Things (not) to say on Valentine’s Day: Ancient Greek (and Roman) Comments on Women

Today, we will be talking about the creation of women in Hesiod and misogyny in Greek myth and culture.  Here are some nice passages that dovetail with these topics and Valentine’s Day:

Euripides, fr. 320 (Danae)

“There is neither fortress nor fortune
Nor anything else as hard to guard as a woman.”

οὐκ ἔστιν οὔτε τεῖχος οὔτε χρήματα
οὔτ’ ἄλλο δυσφύλακτον οὐδὲν ὡς γυνή.

Euripides, fr. 276 (Auge)

“We are women: in some things, we hesitate.
But in others, no one can surpass our courage.”

γυναῖκές ἐσμεν• τὰ μὲν ὄκνῳ νικώμεθα,
τὰ δ’ οὐκ ἂν ἡμῶν θράσος ὑπερβάλοιτό τις.

Euripides, fr. 358 (Erechtheus)

“Children have nothing sweeter than their mother.
Love your mother children, there is no kind of love anywhere
Sweeter than this one to love.”

οὐκ ἔστι μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἥδιον τέκνοις•
ἐρᾶτε μητρός, παῖδες, ὡς οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔρως
τοιοῦτος ἄλλος ὅστις ἡδίων ἐρᾶν.

Euripides, fr. 137 (Andromeda)

“Best of all riches is to find a noble spouse.”

τῶν γὰρ πλούτων ὅδ’ ἄριστος
γενναῖον λέχος εὑρεῖν.

Perhaps this is at the root of the problem:

Euripides, fr. 26 (Aeolus)

“Aphrodite has many shades:
She can please or aggrieve men completely.”

τῇ δ’ ᾿Αφροδίτῃ πόλλ’ ἔνεστι ποικίλα•
τέρπει τε γὰρ μάλιστα καὶ λυπεῖ βροτούς.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.1192-1200: Sometimes Women Don’t Fake It

“A woman doesn’t always gasp with counterfeit passion
when she joins her body in embrace with a man
and holds his lips with a drawn, moist kiss.
Often she acts from her spirit and as she seeks shared happiness,
she incites him to race through the course of his love.”

Nec mulier semper ficto suspirat amore,
quae conplexa viri corpus cum corpore iungit
et tenet adsuctis umectans oscula labris;
nam facit ex animo saepe et communia quaerens
gaudia sollicitat spatium decurrere amoris.

Scholion to Lycophron’s Alexandra, Line 33

“Sleeping with women is night-time work.”

τὸ καθεύδειν μετὰ γυναικῶν νυκτὸς ἔργον ἐστίν

Euripides, fr. 657 (Protelisaus)

“Anyone who lumps all women together in slander
Is unsubtle and unwise
For among the many women you will find one wicked
And another with a spirit as noble as this one”

ὅστις δὲ πάσας συντιθεὶς ψέγει λόγῳ
γυναῖκας ἑξῆς, σκαιός ἐστι κοὐ σοφός
πολλῶν γὰρ οὐσῶν τὴν μὲν εὑρήσεις κακήν
τὴν δ᾿ ὥσπερ ἥδε λῆμ᾿ ἔχουσαν εὐγενές

Anacreontea, 24.8-13

Nature gave bulls horns
Hooves to horses
Swift feet to hares
A mouth of teeth to lions
Swimming to fish
Flight to birds
And wisdom to men.
What did nature give to women?
Beauty
stronger than all shields and spears.
A woman who is beautiful
conquers both iron and fire.

Φύσις κέρατα ταύροις,
ὁπλὰς δ’ ἔδωκεν ἵπποις,
ποδωκίην λαγωοῖς,
λέουσι χάσμ’ ὀδόντων,
τοῖς ἰχθύσιν τὸ νηκτόν,
τοῖς ὀρνέοις πέτασθαι,
τοῖς ἀνδράσιν φρόνημα·
γυναιξὶν οὐν ἔτ᾿ εἶχεν
τί οὖν; δίδωσι κάλλος
ἀντ᾿ ἀσπίδων ἁπασῶν
ἀντ᾿ ἐγχέων ἁπάντων
νικᾷ δὲ καὶ σίδηρον
καὶ πῦρ καλή τις οὖσα

Hipponax fr. 182: The Wise Man’s Wife (Hipponactic!)

“The strongest marriage for a wise man
Is to take a woman of noble character—
This dowry alone safeguards a home.
[But whoever takes a fancy woman home…]
<sees his house fall into ruin>
The wise man has a partner instead of a mistress
A woman with a good mind, reliable for a lifetime.”

γάμος κράτιστός ἐστιν ἀνδρὶ σώφρονι
τρόπον γυναικὸς χρηστὸν ἕδνον λαμβάνειν·
αὕτη γὰρ ἡ προὶξ οἰκίαν σώιζει μόνη.
ὅστις δὲ †τρυφῶς τὴν γυναῖκ’ ἄγει λαβών

συνεργὸν οὗτος ἀντὶ δεσποίνης ἔχει
εὔνουν, βεβαίαν εἰς ἅπαντα τὸν βίον.

Greek Anthology, Book 5.26: I Love You Whatever the Color of Your Hair

“If I saw you shining with dark hair
Or at another time with blond locks, mistress,
The same grace would gleam from both.
Love will make its home in your hair even when it’s gray.”

Εἴτε σε κυανέῃσιν ἀποστίλβουσαν ἐθείραις,
εἴτε πάλιν ξανθαῖς εἶδον, ἄνασσα, κόμαις,
ἴση ἀπ’ ἀμφοτέρων λάμπει χάρις. ἦ ῥά γε ταύταις
θριξὶ συνοικήσει καὶ πολιῇσιν ῎Ερως.

Propertius, Elegies, 2.34.3

“I say this as a man with experience: no one is faithful in love.”

expertus dico, nemo est in amore fidelis

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