Women, Children and Men
Marilyn A. Katz


Illustration 1

In both the ancient Greek popular imagination and our own, Greek women spent their time indoors working wool and occupied with other household tasks, like the figures on this vase. The woman seated on the left, with a wool basket beside her chair, is examining a slave girl's spinning. The woman seated on the right is twisting loose wool around her knee, with her leg propped on a special foot-support. (For this work, women sometimes covered their knees with a special ceramic implement of the type depicted in Panel A.) Another woman is spinning yarn onto a spindle, which she holds over a wool basket. The seated woman to her left is drawing out a thick strand of wool, and a dancing woman with a castanet in her right hand entertains the group as they work. Pyxis. School of Douris (Hiketes group). 460 BCE.


Illustration 2

The Panathenaia celebrated Athena's birthday, and her celebrated birth fully armed from the head of Zeus was a popular subject on black-figured vases. This amphora (a vase used for storing wine) depicts the scene described in the Homeric Hymn to Athena: "Zeus himself bore her from his august head, and she was clad in warlike armour, golden and shining. All the gods looked on and were awestruck as she sprang forth, brandishing a sharply-pointed spear, from the immortal head of aegis-bearing Zeus." Here, the company of admiring gods is restricted to Hermes on the left, Apollo, who is playing his lyre, and Ares, who is fully armed on the right. Before Zeus stands the white-armed birth-goddess Eileithyia, raising her arms in the gesture associated with midwives. Group E Painter. Around 540 BCE.


Illustration 3

One of the privileges reserved to Athenian maidens was that of being named a kanêphoros ("basket-carrier") in religious processions, such as that of the Panathenaia. The chorus of women in Aristophanes' Lysistrata, for example, speaking with one voice, claims among its distinctions and services to the city that "once, when I was a beautiful maiden, I was a kanêphoros and wore a necklace of dried figs" (associated with fertility).

On this vase, a young girl of (probably) noble birth holds in her left arm a ritual basket (kanoun) while, with her right hand, she pours wine on a flaming altar. Behind her, an incense burner is depicted on a pedestal. The basket typically held the instruments used in blood sacrifice, and at the conclusion of the procession and after libations, the maiden handed over the kanoun to a male priest who carried out the sacrifice. Girls and women were prohibited from participating in blood sacrifice, but they had a role to play in the ritual activities leading up to the sacrifice proper.

The scene is painted on the inside surface of a kylix, a broad, flat drinking vessel mostly associated with symposia (see illustration 5). Early fifth-century BCE.


Illustration 4

On the second or third day of the Anthesteria Festival, boys and girls participated in a a swinging-ritual which is referred to in some of our sources. The ritual involved swinging over fumes from a vessel on the ground, but its purpose and meaning are unclear. It was connected in some way with Erigone, the daughter of Icarius, legendary Athenian inventor of the process of making wine. Icarius tested his discovery upon some shepherds, who became intoxicated and killed him in a drunken frenzy; when Erigone discovered his body, she hanged herself.

Here, a mythologized version of the ritual is depicted, with a satyr pushing a nymph named Antheia ("Blossom") on a swing, and there is no vessel beneath the swing. The vessel does appear on other vases associated with the same ritual, such as one in which one girl is shown swinging another or another on which a father is represented pushing his son in a swing. Penelope Painter. Mid-fifth century BCE.


Illustration 5

In Hesiod's epic poem,Theogony, which recounted the coming-into-being of the world and the births of the gods, Kronos was the son of Sky (Ouranos) and Earth (Gaia), and one of the Titans, the first and older generation of the gods. In order to forestall his overthrow by a son, Kronos swallowed his children as they issued from the womb of his consort, Rhea. But when Zeus was born, Rhea deceived Kronos by hiding Zeus away and offering Kronos a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, the scene which is depicted on this vase. In the Theogony, Kronos swallows the stone and is later forced to disgorge it by Zeus when he grows up. But in this representation, Kronos responds to the presentation of his baby more like a human father, with amazed surprise.

From a different mythological perspective, the one represented by Hesiod in another epic poem, Works and Days, the era of Kronos was the Greek 'golden age,' a time when men 'lived like gods, free from toils and pain,' when old age did not exist, and when 'the grain-giving earth brought forth her fruits spontaneously.' Since there was no need for agricultural labor, slavery was also unknown in this mythological era, and the participation of slaves in the Kronia recreated this time of freedom within the constraints of everyday realities. Pelike. Attributed to the Nausicaa Painter. Around 450 BCE.


Illustration 6

There were five homicide courts in Athens, and the one in which cases of intentional homicide were prosecuted was located on the Areopagus. This was the hill upon which, traditionally, the Athenian hero Theseus had defeated an assault upon the city by the Amazons. The origin of the court itself was also referred back to the heroic age, according to the following myth.

Upon his return from the Trojan War, Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek expedition, was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, who was also Agamemnon's cousin and the usurper of his throne. The crime and its aftermath &endash; the retaliatory murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes and his subsequent trial and acquittal &endash; were the subject of Aeschylus' famous trilogy of plays, the Oresteia. This vase, a calyx-krater (bowl for mixing wine with water whose body resembles the calyx of a flower) by the Dokimasia Painter, antedates Aeschylus' trilogy and assigns principal responsibility for the crime to Aegisthus, who strikes down the helpless king, shrouded in a transparent robe, while Clytemnestra, wielding an axe, follows behind him. (The female figure on the right with unbound hair is probably Agamemnon's daughter, Electra.)

On the reverse of this vase, Orestes slays Aegisthus, a feat for which he was traditionally celebrated. His murder of his mother, however, was more problematic. In the Oresteia, Orestes calls upon Athena to liberate him from pursuit by his mother's furies. In response, Athena establishes the principle of jury-trial by selecting a court of citizens to hear the case (the Areopagus court), setting forth 'laws for all time to come' and specifying its procedures. The vote results in a tie, which Athena breaks in Orestes' favour, proclaiming herself, much like the prosecutor in Antiphon's oration, 'on the side of the husband, lord of the house'. Dokimasia Painter. About 460 BCE.


Illustration 7

Men's deliberations in the lawcourts were expected to be guided by the laws of the polis or, when none of these applied specifically, by the principle of justice (dikê). Dikê was herself a divinity, born from Zeus' second wife, Themis, along with the Horai ('Seasons'), Eunomia ('Lawfulness'), and Eirênê ('Peace'), goddesses who, according to Hesiod's Theogony, 'watch over the works of mortal men.' Thus, the presence of female divinities was invoked in many areas of Greek society from which women themselves were barred. On this vase, Dikê is shown triumphantly subduing Adikia or Injustice. Dikê is reserved and composed: her hair is bound up in a knot; the drapery of her chiton falls in ordered folds and is restrained by a girdle. Adikia, with her flailing arms, large and grotesque facial features, gaping mouth, loose hair and chiton, and tattooed arms and legs is disordered and monstrous. Neck-amphora. 520 BCE.