The Role of Women in Herodotus’ The Histories

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Women in Herodotus’ The Histories

From Helen of Troy to Candaules’ queen, historians have documented many quarrels over women. One historian in particular, Herodotus, wrote often of the implications women had on the history before him. Women over history played largely a secondary role in almost everything, from politics to simple household decision-making. Women also were married off in order to gain land and status for their families, especially their fathers. Yet wars, both civil and foreign, have been fought over women. If they were so secondary then how were they so influential throughout history? Herodotus has given us sufficient examples of women serving as monarchs, oracles, and even being involved in literature to present an argument that they played a more notable part in the society of previous cultures and history. In order to better understand an argument one must know the background information behind the history, which is in this case, Herodotus. Born in Halicarnassus, Herodotus (c. 484- c. 425 BCE) was a Persian. He was a nephew or cousin of the epic poet, Panyassis, who wrote on many historical topics. Herodotus was exiled from Halicarnassus to Samos, an island on which Herodotus learned Ionic Greek. Herodotus’ The Histories were written in the dialect of Ionic. Herodotus did, however, return to Halicarnassus, only to be hated and forced to leave once more. Most importantly, historians are unsure how much of Herodotus’ writing was accurate. (Herodotus ix) Herodotus wrote of ancient societies that historians have little information about, such as the Lydians and Scythians. This is a reason why his writings are still widely used for educational purposes. Yet Herodotus wrote about women in a time where women were basically secondary citizens, and he portrayed them not always in this ineffectual light. He begins his Histories with a story about a beautiful woman, the queen of Candaules. Candaules ordered his servant, Gyges, to spy on the



Cited: David, A.P. “Faith and History Behind Closed Doors.” Herodotus and the Power of Women. 25 January 2008. More Intelligent Life. 23 September 2008. http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/story/herodotus-and-the-power-of-women Dewald, Carolyn. “Women in Herodotus’ The Histories.” Biology and Politics. JSTOR. 23 September 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1316610?seq=1 Herodotus. The Histories. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

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