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: beazley.ox.ac.uk.


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).


Women poets.

— Corinna
— Telesilla
— Praxilla

1. Fragment of a marble head of a woman from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, c. 550-530 BCE. Cover of Josephine Balmer’s Classical Women Poets. Image: British Museum.


2a. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 9):

“In the first century AD [=CE], Antipater of Thessalonica‘s enthusiasm for classical women’s poetry was hardly excessive; apart from his nine earthly ‘Muses’ — Praxilla, Moero, Anyte, Myrtis, Erinna, Telesilla, Corinna, Nossis and Sappho — modern scholarship has unearthed the names of at least thirteen additional Greek women poets, while the Roman period yields another seven — twenty-nine names in all. Yet today the question asked first about their poetry is not the customary ‘is it worth reading?’ (although that often comes later), but rather, ‘is there any left to read?’ Here Tillie Olsen’s dictum that ‘we who write are survivors‘ [1978: 39] has a material as well as a metaphorical resonance…And of these twenty-nine, the work of only sixteen is extant, often fragmentary.”

2b. Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (1986: 15):

“When Darwinian theory dominated historical thought, pre-history was seen as a ‘barbaric’ stage in the evolutionary progress of humankind from the simpler to the more complex. That which succeeded and survived was by the fact of its survival considered superior to that which vanished and had thus ‘failed.'”

2c. Tillie OlsenSilences (1979/2003: 39):

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3. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 20):

“This is a particular problem with early poetry, originally performed to musical accompaniment, which, like song lyrics, can seem disappointing on the page. Such tampering might appear as cultural arrogance, casting the freshness of classical poetry as ‘inferior’ to the more tortuous semantic complexities of modern (and particularly modernist) poetry. In the case of women poets, there is also the danger of implying — as has often been the case — an ineptitude based on gender.”

4. Corinna, 5th c. BCE? 3rd c. BCE? Tanagra, Boeotia. 


4a. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 33-34):

“To complicate matters futher, although some ancient commentators claim she was a contemporarty with Pindar, a Boeotian male poet of the fifth century BC (and that both were pupils of the poetess Myrtis whose works is now lost), the distinctive spelling conventions found on the surviving manuscript of her work, the Berlin Papyrus, date from the third century BC. An academic debate has ensued…[p34] the arguments seem inconclusive on both sides.”

4b. Pausanias (2nd c. CE), Description of Greece (9.22.3): 

Corinna, the only lyric poetess of Tanagra has her tomb in a, conspicuous part of the city, and in the gymnasium is a painting of Corinna binding her head with a fillet for the victory she won over Pindar at Thebes with a lyric poem. I believe that her victory was partly due to the dialect she used, for she composed, not in Doric speech like Pindar, but in one Aeolians would understand, and partly to her being, if one may judge from the likeness, the most beautiful woman of her time.

4c. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 34):

“Modern scholarship has been even less kind; Corinna’s poetry, like that of Sappho and so many other women poets, has often been accused of parochial homeliness and ‘extreme simplicity.’ Feminist critics have been even harsher, charging Corinna’s often brutal mythologies of perpetuating a male-dominated literary traditionn — the ‘male value system’ — with her female world.”

5a. Corinna no. 9* (Balmer): “Songs of Old”:
* transmitted by Oxyrhynchus papyrus, P. Oxy. 2370 (c. 200 CE). Attributed to Corinna because of citations by 2nd c. CE Hephaestion (Ench. 16.3) and 2nd c. CE Antoninus Liberalis (25).

On me my Muse has served her summons
to sing these beautiful songs of old
for Tanagran women in their dawn-
white dresses; as the city takes such
pleasure in my teasing-trilling songs.

for whatever great [deeds great heroes
might perform,] still taller tales [are told,]
the earth their open field for battle.
And so I’ve reset our father’s tales,
[reworked their crown with these new jewels]
as I take up my lyre for my girls:

Often I’ve polished tales of Cephisus,
our country’s own first founding-father,
often of Lord Orion, the fifty
high-and-mighty sons he brought into
being — with help from their mother nymphs;

and then at last I sang of Libya,
[Thebes’ fair fore-mother…]

5b. P. Oxy. 2370 (c. 200 CE). Fragment of Corinna (=5a).

P 2370 Corinna Balmer 9.jpg

6. Telesilla, 5th c. BCE. Argos


6a. Pausanias (2nd c. CE), Description of Greece (9.20.8-9): 

Above the theater [at Argos] is a sanctuary of Aphrodite, and before the image is a slab with a representation wrought on it in relief of Telesilla, the lyric poetess. Her books lie scattered at her feet, and she herself holds in her hand an helmet, which she is looking at and is about to place on her head. Telesilla was a distinguished woman who was especially renowned for her poetry. It happened that the Argives had suffered an awful defeat at the hands of Cleomenes, the son of Anaxandrides, and the Lacedaemonians [494 BCE]. Some fell in the actual fighting; others, who had fled to the grove of Argus, also perished. At first they left sanctuary under an agreement, which was treacherously broken, and the survivors, when they realized this, were burnt to death in the grove. So when Cleomenes led his troops to Argos there were no men to defend it.

[2.20.9] But Telesilla mounted on the wall all the slaves and such as were incapable of bearing arms through youth or old age, and she herself, collecting the arms in the sanctuaries and those that were left in the houses, armed the women of vigorous age, and then posted them where she knew the enemy would attack. When the Lacedaemonians came on, the women were not dismayed at their battle-cry, but stood their ground and fought valiantly. Then the Lacedaemonians, realizing that to destroy the women would be an invidious success while defeat would mean a shameful disaster, gave way before the women.

6b. Telesilla no. 35* (Balmer): “Artemis”:
*transmitted by 2nd/3rd c. CE Athenaeus (Deipnosphistae 11.567); 2nd c. CE Hephaestion (Ench. 11.2); 2nd c. CE Pausanias (2.28.2).

on the round
of the threshing-floor


[sing now of] Artemis, my daughters,
through Alpheus‘ watery fingers


of her mountain temple
on the peaks of Coryphum

6c. Pausanias (2nd c. CE), Description of Greece (2.28.2):

As you go up to Mount Coryphum [at Epidaurus] you see by the road an olive tree called Twisted. It was Heracles who gave it this shape by bending it round with his hand, but I cannot say whether he set it to be a boundary mark against the Asinaeans in Argolis, since in no land, which has been depopulated, is it easy to discover the truth about the boundaries. On the top of the mountain there is a sanctuary of Artemis Coryphaea (of the Peak), of which Telesilla made mention in an ode.

7. Praxilla, Sicyon (Gulf of Corinth). 5th c. BCE. 


7a. Jane Snyder, The Woman and the Lyre (1989: 56):  

“[Praxilla’s] association with such songs [=skolia] has led to one quite unreasonable conclusion, drawn not surprisingly by Wilamowitz (whose distortions of Sappho’s poems were discussed in chapter 1). He concluded, in essence, that only a woman who was not a lady could have written drinking songs and that therefore Praxilla must have been a hetaira, roughly the ancient equivalent of a Geisha girl. There is no evidence of such an assumption.”

7b. Praxilla no 38* Balmer:
*transmitted by commentary tradition to 5th c. BCE Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae (528):

[in love

a scorpion waits
under every stone

7c. Praxilla no 39* Balmer: “Adonis in Hades”:
*transmitted by 2nd c. CE Zenobius (4.2). Zenobius translated by Campbell Loeb (1990); Praxilla by Balmer, p55.

In her hymn this Praxilla represents Adonis as being asked by those in the underworld what was the most beautiful thing he left behind when he came, and giving as his answer:

“The loveliest sight I’ve left behind is the sun’s light
or clear stars on a dark dark sky, a full-faced moon;
and fruits in summer — ripe cucumbers [σίκυος, Sicyon?], apples, pears…”

For anyone who lists cucumbers and the rest alongside sun and moon can only be regarded as feeble-minded.

7d. Praxilla no 41* Balmer: “Snatches of Song”:
*parodied in 5th c. BCE Aristophanes’ The Wasps (1236, with commentary):

If you want to cheat death like Admetus could,
my friend, let’s keep up and keep in with the good.
In the meantime let’s drink, let’s live and let’s learn:
bad company can bring only bad return…


The Singer. Sappho.

— Sappho
— papyrus
— Greek lyric
— textual transmission

1. Attic red-figure vase (kalathos), c. 470 BCE from Sicily, currently in the Munich Staatliche Antikensammlungen. Attributed to Brygos Painter. Two lyric poets of Lesbos: left, Alcaeus (7th c. BCE); right, Sappho (7th c. BCE). Both names inscribed (ΑΛΚΑΙΟΣ; ΣΑΦΟ—sic). Out of Alcaeus’ mouth the letters: Ο Ο Ο Ο Ο, indicating song. Each holds a musical instrument known as the barbiton (similar to a lyre), and each holds a plectrum. The Suda says that Sappho invented the plectrum. Care is given to indicate each figure’s sexual features (Alcaeus’ genitals; Sappho’s breasts). Image: Munich Antikensammlungen. For more, see Nagy 2011.

sappho and alcaeus bayern.jpg

2. Anne Carson, Introduction to If not, winter (2002), p ix:

“Sappho was a musician. Her poetry is lyric, that is, composed to be sung to the lyre. She addresses her lyre in one of her poems (fr. 118) and frequently mentions music, songs, and singing. Ancient vase painters depict her with her instrument. Later writers ascribe to her three musical inventions: that of the plectron, an instrument for picking the lyre (Suda); that of the pektis, a particular kind of lyre (Athenaios Deipnosophistai 14.635b); and the mixolydian mode, an emotional mode also used by tragic poets, who learned it from Sappho (Aristoxenos cited by Plutarch On Music 16.113c). All Sappho’s music is lost.”

3. Sappho fragment 102*, translated by Anne Carson (2002). See Page duBois Sappho is Burning 1995: 11. *transmitted by 2nd c. CE Hephaestion (Ench. 10.5).

sweet mother I cannot work the loom
I am broken with longing for a boy (παῖς) by slender Aphrodite

4a. Sappho fragment 1*, translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st c. BCE) On Literary Composition 23; + a papyrus fragment (P. Oxy. 2288) gives scraps of this poem.

Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child (παῖς) of Zeus, who twists lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart

but come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father’s
golden house and came,

yoking your car. And fine birds brought you,
quick sparrows over the black earth
whipping their wings down the sky
through midair–

they arrived. But you, O blessed one,
smiled in your deathless face
and asked what (now again) I have suffered and why
(now again) I am calling out

and what I want to happen most of all
in my crazy heart. Whom should I persuade (now again)
to lead you back into her love? Who, O
Sappho, is wronging you?

For if she flees, soon she will pursue.
If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them.
If she does not love, soon she will love
even unwilling.

Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.

4b. P. Oxy. 2288 = fragmentary papyrus from Oxyrhynchus from 2nd c. CE. Containing parts of lines Sappho fragment 1.


5. Sappho fragment 31,* translated by Anne Carson (2002). 
*transmitted by the 1st c. CE On the Sublime 10.1 + P.S.I. 15 1470.

He seems to me equal to the gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking (φωνείσας)

and lovely laughing (γελαίσας) — oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead — or almost
I seem to me.

But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty

6. Sappho fragment 5,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by papyri (P. Oxy. 7 = P. Lond. Lit. 43 + P. Oxy. 2289).

O Kypris and Nereids, undamaged I pray you
grant my brother to arrive here.
And all that in his heart he wants to be,
make it be.

And all the wrong he did before, loose it.
Make him a joy to his friends,
a pain to his enemies and let there exist for us
not one single further sorrow.

May he willingly give his sister
her portion of honor, but sad pain
] grieving for the past
] millet seed
] of the citizens
] once again no
] but you Kypris
] setting aside evil [

7. P. Oxy. 7 = P. Lond. Lit. 43. Fragmentary papyrus from Oxyrhynchus from 3rd c. CE. Containing parts of lines Sappho fragment 5.

8. Sappho fragment 16,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by papyrus (P. Oxy. 1231 + 2166(a) + P.S.I. 123.1-2)

Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot
and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing
on the black earth. But I say it is
what you love.

Easy to make this understood by all.
For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
left her fine husband

behind and went sailing to Troy.
Not for her children nor her dear parents
had she a thought, no —
] led her astray

] for
] lightly
] reminded me now of Anaktoria
who is gone.

9. Sappho fragment 44,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by papyrus (P. Oxy. 1232 + 2076). 

herald came
Idaos     swift messenger
and of the rest of Asia      imperishable fame.
Hektor and his men are bringing a glancing girl
from holy Thebe and from onflowing Plakia
delicate Andromache on ships over the salt
sea. And many gold bracelets and purple
perfumed clothes, painted toys,
and silver cups innumerable and ivory.
So he spoke. And at once the dear father rose up.
And news went through the wide town to friends.
Then sons of Ilos led mules beneath
fine-running carts and up climbed a whole crowd
of women and maidens with tapering ankles,
but separately the daughters of Priam        [
And young men led horses under chariots  [
] in great style
] charioteers
] like to gods
] holy all together
set out                for Ilios
and sweetflowing flute and kithara were mingled
with the clip of castanets and piercingly then the maidens
sang a holy song and straight up the air went
amazing sound                       [
and everywhere in the roads was [
bowls and cups                      [
myrrh and cassia and frankincense were mingled.
And all the elder women shouted aloud
and all the men cried out a lovely song
calling on Paon farshooting god of the lyre,
and they were singing a hymn for Hektor and Andromache
like to gods.

Quotations of or allusions to Homer in this poem underlined: Idaos = herald in Troy (Il. 3.248), “swift messenger” (Od. 15.526), “glancing girl” (Il. 1.98), “from holy Thebe” (Il. 3.66), Plakia (Il. 6.395), “salt sea” (Od. 4.551), “the wide town” (Od. 24.468), “horses under chariots” (Il. 24.279), “straight up the air went” (Il. 13.837).

10. Sappho fragment 48,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by 4th c. CE Julian ‘the Apostate’ (Letter 77).

you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing

11.  Sappho fragment 49,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
* line 1 transmitted by 2nd c. CE Hephaestion (Ench. 7.7); line 2 by 1st/2nd c. CE Plutarch (Amat. 5). A third source (2nd/3rd c. CE Terentianus Maurus) quotes them together, “suggesting that the lines are consecutive, however unlikely that my seem” (Campbell 1990: 95).

I loved you, Atthis, once long ago

a little child (παῖς) you seemed to me and graceless

–> Plutarch (Amat. 5): “Addressing a girl who was still too young for marriage, Sappho says: ‘You seemed to me a small, graceless child.'”

12. Sappho fragment 96*, translated by Anne Carson (2002).
* transmitted by a 6th c. CE parchment (P. Berol. 9722).

] Sardis
often turning her thoughts here

you like a goddess
and in your song most of all she rejoiced.

But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women
as sometimes at sunset
the rosyfingered moon

surpasses all the stars. And her light
stretches over salt sea
equally and flowerdeep fields.

And the beautiful dew is poured out
and roses bloom and frail
chervil and flowering sweetclover.

