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Old August 23rd, 2012, 03:02 AM   #1

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Question Women and Goddesses in Ancient Greece


Good day and Good night,

Some historians have argued that pantheons or divine structures hold some kind of relationship to the power structures, or the political organizations, of their earthly societies which created them. For instance, some defend that the "divine council" of the ancient middle east literature had a direct relationship with the political configuration of some of those societies.
It is true that our ideas are born in a "real" world, but whether that means there is a direct relationship between them, that is far from proven, at least we shouldnt take it for granted.

Still, what do you make of the fact the women, in "general", were not so well positioned in ancient greece's society (at least not as well as we might consider them to be in western societies of today) yet in the divine world they were many and important goddesses? Do you there is a disparity between women as goddesses and women as earthly humans in ancient greece?

Any reference to literature is also welcome.

Thanks!

good journey,
Elias
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Old August 23rd, 2012, 04:29 AM   #2

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First of all it is important to note that the Ancient Greek pantheon has gender equality. Demeter, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis and Hestia are 6 out of 12 higher deities of the universe. The parent of them all is Gaea/Rea/Kybele.

Also, the fact that most ancient Greek studies focus on the usual city states like Athens, takes away the focus from other Greek societies. Especially the country side has proven in some cases to have developed gender equality.

The question should better focus on why urbanized Greek societies were so unequal.
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Old August 23rd, 2012, 05:25 AM   #3

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Such argument used until 1976 to indicate that women were inferior by nature and therefore incapable of assuming a position of preeminence or leadership was borrowed in the 13th Century by Thomas Aquinas from the Greek philosopher Aristotle who wrote in Athens in the 4th century BC. Throughout this period of development women held high offices, women with relatively more wealth or higher were elected to public office.
Opponents of women appealed to a gender ideology that divided a society in 2 domains, the polis (city), a male domain, and the oikos (household), a female domain. This system gave a great deal of power to women in the household while attempting to segregate them from public, political life.
At a burial site on the Greek island of Thera there is an epitaph for an Epiktas named as priest or presbyter. Epiktas is a woman's name; she was a woman priest sometime in the 3 or 4 century.
Under a high arch in a Roman basilica dedicated to 2 women saints, Prudentia and Praxedis, is a mosaic portraying 4 female figures, the 2 saints May & a fourth woman whose hair is veiled and whose head is surrounded by a sqaure halo-an artistic technique indicating that the person is still living at the time the mosaic was made. An inscription identifies the face of the fourth figure as Theodora Episcopa, which means Bishop Theodora. The masculine form for bishop in Latin is episcopus, the feminine form is episcopa.

If we look at evidence in the Classical Period 5th century B.C. Athens, one can see the High priestesses and other female participants of the Panathenaic Procession are an exceptional example of the role that women played in Ancient Greek religion.

In Athens, the cult of Athena Polias was the most important religious faction. Athena was the patron goddess of Athens, and Athena Polias was the incarnation of Athena as protector of the polis. The high priestess of Athena Polias was by far the most important religious position in Athens. This position was held by a woman from the noble family of the Eteoboutadae, and the high priestess exerted considerable influence religiously and politically. And there were other females that played vital roles in this cult and its activities as well.



Historical evidence like this, from art, inscriptions and literature belongs to a hidden history of women's leadership, a history that has been suppressed by the selective memory of succeeding generations of male historians.

Last edited by MinoanGoddess; August 23rd, 2012 at 05:27 AM. Reason: update
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Old August 24th, 2012, 12:07 PM   #4
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To judge from impression, not counted exactly, you can read more about female pure priestesses than about male ones which are connected to purity.

For example:

Pausanias VI.20.2-5 where a priestess serves a male daimon, as well as the female eileithyia

+ VII.18.11 a priestess of Artemis, a virgin

or the thesmophorien, a celebration where pigs are thrown down from a hill in rememberance to Eubuleus and Kore and women, who are told to be pure for three days bring back up the rotten pigs,

Or take the virginity of Artemis, the only god(ess) with this attribute.

A fragment of Heraklit may indicate that man are very rarely pure and cannot serve in this context with sacrifice.

thusiôn toinun tithêmi ditta eidê;
  • ta men tôn apokekatharmenôn pantapasin anthrôpôn,
    • hoia eph' henos an pote genoi to spaniôs, hôs phêsin Hêrakleitos,
      • ê tinôn ologôn euarithmêtôn andrôn;
    ta d' enula kai sômatoeidê k.t.l.

