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For 2/27

We'll be reading and discussing Roman literature from the late Republic and early Principate. Despite the strong patriarchal traditions of Roman society, we see considerably more liberal attitudes both in and toward women during the crucial period of the first century BCE. After a series of civil wars destroys the republic and brings on the ascension of Octavian/Augustus as the first emperor, things begin to change. One of Augustus' chief concerns is the reform of Roman morals, and to that end he encourages a more traditional atmosphere and even introduces legislation regulating marriage.

You will be reading poetry of this conflict-ridden era, poetry that reflects all these changes in Roman life and attitudes.

WCW Chapter 10: Of the poetry reproduced there, which tends to present a traditional patriarchal view of women, and which seems to present a different viewpoint?

ALSO please:

Publius Vergilius Maro (popularly known as Virgil) was still at work at his great national epic, the Aeneid, when he died in 17 BC. Virgil tells the traditional tale of the wanderings of the hero Aeneas. Aeneas, son of a noble Trojan and the goddess Venus, fled from Troy after Trojan war, and eventually turned up in Italy where his descendants became the leaders of the Latin people (who later founded the city of Rome and made it their capital). In Virgil's telling, even before he leaves Troy the fates have promised Aeneas a new kingdom in Italy. Getting there is the problem, however. The gods who were hostile to Troy remain hostile to Aeneas; and though they cannot alter what is fated, they make sure Aeneas doesn't have an easy time getting to his new homeland.

At the beginning of the epic Aeneas and his followers wash up on the shore of the land of Carthage, a city recently founded by Dido, a fugitive Phoenician noble lady. Dido had fled her native city of Tyre because her brother, the ruler of Tyre, had treacherously killed her beloved husband. In grief over her husband, Dido vows never to marry again. When the Trojans arrive at her city she hospitably entertains them, and offers either to help them get back on their way to Italy or to let them settle as equals in the new land of Carthage.

As Aeneas and the other Trojans rest and relax in Carthage, and entertain their hosts with tales of the Trojan war and of their wanderings, two goddesses in heaven hatch a plot. Venus (Aeneas' mother) and Juno (who hates all things Trojan) conspire to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas. Venus hopes that this will keep Aeneas safe in the hostile city of Carthage, while Juno hopes that it will delay Aeneas from erecting a new Troy on Italian soil.

The upshot of this divine plot is spelled out in Book IV, one of the most popular and interesting parts of the Aeneid. The story told in it is not just a classic tale of star-crossed love, it is also an important episode in the development of Aeneas' character. He finds himself faced with the dilemma of choosing between his feelings for Dido and his allegiance to the destiny in Italy that the gods have laid out for him. The choice he ultimately makes provides a mythological explanation for the historical hatred between Rome and Carthage, which culminated in the bloody series of three "Punic Wars".

Virgil's patron was Maecenas, a wealthy sophisticate who was also a close friend of the first emperor Augustus. Although it's fairly clear that neither Augustus nor Maecenas ever told Virgil what he had to write, it's also fairly certain that Virgil was strongly affected by the new emphasis on propriety and morality that Augustus was trying to foster. The focus on Aeneas' sense of duty (pietas) that Virgil emphasizes throughout the epic is one example of this. It's also interesting to read in this light Virgil's treatment of a topic that had been the favorite of Roman poets, an illicit love affair.

Questions to Consider:
1. As sole ruler of the great city of Carthage, Dido is arguably the most politically powerful mortal female in Greek or Roman literature. Does Vergil's treatment of her indicate a greater capacity for acceptance of the idea of a woman in power, or is the image of a matriarchal society presented as a dangerous sort of "Other" against which the Romans can define and justify themselves?
2. Is Dido, after all, a powerful woman?
3. Does this view of a love affair support or subvert the new focus on morality and feminine respectibility introduced by Augustus, the patron of Vergil's patron?

