Woman Life

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Woman Life

By | November 2011
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WOMEN IN CLASSICAL ATHENS
IN THE SHADOW OF NORTH-WEST EUROPE 
OR IN THE LIGHT FROM ISTANBUL
By Jørgen Christian Meyer
Being a woman in classical Athens cannot have been much fun, if one can rely on the majority of the accounts of women's position in the Greek city-state. The Athenian democracy, traditionally held in high esteem in many other ways, was a democracy of the minority. Women, foreigners and slaves had no influence or true civil rights. They lived in the shadow of the Parthenon and the Acropolis. Sarah B. Pomeroy's influential monograph, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (1976) paints a dark picture. Men held a monopoly on politics and influence in the public sphere, and women lived in a society completely dominated by men. From childhood, girls were raised to their role of producing new citizens for the polis. Athenian society was extremely exclusive and only rarely allowed foreigners a share in the privileges of the citizens. Thus it was important to ensure that the women gave birth to legitimate heirs. This led to great limitations on young women's freedom of movement and on their sexuality during their reproductive years, whether they were married or unmarried (Keuls 1985). Women were kept isolated indoors, according to Pomeroy even in a special part of the house, the so-called gynaikonitis (Pomeroy 1976, 80). If a family had no male heir, the daughter, epikleros, who thus carried on the paternal line, was forced to accept being married off to the closest male relative to ensure that the family's financial resources were kept within the family. At puberty, the young girls were married to men who were around thirty years old or more. Although it was quite easy for both parties to obtain a divorce, the starting point created an unequal balance of power between the man and the woman in marriage. Moreover, the woman was totally dependent on a guardian, kyrios, if she wanted to make contact with society outside...