After a reign of three years, Auletes died, leaving the kingdom jointly to Cleopatra, now eighteen years of age, and her brother Ptolemy, aged ten; and the brother and sister, in obedience to the custom of the Ptolemies, were married, that they might rule together. The court life of which they formed a part had its brilliant side, with its veneering of Greek culture and much of the etiquette and ceremony of an Oriental monarchy, and they were the objects of all the respect with which high station endows royal women at the hands of courtiers and gallant soldiers. But one is apt to think rather of the storm and turmoil through which they passed, of their jealousies and intrigues, of their marriages and alliances, and of the violent deaths which they all, with one or two exceptions, found at last. Phila stands out, however, amid this remarkable group, as the one against whom nothing can be said and whose virtues were preëminent–the ever-faithful and devoted wife of the most brilliant and most licentious man of his time. The hymn then recounts how the goddess-mother roamed for nine days over the earth, seeking her lost daughter, till on the tenth she learned the truth from the all-seeing Sun.
No doubt it is in the month of marriage, and many maidens are preparing for the happy event. When the maiden reached the age of fifteen, her parents began negotiations for her marriage. An Athenian marriage was essentially a matter of convenience, and was usually arranged by contract between the respective fathers of the youth and maiden. Equality of birth and fortune were generally the chief considerations in the selection of the son-in-law or the daughter-in-law; and in an atmosphere where the attractions of a maiden were so little known, a professional matchmaker frequently brought the interested parties together. Thus the rustic Strepsiades, in Aristophanes’s Clouds, expresses the wish that the feminine matchmaker had perished miserably who had induced him to marry the haughty, luxurious, citified niece of aristocratic Megacles, son of Megacles.
Calchas, after much hesitation, responds that the Far-darter has brought war upon the Greeks because Agamemnon has done despite to the priest, and has not set his daughter free and accepted the ransom. Of course, I would not dare to make such an absurd claim that there exists, or has ever existed, a man who could truthfully say that he knew woman in the abstract; but that does not necessarily mean that knowledge of the tendencies and characteristics of the sex is impossible. The reason of the dense ignorance which prevails among men concerning women is that the men attempt to apply general laws to particular cases; and that is fatal. It is absolutely necessary, if we are to gather wisdom and not merely knowledge from our researches in history, that we should take into account the result of combination of traits. Otherwise we should not only find nothing but inconsistency as a consequence of our study, but we should utterly fail to understand the tendencies of that which we learn. When we read of the Spartan women sending forth their sons to die for their country, we must not believe that they were lacking in the depth of maternal affection which is one of the most beautiful characteristics of the feminine nature.
- Numerous panegyrics and epigrams were composed, lauding her in most exalted terms.
- “I do not understand,” she said, “what is meant by the austerity of philosophers; for they of this fine name are as much in my power as the rest of the citizens.”
- In the undulating valley formed by the bed of the stream, and shut in by the mountain ranges, lay ancient Sparta.
- She identifies herself with the “ancient bitter Alastor,” who visits on Agamemnon the curse of his house.
The men of the court condemned her for breaking the law; however, it was the wives of these men that saved her by arguing, according to Hyginus, “you men are not spouses but enemies, since you’re condemning her who discovered health for us .” The law was amended, and women were then free to study medicine. Children of Greek citizens, including girls, were allowed a well-educated childhood. The primary curriculum of reading, writing, and mathematics was complete in the younger ages. After mastering the basic concepts, they moved to literature, poetry, and music; however, girls were more encouraged toward gymnastics, dancing, and music, especially with the lyre.
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Sometimes we shall find strange factors in the equation that gives the sum, strange methods of attaining the result; but the result itself is always plain. Nor is there ever entire lack of contemporary influence of good, even when the evil seems predominant. If we read of an Argive Helen bringing war and desolation upon a nation, we shall find in those same pages record of a Penelope teaching the world the beauty of faith and constancy. If we trace the story of a Cleopatra ruining men with a smile, we shall find in the same day an Octavia and a Portia. If we hear of the Capitol betrayed by a Tarpeia, we have not far to seek for a Cornelia, known to all time as the Mother of the Gracchi. And it is those who made for good whose names have come down to us as incentives and examples. The more closely we read our history, the more surely are we convinced that the tendency has always been upward; the progress has been steadfast from the beginning, and it has carried the world with it.
