Historical Discord: The Question of Greek Women

Abstract: 

Ancient Greek women and their roles have long been a topic of debate among historians. Classical study from previous generations found that Greek women were wholly deficient of all power and rights within the state. Historian A.W. Gomme argued that Greek women spent their lives trapped within their husband’s homes. Textbook writers such as Maurice Balme and Gilbert Lawall replicate Gomme’s viewpoints. In the text Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek, Balme and Lawall discuss the roles of ancient Greek women for only two pages and pronounce that women “lived in the shadows of their men” and lacked all legal abilities since “they were treated in law as minors.”∗Balme and Lawall also parrot Gomme’s view that women “had no place in public life.” Contemporary historians, however, have found primary sources and literature which illustrate the true societal roles and powers of Greek women. Those accounts conflict heavily with the findings of scholars from the early twentieth century, such as Gomme, and those who replicate his bias. This dissension between historians on the social, economic, and political rights of Greek women is due in part to scholars’ bias-laden interpretations of evidence. The primary sources about and written by Greek women must be presented and read with new interpretation to avoid the bias of previous historians. This paper seeks to rectify the inaccuracies in previous historians’ analyses of Greek women by investigating the social, political, and economic power held by various women within the Greek world, as demonstrated in art, religion, and literature.

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