Marilyn A. Katz
Women were exempted from the duties of the male citizen, as well as excluded from their privileges. Military service was the most important and dangerous of a citizen's obligations to the polis, and scenes of the warrior's departure for battle are common on many vases. In such scenes, like the one depicted here, family members left behind commonly surround the departing warrior, and the hoplite's wife holds the ritual implements for marking the transition. After pouring wine into a shallow bowl, she will spill some on the ground as a libation to the gods, and then the warrior, his wife, and his aged father will share the rest, in a last gesture of family unity. Stamnos. Achilles Painter. 450 BCE.
Up until the end of the sixth century, the citizen assembly met in the Agora, to which it also returned for meetings on extraordinary occasions in the fifth century. But thereafter, the ekklêsia was convened on a hill to the south-west of the agora. In the fourth century, the hill was fortified with the embankment visible in this photograph, and in the valley just visible in the lower left (south-west of the Areopagus) there were shrines interspersed with private houses. Perhaps it was in one of these that Praxagora, the leading character of the Ecclesiazusae, was supposed to have lodged and overheard assembly debates.
The woman selling perfumes to a slave-girl in this shop dispenses her goods in an alabastron, or small perfume vase; a lekythos (vase for olive oil) hangs on the wall, and a pelike or storage jar used for water, wine, or oil, sits on the floor &endash; the same type of vase on which the scene is depicted. (On the other side of the vase [not shown here] the slave-girl brings the alabastron home to her mistress, seated indoors with her wool-basket on the floor beside her.)
Women retailers trafficked commonly in perfumes, which were used, not only by women, but also by men at symposia and in palaistrae (wrestling-schools). It was reportedly disreputable for a man to be a perfume-seller, but this was clearly not the case when large-scale dealings were at issue, since there are disputes in the orators over loans and debts incurred when men undertook to establish perfumeries. The discrepancy illustrates the larger point that women often sold as retailers the same items that might form the basis of a more profitable, full-scale business establishment for men. Around 460 BCE.
This symposium scene is represented on a kylix, the most popular kind of drinking-cup, which appears commonly in symposium scenes, and on which, as in this case, symposiastic orgies were often depicted. The garland worn by the bearded man was one of the most common items sold by female retailers, and it was used both in religious rituals and on celebratory occasions.
The sexual activities represented should serve to disabuse us of any romanticized notions about the lives and wealth of prostitutes and courtesans. Neara, for example, who reportedly began life as a slave prostitute, eventually bought her freedom, with funds amounting to twenty minae (2000 drachmae) raised from her earnings and from an Athenian named Phrynion. But when Phrynion brought her to Athens, he used her much like the women on this vase:
'He treated her without decency or restraint, taking her everywhere with him to dinners where there was drinking and making her a partner in his revels; and he had intercourse with her openly whenever and wherever he wished, making his privilege a display to the onlookers'.
The famous courtesans about whose learning, beauty, and skills we hear much in our sources certainly constituted a minority. Most prostitutes and hetairae would have been subjected to the kinds of humiliations that Phrynion felt free to inflict upon Neara. Pedieus Painter. Late sixth-century BCE.
A bearded image of Dionysus, crowned with ivy, appears to watch passively beside his altar as women celebrate him in ritual dance to the rhythm piped by a flute-player. Flat sacred cakes swirl about his head, and an ivy-wreathed stamnos (wine-mixing vase) stands on the ground under the handle. As in Euripides' Bacchae, the barefooted maenads' hair flows freely, and one of them carries the thyrsus, a wand wreathed in ivy. In a section of the vase not visible here, another woman in maenadic garb dances holding both a thyrsus and a young fawn.
The ritual on this vase and others like it may depict Dionysiac worship at the Lenaea or at the Anthesteria, where a group of women performed secret rituals for Dionysus on behalf of the polis. Neither celebration had anything in common with the wild orgies of the Bacchae, but women employed maenadic ritual equipment like the thyrsus and crowns of ivy in polis festivals. The figure of the maenad was a familiar one in both art and literature, and appears as early as the Iliad: Andromache, hearing from within her room the cries of lamentation over Hector, drops her shuttle and races forth wildly to the walls of Troy 'like a maenad'. Macron. Early fifth century BCE.
Wedding-celebrations were one of the many forms of festivity that families shared with other members of their deme and phratry. As on many other occasions, doubtless, this was one in which men and women celebrated together, although in separate groups.
A wedding-procession is depicted on the body of the vase. It took place by torchlight, and brought the bride from her father's to her husband's home. The bride's mother leads the procession, holding torches in her hands; in the view shown here, the bride and groom ride in a mule-drawn cart together with the groomsman, and the bride grasps her veil in the gesture called anakalypteria ('unveiling'), which was the focus of a wedding-ceremony of the same name. In the same hand, the bride holds the crown or stephanê, which she had worn beneath her veil before the anakalypteria. The groom's mother stands in the doorway of the couple's new home, holding a torch in one hand and raising the other in a gesture of greeting. Another mule-cart follows (its front section just visible on the left here), with four men seated in it, and other men and women walk alongside &endash; all of them, presumably, wedding-guests. Lekythos. Amasis Painter. Mid sixth-century BCE.
In the Hellenistic period (323-30 bce), the gymnasium was the quintessentially 'Greek' institution. In the cities of the classical period, however, it was just one of many features of most poleis . The gymnasium and the palaestra ('wrestling-school') were both training-grounds and social centres for young men, principally those from eighteen to twenty years old, and their typical denizens were citizen youths and men of the upper classes.
Gymnasia housed exercise-rooms and equipment, baths, sanctuaries of gods (especially Heracles), and libraries; gardens and parks might also form part of its grounds. In Athens, the three oldest and most famous gymnasia were the Academy, the Lyceum, and the Cynosarges: each of these also housed a philosophical school in the fourth century (of Plato, Aristotle, and Diogenes the Cynic, respectively), and several of Plato's dialogues are set in palaestrae.
Gymnasia and palaestrae were also sites for the pursuit of pederastic relationships. On one side of the exterior of this drinking-cup, for example, men and boys engage in courtship and love-making; sponges, strigils, and small oil-flasks establish that the setting is an athletic one. The larger and more active figures are the lovers (erastai); the smaller and more passive ones, the erômenoi ('beloveds'). The protocols of pederastic relationships required modesty and reluctance of the younger partners, whose favours were usually solicited through courtship gifts. Such love-relationships, requiring both leisure time and wealth, were thus limited to the upper classes, like those to whom the boys here clearly belong. Wreaths, fillets, and elaborate hair-styles mark them out as belonging to the class of beautiful young men from wealthy and prominent families of the type that Socrates admires in the palaestra in Plato's Charmides.
On the other side of the same vase, three young men court women with somewhat more reticence. The women are elaborately dressed and coiffed, and are almost certainly not hetaerae. It is difficult to hypothesize a context for the scene, and for similar ones on other vases, especially if we assume the seclusion of all upper-class women. But the juxtaposition of the two types of courtship illustrates the well-known principle of Greek erotic life that desire was not defined by love-object (which might be male or female), but by erotic aim: active, associated with older men, or passive, associated with boys and women. Peithinos. Around 510 bce.