blog post

Women in Antiquity, virtually

**Updated March 30th**

Under the special restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus, we’ll be doing things a little differently when the semester resumes after Spring Break. While you will still be doing the readings according to the schedule, we will not be meeting in person during regularly scheduled class time. Instead, we’ll be going ahead in our exploration of women in antiquity with the following adjustments:

  • On Tuesdays and Thursdays I will upload a pre-recorded video lecture on the topic of the dayIn this video, I will discuss the passages which are posted on the blog post for each session. You can follow along on the blog — you will have the same access to the excerpts and images posted on the blog as you did before. The video lecture will be available on blackboard in the following place: Blackboard > Content. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 8.32.47 PM.png

  • If you are scheduled to do an in-class presentation, you will now be uploading your presentation materials to blackboard instead. Please email it to me and I will upload it to blackboard — it will be available in the same place as the video lectures. 
  • The presentation upload is due at our regular class time (Tues, Thurs 11am EST). Please upload both: 1) the slides of your presentation; 2) text or audio of your accompanying discussion. For 2), I leave it up to you whether you want to upload your discussion for myself and the other students to read (as a word or pdf file), or to listen to (as an audio file). You may upload your presentation as two separate files, i.e. 1) slides, 2) pdf. Or you may choose to do an audio voice-over of your presentation, i.e. upload one file which includes both slides and audio. Here is, for example, a video on “how to add your voice to your google slides.” If you have any questions or concerns about the technical side to this, please get in touch.
  • Ideally, you should send a **file** of your slides, so that I can upload that to blackboard. On google slides, you can save your presentation in a number of formats: go to File > Download. A pdf of the slides works!


  • Since we will not be together, and therefore not be able to have our usual vibrant discussion, we will have to find other ways to keep our strong community going. I have reconfigured the participation (20%) grade with that in mind. Here are some ways that you can “show up” for class:*
    • Discussion board. Use the discussion board in blackboard [Blackboard > Discussion board] to contribute ideas or ask questions about the readings and/or the lecture video. Interact with other students’ ideas, or post related content. I will take some time at the beginning of each video to address your questions and talk about your ideas from the previous session. Grade: Respond 1x per session (4%); 2 times per session (7%); 3 times per session (10%). 
    • Reflection piece. Produce a written reflection (150 words minimum) on the assigned readings, a text or object, or on a topic from the video lectures. Or, if you prefer not to write, make video clip or audio clip [3 mins minimum].  Email it to me and I will post it to blackboard. Grade: 3% per reflection piece.
    • Transcription. Transcribe the audio of the lecture videos into a written format. Grade: 5%. You may do this only once. Email me to choose a video.

*note: your participation grade maxes out at 20%. So if you do a lot on the discussion board (10%), and you do 4 reflection pieces (3% x 4 = 12%), your participation will be 20%, not 22%. However, there are still extra credit options available.

  • Update (Monday March 30th): You will no longer be doing a final exam for this class, but you will still be writing your second paper. Due Thursday April 30th.



  • “Office” hours. Traditional office hours are, of course, impossible right now. I am happy to answer questions by email, over chat, or over a video call. Write to me and we’ll arrange it.



Roman women.

— Lex Oppia
— Cornelia
— Laudatio Turiae

1a. Sarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 179, 177): 

“After the defeat of Hannibal in 201 B.C., Rome swiftly recovered. Men were allowed to display their prosperity. They wore purple, and their horses could be magnificently equipped. But the Oppian Law remained in effect, curtailing displays by women. The law was an irritant, despite some hints that it was not strictly enforced at all times. In 195 B.C. the repeal of this law was proposed, and women demonstrated in the streets…[p177] The women who gathered in 195 B.C. to demand the abrogation of the Oppian Law which had been in force for twenty years staged the first women’s demonstration..”

1b. Women in the Classical World, p260:

“the Lex Oppia restricted women’s finery and withdrew their privilege of riding in carriages; the law, unreported in the urgencies of the military narrative, only arouses the historians’ interest in peacetime when a move was made to repeal it (in 195 B.C.).”

1c. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE), 34.1. Roman women march in protest in 195 BCE for the repeal of the Lex Oppia (Oppian Law), passed 215 BCE.

Among the troubles of great wars, either scarcely over or yet to come, something intervened which, while it can be told briefly, stirred up enough excitement to become a great battle. Marcus Fundanius and Lucius Valerius, the tribunes of the people, brought a motion to repeal the Oppian law before the people [195 BCE]. Gaius Oppius had carried this law as tribune at the height of the Punic War, during the consulship of Quintus Fabius and Tiberius Sempronius [215 BCE].

The law said that no woman might own more than half an ounce of gold nor wear a multicoloured dress nor ride in a carriage in the city or in a town within a mile of it, unless there was a religious festival. The tribunes, Marcus and Publius Junius Brutus, were in favour of the Oppian law and said that they would not allow its repeal. Many noble men came forward hoping to persuade or dissuade them; a crowd of men, both supporters and opponents, filled the Capitoline Hill.

The matrons, whom neither counsel nor shame nor their husbands’ orders could keep at home, blockaded every street in the city and every entrance to the Forum. As the men came down to the Forum, the matrons besought them to let them, too, have back the luxuries they had enjoyed before, giving as their reason that the republic was thriving and that everyone’s private wealth was increasing with every day. This crowd of women was growing daily, for now they were even gathering from the towns and villages. Before long they dared go up and solicit the consuls, praetors, and other magistrates; but one of the consuls could not be moved in the least, Marcus Porcius Cato [censor 184 BCE], who spoke in favour of the law:

‘If each man of us, fellow citizens, had established that the right and authority of the husband should be held over the mother of his own family, we should have less difficulty with women in general; now, at home our freedom is conquered by female fury, here in the Forum it is bruised and trampled upon, and, because we have not contained the individuals, we fear the lot …

‘Indeed, I blushed when, a short while ago, I walked through the midst of a band of women. Had not respect for the dignity and modesty of certain ones (not them all!) restrained me (so they would not be seen being scolded by a consul), I should have said, “What kind of behaviour is this? Running around in public, blocking streets, and speaking to other women’s husbands! Could you not have asked your own husbands the same thing at home? Are you more charming in public with others’ husbands than at home with your own? And yet, it is not fitting even at home (if modesty were to keep married women within the bounds of their rights) for you to concern yourselves with what laws are passed or repealed here.

Our ancestors did not want women to conduct any — not even private — business without a guardian; they wanted them to be under the authority of parents, brothers, or husbands; we (the gods help us!) even now let them snatch at the government and meddle in the Forum and our assemblies. What are they doing now on the streets and crossroads, if they are not persuading the tribunes to vote for repeal? Give the reins to their unbridled nature and this unmastered creature, and hope that they will put limits on their own freedom; unless you do something yourselves, this is the least of the things imposed upon them either by custom or by law which they endure with hurt feelings. They want freedom, nay licence (if we are to speak the truth), in all things.

‘If they are victorious now, what will they not attempt? … As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors …’

[Read the rest of Cato’s speech, plus Valerius’s response.]

2. Cornelia, 2nd c. BCE. Daughter of Scipio Africanus, wife of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, mother of the “Gracchi” brothers (Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus).

2a. Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures, c. 1785. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.


2b. Victoria C. Gardner Coates (2011: 55-56): “Kauffmann deliberately set out to break into the exclusively male realm of monumental history painting in the second half of the eighteenth century…Achieving them was a tall order as women did not have ready access to the scholarly and artistic training necessary to become a successful painter of complex, historical subjects. But thanks to an unusually rigorous classical education, Kauffmann was familiar with the ancient texts that customarily provided themes for such paintings, and she compensated for her lack of life-drawing experience by closely studying classical sculpture…[S]he became one of only six ‘history painters’ among the thirty-six founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.”

