Lecture 15 - The Problem of Women in Greek Mythology...

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The Problem of Women in Greek Mythology 10/23/08
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Women in Greek Society Athenian women - NOT citizens (cf. myth of naming of Athens), but confer citizenship (cf. Athenian Citizenship Law) Cannot inherit, but aid transferal of property Supposed to stay inside the women’s quarters Spartan women – more freedom; athletic; encouraged to exercise in the nude; “with your shield or on it” Courtesans – think Geishas educated and somewhat emancipated from traditional expectations
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Problems Evidence: literature about women composed by men Men’s objective in life – to acquire glory Women’s dilemma in life – acquisition of glory can usually only be done by military exploits no glory for women Women in myth as transgressors and sources of problems for men (e.g., women as causes of wars) The problem of the first woman – Pandora as payback for Prometheus’ theft of fire; punishment for man
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Female Characters in Greek Myths Four categories: Goddesses – e.g., Athena, Demeter, Aphrodite, Artemis Monsters – e.g., Gorgons, Scylla, Charybdis Demi-goddesses – e.g., Helen (Sort of) regular mortal women – e.g., Jocasta, Alcestis, Aethra Amazons – race of warlike women descended from Ares
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Goddesses in Greek Myths How, if at all, does the characterization of female divinities differ from the male ones? Goddesses more common than gods as dea ex machina at the end of tragedies (e.g., Ion – Athena, Hippolytus – Artemis, Suppliant Women – Athena) Most powerful goddesses are those that defy traditional women’s roles – Athena, Artemis
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Female Monsters Gorgons – 3 sisters; only one (Medusa) mortal - Medusa (THE Gorgon) – anyone who looked at her turned to stone - Association with snakes – early chthonic deity - Apotropaeic deity, so popular in art Scylla and Charybdis – sat on opposite sides of narrow strait (probably Strait of Messina, between Italy and Sicily) Scylla – sea-monster with 6 heads, and 3 rows of teeth in each head
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Medusa on West Pediment of Temple of Artemis at Corcyra (ca. 580 BC)
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Gorgon – Apotropaeic function I
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Gorgoneion – Apotropaeic Function II
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Gorgoneion on the Aegis of Athena (520 BC)
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Scylla
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Demi-Goddesses Most prominent example – Helen (daughter of Zeus and Leda) Many more demi-gods than demi- goddesses Demi-gods – distinguished for their super-human strength Helen – distinguished for her more than human beauty Helen – cause of wars already as child (kidnapping by Theseus and resulting
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Mortal Women Defined by their roles in relation to men: daughters, wives, mothers Problem of gods sleeping with mortal women: interferes with regular social order, since status of affected women and resulting children is ambiguous (no clear way to prove divine relationship) Have no status/social standing without connection to men Exception: Amazons
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Lecture 15 - The Problem of Women in Greek Mythology...

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