Also read Ovid's later take on this story, written as a letter from Dido to Aeneas, and consider these questions:
1. Are there any substantial discrepancies between Ovid's and Virgil's accounts?
2. Does Ovid do a good job imagining the woman's point of view in this poem, or are the thoughts and sentiments he ascribes to Dido more on the order of a male fantasy?

For 2/22

COMEDY: See remarks below about drama in general. The same religious festivals that had performances of tragedies also had performances of comedies. As with tragedy, comedy was performed by masked and costumed male performers with a chorus. While tragedy brought the Athenians face-to-face with the things they feared most, the function of comedy seems to have been to provide relief of tension by skewering as many sacred cows as possible. Politicians are roasted, eggheads deflated, generals humiliated, sons beat their fathers, slaves hoodwink their masters, wives turn the tables on their husbands. Famous men like Socrates and Euripides are portrayed on stage acting like buffoons. Famous women like Sappho and Aspasia are brought on and associated with all manner of lewdness -- you may recall that we discussed how this is (unfortunately) one of the main ultimate sources of information about these two women. There is much slapstick and much ribaldry of all descriptions. If you think there's a lot of excretory, erectional and and ejaculatory humor in There's something about Mary then you haven't read Greek Comedy.

The description above pertains mostly to the earliest known phase of Athenian comedy, referred to as old comedy. In the early fourth century, comedy became tamer and less risquŽe, and we move into a period known as 'middle comedy' (from which no complete plays survive), and then, at the very end of the classical period, into 'new comedy', from which we have the writings of a single author, Menander. (good report topic alert: women in the plays of Menander). By the time of Menander comedy has become a much more gentle thing: no one is lampooned, no one's ox is gored; you just have charming situational comedies (i.e. sit-coms) where realistic characters find themselves in amusing predicaments and have to get themselves out in ways that are amusing but also, sometimes, touching, poignant, etc. It is this sort of comedy upon which Roman comedy was later based, and it has remained the dominant sort of comedy in the tradition of Western literature up to the present day (though the spirit of old comedy never completely disappeared, and is currently enjoying something of a renaissance).

Nothing much touching or poignant about the topsy-turvy world of Old Comedy, and it is that which we will be reading this week. The only author of Old Comedy who left behind works that have survived to the present day is Aristophanes (ca. 450 - 385 BCE), a younger contemporary of Euripides, Sophocles, Socrates, Pericles, and who makes merciless fun of all those figures in his plays.

Since Old Comedy takes the basest facts of life as its material, it is one of the better sources we have for some aspects of everyday life and common attitudes, including those that have to do with women. In addition, the three plays you are reading for this week all show women getting the better of men in one way or another.

As you read, keep your mind on these two questions:

For 2/8

Sappho’s is the clearest woman’s voice that we have from antiquity, but interpreting what she has to tell us is notoriously difficult. For one thing, since she comes from a very early period in the history of Greek writing (ca. 600 BCE), there are no contemporary factual accounts that mention her. The accounts that survive from antiquity date from much later, and are based largely of a) biographical information extrapolated from her poems and b) references to her in comedies and other lat er writings. Of these two sources, (b) is clearly unreliable and (a) assumes that when Sappho wrote her poems she was always speaking truthfully about herself and never adopting a different persona or imagining situations that didn’t actually happen. Many of the "facts" that are typically presented as being known about Sappho (including those mentioned in the chapter by Snyder that I’m having you read) of this sort, so caution and skepticism is in order. Likewise we know little for sure about so ciety on the island of Lesbos in Sappho’s day, aside from what is suggested in Sappho’s poems and in the poems of her male Lesbian contemporary Alkaios (=Alcaeus).

Keep in mind that with one or two exceptions, we have no complete poems by Sappho. Many of her poems seem short and cryptic. This is not because Sappho intended them to be that way but because all we have left of the poems are fragments: bits of poetry on scraps of papyrus or one or two lines quoted by another author. For this reason determining the context of many of her remarks is highly problematic.

