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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 9: Hellenistic Women

Pomeroy, chapter 7
Lefkowitz and Fant: 42, 91-94, 101-02, 104, 194, 202-05, 217, 306- 07, 324, 329-32

Medea's situation in Euripides' play anticipates subsequent developments in the Greek world: breakdown of older forms of social cohesion, geographical mobility, individualism, economic and social risks for women, focus on husband-wife relationship along with disincentives to raising children

Social Changes

Consequences for Women

  1. Greater wealth in hands of women (L&F 91-94, 202-07)
  2. Corresponding movement into public sphere (L&F 194-95, 200, 432)
  3. Greater need for legal protections in absence of guardians (L&F 102-06)
  4. Economic need to work outside the home (L&F 324, 329-32)
  5. Growing emphasis on education (L&F 42, 217, 219, 307-07)
  6. Increased emphasis on companionship within marriage and consequent challenges to the double standard (L&F 101)


  1. Wealth redistributed through the philanthropic activities of elected magistrates, e.g., donations of public buildings
  2. In Hellenistic and Roman periods, women begin acting as public benefactors and receiving honors (e.g., Tata)
  3. Causes of this phenomenon:
  4. Women's participation in public life enhances prestige of male kin, creates good will for husband and children

Hellenistic Queens

  1. Macedonia
    1. Political power clan-based until death of Alexander
    2. Polygamous marriage pattern and royal succession
    3. Public activities of royal women: Olympias
      • wife of Philip II (ruled 359-336 BC)
      • clan women involved in dynastic struggles
      • Olympias and Antipater (Alexander's viceroy)
  2. Ptolemaic Egypt
    1. Arsinoë II and Ptolemy II:
      • marriage of siblings consolidates wealth, strengthens dynastic claims of Ptolemy's immediate family
      • justified by Egyptian pattern of brother-sister marriage
      • CHREMONIDES DECREE: public policy of a female member of ruling family recorded in a public document
      • Egyptian designations of Arsinoë and her successor Berenice
    2. Activities of Ptolemaic queens: promotion of dynasty
      • religious cult and identification with divinities
      • literary and artistic patronage
      • ideology of romantic attraction between spouses

Ordinary Women

  1. What differences between the situation of Athenian and Egyptian women emerge from the papyrus texts?
    1. written proof of marriage and contractual dowry arrangments
    2. stipulation of double standard
    3. assumption that the relationship between the spouses will not take care of itself
  2. Increased literacy among women from fourth century B.C. onwards
  3. Cottage industries provide extrafamilial employment
  4. Declining marriage opportunities

Relations between the Sexes

  1. Girls receive a greater focus of erotic attention
  2. Interest in a "female perspective" in literature
  3. Philosophical debate on marriage:
  4. Strong psychic investment in private sexual relationships

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