Female body as nature, as object.

— hieros gamos
— autochthony
— vase/body analogy

1. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Advice to Bride and Groom 42 = Moralia 144b.

The Athenians observe three sacred ploughings: the first at Scirum in commemoration of the most ancient of sowings; the second in Raria, and the third near the base of the Acropolis, the so‑called Buzygius (the ‘ox-yoking’). But most sacred of all such sowings is the marital sowing and ploughing for the procreation of children. It is a beautiful epithet which Sophocles [5th c. BCE] applied to Aphrodite when he called her “bountiful-bearing Cytherea.” Therefore man and wife ought especially to indulge in this with circumspection, keeping themselves pure from all unholy and unlawful intercourse with others, and not sowing seed from which they are unwilling to have any offspring, and from which if any issue does result, they are ashamed of it, and try to conceal it.

2. Page duBoisSowing the Body (1988: 39):

“Yet [Plutarch’s] emphasis on this metaphor, on the analogy between the field and a woman’s body, gives voice to a persistent connection in Greek thinking about the body, about sexual difference, about intercourse. He reiterates the traditional view, appropriate to an agricultural economy, that agriculture and human reproduction are similar activities, that, like the fields of the earth, women must be cultivated, ploughed by their husbands, to ensure a new crop of children, which is like the crops of the fields…This metaphor, associating the woman’s body and the earth, which establishes a metaphorical connection between the field and her sexual organs, is a traditional analogy, as Plutarch demonstrates; it expresses a relationship that is not merely stereotypical but is so deeply felt by the culture that it appears everywhere.”

3. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 14.346-349:

With that the son of Cronus caught his wife in his arms
and under them now the holy earth burst with fresh green grass,
crocus and hyacinth, clover soaked with dew, so thick and soft
it lifted their bodies off the hard packed ground…
Folded deep in that bed they lay and round them wrapped
a marvelous cloud of gold, and glistening showers of dew
rained down around them both.

4. Oxford Classical Dictionary: “marriage, sacred” 

“Ἱερὸς γάμος [hieros gamos] was a name given to a festival in Athens, but in modern times the phrase has been given a much wider meaning, and is often used to denote the presentation—conceptual, mythical, or ritual—of a solemn sexual union involving at least one divine partner. The clearest case of a sacred marriage is that of Zeus and Hera, marriage indeed being central to Hera’s ‘meaning’. Rituals which re-enact or allude in some way to this marriage seem to be attested in several parts of Greece: in Athens (the Theogamia or ἱερὸς γάμος), at Cnossus, and possibly at Plataea in the curious festival called Daedala, which is explained as the fake marriage, interrupted by Hera, of Zeus with a log dressed as a bride and called Plataea… Although the description of Zeus and Hera’s union in The Iliad (14.347–51), where the event is marked by rainfall and the growth of lush vegetation, has led scholars to interpret the scene as a marriage of Sky and Earth resulting in the fruitfulness of nature, it is likely that on the ritual level the divine marriage was concerned not so much with fertility as with the social aspects of human marriage, forming a legitimating model for the institution. It is possible that the myth of the abduction of Kore and its related rituals should also be understood as a sacred marriage, one dramatizing the darker side of the bride’s experience.”

5. Page duBoisSowing the Body (1988: 58):

“Each of these models for analogizing the female body to the earth — the preagricultural, the artisanal, and the agricultural — has concomitant dangers associated with it; the ambivalence of the earliest Greek thinkers towards the earth, who might withhold her bounty, is also expressed toward the female body analogically.”

6. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 6.146-150: Glaucos speaking to Diomedes:

“High-hearted son of Tydeus, why ask about my birth?
Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men.
Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,
now the living timber bursts with the new buds
and spring comes round again. And so with men:
as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

7. Hesiod, Works and Days (8th c. BCE), 143-147: 

Zeus the father made another race of speech-endowed human beings, a third one, of bronze, not similar to the silver one at all, out of ash trees—terrible and strong they were, and they cared only for the painful works of Ares and for acts of violence. They did not eat bread, but had a strong-hearted spirit of adamant.

