“Wine-sod! Dog-eyes! You have the heart of a deer!
You never suffer to arm yourself to enter battle with the army
Nor to set an ambush with the best of the Achaeans.
That seems like death itself to you!”
But in the crown jewel of Greek mythology, Semonides’ “Diatribe against women”—which presents a lists of complaints about women categorized by different kinds of animals—emphasizes the inability of men to control female voices through the symbol of a dog. Note, as well, that violence is described as a regular reaction but is considered useless.
Semonides of Amorgos, fragment 7
“One women is from a dog, a sinful beast, a thorough mother—
She listens to everything and wants to know everything,
Lurking around everywhere and wandering
She barks even when she doesn’t see anyone.
She can’t stop this, not even if her husband threatens her
Nor if he is angry enough to bash her teeth
With a stone. You can’t change her by talking nicely either.
Even when she happens to be sitting among guests,
She keeps on an endless, impossible yapping.”
Franco, Cristina. 2014. Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. Translated by Michael Fox. Berkeley and Los Angeles.
4: “In the ancient Greek imagination the figure of the dog seems, in fact, to be interwoven with the disparaging discourse on the nature of woman in afar from casual manner…Moreover, the dog appears as a paradigm for the base nature of women in two cornerstone texts of Greek misogyny” (referring to the creation of Pandora in Hesiod and Agamemnon’s comments on Clytemnestra in the Odyssey).
To call a woman–and a person of color–a dog is to use an ancient dehumanizing symbol which expresses implicitly the expectation that the insulted party should be subservient and under control of the speaker. The frustration evoked is both about controlling the ability to speak and the ability to consume. To make such a comment is baldly misogynistic and clearly also racist in the modern context.
Valerius Maximus (8.3.2), speaking about the few women who spoke in the Roman forum, says of Afrania that everyone became tired out with her "barking" or "yapping" (cf. M. Beard, "Women & Power" p11…). Women have been denied speech by being called dogs since antiquity. https://t.co/wC993hbiWp
The Lamia (or, just Lamia to her friends) is one of the figures from Greek myth who seems like a frightening monster but really is a particular distillation of misogyny. She is often called a Greek ‘vampire’ along with Empousa. Unlike the latter, however, Lamia is specifically associated with killing children.
Diodorus Siculus, 20.40
“At the rock’s root there was a very large cave which was roofed with ivy and bryony in which the myths say the queen Lamia, exceptional for her beauty, was born. But, because of the beastliness of her soul, they say that her appearance has become more monstrous in the time since then.
For, when all her children who were born died, she was overwhelmed by her suffering and envied all the women who were luckier with their children. So she ordered that the infants be snatched from their arms and killed immediately. For this reason, even in our lifetime, the story of that women has lingered among children and the mention of her name is most horrifying to them.
But, whenever she was getting drunk, she would allow people to do whatever pleased them without observation. Because she was not closely watching everything at that time, the people in that land imagined that she could not see. This is why the myth developed that she put her eyes into a bottle, using this story a metaphor for the carelessness she enacted in wine, since that deprived her of sight.”
The story of why Lamia killed children gets a little more depressing in the Fragments of the Greek Historians
Duris, BNJ 76 F17 [= Photios s.v. Lamia]
“In the second book of his Libyan History, Duris reports that Lamia was a fine looking woman but after Zeus had sex with her, Hera killed the children she bore because she was envious. As a result she was disfigured by grief and would seize and kill the children of others.”
Elsewhere, the evidence of narratives about Lamia are rather limited. She becomes just another negative, female monster.
Suda, Lambda 85
“Lamia: a monster. The name comes from having a gaping throat, laimia and lamia. Aristophanes: “It has the smell of a seal, the unwashed balls of a Lamia.” For testicles are active—and he is making a fantasy image of Lamia’s balls, since she is female.
“There is a crag rising up over the ground on which the Delphians claim that a woman stood singing oracles, named Hêrophilê but known as Sibyl. There is the earlier Sibyl, the one I have found to be equally as old as the others, whom the Greeks claim is the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, the daughter of Poseidon. She was the first woman to sing oracles and they say that she was named Sibyl by the Libyans. Hêrophilê was younger than here, but she was obviously born before the Trojan War since she predicted Helen in her oracles, that was raised up in Sparta as the destruction for Asia and Europe and that Troy would be taken by the Greeks because of her.”