But she goes back and forth remembering
gentle Atthis and in longing
she bites her tender mind

But to go there
talks [

Not easy for us
to equal goddesses in lovely form



and [                  ] Aphrodite

] nectar poured from
] with hands of Persuasion


] into the Geraistion
] beloveds
] of none

] into desire I shall come

13. Sappho fragments 177 and 179, translated by Anne Carson (2002).


Warrior Women. Amazons. Spartans.

— Amazons
— antianeirai
— Spartan women

1. Herodotus, Histories (5th c. BCE) 4.113-114:

[4.113] At midday the Amazons would scatter and go apart from each other singly or in pairs, roaming apart for greater comfort. The Scythians noticed this and did likewise; and as the women wandered alone, a young man laid hold of one of them, and the woman did not resist but let him do his will; [2] and since they did not understand each other’s speech and she could not speak to him, she signed with her hand that he should come the next day to the same place and bring another youth with him (showing by signs that there should be two), and she would bring another woman with her. The youth went away and told his comrades; and the next day he came himself with another to the place, where he found the Amazon and another with her awaiting them. When the rest of the young men learned of this, they had intercourse with the rest of the Amazons.

[4.114] Presently they joined their camps and lived together, each man having for his wife the woman with whom he had had intercourse at first. Now the men could not learn the women’s language, but the women mastered the speech of the men;  and when they understood each other, the men said to the Amazons, “We have parents and possessions; therefore, let us no longer live as we do, but return to our people and be with them; and we will still have you, and no others, for our wives.” To this the women replied: “We could not live with your women; for we and they do not have the same customs. We shoot the bow and throw the javelin and ride, but have never learned women’s work; and your women do none of the things of which we speak, but stay in their wagons and do women’s work, and do not go out hunting or anywhere else. So we could never agree with them. If you want to keep us for wives and to have the name of fair men, go to your parents and let them give you the allotted share of their possessions, and after that let us go and live by ourselves.” The young men agreed and did this.

2. Attic black-figure vase (amphora) by Exekias, c. 530 BCE. Achilles (left) kills the Amazonian queen, Penthesilea (right). Image: British Museum.

BM Penthesilea

3. Attic red-figure vase (calyx krater), c. 450 BCE. Battle between Greeks and Amazons. Image: Met Museum.


4. Strabo, Geography (1st c. BCE) 11.5.3:

A peculiar thing has happened in the case of the account we have of the Amazons; for our accounts of other peoples keep a distinction between the mythical and the historical elements; for the things that are ancient and false and monstrous are called myths, but history wishes for the truth, whether ancient or recent, and contains no monstrous element, or else only rarely. But as regards the Amazons, the same stories are told now as in earlytimes, though they are marvellous and beyond belief. For instance, who could believe that an army of women, or a city, or a tribe, could ever be organised without men, and not only be organised, but even make inroads upon the territory of other people, and not only overpower the peoples near them to the extent of advancing as far as what is now Ionia, but even send an expedition across the sea as far as Attica? For this is the same as saying that the men of those times were women and that the women were men. Nevertheless, even at the present time these very stories are told about the Amazons, and they intensify the peculiarity above-mentioned and our belief in the ancient accounts rather than those of the present time.

5. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 19):

“Their [=the Amazons] heroic exploits were imaginary, but their characters and actions arose from a common historical source: warrior cultures of the steppes where nomad horsemen and -women could experience parity at a level almost unimaginable for ancient Hellenes. Myth and reality commingled in the Greek imagination, and as more and more details come to light about Scythian culture, the women of Scythia were explicitly identified as ‘Amazons.’ Today’s archaeological and linguistic discoveries point to the core of reality that lay behind Greek amazon myths.”

6. Mary Beard, Women and Power (2017: 60-62):

“There’s a similar logic in the stories of that mythical race of Amazon women, said by Greek writers to exist somewhere on the northern borders of their world. A more violent and more militaristic lot than the peaceful denizens of Herland [=pp49-51], this monstrous regiment always threatened to overrun the civilised world of Greece and Greek men. An enormous amount of energy has been wasted on trying to prove that these Amazons did once exist, with all the seductive possibilities of a historical society that was really ruled by and for women. Dream on. The hard truth is that the Amazons were a Greek male myth. The basic message was that the only good Amazon was a dead one, or…one that had been mastered in the bedroom. The underlying point was that it was the duty of men to save civilisation from the rule of women.”

7. The Black Sea, Caucasus, and Caspian Sea region. Map by Michele Angel. Map 2.4 in A. Mayor (2016: 42). Image: @amayor 3rd Jan. 2017.


8. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 20):

“The Scythians themselves left no written records. Much of our knowledge about them comes from the art and literature of Greece and Rome. But the Scythians did leave spectacular physical evidence of their way of life for archaeologists to uncover…Archaeology shows that Amazons were not simply symbolic figments of the Greek imagination, as many scholars claim. Nor are Amazons unique to Greek culture, another common claim. In fact, Greeks were not the only people to spin tales about Amazon-like figures and warrior women ranging over the vast regions east of the Mediterranean. Other literate cultures, such as Persia, Egypt, India, and China, encountered warlike nomads in antiquity, and their narratives drew on their own knowledge of steppe nomads through alliances, exploration, trade, and warfare.”

