Essay on The Lives of Athenian Women

1880 Words8 Pages
Women in classical Athens could not have had an extremely enjoyable experience, if we rely on literary sources concerning the roles of women within the Greek polis. The so-called Athenian democracy only benefited a fraction of the entire population. At least half of this population was female, yet women seem to have had very little influence and few official civic rights. `The position of women...is a subject which has provoked much controversy.'

(Lacey: 1968, 151).

Studies concerning the lives of women in classical Athens have sparked much controversy because, despite the apparent fascination with femininity manifested in art and drama, we have no evidence voicing the opinions of the actual women themselves. This presents a
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In Sarah B. Pomeroy's influential monograph, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (1976), it is pointed out that in the past, when scholars have considered the quality of life for women in classical Athens, they have often subjectively selected the type of evidence to use for their argument. She argues that `optimists,' who are of the opinion that women enjoyed a comparatively liberated lifestyle, focus upon the prominent role that women play within art and drama. `Pessismists,' on the other hand, base their ideas upon Athenian laws and the writings of orators and moralists (Pomeroy: 1976; Just: 1989). The evidence that we have available regarding women `relate to different levels of reality' (Humphreys: 1983; Just: 1989), therefore the sources pertain to different aspects of women's lives and need to be pieced together to provide a clear picture.

One such `optimistic' scholar is A.M. Gomme (1925), who referred to distinctive female characters such as Medea, Clytemnestra, Antigone and Electra in Greek tragedy. Gomme argued that tragedy showed Athenian women as having the freedom to come and go as they pleased. He points out that even the timid, submissive Ismene is content to wander the streets of Thebes with her sister Antigone (who is the more dominant, perhaps even 'masculine,' heroine) without a male guardian
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