Xenophon and Aristophanes

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In Greek society women had little control over their lives. A husband wanted to be able to control his wife so she would run his household as he saw fit, so she did not damage his reputation, and so he knew the paternity of his children. A husband wanted the girl to be closely controlled by her father before she married for the same reasons. Aristophanes’ comedies and Xenophon’s Oeconomicus contain very different depictions of a Greek citizen woman’s life before she is married and during the time shortly after she is married. Both the comedies and Oeconomicus examine how girls were educated, how closely guarded they were in their father’s household, and their willingness to deceive their husbands. In Oeconomicus, Xenophon wrote about the ideal girl, but she was exaggerated in the direction of perfection. In the comedies, however, some the female characters were almost the exact opposite of the girl in Oeconomicus. Even though ideas about how girls were raised and how they behaved after they were married are very different in Oeconomicus and in Aristophanes’ comedies, both sets of ideas get at a husband’s desire for his wife to have been closely controlled by her father, and then by him. Aristophanes and Xenophon illustrate this desire by presenting the ideal characteristics of a wife and the characteristics men fear. They also use exaggeration to make the distinction between the good wife and the undesirable wife even clearer. Because husbands wanted their wives to be controlled first by their fathers, and then by them, women spent their entire lives under the control of men.

There was also a large difference between how closely guarded by her father Ischomachos’s wife was, compared to the girls in the comedies. Girls were not only guarded to keep them from learning too much, but they were also guarded to keep them away from men so they would not have sex with or be raped by them. Because if a girl was, and after marriage her husband found out, he would be unsure of the paternity of his children. Ischomachos’s wife "had previously lived under diligent supervision in order that she might see and hear as little as possible" (Oeconomicus, VII, 5). She obviously did not leave her house much if her family was making an attempt to have her see and hear as little as possible. Because she was supervised that closely, even if she did leave her house she wouldn’t have had a chance to get into trouble because there would be someone with her or watching her. In Women at the Thesmophoria, the Kinsman portrayed a female character who was obviously not guarded closely, "I had a boyfriend, who’d deflowered me when I was only seven" (Women at the Thesmophoria, 503). If a man was able to get to the Kinsman’s character when she was only seven she was not being watch closely. Calling the person who deflowered her, her boyfriend, implies that this was not a single instance of negligence on part of her guardian; it implies that she was not being watched closely enough to prevent her boyfriend from continuing to see her. Ischomachos’s wife reflects the ideal for Greek husbands. Because her father so closely controlled her, she would not have had an opportunity to do anything that would call the paternity of her future husband’s children into question. The Kinsman’s character is a depiction of a girl that shows men’s fears about how their wives might have been raised. She is completely out of the control of her father, so when she marries, her husband will have no idea if she is all ready pregnant. It is likely that how closely or loosely these characters were guarded is an exaggeration. Although Ischomachos’s wife probably was guarded as closely as possible, her incredible ignorance implies that she was guarded more closely then was achievable. The Kinsman’s character is probably also an exaggeration. Although there probably were some girls who were deflowered when they were very young, it seems unlikely that she would have had a boyfriend at...
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