3a. Valerius MaximusMemorable Deeds and Sayings (1st c. CE), 4.4:

Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, had a Campanian matron as a guest in her house, who showed her jewellery, the finest in existence at that period. Cornelia kept her in talk until her children came home from school, and then said, “These are my jewels.”

4. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE), 38.57. Cornelia’s marriage (180s? 170s? BCE).

The story goes on that the senate, which chanced to dine that day on the Capitoline, had risen up and begged that during the banquet Africanus should betroth his daughter to Gracchus. When the contract had been duly made at this public ceremony and Scipio had returned home, he told his wife Aemilia that he had arranged a marriage for their younger daughter. When she, being irritated, as a woman would naturally be, that he had not consulted with her about the daughter of both of them, had added that not even if he were promising her to Tiberius Gracchus should the mother have been excluded from the deliberation, Scipio, they say, rejoicing at their harmony of opinion, replied that it was to Gracchus that he had betrothed her. However much at variance are these accounts of so great a man, they have seemed worthy of presentation.

5a. Cicero, On Divination (1st c. BCE), 1.36. Tiberius’ death (c. 154 BCE).

What do you say of that well-known incident of Tiberius Gracchus, the son of Publius? He was censor [169 BCE] and consul twice [177 BCE; 163 BCE]; besides that he was a most competent augur, a wise man and a preeminent citizen. Yet he, according to the account left us by his son Gaius, having caught two snakes in his home, called in the soothsayers to consult them. They advised him that if he let the male snake go his wife must die in a short time; and if he released the female snake his own death must soon occur. Thinking it more fitting that a speedy death should overtake him rather than his young wife, who was the daughter of Publius Africanus, he released the female snake and died within a few days.

5b. Lararium. Wall fresco from Pompeii, House VII.6.3. Mid-1st century CE. Naples, National Archaeological Museum. Image: Ann Raia, 2010 (via



6. Fragments (?) of Cornelia’s letter to her son. Transmitted by Cornelius Nepos (in *his* fragments…), 1st c. BCE.

Fragment 1: You will say that it is glorious to take vengeance on one’s enemies. That seems to no one greater and more glorious than it does to me, but only if it can be done without injury to one’s country. But inasmuch as that cannot be, long and surely shall our enemies not perish but remain as they now are, rather than that our country should be ruined and perish.

Fragment 2: I would not hesitate to take oath in set terms that except for the murderers of Tiberius Gracchus no enemy has caused me so much annoyance and trouble as you have because of these events—you who ought, as the only survivor of all the children that I have had in the past, to have taken their place and to have seen to it that I had the least possible anxiety in my old age; you, who ought to have wished that all your actions should above all be agreeable to me, and should consider it impious to do anything of great importance contrary to my advice, especially when I have so brief a portion of my life left. Cannot even that brief span aid me in preventing you from opposing me and ruining your country? Finally, where will you make an end? Will our family ever cease from madness? Will it ever be possible to observe moderation? Shall we ever cease to insist on causing and suffering trouble? Shall we ever be ashamed of embroiling and harassing our country? But if any change is impossible, sue for the tribunate after I am dead; do whatever you like, so far as I am concerned, when I shall no longer be aware of it. When I am no more, you will offer funerary sacrifices in my honour, and invoke the god of our family. Are you not ashamed at that time to ask for the prayers of those as gods, whom you abandoned and deserted when they were alive and present with you? May great Jupiter forbid you to persist in that course or to allow such madness to enter your mind. But if you do persist, I fear that through your own fault you may bring such trouble upon your whole life that you can never make peace with yourself.

7a. Fragment of the opening lines of Laudatio Turiae. Rome, Terme Diocleziano, (National Museums). Image: Barbara McManus (2004), via


7b. So-called Laudatio Turiae, 10-9 BCE = ILS 8393. 

Left hand column.

(27) Marriages as long as ours are rare, marriages that are ended by death and not broken by divorce. For we were fortunate enough to see our marriage last without disharmony for fully 40 years. I wish that our long union had come to its final end through something that had befallen me instead of you; it would have been more just if I as the older partner had had to yield to fate through such an event.

(30) Why should I mention your domestic virtues: your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance? Why dwell on your love for your relatives, your devotion to your family? You have shown the same attention to my mother as you did to your own parents, and have taken care to secure an equally peaceful life for her as you did for your own people, and you have innumerable other merits in common with all married women who care for their good name. It is your very own virtues that I am asserting, and very few women have encountered comparable circumstances to make them endure such sufferings and perform such deeds. Providentially Fate has made such hard tests rare for women.

Right hand column.

(2a) You provided abundantly for my needs during my flight and gave me the means for a dignified manner of living, when you took all the gold and jewellery from your own body and sent it to me and over and over again enriched me in my absence with servants, money and provisions, showing great ingenuity in deceiving the guards posted by our adversaries.

(6a) You begged for my life when I was abroad[5]-it was your courage that urged you to this step-and because of your entreaties I was shielded by the clemency of those against whom you marshalled your words. But whatever you said was always said with undaunted courage.

(31) When you despaired of your ability to bear children and grieved over my childlessness, you became anxious lest by retaining you in marriage I might lose all hope of having children and be distressed for that reason. So you proposed a divorce outright and offered to yield our house free to another woman’s fertility. Your intention was in fact that you yourself, relying on our well-known conformity of sentiment, would search out and provide for me a wife who was worthy and suitable for me, and you declared that you would regard future children as joint and as though your own, and that you would not effect a separation of our property which had hitherto been held in common, but that it would still be under my control and, if I wished so, under your administration: nothing would be kept apart by you, nothing separate, and you would thereafter take upon yourself the duties and the loyalty of a sister and a mother-in-law.


Woman as symbol: early Rome.

— Etruscan women
— Ilia/Rhea Silvia
— Sabine Women
— Lucretia

1. The Etruscans. Map: wikimedia.


“Historically, the Etruscans were the people who inhabited the roughly triangular region on the west coast of Italy bounded by the rivers Tiber and Arno. Although they apparently called themselves ‘Rasenna’ (Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.30.3), they were known to the Romans as Etrusci or Tusci, and to the Greeks as Tyrrhenians or Tyrsenians, names that survive in the language of modern geography (Tuscany, the Tyrrhenian Sea. Etruscan civilisation reached its cultural zenith in the period from the 8th to the 5th century BCE, when powerful city-states emerged. These are conventionally divided into a southern group: Veii, Caere, Tarquinii, Vulci; a northern group: Volaterrae, Populonia, Vetulonia, Rusellae; inland: Arretium, Cortona, Perusia, Clusium, Volsinii.” (Cornell 1995: 45)

1a. Lucy Shipley, “To be a Woman,” in The Etruscans: Lost Civilizations (2017) p99:

“Indeed, the reputation of Etruscan women was so strong that their independence is one of the few features of Etruscan society that remains widely known – it is a key part of the Etruscan myth. Women are regularly represented in Etruscan imagery, enthroned alongside men in images on ceramics and decorative terracottas. Female faces and bodies feature in the friezes that decorated great Etruscan buildings. In tomb paintings, women are shown dining with men, equally gorgeously attired, seated on the same couches. These scenes are made eternal in sarcophagi and cinerary urns, on which women recline with their partners or alone. They share the same food, the same access to alcohol, the same luxuries as their men, and seem to have enjoyed equal respect as ancestors too. Inscriptions from tombs name their occupants, connecting them not only with their father, but with their mother and her family as well, recognizing the importance of the female line of descent.”

