!

plato s republic
Plato’s Republic
  • Book V: The Position of Women and the Usages of War
    • The Equality of Women
    • Abolition of the Family for Guardians
    • The Usages of War

Plato 427-347 BCE

Socrates 469-399 BCE

plato on education book v
Plato on Education (Book V)

S: Are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? or do we entrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling their puppies is labour enough for them?

G: No, they share alike; [451e] the only difference between them is that the males are stronger and the females weaker.

S: But can you use different animals for the same purpose, unless they are bred and fed in the same way?

G: You cannot.

S: Then, if women are to have the same duties as men, [452a] they must have the same nurture and education?

G: Yes.

S: The education which was assigned to the men was music and gymnastic.

G: Yes.

S: Then women must be taught music and gymnastic and also the art of war, which they must practice like the men?

G: That is the inference, I suppose.

biological or culturally difference
Biological or culturally difference?

S: Can you mention any pursuit of mankind in which the male sex has not all these gifts and qualities in a higher degree than the female? Need I waste time in speaking of the art of weaving, and the management of pancakes [455d] and preserves, in which womankind does really appear to be great, and in which for her to be beaten by a man is of all things the most absurd?

G: You are quite right in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex: although many women are in many things superior to many men, yet on the whole what you say is true.

S: And if so, my friend, there is no special faculty of administration in a state which a woman has because she is a woman, or which a man has by virtue of his sex, but the gifts of nature are alike diffused in both; all the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also, [455e] but in all of them a woman is inferior to a man.

G: Very true.

okay the wives don t sound as equal now
Okay, the wives don’t sound as equal now

S: You will admit that the same education which makes a man a good guardian will make a woman a good guardian; for [456d] their original nature is the same?

G: Yes.

S: I should like to ask you a question.

G: What is it?

S: Would you say that all men are equal in excellence, or is one man better than another?

G: The latter.

S: And in the commonwealth which we were founding do you conceive the guardians who have been brought up on our model system to be more perfect men, or the cobblers whose education has been cobbling?

G: What a ridiculous question! [456e]

S: You have answered me: Well, and may we not further say that our guardians are the best of our citizens?

G: By far the best.

S: And will not their wives be the best women?

G: Yes, by far the best.

nice save socrates
Nice save, Socrates.

S: And can there be anything better for the interests of the State than that the men and women of a State should be as good as possible?

G: There can be nothing better.

S: And this is what the arts of music and gymnastic, [457a] when present in such manner as we have described, will accomplish?

G: Certainly.

S: Then we have made an enactment not only possible but in the highest degree beneficial to the State?

G: True.

S: Then let the wives of our guardians strip, for their virtue will be their robe, and let them share in the toils of war and the defence of their country; only in the distribution of labours the lighter are to be assigned to the women, who are the weaker natures, [457b] but in other respects their duties are to be the same.

plato and sex
Plato and sex
  • Q. What purpose does Plato give for “a community of wives” in Republic? (116)
  • Q. Is there any talk of a “community of husbands”?
  • Q. Why would prostitution be eliminated in this utopian world of Plato’s? (117)
  • Q. Which group of women was Plato using as a model? (117)
plato as a feminist
Plato as a feminist?
  • “Plato’s critique of marriage and the nuclear family, coupled with his provisions for an androgynous life style accessible through equal education and state-supported child-care, foreshadows the ideas of modern radical feminists such as Shulamith Firestone and Simone de Beauvoir” (118)
  • See also Saint-Simon – 19th c. France
plato outside republic
Plato outside Republic
  • You need to consider more of Plato than the Republic, says Pomeroy.
  • In The Laws, “Plato reinforced traditional sex roles, making females obedient, modest, temperate and gentle, and males competitive and aggressive…Married women were to exercise clothed, rather than nude in the Republic
hellenistic women
Hellenistic Women
  • “The Hellenistic world was dramatically different from that of the preceding period. Loss of political autonomy on the part of the city-states wrought a change in men’s political relationships to their societies and to each other. These changes, in turn, affected women’s position in the family and in society.”(120)
  • How and for whom?
a note on sources
A note on sources
  • Royal Women: impact on ancient authors and political activity with their men
  • Women of lesser status: some gained more influence in political and economic affairs and expansion in options regarding marriage, public roles, education and control of private life
  • All women’s lives were preserved in cultural artifacts
    • Why are there many sources from this period (Pomeroy, 120)?
philip ii of macedon 382 336 bce
Philip II of Macedon 382-336 BCE
  • A hostage in Thebes, he learned from them military strategy
  • Began conquests of northern Greece (357-338 BCE)
  • Defeated the Athenians and began the Hellenistic period

