Athenian Women

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It is ridiculous to assume that the Athenian women of Ancient Greece were respected and revered by men. These women were not held in high regard. Men controlled all aspects of their lives, beginning with their fathers and continuing with their husbands once they married. Most girls were married in their very early teens to men that were usually much older (Xenophon’s Oeconomicus), sometimes as much as twice the age of their wives. The age difference was considered a moot point since women at that time often did not survive the rigors of repeated childbirth and died young. It was also generally believed that marrying a very young girl enabled the husbands to train her and mold her into a proper Athenian wife.
Athenian women had almost no influence or power in Greek society and were not highly regarded until they could produce a male child (Socrates). The common belief at that time (in most Western societies) was that women were necessary to produce children. Women existed for the sake of procreation, to bear sons in order to continue the family name (Aristotle states that the man supplies the substance, the soul, i.e. the form for children, the woman provides only the nourishment), (Source: Generation of Animals). In Athenian society, extramarital affairs by husbands with women (and men) was the norm, and it indeed contributed to the image of a man’s prosperity if he had a mistress. Did the males in this society consider their wives praiseworthy? In my opinion the answer is no, since a wife who was the husband’s property and could be disciplined if she did not conform to the Athenian standards of wife. Athenian wives were judged in society by their frugality, ability to raise sons, and their devotion and faithfulness to their husbands, (e.g., Penelope and Odysseus). A married woman caught in adultery would have been forced to abandon her home and children for the disgrace it would bring the family name, (Hunt, pg. 70). Men in ancient Athens (as in just about every Western civilization) had altered views of women. They saw women as being weak and dependent (Xenophon Oeconomicus), and because of the socioeconomic structure of the time, they were.
Women in this society could, to some degree, assert power and influence in the home. The everyday life of the “ideal” Greek woman included child bearing and rearing, cleaning, both weaving cloth and making clothes, cooking and supervising slaves and other domestic tasks, (Xenophon, On Household Management).

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"Athenian Women." 21 Jun 2018
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Those in wealthier families had slaves, but she was also responsible for the training and supervision of the slaves. Women were not allowed to own property or inherit wealth (Hunt, pg. 98); this was controlled by fathers, husbands, or a close male relative. Men tended to behave more like fathers toward women. Thus, if a woman got married she passed from the authority of one man (her father) into that of another (her husband), (Plato 427-347 BC). Greek women were sheltered from the eyes of other men. They had limited access to society and the activities that took place there. These women had no political voice, although they were allowed to participate in weddings, funerals and religious festivals, (Hunt, pg. 69).
Written and archaeological evidence suggests that women played a significant role in the religious life of Ancient Greece. Although the women of ancient Greece were not considered politically important, they played a very large role as religious icons, (Hunt, pg. 64). The Goddesses were as important as the Gods, and usually ruled over living things, including grains and vegetables from the Earth, hunting, and even beauty. Much ancient pottery contained depictions of ancient Goddesses, which contrasts with the denigration of common women (i.e., prostitutes, dancing girls) on other pottery. Stories by the Greek author Homer tell us a great deal about how men viewed these deities. Goddesses were much more idealized than real women were. Women are depicted as animals, (Semonides of Amorgos, The Types of Women); Semonides also states that women represent evil and the forces of chaos. Women were viewed as highly sexual beings that could not control their sexual urges (as opposed to the men, it didn’t seem to occur to anyone to blame them, much like Islamic fundamentalist countries today) and therefore had to be restricted for their own benefit.
From a modern viewpoint, it seems patently unfair that women were considered useful only to perform certain functions such as giving birth, working at home and taking care of children and then not have the right to speak out for oneself. Having no personal means of support, being the chattel of the men supporting them, and being denied the opportunity for education directly contributed to the image of women as being inferior beings.

Other Sources: (Plato & Aristotle)

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