1b. “Sarcophagus of the Spouses,” 6th c. BCE. Villa Giula (Rome). Terracotta sarcophagus of a husband and wife from Cerveteri, reclining on a couch. Images:


1c. “Sarcophagus of the Spouses,” 6th c. BCE. Louvre, Paris. Painted terracotta sarcophagus of a husband and wife from Cerveteri, reclining on a couch. Image: Louvre.

louvre-sarcophage-dit-sarcophage-des (1).jpg

1d. Painted Etruscan terracotta sarcophagus (c. 150 BCE) of a woman named Seianti Hanunia Tlesana, holding a mirror. British Museum. The skull and other bones  from the sarcophagus were found to belong to a woman who was probably about 50yo at the time of her death. Images: British Museum.


2. Attic black-figure amphora (6th c. BCE). Aeneas, carrying his father, Anchises, with his son ahead of him. Escape from Troy. Aphrodite/Venus, Aeneas’ mother, stands behind him. Image: Getty villa.


3a. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st c. BCE), Roman Antiquities 1.77:

Ilia, going to a grove consecrated to Mars to fetch pure water for use in the sacrifices, was ravished by somebody or other in the sacred precinct…Most writers relate a fabulous story to the effect that it was a spectre of the divinity to whom the place was consecrated [=Mars]; and they add that the event was attended by many supernatural signs, including a sudden disappearance of the sun and a darkness that spread over the sky, and that the appearance of the spectre was far more marvellous than that of a man both in stature and in beauty. And they say that the ravisher, to comfort the maiden (by which it became clear that it was a god), commanded her not to grieve at all at what had happened, since she had been united in marriage to the divinity of the place and as a result of her violation should bear two sons who would far excel all men in valour and warlike achievements. And having said this, he was wrapped in a cloud and, being lifted from the earth, was borne upwards through the air. This is not a proper place to consider what opinion we ought to entertain of such tales…

Ilia = ‘of Troy/Ilium’
Rhea = Greek rheō (ῥέω) ‘to flow’
Silvia = ‘of the forest’

3b. Fragment of Ennius‘ Annals*, 2nd c. BCE.
*transmitted by Cicero, On Divination 1.40 (1st c. BCE).

…when roused terrified from sleep the old woman brought the lamp with trembling limbs, and in tears Ilia told this story. “Daughter of Eurydica, whom our father loved, the force of life is now leaving my whole body. For a handsome man appeared to me and snatched me away through pleasant willows, river banks, and places unknown. So alone, my sister, afterwards I seemed to wander and slowly to track you and to search for you and to be unable to grasp you in my heart. No path kept my feet steady. Then I dreamt my father [=Aeneas] spoke to me with these words: “Daughter, you must first endure miseries, then your fortune will rise from the river.” Once father had said this, my sister, he suddenly disappeared and did not offer himself to view, although I desired it in my heart, although I often stretched my hands to the blue expanses of heaven, tearful, and with pleading voice called to him. Then sleep left me sick at heart.

3c. Jackie Elliott, “The Voices of Ennius’ Annals” (2007: 49):

“Aeneas’ ‘comforting speech’ provokes only tears and a deeper longing and sense of abandonment. The passage thus demonstrates the uselessness of the male and imperialistic perspective to Ilia. Reflecting this, Ilia’s corporeality in the passage contrasts strikingly with the ellipse of Mars and with Aeneas’ elusiveness.”

3d. Roman relief depicting Mars’ “seduction” of Ilia. 1st-3rd c. CE. Vatican Museum. Image: Warburg Institute Iconographical Database.


3e. Timothy Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome (1995: 58): 

“Controversy centred around such matters as the parentage of the twins [=Romulus + Remus]. In most accounts their father was the god Mars; but other versions had been circulated, the most interesting of which asserted that their mother had been impregnated by a spark from the hearth — a motif which has many parallels in Italic myth.”

4a. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE), 1.4

But neither gods nor men protected the mother herself or her babes from the king’s cruelty; the priestess [= Ilia] he ordered to be manacled and cast into prison, the children to be committed to the river. It happened by singular good fortune that the Tiber having spread beyond its banks into stagnant pools afforded nowhere any access to the regular channel of the river, and the men who brought the twins were led to hope that being infants they might be drowned, no matter how sluggish the stream….In those days this was a wild and uninhabited region. The story persists that when the floating basket in which the children had been exposed was left high and dry by the receding water, a she-wolf (lupa), coming down out of the surrounding hills to slake her thirst, turned her steps towards the cry of the infants, and with her teats gave them suck so gently, that the keeper of the royal flock found her licking them with her tongue. Tradition assigns to this man the name of Faustulus, and adds that he carried the twins to his hut and gave them to his wife Larentia to rear. Some think that Larentia, having been free with her favours, had got the name of “she-wolf” [lupa = “prostitute”, lupanar= “brothel”] among the shepherds, and that this gave rise to this marvellous story.

4b. Tomb of the Statilii on the Esquiline, north wall (1st c. BCE). Romulus and Remus are abandoned on the banks of the River Tiber. Image: The Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.


4c. Mosaic depicting the She-wolf with Romulus and Remus. Aldborough (UK), c. 300-400 CE (Leeds City Museum). Image: Carole Raddato.


5a. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE) 1.9

Rome was now strong enough to hold her own in war with any of the adjacent states; but owing to the lack of women a single generation was likely to see the end of her size, since she had neither prospect of posterity at home nor the right of intermarriage with her neighbours. So, on the advice of the senate, Romulus sent envoys round among all the neighbouring nations to solicit for the new people an alliance and the privilege of intermarrying. Cities, they argued, as well as all other things, take their rise from the lowliest beginnings. As time goes on, those which are aided by their own manliness [virtus] by the favour of the gods achieve great power and renown. They said they were well assured that Rome’s origin had been blessed with the favour of the gods, and that their manliness [virtus] would not be lacking; their neighbours should not be reluctant to mingle their stock and their blood with the Romans, who were as truly men as they were. Nowhere did the embassy obtain a friendly hearing…

This was a bitter insult to the young Romans, and the matter seemed certain to end in violence. Expressly to afford a fitting time and place for this, Romulus, concealing his resentment, made ready solemn games in honour of the equestrian Neptune, which he called Consualia. He then ordered that the spectacle be announced to the surrounding peoples, and his subjects prepared to celebrate it with all the resources within their knowledge and power, that they might cause the occasion to be noised abroad and eagerly expected. Many people — for they were also eager to see the new city — gathered for the festival, especially those who lived nearest…

The Sabines, too, came with all their people, including their children and wives. They were hospitably entertained in every house, and when they had looked at the site of the city, its walls, and its numerous buildings, they marvelled that Rome had so rapidly grown. When the time came for the show, and people’s thoughts and eyes were busy with it, the preconcerted attack began. At a given signal the young Romans darted this way and that, to seize and carry off the unmarried women [virgines]. In most cases these were taken by the men in whose path they chanced to be. Some, of exceptional beauty, had been marked out for the chief senators, and were carried off to their houses by plebeians to whom the office had been entrusted…

The games broke up in a panic, and the parents of the young women fled sorrowing. They charged the Romans with the crime of violating hospitality, and invoked the gods to whose solemn games they had come, deceived in violation of religion and honour. The stolen girls were no more hopeful of their plight, nor less indignant. But Romulus himself went amongst them and explained that the pride of their parents had caused this deed, when they had refused their neighbours the right to intermarry; nevertheless the daughters should be wedded and become co-partners in all the possessions of the Romans, in their citizenship and, dearest privilege of all to the human race, in their children; only let them moderate their anger, and give their hearts to those to whom fortune had given their persons.