(I find no english translation for it, its taken from Iamblichos, myst. 5,15 counted by Diels/Kranz as fragment number 69)

I could only suggest, what that means, religious virginity more related to females but I think it could possibly be a considerable difference in ancient religion concerning sexes, maybe following this in politics, the real world, you have to deal with a lot of blood in various circumstances, which is (from my reading) seen as highly unpure, incompatible with sacral actions (for example the childbirth, just because of the blood).

Last edited by Ephraim; August 24th, 2012 at 12:20 PM.
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Old August 24th, 2012, 12:14 PM   #5

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This a very complicated question with no real easy answer. Can I ask you to first give evidence of the equality of women goddesses? What do you mean by equality? Why do you feel it is fair to compare gods to mortals?

I do like MinoanGoddess' point about women's roles as priestesses, but I feel I must point out, at least in the case of Athens, some of women's expected religious duties revolved around their perceived inferiority or masculine superiority, specifically the ritual lament. As women were expected to have little control over their emotions and be more prone to outward expressions of emotions, something men were expected not to do. Hans Van Wees in a "Brief History of Tears" demonstrates that the stigma over men crying developed over time and was not present in Homeric texts. Additionally, he uses artistic representations to show and increasing sex based segregation in funerary rituals going into the 5th century. This certainly does not undermine the importance of these religious roles, however, I feel it is something to consider given that I'm not sure of your definition of equality.
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Old August 24th, 2012, 12:17 PM   #6

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The Fragment translation

"We must admit, therefore, that there are two-fold species of sacrifices; one kind, indeed, pertaining to men who are entirely purified, which, as Heraclitus says, rarely happens to one man, or to a certain easily to be numbered few of mankind" Translation Thomas Taylor
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Old August 24th, 2012, 02:06 PM   #7
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I recommend reading Man And His Symbols - Carl Gustav Jung

Plenty to make you think. If you cannot grasp the concept of the archetype though you won't get it.

What has puzzled me is the way we seem to accept that the Greeks actually believed in Gods in the sense people do today?
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Old August 24th, 2012, 02:29 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by BadgerJelly View Post
I recommend reading Man And His Symbols - Carl Gustav Jung

Plenty to make you think. If you cannot grasp the concept of the archetype though you won't get it.

What has puzzled me is the way we seem to accept that the Greeks actually believed in Gods in the sense people do today?
May I ask what you mean by "actually believed in Gods"?
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Old August 24th, 2012, 03:14 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by BadgerJelly View Post
I recommend reading Man And His Symbols - Carl Gustav Jung

Plenty to make you think. If you cannot grasp the concept of the archetype though you won't get it.

What has puzzled me is the way we seem to accept that the Greeks actually believed in Gods in the sense people do today?
This is just a view by Jung of the divine. An archetypist is someone who thinks that the Gods/Godesses maybe embodiments of the elements of the human psyche. For example an archetype like Wisdom for example, if one ascribes a diety to this category with the idea that wisdom might be embodied by Athena or by Sophia or something else, but ultimately it is wisdom it is all about: How you approach wisdom and how relevant it is to your liking..this can be a valid and productive way to approach things.
However, there are others who believe different with realizations that the Gods/Goddesses are unique entities and that the Gods/Goddesses are more like people rather than archetypes, as they have preferences, expectations, norms, habits and experiences that are not necessarily interchangeable.
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Old August 24th, 2012, 04:24 PM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by MinoanGoddess View Post
This is just a view by Jung of the divine. An archetypist is someone who thinks that the Gods/Godesses maybe embodiments of the elements of the human psyche. For example an archetype like Wisdom for example, if one ascribes a diety to this category with the idea that wisdom might be embodied by Athena or by Sophia or something else, but ultimately it is wisdom it is all about: How you approach wisdom and how relevant it is to your liking..this can be a valid and productive way to approach things.
However, there are others who believe different with realizations that the Gods/Goddesses are unique entities and that the Gods/Goddesses are more like people rather than archetypes, as they have preferences, expectations, norms, habits and experiences that are not necessarily interchangeable.
It would make sense that Greek goddesses reflect human psyche. Taking Artemis for example, this goddess would turn someone into a wild animal then had his own dogs torn him to pieces just for stumbling into her bath. Yet, she was virtuous and chaste, the perfect maiden. This is supposed to tell us teenage girls are very unpredictable and full of contradictions. While gentle at one time, they can turn into the most cruel people.
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