Looking at women in Greece and the concept of otherness, first of all I would like to say that there is no single view about women and their position in Greek society. Male and female performed a different function in society and there was a division of labour. Sarah P. Pomeroy wrote that there were indications of respectability such as nudity or concealing clothing, and ideas about promiscuity, virginity, and even the exercise of public power by women, which varied among ethnic groups.
The position of Athenian women in society was primarily focus on reproduction. They were responsible for giving birth to Athenian citizens. They were out of the political sphere and the decision making of the polis. They didn’t have the right to be citizens. They did not have the right to have property or to be part of the army. Women were educated to live indoors. They were interested in beauty and house work. The myth of Athena is a good example. The Goddess became main divinity of the polis, as she was voted by all women to become the Goddess of the city. This resulted on women’s lost of their right to vote in Athens.
Spartan women though were part of Spartan citizenship. They were allowed to drink wine, a signal of integration in society. They were educated to be outdoors, to fight in the army and enjoyed privileges that differentiated them from Athenians. This showed their importance and autonomy within Spartan society. Thucydides wrote that some women could manage family and own slaves and other property without the assistance of the kyrios. This might have been a Macedonian practice.
Herodotus and the Histories though does not seem to express clearly this concept of otherness connected to women in society. Herodotus wrote about women such as Candaules’ queen. She was a women that had self-control, a woman that was astute, manipulative, able to plot a revenge against his husband’s mistress. This traits though seemed not to be fixed in male or female. They could be found in either male or female barbaric royalty. Barbaric royal women had same qualities as their husbands. There seems to be a masculinity of women in some of the stories written by Herodotus.
According to Vivienne Gray, Herodotus seem to have structured the stories in ways that focussed on the otherness of barbaric royalty rather than of the masculine female. This author claims that the characterisation of the queen as an extension of the qualities of the barbaric king could represent a masculinisation of the barbaric woman through the rhetoric of male/female otherness or be part of the rhetoric of master/subject otherness in barbaric society.
Therefore, the Histories seem to describe the otherness of barbaric power rather than the otherness of gender. Herodotus seems more interested in the otherness of master/subject that male/female. Vivienne Gray wrote that “specific comments in these stories tend to confirm Herodotus’ interest in the difference between the king and its subjects rather than the men and women” (Gray V. page 206).
Image taken from:
Evans, J. A. S. ‘Herodotus and the Ionian Revolt’ Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 25, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1976), pp. 31-37.
Knoppers, Gary N. ‘Greek Historiography and the Chronicler’s History: A Reexamination’ Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 122, No. 4 (Winter, 2003), pp. 627-650.
Moyer, I. S. ‘Herodotus and an Egyptian Mirage: The Genealogies of the Theban Priests’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 122, (2002), pp. 70-90.
Raaflaub, K. ‘Epic and History’ in Foley, J. M. (ed.) A Companion to Ancient Epic, Malden MA, 2005, pp.55-70.
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