The Hellenistic Homemaker

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The Hellenistic Homemaker

In both Xenophon’s Oeconomicus and Lysias’ defense of Euphiletus’ murder of Eratosthenes, insight into the purpose and function of Athenian marriage may be gained by examination of the speeches of two citizens about their wives and their homes. Through both texts, it becomes apparent that the citizen’s value of his wife is based upon his wife’s ability as an “oikonomikos” or “skilled household manager” (Strauss, 3). It is through filling this role as her husband’s housekeeper that an Athenian woman experienced a loss of personal freedom and found herself trapped within a marriage in which she had little contact or much in common with her husband. A woman’s role as oikonomikos is described by Euphiletus’ address of an Athenian citizen-jury and by Socrates’ discourse with Ischomachos, through which he strives to understand the best way by which a household may be managed.

An Athenian marriage was formed to unite a household, or “oikos”, with an overseer to manage it. This housekeeper was responsible for maintaining the wealth of the oikos, serving as manager over the servants of the oikos, and, by providing heirs, assuring that the oikos would continue to exist and grow in the future. Socrates believed that “…while the possessions usually come into the house through the man’s actions, they are expended for the most part in the course of the woman’s housekeeping; and when these things turn out well, the households increase…” (Xenophon, III.11). A good oikonomikos was essential for the proper function of the home.

Marriage existed as a business agreement between a husband and his in-laws, who negotiated it, and between a husband and his wife, who maintained it. The marriage was first arranged bet...

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...en is well described through the requirements of being a good housekeeper- they must be young, uneducated, fertile, submissive, and remain in the home. In order to fill these roles well, Xenophon, in his Oeconomicos, and Lysias, through his defense of Euphiletus, show that women must necessarily experience a loss of freedom in order to maintain the virtues of an oikonomikos, and that also as a result of filling this house-manager role, they are so far removed from their husbands mentally and in daily experience because of age and custom, that romantic love would be inhibited.

Works Cited

Freeman, Kathleen. The Murder of Herodes and Other Trials from the Athenian Law

Courts. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 1991.

Strauss, Leo. Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse: An Interpretation of the Oeconomicus.

Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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