In virtually all fields of human endeavor, ancient Athens was so much at the forefront of dynamism and innovation that the products of its most brilliant minds remain not only influential but entirely relevant to this day. In the field of medicine, the great physician Hippocrates not only advanced the practical knowledge of human anatomy and care-giving but changed the entire face of the medical profession. The great philosophers of Athens, men like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato, interrogated themselves with startling complexity about the nature of good and evil, questioned the existence of divinity, advocated intelligent design, and went so far as to argue that all life was composed of infinitesimal particles. Great architects and sculptors such as Phidias produced works of art of such breathtaking realism and startling dynamism that they later formed the driving force behind the resurgence of sculpture during the Renaissance and served as masters to artists such as Michelangelo, Bernini, and Donatello. The plays of dramatists such as Aristophanes not only displayed an acerbic wit and a genius for political satire so pronounced that their works continue to be performed - and topical - to this day, but served as the inspiration for virtually all playwrights from Shakespeare to the present day. And this does not take into account the host of equally brilliant mathematicians, natural philosophers, historians, astronomers and politicians that the city's great schools nurtured and produced.
Of course, what most people remember about the golden age of Athens today is the accomplishments of the city's men, which disregards nearly half the population. Pericles, in his funeral oration as quoted by the ancient historian Thucydides, sums up what is generally considered to be the attitude of men to their women in Classical Athens: "I should say something about the virtue appropriate to women and I shall simply give one brief piece of advice. Your renown will be great if you do not behave in an inferior way to that natural to your sex and your glory will be to be least mentioned amongst men concerning either your virtue or your faults".
Any exploration of the lives of women in classical Athens has to take into consideration the legal framework which governed such matters as marriage, inheritance and basic rights within society, as well as the woman, herself, within the oikos. However, as a starting point, the simple issues relating to the day to day lives of the women in this period provide an initial understanding of how all of these other factors played a part in the overall pattern of life for an Athenian, upper class, woman. The lives of lower and middle class women, as well as those that did not fall into the defined social hierarchy, were markedly different from that of their aristocratic sisters in some respects. Underlying, however, for all women, was an attitude that sought to keep them apolitical, segregated and secluded as much as was practically possible.
©2016 Charles River Editors (P)2016 Charles River Editors