Coin of Philip II of Macedon, racing biga (345 BCE)

olympias of macedon formerly of epirus formerly known as myrtale
Olympias of Macedon (formerly of Epirus, formerly known as Myrtale)
  • Initiated into the cults of Dionysus and Orpheus
  • Philip’s primary wife – he was polygamist
  • This became a problem for her when he married Cleopatra (of Macedon)
  • Philip was assassinated in 336 BCE
  • Olympias then had Cleopatra and her daughter killed
  • She argued with the regent of Macedon (Antipater) while her son, Alexander, was out conquering the known world
  • She had numerous people put to death and eventually, their relatives killed her.
ptolemy ii and arsino
Ptolemy II and Arsinoë
  • Ruled Macedonia with her brother for five years (275-270 BCE)
  • Olympias and Arsinoë were Queens of Greek extraction – not seen during the period of city-states, and leading up to the famous Cleopatra
power of wives or mothers
Power of wives or mothers?
  • To Pomeroy, “many women wielded power as wives or mothers, especially of weak kings, and as regents for young sons or absent husbands, or through the dynamism of personal ambition. The competent women visible in Hellenistic courts were one of the positive influences of this period toward increasing the prestige of nonroyal but upper-class women.” (125)
women in public realms in hellenistic greece
Women in Public Realms in Hellenistic Greece
  • Pomeroy, “The legal and economic responsibilities of women increased, but political gains were more illusory.”
  • “As living queens were being celebrated by poets and receiving numerous public honors, so public decrees honoring women were published in the Greek world in the Hellenistic period, and increased frequency under Roman rule.” (125)
archippe and other non royal cited in public decrees
Archippe and other non-royal ♀ cited in public decrees
  • As weavers of Athene's peplos or as priestesses of Athene (e.g., Lalla)
  • Archippe of Cyme, who wined and dined the total population of her city in the second century B.C.E.
  • Aristodama of Smyrna was a poetess given honorary citizenship by the Aetolians of Thessaly.
  • A woman served as archon or ruler in Histria in the second century B.C.E.
  • Phile of Priene constructed a reservoir and aqueduct in the first century B.C.E.
changes to legal status for
Changes to legal status for ♀
  • Pomeroy notes: “A slow evolution in legal status, particularly in private law, can be traced.” Why? Is this a uniform law of Hellenistic Greece? Remember the size of Hellenistic Greece. Pomeroy draws a distinction between Egyptian women of Hellenistic Greece and Greek women over marriage rights. What is it?
marriage contracts
Marriage Contracts
  • Pomeroy cites a marriage contract between a Greek man and woman living in Egypt. She states, “the most striking features of this agreement are the recognition of two codes of marital behaviour – one for the husband, another for the wife – and the stipulation that both codes are subject to interpretation by the couple’s social peers.” (128)
  • Are these the most striking features for you? What other changes to marriages and relationships are going on?
athens women economics during hellenistic period
Athens, Women, Economics during Hellenistic Period
  • Quotation from Plutarch, going back to Solon to explain Demetrius Phaleron’s view of women:
  • “He also forbade mourners from wounding themselves by beating their breasts and also from elaborate lamenting at the tombs of others.The sacrifice of oxen at tombs was forbidden as well as the interring of the dead with more than three garments and visits to the tombs of people not members of the family except on the day of burial.Most of these prohibitions survive in present-day laws here but in addition our Gynaikonomoi [Controllers of Women] are required to punish also men who act in this way on the grounds that they are possessed of unmanly and womanish feelings and misconceptions about mourning.” (Life of Solon, XXI)
philosophers in hellenistic greece
Philosophers in Hellenistic Greece
  • “Athens remained the centre for philosophy…and citizen women in Athens still were by and large exposed to nothing more intellectual than practical training in domestic matters….Even the upper class… did not educate its daughters” (131)
aristotle and his peripatetics
Aristotle and his “peripatetics”

His group of followers continued to profess his beliefs even after his death, including the explanation that “man’s public role was analogous to his place in the family – a microcosm of the patriarchal state.” (131)

