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Essay about Athenian Women

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Athenian Women


Athenian society was very dynamic in many areas while it was strict in regard to the treatment of women. Although Athenian women were protected by the state and did not know a different way of living, they were very stifled and restricted. The only exception was slaves, and heteria, prostitutes, and this was due to the fact that they had no male guardians. Since these women were on there own they had to take care of themselves, and therefore were independent. In a more recent and modern way of viewing the role of a woman, independence and freedom to do as one likes is one of the most important aspects of living. In Athens the wives had none of this freedom and the prostitutes did. Who then really had a “better” life, those who had all protection and no freedom, or those who had all freedom and independence?
“Every Athenian girl expected to be married, and marriage and motherhood were considered the fulfillment of the female role.” This was what a woman’s life was headed towards and was thought to be the purpose of life. For a young girl to die before she had children was a fate thought of as being extremely sad. Women did not marry for love; the reason for marriage was usually for economic purposes or for political ties. The marriages were arranged by a kyrios, the man looking after the marriageable woman. This man was required to give her a dowry and then arrange for her marriage, usually a marriage that would in some way benefit him. The Kyrios could not keep or use the dowry, but had to give it to the husband of the female he was looking after, “the absence of a dowry could be used in court as at least circumstantial evidence that no marriage…had taken place.” The marriage was all settled w...


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...nclude this was due to her restricted position of passivity contrary to the more worldly and knowledgeable role of hetairai, especially one as well known as Aspasia was.
“Although to a modern woman, the role of neither hetairai nor secluded housewife appears attractive, it is tempting for us to idealize the former and to pity the latter.” The Athenian wife did not have much room for independence, individuality, or amusement, where as prostitutes were in many cases their own keepers. “The hetairai had access to the intellectual life of Athens, which we nowadays treasure, and a popular courtesan who was not a slave had the freedom to be with whomever pleased her.” However one can only speculate and it is unfair to attach today’s values to ancient affairs, but, but the basic question to be answered would be, “which was the preferable role-companion or wife?”



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