Out of the Gynaeceum: A New Look at Ancient Greek Society


Peliké à figure rouge<br />

Red-figure pelike: Side B of an Attic red-figure pelike (jug), 500 B.C., showing the figure of a woman holding a pestle. She is one of the fifty daughters of Nereus, a sea god, whose dwelling is depicted on side A.

Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek Munich, Inv 8762. Photograph: Renate Kühling.

Clichés about ancient Greece abound. The conventional wisdom is that women were cloistered—veiled or kept hidden from view in a gynaeceum, unable to hold either civic office or public position. Deprived of education and culture, they are said to have lived in the shadow of men, in a misogynistic society. Without underestimating the inequality that existed between men and women, the goal of this exhibit is to offer a different view of ancient Greece (7th-2nd centuries B.C.). By incorporating new findings from philologists, epigraphists, and archeologists, and by drawing on recent tools from research on the history of women and gender, this exhibit will allow visitors to discover the spheres of action and domains in which women of ancient Greece acted, supervised, thought, created, and loved. Gender, as an analytic tool that posits the historicity of the categories “man” and “woman” as well as the social and cultural dimension of identities, allows us to go beyond clichés and to understand the particularities of Greek society: the fundamental importance of the distinction between slaves and free people, a definition of politics different from our own, and a variety of contexts for individual action. 

This exhibit is the product of the “Anthropology and History of Ancient Worlds,” research project, UMR 8210 ANHIMA.

gunê, pl. gunaikes: an adult woman, in general free, married, and with children.
anêr, pl. andres: an adult man, in general free. The term often has a positive connotation, i.e. a “good citizen.”
anthrôpos, pl. anthrôpoi: human beings, as distinct from gods and animals.
gender: an analytic tool for historicizing the criteria societies use to distinguish men and women and to categorize individuals.
oikos: house, family, property (this consists of land and movable goods, including slaves)
kurios: a free man whose presence is required to vouch for the public word of a woman in his family.
erôs: erotic desire
polis, politês, politis: polis refers to the city-state (human community and territory); politês (pl. politai) refers to the male citizen; politis (pl. politides) to the female citizen. Politis and politês do not have the same rights—the politis is barred from political assemblies and from the governance of the polis. All these terms gave rise to the English word “politics.”


General bibliography:  
1.Boehringer, Sandra and Sebillotte Cuchet, Violaine (eds.), Hommes et femmes dans l’Antiquité. Le genre: méthode et documents, Armand Colin, [2011] 2017.
3. Schmitt Pantel, Pauline (ed.), Histoire des femmes en Occident, I. L’Antiquité, Paris, Plon, [1991] Perrin 2002.
4. Bielman, Anne, Femmes en public dans le monde hellénistique, Paris, Sedes, 2002.
5. Winkler, John J., Désir et contraintes en Grèce ancienne, trans. S. Boehringer and N. Picard, Paris, Epel, [1990] 2005.
6. Boehringer, Sandra, L’homosexualité féminine dans l’Antiquité grecque et romaine, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2007.
7. Schmitt Pantel, Pauline, Aithra et Pandora. Femmes, Genre et Cité dans la Grèce antique, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2009.
8. Foxhall, Lin, Studying Gender in Classical Antiquity, Cambridge, 2013.
9. Boehringer, Sandra and Sebillotte Cuchet, Violaine, “Corps, sexualité et genre dans les mondes grec et romain,” Dialogues d’histoire ancienne, 40, 2015, p. 83-108.
10. Sebillotte Cuchet, Violaine, “Ces citoyennes qui reconfigurent le politique. Trente ans de travaux sur l’Antiquité grecque,” CitoyennetésClio FGH 43, 2016, p. 185-215.