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Religious Women in Greece and Rome


Religious Women in Greece and Rome Religious women in Greece and Rome Introducing Anderson pp. 24-66 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Religious Women in Greece and Rome

Religious Women in Greece and Rome
  1. Religious women in Greece and Rome
  2. Introducing Anderson pp. 24-66

Greek Women in Religion
  • Pomeroys description of three cults in which
    women were prominent emphasizes several features
    of womens history
  • The close association with sexuality virgins
    involved in purification rituals, for instance
  • From sexuality to reproduction women in
    Thesomorphian fertility ritual
  • Production weaving a new robe for Athena every
    four years (two girls between 7 and 11) Why?
    What has not yet happened to their bodies?

Importance of the rituals?
  • Pomeroy claims that when one woman was rejected
    to serve as kanephoroi, her brother Harmodius and
    his friend Aristogiton killed Hipparchus,
    Pisistratus son
  • They were both killed for their assassination

Mother-Daughter Ceremony
  • Pomeroy also looks at two cult festivals to
    Demeter Mother nature
  • She hid her daughter, Kore or Persephone, away in
    a cave where the maiden worked in wool
  • However, intrigued by the narcissus, she wandered
    away from her mother and was captured by Hades

Demeter and wheat stalks
Why womens rituals?
  • Pomeroy suggests two reasons
  • Matriarchy
  • Natural connection between birth and fertility
  • She ignores, however, the high value on
    virginity, the constant affirmation of womens
    daily roles and expectations in the rituals (at
    work, serving, maintaining a good reputation in
    order to participate, etc.)

Roman religion
  • For Roman women, participation in religion could
    be both an obligation and a pleasure. (Pomeroy,
  • Two categories, religious ceremonies native to
    Rome and Oriental imports, such as Isis rituals
  • For Roman women, unlike Greek, participation was
    much more categorized
  • Plebian and patrician
  • Respectable women and disreputable
  • Age, free or slave, etc.
  • young virgin, celibate adult, wife, wife married
    only once (univira) and widow

Fortuna goddess of fortune
  • To Pomeroy, Romans used religious sanctions to
    promote socially desirable behaviour
  • Guaranteed fruits of the earth and womens
    physical maturation and sexual fulfillment

Mens commentary on womens religion
  • Livys writing demonstrate that he served
    Augustus marital principles (cults centered on
    child-bearing, chastity and family)
  • Juvenal satirized womens participation in the
    rituals, suggesting that while a ceremony was on,
    women could drink and make lewd gestures
    (etc.!!!) but he did not criticize the Vestal

Vestal Virgins
  • Vestals lasted from about 600 BCE to 394 CE
  • Persecution of the vestals in times of
    political strife shares the belief in the close
    relationship between the virtue of women and the
    welfare of the political state
  • Commentators include Aristotle, Livy and
    Tacitus, speaking of several states and the
    womens lack of virtue the major contribution to
    the fall of these states (Sparta, Etruria, Rome)

Vestal virgin statues (Rome)
Emancipated women?
  • The lives of Vestals were severely regulated,
    but in some respects they were the most
    emancipated women in Rome (213)
  • The XII Tables gave these women the legal right
    to be freed of pater familias
  • They could drive through Rome in a chariot
  • They had preferred seating at theatre and games
  • Yet they became increasingly difficult to find

Ceres and Tellus
  • Both associated with agriculture and human
  • Both were goddesses of marriage
  • Roman expansion assimilated Ceres with Demeter
    (syncretism) and the myths and rites of
    Demeter/Ceres were performed by women

  • Tellus, Terra Mater the earth mother (as with
    Greek Gaia or Ge)
  • Three separate festivals during the year for her

Oriental cults
  • Isis cult is very different
  • It addressed the emotional and religious needs of
    both men and women
  • Isis could be all things to all people and thus
  • Henotheistic belief in one god without denying
    the existence of others
  • Wife, mother, whore, supreme Egyptian god in
    Hellenistic and Roman worlds

  • On the ultra-male side, one group not interested
    in Isis were Roman soldiers, who instead followed
    the cult of masculinity and militancy found in

Mithras slaying a bull
  • To Pomeroy, the women who are known to us are
    those who influenced matters of interest to men
  • Prostitutes, political women and masculine women
    are the most prominent do you agree?
  • In this account, I have attempted to find about
    the realities of womens existence in the ancient
    world rather than concentrate on the images that
    men had of women (229). Did she succeed?
  • Confining women to the domestic sphere and the
    anti-female thought of poets and philosophers are
    the most devastating legacies.

