- Art Gallery -




Heirat im antiken Griechenland und einige Bemerkungen über Frauen


The fact is – and it is well to state it plainly – that the Greek world perished from one main cause, a low ideal of womanhood and a degradation of women which found expression both in literature and in social life. The position of women and the position of slaves – for the two classes went together – were the canker-spots which, left unhealed, brought about the decay first of Athens and then of Greece F.A. Wright, Feminism in Greek Literature”, 1923

Greek Pair, Yale University Art Galery

William Stearns Davis

The Women of Athens

How Athenian Marriages are Arranged.--Over this typical Athenian home reigns the wife of the master. Public opinion frowns upon celibacy, and there are relatively few unmarried men in Athens. An Athenian girl is brought up with the distinct expectation of matrimony.[*] Opportunities for a romance almost never will come her way; but it is the business of her parents to find her a suitable husband. If they are kindly people of good breeding, their choice is not likely to be a very bad one. If they have difficulties, they can engage a professional "matchmaker," a shrewd old woman who, for a fee, will hunt out an eligible young man. Marriage is contracted primarily that there may be legitimate children to keep up the state and to perpetuate the family. That the girl should have any will of her own in the matter is almost never thought of. Very probably she has never seen "Him," save when they both were marching in a public religious procession, or at some rare family gathering (a marriage or a funeral) when there were outside guests. Besides she will be "given away" when only about fifteen, and probably has formed no intelligent opinion or even prejudices on the subject.

[*]The vile custom of exposing unwelcome female babies probably created a certain preponderance of males in Attica, and made it relatively easy to marry off a desirable young girl.

If a young man (who will marry at about thirty) is independent in life, the negotiations will be with him directly. If he is still dependent on the paternal allowance, the two sets of parents will usually arrange matters themselves, and demand only the formal consent of the prospective bridegroom. He will probably accept promptly this bride whom his father has selected; if not, he risks a stormy encounter with his parents, and will finally capitulate. He has perhaps never seen "Her," and can only hope things are for the best; and after all she is so young that his friends tell him that he can train her to be very useful and obedient if he will only take pains. The parents, or, failing them, the guardians, adjust the dowry--the lump sum which the bride will bring with her towards the new establishment.[*] Many maxims enjoin "marry only your equal in fortune." The poor man who weds an heiress will not be really his own master; the dread of losing the big dowry will keep him in perpetual bondage to her whims.

[*]The dowry was a great protection to the bride. If her husband divorced her (as by law he might), the dowry must be repaid to her guardians with 18 per cent. Interest.

Lack of Sentiment in Marriages.--Sometimes marriages are arranged in which any sentiment is obviously prohibited. A father can betroth his daughter by will to some kinsman, who is to take her over as his bride when he takes over the property. A husband can bequeath his wife to some friend who is likely to treat her and the orphan children with kindness. Such affairs occur every day. Do the Athenian women revolt at these seemingly degrading conditions, wherein they are handed around like slaves, or even cattle?--According to the tragic poets they do. Sophocles (in the "Tereus") makes them lament,

"We women are nothing;--happy indeed is our childhood, for THEN we are thoughtless; but when we attain maidenhood, lo! we are driven away from our homes, sold as merchandise, and compelled to marry and say 'All's well.'"

Euripides is even more bitter in his "Medea":--

Surely of creatures that have life and wit, We women are of all things wretchedest, Who first must needs, as buys the highest bidder, Thus buy a husband, and our body's master.[*/

[*]Way's translation.

Athenian Marriage Rites.--However, thus runs public custom. At about fifteen the girl must leave her mother's fostering care and enter the house of the stranger. The wedding is, of course, a great ceremony; and here, if nowhere else, Athenian women can surely prepare, flutter, and ordain to their heart's content. After the somewhat stiff and formal betrothal before witnesses (necessary to give legal effect to the marriage), the actual wedding will probably take place,--perhaps in a few days, perhaps with a longer wait till the favorite marriage month Gamelion [January].[*] Then on a lucky night of the full moon the bride, having, no doubt tearfully, dedicated to Artemis her childish toys, will be decked in her finest and will come down, all veiled, into her father's torchlit aula, swarming now with guests. Here will be at last that strange master of her fate, the bridegroom and his best man (paranymphos). Her father will offer sacrifice (probably a lamb), and after the sacrifice everybody will feast on the flesh of the victim; and also share a large flat cake of pounded sesame seeds roasted and mixed with honey. As the evening advances the wedding car will be outside the door. The mother hands the bride over to the groom, who leads her to the chariot, and he and the groomsman sit down, one on either side, while with torches and song the friends to with the car in jovial procession to the house of the young husband.