- Their most brilliant period was during the Transition Age, when Lesbos was ruled by a wealthy and powerful aristocracy and later by a tyranny, and when lyric poetry reached its perfect bloom in the verses of Sappho.
- Thus, a study of the history of woman in Ancient Greece properly begins with a contemplation of feminine life as it is presented in the poems of Homer.
- As has been shown in a previous chapter, the Greek conception of the city-state lay at the basis of laws and customs which repressed the citizen-woman and prevented proper attention to her education and to the full and well-rounded cultivation of womanly graces.
Some, such as Sappho and Anyte, can even speak to us through their own words. However, it is also important to note that the ancient Greek women presented here largely represent those from the elite sections of society. Sadly, the voice of the working woman or even the head of an average Greek oikos is mostly absent from the evidence which survives today. The role of a woman in Ancient Greece was influential in the household and society. Although women had very few rights in contrast with their male counterparts, they made an incredible impact on paving the way for modern-day women’s rights. They would be considered successful if they raised great Greek warrior sons and kept a well-maintained house. Ideally chained to their households, Greek women found ways to stand out in a time when men ruled over women.
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Agesistrata urged other aristocratic women to join in the movement, “knowing well that the Lacedæmonian wives always had great power with their husbands.” These, however, violently opposed the scheme, because at this time most of the money of Sparta was in the women’s hands and was the main support of their credit and power. Leonidas, the other king, was the head of the opposition, and a deadly struggle followed between Agis and Leonidas–the one standing for the people, the other for the aristocrats. Agis was at first successful, and Leonidas was deposed, Cleombrotus, his son-in-law, being elevated to the kingship in his stead. Chilonis, Cleombrotus’s wife and Leonidas’s daughter, seeing her aged father in exile and distress, leaves her husband in the height of his power and devotes herself to her aged father. Though woman’s influence is exercised silently and unobtrusively, it is none the less potent in determining the character and destiny of a people.
Greek men admired women for their roles as wives and mothers, but they frequently thought that women were too emotional. In Sparta, women were respected as the “mother’s of warriors.” Although they were not considered equal with men, they had more rights and freedom than the women of Athens.
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The Greeks were worshippers of the productive forces of nature as manifested in animal and plant life. Aphrodite is the female and Dionysius the male personification of the generative principles, and in consequence the religious ceremonials of these two deities assumed at times a most licentious aspect. In course of time, a distinction arose in the conception of Aphrodite, expressed by the surname applied to her.
His one redeeming trait was his love for his younger children, and he seems to have brought them up with every obtainable advantage and as much as possible removed from the turmoil of the court. For fear of losing his kingdom, he sought recognition from Rome and paid Cæsar enormous sums of money for his patronage. The people rose in revolt against the heavy taxes, and Ptolemy fled to Rome for aid. Berenice IV., his eldest daughter, was raised to the throne by the Alexandrians, and she began her reign in great splendor. Hoping to strengthen her position by marriage with a royal prince, she first wedded Seleucus of Syria.
Circe and Calypso are styled goddesses, yet they are brought down to earth in their love for Odysseus, and are thoroughly human in their traits. Calypso feeds on ambrosia and nectar, and lives in a mysterious grotto on an enchanted island; yet she loves like any mortal woman, and bitter is her wail when she receives the command of the gods to let Odysseus go. The enchantress Circe is much more dangerous, and takes a ghoulish delight in metamorphosing men into swine; yet, when she falls in love with Odysseus, she is the queenly lady, considerate of his comrades, and in every way his guide, philosopher, and friend. Unlike Calypso, she seeks not to detain Odysseus against the will of the gods, but after the expiration of a year sends him on his way. Closely interwoven with the plot of the Odyssey is the aged and touching figure of the faithful slave Euryclea, who by her devotion has become a member of the family she serves. Taken captive in her girlhood, she had nursed Odysseus in his childhood, and, later, his own son, Telemachus.