“When strong winds carry sailors forward
Divergent opinions steering the ship
Or a mob thick with wise men is feebler
Than a single mind with self-control.
In city and under a single
Authority should be one person’s
Whenever we want to find success.”
“My speech is lacking one thing still.
I wish I had the voice in my limbs
And hands and hair and the march of my feet
Or the skills of Daidalos or some god
So I could completely grasp you by your knees
Wailing, laying about you with every kind of argument.
Master, great hope of life for the Greeks,
Heed me—lend an avenging hand to an old woman
Even if she is nothing at all.
For it is right that a good man serve justice
And always do evil everywhere to evil men.”
“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.”
“In Haliartos in Boiotia, there was a certain girl of surpassing beauty whose name was Aristokleia. She was the Daughter of Theophanes. Stratôn the Orkhomenian and Kallisthenes the Haliartian were both wooing her.
Stratôn was wealthier and was somewhat more taken with the virgin. For he happened to see her once when she was bathing in the fountain Herkunêin Lebadeia. For she was making reading to carry a basket for Zeus the king. But Kallisthenes was closer to winning her, for he was related to her.
Theophanes was at a loss in the matter—for he was fearing Stratôn he stood apart from nearly all the Boiotians because of his family and wealth. He was planning on getting advice about the choice from Trophonios. Stratôn, however, was convinced by the girl’s servants that she was leaning towards him, so he considered it best to have the girl to be married make the choice. But when Theophanes asked his daughter in front of everyone, she chose Kallisthenes. It was clear that Stratôn took the dishonor badly.
After a period of two days, he approached Theophanes and Kallisthenes, saying he wanted to preserve their friendship, even if he had been denied the marriage by some envious god. They praised what he said and asked him to come to the feast for the wedding. But he, once he had gathered a mob of his friends and no small a retinue of servants which were distributed among the attendees unnoticed, waited until the girl wen to the Spring Kissoessa to make the customary sacrifice to the local nymphs. There, all the men who were in ambush rushed out and grabbed her. Stratos had gained a hold of the virgin. Kallisthenes, as one might expect, grabbed her in turn and those with him were helping. They all pulled on her until she died without them knowing, stretched to death in their hands.
Kallisthenes was out of sight immediately, either because he killed himself or left Boiotia as an exile. No one is able to say what happened to him. But Stratôn killed himself openty over the maiden.”
Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.
“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”
The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.
“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”
Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.
“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”
The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.
Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)
“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”
It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.
Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34
“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.”
“Klea, I do not have the same opinion as Thucydides concerning the virtue of women. For he claims that the best woman is the one who has the slimmest reputation among those outside her home, critical or positive—since he believes that the name of a good woman ought to be locked up and kept indoors just like her body. Gorgias, in fact, is more appealing to me, since he insists that the fame rather than the form of a woman should be known to many. Indeed, the Roman practice seems best: granting praise to women in public after their death just as for men.
So, when Leontis, one of the best women died, you and I had a rather long conversation which did not lack philosophical solace; and now, just as you have asked, I have written down for you the rest of the things one can say supporting the assertion that the virtue of a man and woman are the same thing. This [composition] is historical and is not arranged for pleasurable hearing. But if some pleasure is possible in a persuasive piece thanks to the nature of its example, then the argument itself does not avoid some charm—that aid to explanation—nor is it reluctant to “mix the Graces in with the Muses, a most noble pairing”, in the words of Euripides, basing its credibility on the love of beauty which is a special province of the soul.”
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.”
From Stobaeus III. 6, 58 (from the Memorabilia of Epictetus, fr. 15)
“In Rome, the women keep Plato’s Republic in their hands because he believes that women are worthy of sharing the state. In this, they pay attention to the words but not the man’s meaning: for he actually tells people not to marry or live together as one man and one woman and then plan for women in a community. No, he eliminates that kind of marriage and introduces some different kind in its place. As a general rule, people take pleasure providing excuses for their own faults. Truly, philosophy tells us that it is not right to stretch out even a finger at random!”