Nevertheless, a few things are clear from her poetry: Sappho sometimes writes in her own voice (naming herself) and sometimes adopts the point of view of others (As Alcman clearly does in the partheneia). She writes some poems that are addressed to individuals, some hymns addressed to the gods (most frequently to Aphrodite, the goddess of love), some poems that seem to be written for girls choruses, some for public celebrations involving men and women (including a large number of w edding songs [epithalamia].

When Sappho addresses individuals, they are almost always other women. When Alkaios addresses individuals, they are almost always men. This suggests that men and women on Lesbos enjoyed separate social lives, similar to what we know from Athens. Unlike the typical upper-class Athenian woman, however, Sappho was clearly literate and well-educated, and had a number of intimate acquaintances outside of her own household. Some of the women she addresses apparently come from, or live in, places far removed from Lesbos.

Sappho speaks of her own erotic feelings for other women and of the love other women feel for her and for each other. Hence, of course, the modern connotation of the word "Lesbian". Female homoeroticism seems to be a normal and accepted aspect of the s ociety Sappho writes in, just as male homoeroticism seems normal for Alcaeus and for Athenian male society. Although "Lesbianism" is not known to be a prevalent feature of Athenian, Spartan or other Greek societies, Sappho’s poetry was read an d appreciated in Athens and elsewhere without any hint of scandal or outrage.


1) What sort of topics does Sappho write on? What sort of imagery does she frequently use?

2) How would you describe the way Sappho writes about her relationships with other women? With joy? sadness? frustration? with different emotions in different poems?

3) Based on what you've read of Greek literature so far, does Sappho express herself differently from the way a Greek male would express himself on the same subjects?

4) Is Sappho a feminist? Does anything she writes call into question the values and customs of a male-dominated society?

5) On p. 13-15 of Women in the Classical World you will find poems called Partheneia (Maidens' choruses), written by the Spartan poet Alkman, a near-contemporary of Sappho. Though written by a man, these were made to be sung by girls in S partan religious festivals. Do you find any similarities and differences between this poetry (a man speaking through women's voices) and Sappho's (a woman speaking for herself?

6) Pick the one Sappho poem that you think is most interesting. Be ready to tell us why.


Introduction to GREEK DRAMA in general, and to the first three plays you're reading for 2/8 in particular


Greek Drama, though ancestral in many ways to modern plays, movies and TV shows, was altogether different from these modern varieties of play-acting. Greek Drama consisted of musical/poetical performances for the public at festivals in honor of the god Dionysus. In Athens (from where all our surviving examples come) these performances were held in huge open-air theatres where a large portion of the citizen body would crowd in to watch. In addition to actors playing individual roles, each of the pla ys involved a CHORUS, which sang and danced musical interludes (marked by the dancing terms STROPHE and ANTISTROPHE in your translations), and interacted with the main characters. The chorus represented various peoples and groups in different plays, but g enerally represented the common person, giving the common person’s reaction and commentary to the events going on in the play. All the performers in Greek drama were male (characters and chorus both); they all wore masks and costumes which allowed th em to take on any appearance or gender.


There were two main types of drama in ancient Athens, Tragedy (which generally had a serious theme, and involved legendary kings and heroes from the distant past) and Comedy (which had light, humorous themes and had contemporary every day people as characters).


Performances of dramas were huge communal events that the majority ancient Athenians took very seriously. As such, one might suspect that they tended to support, rather than openly subvert, the social status quo in Athens. At the same time, however , drama, particularly Tragedy, was expected to stir the audience’s emotions, so they quite often portrayed societal norms and customs under attack or under question. They also frequently highlighted the contradictions and injustices within the societ al status quo without necessarily advocating any solutions to them.


Perhaps because the Athenians felt it desirable for tragedy to address problems in their social system, female characters play an extremely prominent role in this form of literature. Nearly every tragedy we have includes at least one strong female character whose actions are crucial in the story of the play. What this would have meant in a society like Athens, where real women's lives were constrained, is a fascinating question.


One thing that we don't know for sure is whether Athenian women would have been allowed to attend these plays. They are part of a religious festival, and religious festivals seems to be a time when women were expected to play a more public role. What little direct evidence we do have seems to suggest that they were allowed to attend, but the evidence is not very good one way or the other.



