Women in Antiq.


Quiz Notes

On this page, I’ll be posting notes on each of the quizzes that we have. These quiz notes are not meant to be the “right answers” so much as information relevant to the arguments you might make in response to these questions.

PDFs:You can also find the Quiz Notes in PDF form on the Print/PDF page.

Quiz #1

1.Pomeroy calls Athena/Minerva “the most complex of the goddesses.” What’s unusual or distinctive about her?

The text draws attention how she’s presented as a “masculine woman”: female in appearance and in some aspects (olive fertility, handicrafts), but associated with traditionally “male” elements (warrior goddess, protector of the citadel, depicted with armor and weapons, patroness of particular warriors; goddess of industry and manufacture (but also spinning and weaving); also wisdom, later appropriated by Greek men as a male attribute). Disguising herself as a man is also unusual. She’s a virgin, born of man, not woman, and identifies the father as the true parent.

Adding to her complexity is the fact that more stories and plays have survived depicting her, placing her in many diverse contexts.

2.What do you think was Hesiod’s overall message in Theogony? What parts stood out to you that relate to this perspective?

There are all kinds of responses to this. Some that are particularly relevant include:

  • The treatment of the Titans as primal and powerful, the male Titans animalistic and destructive, the females (Rhea) more rational;
  • Zeus’s first children are the Muses, female goddesses of inspiration in the creative arts;
  • The positive view taken of Hekate and her unique and independent place among the gods;
  • How the price of Prometheus’s betrayal, providing forbidden fire to mortals, is the creation of “an evil thing for men”: the beauty of women, whom men must marry to avoid solitary, demeaning final years.

EC1.The “virginal” (that is, unmarried and non-monogamous) Olympian goddesses include all of the following EXCEPT:

(d)Hera [Hera was considered monogamous, as she was always the wife of Zeus]

EC2.How would you describe the Greek (male) gods’ sexual liaisons with female mortals? How do they compare to goddesses’ liaisons with mortal men?

Pomeroy notes a double standard wherein goddesses are expected to have sex with individuals close to them in rank—male gods or demigods/heroes—but gods fornicate with all sorts.

Gods’ relations with mortals (mostly Zeus and Apollo) tend to result in suffering, revealing the vulnerability of the women and the male gods’ tendency to exploitation.

Quiz #2

1. How would you say gender plays a role the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles in the reading from Iliad (“Agamemnon’s Insult”)? What do you think Homer was trying to say about Agamemnon by telling this story?

Agamemnon and Achilles come into conflict over the “prize” of the princess, Briseis, whom Agamemnon claims as due to him as overlord of the Greek forces. This involves gender in two ways: by including noblewomen as spoils of war, to be treated as indicators of status for those who hold them, and by emphasizing the expectations of male warriors and how the Agamemnon and Achilles see them differently.

Agamemnon’s greed for glory is what makes him willing to use a woman as a mere prize and, through the stature of this prize, as an indication of his own status. Achilles further lambastes him for not actually fighting with the other Greeks, preferring to lead from the rear, exposing his lack of true virtue and valor. Agamemnon’s treatment of Briseis and Achilles is an indictment of Agamemnon as prideful, arrogant, and covetous of power and glory.

2. In this week’s chapter, Pomeroy discussed two patterns of marriage that coexisted in heroic Greek society. What were these two patterns? Which was more beneficial for the woman involved, and why?

In the patrilocal pattern, a suitor brings back a bride to his own house, and this bridges the families of the husband and the bride’s father. Variant: Marriage by capture (e.g., Briseis).

In the matrilocal pattern, a roving warrior marries a princess and settles down in her kingdom. Variant: Marriage by contest, in which the kingdom is a prize for the right suitor.

Though the bride seldom had the choice of husbands in either pattern, the matrilocal scenario allowed the bridge to remain within her support system of friends and family members.

EC1. When Nausicaa meets Odysseus, she does all of the following EXCEPT:

(a) Accompanies him boldly into town and into her father’s presence

EC2. Why is Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, treated harshly in Homer? How does this marriage reveal a double standard? How is Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, contrasted with Clytemnestra?

Agamemnon expected his concubine to be accepted as part of his retinue when he returned home, but Clytemnestra, who had likewise taken a lover, was abused for her infidelity.

