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Women in Antiquity: CLAS 330/HUM 330/WS 330 (3 units)
Presession, Summer 1995: Monday, May 15 - Saturday, June 3
9:00 -11:50 AM MTWTHF ML 312
Instructor: Marilyn B. Skinner (

Lecture 2: Ancient Divinities

Pomeroy, chapter 1
Lerner, "The Goddesses"

From Goddesses to Supreme God

  1. Lerner describes a process, widespread throughout the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean, by which the worship of a goddess of life was replaced by that of a dominant male god.
  2. Mother-goddess worshipped originally by herself, then with son- consort who is born, grows up to inseminate her, dies and is reborn. Symbolic of:
    1. earth and yearly crop
    2. human life (individual vs. species)
    3. masculine and feminine orders (gender system)
  3. Dethroning of mother goddess and symbolic devaluation of women's procreative power as effects of subordination
    1. complex archaic states associate creative power with ability to name (invention of writing)
    2. naming synonymous with ordering
    3. ordering becomes the arrangement of the cosmos under a supreme male god
  4. Generative split: rational creativity vs. procreativity
    1. appropriation by males of abstract power of naming (Adam)
    2. physical reproduction assigned to women
    3. female power of procreation approprated by males (Zeus gives birth to Athena)
  5. "Goddess" fragments into many goddesses with specialized female functions--marriage, childbirth, sexuality, agriculture
  6. Hieros gamos: marriage of goddess to god subordinates her and curbs her power
  7. Structure of ancient creation myth:
    1. origin of universe from female principle
    2. struggle between forces of chaos (female) and order (male)
    3. triumph of male god explains present conditions

Greek Patriarchial Religion

  1. Myths:
    1. Communal attempt to impose a symbolic order on the universe - figurative statements about the concerns of a society, reflecting the way the world is now.
    2. What can we learn from Greek myth about the way the Greeks thought about sexual difference? How do notions of gender play out in the Greek creation myth?
  2. Biological universe - political power symbolized as generativity
    1. born of primaeval power (Ge, the earth goddess)
    2. continuum of existence, not hierarchy (hence metamorphosis)
    3. man potentially capable of reaching divinity
  3. Zeus' rise to power in successive generations
    1. Ge produces Uranus, castrated by son Cronus: cycle of birth, generation, death
    2. In next generation, Zeus succeeds Cronus with help of mother Rhea
    3. After establishing his rule, Zeus marries Metis, swallows her and gives birth to Athena
      1. parthenogenesis as supreme power
      2. stress on rationality as means of resisting chaos
      3. Athena as "dutiful daughter"--protectress of sire
      4. Zeus avoids having son greater than he is
  4. Zeus the patriarch
    1. Brothers (Hades, Poseidon, Zeus) divide the known universe
    2. Sisters (Demeter, Hestia, Hera) divide primary female roles
    3. Children of Zeus:
      1. Apollo, Hermes, Dionysus--aspects of culture
      2. Artemis and Aphrodite--outside culture
  5. Greek cosmology
    1. Opposition of dominant female sphere (nature, chaos) to masculine realm
    2. Masculinity is self-assertion against the chaotic female principle that threatens to subdue order
  6. Pandora: the first woman, created as punishment for Prometheus' theft of fire. Represented as consumer of man's labor. So-called "misogyny" of myth expresses fear of being destroyed by demands of nature.
  7. Female perspective--in a biological universe, females may have felt a sense of power they no longer feel, since reproductive activity is less important in contemporary society