Euripides (ca 470 - 406 BC)was the latest of the three great Athenian Tragedians whose works survive. In addition to being the latest, he was also the most innovative. Even among the ancients he had a reputation for bold (in the minds of some, t oo bold) experimentation and for departing from traditional themes and characterizations. Modern scholars tend to see Euripides as producing plays that are more realistic, less stylized and symbolic, than his predecessors Aeschylus and Sophocles. His ch aracters are seen as being more psychologically complex and true to life than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and he allows into his plays more of a taste of everyday life (including elements of humor and satire) than they do. His Electra (daughter of Agamemnon), for instance, instead of being a distant heroic princess, is brought on in a poor woman’s rags talking about the hardships of farm life (Euripides decided to have her married off to a poor farmer)


When it comes to women, Euripides’ talent for psychological realism produces some of the most complex and interesting female characters ever brought to the stage in antiquity. Several of his plays (of which we will read only six together) featur e strong female characters who are difficult to characterize as simply "good" or "bad". Their ambiguous nature is part of what makes them interesting.


In his sensitive and insightful portrayals of women, some modern scholars have seen Euripides as something of a proto-feminist: giving a powerful and sympathetic voice to an otherwise voiceless segment of society. Others have emphasized that Euripid es’ women, interesting as they are, all end up being strong in the ways that patriarchal society wants its women to be strong, and weak in the way that society fears that its women are weak, and that his portraits of women therefore reinforce, rather than radically challenge, the status quo. Your task is to decide whether you believe either of these two extremes is correct or whether the truth lies somewhere in between.


About the Plays:

ALCESTIS: One of Euripides’ earliest surviving plays. King Admetus of Pherai must die unless he finds someone to die in his place. All of his relatives refuse him, until finally his wife, Alcestis, agrees to die for him. Interest ing questions: What is foremost on Alcestis’ mind as she dies? Why is she willing to die for her husband? Why is her husband willing to let her die?


HERACLEIDAE: The title means "Children of Heracles". After the death of the hero Heracles (=Hercules), his children are pursued by the evil king Eurystheus. The take refuge at Marathon in the territory of Athens. There the Athenians promise them protection, a stance which brings the hostile army of Eurystheus against them. Before the battle, a prophecy surfaces that a maiden must be sacrificed for the Athenians to have any hope of success. One of Heracles’ daughters, Macaria, volunteers to be sacrificed on behalf of her siblings and the Athenians. Interesting questions: Why is it always maidens, and not young men, who get to be sacrificed in such situations (Remember Iphigeneia)? Does it reveal something about the relative value of a woman’s life (either positively or negatively?) in the eyes of the Greeks? In addition to Macaria, Heracles’ mother Alcmena is also a character in the play. How is she portrayed?



The mythological background: Due to an offense against the gods, the wife of king Minos of Crete, Pasiphae, conceived an improper passion for a beautiful white bull. The result of this unholy union was the half-man/half-bull Minotaur. The Athenian hero Theseus had gone to Crete to slay this man-eating Minotaur. While there he was aided (against the interests of her father Minos) by princess Ariadne. With the Minotaur slain, Ariadne helped Theseus escape and ran away with him, only to be abandoned b y him on the island of Naxos before they reached Athens.

Later, Theseus enjoyed the pleasures of his love with Hippolyte, the queen of an invading army of Amazons. The result of this union was the boy HIPPOLYTUS whom Theseus raised as his son. Later still, to smooth relations between Crete and Athens, Theseus married PHAEDRA, sister to Theseus' original girlfriend Ariadne. Phaedra and Theseus had children together, who were therefore (unlike Hippolytus) legitimate heirs to the throne of Athens.

The story of the play takes place when Theseus has gone off on a mission and has sent Phaedra with his children (including Hippolytus) to Troezen, the town in which Theseus was born. Like her mother, Phaedra conceives an illicit erotic attraction--for Hippolytus, her own step-son. Disaster ensues.

