GODDESSES, WHORES, WIVES, AND SLAVES: Women in Classical Antiquity by Sarah B. Pomeroy

GODDESSES, WHORES, WIVES, AND SLAVES: Women in Classical Antiquity

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An intelligent but spotty book that should have been much longer and more rigorously organized. One learns a lot, but Pomeroy's methodological vagueness results in dribs and dabs of seemingly arbitrarily selected information. Scholars will like the author's caution about throwing female-chauvinist brickbats and feminists will find some chilling facts about the origins of modern sexism--but, conversely, both will be annoyed at concessions to the expectations of the other. The weakest and most tentative sections are on Greek mythology (a list of goddesses with a few timid but unprovable psychological and historical speculations) and drama (sketchy, unimaginative descriptions of a few major heroines). On the other hand, things pick up a lot when we get to the actual legal and social position of women. Here Pomeroy gives specific and illuminating detail about dowries, living arrangements, population control (chiefly through infanticide), and the rights of slaves. It's clear that women were much better off under the Romans than the Greeks, and the Roman model of the family distributes domestic responsibilities much more evenhandedly than the modern nuclear family--as evidenced by flexible Roman divorce practices. But throughout antiquity being a woman entailed actual physical hardship we can barely imagine, beginning with the smaller amounts of food given to female children and culminating in an appallingly short life expectancy (five to ten--or more--years less than for men). By way of diversion from these grim truths, the illustrations include some remarkably frank scenes, like masturbation with leather phalluses--remember your Aristophanes?

Pub Date: June 6th, 1975
ISBN: 080521030X
Publisher: Schocken