Ancient Greek Hypocrisy
Aphrodite, Ἀφροδίτης (Kluth), the Goddess of Love, Romance and Beauty (About.com: Greece Travel); Artemis, Άρτεμις (Kluth), the Goddess of the Hunt, the Forest, Wildlife, Childbirth, and the Moon (About.com: Greece Travel); Athena, Ἀθηνά (Kluth), the Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Crafts (About.com: Greece Travel); Demeter, Δήμητραν (Kluth), the Goddess of Agriculture (About.com: Greece Travel); Hera, Ἡρα (Kluth), the Queen of the Gods; Hestia, Ἑστία, the Goddess of Home and Homelife (About.com: Greece Travel) and goddess of the hearth (Crystalinks.com); Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory(Greek-Gods.info); Moirai, Moira Krataia, (Kerényi 33) the Goddess of Fate; the nine Muses, αἱ μοῦσαι, hai moũsai (Wikipedia), the Goddesses of the Art and Sciences; Nemesis, Νέμεσις, the messenger of Justice, the Goddess of Retribution or Divine Vengeance (Linné); Nike, ‘Νίκην,’ the Goddess of Victory (Kluth); all of them are Greek goddesses. All of them were worshiped by the Greeks for many centuries, and there are more than the ones listed. But their worshipping of female deities happens to be hypocritical. The treatment of their women is completely different to the way they treat their goddesses. Some might say that isn’t true because they didn’t treat their female goddesses any better, but it isn’t how they are treated that is the problem; it is the fact the they “existed” that makes the Greeks hypocrites. Some women are named, Clytemnestra of Mycenae was particularly important, but the rest of women are merely mentioned in passing.
Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, Romance, and Beauty, came to be because of the castration of the God Uranus. Artemis, the Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Crafts, was the daughter of Leto and the sister of Apollo. “She was always described as a virgin huntress.” (Kerényi) Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Crafts, was the daughter of Metis, whom Zeus had eaten because the prophecy around her was that her child would be wiser than the father. One day, Zeus got a really bad headache. After someone hit him in the head, Athena came forth fully armored. She is the protector of warriors, Odysseus from the Homer’s Odyssey for example.
Demeter, the Goddess of Agriculture. Her happiness dictates whether or not the Greeks have wheat. When her daughter Persephone is with her, she is happy, and the Greeks have the seasons Spring and Summer, but when Persephone has to go to the Underworld, her sadness causes the seasons to become Fall and Winter, causing the wheat to die. She is the key to the Greeks’ survival.
Hera, the Queen of the Gods, Zeus’s wife. She is self explanatory, cheated on constantly, but self explanatory. Zeus having his way with every woman he wants is just an example of how men were dominating society. Hestia, the Goddess of Home and Homelife.
Moirai, the Goddess of Fate. The Muses were named Calliope (Epic Poetry), Clio (History), Erato (Love Poetry), Euterpe (Music), Melpomene (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Hymns), Terpsichore (Dance), Thaleia (Comedy), Urania (Astronomy), and they are the Goddesses of the Arts and Sciences (Greek-Gods.info). Before poets, like Homer, began reciting their oral poetry, they would call upon the aid of the Muses. They were created by Zeus, the King of the Gods, who secretly lied nine nights with Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory(Greek-Gods.info). We would not have the arts, which men dominated in at the time, if not for the Muses.
Nemesis is the messenger of Justice, the Goddess of Retribution or Divine Vengeance. In Greek society, if someone in their family is killed, it is their duty to kill whoever killed their relatives. Who is responsible for that? Nike, the Goddess of Victory; whenever there is a victor in battle, who is their representative? Some of the most important positions that defined Greek society were represented by female deities, the wheat, the arts, battle and victory, their justice system, love and beauty, the homelife.
In Greek society, Athens to be specific, the women were “viewed as a burden to her husband, and her father must contribute a dowry for her support” (Pomeroy 84). In Sparta, on the other hand, because they lacked
precious metals, slaves, or other movable wealth, there would be little, except land and horses, to constitute a substantial and useful dowry. A theory about dowry supports the view that there was a time when dowries did not exist in Sparta. Dowries are found principally in parts of the Mediterranean where men cultivate land with a plow and own the instruments and beasts needed for production. In such societies, women’s work was undervalued (Pomeroy 83-84)1.
The Spartans were the opposite of Athens, so they are the exception. Their women had more rights than the rest of the Greek city-states, so Sparta shall be left out of the picture here on. Athens is where the concentration shall be kept from here on after.
Everything was decided for women in Athens; how they acted, what work they did, who they married, etc. “As a logical consequence of the woman’s duty to Athens, marriage and motherhood were considered the primary goals of every female citizen” (Pomeroy 62)2.
The birth of a child, especially a son, was considered a fulfillment of the goal of the marriage. A girl was ideally first married at fourteen to a man of about thirty. Since marriage was the preferable condition for women, and men were protective of their women, a dying husband, like a divorcing husband, might arrange a future marriage for his wife (Pomeroy 64)2.
In the late fifth century B.C., the need for safety behind city walls lead many Athenians to turn to urban living, abandoning farming. The effect of urbanization upon women was to have their activities moved indoors, which made their labor less visible; hence less valued (Pomeroy 71). Yet their Goddesses, Athena for her wisdom especially, was highly valued. Why did they build the Parthenon for the Goddess Athena, and then repress their women?