A sense of injury had often given place to affection, and they would find their husbands the kinder for this reason, that every man would earnestly endeavour not only to be a good husband, but also to console his wife for the home and parents she had lost. [1.10] His arguments were seconded by the wooing of the men, who excused their act on the score of passion and love, the most moving of all pleas to a woman’s heart…

[1.13 — after war between the Romans + the Sabines] Then the Sabine women, whose wrong had given rise to the war, with loosened hair and torn garments, their woman’s timidity lost in a sense of their misfortune, dared to go amongst the flying missiles, and rushing in from the side, to part the hostile forces and disarm them of their anger, beseeching their fathers on this side, on that their husbands, that fathers-in-law and sons-in-law should not stain themselves with impious bloodshed, nor pollute with parricide the suppliants’ children, grandsons to one party and sons to the other.

“If you regret,” they continued, “the relationship that unites you, if you regret the marriage-tie, turn your anger against us; we are the cause of war, the cause of wounds, and even death to both our husbands and our parents. It will be better for us to perish than to live, lacking either of you, as widows or as orphans.” It was a touching plea, not only to the rank and file, but to their leaders as well. A stillness fell on them, and a sudden hush. Then the leaders came forward to make a truce, and not only did they agree on peace, but they made one people out of the two. They shared the sovereignty, but all authority was transferred to Rome. In this way the population was doubled, and that some concession might after all be granted the Sabines, the citizens were named Quirites.

VIRTUS = gives us “virtue” but literally meant “manliness”
Latin vir = “man”
VIRtus = MANliness

5b. Pablo Picasso, “Rape of the Sabine Women” 1963. MFA, Boston. Image: MFA. Read this Guardian piece by Rhiannon L Cosslett on how this painting may be read in context of #metoo movement.

6a. Stephanie Jed, Chaste Thinking (1989: 45): 

“I intend the expression ‘chaste thinking’ as a figure of thought constituted at the join of two conflicting lexical families of terms, one representing the impulse of touch and the other, the impulse to be cut off from contact. These lexical families include, on the one hand, words related to touching or the absence of touching — tangible, contaminate, contact, integrity, intact, etc., and, on the other hand, words related to cutting — chastity, castigate, caste, and Latin carere (“to be cut off from, to lack.”). The narrative of the rape of Lucretia and the subsequent liberation of Rome from tyranny, I will argue, brings together these two conflicting series into a seemingly necessary relation of consequentiality, which, thus, sustains the figure of chaste thinking.”

6b. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE) 1.57-59:

The royal princes sometimes spent their leisure hours in feasting and entertainments, and at a wine party given by Sextus Tarquinius at which Collatinus, the son of Egerius, was present, the conversation happened to turn upon their wives, and each began to speak of his own in terms of extraordinarily high praise. As the dispute became warm Collatinus said that there was no need of words, it could in a few hours be ascertained how far his Lucretia was superior to all the rest. ‘Why do we not,’ he exclaimed, ‘if we have any youthful vigour about us mount our horses and pay your wives a visit and find out their characters on the spot? What we see of the behaviour, of each on the unexpected arrival of her husband, let that be the surest test.’ They were heated with wine, and all shouted:

‘Good! Come on!’ Setting spur to their horses they galloped off to Rome, where they arrived as darkness was beginning to close in. From there they proceeded to Collatia, where they found Lucretia very differently employed from the king’s daughters-in-law, whom they had seen passing their time in feasting and luxury with their acquaintances. She was sitting at her wool work in the hall, late at night, with her, maids busy round her. The palm in this competition of wifely virtue was awarded to Lucretia. She welcomed the arrival of her husband and the Tarquins, whilst her victorious spouse courteously invited the royal princes to remain as his guests. Sextus Tarquin, inflamed by the beauty and exemplary purity of Lucretia, formed the vile project of effecting her dishonour. After their youthful frolic they returned for the time to camp.

[1.58] A few days afterwards Sextus Tarquin went, unknown to Collatinus, with one companion to Collatia.  He was hospitably received by the household, who suspected nothing, and after supper was conducted to the bedroom set apart for guests. When all around seemed safe and everybody fast asleep, he went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, ‘Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquin, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die.’ When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart.

When he saw that she was inflexible and not moved even by the fear of death, he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour. Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her, each accompanied by one faithful friend; it was necessary to act, and to act promptly; a horrible thing had happened. Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius, the son of Volesus; Collatinus with Lucius Junius Brutus, with whom he happened to be returning to Rome when he was met by his wife’s messenger.

They found Lucretia sitting in her room prostrate with grief. As they entered, she burst into tears, and to her husband’s inquiry whether all was well, replied, ‘No! what can be well with a woman when her honour is lost? The marks of a stranger Collatinus are in your bed. But it is only the body that has been violated the soul is pure; death shall bear witness to that. But pledge me your solemn word that the adulterer shall not go unpunished. It is Sextus Tarquin, who, coming as an enemy instead of a guest forced from me last night by brutal violence a pleasure fatal to me, and, if you are men, fatal to him.’

They all successively pledged their word, and tried to console the distracted woman, by turning the guilt from the victim of the outrage to the perpetrator, and urging that it is the mind that sins not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt ‘It is for you,’ she said, ‘to see that he gets his deserts: although I acquit myself of the sin, I do not free myself from the penalty; no unchaste woman shall henceforth live and plead Lucretia‘s example.’ She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her, heart, and fell dying on the floor. Her father and husband raised the death-cry.

[1.59] Whilst they were absorbed in grief, Brutus drew the knife from Lucretia‘s wound and holding it, dripping with blood, in front of him, said, ‘By this blood – most pure before the outrage wrought by the king’s son — I swear, and you, oh gods, I call to witness that I will drive hence Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, together with his cursed wife and his whole brood, with fire and sword and every means in my power, and I will not suffer them or any one else to reign in Rome.’


6c. The enduring emblem of Lucretia… 


  • Philippe Bertrand, “Lucretia”, 1704 or earlier. Image: Metropolitan Museum.
  • Johann Peter Pichler, “Tarquin and Lucretia”, 1792. Image: Metropolitan Museum.
  • Titian, “Tarquin and Lucretia”, 1571. Fitzwilliam Museum. Image: Wikimedia.
  • Artemisia Gentileschi, “The Rape of Lucretia”, 1645-1650, Neues Palais, Potsdam. Image: Wikimedia.
  • Rembrandt, “Lucretia”, 1666. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Image: Wikimedia.

Translation of Ennius’ Annales (1.34-50 Skutsch = Cic. Div. 1.40)  David Wardle 2006, with adaptations. For parallel Latin and English trans. see Warmington pp 14-16.


Women poets II.

— Erinna
— Moero
— Anyte
— Hedyle
— Nossis

1. Erinna, 4th c. BCE. The 10th c. CE Suda lists four possible origins for Erinna: Teos, Lesbos, Rhodes, and Telos.

1a. Red-figure hydria, c. 440 BCE in the British Museum. Image: British Museum. The central, seated woman spins, holding a distaff in her left hand.


1b. Erinna no. 42* (Balmer): “The Distaff” (Alakata):
*transmitted by Oxyrhynchus papyrus, PSI IX 1090 (c. 200 CE).

the rising moon…

…falling leaves…

waves spinning on a mottled shore….

