This essay will deal with Western Civilization and the lives of the women who lived it in ancient Greece.
Athenian women in ancient Greece were considered to be little more than slaves during the 5th century. A young child, a girl, was not expected to have an extended education: She was not expected to know how to read or write. In fact the common thought of the time was that to educate a woman was to waste time. However, women who were of high social birth were often times schooled and in fact it is reported that during religious celebrations women were chosen to participate although their numbers were minimal.
There were three classifications for women in Athens: The first class was that of the lowest standing, a woman who was a slave to other women in that she helped take care and raise the children of a domestic household. This woman would also do chores. The second class of woman in Athens was the citizen. The third class of woman in Athens was the Hetaerae. This was the woman who was likened to the Geisha of China: “Hetaerae women were given an education in reading, writing, and music, and were allowed into the Agora and other structures which were off limits to citizen and slave women. Most sources about the Hetaerae indicate however, that their standing was at best at the level of prostitutes, and the level of power they attained was only slightly significant” (Schnurnberger 1991).
The female citizen in Athens would often times have to marry in order to have any type of power or control. A girl was taught how to do household chores, how to mend clothes and how to cook in order to make a better wife. There was one playing field in which both men and women were considered somewhat equals and that was the religious sphere. In Athens there were at least 120 festivals having religious significance every year. There were countless rites and rituals for children taken as rites of passage. Marriage was one religious festival in which women played a major role (Schnurnberger 1991).
A marriage was arranged by the father, and during the process of getting ready to be married a woman would give away her toys to the temple of Artemis and her hair was subsequently cut. The night prior to the wedding, the woman would take a ritual bath, and sang hymns to Hymen. Upon entry into the groom’s house for the first time as his wife the woman would hold a sieve of barley and then upon entering further she went to the hearth to give offerings. The final ritual of marriage was consummation in the wedding chamber which was observed by a close friend (Schnurnberger 1991).
Although women in Athens were limited in their power they did exercise intelligence despite common restrictions to their gender. For the most part however withholding of sex to her husband was a way in which a wife could enforce her own desires onto her husband and change his mind. Finally, women were also worshipped in the form of goddesses, and often times during rituals, a woman’s presence was essential; thus a woman’s power in ancient Greece was subtle, but existent.
Livius, T. The History of Rome. translated by Rev. Canon Roberts. Everyman’s Library. London. 1912.
Schnurnberger, L. Let There Be Clothes. Workman Publishing; New York, 1991.
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