[*]This winter month was sacred to Hera, the marriage guardian.

"Ho, Hymen! Ho, Hymen! Hymeneous! Io!"

So rings the refrain of the marriage song; and all the doorways and street corners are crowded with onlookers to shout fair wishes and good-natured raillery.

At the groom's house there is a volley of confetti to greet the happy pair. The bride stops before the threshold to eat a quince.[*] There is another feast,--possibly riotous fun and hard drinking. At last the bride is led, still veiled, to the perfumed and flower-hung marriage chamber. The doors close behind the married pair. Their friends sing a merry rollicking catch outside, the Epithalamium. The great day has ended. The Athenian girl has experienced the chief transition of her life.

[*]The symbol of fertility.

The Mental Horizon of Athenian Women.--Despite the suggestions in the poets, probably the normal Athenian woman is neither degraded nor miserable. If she is a girl of good ancestry and the usual bringing up, she has never expected any other conditions than these. She knows that her parents care for her and have tried to secure for her a husband who will be her guardian and solace when they are gone. Xenophon's ideal young husband, Ischomachus, says he married his wife at the age of fifteen.[*] She had been "trained to see and to hear as little as possible"; but her mother had taught her to have a sound control of her appetite and of all kinds of self-indulgence, to take wool and to make a dress of it, and to manage the slave maids in their spinning tasks. She was at first desperately afraid of her husband, and it was some time before he had "tamed" her sufficiently to discuss their household problems freely. Then Ischomachus made her join with him in a prayer to the gods that "he might teach and she might learn all that could conduce to their joint happiness"; after which they took admirable counsel together, and her tactful and experienced husband (probably more than twice her age) trained her into a model housewife.

[*]See Xenophon's "The Economist," VII ff. The more pertinent passages are quoted in W. S. Davis's "Readings in Ancient History," Vol. I, pp. 265-271.

31. The Honor paid Womanhood in Athens.--Obviously from a young woman with a limited intellectual horizon the Athenian gentleman can expect no mental companionship; but it is impossible that he can live in the world as a keenly intelligent being, and not come to realize the enormous value of the "woman spirit" as it affects all things good. Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, above all Pallas-Athena,--city-warder of Athens,--who are they all but idealizations of that peculiar genius which wife, mother, and daughter show forth every day in their homes? An Athenian never allows his wife to visit the Agora. She cannot indeed go outside the house without his express permission, and only then attended by one or two serving maids; public opinion will likewise frown upon the man who allowed his wife to appear in public too freely[*]; nevertheless there are compensations. Within her home the Athenian woman is within her kingdom. Her husband will respect her, because he will respect himself. Brutal and harsh he may possibly be, but that is because he is also brutal and harsh in his outside dealings. In extreme cases an outraged wife can sue for divorce before the archon. And very probably in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the Athenian woman is contented with her lot: partly because she knows of nothing better; partly because she has nothing concrete whereof to complain.

[*]Hypereides, the orator, says, "The woman who goes out of her own home ought to be of such an age that when men meet her, the question is not 'Who is her husband?' but 'Whose mother is she?'" Pericles, in the great funeral oration put in his mouth by Thucydides, says that the best women are those who are talked of for good or ill the very least.

