Women in Antiquity

Quiz Notes

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Jump to Quiz #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8

Quiz #1

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

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? According to the readings, what are the possible explanations?

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.

1. All of the following are true of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III… EXCEPT:

(d) They were half-siblings [in fact they were aunt and nephew; it was Hatshepsut and Thutmose II, her husband, who were half-siblings]

2. What do you think 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 #2

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. How would you describe the gods’ sexual liaisons with female mortals? How do they compare to goddesses and 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.

EC1. The “virginal” (that is, 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. What part of the reading from Theogony stood out the most to you? What do you think Hesiod was trying to say in that part of his story?

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.

Quiz #3

1. In this chapter, Pomeroy discussed two patterns of marriage, which 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.

2. 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.

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

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

EC2. How does gender play into the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles in the reading? 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.

Quiz #4

1. How did inheritance work in 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.

2. In this chapter Pomeroy begins by outlining a controversy among historians over the status of women in classical Athens. What kinds of opposing positions have historians argued about the status of Athenian women? What does Pomeroy have to say about it?

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.

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. What moment 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.

Quiz #5

1. Who were the hetairai? What role did they play in Athenian society? Why does Pomeroy say it is 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 #6

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 were some ways marriage affected Roman women? How was marriage with manus different from without manus?

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.

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

Prince 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.

Quiz #7

1. What kinds of work did female slaves perform? What kinds of occupations were open to freedwomen and working women? What is significant about the differences in the kinds of roles performed by these groups?

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.

2. 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.

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 provisions of the Twelve Tables stood out to you? Discuss the provisions that particularly relate to gender roles and what they tell us about how the Romans saw gender.

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).

Quiz #8

1. Why were women particularly associated with the cult of Vesta? How was the cult important in Rome?

Vesta was goddess of the hearth, as so was associated with the privacy of family and survival and therefore persistence into the future; the private and the future were the aspect of society with which women were most associated in the ancient world.

The public cult of Vesta was responsive for the Eternal Fire, which represented Rome’s unending existence, persisting into the future. This persistence would again be associated with the women of Rome.

Most of all, the purity of the Roman maiden was of immense symbolic and superstitious importance. The hands of men were stained with blood, because Roman men did what must be done to save and protect Rome. Only the unmarried, virginal woman was pure enough to be an absolute, ceaseless protection for the Flame.

Romans truly the Flame going out, or its protectors becoming corrupted, as a terrible omen portending catastrophe or even destruction for Rome. For this reason, violation of a Vestal Virgin was one of their very few capital crimes; according to religious law, the Vestal was to be buried alive and the offending male scourged to death in the Forum.

2. Why was Isis attractive to women? Why does this Egyptian deity end up as a Roman goddess?

Like Athena, Isis was both empowered and independent; and while Athena was one of many Greek goddesses, in the Egyptian pantheon Isis stands above the other female deities. In some ways Isis even transcends Horus and Osiris; the two male gods are connected with the cycle of the death and rebirth, which Isis, unchanging facilitates and ensures.

The Roman local pagan religion did not export well: the chief god, Juppiter, was the patron god of the city of Rome, and the other public gods, Mars and Quirinus, were closely tied to the Roman army and citizenry. Consequently, the Romans had a long tradition of co-opting foreign gods from the lands they grafted onto the empire. Isis was unlike any goddess the Romans had in their extended pantheon; adopting her cult into the Roman religion was a useful way of Romanizing the people of Egypt and others drawn to Isis as a powerful and distinctive goddess of perpetuity and rebirth.

EC1. All of the following were true of Vestal virgins EXCEPT:

(b) They were still legally under the power of their biological family’s pater familias

EC2. In the selected letters assigned for today, Pliny the Younger speaks of various women. From your impression, what kinds of womanly attributes does he seem to call out or admire in these individuals?

Calpurnia Hispulla’s niece is praised as worthy of her father, her grandfather, and Calpurnia because she is “incomparably discerning, incomparably thrifty; while her love for her husband betokens a chaste nature”, and for her appreciation of reading and of Pliny’s own verses.

Numidia Quadratilla, in contrast, is rebuked for being devoted to “the pleasures of the town” and for keeping a set of actors on retainer; her grandson is praised for not following her example.

The 14-year-old daughter of Fundanus was cherished for being cheerful, a loving daughter, and unfailingly respectful to her nurses and tutors, and to her doctors during her illness; for being an eager reader; and for taking “few amusements”, and those moderation.

Arria is praised for her bravery in not only urging her husband, the defeated rebel Paetus, to fall on his sword, but providing an example by doing so herself, and other brave acts of devotion to her husband and to family honor.

Cornelia, a Chief Vestal wrongfully condemned by the emperor Domitian, maintained her modesty to the end, even falling into the pit with dignity, after bravely calling on Vesta to acknowledge that Rome’s success under Domitian attested to her and her Vestals’ purity.