8. Page duBois, Sowing the Body (1988: 42-43):

“The forest in book 6 of the Iliad is [p43] indiscriminate; trees grow to be cut down by human effort for human use. But the produce of one’s own fields must be one’s property, just as one’s offspring are. Human beings have the unfortunate necessity of planting seed in discrete earths, particular bodies; women’s promiscuity thus is intolerable, since the nourished product of the planting must be identifiable as the offspring of a particular seed.”

9. “Apollodorus”Library (1st/2nd c. CE) 1.46-48:

Prometheus had a son, Deucalion. He was king of the area around Phthia and married Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora, whom the gods made as the first woman. [47] When Zeus wished to wipe out the bronze race, Deucalion built an ark at Prometheus’ direction. He put into it supplies and boarded it with Pyrrha. Zeus poured a great rain from heaven and flooded most of Hellas so that all the people were destroyed except a few who escaped to the nearby high mountains. At that time the mountains in Thessaly split, and everything outside of the Isthmos and the Peloponnesos was flooded. [48] Deucalion was carried in the ark across the sea for nine days and an equal number of nights and landed on Mount Parnassos. There, when the rains stopped, he disembarked and sacrificed to Zeus Phyxios [=God of Escape]. Zeus sent Hermes to him and bade him choose whatever he wanted. Deucalion chose to have people. At Zeus’ direction he picked up rocks and threw them over his head; the ones Deucalion threw became men and the ones Pyrrha threw became women. From this they were also metaphorically called laoi “people” from the word laas “stone.”

10. “Apollodorus”Library (1st/2nd c. CE) 3.188:

Athena went to Hephaistos wanting to have some armor made. He had been jilted by Aphrodite, so he was gripped by lust for Athena and began to chase after her, but she fled. When he came near her after a great deal of trouble (he was lame), he tried to have sex with her. But, being an abstinent virgin, she did not let him, and he spilled his seed on the goddess’ leg. Disgusted, she wiped off his semen with some wool and threw it onto the ground. Although she got away and the semen fell on the ground, Erichthonios was born.

11. Page duBois, Sowing the Body (1988: 45-46): go back and read wk 1 on Pandora

“The misogyny of Hesiod’s account is unmistakable. Pandora has a kuneon te noon kai epiklopon ēthos, “a shameless [canine] mind, and a deceitful [thieving] nature.” Pandora removes the lid of a great jar and brings terrible doom on men:

Earlier, human tribes [anthrōpōn] lived on this earth
without suffering and toilsome hardship
and without painful illnesses that bring death to men [andrasi] —
a wretched life ages men before their time —
but the woman with her hands removed the great lid of the jar [pithou mega pōm‘]
and scattered its contents, bringing grief and cares to men [anthrōpoisi].
Works and Days 90-95

Only in the Works and Days does the account of Pandora’s dispersion of evils occur. In the Theogony, it is she herself who is the evil. Hesiod says “From her the fair sex / yes, wicked womenfolk are her descendants [=genos gunaikōn]. / They live among mortal men as a nagging burden / and are no good sharers of abject want but only of wealth” (589-90). His text continues in misogynist complaint. I am not so much interested in the well-known misogyny of Hesiod as in the analogy his text establishes between the ceramic vase and the body of the woman.”

12. Terracotta storage jar (pithos). 1450 BCE-1375 BCE, Crete. Decorated with four bands of incised wavy lines with the appearance of rope. Horizontal relief lines between with diagonal patterning. Height: 114.3cm/45 inches, Diameter: 69.85 cm/27.5 inches. Image: British Museum.


13. Geometric terracotta wine jug (oinochoe) with raised mastoi (breasts). Attic, 725-700 BCE. Rows of meanders, chevrons, triangles, and checkerboard designs often covered the entire surface of decorated vases. Image: Getty Museum, Los Angeles.


English translations: Homer’s Iliad, Robert Fagles (1990); Hesiod’s Works and Days, Glenn Most (2007); “Apollodorus”, Smith-Trzaskoma (2007).