Doubtless it is because an Athenian house is a "little oasis of domesticity," tenderly guarded from all insult,--a miniature world whose joys and sorrows are not to be shared by the outer universe,--that the Athenian treats the private affairs of his family as something seldom to be shared, even with an intimate friend. Of individual women we hear and see little in Athens, but of NOBLE WOMANHOOD a great deal. By a hundred tokens, delightful vase paintings, noble monuments, poetic myths, tribute is paid to the self-mastery, the self-forgetfulness, the courage, the gentleness "of the wives and mothers who have made Athens the beacon of Hellas"; and there is one witness better than all the rest. Along the "Street of Tombs," by the gate of the city, runs the long row of stele (funeral monuments), inimitable and chaste memorials to the beloved dead; and here we meet, many times over, the portrayal of a sorrow too deep for common lament, the sorrow for the lovely and gracious figures who have passed into the great Mystery. Along the Street of the Tombs the wives and mothers of Athens are honored not less than the wealthy, the warriors, or the statesmen.

The Sphere of Action of Athenian Women.--Assuredly the Athenian house mother cannot match her husband in discussing philosophy or foreign politics, but she has her own home problems and confronts them well. A dozen or twenty servants must be kept busy. From her, all the young children must get their first education, and the girls probably everything they are taught until they are married. Even if she does not meet many men, she will strive valiantly to keep the good opinion of her husband. If she has shapely feet and hands (whereupon great stress is laid in Hellas), she will do her utmost to display them to the greatest advantage[*]; and she has, naturally, plenty of other vanities (see section 38). Her husband has turned over to her the entire management of the household. This means that if he is an easy-going man, she soon understands his home business far better than he does himself, and really has him quite at her mercy. Between caring for her husband's wants, nursing the sick slaves, acting as arbitress in their inevitable disputes, keeping a constant watch upon the storeroom, and finally in attending to the manufacture of nearly all the family clothing, she is not likely to rust in busy idleness, or sit complaining of her lot. At the many great public festivals she is always at least an onlooker and often she marches proudly in the magnificent processions. She is allowed to attend the tragedies in the theater.[+] Probably, too, the family will own a country farm, and spend a part of the year thereon. Here she will be allowed a delightful freedom of movement, impossible in the closely built city. All in all, then, she will complain of too much enforced activity rather than of too much idleness.

[*]The custom of wearing sandals instead of shoes of course aided the developing of beautiful feet.

[+]Not the comedies--they were too broad for refined women. But the fact that Athenian ladies seem to have been allowed to attend the tragedies is a tribute to their intellectual capacities. Only an acute and intelligent mind can follow Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Nevertheless our judgment upon the Athenian women is mainly one of regret. Even if not discontented with their lot, they are not realizing the full possibilities which Providence has placed within the reach of womanhood, much less the womanhood of the mothers of the warriors, poets, orators, and other immortals of Athens. One great side of civilization which the city of Athens might develop and realize is left unrealized. THIS CIVILIZATION OF ATHENS IS TOO MASCULINE; it is therefore one sided, and in so far it does not realize that ideal "Harmony" which is the average Athenian's boast.


In their marriages, the husband carried off his bride by a sort of force; nor were their brides ever small and of tender years, but in their full bloom and ripeness. After this, she who superintended the wedding comes and clips the hair of the bride close round her head, dresses her up in man’s clothes, and leaves her upon a mattress in the dark; afterwards comes the bridegroom, in his every-day clothes, sober and composed, as having supped at the common table, and, entering privately into the room where the bride lies, unties her virgin zone, and takes her to himself; and, after staying some time together, he returns composedly to his own apartment, to sleep as usual with the other young men. And so he continues to do, spending his days, and, indeed, his nights with them, visiting his bride in fear and shame, and with circumspection, when he thought he should not be observed; she, also, on her part, using her wit to help and find favorable opportunities for their meeting, when company was out of the way. In this manner they lived a long time, insomuch that they sometimes had children by their wives before ever they saw their faces by daylight. Plutarch Lycurgus

How to avoid getting married?

It is known that Thales was asked by his mother Kleobulina to get married. He was more interested of course in science and his reply was: O Mother I am too young to marry. This he repeated for many years until some day, when his mother again asked him to marry he replied:
Mother now it is too late! When he was asked why he has no children his reply was: “Because I love children!” (Diogenes Laertios)

By the way this reminds me a story of Einstein

When Einstein's wife told him to dress properly when going to the office he argued: "Why should I? Everyone knows me there."
When he was told to dress properly for his first big conference he said: "Why should I? No one knows me there."
[quoted in Ehlers, Liebes Hertz!]