The story of Hippolytus and Phaedra is a classic example of the "seductive stepmother" motif: a common story pattern in folktales world-wide: woman falls in love with younger man, someone (like a son, step-son, or guest of her husband's) whom she shoul d keep her hands off of; woman propositions young man; young man admirably and nobly refuses; woman vindictively accuses young man of rape; young man faces persecution/predicaments/banishment because of false accusation. Interestingly, the play that we ha ve before us departs from this typical pattern in the portrayal of both the perpetrator (Phaedra)and the victim (Hippolytus) of the sexual crime. See if you can figure out how Euripides has altered things and to what purpose.

Another interesting thing: Euripides apparently wrote a previous version of the story that was booed off the stage--one that hewed more closely to the "seductive stepmother" motif. His re-write won first prize in the dramatic competition when it was fi rst produced (early 420's BCE). Does that tell us anything about the attitudes of the audience toward the sort of women they liked to see on stage?



For Thursday 2/1


"Homer" was the name given in antiquity to the author of a number of monumental epic poems that served Greeks in the historical period as a record of their ethnic history. Of those poems only two survive intact: The Iliad and the Odyssey< /I>. These were the most popular epic poems in antiquity, and memorizing large chunks of them constituted an important part of elementary education for young men. Therefore the world-view, the ethics, and the lessons of the Iliad and the Odyssey formed an integral part of every male Greek’s psyche for centuries.

Even in antiquity, there was uncertainty about who Homer was, whether he wrote both of these poems and even whether he actually existed. Needless to say, we know nothing of his life with even the remotest whiff of certainty. Nowaday’s most scholar s us e the term "Homer" as shorthand for "the composer(s) of the Iliad and the Odyssey whoever he/she/they might have been."

The Date of "Homer" is likewise uncertain, and even the concept of a specific date for the poems is somewhat problematic. The poems are in large part traditional, orally-transmitted poetry, containing material that was first given verbal expression cen turies, if not millennia before the time that they were finally written down. For this reason, many historians doubt that the social structures and customs portrayed in the poem can be ascribed to a real society at any historical time or place. The writi ng-down of the Homeric poems as we now have them may have occurred as early as 800 BCE or as late as 550 BCE. Most scholars would guess somewhere around 700 BCE, thus making the poems the earliest, or nearly the earliest, Greek literature we have -- rough ly contemporary with the poems of Hesiod, some of which you will read later. For comparison, Sappho lived around 600 BCE, and the Athenian speeches you read at the beginning of class date from not long after 400 BCE.


The ILIAD is a tale set in the tenth year of the ten-year siege of Troy by the Greeks (who go by the name of Achaians, Argives and Danaans in this poem). The war between the Greeks and Trojans started when a Trojan prince, Alexander (aka Par is) ran off with the wife of his host, Helen, the wife of Menelaos the king of Sparta. Menelaos ran crying to his big brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, who summoned other doughty warriors from all over Greece to join in the expedition to Troy in order t o retrieve Helen and punish the Trojans for Alexander’s impudence. None of this is told in the Iliad, nor is the eventual capture of Troy by the Greeks (using the famous Trojan Horse). The topic of the Iliad is a few weeks in the last year o f the war when the most fierce Greek warrior, Achilleus (aka Achilles) has a falling-out with Agamemnon and withdraws from the fighting. The Greeks start losing battles to the Trojans big-time until Achilleus’ beloved comrade Patroklos, shame d by the fat e of his Greek comrades, dons Achilleus’ armor and goes off to fight the Trojans. Patroklos is killed by the mightiest Trojan warrior, Hektor. In grief at Patroklos’ death Achilles plunges back into the fighting, and eventually meets Hektor in a climactic duel in which he exacts brutal vengeance from the Trojan prince for his friend’s life.

