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Women in the Classical World

Women in the Classical World by Elaine Fantham, Helene Peet Foley, Natalie Boymel Kampen, Sarah B. Pomeroy, and H. A. Shapiro

Archaic Greece, classical Greece, the Hellenistic world (including Egypt, where the papyri survive better than records elsewhere), a little on Etruscans, republican Rome, imperial Rome. . . . a fair amount of ground.

And not evenly treated for the simple reason that information for some eras is sparser than for others.  In archaic Greece, we have the statuary, some poetry, a few inscription, pottery showing them in mourning -- classical Greece has, for instance, all the philosophers and physicians propounding different theories of women's bodies, and the plays that show women in action.  Andromache, for instance, chiding Hesione (Helen's daughter, and married to Andromache's owner) about her jealousy, and recounting how she had nursed Hector's bastards at her own breast rather than do him injury.  The Spartan women vs. Athenian.  The way that vases depicting weddings do not show bearded men in their late twenties marrying girls in their mid-teens but beardless youths of 19 or 20 with a maiden the same age.  The way it was regarded as shocking for a woman to come to the doorway of her house to ask for news.  Well, a wife.  It also goes into the disreputable women of that era.

There was less of wives in the inner court in the Hellenistic period.  Their greater religious dedications, and the women poets of the era.

And then back a bit in time for what is known of Roman women, and Etruscans, even before it.  And then onward through the women of republican Rome, and the legendary women.  Such Lucretia and Verginia, whose stories were told of radical political changes.  The temples dedicated to female Virtue in both the patrician and plebeian form (the plebeian one being founded by a woman whose patrician birth did not let her into the patrician one when she married a plebeian).  The claim that plebeians were admitted to the office of consul because the wife of a plebeian resented that her sister's patrician husband had this honor.   The notorious decline of morals with the times of upheaval near the end of the republic; Cicero received a letter of condolence on his daughter's life reminding him that she had enjoyed just about everything life had to offer, and then escaped the chaos of the times.  Writings that seem to indicate that both men and women were avoiding having children because of the civil war -- having more soldiers for Rome, indeed, when it meant fighting in such battles.  Through Octavia, unable to bring peace between her brother and Mark Anthony and living out her widowhood raising all his children, including those by Cleopatra.

More in the imperial era, from the imperial women whose fertility was used symbolically to represent the prosperity of the Empire, to the freedwomen whose tombs often showed them clasping hands with their husbands -- a symbol of marriage, and so of their freedom, since slaves could not marry.  How Augustus tried to promote the birth rate by allowing women to legally emancipated by having three living children -- four if a freedwoman -- and how little it worked.  Childbirth was too risky, and infant mortality too high.

Lots of stuff.
Tags: history reviews: classical
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