The roles and status of women in ancient Greece are hard to asses since there is very little evidence from that period written or illustrated from a women’s perspective. Most literature and art from ancient Greece comes from men, thus making it hard to evaluate exactly what it was like to live has a women in those times. Sarah Pomeroy states in Goddesses, whores, wives and salves: women in classical antiquity “the study of women in ancient literature is the study of men’s views of women and cannot become anything else. ” .
This viewpoint is supported by many scholars in as stated in Ideology and “the status of Women” in Ancient Greece by Marilyn Katz. (pg 79) Pomeroy also suggest that This indisputable fact about ancient sources -of material authored by women we have only the fragments of a few women poets -has even led recently to the recommendation that the study of women in antiquity be refocused away from literature to culture. Otherwise “the study of women in ancient literature is the study of men’s views of women and cannot become anything else. (pg 79 Ideology and “the status of Women” in Ancient Greece by Marilyn Katz. ) This notion that women did not write literature we assume that women were consider inferior to men, and what they had to say was irrelevant. This idea is also introduced by Pomeroy, The notion that texts authored by men represent a “male” point of view is widely shared. This idea, however, not only introduces an artificial distinction between text and culture, but also implicitly relegates women to an entirely passive role in patriarchal society. pg 79 Ideology and “the status of Women” in Ancient Greece by Marilyn Katz. ) Thus its important when using literature such as Homers epic as evidence of women’s role and status during that time period were are critical of the conclusions we draw. On the other hand there have been many assumption made of the role of women during ancient Greece from the evidence we do have. It was patricidal society in which women were consider property of the men in there lives, and were seen to serve one purpose; to produce heirs.
Women had very little to no rights; they were unable to own land or participate in politics. They also hardly had freedoms, they were confided to there homes and company of other women, in some cases they even had separate corers from the men in which was hidden from visitors view. They were unable enter in public rooms or there own homes with male guest unless told to do so by the husbands. They did not choose who they married, the men in there lives made every decision for them in the best interest of the males and the family.
Knowing what we do about women during this time in Greece, I’m going to use Homer’s epic the Odyssey to evaluate whether the way women were depicted in the literature is an accurate representation of the lives of women in this time. Homer is the composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey, he was viewed as the greatest poet, and his work influenced many poets after him. It is likely that Homer learned the poems from generations before him, which dedicated the poems orally. The epic are set in the age of the heroes, which is assumed to be roughly the end of the Greek Dark Age.
Thus its important when contrasting the way women were depicted in the Odyssey, and the roles and status of women of that time, to ensure we use the knowledge of women in the dark age. This is important because the role of women, including there freedoms and rights can vary from period to period. Women were viewed as a males property, firstly as the property of there fathers and brothers, then transferred to the property of the husbands. “Marriage, in reference to the procreation of children, was considered by the Greeks as a necessity enforced by their duties to the gods, to the state, and to their ancestors….
Until a very late period, at least, no higher considerations attached to matrimony, nor was strong attachment a frequent cause of marriage (473). (pg74 Ideology and “the status of Women” in Ancient Greece by Marilyn Katz ) During the dark ages, Greece was broken up into the territories or oikos, each territory was lead by a basileus or a chief. Women were expected to bear and rear children, in order to increase the number of potential males that can help defend the territory in wars. (pg 17 Pomeroy ). All women who passed puberty, around the age of 16 were married off and all young women were destined for that.
An example of this in the Odyssey, when odyssey first met Nausicaa, he expressed concern that she should find a husband and enjoy a harmonious marriage. (pg 17 Pomeroy. ) The importance of marriage is a central theme of the Odyssey, the poem also illustrates that women and men highly regarded being married as an important aspect of life. Odysseus states to Nausicaa “for nothing is better that, this, more steadfast than when two people, a men and his wide keep a harmonious household (6. 182-4) which shows that women were viewed by there husband more than just an means to produce an heir.
However, some scholars criticize the odyssey view on marriage, Jacobs goes on to discuss Homer and Hesiod, characterizing the Odyssey as “a love song to Penelope” (234) Jacobs goes on to state that women “were less respected and more restrained [than in the heroic era], and that the marriage relationship was less tender and endearing” (pg74 Ideology and “the status of Women” in Ancient Greece by Marilyn Katz ) which indicates that marriage and relationship may have been different in the heroic era apposed to other time periods.