The Iliad, as you can tell from this summary, is mostly about men, yet female characters do appear, both human and divine, and reveal interesting attitudes towards women and females. You’ll notice right off that women in the society described by Homer are treated something like highly valuable commodities: for the sake of one stolen women, Helen, the Greeks are willing to go to war for ten years. This illustrates how people of the Homeric world depend on a system of values where the possession o f women serves as a marker of status and power and where women can be used as items of economic exchange.

The Excerpts in your packet are from:

BOOK I: The beginning of the quarrel between Achilleus and Agamemnon. Note what they’re quarreling over: the possession of women as status markers.

BOOK VI: During the fighting the Trojan warrior Hektor goes back into the city to find out where the cowardly Alexander/Paris is hiding. He finds him with Helen (our first good glimpse of Helen in this class), and while in town also visits his wife And romache (in one of the poem’s more touching scenes), and his infant son.

BOOK XIV: While fighting rages on earth Hera (who favors the Greeks) seduces her husband Zeus (who is neutral) in order to distract his attention from the battlefield. One of the greatest domestic scenes involving the king and queen of Heaven.

Homer’s Odyssey:

The Odyssey is about one of the Greek heroes of the Trojan War, Odysseus, who is blown off course on his way home from the war and spends ten years wandering lost at sea before returning to his home. His ten-year voyage, plus the ten yea rs of the war itself, means that he was away from home for twenty straight years. His son, who was a baby when he left, has now reached the threshold of manhood, while his wife, Penelope, struggles to remain faithful to him and keep his household togethe r . When Odysseus returns home, after avoiding death by warfare, shipwreck and monsters, and after resisting temptation in the form of beautiful nubile maidens, he finds his house occupied by a large crowd of suitors for the hand of his wife (whom they be lieve to be a widow). He enters his own house in disguise, scopes out the situation and, when all is prepared, reveals himself and exacts horrible bloody vengeance on the suitors.

Though Odysseus has to be considered the main character, this poem is about far more than just his journey. In some ways, it is more about the problems that Odysseus’ family and household face while he is gone. In the first four books of the Od ysse y, for instance, Odysseus never appears. Instead, the story revolves around the situation in Odysseus’ home island of Ithaca and on the efforts of his son, Telemachus, to find out about his father and about himself.

Since the Household is an important focus for the Odyssey, women, whose domain is the household, play a much larger role here than in the Iliad. Of particular interest is the role played by Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, one of the more detail ed and complex portraits of a woman in all of ancient literature. A large role is also played by females as servants in Odysseus’ household, hosts who entertain Odysseus, and as goddesses (especially Athena) who mostly help Odysseus along his journey.

CONTEXT of the passages you have been given:

BOOK I: Odysseus has already been lost at sea for ten years; On Olympus, the goddess Athena, who is particularly fond of Odysseus, gets permission from Zeus to help him find his way home. Instead of going to where Odysseus is, however, she goes in disg uise to Odysseus’ home. There we get our first glimpse of Odysseus’ son Telemachos, his wife Penelope and the suitors that are consuming all the house’s resources. Athena, in disguise, encourages Telemachus to leave Ithaca and to go on a journey to find o ut about his father.

BOOK V-VII After three books describing Telemachus’ journey, we finally encounter Odysseus himself, being held captive as a love slave to the solitary goddess Calypso. By the order of the gods Calypso sends Odysseus on his way and after surviving yet a nother shipwreck he washes up on the island of the Phaeacians, who take him in and entertain him royally--the king even offers Odysseus his daughter’s hand in marriage if he will stay, but Odysseus is determined to get home.

BOOK XIX: Odysseus, having returned home in disguise, has an interview with queen Penelope. He has revealed his identity to his son, but not to his wife. Does Penelope suspect who the ill-dressed stranger might be?

BOOK XXII-XXIII: Having completed the slaughter of the suitors, Odysseus punishes the female slaves of his house who consorted with them. Then, at long last, he reveals his true identity to his long-suffering wife. Her reaction is cagy.