Aristotle 383-382 BCE

what about new philosophies
What about new philosophies?
  • Stoics reinforced traditional roles for women, although Zeno (right) envisioned a community of wives
  • His followers disagreed, their doctrine of equality and brotherhood of man did not extend to the sexes (132) Why?
epicureans and cynics and love and marriage
Epicureans and Cynics and love and marriage
  • Epicurus: "Don't fear god, don't worry about death; what's good is easy to get, and what's terrible is easy to endure." How’s he going to be about marriage?
  • Diogenes: "For a young man, not yet; for an old man, not at all." Is this a quip? How about, “a man who persuades with the woman he persuaded”?
women s opportunities
Women’s opportunities

Women athletes

  • As philosophers with the Epicureans and Cynics
  • Physical education and by the 1st c. AD, as athletes in the Olympic games
  • Ability to read and write
the poetesses here is erinna with sappho 1864
The Poetesses (here is Erinna with Sappho, 1864)

1) Erinna, from island near Rhodes, 4th century B.C.E., poems about her childhood and her friend Baucis.

2) Anyte, from Tegea in Peloponnese, about 300 B.C.E., epigrams for men, women, animals, dedications, pastorals.

3) Nossis, from Locri in south Italy, 3rd century, epigrams to goddesses and dedications by and for women;  mentions Sappho and Eros

4) Moero, c. 300 B.C.E., dedication to vine cluster, hexameters of Pleiades who had served baby Zeus.

Epitaphs, votive inscriptions, amatory verses, clever or informational poems, descriptions of works of art, versified reflections on life and morality, convivial pieces for symposia, abusive or satirical verses

sexuality its representation
Sexuality: Its Representation

Barberina Faun (220 BCE)

Men in the Gymnasium

Woman playing the flute

additional section not required reading
Additional Section (not required reading)
  • From Women in Ancient Societies: An Illusion of the Night edited by Léonie J. Archer, Susan Fischler, and Maria Wyke
    • Sabina Lovibond, “An Ancient Theory of Gender: Plato and the Pythagorean Table”
    • In this article which I will summarize, she examines the idea of duality in Ancient Greek thought and how it affects gender relations
the pythagorean table




















The Pythagorean Table

Renaissance drawing of Pythagoras and his school

sabina lovibond plato and the pythagorean table
Sabina Lovibond – Plato and the Pythagorean Table
  • Her Guiding Question: “Can we learn something from the Pythagorean Table about the particular way in which female inferiority was represented in Greek thought” (89)
  • “Everyone ‘knows’ that women are inscrutable, inconstant, closer to nature – that the female sex has a special relationship with the irrational. But to reconstruct the ideological tradition which has spawned this ‘knowledge’ must in the end be a gesture, not of affirmation, but of critique.” (99) What does she mean?
sabina lovibond plato and the pythagorean table1
Sabina Lovibond – Plato and the Pythagorean Table
  • Her theoretical framework: political feminist
    • Warning to feminist theorists – “feminism cannot limit itself to the task of explicating patriarchal fantasy.” (99)
    • “[W]e are dealing with texts which claim to describe – and in a secondary, consequential and partial way, do describe – how things are with respect to gender identity; but at the same time, the very existence of these texts is a component of the political formation which feminism is calling into question.” (99)
  • Her argument: “Plato evidently sees not just moral development, but cognitive development generally, as a process which emancipates the subject from a symbolically feminine condition.” (98)
sabina lovibond plato and the pythagorean table2
Sabina Lovibond – Plato and the Pythagorean Table

Her argument of the Pythagorean/Platonic theory of difference:

  • “Masculinity…expresses itself in coherence – a value which brings together unity and determinancy….Femininity, by contrast expresses itself in incoherence – that is, in plurality and indeterminacy, which are understood not as positive characteristics but as the negation (or absence) of their opposites.” (97)
sabina lovibond plato and the pythagorean table3
Sabina Lovibond – Plato and the Pythagorean Table

Evidence of her assertions The Republic (96):

  • (395d5-e3) “[young men] must not be allowed to ‘take the part of a woman, whether young or old, abusing her husband, or quarrelling with the gods and vaunting her own imagined happiness…”
  • (431b9-c3) emotional diversity, instability or unpredictability is ignoble
  • (557c4-9) of democracy, “a most attractive form…because it is spangled with every different way of life…many men who, like women and children…would judge it…finest.”
  • (605c-607a) the most dangerous characteristic of poetry is the scope it gives for vicarious emotional indulgence….at odds with the rational…