Citizen Bacchae: Women's Ritual Practice in Ancient Greece

By Barbara Goff | Go to book overview

FOUR
Representing Women
Ritual as a Cultural Resource

Our concern in this study has been Wrst to establish the material dimensions of women's ritual work, and subsequently to relate that work to Greek discourses of gender identity and of civic participation. We have often found it useful to construct dialectical models in order to understand how women might negotiate the constraints of patriarchal culture by means of their ritual practice. A possible objection to the analyses developed in the previous two chapters, however, is that men and male-dominated practices occupy the center, so that the focus is less on women's historical agency and more on the construction of their identity that is undertaken by the dominant culture. While not denying the importance of such constructions for historical women's perception of themselves, in this chapter I shall seek to redress the balance by examining three different areas of cultural production in which women may have deployed their ritual practice in a less mediated way as a resource for representing themselves and their needs. I shall examine the use of ritual figures in women's poetry, representations of women as ritual practitioners on Attic vases, and the phenomenon of maenadism in its various manifestations. This is not to suggest that rituals like the Thesmophoria, for instance, did not offer positive resources for women; but, as we have seen, the Thesmophoria takes away with one hand what it gives with the other. The practices investigated in this chapter may instead have been those in which the familiar dialectic was less visible.

One theoretical construct that may prove useful in this investigation is that of “women's culture. ” This term is mobilized in many contexts to analyze both women's history and their specific cultural productions, and requires some definition if it is not to lose in clarity what it gains in semantic reach. The notion has been extensively criticized as being “essentialist, ” and it is certainly necessary to avoid implying “that women share a univer-

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Citizen Bacchae: Women's Ritual Practice in Ancient Greece
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • One - Working Toward a Material Presence 25
  • Two - The Reproduction of Sexuality 77
  • Three - Imaginary Citizens 160
  • Four - Ritual as a Cultural Resource 227
  • Five - Ritual in Drama 289
  • References 371
  • Index 393
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