9. “Amazon” understood as Greek a + mazos = “without breast” 
9a. Strabo, Geography (1st c. BCE) 11.5.1:

…the Amazons spend the rest of their time off to themselves, performing their several individual tasks, such as ploughing, planting, pasturing cattle, and particularly in training horses, though the bravest engage mostly in hunting on horseback and practise warlike exercises; that the right breasts of all are seared when they are infants, so that they can easily use their right arm for every needed purpose, and especially that of throwing the javelin

9b. “Apollodorus”Library (1st/2nd c. CE) 2.98:

For the Amazons cultivated a manly spirit; whenever they had sex and gave birth, they raised the female children. They would constrict their right breasts so that these would not interfere with throwing a javelin, but allowed their left breasts to grow so they could breastfeed.

10a. Homer, Iliad, 3.188-190. Priam speaking to Helen (see wk 2). 

“For I, too, being their ally, was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, the peers of men (Amazones antianeirai). But not even they were as many as are the bright-eyed Achaeans.”

10b. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 22):

“There is something remarkable about Homer’s earliest use of Amazones in the Iliad. The form of the name falls into the linguistic category of ethnic designations in epic poetry (another Homeric example is Myrmidones, the warriors led by Achilles at Troy). This important clue tells us that Amazones was originally a Hellenized name for ‘a plurality, a people,’ as in Hellenes for Greeks and Trooes for the Trojans. The Greeks used distinctive feminine endings (typically –ai) for associations made up exclusively of women, such as Nymphai (Nymphs) or Trooiai for Trojan women. But Amazones does not have the feminine ending that one would expect if the group consisted only of women. Therefore, the name Amazones would originally have been ‘understood as… a people consisting of men and women.’ As classicist Josine Blok points out in her discussion of this puzzle, without the addition of the feminine epithet antianeirai ‘there is no way of telling that this was a people of female warriors.'”

11a. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: colour plate 3). Warrior woman’s skeleton, with a large iron dagger in her right hand and two iron arrowheads between her legs, 4th-3rd centuries BCE, necropolis 8, Kurgan 1, burial 6. Photos by James Vedder, Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, 1992. Image.


11b. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 64-65):

“Now that modern bioarchaeological methods can determine the sex of skeletons, we know that in some cemetery populations on the steppes armed females represent as many as 37% of the burials…[p64] In the not-too-distant past, archaeologists routinely identified Scythian burials as “male” or “female” based on preconceived notions about the types of grave goods expected for each gender. Weapons and tools were assumed to belong to men, while spindles, jewelry and mirrors were [p65] supposed to be feminine.”

12. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Sayings of Spartan Women 241

When a woman from Ionia showed vast pride in a bit of her own weaving, which was very valuable, a Spartan woman pointed to her four sons, who were most well-behaved, and said, “Such should be the employments of the good and honourable woman, and it is over these that she should be elated and boastful.

Another, as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him, saying, “Either this or upon this.”

13. Xenophon (4th c. BCE), Constitution of the Spartans 3-4

[3] In other states the girls who are destined to become mothers and are brought up in the approved fashion, live on the very plainest fare, with a most meagre allowance of delicacies. Wine is either withheld altogether, or, if allowed them, is diluted with water. The rest of the Greeks expect their girls to imitate the sedentary life that is typical of handicraftsmen—to keep quiet and do wool-work. How, then, is it to be expected that women so brought up will bear fine children? [4] But Lycurgus thought the labour of slave women sufficient to supply clothing. He believed motherhood to be the most important function of freeborn woman. Therefore, in the first place, he insisted on physical training for the female no less than for the male sex: moreover, he instituted races and trials of strength for women competitors as for men, believing that if both parents are strong they produce more vigorous offspring.


Mothers and daughters. Persephone and Demeter.

— korē
— Demeter

1a. Nikandre Korē, 7th c. BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

1b. Inscription on the Nikandre Korē. Image: beazley.ox.ac.uk. The inscription is written in boustrophedon, meaning ‘ox-turning’, like a plough in a field (left to right, then right to left etc.).

Inscription on Nikandre kore oxford

Nikandre dedicated me to the far-shooter of arrows,
the excellent daughter of Deinodikes of Naxos,
sister of Deinomenes, wife of Phraxos

2. Women in the Classical World p29:

“It has been suggested that the statues represent these young women in a specific situation known to us from Archaic literary sources, their appearance in religious sanctuaries on the occasion of public festivals…These were virtually the only times when a girl of marriageable age might appear in public, and the most behavior expected of her is echoed in the demure downward gaze of many korai. Yet at the same time, paradoxically, she might call attention to herself with her elegant clothes, elaborately styled hair, expensive jewelry, makeup, and even a gesture of pulling her garment tight, emphasizing breasts, legs, and buttocks. Her beauty makes her an adornment to her family, to be appraised by prospective husbands; yet she should not call attention to herself, lest she invite unwanted admirers.”

3. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 1-46

I begin to sing of Demeter, the holy goddess with the beautiful hair. And her daughter [Persephone] too. The one with the delicate ankles, whom Hades seized. She was given away by Zeus, the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide. Demeter did not take part in this, she of the golden double-axe, she who glories in the harvest. [5] She [Persephone] was having a good time, along with the daughters of Okeanos, who wear their girdles slung low. She was picking flowers: roses, crocus, and beautiful violets. Up and down the soft meadow. Iris blossoms too she picked, and hyacinth. And the narcissus, which was grown as a lure for the flower-faced girl by Gaia [Earth]. All according to the plans of Zeus. She [= Gaia] was doing a favor for the one who receives many guests [= Hades]. [10] It [the narcissus] was a wondrous thing in its splendor. To look at it gives a sense of holy awe to the immortal gods as well as mortal humans. It has a hundred heads growing from the root up. Its sweet fragrance spread over the wide skies up above. And the earth below smiled back in all its radiance. So too the churning mass of the salty sea.

[15] She [Persephone] was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands to take hold of the pretty plaything. And the earth, full of roads leading every which way, opened up under her. It happened on the Plain of Nysa. There it was that the Lord who receives many guests[= Hades] made his lunge. He was riding on a chariot drawn by immortal horses. The son of Kronos. The one known by many names. He seized her against her will, put her on his golden chariot, [20] And drove away as she wept. She cried with a piercing voice, calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos, the highest and the best. But not one of the immortal ones, or of human mortals, heard her voice. Not even the olive trees which bear their splendid harvest. Except for the daughter of Persaios, the one who keeps in mind the vigor of nature. [25] She heard it from her cave. She is Hekate, with the splendid headband. And the Lord Helios [Sun] heard it too, the magnificent son of Hyperion. They heard the daughter calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos. But he, all by himself, was seated far apart from the gods, inside a temple, the precinct of many prayers. He was receiving beautiful sacrificial rites from mortal humans.

[30] She was being taken, against her will, at the behest of Zeus, by her father’s brother, the one who makes many signs, the one who receives many guests, the son of Kronos, the one with many names. On the chariot drawn by immortal horses. So long as the earth and the star-filled sky were still within the goddess’s [Persephone’s] view, as also the fish-swarming sea, with its strong currents, [35] as also the rays of the sun, she still had hope that she would yet see her dear mother and that special group, the immortal gods. For that long a time her great mind was soothed by hope, distressed as she was. The peaks of mountains resounded, as did the depths of the sea, with her immortal voice. And the Lady Mother [Demeter] heard her.[40] And a sharp pain seized her heart. The headband on her hair she tore off with her own immortal hands and threw a dark cloak over her shoulders. She sped off like a bird, soaring over land and sea, looking and looking. But no one was willing to tell her the truth [45], not one of the gods, not one of the mortal humans, not one of the birds, messengers of the truth.

4. Hades abducts Persephone. Fresco from royal tomb at Vergina (ancient Aigai), Macedonia, c. 336 BCE. Vergina Archaeological Museum, in situ. Image: Wikimedia.


5. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 93-117.

She went away, visiting the cities of humans, with all their fertile landholdings, shading over her appearance, for a long time. And not one of men, [95] looking at her, could recognize her. Not one of women, either, who are accustomed to wear their girdles low-slung. Until, one day, she came to the house of bright-minded Keleos, who was at that time ruler of Eleusis, fragrant with incense. She sat down near the road, sad in her dear heart, at the well called Parthenion [= the Virgin’s Place], where the people of the polis used to draw water. [100] She sat in the shade, under the thick growth of an olive tree, looking like an old woman who had lived through many years and who is deprived of giving childbirth and of the gifts of Aphrodite, lover of garlands in the hair. She was like those nursemaids who belong to kings, administrators of divine ordinances, and who are guardians of children in echoing palaces.

[105] She was seen by the daughters of Keleos, son of Eleusinos, who were coming to get water, easy to draw [from the well], in order to carry it in bronze water-jars to the dear home of their father. There were four of them, looking like goddesses with their bloom of adolescence: Kallidike, Kleisidike, and lovely Demo. [110] And then there was Kallithoe, who was the eldest of them all. They did not recognize her [= Demeter]. Gods are hard for mortals to see. They [= the daughters] stood near her and spoke these winged words: “Who are you, and where are you from, old woman, old among old humans? Why has your path taken you far away from the city? Why have you not drawn near to the palace? [115] There, throughout the shaded chambers, are women who are as old as you are, and younger ones too, who would welcome you in word and in deed.”

6. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 184-204.

Straightaway they came to the palace of sky-nurtured Keleos. [185]. They went through the hall, heading for the place where their mistress, their mother, was sitting near the threshold of a well-built chamber, holding in her lap her son, a young seedling. And they ran over to her side. She [= Demeter] in the meantime went over to the threshold and stood on it, with feet firmly planted, and her head reached all the way to the ceiling. And she filled the whole indoors with a divine light. [190] She [= Metaneira] was seized by a sense of respect, by a holy wonder, by a blanching fear. She [= Metaneira] yielded to her [= Demeter] the chair on which she was sitting, and she told her to sit down. But Demeter, the bringer of seasons [horai], the giver of splendid gifts, refused to sit down on the splendid chair, but she stood there silent, with her beautiful eyes downcast, [195] until Iambe, the one who knows what is worth caring about  and what is not, set down for her a well-built stool, on top of which she threw a splendid fleece.