Animae sanctae colendae d(is) m(anibus) s(acrum). Furia Spes L(ucio) Sempronio Firmo coniugi carissimo mihi. Ut cognovi puer puella obligati amori pariter. Cum quo vixi tempori minimo et quo tempore vivere debuimus a manu mala diseparati sumus. Ita peto vos manes sanctissimae commendat[um] habeatis meum ca[ru]m et vellitis huic indulgentissimi esse horis nocturnis ut eum videam et etiam me fato suadere vellit ut et ego possim dulcius et celerius aput eum pervenire.
“To a sacred and worshipped spirit: a sacred thing to the spirits of the dead. Furia Spes (made this) for her dearest husband, Lucius Sempronius Firmus. When we met as boy and girl, we were joined in love equally. I lived with him for a short while, and in a time when we should have lived together, we were separated by an evil hand.
So I ask you, most sacred spirits, to protect my dear husband entrusted to you, and that you be willing to be most accommodating to him in the nightly hours, so I may have a vision of him, and so he might wish that I persuade fate to allow me to come to him more sweetly and quickly.”
Clausa iacet lapidi coniunx pia cara Sabina. Artibus edocta superabat sola maritum vox ei grata fuit pulsabat pollice c(h)ordas. Set (sed) cito rapta silpi (silet)…
“My beautiful, faithful wife, Sabina, lies enclosed in stone. Skilled in the arts, she alone surpassed her husband. Her voice was pleasing (as) she plucked the strings with her thumb. But suddenly taken, now she is silent.”
“To the spirits of the dead. For Flavia Sophe. Genialis, home-born slave of Caesar Augustus, keeper of the grain supply, made this for his loving, dear, well-deserving wife. She lived 32 years, 7 months.”
Iulia Cecilia vicxit annis XLV cui Terensus marit(us) fek(it) dom(um) et(e)r(nalem) f(eci)t
“Julia Caecilia lived 45 years, for whom her husband Terensus made this. He made her an eternal home.”
CIL 13.01983 (EDCS-10500938)
D(is) M(anibus) et memoriae aetern(ae) Blandiniae Martiolae puellae innocentissimae quae vixit ann(os) XVIII m(enses) VIIII d(ies) V. Pompeius Catussa cives Sequanus tector coniugi incomparabili et sibi benignissim(a)e quae mecum vixit an(nos) V m(enses) VI d(ies) XVIII sine ul(l)a criminis sorde. Viv(u)s sibi et coniugi ponendum curavit et sub ascia dedicavit. Tu qui legis vade in Apol(l)inis lavari quod ego cum coniuge feci. Vellem si ad(h)uc possem
“To the spirits of the dead and the eternal memory of Blandinia Martiola, a most innocent girl who lived 18 years, 9 months, 5 days. Pompeius Catussa, a Sequani citizen and plasterer, (made this) for his incomparable and most kind wife, who lived with me 5 years, 6 months, 18 days without any transgressions. While alive, he saw to the building and dedicated this, while under construction, to himself and his wife. You who read this, go and bathe in the bath of Apollo, which I did with my wife. I wish I were still able to do it.”
Hospes quod deico paullum est. Asta ac pellege. Heic est sepulcrum hau(d) pulcrum pulcrai feminae. Nomen parentes nominarunt Claudiam. Suom mareitum corde deilexit souo. Gnatos duos creavit horunc (horum-ce) alterum in terra linquit alium sub terra locat. Sermone lepido tum autem incessu commodo domum servavit lanam fecit dixi abei
“Stranger, what I say is short. Stand and read over it. This is the hardly beautiful tomb of a beautiful woman. Her parents called her Claudia. She loved her husband with all her heart. She had two sons, one of whom she leaves on earth, the other she placed under it. With pleasant conversing but respectable gait she cared for her home and made wool. I have spoken. Move along.”
Iulio Timotheo qui vixit p(lus) m(inus) annis XXVIII vitae innocentissim(a)e decepto a latronibus cum alumnis n(umero) VII. Otacilia Narcisa co(n)iugi dulcissimo
“For Julius Timotheus, who lived around 28 years of a most innocent life, cheated by bandits along with his 7 fostered children. Otacilia Narcisa (made this) for her sweetest husband.”
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.’ “