Marriage could have been viewed as more than just a means to producing offspring, but also as a loving and endearing relationship. Its believed that during this time women were transfer like property from there fathers family to there husbands family with no regards for the women. Basically women did not have a choice who they were going to marry, there fathers or brothers would choice a husband for them to link powerful families, or choose the male who offered the most gifts. Nausicaa’s father try to marry her off to odyssus (7. 11-15) and Penelope’s father brothers urger her to marry the suitor who presented the most gifts. However Homer indicated that bother Nusicaa and Penelope would have some choices in the selection of there husbands. There were two types of marriages during this time, Patrimonial and Matrimonial. Patrimonial marriages existed when the suitor would bring his bride back to his house and territory. There children would belong to this territory and the males would become warriors for there fathers territory.
Penelope and Odysseus marries was of this form, she went to live with Odysseus in there Ithaka and there son Telemachos was considered a heir to his fathers throne, he also defended this territory when his father was away at war. In order for father who decide which suitor would take their daughters hand in marriage would depend on the wedding gifts exchanged on the day of the wedding. (pg17 pombrey) Matrimonial marriages exist when a warrior would marry a princess and settle down in her father’s kingdom. The male offspring of the couple would be considered warriors of the bride’s father’s territory.
In addition the warrior would eventually inherit the brides’ fathers’ realm. In this case fathers often held athletic competitions in order to choice the suitor which is the strongest to marry his daughter. Odyssey participated in an athletic competition for Nausicaa’s hand and Penelope’s decide to marry the victor of the bow contest. The Homeric society reflect a strong partial values, over the behaviour of women may be less rigid than in some later Greek societies. (pg 25 Pombrey) Regardless of what freedoms women did have during this time its clearly they were not permitted the same sexual liberties as men.
As shown above, marriage was an important aspect of greek life, thus it is not surprise that women’s reputation were prised possessions. Young women were expected not to take up friendship of men unless they were going to married. Nausikaa explains to Odyessus why she can not escorted him into town, to her parents palace “So they will speak and that would be scandal against me, and I myself would disapprove of a girl who acted so, that is without the good will of her dear father and mother making friends with a man before being formally married. (6, 285-289) Losing there virginity before marriage was frond a pond. This is why Nausicaa slept with handmaiden guarding her on either side of her bed. In addition Women were expected to remain loyal to there husbands, while the husbands could have affairs with other women and young males. Thus, Penelope and Nusicaa look the nesscary percausions to avoid becoming the subject of gossip. On the other hand the penalties of the loss of virginity were not so serve as later Greece. (pg 27 Pomeroy)
The women charters of the Odyssey are depicted far from being passive; they are strong, powerful and dynamic individuals. (pg 51 women in ancient Greece) This is quite a contrast from what we believe women were like during this time, history shows women has being passive wives and mothers, with little to no rights or freedoms. In most cases wives were entrusted with the kingdoms when there husbands went off to the war of troy. Penelope was entrusted by Odysseus to look over Ithaca “I do not know if the god will spare me, or if I must be lost there in Troy; here let everything be in your charge.
You must take thought for my father and mother here in our palace, as you do now or even more since I shall be absent. (18-265-268) Thus we could assume that when the men went off to war, and was absent from the palace, the wives were entrusted with a certain power to ensure everything ran smoothly. However as seen in the Odysseus, this period of time only last so long, then other men come in to take over, like seen with Penelope’s suitors. On the other hand there is an kingdom in the Odyssey which one may assume it is Matricraly society.
The kingdom of Scheria, Queen Arete is seen to have a domient role over her husband. When Odyssus arrive in Scheria, Nausicaa and Athena advise him to go to the queen Arete instead of the king. Athene explain to odysseus “Arete and Alkinoos made her his wife, and gave her such pride of place as no other woman on earth is given of such women as are now alive and keep house for husbands. (7, 66-68) Athena goes on to advise Osyssues “For there is no good intelligence that she herself lacks. She dissolves quarrels, even among men, when she favors the,.
