Spring 2003



Time: 1:00-2:30 T-Th

Place: PGH 345

{Honors credit can be petitioned}

Syllabus (week by week) 


This is an introductory survey about the life of women in the Ancient World. It analyzes the most important primary sources, written and visual, about Greece and Rome.


Class Description and course goals:

This class has been designed as an introductory survey (3000 level) about the life of women in the Classical world. It will analyze the most important primary sources, written and visual, about Greece and Rome. The sources will be introduced in their historical and cultural context. The lectures are arranged according to a chronological sequence. The excursuses present special categories, or "deviant cases." The presentation of these special cases gives the students a chance to become aware of the presence of many cultures within one "main" culture. These special cases are very important since I believe that it is crucial to construct a multi-faceted picture of the ancient world that was as varied and sophisticated as the world in which we live. Both lectures and excursuses match the structure of the text book.

The first two weeks are devoted to exploring the difficulties which confront whoever undertakes women's studies. Evidence about the status and life of women, authored by women, is scanty so we often have to rely on sources crafted by men. Throughout the course I will emphasize the problems inherent to the study of minorities and foreign cultures and the importance of application of methodologies and strategies that try to overcome these difficulties.

The text books and the lectures are intended to give the students a wide array of documents on women in antiquity, evidence coming from numerous fields, of diverse provenience (historical writing, philosophy, medical treatises, archaeological remnants, iconography on vases, paintings, etc.)

The course is also aimed at developing critical thinking skills, the ability to grasp ideas and viewpoints through different medias, the capacity to compare these ideas as well, and the ability to express (orally and in writing) points of views and observations. Furthermore, as we interpret the evidence available, through our modern ideologies, we will try to recognize the connections and differences between ancient and modern ideas (e.g. sexuality, freedom, etc.). The class should make the student aware of the "filters" through which we look at the ancient world, but also of how much the views and ideas of the past have shaped our life and perspectives. For Americans whose culture is, for the most, derived from the Western tradition, it is especially important to recognize the heritage of Greek and Roman attitudes toward women.

Who can take this class:

History, classics, and women's studies majors might find it particularly valuable, but everyone can take it since it has no special pre-requisite.

Required Books:

-Fantham, Foley, Kampen, et al. eds., Women in the Classical World. Image and Text. (Oxford University Press, 1994) --- in the syllabus indicated as WCW.

-Lefkowitz and Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome. A Source book in translation (John Hopkins Press, 1992) --- in the syllabus indicated as WL.

-Ten Plays by Euripides (Bantam Classic edition)

-Virgil, Aeneid. tr. Fitzgerald

Grade distribution and Requirements:

Three in-class exams, all together counting for 60% of your grade, presence and class participation 10%, two take homes exams 30%.

Requirements: 1) You are expected to come to class and to be ready for possible questions on the readings assigned for that day (e.g.: short summary; what you think is the most valuable part of the reading, etc.).

2) Exams are written in class and test you on the material examined during the time immediately previous to it. They should reflect your knowledge of primary sources, lectures, and text books. 3) The 2 essays (at least 5 pages) which you will prepare at home should express critical understanding of some of the topics covered in class. The student is invited to analyze and compare the material studied throughout the semester. Primary as well as secondary sources should be quoted (if necessary) and discussed (see guidelines below).

Use of the Web and Web resources:

We are lucky to have Diotima, a wonderful web-site entirely devoted to the study of women in Antiquity. Diotima contains an updated bibliography about women and a wide range of information that can be used to enhance one's knowledge of the topic under study.

Diotima as well as other web resources for the study of antiquity can be easily located by connecting to the U of H Classical Web page. Whenever studying for exams and especially preparing the two required essays, students are invited to consult this site (or any other) and use it coherently and conscientiously. For general information about the college Computer Resources and Labs see the University of Houston Undergraduate Studies Catalogue 1999-2001, page 77. In order to learn about academic dishonesty http://www.uh.edu/dos/hdbk/acad/achonpol.html, and for information related to electronic cheating you can consult http://www.uh.edu/uhcnonline/electronic.htm.

In addition to the information available there, the instructor will spend time explaining what plagiarism is, and how to properly cite web-pages as well as traditional type of sources.

Please check often the web-page for this class (http://www.hfac.uh.edu/MCL/faculty/behr/womeninantiquity.html) for changes and hand-outs.

Take home Guidelines

The paper should be a clearly written, analytically and critically oriented essay treating a topic of your choice. The paper must not be shorter than 5 full pages. Double-spacing, standard sized font (Times New Roman) and margins are to be used. Include your name and an appropriate title on a separate page (title page). Chose a topic that we have studied during this semester. Make sure that the topic is analyzed in order to learn about women. Discuss what the primary source(s) tell us about the topic. Consider the nature and problems associated with the sources. Discuss secondary material (modern treatments of the topic you have selected) if you have spent time reading secondary material. Any ideas or quotes from secondary sources must be attributed accordingly in footnotes. Cite the relevant secondary material properly and coherently. If it is the case compare the phenomenon you are exploring to other similar phenomena in ancient cultures or in modern times.

Syllabus for Women in the Ancient World (week by week)

Part I: Greece

Week 1 (1/14) : Syllabus, a presentation of our textbooks, about the requirements and strategies to be successful in this class.

(1/16): Methodological problems


--V. Woolf, "On Not Knowing Greek" in The Common Reader, 1962 (On Reserve)

-J. Hallet, "Feminst Theory, Historical Periods, Literary Canons, and the Study of Greco-Roman Antiquity" in Rabinowitz and Richlin, eds. Feminist Theory and the Classics. Routledge 1993 (On Reserve)

Week 2 (1/21-23):

Methodological problems


--McManus, Barbara. "The Gendering of the Classics" in Classics and Feminism. Gendering the Classics, Prentice Hall 1997. (On Reserve)

--M. Katz, "Ideology and 'the Status of Women' in Ancient Greece" in History and Theory, 1992, vol. 31.4 (Available electronically through the library catalogue)


-WCW, pp. 1-39

-WL : Sappho, pp. 2-4 (also available on line, check Anthology )

 Homeric hymn to Demeter

(or WL: pp. 278-80 = Homeric Hymn to Demeter)

Week 3 (1/28-30): Women in Archaic Greece


Odyssey, bk 23

Odyssey, bk 19


Week 4 (2/4-6): Women in Archaic Greece


-WCW, pp. 39-55-WL, pp.23-29: Hesiod, Work and Days, Pandora, How to pick a wife, The nature of women; Semonides, On Women; Hipponax, The best days in a Woman's life.


Greek Vases (Shapes)

Excursus: Spartan Women.


Material for the study of ancient Sparta (J.P. Adams, California State U)

Women in Sparta


-WCW, pp. 56-67

-WL 84-88: Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaemonians; Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, The advantages of Spartan education and marriage customs. Moralia, Sayings of Spartan Women.

Week 5-6-7 (2/11-13):

Women in Classical Athens.

Women and Property in Athens

Important historical events


-WCW, pp. 68-74

-WL, pp.178-9, Plutarch, Life of Pericles, Aspasia.

- WCW, pp. 74-95

- WL, pp. 38-50 Aristotle, Politics, The Female Roles; Plato, Republic. Educating Women to make them more like men. Laws. Men and Women should be treated alike. The education of female. How to discourage unnatural sexual intercourse; Lysias. A husband's defense.

Epikleroi, dowry, marriage and divorce

Week 6 (2/18-20):

Women in Classical Athens

-Iconography of Women on Greek vases


-WCW, pp. 96-124

-WL, pp. 66-70: Lysias, On the Murder of Eratosthenes. A husband's defense

-Euripides' play Medea should have been read by this date.

The Parthenon





Ancient Greek Marriages


see Terms

 Spring break



Excursus: Amazon


-WCW, pp.128-135


Week March 18 ):

Women in the Hellenistic Period


- WCW, pp. 136-163

-WL, pp.147-9, Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony, A portrait of Cleopatra.

 -Royal Women of Macedonia

Week March 28:

Women in the Hellenistic Period

Cleopatra: Video presentation

Cleopatra: exhibition

Cleopatra: article

Status of Women in Egypt


-WCW, pp. 163-179 

Week April 2:

Female voices and Hellenistic reprsentation of the female body

Musonius Rufus

Medical Writings.


- WCW, pp. 183-203

-WL, pp.226-238 and p.242-3: PHILOSOPHERS OBSERVE NATURE. Plato, Timaeus, Origins of the desire for procreation; Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Male and Female defined, Male and Female Secretions, The role of heat; On Dreams, Menstruation;

WRITING OF PRACTICING PHYSICIANS. Hippocrates, On the Generating Seed and the Nature of the Child, Intercourse, conception and pregnancy, Male and female sperm, A spontaneous abortion; Nature of Women, A contraceptive; Decease of Women, Women's illness, Diseases of pregnant women, Places in human Anatomy, Displacement of the womb, On Virgins, Hysteria in virgins.


II EXAM  (Tuesday April 15: starting from Amazon excursus)


Part II:The Roman World and the Advent of Christianity

Week 11 ):

Women in the Roman Republic (part I)


-WCW, pp. 211-242

-WL, pp. 95-10W: Legal Status of Women in Early Rome, excerpts from the Twelve Tables and the Roman jurists on guardianship, patria potestas, pregnancy, status and paternity.

-WL, pp. 163-4 Chastity. Italy 3rd/2nd cent. A treatise attributed to Phintys, a female member of the Pythagorean community in Southern Italy.

Brief tutorial on Roman History

Roman Chronology

Romulus and Remus

-Start reading the Aeneid

Week 12 (4/1-3):

Excursus, Etruscan Women & Women in a wealthy society


-WCW, pp. 243-277 (emphasis on pp. 243-258)


Week 13 (4/8-10):

Women in the Roman Republic (part II)


-WCW, pp. 280-292

-WL, pp. 142-7 Livy, History of Rome, Women demonstrate and obtain repeal of the Oppian law.

-Catullus' selections on Lesbia (on reserve)

Women in the Augustan Age


-WCW, pp. 294-327

-WL, pp. 288-291, Plutarch, Life of Numa, Vestal Virgins

-The Aeneid should be read by this time

-McManus, B. "Transgendered Moments: Revisiting Vergil's Aeneid" in Classics and Feminism, 1997, pp.91-118 (on Reserve)

-WL, p. 8 Sulpicia


Week 14: (4/15-17)

Excursus: Women of Pompeii

-Women and Archaeology


-WCW, pp. 330-344

-WL, pp. 159-60, Inscriptions in Pompeii about Eumachia.

Women in the High and Later Empire/The Advent of Jesus


-WCW pp. 344-91

-A. Louth, "The body in western Catholic Christianity" in S. Coakley (ed.) Religion and the Body, Cambridge Univ. Press 1997 (on Reserve)


Week 15 (4/22-24):

The Advent of Jesus


-WL, pp. 302-317: selection from St. Paul's letters


Week 15 (4/29-5/1):

General Discussion and review

-Hand in 2nd Essay


III EXAM (Tursday, May 8th: 2 to 5)

Topics: Ch.7, 8, 10, and Virgil's Aeneid Book 4




Archaic (800BC-500BC): Homer, Sappho

Golden Age (500-350bc): tragediographers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus and Thucydides/ Defeat of the Persians, war between Sparta and Athens. See: Golden Age

Hellenistic Age (350- 146)

Roman (detailed Chronology)

Early Period (down to ca 80 BC)

Golden Age (80 BC to 14 AD) Cicero, Lucretius, Catullus,Caesar; Virgil, Horace, Livy, Ovid/ end of the Republic, beginning of the Empire with Augustus

Silver age (14AD tp 138AD) Seneca, Petronius, Martial, Tacitus/

Patristic Period ( II cent. to V cent.) Christian Fathers, Tertullian, Lactantius, Jerome, Augustine

Medieval (V to 14th cent.)




Epikleroi, dowry, marriage and divorce

In families in which a son was lacking, the daughters were responsible for perpetuating the oikos. In such a family the daughter was regarded as "attached to the family property" hence the name "epikleros" ("with the property"). The family property wetn with her to her husband, and hence to their child. This arrangement shos that although males were preferred to females, succession at Athens was not strictly agnatic in the sense that only males were legally able to inherit, although the epikleros never truly owned her father's property. It was the duty or privilege of the nearest male kinsman to marry the heiress. The order of succession to the hand of the heiress was the same order in which the male kinsman would have succeeded to the father's estate if there had not been any heiress at all (brothers of the deceased father, then sons of brothers). An heiress might have been already married at her father's death, and not necessarily to the nearest male kin. Whether the next-of-kin had the right to dissolve the marriage of a married heiress is debatable. The consensus is that the marriage could be dissolved only if it had not produced a son, for if the epikleros had a son her property was destined for him.

Marriage and motherhood were considered the primary goals of every female citizen. Citizen Women were considered perpetual minor under the Law so they were always under the guardianship of a men, usually the father or, if he were dead, the male next-of-kin. Upon marriage the woman passed into the guardianship of her husband in most matters, with the exeption that her father (or whoever had given her in marriage) retained the right to dissolve it. Responsible fathers in Athens gave to their daughters dowries commensurate with the father's economic status. For families with money, arranging the dowry was important and subject to negotiation.  Dowry was provided by girl's father - if he died before her marriage, he often specified her dowry in his will, although she didn't always get what he intended.  Dowry usually consisted of money and moveables, occasionally house(s), never land.  It would provide part of the financial basis for a new household - although a new household wasn't necessarily formed, as the husband might already have his own household, or might continue to live in his father's. Not that many fathers would still have been alive when their sons married. Dowry wasn't a legal requirement, but it was usual. Marriage without dowry always regarded as odd. The amount of the dowry no doubt affected the quality of the husband. Arrangements are often described in "market" terms - buying a husband, etc. Dowry was a disincentive for the husband to divorce.

Solon had allegedly prohibited dowries altogether. Plut., Solon 20.4: "In all other [i.e. apart from epikleros] marriages he prohibited dowries; the bride was to bring with her three changes of raiment, household stuff of small value, and nothing else. For he did not wish that marriage should be a matter of profit or price, but that man and wife should dwell together for the delights of love and the getting of children." If this ever was the case we cannot really tell.

The dowry was provided for the woman's maintenance. A woman's dowry was to remain intact throughout her lifetime an to be used for her support, nobody (father or husband) could legally dispose of it. Upon marriage the dowry passed to the guardianship of the groom who could use the principal but was required to maintain his wife from the income of her dowry, computed at 18% annually. Upon divorce, the husband was required to return the dowry to his ex-wife's guardian. So the woman was provided for and with her dowry intact could remarry again.

Marriage arrangements were made by men on the basis of economical and political considerations. The girl was obliged to marry the man chosen by her family. The bride might not even know the groom, yet there were many marriages between first cousins or other relatives (endogamy). The birth of a child (especially a boy) was considered a fulfillment of the goal of marriage. A girl was ideally married at 14 to a man of about 30. Late marriage of men in Athens can be attributed to their duty to serve as soldiers for 10 years, but it also seems an adaptation to the low proportion of females in the population. A young widow could easily remarry.

Early marriage (12-15) for women increased chances of being a virgin, being trainable. Time between a girl's first period and first experience of sex [i.e. marriage] was regarded as particularly dangerous. "The early age of marriage for Greek women is likely to have been determined by an unhappy mixture of sexual politics, male pride and medical ignorance." (Garland p.213) Monogamy was the rule except for a brief period c.413-403 when men were prob allowed 2 wives.  At other times a man could have a wife and some sort of concubine, but only the wife could produce legitimate children. Legitimacy of children was the whole purpose of marriage. It was assumed that all girls would marry if possible. There's no info at all about lifelong spinsters, although we hear about some who weren't validly married. The figure of a woman growing old unmarried is sometimes mentioned in speeches, but for rhetorical effect.