“Foremost he differed from previous authors in this, by which I mean how he took on a subject that was not a single thread nor one divided in many different and also disconnected parts. And then, because did not include mythical material in his work and he did not use his writing for the deception and bewitchment of many, as every author before him did when they told the stories of certain Lamiai rising up from the earth in groves and glens and of amphibious Naiads rushing out of Tartaros, half-beasts swimming through the seas and then joining together in groups among humans, and producing offspring of mortals and gods, demigods—and other stories which seem extremely unbelievable and untrustworthy to us now.”
Mormô, in the genitive Mormous, declined like Sappho. There is also the form Mormôn, genitive Mormonos. Aristophanes says “I ask you, take this Mormo away from me”. This meant to dispel frightening things. For Mormo is frightening. And again in Aristophanes: “A Mormo for courage”. There is also a mormalukeion which they also call a Lamia. They also frightening things this.
Plutarch, De Curiositate [On Being a Busybody] 516a
“Now, just as in the myth they say that Lamia sleeps at home, putting her eyes set aside in some jar, but when she goes out she puts them back in and peers around, in the same way each of us puts his curiosity, as if fitting in an eye, into meanness towards others. But we often stumble over our own mistakes and faults because of ignorance, since we fail to secure sight or light for them.
For this reason, a busybody is rather useful to his enemies, since he rebukes and emphasizes their faults and shows them what they should guard and correct, even as he overlooks most of his own issues thanks to his obsession with everyone else. This is why Odysseus did not stop to speak with his mother before he inquired from the seer about those things for which he had come to Hades. Once he had made his inquiry, he turned to his own mother and also the other women, asking who Tyro was, who beautiful Khloris was, and why Epikaste had died.”
“I suggest you safeguard my words by writing them on tablet in your minds” αἰνῶ φυλάξαι τἄμ᾿ ἔπη δελτουμένας
Aeschylus, Suppliants, 200-204
“Don’t be too aggressive or broken in speech: These people are especially ready to be angry. Remember to be accommodating: you are a foreign refugee in need. To speak boldly is not a fitting move for the weak.”
“You are the city, really. You are the people. An unjudged chief of state rules The altar, the city’s hearth, With only your votes and nods, With only your scepter on the throne You judge every need. Be on guard against contamination!”
“Write this down with the many other notes In your mind of the wisdoms from your father: An unfamiliar mob is evaluated by time, But everyone has an evil tongue prepared to lash out over immigrants and speaking foully is somehow easy. I advise you not to bring me shame Now that you are in the age which turns mortal gazes.”
“Zeus! Why have you settled women, a curse for mortals
To live among us in the light of the sun?
If you wanted to sow the mortal race
You didn’t need to procure it from women!
But mortals could have placed purchase weights
Of bronze or gold or iron in your temples
To purchase the seed of children, each price
Equal to the worth of the man, and then we
Could live free of women in our homes!”
“I had great wealth and I was ruling my home.
I would have had noble children some day
And she would only give birth to half-slave bastards for them.
But never and I say it over and over, never
Should anyone who has any sense at all and a wife
Allow other women to come to visit them!
These women are instructors of evils.
One ruins a marriage because she hopes to gain something,
While another who’s afflicted wants someone to be sick with.
Many more act because of native vice—and this is how
The homes of men grow diseased.”
Euripides, Orestes 288-293 (see the full text in the Scaife Viewer)
“I think that my father, if I had gazed in is eyes
And asked him if I should kill my mother,
Would have touched my chin over and over
Not to plunge my sword into my mother’s neck,
Because he was not about return to life
And I would be miserable suffering tortures like these.”
“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.”
In her introduction to the Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood notes that two lingering questions from the Odyssey inspired her– (1) the ancient question of what Penelope was up to (during Odysseus’ absence and in the Odyssey itself where many have seen her toying with the suitors, recognizing Odysseus ahead of time, etc. and (2) the brutal savagery of the slaughter of the handmaids who allegedly gave comfort to the suitors. The epic implies, I think, that Odysseus is tyrannical with his mutilation of Melanthios, but its presentation of the hanging of the maids is far more ambiguous and challenging to explain/defend/contextualize for students (or for myself). In preparation for a lecture on the Odyssey and the Penelopiad, I revisit this passage.
