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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 3: Homeric Women

Pomeroy, chapter 2

Homer as a Historical Source

Patterns of Gender Relations in Homer

  1. Marriage as women's destined end, for biological as well as social reasons: even Penelope assumes it's her duty to remarry if still fertile
  2. Oikos--estate of family, comprising both land and valuables, as well as household members
    1. husband's role: provider and protector
    2. wife's role: conserve that within the household
    3. child's role: continuation of paternal line
  3. Characteristics of Homeric marriage
  4. Patrilocal vs. matrilocal marriage: "marrying-in man" takes kingdome as the husband of the king's daughter. Motif of prenuptial ordeal taking the place of competition with gifts.
  5. Gender anomalies: matriarchy (distinguish from matriliny)? Amazons?

The Situation of Penelope

  1. "Stand-in Wife": a wife who assumes her husband's functions in his absence, and, because of her husband's position, is invested with a kind of secondary authority
  2. Who is Penelope's kyrios?
    1. Husband has been missing ten years--but she, as his stand- in wife, has power to recognize him or declare him dead
    2. Cannot return to father's protection without abandoning Telemachus and Odysseus' estate, which she must preserve for him
    3. Anomalous situation of Telemachus--must remain a child to be safe
    4. Power vacuum leaves suitors free to consume estate
  3. Questions concerning Penelope's autonomy:
  4. Two views of her situation:
    1. Murnaghan: "desperate and trapped"
    2. Winkler: "clever and successful - the poet tricks us into underestimating her"
  5. Situation may be set up as a test case to allow for debate-- ambiguity of Penelope's position deliberately manufactured