Women's History and Ancient History

Women's History and Ancient History

Women's History and Ancient History

Women's History and Ancient History


This collection of essays explores the lives and roles of women in antiquity. A recurring theme is the relationship between private and public, and many of the essays find that women's public roles develop as a result of their private lives, specifically their family relationships.

Essays on Hellenistic queens and Spartan and Roman women document how women exerted political power usually, but not always, through their relationship to male leaders and show how political upheaval created opportunities for them to exercise powers previously reserved for men. Essays on the writings of Sappho and Nossis focus on the interaction between women's public and private discourses. The collection also includes discussion of Athenian and Roman marriage and the intrusion of the state into the sexual lives of Greek, Roman, and Jewish women as well as an investigation of scientific opinion about female physiology.

The contributors are Sarah B. Pomeroy, Jane McIntosh Snyder, Marilyn M. Skinner, Cynthia B. Patterson, Ann Ellis Hanson, Lesley Dean-Jones, Natalie Boymel Kampen, Mary Taliaferro Boatwright, and Shaye J. D. Cohen.


The predominant theme of the papers collected in this volume is the relationship between public and private in the lives of women in antiquity. For example, the first article in the collection, Jane McIntosh Snyder's study of Sappho, describes the ways in which the poet gave public voice to personal emotion. Cynthia B. Patterson and Mireille Corbier discuss the intrusion of politics and the state into the sexuall and reproductive lives of women. Shaye J. D. Cohen examines the imposition of Jewish and Christian taboos connected with women's sexual and reproductive functions. In articles on the Hippocratic corpus Ann Ellis Hanson and Lesley Dean-Jones investigate the dissemination of knowledge and opinion about the interior of women's bodies and the most intimate gynecological matters.

For women, private preceded public: when public roles existed, they developed from family relationships. Claude Mossé demonstrates that Spartan queens exercised a decisive influence in politics but came to their position as mothers, wives, and widows of kings. They used their property (which they had taken as daughters through dowry and inheritance) to foster or defeat political change. Mary Taliaferro Boatwright shows that Plancia Magna also gained her wealth and public prominence as daughter, and then wife, of wealthy and distinguished men. Likewise, as Diana Delia argues, Fulvia gained a reputation for being manipulative in politics by virtue of her marriages to politicians. Most Hellenistic queens also attained their position as wives or, in fewer cases, as daughters of kings. Unlike Spartan queens, or the aristocratic women of Rome, some Hellenistic queens in the new monarchies created by Alexander and his successors exercised legitimate political authority. Elizabeth Carney's study of the emergence of a title for these queens traces the expansion of the . . .

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