So if she has thoughts in her mind that are friendly to you, then there is hope you can see your own people” (7 73-76) Nausikaa also advise Odsseys to go to the queen “But when you have disappeared inside the house and the courtyard, then go quickly across the hall until you come to my mother, and she will be sitting beside the hearth, in the firelight, turning sea-purple yarn on a distaff, a wonder to look at and leaning against the pillar, and her maids are sitting behind her; and there is my father’s chair of state, drawn close beside her, on which he sits when he drinks his wine like any immortal.
Go pas him and then with your arms embrace our mother’s knees; do this, so as to behold your day of homecoming with happiness and speed, even if you live very far off. For if she has thoughts in her mind that are friendly to you then there is hope you can see your own people and come back to your strong-founded house, and to the land of your fathers. ” (6, 303-3150) When odyessye goes to the Queen and does as Nausikaa and Athena advise him to do so, she responds by telling her husband to welcome him into the palace, and wine and dine him. Alkinoos does has his wife wishes, and welcomes Odyessus into his palace.
Has shown here Queen Arete is highly view by her husband and given political authority by him. However, this portrait is filled with inconsistencies since there are no know examples were women would be highly regarded as Queen Arete. In addition Homer clearly shows that women were not regarded the same rights has men. For instance royal women and female slave would engage in similar tasks, where royal men would not work side by side with the slaves. For example Nausikaa goes down to the river with the maids to wash the laundry of the household.
In addition Penelope may remain with the public rooms wit male guests without sandal. (pg 31 Pomeroy) This also shows that women may had more freedoms during this time period in Greece than later periods. Sue Bundell suggest in the Homeric world the boundary between the domestic and the political, between the private and the public, is not nearly so rigid. She goes on to say that the role of men and women overlap, which is why women can exercise some political power. On the other hand Penelope and Odysseus relationship does show how women were depending on there husbands.
Penelope’s need for Odysseus and her feelings that she has been overwhelm by the suitors in her own home are expressed as being “shipwrecked sailor who has finally made it to dry land. (23, 233-240). Men were needed in order to maintain relationships with society, women were to protect and maintain the house hold. Sue states that a women’s role can never be anything other than subordinate when there husband is present. That “Odysseus the wanderer, and Penelope the guardian of the home, were to survive as potent symbols of gender difference, not just for later generations of Greeks but for peoples of many subsequent ages. ” (pg 57)
In addition, to the role of husband and wife representing a patriarchal society, the importance of sons in the eyes of both parents is a symbolic feature of patriarchal society. (pg 28 prombely) Penelope’s concern for Telemachos when he goes off on the dangerous journey shows how cherished her son is to her. She also devise a plan to protect her son from the suitors when she realizes that they were plotting against Telemachos. (16, 409-447) Furthermore when Odysseus arrives home to find the suitors planning to marry his wife and take over his kingdom by plotting against his sons life, he and Telemachos kill all of the suitors.
On the other hand the importance of the heir to asset themselves, and take over there father’s land is also important in patriarchal society. Telemachos first assert his manhood by ordering Penelope from the public rooms of the palace and also indicating to the suitors his intention to assert his claim to his fathers throne. (pg 28 prombey) this is the part in the poem when the suitors start to change there intentions of taking over odysseys role of king, and began to claim they indented on taking Penelope back to there own palaces.
Although the role and status of women during the dark period in Greece is not clearly represented in the Odyssey, there are many inconsistencies in the literature as we seen with Queen Arete, and the role Nausicaa and Penelope played in the choice of husbands. On the other hand Prombry feels as though “the dramatic importance and emotional influence of women should not at all be mistaken for evidence of there equality; the political power of even the queens of ancient Greece was a sometimes transient, nearly always a double-edged blessing. (pg 18) It is not clear whether Homer’s depiction of women reflect the attitude of Bonze Agee Greece towards women. (pg 22 Probley) Prombrey states “without a doubt there is no period in the Greek history for which our evidence of the experience of women in more fascinating or as contradictory” (pg 17)Nevertheless, in the Dark Age, as in later Greece women from birth to death were dependent and under the control of males. This male-dominated society was clearly revealed in the poem.
However, it is evident the women of this time did have more power and freedoms than later Greek periods, as they were entrusted with the power to run households while their husbands were gone to war, there right to be in public spaces, and there right to participate in festive and religious events. Although that is the extent to there rights, on the whole this was a patricidal society, in which the women we seen as inferior to men.