…and those games, Baucis, remember?
twin white horses, four frenzied feet — and one Tortoise
to your hare: ‘Caught you,’ I cried. ‘You’re Mrs Tortoise now.”
But when your turn came at last to catch the catcher
you raced on far beyond us, out from the great shell
of our smoke-filled yard…

…Baucis, these tears are your embers
and my memorial, traces glowing in my heart,
now all that we once shared has turned to ash…
…as girls
we played weddings with our dolls, brides in our soft beds,
or sometimes I was mother allotting dawn wool
to the women, calling for you to help spin out
the thread…
… and our terror (remember?) of Mormo
the monster — big ears, and tongue, forever flapping,
her frenzy on all fours and changing shapes — a trap
for girls who had lost their way…
…But when you set sail
for a man’s bed Baucis, you let it slip away,
forgot the lessons you had learnt from your ‘mother’
in those far-off days — no, never forgot; that thief
Desire stole all memory away…
…My lost friend,
here is my lament: I can’t bear that dark death-bed,
can’t bring myself to step outside my door; won’t look
on your stone face, won’t cry or cut my hair for shame…
but Baucis, this crimson grief
is tearing me in two…

1c. Greek jointed dolls from the MFA, c. 4th c. BCE. Left to right: 92.261690.18901.788318.460.

1d. Oxyrhynchus papyrus, PSI IX 1090 (c. 200 CE) containing Erinna’s “Distaff.” Rediscovered 1928 (see Balmer 1996: 57).

PSI IX 1090 BML inv. 18106 Erinna.jpg


2. Moero, Byzantium. c. 300 BCE. Map: Byzantium, image: Pleiades projectScreen Shot 2018-10-29 at 6.32.28 PM.png

2a. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 64):

“An ancient source records that she was the wife of one Andromachus, who may have been the author of an etymological dictionary, and the mother of Homerus, a tragic poet [=Suda on “Myro”]. She is known to have written hexameter verse, hymns, lyrical and elegiac poetry, although only two epigrams survive in the Greek Anthology, as well as a ten-line extract from what appears to be an epic poem on the mythology of the Greek god Zeus. Although she was honoured with a statue in antiquity, and the male epigrammatist Meleager referred to her poems as ‘lilies’, even those modern scholars sympathetic to classical women’s poetry find it difficult to praise her work. Her epigrams have been described as ‘affected’, while her hexameter poem on Zeus has been seen as ‘commonplace’ and ‘of no great originality.’ Such judgements seem rather hasty.”

2b. Moero no. 47* (Balmer): “The Childhood of Zeus”:
* transmitted by Athenaeus (c. 200 CE), The Learned Banquet (491b).

Lord Zeus was once fostered in Crete
far from the blessed gods
safe from his father’s searing sight.
And his strength slowly grew.
Deep in a timeless cave he dwelt
tended by trembling doves
and suckled on sweet ambrosia
from soft ocean streams;
a great eagle
always eager
gnawed nectar from a rock
for the bird to bear in his beak
a beaker for wise Zeus.
Triumphing over father Cronos
far-thundering Zeus
made the eagle an immortal
his intimate on high.
And those timorous trembling doves
he treasured too above
set them in heaven’s skies
our seasons’ timeless harbinger.

+ Athenaeus (c. 200 CE), The Learned Banquet (490e): The variation in the name, by which the Pleiades are referred to as Peleiai and Peleiades, occurs in many poets. The first to correctly grasp what the Homeric lines mean was Moero of Byzantium, who said in her poem entitled Mnemosyne that the Pleiades bring Zeus his ambrosia. The literary scholar Crates appropriated her interpretation and published it as if it were his own argument.

2c. Moero no. 47* (Balmer): “A Temple Offering”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (6.119).

Hang there, beneath Aphrodite’s golden pillars,
temple grapes, heavy with the wine-god’s heady sap;
your mother-vine is curled around her lover branch,
won’t hold your head again between her scented leaves.

3. Anyte, Tegea in Arcadia. c. 300 BCE. Map: Tegea, image: Pleiades project.

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 1.02.30 AM.png

3a. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 67):

“Anyte’s subjects include the traditional laments for the dead, particularly of mothers for their daughters, and temple offerings, as well as more innovative pastoral scenes, animal poetry and memorials for dead pets. Such apparently whimsical concerns have upset male scholars and feminist revisionists alike.”

3b. Anyte no. 50* (Balmer): “Philainis”:
* transmitted in the Greek Anthology (7.486).

Over and over at this small tomb, Cleina weeps in sorrow,
a mother lamenting her daughter,
the final race which death has won.
Again and again she calls to you, her dearest Philainis,
you sailed away but not to marriage
across green-gloaming Acheron.

3c. Anyte no 58* (Balmer): “Aphrodite by Sea”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (9.144).

This place is sacred to the goddess.
Here her constant pleasure
is to watch the sea as it shimmers from the shore,
and ensure the comfort of sailors;
all around the ocean
trembles as it gazes on her statue, oil-smooth.

3d. Anyte no 61* (Balmer): “A Lost Puppy”:
*transmitted by Pollux (5.48).

You met your fate like those great dogs of old
by the curling roots
of a coward’s bush; Loci, of Locri,
swiftest of pups — especially to bark,
into your light paws he sank harsh poison
that speckle-necked snake.

4. Hedyle, Athens. 3rd c. BCE. “The only extant Athenian woman poet” (Balmer 1996: 80).

4a. Hedyle no 71* (Balmer): “Scylla”:
*transmitted by Athenaeus The Learned Banquet (7.297a).

“I brought you shells, Scylla, from clear coral reefs
and king-fisher chicks, still learning how to fly —
those halcyon days to come. All these I gave
without faith, without hope.”
At Glaucus’ grief
Sirens wept, his fellow dwellers of the deep;
and they swam in sorrow from their rocky shore
by simmering Etna.

4b. Hyginus (1st c. BCE and CE), Fabulae 199. cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 13.904ff. and 14.66ff. 

They say that Scylla, the daughter of the river Crataeis, was a spectacularly beautiful young woman. Glaucus loved her, but Circe daughter of the Sun loved Glaucus. Since it was Scylla’s habit to bathe in the sea, Circe daughter of the Sun poisoned the waters out of jealousy. When Scylla went into the water, dogs sprouted from her loins and she became savage. yet she got her revenge for the injuries done to her: she robbed Ulysses of some of his crew as he sailed by.

4c. Fragment of an Apulian (South Italian) red-figure bell krater (c. 375-350 BCE). Depicting Scylla with a woman’s upper body, a fishy lower body, and a ring of dogs’ heads around her waist. Image: Getty.

86.AE.417 Scylla.png


5. Nossis, Locri. 3rd c. BCE. Map: Locri, image: Pleiades project.

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 2.21.39 AM.png

5a. Nossis no 72* (Balmer): “The Flowers of Love”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (5.170).

Nothing is sweeter than love. Nothing.
All other delights, all pleasures come
poor second
— the honey I have spat from my lips.

Listen. Nossis speaks: whoever falls
from Cypris’ favour can never know
such flowers
— roses opening, coming into bloom.

5b. Nossis no 77* (Balmer): “Melinna”: 
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (6.353).

Melinna herself stands recreated here:
looks down on us and smiles, soft and sweet;
the image of her mother — living proof
that child is equal to her parent.

5c. Nossis no 83* (Balmer): “Nossis’ Farewell”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (7.718).

Stranger, if you should sail to Mytilene, city of fair song,
enticed by Sappho’s fragrant garland, its heady bloom,
say only this: that the land of Locri gave me life,
long-treasured by the Muses and by Her.
One more thing: My name is Nossis.
Now go.



Hellenistic Women.

— Hellenistic women

1a. Sarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 120): 

“The Hellenistic world was dramatically different from that of the preceding period. Loss of political autonomy on the part of city-states wrought a change in men’s political relationships to their societies and to each other. These changes, in turn, affected women’s position in the family and in society.”

1bSarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 125):

“The apparent formal expansion of women’s competence may be attributable to the fact that for the Hellenistic period there exist data from many different areas inhabited by Greeks, while our view of women’s position in Classical Greece is monopolized by the situation at Athens and the implication that, on the whole, Sparta was exceptional because of a unique social system. In other words, we may hypothesize that non-Athenian women even outside Sparta may have been less restricted before the Hellenistic period, but this cannot be documented.”

2. Terracotta figurine from Benghazi (330-300 BCE) of a woman with a writing tablet. Image: British Museum.

girl reading tablet.jpg

3a. Terracotta figurine from Corinth (late 4th c./early 3rd c. BCE) of young women playing a game like “piggyback” known in Greek as ephedrismos. Image: Boston MFA. 


3b. Coming of Age in Classical Greece (2003: 275): 

“The term ephedrismos derives from the Greek verb “to sit upon” and refers to a game in which one person carries another on his or her back, rather like our piggy-back. Pollux (9.119) describes the rules as follows: ‘They place a stone upright on the ground and throw balls or pebbles at it from a distance. The one who fails to overturn the stone carries the other, having his eyes blindfolded by the rider’s hands until — if he does not go astray — he touches the stone.’…Terracotta figurines of girls playing ephedrismos were especially popular in the early Hellenistic period.”

4. Herodas (3rd c. BCE), Mime 6.18-33. 

METRO: dear Coritto: who was it who stitched the scarlet dildo for you?
CORITTO: And where, Metro, did you see that?
METRO: Nossis, daughter of Erinna, had it two days ago; ah, what a fine gift!
CORITTO: Nossis? From whom did she get it?
METRO: Will you disparage me if I tell you?
CORITTO: By these sweet eyes, dear Metro, no one shall hear what you say from Coritto’s mouth.
METRO: Bitas’ Eubule gave it to her and said that no one should know.
CORITTO: Women! This woman will uproot me yet. I paid respect to her plea, and gave it her, Metro, before I used it myself. But snatching it like a windfall, she passes it on even to those who ought not to have it. Many farewells to a friend who is of such a nature; let her look on some other instead of me as her friend in future.

5. Theocritus (3rd c. BCE), Idyll 15.44-71. 

PRAXINOA: My God, what a crowd! How are we ever to get through this lot? They’re like ants—countless, innumerable. You’ve done plenty of good things since your father became a god, Ptolemy [=Ptolemy I Soter, d. 283 BCE]. Nowadays no criminal sneaks up to you Egyptian style as you’re walking along and does you a mischief like the tricks those deceitful scoundrels used to play, nasty rascals all as bad as each other, curse the lot of them. Gorgo, darling, what’s to become of us? It’s the king’s horses equipped for war. Please, sir, don’t tread on me. That chestnut stallion reared up: look, it’s out of control! Aren’t you going to get out of the way, Eunoa, you reckless creature? He’ll be the death of the man leading him. Thank goodness baby’s safe at home.
GORGO: Don’t worry, Praxinoa; we’ve got behind them now, and they’ve gone to their places. And I’m pulling myself together now, too. I’ve had a phobia of horses—and nasty cold snakes—since I was a child. Let’s get a move on; there’s a big crowd flowing this way.
GORGO: Are you coming from the palace, mother?
OLD WOMAN: I am, my children.
GORGO: Is it easy to get in, then?
OLD WOMAN: The Greeks got into Troy by trying, my darlings; you can manage anything if you really try.
GORGO: The oracular old lady has gone off.
PRAXINOA: Women know everything—even how Zeus married Hera.
GORGO: Look, Praxinoa, what a crowd there is at the entrance!
PRAXINOA: Enormous! Give me your hand, Gorgo, and Eunoa take Eutychis’: keep hold of her so you don’t get separated. Let’s all go in together; keep very close to us, Eunoa. Oh dear, oh dear, my cloak has been ripped in two already, Gorgo. For God’s sake, sir, if you hope to be happy, take care with my cloak.
MAN: There isn’t much I can do, but I’ll try.

6a. Gold octadrachm (coin). Bust of Arsinoë II (Queen of Egypt, c. 275-270 BCE). Image: Art Institute of Chicago.

6b. Pomeroy (1975: 124): “Arsinoë ruled with her brother [Ptolemy II] for approximately five years, until her death in 270 BCE. As was customary in Macedonian courts, she inaugurated her reign by accusing all her rivals of treason and having them eliminated. She was the first Egyptian queen whose portrait was shown with her husband’s on coins.”

6c. Limestone head attributed to Arsinoë II, 278-270 BCEImage: Met Museum: “…a style very closely related to that of Dynasty 30, the last of the traditional Egyptian pharaonic dynasties. The early Ptolemies made great efforts to show themselves as the inheritors of the pharaohs who had preceded them…At the same time, Ptolemaic queens served a much more prominent role in the monarchy than did the queens of Dynasty 30, who are virtually unknown.”


6d. Statuette of Arsinoë II for her posthumous cult. Image: Met Museum: “The inscription on the back of this figure refers to Queen Arsinoë II as a goddess, indicating it was made after 270 BCE when her cult was established at the time of her death by her brother and husband, Ptolemy II.”

7a. Gold decadrachm (coin) minted at Alexandria, 246-221 BCE. Bust of Berenice II. Image: MANTIS.

7b. Women in the Classical World p148: “Berenice governed Egypt when her husband went off to campaign in the Third Syrian War (246-241 BCE). She vowed to dedicate a lock of hair to Arsinoë II-Aphrodite at Zephyrium upon his safe return. (Dedications of hair were normal offerings to Greek divinities, and Arsinoë had by this time been deified and assimilated to Aphrodite…). Berenice made the dedication, but the hair disappeared. The winged horse of Arsinoë II-Aphrodite had carried it off. Conon the astronomer, grateful for imperial patronage, flattered the queen by identifying her lock of hair among the constellations and Callimachus narrates the vicissitudes of the lock in ‘The Lock of Berenice.'”

7c. Faience oinochoe, 243-222 BCE. Portrait of Berenice II. Image: Getty: “An inscription in Greek over the altar reads, ‘To the good fortune of Queen Berenike.'”

download (1).png

8. Inscription on white marble stele from the temple of Isis, late 1st c. BCE or 1st c. CE. Cyme. Text:

Demetrius, the son of Artemidorus, who is also called Thraseas, a Magnesian from Magnesia on the Maeander, gave this as an offering in fulfilment of a vow to Isis. He transcribed what follows from the stele in Memphis which stands by the temple of Hephaestus.
I am Isis, the mistress of every land, and I was taught by Hermes and with Hermes I devised letters, both the sacred hieroglyphs and the demotic, that all things might not be written with the same letters.
I gave and ordained laws for men, which no one is able to change.
[5] I am eldest daughter of Cronus.
I am wife and sister of King Osiris.
I am she who finds fruit for men.
I am mother of King Horus.
I am she that rises in the Dog Star.
[10] I am she that is called goddess by women.
For me was the city of Bubastis built.
I divided the earth from the heaven.
I showed the paths of the stars.
I ordered the course of the sun and the moon.
[15] I devised business in the sea.
I made strong the right.
I brought together woman and man.
I appointed to women to bring their infants to birth in the tenth month.
I ordained that parents should be loved by children.
[20] I laid punishment on those disposed without natural affection toward their parents.
I made with my brother Osiris an end to the eating of men.
I revealed mysteries unto men.
I taught men to honour images of the gods.
I consecrated the precincts of the gods.
[25] I broke down the governments of tyrants.
I made an end to murders.
I compelled women to be loved by men.
I made the right to be stronger than gold and silver.
I ordained that the true should be thought good.
[30] I devised marriage contracts.
I assigned to Greeks and barbarians their languages.
I made the beautiful and the shameful to be distinguished by nature.
I ordained that nothing should be more feared than an oath.
I have delivered the plotter of evil against other men into the hands of the one he plotted against.
[35] I established penalties for those who practice injustice.
I decreed mercy to suppliants.
I protect {or: honour} righteous guards.
With me the right prevails.
I am the Queen of rivers and winds and sea.
[40] No one is held in honour without my knowing it.
I am the Queen of war.
I am the Queen of the thunderbolt.
I stir up the sea and I calm it.
I am in the rays of the sun.
[45] I inspect the courses of the sun.
Whatever I please, this too shall come to an end.
With me everything is reasonable.
I set free those in bonds.
I am the Queen of seamanship.
[50] I make the navigable unnavigable when it pleases me.
I created walls of cities.
I am called the Lawgiver {Thesmophoros}.
I brought up islands out of the depths into the light.
I am the Queen of rainstorms.
[55] I overcome Fate.
Fate hearkens to me.
Hail, O Egypt, that nourished me!