On this she [= Demeter] sat down, holding with her hands a veil before her face. For a long time she sat on the stool, without uttering a sound, in her sadness. And she made no approach, either by word or by gesture, to anyone. [200] Unsmiling, not partaking of food or drink, she sat there, wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle, until Iambe, the one who knows what is dear and what is not, started making fun. Making many jokes, she turned the Holy Lady’s disposition in another direction, making her smile and laugh and have a merry heart.

7. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 302-315.

But blond-haired Demeter sat down and stayed there [= in the temple], shunning the company of all the blessed ones [= the gods]. She was wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle. [305] She made that year the most terrible one for mortals, all over the Earth, the nurturer of many. It was so terrible, it makes you think of the Hound of Hades. The Earth did not send up any seed. Demeter, she with the beautiful garlands in her hair, kept them [= the seeds] covered underground. Many a curved plough was dragged along the fields by many an ox – all in vain. Many a bright grain of wheat fell into the earth – all for naught.

[310] At this moment, she [= Demeter] could have destroyed the entire race of mortal humans with harsh hunger, thus depriving of their time the dwellers of the Olympian abodes – [the time of] sacrificial portions of meat for eating or for burning, if Zeus had not noticed with his mind, taking note in his heart. First, he sent Iris, with the golden wings, to summon [315] Demeter with the splendid hair, with a beauty that is much loved.

8. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 334-345.

But when the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide, heard this, [335] he sent to Erebos [= Hades] the one with the golden wand, the Argos-killer [= Hermes], so that he may persuade Hades, with gentle words, that he allow holy Persephone to leave the misty realms of darkness and be brought up to the light in order to join the daimones [here = the gods in Olympus], so that her mother may see her with her own eyes and then let go of her anger. [340] Hermes did not disobey, but straightaway he headed down beneath the depths of the earth, rushing full speed, leaving behind the abode of Olympus. And he found the Lord inside his palace, seated on a funeral couch, along with his duly acquired bedmate, the one who was much under duress, yearning for her mother, and suffering from the unbearable things [345] inflicted on her by the will of the blessed ones [= the gods].

9. Attic red-figure vase (kylix), c. 430 BCE. Interior of cup) shows Persephone, holding something small (pomegranate seed?), sitting and Hades, holding a cornucopia (right) and a phialē (centre), reclining on a couch. Image: British Museum.

Persephone and Hades.jpg

10. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 370-384.

[370] And high-minded Persephone rejoiced. Swiftly she set out, with joy. But he [= Hades] gave her, stealthily, the honey-sweet berry of the pomegranate to eat, peering around him. He did not want her to stay for all time over there, at the side of her honorable mother, the one with the dark robe [375] The immortal horses were harnessed to the golden chariot by Hades, the one who makes many signs. She got up on the chariot, and next to her was the powerful Argos-killer, who took reins and whip into his dear hands and shot out of the palace [of Hades]. And the horses sped away eagerly. [380] Swiftly they made their way along the long journey. Neither the sea nor the water of the rivers nor the grassy valleys nor the mountain peaks could hold up the onrush of the immortal horses.

11. Apulian (South Italian) red-figure vase (volute krater), c. 370-350 BCE. Hermes left, accompanies Hades and Persephone in a chariot, with Hekate right. Image: British Museum.

persephone british museum.jpg


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).


Penelope II.

— female sociality
— lies
— Eurycleia
— status (free, enslaved)
— Homeric women

1. Dora Wheeler, “Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night” (1886). Silk embroidered with silk thread. Image: Metropolitan Museum.

Dora Wheeler..jpg

2Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 2.93-112: Antinous speaking:

We suitors have not done you wrong.
Go blame your precious mother! She is cunning.
It is the third year, soon it will be four,
that she has cheated us of what we want.
She offers hope to all, sends notes to each,
but all the while her mind moves somewhere else.
She came up with a special trick: she fixed
a mighty loom inside the palace hall.
Weaving her fine long cloth, she said to us,
‘Young men, you are my suitors. Since my husband,
the brave Odysseus, is dead, I know
you want to marry me. You must be patient;
I have worked hard to weave this winding-sheet
to bury good Laertes when he dies.
He gained such wealth, the women would reproach me
if he were buried with no shroud. Please let me
finish it!’ And her words made sense to us.
So every day she wove the mighty cloth,
and then at night by torchlight, she unwove it.
For three long years her trick beguiled the Greeks.
But when the fourth year’s seasons rolled around,
a woman slave who knew the truth told us.
We caught her there, unraveling the cloth,
and made her finish it.

+Compare Penelope’s version: Odyssey 19.137-163 (p429).

3. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 9.312-314: Achilles speaking to Odysseus:

I hate that man like the very Gates of Death
who says one thing but hides another in his heart.

4. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.50-72; 89-97:

Then the queen,
her wits about her, came down from her room,
like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
Slaves pulled her usual chair beside the fire;
it was inlaid with whorls of ivory
and silver, crafted by Icmalius,
who had attached a footstool, all in one.
A great big fleece was laid across the chair,
and pensively Penelope sat down.
The white-armed slave girls came and cleared away
the piles of bread, the tables, and the cups,
from which the arrogant suitors had been drinking.
They threw the embers from the braziers
onto the floor, and heaped fresh wood inside them
for light and warmth. And then Melantho scolded
Odysseus again. “Hey! Stranger! Will you
keep causing trouble, roaming round our house
at night and spying on us women here?
Get out, you tramp! Be happy with your meal!
Or you will soon get pelted with a torch!
Be off!” Odysseus began to scowl,
and make a calculated speech. “Insane!
You silly girl, why are you mad at me?”

had listened warily, and now she spoke
to scold the slave. “You brazen, shameless dog!
What impudence! I see what you are doing!
Wipe that impertinent expression off!
You knew quite well — I told you so myself —
that I might meet the stranger in the hall
to question him about my missing husband.
I am weighed down by grief.”

5. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.370-381: Eurycleia speaking:

And when that poor Odysseus
stays at the palaces of foreign kings,
I think the women slaves are mocking him
as these bad girls are hounding you. You have
refused to let them wash you, to avoid
abuse. But wise Penelope has told me
to wash you, and reluctantly I will,
for her sake and for yours — you move my heart.
Now listen. Many strangers have come here
in trouble and distress. But I have never
seen any man whose body, voice, and feet
are so much like my master’s.

6. The other side of the Penelope loom vase (see wk 2). Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Odysseus (inscribed) wearing a hat (pilos) with staff and vessel; his leg is washed by the old slave woman, named Eurycleia in the Odyssey but here called “Antiphata” (in the inscription). Eumaeus (inscribed), the swineherd, stands behind. Image: perseus.tufts.edu.

Penelope loom vase b side.jpg

7. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.483-503:

“Nanny! Why are you trying to destroy me?
You fed me at your breast! Now after all
my twenty years of pain, I have arrived
back to my home. You have found out; a god
has put the knowledge in your mind. Be silent;
no one must know, or else I promise you,
if some god helps me bring the suitors down,
I will not spare you when I kill the rest,
the other slave women, although you were
my nurse.” With calculation, Eurycleia
answered, “My child! What have you said! You know
my mind is firm, unshakable; I will
remain as strong as stone or iron. Let me
promise you this: if you defeat the suitors,
I will tell you which women in the palace
dishonor you, and which are free from guilt.”
Odysseus already had a plan.
“Nanny, why do you mention them? No need.
I will make my own observations
of each of them. Be quiet now; entrust
the future to the gods.”

8. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.419-432:

“… But tell me now about the household women.
Which ones dishonor me? And which are pure?”
The slave who loved her master answered, “Child,
I will tell you exactly how things stand.
In this house we have fifty female slaves
whom we have trained to work, to card the wool,
and taught to tolerate their life as slaves.
Twelve stepped away from honor: those twelve girls
ignore me, and Penelope our mistress.
She would not let Telemachus instruct them,
since he is young and only just grown-up.
Let me go upstairs to the women’s rooms,
to tell your wife — some god has sent her sleep.”
The master strategist Odysseus
said, “Not yet; do not wake her. Call the women
who made those treasonous plots while I was gone.”

9. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.461-480:

Showing initiative, Telemachus
insisted, “I refuse to grant these girls
a clean death, since they poured down shame on me
and Mother, when they lay besides the suitors.”
At that, he would a piece of sailor’s rope
round the rotunda and round the mighty pillar,
stretched up so high no foot could touch the ground.
As doves or thrushes spread their wings to fly
home to their nests, but someone sets a trap —
they crash into a net, a bitter bedtime;
just so the girls, their heads all in a row,
were strung up with the noose around their necks
to make their death an agony. They gasped,
feet twitching for a while, but not for long.
Then the men took Melanthius outside
and with curved bronze cut off his nose and ears
and ripped away his genitals, to feed
raw to the dogs. Still full of rage, they chopped
his hands and feet off. Then they washed their own,
and they went back inside.

10. bell hooksAll About Love (2001: 37):

“Males learn to lie as a way of obtaining power, and females not only do the same but they also lie to pretend powerlessness. In her work Harriet Lerner talks about the ways in which patriarchy upholds deception, encouraing women to present a false self to men and vice versa. In Dory Hollander’s 101 Lies Men Tell Women, she confirms that while both women and men lie, her data and the findings of other researchers indicate that “men tend to lie more and with more devastating consequences.” For many young males the earliest experience of power over others comes from the thrill of lying to more powerful adults and getting away with it. Lots of men shared with me that it was difficult for them to tell the truth if they saw it would hurt a loved one. Significantly, the lying many boys learn to do to avoid hurting Mom or whomever becomes so habitual that it becomes hard for them to distinguish a lie from the truth. This behavior carries over into adulthood.”

11. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 23.178-184:

“…Now, Eurycleia, make the bed for him
outside the room he built himself. Pull out
the bedstead, and spread quilts and blankets on it.”
So she spoke to test him, and Odysseus
was furious, and told his loyal wife.
“Woman! Your words have cut my heart! Who moved
my bed?”

English translations: Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018); Homer’s Iliad, Robert Fagles (1990).