FOR Tuesday, 1/30: Two main topics will be investigated:

  1. Women in Sparta and other Greek societies other than Athens
  2. Women in the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BCE)

Read on for background, assignments and study questions on each topic

About Spartans and other Non-Athenian Groups

The ancient Greeks were divided into a number of sub-ethnic groups which, despite lack of any political unity, shared common features in language (all dialects of Greek), social structure (including structure of larger kinship groups, family pat terns, status of women) and religion. The three largest and most important of these groups were the Ionians (consisting of those living in the central Aegean islands and the coast of Anatolia), the Aeolians (in the north, including the islan d of Lesbos, where Sappho came from) and Dorians (inhabiting most of the Peloponnese, Crete, Rhodes and cities in southern Anatolia). The Athenians were rather a special case, but had close affinities with the Ionian group. The most p rominent an d powerful representative of the Dorian group were the people of Sparta who inhabited the territory of Lakonia in the SE part of the mainland

The "Spartans", properly called, constituted an elite mi nority in Lakonia. The rest of the population, a decided majority, was divided into two classes: Helots were agricultural slaves permanently attached to plots of land owned by Spartans. Th ey worked the land for the Spartans and turned over the bulk of the produce and revenue from the land to their masters. Status as a full-fledged Spartan depended not only on descent from Spartan parents but also on possession of a certain minimum amount o f land. Farming, however, was considered far beneath the dig nity of a true Spartan, so the labor of Helots was necessary to support the structure of elite Spartan society.

The third class, Perioikoi, were mostly people who lived outside the area of Sparta itself and who had a much more free and independent existence than the Helots. They were still, however, under the control of the Spartans and had no say in the government of the territory they lived in. They often served alongside Spartans in the Spartan army and engaged in other careers, such as trade and manufacturing, that were considered beneath the dignity of the elite.

So far, what has been described for Spartan society seems to have been unremarkable for Dorian communities, many of which seem to have had a agricultural elite supported by the labor of a larger serf-like or Helot-like class. But Sparta began charting a different course in the 8th century, BCE when, probably as a result of population pressures (under which many Spartans found themselves on the verge of falling below the minimum landholding requirement for their class) the Spartans decided to conquer th e large and fertile neighboring territory of Messenia, claiming ownership of the land and reducing the Messenian population to the status of Helots. Suddenly the imbalance between the small elite Spartan class and the large Helot class that they he ld under their thumbs increased dramatically. Moreover the new Messenian Helots, unlike their counterparts in Lakonia, had fresh memories of freedom and independence. A s a result the Spartans, though they now had the land they needed to maintain their wa y of life, would henceforth be in a heightened state of anxiety at the prospect of a revolt of the Helots.

To counter this, the Spartans reformed their society along militaristic lines to an unprecedented extent. Many of these reforms are attributed to the semi- or perhaps wholly legendary figure named Lykourgos (aka Lycurgus). For our purposes the m ost important reforms are the agoge, which prescribed a program for the rearing of Spartan youth, and the regimen that Lykourgos recommended for Spartan women.

The Spartan Agoge: From age 6 to age 30, Spartan males lived apart from their families in "barracks" with other men . The emphasis in their barracks life was on military training, character-building austerity (really bad food, inadequate clothing, etc.), and the formation of "unit cohesiveness" by the bonds of friendship and perhaps homosexual attraction with barracks-mates. A t the age of 20, men were encouraged to marry and begin fathering more little Spartan warriors, but they still li ved apart from their wives in the barracks. They were encouraged to visit their wives only infrequently, and were discouraged from allowing their affection for women to displace their barracks buddies and army pals from the central spot in their hearts. A fter age 30, men moved out of the barracks and set up house with their wives and children (minus most of the male children, who by this point would be off undergoing the agoge in their own barracks), but still returned to the barracks each day to s hare the main meal with his old comrades.

This entire system had as its goal the formation of the Spartan males into a fighting force formidable enough to keep the Helots cowed into subservience. Women, as the readings will reveal, have a role to play in this system as well.


Read WCW, Chapter 2 for background

WLGR 97 - 98 (also reproduced in approximately the same form in WCW ch. 2) are two accounts of aspects of Lykourgos’ system that relate to women. It is important to note that both these accounts come from writers who are not Spartan, so they may be somewhat exaggerated or distorted, but they are the best accounts we have.