9. Figurine of Isis-Aphrodite anasyr(o)mene (“revealing the womb”), 3rd-2nd c. BCE, Naukratis. Image: MFA Boston: “In Hellenistic and Roman times, Aphrodite’s identity was often fused with those of Egyptian fertility goddesses: Isis, Hathor and Bubastis. This figurine represents Isis-Aphrodite anasyromene or Isis-Bubastis. The figure lifts her short-sleeved tunic to reveal her pubic area and wears an elaborate kalathos-shaped headdress, reminiscent of those worn by Cypriot Aphrodite.”


10. Petition to the King (Select Papyri, #269 = P. Enteuxeis 82), 220 BCE. 

To King Ptolemy [IV] greeting from Philista daughter of Lysias resident in Tricomia [=a village in the Fayum]. I am wronged by Petechon. For as I was bathing in the baths of the aforesaid village on Tubi 7 of year 1, and had stepped out to soap myself, he being bathman in the women’s rotunda and having brought in the jugs of hot water emptied one (?) over me and scalded my belly and my left thigh down to the knee, so that my life was in danger. On finding him I gave him into the custody of Nechthosiris the chief policeman of the village in the presence of Simon the epistates. I beg you therefore, O king, if it please you, as a suppliant who has sought your protection, not to suffer me, who am a working woman, to be thus lawlessly treated, but to order Diophanes the strategus to write to Simon the epistates and Nechthosiris the policeman that they are to bring Petechon before him in order that Diophanes may inquire into the case, hoping that having sought the protection of you, O king, the common benefactor of all, I may obtain justice. Farewell. (Docketed) To Simon. Send the accused. Year 1, Gorpiaeus 28 Tubi 12. (Endorsed) Year 1, Gorpiaeus 28 Tubi 12. Philista against Petechon, bathman, about having been scalded.

11. From Hilarion to Alis (Select Papyri, #105 = P. Oxy. 744), 1 BCE. 

Hilarion to his sister Alis very many greetings, likewise to my lady Berous and Apollonarion. Know that we are still in Alexandria. Do not be anxious; if they really go home, I will remain in Alexandria. I beg and entreat you, take care of the little one, and as soon as we receive our pay I will send it up to you. If by chance you bear a child, if it is a boy, let it be, if it is a girl, cast it out. You have said to Aphrodisias “Do not forget me.” How can I forget you? I beg you then not to be anxious. The 29th year of Caesar [=Emperor Augustus], Pauni 23. (Addressed) Deliver to Alis from Hilarion.

Herodas translated by Jeffrey Rusten, I. C. Cunningham 2003 (Loeb Classical Library). Theocritus translated by Neil Hopkinson 2015 (Loeb Classical Library). Isis inscription from Cyme (= IK Kyme 41) translation from Papyri #269 (P. Enteuxeis 82) and #105 (P. Oxy. 744) translated by A. S. Hunt, C. C. Edgar 1934, 1932 (Loeb Classical Library).


Women of Classical Athens

— oikos and economics
Solon‘s funerary law
Pericles‘ citizenship law
— religious roles for women (Greek)

1. Red-figure epinetron, c. 420 BCE in National Archaeological Museum, Athens. A bride (inscription names her ‘Alcestis‘) receiving guests and gifts. Epinetron is a curved piece placed over the leg of a woman who uses it to card raw wool. Image:



2. Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (5th c. BCE), 2.45.2. Pericles‘ Funeral Oration.

If I am to speak also of womanly virtues, referring to those of you who will henceforth be in widowhood, I will sum up all in a brief admonition: Great is your glory if you fall not below the standard which nature has set for your sex, and great also is hers of whom there is least talk among men whether in praise or in blame.

3. Fragment* of Sophocles’ tragedy, Tereus. 420s BCE? Procne speaking.
*transmitted by 5th c. CE StobaeusAnthology 4.22.45.

Now outside [my father’s house] I am nothing. Yet I have often
observed woman’s nature in this regard,
how we are nothing. When we are young in our father’s house,
I think we live the sweetest life of all humankind;
for ignorance always brings children up delightfully.
But when we have reached maturity and can understand,
we are thrust out and sold
away from the gods of our fathers and our parents,
some to foreigners, some to barbarians,
some to joyless houses, some full of reproach.
And finally, once a single night has united us,
we have to praise our lot and pretend that all is well.

4. Euripides’ Hippolytus (428 BCE), 616-633. Hippolytus speaking:

O Zeus, why have you settled women, this bane to cheat mankind [cf. Hesiod on Pandora], in the light of the sun? If you wished to propagate the human race, it was not from women that you should have provided this. Rather, men should put down in the temples either bronze or iron or a mass of gold and buy offspring, each for a price appropriate to his means, and then dwell in houses free from the female sex. But as matters stand, when we are about to take unto ourselves a bane, we pay out the wealth of our homes. The clear proof that woman is a great bane is this: her father, who begot and raised her, sends her off by settling a dowry on her in order to rid himself of trouble. But her husband, who has taken this creature of ruin into his house, takes pleasure in adding finery to the statue, lovely finery to worthless statue, and tricks her out with clothing, wretch that he is, destroying by degrees the wealth of his house.

5. Women in the Classical World pp74-75:

“The Athenian democracy was a ‘men’s club’ whose active members were restricted to men descended from parents who were both Athenian citizens. After Pericles’ citizenship law of 451/450 BCE, citizen women were carefully distinguished from those who were not, such as slaves and residents of foreign descent, for the purpose of determining the citizenship of their children; but female citizens did not participate in governing the democracy…Yet, unlike the laws attributed to Lycurgus at Sparta, which prescribed a public system of education for women, the laws attributed to Solon in 6th c. Athens were largely restrictive and may have aimed to reduce outward manifestations of inequality among men, as well as to [p75] strengthen the individual oikos (family, household, or estate), and to control family life. Under oligarchic, aristocratic, or monarchic governments, some women belonging to the ruling elite and wielded informal power such as we saw in the Homeric poems… The attempt by democratic Athens to buttress the equality of all its male citizens and to give them substantial responsibilities in the public sphere apparently, except in the case of religion, increasingly relegated to the private sphere all other free Athenians, whether women or resident aliens.”

6. Tombstone of Pausimache (c. 390-380 BCE). Image.


Inscription: It is fated that all who live must die; and you, Pausimache, left behind pitiful grief as a possession for your ancestors, your mother Phainippe and your father Pausanias. Here stands a memorial of your goodness (aretē, ἀρετή) and good sense (sophrosyne, σωφροσύνη) for passersby to see. (Clairmont 1970: no. 13, p77).

7. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE) Life of Solon (21): 

Solon also subjected the public appearances of the women, their mourning and their festivals, to a law which did away with disorder and licence. When they went out, they were not to wear more than three garments, they were not to carry more than an obol’s worth of food or drink, nor a pannier more than a cubit high, and they were not to travel about by night unless they rode in a waggon with a lamp to light their way. Laceration of the flesh by mourners, and the use of set lamentations, and the bewailing of any one at the funeral ceremonies of another, he forbade.  The sacrifice of an ox at the grave was not permitted, nor the burial with the dead of more than three changes of raiment, nor the visiting of other tombs than those of their own family, except at the time of interment. Most of these practices are also forbidden by our laws, but ours contain the additional proviso that such  offenders shall be punished by the board of censors for women, because they indulge in unmanly and effeminate extravagances of sorrow when they mourn.

8. White-ground oil flask (lekythos), c. 440 BCE in Boston MFA. Two women make preparations to visit the tomb, which is not pictured. Left: a woman holds a basket from which ribbons hang. Right: a woman picks up/places down an alabastron tied with ribbon. Image: Boston MFA.


9a. Lysias 1 On the Murder of Eratosthenes (early 4th c. BCE), 7-14:

[7] Well, in the beginning, Athenians, she was the best of all wives, for she was clever and frugal in her running of the house, and carefully supervised every aspect of its management. But when my mother died, her passing proved to be the cause of all my problems. [8] It was at her funeral, which my wife attended, that she was seen by this man and was eventually seduced. You see, by keeping watch for the times when our slave girl went to market and by propositioning her, he corrupted her.

[9] First of all then, gentlemen, for I must also explain such details to you, I have a modest, two storey house, which has equal space for the women’s and men’s quarters on the upper and lower floors. When our child was born its mother nursed it, and, so that she would not risk a fall on her way downstairs whenever the baby needed bathing, I took to living on the upper level while the women lived downstairs. [10] From that time, then, it became such a regular arrangement that my wife would often go downstairs to sleep with the child to nurse it and to stop it crying. This was the way we lived for quite a while, and I never had any cause for concern, but carried on in the foolish belief that my wife was the most proper woman in the city.

[11] Time passed, gentlemen, and I came home unexpectedly from the farm. After dinner the child started to cry and become restless. It was being deliberately provoked by our slave girl into behaving like this because that individual was in the house; I found out all about this later. [12] So, I told my wife to go away and nurse the child to stop it crying. To begin with, she did not want to go, claiming that she was glad to see me home after so long. When I got annoyed and ordered her to leave she said, “Yes, so you can have a go at the young slave here. You made a grab at her before when you were drunk.”

[13] I laughed, and she got up, closed the door as she left, pretending it was a joke, and drew the bolt across. Thinking there was nothing serious in this, and not suspecting a thing, I happily settled down to sleep as I had come back from my farm work. [14] About dawn my wife returned and opened the door. When I asked why the doors had made a noise in the night, she claimed that the lamp near the baby had gone out, and so she had gone to get a light from the neighbours. I said nothing, as I believed this was the truth. I noticed though, gentlemen, that her face was made up, although her brother had died not thirty days earlier. Still, I said nothing at all about it, and I left without a word.

9b. Xenophon’s Oeconomicus (4th c. BCE), 7.21-28. Socrates interviews Ischomachus about his wife; Ischomachus speaking.

[7.21] ‘”It is important then, when the provisions are brought into the home, for someone to keep them safe and to do the work of the household. A home is required for the rearing of infant children, and a home is required for making food out of the harvest. Similarly a home is required for the making of clothing from wool. [7.22] Since both indoor and outdoor matters require work and supervision”, I said, “I believe that the god arranged that the work and supervision indoors are a woman’s task, and the outdoors are the man’s. [7.23] For the god made a man’s body and soul better able to endure the cold and heat of travel and military service, so that he assigned to him the outdoor work. But the god endowed the woman with a body less able to endure these hardships and so”‘, Ischomachus told me he said, ‘”I believe that he assigned the indoor work to her. [7.24] With this in mind the god made the nursing of young children instinctive for women and gave her this task, and he allotted more affection for infants to her than to a man.

[7.25] ‘”The god designated that the woman should guard what is brought into the household, because he knew that a fearful soul is better at guarding. He also gave a greater share of fearfulness to the woman than to the man. Because he knew that it would be necessary for the one who did the outdoor work to defend the household, if someone tried to hurt it, he allotted to him a greater share of courage. [7.26] But because it was necessary for both to give and take, he divided the shares of memory and concern equally between them, so that it is impossible to decide whether the female or the male excels in this respect. [7.27] And self-control where needed he divided equally, and the god allowed whichever of the two was better, whether it was the man or the woman, to get more advantage from this benefit. [7.28] Because the natures of the two sexes are not equally well equipped in all the same respects, for that reason they have greater need of one another and the yoke is mutually beneficial, because what one lacks the other has.

10a. Aristophanes‘ Lysistrata (412/411 BCE), 641-647. Chorus of Athenian women speaking;

Once I was seven I became an arrhephoros.
Then at ten I became a grain grinder [aletris] for the goddess.
After that, wearing a saffron robe, I was a bear at Brauron.
And as a lovely young girl I once served as a basket bearer, wearing a string of figs.

10b. Eva Cantarella, Pandora’s Daughters (1987:22):

“The verses describe certain religious ceremonies which, at the end of the fifth century BC when Aristophanes was writing, were entrusted to the girls. The arrhephoroi were four virgins, chosen from the noblest families of the city, charged with weaving the peplos for Athena. The aletrides ground the grain for the sacred bread for the goddess. The ‘bears’ were the priestesses who celebrated a rite intended to expiate an offense against Artemis. Once upon a time a she-bear who had sought refuse in the temple of the goddess was killed. The angry goddess sent a famine, and an oracle ordered the sacrifice of a girl as propitiation. The sacrifice was recalled by the bear-priestesses. The kanephorai were the girls who carried the baskets containing offerings at the Panathenaic festival.”

10c. Detail of the Parthenon frieze, East (c. 440-432 BCE) showing the Panathenaic procession for Athena. Left to right: two girls carry stools; the woman facing them may be the priestess of Athena Polias; the man facing away from them and holding the cloth seems to be the Archon Basileus; he is assisted by a boy (?). Image: British Museum.


11a. Attic red-figure cup (kylix), c. 510 BCE. A: Nude youth crouches and masturbates while holding a calyx krater before an older nude woman. B: Nude youth reclines while a nude woman grasps his penis with her right hand. Image: Getty.

80.AE.31 2.png80.AE.31 1.png

11b. Women in the Classical World p116, 118:

“The lives of Athenian prostitutes, both at work in the company of male clients and at home among themselves, are best documented by hundreds of red-figure vase paintings from the sixth century to the late fifth. These make it clear that most hetairai were hired for entertainment, companionship, and sex at (or after) a symposium, or men’s drinking party. [p118] But young slender hetairai did not stay that way forever, and vasepainters seem to enjoy the ruthless caricature of the fat, aging, and toothless prostitute forced to make up for her lost beauty with other skills.” !!

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War translated by C. F. Smith 1919 (Loeb Classical Library). Fragment of Sophocles’ Tereus (524N [583R]) translated by Helene P. Foley (Women in the Classical World p70). Euripides’ Hippolytus translated by David Kovacs 1995 (Loeb Classical Library). Lysias 1 translated by Caroline L. Faulkner via Diotima. Xenophon Oeconomicus translated by Lefkowitz-Fant. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata 641-647 translated by Helene P. Foley (Women in the Classical World p84).