Penelope’s steadfastness and purity in remaining true to Odysseus was praised for two reasons: in so doing she strengthens the idea of marriage for all Ithaca, and she also single-handedly preserves the kingdom for Odysseus to reclaim on her return.

Quiz #3

1. In this chapter, Pomeroy begins by outlining a controversy among modern historians over the status of women in classical Athens. What two opposing positions have historians held about the status of Athenian women?

Some historians have argued that women in classical Athens were despised and kept in extreme seclusion, like eastern harems (according to Pomeroy, a position severely colored by the historians’ own views of a woman’s proper place).

Others have countered that they were respected and enjoyed freedom comparable to women of most other ancient societies (citing fictional heroines like Antigone and Elektra).

A third position has argued that they were secluded, but in that seclusion they were both respected and, within the house, dominant (emphasizing that the seclusion was primarily a means of protection something cherished against male strangers).

Pomeroy presents this debate as part of a broader concern regarding the best interpretation of our limited sources for Athenian women, and is flawed in treating Athenian women as if they were all the same. Within the Athenian culture there are major differences across class, region, and period. What’s more important, from her point of view, was that the state considered the duty of citizen women to be the production of legitimate heirs to the oikoi, and thus to the citizenry.

2. What key moment or scene in particular stood out for you from Aeschylos’s Eumenides, and why? What do you think the playwright was trying to get across in that moment?

This is subjective and could include any number of key moments, including the persistence of the Fates, the judgment of the citizens, the intervention of Athena and the opinions she expresses, etc.

EC1. Athenian religious cults in which women played an important role included all of the following EXCEPT:

(a) the festival of the Spangeti Teras [ = Greek for Spaghetti Monster]

EC2. According to Pomeroy, how did inheritance normally work in propertied families where there were daughters, but no son to preserve the oikos (estate/household)?

The daughters were responsible for perpetuating the oikos and were regarded as epikleros, meaning attached to the family property. Inheritance went to her husband and thence to her child. This means that succession was not strictly through men in Athens.

The main idea was to marry such a woman to the deceased’s male next of kin to preserve the family line. The nearest male kinsman was expected to marry the heiress (first dibs), and dibs passed through the other kinsman in an order similar to actual inheritance (brothers, sons of brothers, etc.). Though the process was to the disadvantage of rich heiresses, Pomeroy argued that it might have benefitted poorer women who had no dowry.

Quiz #4

1. Who were the hetairai? What role did they play in Athenian society? Why is it tempting to idealize them?

“In classical Athens, prostitutes had to be registered and were subject to a special tax. Those at the top of this social scale were called hetairai, or ‘companions to men.’ Many of these, in addition to physical beauty, had had intellectual training and possessed artistic talents, attributes that made them more entertaining companions to Athenian men at parties than their legitimate wives. It is no accident that the most famous woman in fifth-century Athens was the foreign-born Aspasia, who started as a hetaira and ended as a madam, and in the course of her life lived with Pericles, the political leader of Athens.”

“The hetaira had access to the intellectual life of Athens, which we nowadays treasure, and a popular courtesan who was not a slave had the freedom to be with whoever pleased her. Admittedly our sources are biased, but the fact that we know of some courtesans who attempted to live as respectable wives, while we know of no citizen wives who wished to be courtesans, should make us reconsider the question of which was the preferable role in Classical Athens—companion or wife.”

2. In The Bacchae, who attacks Pentheus and tears him to pieces? Why do they do this?

The Maenads—women of Thebes induced into a frenzy by the liberating rites of Dionysus, and led by Pentheus’s mother, Agave—attack Pentheus while he is spying on their rampage. In their dream state they believe he is a lion. Pentheus himself is feeling the effects of the god’s power and seeing things as well. The Maenads rend him to pieces, and Agave brings the head of the “lion” home as a trophy of the power that the women have together.

All of this is the result of Thebes not accepting Dionysus and ignoring his rites, which Pentheus has outlawed. Dionysus exerts his power as punishment for the city and its rulers, to teach them the wrath of the gods and the possibilities of inhuman understanding released through the frenzy.