1. How are the roles and activities assigned to women different from what you have learned about Athenian women? What do the comments offered by the non-Spartan authors reveal as what THEY consider the norm?

2. How do the things that Lykourgos prescribes for women contribute to the goals of his agoge? Are there any distinctive aspects of Spartan women’s lives that are not related to the goals of the agoge, or that are perhaps unintentional re sults of this militaristic program ?

3. Would you say, based on these and your other readings, that Spartan women enjoyed higher "status" or higher "position" within their society than Athenian women? (The ""’s are meant to get you to think about what we mean by "status" and "position").

WLGR 99: Sayings of Spartan Women. These sayings were collected by the late (100 CE) and non- Spartan author Plutarch. Many, if not all, may be bogus, but they certainly represent what people in antiquity thought Spartan women might say, based on their knowledge of Spartan society. Given this limitation on our evidence, what can we tentatively conclude about the typical Spartan woman’s attitude about her role in society?

WLGR 76: Parts of the Gortyn Law Code: Gortyn was a city on the island of Crete occupied, like Sparta, by Dorian Greeks. Unlike Sparta, however, Gortyn never underwent the radical militarization that Sparta did. What similarities and differences are there between the way women live and are looked upon in Gortyn and Sparta? To what extent does this evidence suggest that there are some aspects of the Spartan system that are peculiarly Spartan and some that are common to Dorian communities?

COURSE PACKET PART II: Article, "Family Dynamics and Female Power in Ancient Sparta". Here Barton Kunstler takes what we know from the sources you have read and draws some psychological inferences about the sorts of people, men and women, that t his way of life produces. Does this hypothesis make sense? Are such inferences a valid way of approaching ancient societies for which there is little evidence, or is it simply sheer speculation?

About the Hellenistic Period:

The Hellenistic Period is the name given to the period of Greek and Eastern Mediterranean history following the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE). Alexander, ruler of the kingdom of Macedon, in the north of Greece, had conquere d the former Persian empire and added its vast holdings to the empire that had been built in the Greek mainland by his father, Philip II. Now Greece, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Persia itself were united under a Greek-speaking Macedonian mon archy. As a capital for his new empire Alexander established the modestly-named city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt.

Alexander’s empire did not remain united after his death, but his Macedonian generals divided it up and maintained control under Macedonian leadership for centuries. The most successful and long-lasting of these "successor kingdoms" was that established by Alex ander’s general Ptolemy in Egypt (referred to as the Ptolemaic dynasty), which lasted down to the death of Ptolemy’s direct descendent, Cleopatra VII (yes, the Cleopatra) in 31 BCE.

In the Hellenistic period the centre-point of Greek-speaking population and culture moved from the mainland of Athens and Sparta to the Hellenistic foundations of Alexandria, Pergamum (in Anatolia) and Antioch (in Syri a). As Greek-s peaking transplants infiltrated these areas, and as the rule of a Greek-speaking elite persisted, an interesting fusion of cultures resulted which transformed fundamentally the nature of both Greek and non-Greek civilization in the a rea.

As with the earlier Greek period, one cannot generalize about cultural norms in the Hellenistic period; one must always be aware of what place and time one is speaking about. Most of our detailed information comes from Hellenistic Egypt . This is for two reasons: 1) because there was a thriving literary culture in Alexandria which has left us contemporary records and 2) because the desert sands of Egypt are particularly good at preserving papyrus. Ancient papyri containing great literatu re, cr uddy literature, legal documents, personal letters, laundry lists, etc. were used to wrap mummies and were stored in caches that are still being uncovered by archaeologists! As a result we have some types of documentation from Hellenistic Egypt tha t we h ave from few other places in the ancient world.


WCW Chapter 5: Pay particular attention to the stories of Arsinoe, Cleopatra and the other Hellenistic Queens, the first women with true poli tical power that we have had occasion to consider so far.