We take a hetaera for our pleasure, a concubine for daily attention to our physical wants, a wife to give us legitimate children and a respected house. Demosthenes, On Wives & Hetaerae, c. 350 BC

A pessimistic view

Theophrast (in Hieronymus Adversum Iovianianum) discusses if it is wise to get married. First he says that if the woman in rich, healthy and beautiful one could consider to marry. But in reality this almost never happens.

A wife could be a problem to carry the philosophical studies. A wife would always comply that in comparison to other women she is very poor or why her husband looked one of the slave girls.

To feed a poor woman is hard and to endure a rich woman is a torture.

Why do we need children in order for our names to survive? If you become old probably your children want you to died soon to get your money who it is better to spent when you are alive.

His final remarks are that the wise men is never alone because he is surrounded by all good friends who are alive or are now dead. His free spirit he can move to any place he wants. What he cannot reach with his body he can touch with his mind. And if other persons are not if he needs them then he can speak with the Gods.

Many women have been renowned for their beauty (indeed, as Euripides says, "an aged bard can still celebrate Memory"). Among them was Thargelia of Miletus, who had been married fourteen times, and who was very beautiful in looks as well as clever, according to the Sophist Hippias in his work entitled A Collection. , Athenaeus of Naucratis The Deipnosophists Book XIII Concerning Women

Classification of women according to Semonides

Simonides of Amorgos has classified women into different categories from which we have to conclude that with maybe one exception of type of women marriage probably is not a good idea:

In the beginning, the god made the mind of woman in different ways. He made one from the bristling sow, for whom everything in the house lies disordered, scattered on the ground amid the filth. And she, unwashed in unwashed clothes, grows fat sitting in the shit.

Another, the god made from the crafty vixen, a woman clever at everything. Nothing good nor ill escapes her notice; for she often speaks evil of the good and good of the evil. Sometimes she is angry in one way, sometimes another.

Another, the god made from a bitch - a malicious gossip in the image of her mother. She wants to hear everything, know everything, and snooping in every corner she howls even if there is nothing to see. Nor could her husband stop her with threats, not even if in a fit of anger he should knock out her teeth, with a stone, nor by cajoling her with honeyed words, and not even if she happened to be sitting in company. Rather she holds fast to her uncontrolled yelpings.

Another, the Olympian gods shaped out of earth and gave her feeble-minded to man. This sort of woman knows neither good nor bad. The only thing she can do is eat. Not even if the god sends a dreadful storm does she, shivering, draw her chair closer to the fire.

Then they made another out of the sea, one who is changeable in mood. One day she laughs and is happy; a stranger will praise her, seeing her at home: "There is no other woman better than this one, nor fairer, amongst all mankind." But another day, she will not tolerate being looked at or approached, but rants and raves terribly, like a dog with her pups, implacable and disagreeable equally to enemies and friends. Just as the sea often stands motionless, doing no harm, a great delight to sailors in the summer season , but often seethes, churned up by the heavy-pounding waves. This sort of woman is especially like the sea in anger. And the sea has different moods at different times.

Another they made from the dusty and obstinate donkey, who under pressure and reproaches just manages to keep going, and toils at what is acceptable. And then she eats in her corner all night, and by the hearth all day. And in the same way, for the task of love, she takes a companion from whoever comes along.

And another they made from the weasel, a sort who is repulsive and miserable. There is nothing beautiful or desirable about her, nothing enjoyable or attractive. She is wild about love-making , but sickens her husband whenever he comes near. By stealing she does her neighbours great harm and often she gobbles up the unburnt sacrifices.

Another the gentle mare with flowing mane bore, one who manages to avoid the work of slaves and drudgery. Nor would she touch the mill, nor lift a sieve, nor sweep away the filth from the house, nor sit by the fire - to avoid the soot. She makes her husband aware of hard times. She washes every day in the stream, twice, sometimes thrice, and anoints herself with perfumes. She always wears her hair well-combed and shadowed over with flowers. Such a woman is a fair thing for others to look at, but is an evil to the man who owns her, unless he be a tyrant or scepter-bearing king, who delights his heart with such things.