EC1. In Classical Athens, all of the following were true about seduction EXCEPT:

(b) Adultery via seduction was allowed one day a year, on the Festival of Eros

EC2. According to Pomeroy, why did Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle all believe Spartan customs regarding women were more wholesome than those of Athens?

“Motherhood at an early age, combined with a life spent indoors, was disadvantageous to the health of the Athenian woman. More children were born in the first half of the twenty-year reproductive period than in the second half, making the period from approximately sixteen to twenty-six years old the most hazardous. It is interesting to recall here Plutarch’s approbation of the Spartan custom of having girls marry at eighteen, since they are then in a better physical condition to bear children, although he preferred earlier marriages for other reasons.

“Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle all believed that Spartan customs concerning women were more wholesome. Xenophon praised the Spartans for nourishing their girls as well as their boys, for it was unusual among the Greeks to do so. This differentiation in nourishment could exist even for suckling newborns. … Xenophon also approved of the Spartan custom of encouraging women to exercise so that they could maintain a good physical condition for motherhood. The well-developed physiques of Spartan women caused comment among the Athenian housewives in the comedy Lysistrata, although it may be suggested that performing household chores, especially moving back and forth before the loom, offered an Athenian woman ample opportunity for strenuous exercise. In the Republic, Plato prescribed physical exercise for women and stated that females should become parents for the first time at twenty and males at thirty. Later, in the Laws, he reduced the age minimum for females to any time between sixteen and twenty. Aristotle suggested that pregnant women be forced to exercise by passing a law that they must take a daily walk to worship the divinities presiding over childbirth. He also noted that it was undesirable for the very young to produce offspring, since more of the babies were likely to be female, and the mothers endured a more difficult labor and were more likely to die in childbirth. He suggested that the optimum age for marriage was eighteen for women, thirty-seven for men.”

Quiz #5

1. For today you read excerpts from Antigone and Medea. What do you think these women have in common?

There are a number of ways to discuss this question. For one thing, both Antigone and Medea are subjected to an immoral act that is sanctioned by patriarchal society and an interest in personal status (Jason wants a more socially impressive wife; Creon denies a sacred burial rite out of a personal grudge against his family).

Antigone and Medea then respond with rebellion against patriarchy.

In both cases, the result of their actions is that they sacrifice everything in order to visit justice and suffering on their antagonists. That the suffering falls not only on the antagonists but those around them is suggestive of divine vengeance, meaning the play situates the evil with the male antagonists, Jason and Creon.

2. What argument does Pomeroy make regarding women in tragedy versus real women?

Athenian drama often shows women acting in rebellion against the established norms of society. This was because women’s interests and responsibilities were private and family-oriented, putting them in conflict with the patriarchal state and reflecting concerns more primitive than the later Olympian support for the state.

In drama, this means heroines who act in a “masculine” way—not submissive or modest. This gives us insights into the conflicts within Athenian society, but also means that women in Greek drama are not to be taken at face value as representative of normal behavior or expectations.

A good example is Antigone, in which the title heroine stands against the state in defense of older values related to family and private religious duties. Antigone herself is a heroine and so dies not act like a normal woman, which she actually laments at the end of the play. Instead, she stands for the collective concern of women in Athenian society.

EC1. According to Pomeroy, all of the following are true about Plato’s utopian exercise, Republic, EXCEPT:

(c) Prostitution was common, accounting for one-sixth of the female population

EC2. Medea ends with the title character flying away from Corinth into the sky (in a chariot pulled by dragons, traditionally). What do you think the author was trying to say?

Again there are a number of responses to this question. The end of the play means that Medea escapes, rising up out of the scene in a manner normally associated with the gods. This suggests that a divine or mystical justice has been visited on Jason, and reinforced Medea’s association with mystical power as a non-Greek women (the exotic Other unbound by Greek rules, combined with the nature-driven life-creating power of the woman). This implicitly makes her a witch and suggestive of Hekate.

That Medea escapes in the end casts Jason’s actions as the evil, and her actions as a sacrifice to ensure justice and suffering on him and those around him, as noted above.

EC3. Antigone seems to be a battle of the sexes (Antigone vs. Creon). What about Antigone’s sister, Ismene?

