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Honor and the Status of Women in Democratic Athens

Andrew Yost (2014); Mentor(s): Benjamin Keim

Abstract: The purpose of this research was to gain a better understanding of the social status of women within the classical Athenian democracy, with a particular emphasis on feminine engagement with matters of honor (Greek timê) First, I surveyed modern scholarship on ancient Greek honor and on women in ancient Athens. Next, I read through many texts written by fifth- and fourth-century B.C. authors, ranging from Sophocles to Xenophon, and across genres from philosophy to tragedy. I found that honor was connected to the concept and existence of order. Ancient Athenians considered order to be crucial for a functional society, and this order was achieved by placing both people and things in there correct places, or spheres. When people acted in a way that was expected of them based on what sphere they were in, they were rewarded with honor(s). When people acted in a way that was contrary to how people in their sphere were expected to act, these actions were viewed as dishonorable, and those individuals received shame. With regard to women, it was believed that the gods had assigned them to work indoors. Thus, their sphere was defined mainly by the oikos, or household. Honor was awarded to women based on how well they acted in accordance with their sphere. Although women in democratic Athens were not entirely constrained by men and the oikos, their presence within this sphere was a fundamental aspect of Athenian society and success.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP