“Phylarkhos claims that Thetis went to Hephaistos on Olympos so that he might create weapons for Achilles and that he did it. But, because Hephaistos was lusting after Thetis, he said he would not give them to her unless she had sex with him. She promised him that she would, but that she only wanted to try on the weapons first, so she could see if the gear he had made was fit for Achilles. She was actually the same size as him.
Once Hephaistos agreed on this, Thetis armed herself and fled. Because he was incapable of grabbing her, he took a hammer and hit Thetis in the ankle. Injured in this way, she went to Thessaly and healed in the city that is called Thetideion after her.”
“And there is also a notion older than this which seemed right to Lykourgos for Sparta. Because he meant to provide warrior-athletes for Sparta, he said, “Let the girls exercise and permit them to run in public. Certainly this strengthening of their bodies was for the sake of good childbearing and that they would have better offspring.
For one who comes from this training to her husband’s home will not hesitate to carry water or to mill grain because she has prepared from her youth. And if she is joined together with a youth who has joined her in rigorous exercise, she will provide better offspring—for they will be tall, strong and rarely sick. Sparta became so preeminent in war once her marriages were prepared in this way.”
Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.
As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.
Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c
“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:
“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”
But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “
“Let’s talk first concerning the disease which is called sacred and paralyzed people and the many anxieties which frighten people seriously enough that they lose their minds and believe that they see evil spirits by night or even at times by die or sometimes on all hours. Many have hanged themselves before because of this kind of vision, more often women than men.
For a woman’s nature is more depressed and sorrowful. And young women, when they are at the age of marriage and without a husband, suffer terribly at the time of their menstruation, which they did not suffer earlier in life. For blood collects later in their uterus so that it may flow out. When, then, the mouth of the exit does not create an opening, the blood pools up more because of food and the body’s growth. When the blood has nowhere to flow, it rises up toward the heart and the diaphragm. When these organs are filled, the heart is desensitized and from this transformation it becomes numb. Madness overtakes women because of this numbness.”
Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom (Moralia138a-146a : Conjugalia Praecepta)
“These kinds of studies, foremost, distract women from inappropriate matters. For, a wife will be ashamed to dance when she is learning geometry. And she will not receive spells of medicine if she is charmed by Platonic dialogues and the works of Xenophon. And if anyone claims she can pull down the moon, she will laugh at the ignorance and simplicity of the women who believe these things because she herself is not ignorant of astronomy and she has read about Aglaonikê. She was the daughter of Hêgêtor of Thessaly because she knew all about the periods of the moon and eclipses knew before everyone about the time when the moon would be taken by the shadow of the earth. She tricked the other women and persuaded them that she herself was causing the lunar eclipse.”
After the suitor Amphimedon arrives in the underworld and tells the story of Penelope’s shroud and Odysseus’ return, Agamemnon responds:
“Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus,
You really secured a wife with magnificent virtue!
That’s how good the brains are for blameless Penelope,
Ikarios’ daughter, how well she remembered Odysseus,
Her wedded husband. The fame of her virtue will never perish,
And the gods will craft a pleasing song
Of mindful Penelope for mortals over the earth.
This is not the way for Tyndareos’ daughter.
She devised wicked deeds and since she killed
Her wedded husband, a hateful song
Will be hers among men, she will attract harsh rumor
To the race of women, even for those who are good.”
More than half of this speech praises Penelope for being a loyal, ‘good’ wife (and that is another issue of its own). Of course, this makes Agamemnon think of Klytemnestra. There’s a lot to be said about how this passage sets up the end of the Odyssey, but Agamemnon’s words are striking because they reflect a sad reality not just about misogynistic thinking but about the operation of human thought.
Let’s start with the misogyny: Agamemnon says here, quite clearly, that because of the behavior of one woman (well, two if we hear ambiguity in the phrase “Tyndareos’ daughter” and think of Helen too) all women have bad fame, even if they are “good”? A simple response to this is to wonder whether the same applies to men (of course not…) Let’s pass over the fact that the murder of Agamemnon was probably well deserved. I think this passage also reflects human cognition: the story of Klytemnestra is paradigmatic. We learn basic patterns about people and the world and apply these patterns (prejudices) as substitutions for deeper thought.
I am not sure whether this serves as a bit of an anticipatory apologetic on the part of epic–that the tale of Penelope cannot match up to negative messages about women. It probably stands as an acknowledgement of a “negative expectancy effect”–we are primed to hear negative tales and to believe negative things. I suspect that on Homer’s part this is probably less about women and more about anticipating the reception of this poem.