Both represent a woman’s duty to family. Ismene believes in what Antigone wants but fears to challenge Creon and the laws. Ismene’s actions cast Antigone as the heroine, a larger-than-life character in an exaggerated pursuit of the ideal. Even though she survives at the end, her survival seems not to matter, so in a way both sisters are lost.

One way of seeing Ismene is that she is holding herself to how she thinks a woman is supposed to be seen, rather than acting on the burden or female moral responsibility that Antigone accepts.

Quiz #6

1. What are some of the ways Hatshepsut used imagery, titles, and other representations to establish her legitimacy?

In her regency, Hatshepsut commissioned images of herself in the traditional garb of queens and with the insignia of the God’s Wife of Amun. She adopted the additional name Maatkare, signifying the pharaoh’s responsibilities of ma’at (harmony and justice), and some images showed both kingly and queenly attributes, including one with a woman’s dress and a man’s long stride. During the co-reign with Thutmose III, the two were presented on some monuments as twin male rulers, with Hatshepsut shown first as the eldest, while other statues showed her in female form. In general she increased the “male” iconography over time while never hiding her female essence.

Once she asserted her preeminence a mythology of predestination was developed, citing a miraculous birth, and emphasis was placed on her royal blood deriving from Thutmose I and Ahmose (deemphasizing Thutmose II and his son, Thutmose III, whose royal blood was not at pure).

2. What happened to Hatshepsut’s legacy after she died? What are the possible explanations for this?

Some time after Hatshepsut died and Thutmose III had been ruling alone, he attempted to remove her reign from history in a process called damnatio memoriae. Her sculptures and monuments were removed, most of them deposited in a pit, and her wall inscriptions were walled up or chiseled off.

An older theory has long held that Thutmose III did this out of personal resentment, desiring to assert his independent rule after years of being in Hatshepsut’s shadow. But the reading argues against this theory, noting that many years elapsed after Hatshepsut’s death before this took place; for most of Thutmose III’s reign he was content to have the people and nobles remember the peace and prosperity of Hatshepsut’s rule. The timing therefore suggests that the concern was over Thutmose III’s imminent succession: inherently conservative, the Egyptians were uncomfortable with the innovation of female succession after thousands of years of male rule, and wanted to remove the precedent of Hatshepsut’s rule in order to prevent a recurrence of succession by a strong, well-blooded princess or queen.

EC1. All of the following are true of Hatshepsut and her co-ruler Thutmose III… EXCEPT:

(d) They were half-siblings [Thutmose III was her nephew]

EC2. What are the main reasons why Hatshepsut was accepted as a “female king” and was able to rule for so long?

There are several possible reasons for this. The most important one may be that Hatshepsut was royal on both sides, and Thutmose II and Thutmose III were not. Also, Thutmose II’s death left an infant on the throne; Hatshepsut’s time as a princess and her royal blood made her the obvious candidate for regency, and during her regency she showed herself to be strong and capable as a leader, preparing the way for her to claim full kingship alongside her nephew.

Other factors include the fact that in some ways Egypt was more gender-egalitarian than other ancient societies, and in the New Kingdom women in the imperial family were more active and visible than ever; so visible involvement in royal affairs by a princess. Finally, like any pharaoh Hatshepsut showed her suitability through just rule, manifesting the nurturing of the gods through the ensuring of ma’at, peace, and prosperity.

Quiz #7

1. How does Esther save her people? What about her character or actions do you think helps make this possible?

Not knowing she is a Jew, the Persian king, Ahasuerus, has fallen for Esther and marries her; she keeps her heritage secret from him at the urging of Mordecai, her cousin and adoptive father. Meanwhile, the king’s vizier, Haman, is angered that Mordecai will not bow to him, and in his hubris orders that all Jews in the kingdom be slaughtered and that Mordecai be hanged—despite Mordecai’s role in exposing a conspiracy to kill the king by two of his eunuchs.

Esther hears about the planned genocide, but there is a law that says she cannot present herself before the king unless called. So Esther offers a “banquet of wine” to the king and Haman, followed by another the next night. At the second banquet, the besotted king offers to grant any petition of hers, even if it is half the kingdom. Esther tells him that someone plans to murder her people—the very Haman sitting at his side. Enraged, the king orders Haman hanged on the scaffold that had been reserved for Mordecai. Haman’s lands are given to Esther, and the Jews are protected and given the property of their abusers.

Throughout the story, Esther shows both humility and determination and is intelligent enough to find a way to assert herself within the restrictions of a woman at court. In the end, the story makes clear that the responsibility to ensure the safety and future of the Jewish people falls on all Jews regardless of gender, not just male authority figures like Mordecai.

2. In the story of Ruth, what does Ruth decide to do after her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law die in Moab?

Ruth, though Moabite, remains loyal to her husband’s family and goes with her heartbroken mother-in-law, Naomi, and her sister-in-law to Naomi’s homeland, Bethlehem, in Judah, forsaking her own heritage and gods. She tells Naomi, “your people is my people, and your god is my god.” This loyalty to her bereaved mother-in-law is eventually rewarded by Yahweh. She gains a new family, and her son becomes the father of King David.

Part of what’s being emphasized here is that in Judah (as generally in the ancient world) on becoming married a woman’s duties to her father’s family are transferred to her husband’s. These duties include religious obligations to the god or gods of the husband’s family. The flip side of this is that the covenant with Yahweh does not fall only on men; Ruth’s own relationship with god is at the heart of the story. Also relevant is the fact that Ruth clearly stays with Naomi because she loves her and because Naomi needs her; to Ruth, compassion is more important than the suffering she’ll experience from leaving her homeland and people.

EC1. In Esther, the threat to the Persian Jewish community is sparked by

(a) Mordecai’s refusal to bow to the king’s vizier, Haman

EC2. How is the behavior of Vashti, the previous queen, contrasted with Esther’s? What do you think the author might have been getting at by including Vashti as a precursor to Esther?

On the seventh day of a festival of food and wine, the king orders Vashti to appear and show her beauty to the assembled attendees; Vashti refuses the summons. The king is advised that her actions are an insult to the king and that word of her disobedience will spread to wives throughout the land, inspiring them to show contempt for their husbands, too. So the king announces to all of Persia that Vashti has lost her position as queen on account of her disobedience.

Esther, on the other hand, is shown as dutiful and respectful to the king and the rules of the palace, implicitly making Vashti look willful and self-sabotaging by her assertiveness. Both Vashti and Esther are shown as being strong women, but only Esther was able to achieve her own goals by engaging with the king rather than counterproductively asserting her own agency.

Quiz #8

1. Most Roman upper-class women married at least once, but the birth rate among nobles remained low. What were some of the reasons for this?

Arranged marriage. Within the nobility marriages tended to be arranged for the political and financial profit of the families involved, rather than for sentimental reasons. Girls as young as 12 could be so married, and the first marriage usually took place between 12 and 15. Men, however, though eligible from 14, often married much later, increasing the differences between husband and wife.

Adultery. Adultery was common, but the law held it against the woman only. It was considered a public offense only in women, leading to divorce, forfeiture of half the dowry, and exile or death. Husbands were not liable for criminal prosecution for adultery. This gave tacit permission for husbands to sleep with women other than their wives. (Stoic philosophy, important in Rome from the Late Republic on, did contemn both male and female adulterers.)

Death in childbirth. This happened frequently enough that females had a shorter lifespan overall, making the likelihood of giving birth to two children much lower than giving birth to one. This also produced a gender imbalance, with more male nobles than female.

Contraception. Roman married couples (and adulterers and other illicit pairings) practiced contraception and, if necessary, abortion to prevent unwanted children. There were a variety of methods in both cases.

2. What was the crime of Sextus Tarquinius (the son of the king)? What were the results of this act?

Sextus raped Lucretia explicitly because she was the most virtuous of all the Roman matrons. After her father and husband vowed vengeance on her behalf, Lucretia committed suicide so as not to provide future matrons with a model of virtue that had been corrupted. Ultimately the entire clan of the Tarquins was ejected from Rome (leading to a series of wars with the Tarquins’ Etruscan and Latin allies). Most importantly of all, this betrayal by the king’s family caused the Romans to foreswear monarchy altogether and instead declare a Republic, in which no one man or family would have greater authority than any other.

EC1. The idealized matron Cornelia was famous for all of the following EXCEPT:

(a) After becoming widowed, she remarried to a Ptolemy, becoming Egyptian royalty

EC2. How was marriage with manus different from without manus? What was the effect for the woman?

Manus marriage was relatively rare by the time of the Late Republic. It was achieved through either formal ceremony (confarreatio or coemptio) or through continuous cohabitation for one year (usus, also known as common-law marriage). It constituted a transfer of guardianship from the wife’s paterfamilias to the husband from which she had no refuge. A wife married by manus changed from her birth household religion to her husband’s; the husband’s ancestors became hers. Whether the husband’s manus gave him the same absolute power over his wife as a paterfamilias is unclear, but her birth family remained invested in her behavior (supervising her drinking, for example) and provided a bulwark against the husband’s abuses. Manus marriage gave the wife some rights over the husband’s property, but also gave the husband rights over hers.

Non-manus marriage was the more common form. It was achieved by interrupting cohabitation by spending three continuous days elsewhere than the husband’s home. Non-manus marriage gave the wife more freedom; the husband had no formal authority over her, and she could return at will to her birth family. There was no transfer of religion, and the wife was theoretically excluded from household rites, remaining instead in her father’s cult. She did not gain rights relating to the husband’s property; her own property remained with her birth family.

EC3. What did the abducted Sabine women do after marrying Romulus’s men? Why did they say they did it?

The women intervened and stopped the war between their old families and the Romans, saying they owed their duty to Rome and their families now that they were Roman matrons.

Quiz #9

1. How did marriage work for slaves? What status did the children have?

Slaves could not enter into formal marriage, but they could have an informal cohabitation, which had no legal validity but had the social value of marriage among slaves. Masters encouraged family life among slaves in order to improve morale and to bring about slave children that he might keep or sell. A male slave could use his savings to purchase his wife.

A slave could marry a free person with the master’s permission. If the slave belonged to an important household (e.g., the emperor’s), the marriage might involve a raise in status for both, though a law was passed in the late Republic discouraging such acts by reducing the free person’s status to freedman.

Children born of cohabitation took the status of the mother. If the mother was a slave, the child was a slave. If only the mother was freed, the child was freeborn but illegitimate; if both parents were freed, the child was legitimate and freeborn.

2. Discuss some of the specific provisions of the Twelve Tables that relate to gender roles.

There are a number of provisions in the Twelve Tables that touch on both male and female gender roles. The rules for manus vs. common-law marriage, based on the idea title vs. usufruct in property, are established. The paterfamilias’s guardianship of men ends when they become eligible for military service; the guardianship of women does not. Sons can be sold into slavery across the river up to three times, but daughters cannot. The Tables provide for the exposure of deformed children, and prohibit inheritance by children born 10 months after the father’s death. There are rules about the exhibition of grief at public funerals. A late provision states that patricians and plebeians cannot marry (but this barrier was soon rescinded).

EC1. A female Roman slave could achieve manumission (release from slavery) through all of the following EXCEPT:

(b) Fasting for 30 days during the festival of the Good Goddess

EC2. What work did female slaves perform? How were these roles different from freedwomen and working women?

While male slaves might end up in any kind of labor, including roles that made use of their skills and education (Greek captives included scholars, historians, poets, accountants, and men with other valuable skills), the variety of jobs held by female slaves was more limited. Since female education and training was limited, possible skillsets involves household skills or being a midwife, actress, or prostitute.

Female slaves could work as spinners, weavers, clothesmakers, menders, wetnurses, child nurses, kitchen help, and general domestics. With training, female slaves in Rome might also work as housekeepers, clerks, secretaries, ladies’ maids, clothes folders, hairdressers, hair cutters, mirror holders, masseuses, readers, entertainers, midwives, and infirmary attendants. Female domestics also served as part of a lady’s entourage. In general they were better off than very poor free women, since domestics were cared for and their appearance and upkeep were important.

Female slaves might also have a sexual function. As Pomeroy pointed out, the master had access to all his slave women. Some slaves worked as prostitutes in brothels, inns, or baths; others were actresses, which might involve sexual performances.

Freedwomen comprised a large part of the Roman working class, serving as shopkeepers or artisans or continuing in domestic service. Most commonly they pursued the same work they had trained for as slaves, very often in their former owner’s household. Most freedwomen and working women were involved in textiles, but others were tavern waitresses.