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Women in Classical Antiquity: Ancient and Modern Sources, Ancient and Modern Attitudes, selections assembled by Judith P. Hallett

Ancient Authors

(Note: See also Semonides 7)

Phocylides (Greek, ca. 600 B.C.)

The tribes of women
come in four breeds: bee, bitch, and savage-looking sow,
and mare with long flowing mane. The mare
is sprightly, swift, gadabout and most lovely in form.
The savage-looking sow is neither good nor rotten,
and the bitch is troublesome and fierce-tempered.
Yes, the bee is best: a good housekeeper
who knows how to work. Dear friend, I tell you,
to win a desirable marriage, pray for a bee.

Hipponax (Greek, 550 B.C.)

Two days in a woman's life are especially sweet:
When someone marries her, and when she's dead and he buries her.

Aristotle (Greek, 4th century B.C.), Politics, Book 7, chapter 16:

It is important that women look after their physical condition during pregnancy. They must not be lazy or go on a skimpy diet. It is easy for a legislator to ensure that they do this by making it a rule that they shall each day take a walk, the object of which is to worship the gods who are particularly concerned with childbirth. But even though the body of a pregnant woman should be exercised, the mind should not. Mental exertion is better avoided by pregnant women; the unborn infant appears to take good qualities from the mother who bears it, just as plants do from the earth.

Cato the Elder (Roman, second century B.C.), as quoted by Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 10.23

If you were to have caught your wife engaged in an extra-marital sexual act, you would with impunity put her to death without trial. But if you were to engage--as the active or passive partner--in an extra-marital sexual act, she would not dare lay a finger on you, nor does she have a legal right to do so.

Martial (Roman, first century A.D.) 1.10

Count no man happy until--
His wife is dead, especially if she's rich!

Modern Scholars

Adversaries of "Womanpower":

F. Nietzsche (1844-1900, Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel),

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

"Man shall be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior. All else is folly...Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip".

Beyond Good and Evil

"Woman has so much cause for shame; in woman there is so much pedantry, superficiality, schoolmasterliness, petty presumption, unbridledness and indiscretion concealed...which has really been restrained and dominated hitherto by the fear of man"


J. P. Mahaffy, A Survey of Greek Civilization (1896) 218:
"This absence of the moral influence of women...had, I believe, a great effect in making Greek life hard and unlovely. The angel of the house, who allays so much strife, who sets the example of so much unselfishness, who protects the feeble and the sick, was wanting there. The gentleness of modern life is not the gentleness of the Greeks."


H.D.F. Kitto (Professor at the University of Bristol, England), The Greeks (1951) 234:
"....when we find perfectly good evidence that women [in 5th century B.C. Athens] went to the theatre--often to see plays which we should certainly not allow our women to see--we struggle against it."

"Woman Haters":

D. Richter (Professor at Ohio University), "Women in Classical Athens", Classical Journal (1971) 5:
"There is, of course, a healthy strain of misogyny and misogamy running through Greek literature".

Advocates of "Womanpower":

H. Diner (pseudonym of historian in Nazi Germany), Mothers and Amazons: the first feminine history of culture (1930's), 116:
"Tradition had it that Athens once practiced complete promiscuity like Sparta. Patriarchal marriage, it was claimed, was introduced by Cecrops...the first Athenian ruler to unite men and women in marriage; prior to that, the Athenians had cohabited with their own sexes...The royal family of Athens was female"
E. Davis, The First Sex (1972) 187 and 190:
As a matter of historical fact, Greek women of the classical age enjoyed rights and privileges under Athenian law that are still denied women of the United States in these last years of the twentieth century [i.e. birth control and abortion; unilateral divorce, owning and administering property]...
"...the writings of the ancient Greeks themselves do not indicate any suppression of the rights of women. The contemporary Greek writers...betray the essential freedom of Greek women in their casual revelations of daily life. From these writings the evidence is inescapable that Greek women enjoyed a high degree of independence."