But, at the very least, this is a clear indication that Homer knows the way it goes: we live in a cultural system that discounts positive stories about women in favor of negative ones and which, accordingly, downgrades the authority of the stories they tell. In our responses to the testimonies of men and women, men have the privilege of being individuals whose lives might be ruined by rumor and false claims, while women are always already undermined. This is is an example of structural misogyny.
For discussions of this passage see: On the contrasting fame of Klytemnestra and Penelope, see Franco 2012, 60–61. For invocations of Klytemnestra as an example of how a woman can ruin a nostos, see Murnaghan 2011, chapter 4 and Nagy 1999, 36–39.
Franco, Cristina. 2012. “Women in Homer,” in Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon, eds., A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. London. 55–65.
Marquardt, Patricia. 1989. “Love’s Labor’s Lost: Women in the Odyssey,” in Robert Sutton, ed., Daidalikon: Studies in Honor of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. Chicago. 239-248.
Murnaghan, Sheila. 2011. Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey, Second Edition. Lanham.
Nagy, Gregory 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge
“It is also necessary for a woman to take to heart that she will find no kind of purifying remedy for this mistake [adultery], something that would allow her to approach the temples and altars of the gods as a chaste and god-loved woman. This is because in this crime especially the divine spirit is most unforgiving. The most beautiful achievement of a free woman and the foremost glory is to provide as testimony to her prudence toward her husband her children, if they do in fact bear the imprint of similarity to the father who sowed them. That seems to me to be enough regarding marriage.
The following seems to be right to me when it comes to the management of the body. A woman should wear white, but be dressed simply and without decoration. This style of dressing is achieved without transparent or decorated robes or robes which are made from silk; instead a woman should wear modest and white clothing. She preferably also avoids luxury and ostentation and will not cause vile jealousy in other women. She should also not put on gold or emeralds at all—this behavior would make her seem wealthy and haughty to common women.
It is necessary that the well-governed city which is ordered completely with a view to its whole should be one of common experiences and likemindedness. And it should keep out the craftspeople who create these sorts of baubles from its territory. A prudent woman should not embellish her appearance with foreign decoration and makeup but should use the native beauty of the body—she should decorate her body by washing it in water rather than bringing it shame. For this brings honor to herself and the man she lives with.
Women need to make processions from their homes to make sacrifices to the leading-god of the city for themselves, their husbands, and their households. They must make their expedition to the theater or to the market for household goods, however, not when the evening star is rising nor when it is dark but whenever it is still light, accompanied by a single servant or, at most, two as is proper.
In addition, a prudent woman must also perform sacrificial rites for the gods as is permitted to her, but must abstain from the occult rites and rituals of the Great Mother at home. For the common law prohibits women from performing these rituals, since, in addition to other things, these practices make them drunk and insane. The woman of the home needs to be temperate and uncontaminated by everything, even when she is governing the home.”
“It is necessary that a woman be completely good and well-ordered. Someone could never be like this without virtue. For the virtue which is proper to each thing causes the object which welcomes it to be more serious. The excellence of the eyes improves the eyes; that of hearing improves the ears; the horse’s virtue betters the horse and a man’s virtue improves the man. In the same way, a woman’s virtue ennobles a woman.
The virtue most appropriate to a woman is prudence. For through prudence a woman will be able to honor and take delight in her own husband. Many may in fact think that it is not fitting for a woman to practice philosophy, just as she should not ride a horse or speak in public. But I believe that while some things are particular to a man and others to a woman, there are some that are shared by both man and woman, even though some are more appropriate to a man than a woman and those better for a woman than a man.
For example, serving in an army or working in politics and speaking in public are proper for a man. For a woman, it is running the household, staying at home, and welcoming and serving her husband. In common I place bravery, an understanding of justice, and wisdom. For It is right that virtues of the body are proper for both a man and woman along with the virtues of the soul. And, just as having a healthy body is useful for both, so too is the health of the soul.
The virtues of the body are health, strength, good perception, and beauty. Some of these are better for a man to nourish and keep; and others are more appropriate for a woman. Courage and wisdom are certainly more proper for a man both die to the nature of his body and the power of his mind. But prudence is proper for a woman.
For this reason it is important to recognize what a woman trained in prudence is like, in particular from what number and kinds of traits this possession graces a woman. I propose that this comes from five things. The first is from respecting the sanctity and reverence of her marriage bed; the second is a sense of propriety for her body; the third is concerning the actions of those from her own household; the fourth is from not practicing the occult rites and the celebrations of the Great Mother; the fifth is in proper and moderate sacrifices to the divine.
Of these traits, the most important and vital for prudence in terms of her marriage bed is staying uncontaminated and fully separate from some other man. For, to start with, a woman who breaks this law does wrong against her ancestral gods, because she provides for her home and her family not true born allies but bastards.