Divorce was easily attainable, whether it was consensual or not. No stigma was attaced to it. When the divorce was initiated by the husband, he war required merely to send the wife from his house. When the wife wanted to divorce, she needed the help of her father or another male to bring the case before the appointed official.


Archaic Greece (Ch. 1 in WCW)-- Terms

  1. Asia Minor
  2. Aristocratic Society
  3. Poetry of blame or praise/ genre
  4. Lyric poetry/ Sappho of Lesbos
  5. Alcman/ Parthenia/ Public Performances
  6. Choruses of Dancing Maidens/ Clazomenai
  7. Korai/ Nicandre (Delos)/ Series of Athenian Acropolis
  8. Peplos/ Chiton
  9. Funerary Korai (Phrasicleia, in Attica)
  10. Stele
  11. Odyssey and Iliad (Late 8th cent.)
  12. Odyssey: Odysseus, Nausicaa, Arete, Phaecia, Penelope, Helen, Klitemnestra; Peneope's dream in bk 19, Penelope and Odysseus in bk 23)
  13. Archilocus, Neobule
  14. Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Late 7th cent.): Kore/Persephone, Hades, Zeus, Demophon, Eleusis, mysteries.
  15. Locri (Southern Italy), Sanctuary of Persephone
  16. Hesiod: Works & Days; Theogony
  17. Semonides
  18. Solon's legislation
  19. mourners on vaise paintings
  20. Dipylon Master
  21. Prothesis and ekphora
  22. phormiskos and louthrophoros

Spartan Women (Ch. 2 in WCW)--Terms

  1. Simone de Beauvoir
  2. Xenophon, Plutarch, Aristotle
  3. Alcman
  4. Women's Competitions in Olympia (Pausanias 5.16.2)
  5. nudity
  6. Lycurgus
  7. education of women/physical training
  8. eugenic goals of marriage
  9. community vs. individual
  10. sayings of Spartan women
  11. Women's wealth
  12. the decline of Sparta

Women in Classical Athens (ch. 3 in WLW)--Terms

  1. Medea, Jason, Aietes, Colchis, Peleas, oath, Dionysos and the theater
  2. Aspasia and Pericles
  3. Pericles' citizenship law
  4. Solon's laws
  5. Sophocles' Antigone
  6. Euripides' Suppliants
  7. Plutarch about Elpinice
  8. Pericles' funeral oration
  9. Epikleroi, marriage, dowry and divorce
  10. women and religious festivals: Great Panathenaia, Arkteia, Thesmophoria, Lenaia, Anthesteria, City Dionysia
  11. Priestesses: Lysimache and Theano
  12. lekythos/pyxis/hydria
  13. iconology on vases
  14. hetairai
  15. women's quarters and the archaeological records
  16. Xenophon's Oeconomicus (circa 350 BCE)
  17. Lysias' on the Murder of Erathostenes (circa 375BCE)
  18. Demosthenes' Against Neaera (340 BCE)
  19. Plato's Republic on Women

Amazons (Ch. 4 in WLW)--Terms

The Hellenistic Period, 323BCE-30BCE (Ch. 5 in WLW)--Terms

Medicine: the "proof" of anatomy (Ch. 6 in WLW)--Terms

Roman Women: Republic

Etruscan Women

Excursus: The new woman: representation and reality

Dido in Virgil's book IV

What does Anna suggest Dido to do?

Which kind of imagery is used by the poet to describe Dido in love?

Dido and Aeneas' encounter in the cave: a marriage or a simple sexual union?

Why Aeneas decide to leave Dido? Is he happy about it?

Dido's curse against Aeneas

Juno's pity