Anderson and Zinsser
  • Inherited traditions
  • Despite differences of culture, law, and
    circumstance, the Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic,
    and Hebrew traditions about women are more
    similar than they are different. The bulk of the
    pre-Christian traditions inherited about women
    subordinate and limit them, seeing women as
    inferior to and dependent on men (25).

Inherited traditions, continued
  • Some of these pre-Christian traditions, however,
    consist of images and eras in which womens
    equality, power, and independence flourished.
    Never totally erased, they too form part of the
    legacy of Europes women (25).
  • Christianitys role emphasis on equality of
    believers came to change a few traditions but,
    The pattern of freedom followed by restriction,
    set in the early Christian Church, provided a
    model for later Church actions regarding ? (25)

Traditions Subordinating
  • The written record Homer, Celtic and Germanic
    law, Roman law, the Pentateuch, all subordinated
    women as inferior to and dependent on men
  • These became axioms natural, inevitable,
  • Womens bodies menstruation, uterus, birth,
    meant no war, law, government and much of religion

Male thinkers Subordinating ?
  • Aristotle scientific authority until 16th
  • Cicero jurist weakness of intellect
  • Philo Genesis female sex irrational and akin
    to bestial passions

Womens inferior bodies
Turn outward the womans, turn inward, so to
speak, and fold double the mans, and you will
find the same in both in every respect - Galen
  • Menstruation as mysterious, dangerous,
    contaminating and for women, debilitating
  • Uterus and reproduction even more derogatory, a
    deformed male
  • Wandering womb, uterus as animal within an
    animal (Plato)
  • Hippocrates the womb wandered in the body,
    looking for love, and bumped into other parts to
    cause disease
  • cold and moist not hot and dry

Male and Female reproductive organs as drawn by
Andreas Vesalius in Tabulae Sex Written in xxx
Womens approved roles-daughter
  • Daughter, wife, mother and widow
  • Sidenote avuncular (from the uncles side)
  • Distaff from the aunts side (what is a
  • Defined in relation to men, women were
    categorized primarily by their sexual activity
    with men (33)
  • Virginity and chastity are obedience
  • Most writing and legends in these cultures focus
    on the girls virginity

Womens approved roles-wife
  • There was nothing casual about the transfer of
    authority over a young woman from one man to
    another (36)
  • Also, the gift, to compensate the brides family,
    to provide for the new relationship
  • Sexually faithful, fertile, bearing healthy boys,
    to manage the household or perform its duties
    herself, support her husbands military endeavours

Womens approved roles-mother
  • Childlessness was a womans fault
  • Divorce was usually easy for a man to get if his
    wife did not produce children
  • Those who had children got into the double
    burden performing housework and childcare and
    earning extra income
  • The role of the chaste wife and mother, who was
    prolific, hardworking, and devoted to her
    housekeeping and her family was one of the most
    powerful traditions inherited. (44)

Womens Dishonour Slave, Prostitute and Concubine
  • Earliest writings of all cultures have slave
    women serving warriors needs
  • Celtic and Germanic cultures had no prostitutes
    because of slaves and polygamy
  • These women were stigmatized, marginalized,
  • Courtesans also hostesses and companions, such
    as Aspasia

Either up here or down there
Not the norm, from prostitute to Empress of the
Roman Empire in the East
Women as mens enemies-myth
  • Myth-list
  • Circe (men to swine)
  • Schylla (rock)
  • Charybdis (hard place)
  • Echidna (mother of Cerberus)
  • Chimera and Sphinx
  • The Furies
  • Harpies (birds with womens heads)
  • Gorgons (women with snake hair)
  • Sigurd (starvation, famine)
  • Grendels mother (old hag)

Women as enemies-ordinary
  • Semonides poem (in Pomeroy) only one woman of ten
    types is a good wife-the bee
  • Woman as nag
  • Standard joke in Greek and Roman comedies to make
    fun of wives
  • There is no equivalent term or example for
    misogyny misanthropy, interestingly, means
    hating humankind (yes, mankind)