Then there is the one who is made from a monkey. This one Zeus gave as by far the greatest evil to men. She is the most ugly to look at. Such a woman will go through the town, a laughing-stock for all mankind: short in neck, she scarcely moves (her head); she is flat-assed and skinny-legged; the poor man, who embraces such a horror. She knows all the tricks and games, just like a monkey; nor does she care about the laughter of others. She would do no-one any good; she thinks about and plots over one thing all day long, how to do someone the greatest harm.

Then there is the one who is made from the bee. The man who gets her is fortunate. For in her alone there lies no blame, and life blooms and flourishes under her. Loving to her husband she grows old with his love, bearing a fair and famed tribe of children. She is pre-eminent among women, and a heavenly grace encircles her. Nor does she take delight sitting among the women when they gossip about sex. Zeus graced men with such women, the best and the most prudent.

But all the other types exist and remain with man through the machinations of Zeus. For Zeus made women the greatest evil for men. If they seem to help, then especially does some evil result. For he does not go through a whole day with peace of mind, who spends it with his wife. ... from the time when Hades first received those who went to war over a woman.

Two happy days a woman brings a man: the first, when he marries her; the second, when he bears her to the grave. Hipponax, On Women, c. 580 BC


Antisthenes: If that is your conclusion, Socrates, why do you not tutor your own wife, Xanthippe, instead of letting her remain, of all the wives that are, indeed that ever will be, I imagine, the most shrewish?

Socrates: Well now, I will tell you (he answered). I follow the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: "None of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me," he says; "the horse for me to own must show some spirit": in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.

Xenophon's Symposium

Some say that it was not Hipponicus, but his son Callias, who gave Hipparete to Alcibiades, together with a portion of ten talents, and that after, when she had a child, Alcibiades forced him to give ten talents more, upon pretence that such was the agreement if she brought him any children. Afterwards, Callias, for fear of coming to his death by his means, declared, in a full assembly of the people, that, if he should happen to die without children, the state should inherit his house and all his goods. Hipparete was a virtuous and dutiful wife, but, at last, growing impatient of the outrages done to her by her husband's continual entertaining of courtesans, as well strangers as Athenians, she departed from him and retired to her brother's house. Alcibiades seemed not at all concerned at this, and lived on still in the same luxury; but the law requiring that she should deliver to the archon in person, and not by proxy, the instrument by which she claimed a divorce, when, in obedience to the law, she presented herself before him to perform this, Alcibiades came in, caught her up, and carried her home through the market-place, no one daring to oppose him nor to take her from him. She continued with him till her death, which happened not long after, when Alcibiades had gone to Ephesus. Nor is this violence to be thought so very enormous or unmanly. For the law, in making her who desires to be divorced appear in public, seems to design to give her husband an opportunity of treating with her, and endeavouring to retain her. Plutarch Alcibiades

In Argos, by the side of this monument of the Gorgon, is the grave of Gorgophone (Gorgon-kilIer), the daughter of Perseus. As soon as you hear the name you can understand the reason why it was given her. On the death of her husband, Perieres, the son of Aeolus, whom she married when a virgin, she married Oebalus, being the first woman, they say, to marry a second time; for before this wives were wont, on the death of their husbands, to live as widows. Pausanias , Description of Hellas

The Greeks used the Amazons as the antithesis of what Greek
women should be, that is, they must be at home taking care of the family

from http://www.csen.org/WomenWarriors/ww.amaz.fr.html

Even so Zeus the Thunderer on High created women
as an evil for men and conspirers in troublesome works.
And in exchange for a good he gave a balancing evil.
Whoever flees from marriage and women's mischievous works,
being unwilling to wed, comes to baneful old age with
no one to care for his needs, and though he has plenty to live on
while he is living, collateral heirs divide his possessions
when he is dead. As for the man who is fated to marry,
if he obtains a virtuous wife, one endowed with good sense,
thoughout his life evil and good alternate endlessly.
But that man who obtains a wife who is thoroughly bad
lives having deep in his breast a pain which never subsides
fixed in his innermost heart, and this is an evil incurable.