Homer Odyssey, 22.446-73
“So he spoke and all the women came in close together,
Wailing terribly, shedding growing tears.
First, they were carrying out the corpses of the dead men,
and they put them out under the portico of the walled courtyard
stacking them against one another. Odysseus himself commanded
as he oversaw them—they carried out the bodies under force too.
Then, they cleaned off the chairs and the preciously beautiful trays
With water and much-worn sponges.
Meanwhile Telemachus, the cowherd and the swineherd
were scraping up the close-fit floors of the home
with hoes—the maids were carrying the remnants to the ground outside.
Then, when they had restored the whole house to order,
They led the women out of the well-roofed hall,
Halfway between the roof and the courtyard’s perfect wall,
Closing them in a narrow space were there was no escape.
Among them, learned Telemachus began to speak.
“May I not rip the life away from these women with a clean death,
These women who poured insults on my head and my mother
These women who were stretching out next to the suitors”
So he spoke. After attaching a ship’s cable to a pillar he bound it around
The dome of the house and stretched it up high
so that no one could be able to touch the ground with feet.
Just as when either thin-winged thrushes or doves
step into a snare which has been set in a thicket,
as they look for a resting plate, a hateful bed receives them—
Just so the women held their heads in a line, and nooses
fell around every neck so that they would die most pitiably.
They were gasping, struggling with their feet a little bit, but not for very long.”
“It is clear from the words uttered that the father ordered one thing but the son ordered another. For since it seems that a clean death is from a sword, and an unclean one is hanging, as is clear from the Nekyia, he thought it was right that unclean women should not have a clean death, since they were not clean themselves nor did they leave their masters clean of insults.”
Jerome Letters 44.13 (To Furia on the duty of remaining a widow, 394 CE)
“Avoid the company of young men. Never let long-haired, expensive, lust-mongers in your home. A Singer should be avoided like the plague. Kick out all women who sing songs and play instruments like they are the chorus of the devil with songs as deadly as the sirens’. Do not go out in public all the time, taking for yourself the freedom of widow, and parade around with an army of eunuchs preceding you.
It is of the worst character when one of the fragile sex at a young age takes advantage of freedom and think it is possible to do whatever you want. “All things are allowed but not all are expedient”. Don’t allow a curly-haired guard or a pretty foster brother or a blond or red haired servant to stick to your side all the time. Sometimes the mind of mistresses is judged by the the dress of their servants. Seek the friendship of sacred virgins and widows. If you have to talk to men, don’t avoid having witnesses there and make sure that you have so much confidence in your conversation that you won’t be afraid or embarrassed to have someone else listen.”
Iuvenum fuge consortia. Comatulos, comptos atque lascivos domus tuae tecta non videant. Cantor pellatur ut noxius; fidicinas et psaltrias et istius modi chorum diaboli quasi mortifera sirenarum carmina proturba ex aedibus tuis. Noli ad publicum subinde procedere et spadonum exercitu praeeunte viduarum circumferri libertate. Pessimae consuetudinis est, cum fragilis sexus et inbecilla aetas suo arbitrio abutitur et putat licere, quod libet. ‘Omnia’ quidem ‘licent, sed non omnia expediunt.’ Nec procurator calamistratus nec formosus conlactaneus nec candidulus et rubicundus adsecula adhaereant lateri tuo: interdum animus dominarum ex ancillarum habitu iudicatur. Sanctarum virginum et viduarum societatem adpete, et si sermocinandi cum viris incumbit necessitas, arbitros ne devites tantaque confabulandi fiducia sit, ut intrante alio nec paveas nec erubescas.
In a recent article, Sarah Scullin collects misandrist myths and topics from Greece and Rome. Reading some ancient scholarship can make us see why someone might find such ideas attractive. The following lines and commentary from the Homeric Scholia come from the scene at the end of book 1 of the Iliad where Hera talks to Zeus about his recent conversation with Thetis.
αὐτίκα κερτομίοισι Δία Κρονίωνα προσηύδα·
“Immediately, she addressed Kronos’ son Zeus with heart-rending words.”
Schol. bT ad Il. 1.539
“heart-rending”: words which hit the heart. For, both of these things are womanly: to be suspicious and to not restrain speech.”