Women were not allowed to participate in male activities, such as politics, intellectual and military training, athletics, and the sort of business approved for gentlemen. “Direct participation in the affairs of government–including holding public office, voting, and serving as jurors and as soldiers– was possible only for male citizens” (Pomeroy 74)2. Women stayed at home and sometimes took on the same tasks as slaves, which made the work they did seem even less valued (Pomeroy 71)2 than it already was. If ever there was a crisis, it was not the women the men chose to save, but their children and slaves (Pomeroy 71)2.
Concerning women and whether or not they should be allowed to work, Xenophon reports a conversation between Socrates and Aristarchus. Aristarchus was complaining about the fact fourteen of his female relatives had moved into his home for protection and he could not afford to maintain them. Socrates suggested putting them to work, but Aristarchus found it to be demeaning. Socrates is able to convince Aristarchus otherwise and says that women themselves would be happier if employed productively (Pomeroy 71)2. The only time women were appreciated was when the men of the household came to realize a woman’s skill for “spinning and weaving–skills they had learned as part of a gentlewoman’s education, in order to be able to supervise the slaves” (Pomeroy 71-72)2 could also be used to make a profit.
Slave women and the women of the household did similar activities, but the one exclusively for them was the transportation of water by balancing pitchers on their heads. “Because fetching water involved social mingling, gossip at the fountain, and possible flirtation, slaves girls were usually sent on this errand,” which might lead one to assume it was the slave women who had a little more fun than the women of the household. Women weren’t thought to be intelligent either. Women did not go to the market because “the feeling of purchase or exchange was a financial transaction too complex for women” (Pomeroy 72)2.
Those are the upper class women, of course. The “poorer women, even citizens, went out to work, most of them pursuing occupations that were an extension of women’s work in the home. Women were employed as washerwomen, as woolworkers, and in other clothing industries. Women were also employed as nurses of children and midwives” (Pomeroy 73)2. Religion is a more interesting topic, of course.
“Athena Polias was the patron goddess of Athens, and the priestess of Athena Polias was a person of great importance and some influence” (Pomeroy 75)2. A goddess is of importance. A woman is of importance. Patron means “a person whose support or protection is solicited or acknowledged by the dedication of a book or other work” (dictionary.com) In this case, our patron goddess received a priestess. If there is a patron goddess and a priestess to go along with it, making that one woman of high importance, doesn’t that mean women are important? Why don’t the rest of the women get the same treatment?
Now, if a woman IS important, they aren’t treated any better than those of housewives. They’re treated worse. Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, killed her husband because of hysteria, and was ultimately killed in retaliation by her son Orestes. She is “one of the most unforgettable women in Greek mythology. She is complex and controversial, viewed most often as a cold-blooded murderess and unfaithful wife to one of the glorious heroes of the great Trojan War.” (Bell 133) Even though she had committed the sin of killing her husband, she had “reason” to do so. “Judging from her reaction to the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, she was fiercely devoted to her children. She had ample motives for participating in the murder of Agamemnon. He had sacrificed their daughter and then at the end of the war brought home with him a Trojan princess who had borne him two children.” (Bell 135) Orestes killed Clytemnestra and, as a consequence called upon the Furies, three important goddesses in charge of driving those who killed their relatives made.
What’s interesting about this entire affair is, of course, Orestes, eventually, gets off the hook. The God Apollo comes to his aid when Orestes stands on trial. Apollo says that Clytemnestra was merely a vessel and not really a relative. He proves his point by pointing out that Athena was born from a man herself. The Goddess Athena has, by this point, been effeminized and chooses to take Orestes’ side, freeing Orestes from the Furies. But the thing that ultimately killed Clytemnestra was her own “vanity and self-esteem.” (Bell 136) The “important” women are used in legends and myths to show male dominance in issues, especially by having a female Goddess be sexist against her own gender, which is probably what they use as an excuse to treat their women the way they do, but Athena is still a woman, and the Greek men are still hypocrites for worshiping her, and the rest of the goddesses, in the first place.
What is possibly the most hypocritical thing the Athenians could have done is to name their city-state after a goddess, Athena to be exact. The story goes the Goddess Athena and the sea God Poseidon gave a gift to the people of Athens. Athena gave the people an olive tree while Poseidon gave the people a salt water spring. The people chose the olive tree because it could not only provide food, but the wood could also provide shelter. Upon taking Athena’s gift, they named their city-state after her, Athens. Athena gets a temple, but what do the women of the city-state get. Nothing but a foot in their rear ends.
Bell, Robert E. Women of Classical Mythology: a Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1991. Print.
Kerényi, Karl. The Gods of the Greeks. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1979. Print.
Kluth, Frederick John “A List of Greek Gods and Goddesses” RWAAG <http://www.fjkluth.com/glist.html>
Linné, Carl von “Nemesis” Greek Mythology Link <http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Nemesis.html>
“The Muses were nine goddesses presiding over the arts and the sciences” Greek-Gods.info <http://www.greek-gods.info/ancient-greek-gods/muses/>
“The Olympians” Crystalinks.com <http://www.crystalinks.com/hestia.html>
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken, 1975, 1995. Print. (2)
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print. (1)
“The Twelve Olympian Gods and Goddesses of Greek Mythology” About.com: Greece Travel <http://gogreece.about.com/cs/mythology/a/olympiangods.htm>