Hesiod, Theogony

When a poor man marries and accepts property with the wife he gives himself rather than taking her.

Menander (Play unknown)

Hear, O ye people! Susarion says this, the son of Philinus, the Megarian, of Tripodiscus: women are an evil; and yet, my countrymen, one cannot set up house without evil; for to be married or not to be married is alike bad. Susarion comic poet from Megara probably 6th century BC

A rich wife is a burden. She doesn't allow her husband to live as he pleases. Nevertheless, there is one good to be gained from her: children.

Menander (Misogynes)

Never be too gentle with your wife, nor show her all that is in your mind...Women, I tell you, are no longer to be trusted.
Homer, Odyssey. Agamemnon describing to Odysseus how he had been murdered by Aegisthus and his own wife during a banquet.

My advice to you is getting married: if you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher.
Socrates (469-399 B.C.) Maybe this explains why Sokrates was such a good philoshopher from what we know about his wife.
Socrates married Xanthippe close to the age of 50, and he did that probably more because of wanting children than wanting a wife. Her name means blonde horse (xanthi for blond and ippos for horse)

I knew that the thunders of Xanthippe sooner or later would be followed by rain
Socrates response according to the history of Diogenes Laertios that Xanthippe once flew into a rage over an argument so badly that she poured out a full bucket of water over Socrates. He was 71 years old when he was sentenced to die. His three sons were still kids and Xanthippe, who visited him in jail, was still holding the youngest in her arms. She kept moaning until Socrates gruffly sent her home to better spent his last hours with some serious talking. His last request: “When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, my friends, to punish them, and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue. . . . And if you do this, both I and my sons will have received justice at your hands”.

Socrates: And is there any one with whom you are less in the habit of conversing than with your wife?
Critoboulos: Not many, I am forced to admit.
Socrates: And when you married her she was quite young, a mere girl--at an age when, as far as seeing and hearing go, she had the smallest acquaintance with the outer world?
Critoboulos. Certainly.
Socrates: Then would it not be more astonishing that she should have real knowledge how to speak and act than that she should go altogether astray?
Xenophon, Oeconomicus

Surely, of all creatures that have life and will, we women
Are the most wretched. When, for an extravagant sum,
We have bought a husband, we must then accept him as
Possessor of our body. This is to aggravate
Wrong with worse wrong. Then the great question: will the man
We get be bad or good? For women, divorce is not
Respectable; to repel the man, not possible.


Oh Zeus! Why have you established in the sunlit world
This counterfeit coin, woman, to curse the human race?
If you desired to plant a mortal stock, why must
The means for this be women? A better plan would be
For men to come to your temples and put down a price
In bronze, or iron, or weight of gold, and buy their sons
In embryo, for a sum befitting each man's wealth.
Then they could live at home like free men - without women
Euripides, Hippolytus

What says the Bible?

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression...he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man


terracotta figurine of young man and reluctant woman on nuptial couch; Greek, Myrina (tomb 100 Atelier of Nicostratos); 150-100 BC Paris, Louvre

Museum. Credits: Barbara McManus, 1999

Wedding Vase from the Metropolitan Museum

Wedding Procession from the Metropolitan Museum




Til Death Do Us Part": Marriage and Funeral Rites in Classical Athens (student essay by Jana Shopkorn)

Ancient Greek Wedding and Marriage Traditions

A Quicktime movie about Women in Ancient Greece

The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes 1-7 Larry Gonick's View of Women in Ancient Athens

Is Christianity Oppressive to Women? (An interesting idea that the “misogynist” Church Fathers were influenced by Aristotle and others and their opinions about women, the question is why is still a difference between “official church” and the Bible?, why is there no woman pope if women and men are equal? )

http://www2.sfu.ca/nomoi/2004/07.htm Family and inheritance bibliography of laws in ancient Greece (marriage, divorce, etc)

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