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Women in Ancient Athens

Aristophanes portrayed Athenian women quite differently but thought this was due to changes in women's freedom toward the end of the fifth century (Cohen 4). A social anthropologist studying the modern Greek village of Methana found a disconnect between the characterizations of ancient Greek women and those of the women he was encountering (Cohen 4). The social anthropologist states, "While we had read about powerless, submissive females who considered themselves morally inferior to men, we found physically and socially strong women who had a great deal to say about what took place in the village" (Cohen 4). Moreover, women also had a strong voice in the village, and in some cases older women dominated the affairs of their households (Cohen 4).

Primary sources do not always clarify the issue. Euripides' artistic license in his works results in a conflicted view of women. For example, in Melanippe, one of the characters states, "The worst plague is the hated race of women," while another-a woman-states, "Women manage homes and preserve the goods which are brought from abroad. Houses where there is no wife are neither orderly nor prosperous. And in religion - I take this to be important - we women play a large part . . . How then can it be just that the female sex should be abused?" (Cohen 4). The dilemma for modern historians is that it is difficult to differentiate between the culturally imposed separation of men and women, which was intended to preserve women's chastity and thus men's honor, and the seclusion that many historians seem to extrapolate from that separation; the two are not the same (Cohen 6).

According to works by Aristophanes (Peace 535), Demosthenes (57.45), Plato (Theaet. 149), and Aristotle (Politics 13001, 1323a), Cohen (7-8) posits that "A considerable body of evidence indicates that Athenian women participated in a wide


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Women in Ancient Athens. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:04, August 24, 2017, from
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