Greek women, as depicted as in their history and literature, endure many hardships and struggle to establish a meaningful status in their society. In the Odyssey, Penelope’s only role in the epic is to support Odysseus and remain loyal to him. She is at home and struggles to keep her family intact while Odysseus is away trying to return to his native land. The cultural role of women is depicted as being supportive of man and nothing more. Yet what women in ancient Greece did long ago was by far more impressive than what men did.
Unfortunately though, they were still placed at a level that was below man because he is depicted as being the root
of the family. This fact not only holds true for The Odyssey but in the ancient Greek way of life, too. For example, women did not have such a meaningful role in Greek drama as the men did. The parts of women would be played by men in the majority of the plays. The reason this took place was because all of the playwrights were men. There were cases in which women were used in plays but they were used solely as models. Nonetheless, all of the types of women that lived in ancient Greece were depicted in all of the playwrights. The women in these plays were depicted by the role of a sinner, saint, poetess, coward, heroine, and
many more. This was purposefully done in an attempt to make the audience relate to a certain character. In doing so, they could imagine that they were indeed a part of the play to some extent. As a result, these characters have significant religious meanings and serve as a form of inspiration to other women. This would mainly apply to those women who were in attendance. This would include women of all classes that simply wanted to watch a play.
Their limitations amongst society can also be noticed by the amount of education that they are entitled to. Plato’s Republic mentions how the role of women is determined by the status of their spouse. For instance, if a woman were to be the wife of a guard, then she would be expected to live at the level of that status, too. She is expected to be able to contribute to society a great deal more rather than stay at home and take care of her children and household. Plato points out that although women are not as strong as men, they are still strong nonetheless.
The same procedure could be said that takes place for women of the ruling class. All the women of the ruling class had to be educated in the areas of music, gymnastics, and even trained for war. The general concept was that there was not a single task that either sex could not do. However,
man was still believed to be able to accomplish tasks more proficiently as described by Plato himself. “Man’s superiority means that he is better than woman in every sphere” (Plato 245). This further enforces the idea behind having a male ruler as opposed to a female.
Marriage in ancient Greece was considered to be a very significant occasion as in most religions and societies. Marriage could take place only by obtaining formal permission from the officials. Women during a marriage were mainly in charge of the children and of the household. They would raise their children, take care of them, and teach them everything that they have learned themselves. In addition, the woman would also support her husband and remain loyal to him regardless of what happens.
Another example of the hardships and sacrifices made by women include property rights. When a woman marries, she does not inherit or hold any property whatsoever. Instead, it is the male who in fact inherits and owns everything in the household. The same concept applies to the children of the family. The son would inherit most of the parents’ wealth, and the daughter would receive whatever was really left over. In the event that the parents should die, the daughter would be considered as
being and would go to a relative. Also, the daughter would even marry a relative and bear a child with him in order to keep her family roots intact.
Some of the people from ancient Greece had similar views on the status of women in their society. They felt that a woman’s place was to be at home and nowhere else. If the woman were of an upper class family, then she would not be allowed to go out unattended by somebody. On the other hand, if the individual was a poor woman, then she simply would not be allowed outside at all. Males were the only people that were allowed to attend public events. Any woman that did go to these public events did not partake in any of the events or celebrations that were being held. That could be another reason as to why many of the women decided not even to go in the first place. It was a waste of their time going if they could not have the luxury of enjoying the occasion.
A portion of the women in ancient Greece were not able to live their lives they way they had intended to. As mentioned earlier, their jobs and routines were solely based upon what their husband’s status was. Therefore, in some cases, this would limit them in their daily routines and any other activities they desired to participate in.
That is why it could be stated that they lived their lives in a state of “seclusion” from the rest of society. It was even mentioned that women lived this sort of life because they were “respected” individuals. For example, they didn’t always have the best places to sit at the theatre (Katz 8). “They were not always permitted to go; and it is well known that there was a death penalty for those who dare to show themselves at the Olympic Games” (Katz 8). Their status even had an effect upon they way they would eat. For instance, if a woman was not of royalty then she would never arrive at the table at the beginning of a meal.
On the contrary, if the woman were of royalty then she would dismiss herself from the table before the meal concluded. Finally, men and women never spent the daytime with one another. “This was usually done in an attempt to make their meetings later on in the day more pleasant” (Katz 8).
In ancient Greece, there were only two main groups that existed and those were men and women. Everything that each gender did was based upon their sex and nothing more.
There was no such thing as racism. All men and women were treated decently amongst their respective peers. However, things were of a different matter when men and women wanted
to partake in events with each other. Their requests would be immediately disregarded, and they would have to do what they were told.
Nowadays, critics and scholars have both stated how the limiting of a woman’s role in ancient Greece was in fact “biological sexism” (Katz 14). They have even gone onward to say that is was ridiculous and that women should have been entitled to more rights. In my opinion, I believe that the seclusion displayed towards women may have indeed been an attempt by men to maintain dominance over them. In fact, if that was indeed their actual intention then it could have been deemed very successful. This statement holds true because men were the rulers and heroes of that time. They established dominance over everything with their power. Women served only as spectators as all of this was taking place.
Finally, in order to have a better perception of the way of life for Greek women, here are a few more examples. The behavior of a respectable woman, at that time, was expected to be very mature. Another way of describing their behavior could be established by the words Aidos and Sophrosyne. Aidos can be described as someone being both modest and noble. Sophrosyne is explained as somebody
doing everything they are required to do in a quiet and orderly fashion. A woman that was exemplifying Aidos would be wearing a closed silhouette. In addition, the only times in which a woman could speak were those when she was either spoken to or in the presence of her husband. In some cases, women of a lower status would go about with her head looking down as a sign of respect. Also, when a woman marries her husband, the unveiling of her face symbolizes her allegiance to him.
Greek women, as depicted as in their history and literature, have endured many hardships and struggles to establish a meaningful status in their society. In comparison, so much has changed concerning the cultural role of women. Nowadays, women play a greater role than simply managing their households. They are entitled to more rights and have developed an equal amount of respect as men hold. It will be interesting to see if in the upcoming years their status in society takes a tremendous leap.