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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 7: Private Life in Classical Athens

Pomeroy, chapter 5
Lefkowitz and Fant: 88, 90, 267, 339, 341, 343

Housing and Private Life (L&F 88)

  1. Interior plan of Athenian house, built of mud brick on stone foundations. If only one entrance it would lead through men's area.
  2. Men's quarters (andron) and women's quarters (gynaikeion)
  3. Were insides "dark, squalid, and unsanitary"?
  4. Physical activities of women:
  5. Sumptuary laws: prohibited elaborate funerals, displays of conspicuous consumption
  6. Could Greek women read and write? (See L&F 82, 267). Woman's role as storyteller in oral society.


  1. Model of female gynecology (L&F 341, 343):
  2. Intercourse and pregnancy essential to women's health: women have absolute right to both (marriage and children not necessarily every man's right)
  3. Rationale for early marriage: girls must have intercourse soon after menstruation begins, protracted virginity harmful (e.g., Electra)
  4. Uterus an inverted jug; analogy of neck and vagina
  5. Does the mother contribute to the child's heredity?

Athenian Concept of the Maternal Role

  1. Self-sacrificing: mother risks her life in giving birth
  2. Desire to nurture a natural instinct
  3. Mother's love for child stronger than that of father
  4. Emphasis on mother-son bond, son repays mother by care
  5. Figure of the oppressive mother

Non-Respectable Women: The Case of Neaera

  1. Women's sexuality as private (belonging to one man) or public (available to all)
  2. In Athens, prostitution was legal (state-run brothels established by Solon) and prostitutes could be investment
  3. Stereotype of the hetaira and reality: