Ancient Greek Marital and Gender Roles
*Note: All claims are assumptions based off of textual clues and are not to be understood as fact but to be recognized as potential truths.
The roles of men and women in Ancient Greek civilization can never be fully understood since no one alive today existed during their era. That being said, analysis of texts written by Ancient Greek authors provides us with insight into how their culture viewed both genders. It is through these texts that scholars can identify customary actions of single and married couples. Questions such as: should women save themselves for marriage, Are men the providers, And were women expected to be subservient in a patriarchal society can all be answered through textual understanding. As we prepare to dive into ancient texts and learn about the Greek culture of old, one must understand the importance of utilizing multiple authors. Without calling upon a variety of texts, a credible and thorough theory on how Ancient Greek individuals acted cannot be erected. For the purposes of this analysis the authors Euripides, Aeschylus, and Homer will be employed with the prospect of further understanding Ancient Greek gender and marital roles. Taking into account the differences among these texts in authorship and date, we will burden three main tasks: identify what makes a good husband and good wife, discern if and why one role receives more attention than the other, and conclude what ancient Greek social norms may have been from the way these texts depict marital relationships.
Euripides’, Hippolytus, provides a sturdy backbone for understanding how Ancient Greek civilization viewed gender roles. Before reading a text it is important not to have a narrow scope. This means that one should not only focus on the perceived main character, but rather consider how every character may depict an aspect of the then current culture. Despite being titled Hippolytus, it is crucial not to only concentrate on the character Hippolytus. In fact, there may be just as much if not more to be learned from Phaedra. Phaedra, being the stepmother of Hippolytus, supplies a situation where her actions toward Hippolytus can be used in understanding the expected actions of married females toward single males. After Phaedra learns that her nurse has disclosed the sensitive information about her romantic feelings for Hippolytus to him and that he has rejected her she takes her own life out of shame. However, she leaves a note for her husband – Hippolytus’ father – Theseus, claiming that his son has raped her. This action reveals that perhaps it was not uncommon for women to take their lives after being sexually violated. With that in mind, it may be inferred that sexual purity was expected of women, that once a woman has been tainted by a male who was not her partner she loses her respect, honor, and desirability. In addition, Theseus’ reaction allows us to see even further into gender relationships and societal norms.
Theseus takes the offensive against Hippolytus, cursing him and subsequently causing his death. Nevertheless, instead of coming to the hasty conclusion that Theseus is emotionally volatile and lacking the ability to understand, it is pertinent that one stops and asks: “Why may he have acted this way?” For where most mistakes are made in textual analysis is through hasty generalizations based on current era norms. Indeed, in todays world Theseus’ reaction would lead to his imprisonment and mandatory meetings with a psychiatrist but this was not always so. In Ancient Greece honor was critical and helped in determining social status. Euripides lived during the end of the Persian Wars and much like the notorious Spartans, the Athenians considered honor for themselves and their family to be of the utmost importance. With this in mind we will take another look at Theseus’ reaction and how it provides insight into Ancient Greek culture. It is possible that Theseus reaction would...
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