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Reflections on the Status of Women in Ancient Greece and Today


To read about the culture and lifestyle of the ancient Greeks bought on a few "aha" moments for me. When I was 18 years old, I traveled through parts of Greece, solo, and the adventures I experienced there, particularly with men (most of whom were named "Georgos"), were confused. There were so many subtal nuances that I did not feel privy to, and yet that involved me as a woman … With a clear view back, thirty years later, assisted by Katherine L. French and Allyson M. Poska, authors of Women and Gender in the Western Past, and by Sarah Shaver Hughes and Brady Hughes, who compiled Women in World History, I was able to understand much of what happened to me. While in Patras, I encountered a social stratum of men who shared their women and yet preferred the company of other men. This seems to go directly back to the days of ancient Sparta.

When I first arrived in Patras, with a backpack on my back, I had encountered a virile fisherman named Theos, and entered into a sexual relationship with him. One day when he was working as a waiter in a local pizzeria, I decided to go and explore the town. I met a man named Georgos who took me dancing. When I returned to Theos's apartment later that night, Theos flew into a rage; the town had eyes, and someone he knew had seen me with this other man who was not a member of Theos's echelon.

I left the next day, boarding a train to Athens, relieved to leave all baggage behind, and ready to see what else Greece had to offer. I was also now wary of Greek men bearing gifts, if you know what I mean.

After reading of the near luxurious status of ancient Egyptian women, it was disturbing to see how women lost ground in the so-called "democratic" states of ancient Greece. Even the noble women were relegated to the house, while the middle class women were able to run taverns and market booths. Women were seen mainly as baby-carriers and homemakers. This is probably where the saying "Women should be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen" came from.

Infanticide was an acceptable practice, and females were the ones who were usually treated of since they did not have the same worth as males. Males were gold nuggets opposed to females who were like fools' gold.

The Spartan women seemed to have the most power. As young women they could run and jump and play like a boy, so that they could bear strong children (preferably boys). Women socialized with other women while the men and boys were out doing their militaristic thing. Any newborns who were deemed unacceptable were either left out for vultures and wild animals to carry away, or sent to be slaves. The movie "300" touches on many of the same things mentioned about Spartan society in our textbooks. Of course, Sparta and her citizens are romanticized in the movie, and King Leonitus's wife is portrayed by Lena Headey as a strong and independent woman of her time.

French and Poska both touch on the fact that "Greek men were not only uninterested in the lives of women but believed that it was inappropriate to talk about them in public." Wow. Knowing how highly we modern women like to think of ourselves, this is downright misogyny. My own personal experiences in 1979 as a young sexually-active woman in Greece showed me that Greek men had not changed all that much from ancient times.

In 1994, I returned to Greece with my husband. At the time. we were producing a mountain bike travel video called "Full Cycle: A World Odyssey." As a woman accompanied by two men (my husband and our camera operator), I had a more enjoyable time. The Greek men we encountered all kept their pants on and their hands off me. I had the opportunity to visit Delphi and see the stone upon which the Oracle once sat, dispensing her fortunes, and I climbed to the top of Mt. Olympus on my mountain bike. When I reached the top, I laid my bike down and sipped water from a cold natural spring that ran out of some rocks. When I turned around, I saw a menacing dog that was approaching me. I stand up tall and started to growl at it, thinking that might be a good way to scare it off. Wrong. It came charging towards me. I scrambled up a six-foot pile of loose rocks and fortunately it was unable to follow me. Finally, it retreated and vanished. One thing I noticed about the dogs of Greece was how fierce and angry they seemed. When I thought about my experience on top of Mt. Olympus later, I chuckled to myself as I realized that "dog" spelled backwards is "god."


Source by Patty Mooney


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