Navigation banner for Diotima (6k)

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 8: Images of Women in Athenian Literature

Pomeroy, chapter 6
Lefkowitz and Fant, 72-74
Dover, "Classical Greek Attitudes"

Ancient Sexual Ideology

By understanding how Greek men saw themselves as sexual beings, we understand why they attempted to control women
  1. Women's sexuality
  2. Men's sexuality
    1. Moral issue: not object or act but degree of temperance
      • object preference not a component of personal identity
      • did not define morality of act
      • in our society, "homosexuality" puts gender identity at risk; in Greece and Rome, some homoerotic and some heterosexual acts put gender identity at risk, others do not
    2. Dominance vs. submission: aligns sexual and social roles
    3. Penetration and gender
      • adult male must penetrate
      • female is by definition penetrated and passive
      • any sexual act between two partners, at least one of whom is male, must involve a dominance-submission relationship
      • sex-role assignment of boy structured along age lines, assimilated to female
      • adolescent sexuality and citizenship
  3. Medical and moral issues
    1. Men are dry by nature; excess moisture discharged as semen
    2. Sexual activity necessary, but too much is debilitating
    3. Excess and passivity as two forms of misconduct:
      • sex reduces rational males to animal level, entails submission to demands of nature
      • tempts one to go beyond need satisfaction (addictive)
      • freedom as absence of physical or emotional compulsion
      • surrender to desire is feminine, because women cannot control appetites
  4. Moderation is virile. Every kyrios must exercise proper control over himself in order to control his household.

Philosophic Theories of "Woman" (L&F 72, 73, 74)

  1. Debate over women's moral nature: can women be temperate?
  2. Women's social role and women's virtue
  3. Relation between the state and the family