The one who does this transgresses against the natural gods whose oath she took, following the practice of her forebears and relatives, “to participate in the common life and to produce offspring according to the law.” She also commits injustice against her country, because she does not stay with those who were assigned to her. Then she acts even beyond those for whom the greatest of penalties is assigned because of the excess of this injustice: this is because to commit an error or an outrage for the sake of pleasure is unlawful and the most unforgivable. Ruin is the outcome of all outrage.”
“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”
“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.
Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.
But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”
τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.
πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)
Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.
19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”
20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”
20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”
Perictione, On a Woman’s “Harmony”[=Stob. 4.28.19 p. 688]
“A woman must recognize that harmony is full of thought and wisdom. For a mind must be thoroughly trained for virtue in order to be just, brave, thoughtful, improved by self-sufficiency, and hateful to empty opinion. From these qualities, a woman gains noble deeds for herself and her husband. Her children and home benefit too. Often there is also benefit for the state if a woman like this governs cities or peoples as we observe in kingdoms.
For the one who rules her own desires and passion becomes divine and harmonious. Lawless lusts do not pursue her and she will be able to maintain her husband, children, and whole household in friendship. Indeed, all the women who become seduced by foreign beds also become hostile to all those in their home who are free and dedicated to the family. A woman like this works up tricks against her husband and manufactures lies about him so that she alone might seem to stand apart for her good mind and her conduct of the household when she really loves laziness. Truly, this is the ruin of all the things that are common for her and her husband.
But I have said enough about these things. It is necessary to arrange the body to the measure of nature for food, clothes, bathing, anointing, hair-dos, and everything that comes from gold and stone for jewelry. For all the women who eat, drink, dress, and carry these expensive things are prepared to fall into the folly of complete wickedness in their beds and criminal behavior in other things too. It is right only to sate hunger and thirst with things which are simple and to keep off the cold with wool or some cloak of hair.
No small a vice is forsworn by staying far away from food either sold for a a lot or of great renown. And it is great foolishness to don excessively thin clothing or garments decorated with due from seashells or any other expensive color. For the body wants only not to be cold or naked for the sake of propriety, but it asks for nothing else. Human opinion longs for empty and useless things because of ignorance. Also, a woman should not wrap gold around her, or Indian stone or anything coming from another place; she will not braid her hair with excessive artifice, nor will she anoint herself with scents smelling of Arabia, nor color the face by making it whiter or making it blush or darkening her eyebrows and eyes, making her hair light with dyes nor take lots of baths. The one who pursues these strategies is looking for someone who admires feminine lack of control.
“Beauty comes from intelligence and not from those things—and it commends women who do well. Necessity should not compel nobility and wealth and coming from great city and the repute and friendship of famous and royal men. If she misses these things, she does not grieve; if she does not miss them, she does not press to seek them. For a thoughtful woman is not hindered from living apart from these things. If she allows those things which she has been allotted, her mind must never doubt at the great and wondrous things, but instead let her depart far from them. For when they fall into misfortune it harms more than it helps. Conspiracy, envy, and betrayal are proper to these things so that a woman of this sort would never be at peace. Instead one needs to revere the gods to gain the good hope of happiness and to obey her country’s laws and customs.
After these precepts, I advise a woman to honor and revere her parents. For they are equal to the gods in all ways and act on behalf of their relatives. In respect to her husband it is right that she live lawfully and rightly, keeping nothing private in her thoughts but watching and guarding their bed. Everything is common in this. She must endure everything from her husband—if he is unlucky and if he makes any mistakes because of ignorance, or sickness or drunkenness or has relationships with other women. For this fault is at home with men, but never women, and vengeance is set for it.
“She must preserve custom and not be jealous. She needs to endure anger, and cheapness, and faultfinding, and envy, and evil speech and anything else he has his nature and will put everything in a way that will be dear to him in her prudence. For a woman who is dear to her husband and works for him well is harmonious and loves her whole household and makes those outside of it well-intentioned toward it. When she does not love the home, she is not willing to see her household, or her own children, or her servants or the possessions she has safe, but in stead she curses them and prays for every kind of ruin, as if she were an enemy, and she prays for her husband to die, as if he is hateful to her so that she is a neighbor to others and hates all those who tend to him.
“I think that a woman like this is harmonious, if she is full of intelligence and prudence. For she will not only help her husband, but also her children and relatives and slaves and the whole household in which her possessions and friends, citizens and guests, reside. Her body supports things things by not being excessive, by pursuing and heeding noble actions, by following her husband in the practice of shared opinion in their common life, by following along with those he admits to their family and friendships and by believing the same things are sweet and bitter as her husband, she is not disharmonious in any way.”