Ancient Gender Roles and Society: A Comprehensive Overview

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Sex and Gender in the Ancient World - Final Exam

Homer— patriarchal society: men hold positions of power and influence, the Iliad focuses on the actions of male warriors, leaders, gods, highlighting the dominance of men in both the mortal and divine realms. Glorifies the virtues associated with masculinity (bravery, physical strength, bravery in battle). The heroism of characters like Achilles and Hector is deeply tied to their adherence to a warrior code that values martial prowess and honor. Women were portrayed in domestic roles. Responsible for activities like weaving and managing the household. The women: Helen and Andromache, have limited agency in the public sphere and are largely defined by their relationships with men. Despite not being in public roles, some females in the Iliad demonstrate agency and influence just like when Helen’s choices are central to the Trojan War’s narrative. Also, the intervention of goddesses like Athena and Hera affects the course of events. Sex and Gender in the Iliad reflect the cultural norms and values of Ancient Greece. The roles and expectations of men and women in the Iliad align with the broader patriarchal structure of Ancient Greek cities.


Aristocratic and noble practice in which an older man pursues a social and sometimes sexual relationship with a teenage boy until he grows a beard. It was often framed as an educational and mentoring relationship with an older man imparting wisdom, cultural knowledge, and athletic skills to the younger boy. A form of initiation into adulthood.

Erastes: adult male, pursuer, mentor, lover, giver of gifts.

Eromenos: adolescent boy, object of the relationship, the beloved, the receiver of wisdom.

The Erotic Lyre

Lyric poetry involved art from Ancient Greece and captured the rich tapestry of human experience and emotions.

The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite

Celebrates the goddess’s beauty, allure, and her significant impact on the affairs of both gods and humans. The narrative explores themes of love, desire, and the complexities of divine relationships.

Euripides’ Hippolytus

Hippolytus expresses hate and contempt for Aphrodite. Hippolytus is devoted to a life of chastity and rejects sexual relationships. Aphrodite takes offense and seeks revenge on Hippolytus. Theseus is married to Phaedra, meaning they’re the guardians of Hippolytus. Aphrodite puts a curse on Phaedra for her to fall for Hippolytus. The nurse then tells Hippolytus. Phaedra commits suicide after she claims she’s been raped by Hippolytus. Theseus finds out and banishes Hippolytus. The truth comes out after Artemis tells Theseus, and Artemis will forever honor Hippolytus. Before Hippolytus dies, he forgives his father.

Gender Roles in Sparta (Plutarch)

Primary focus was on the development of strong and disciplined warriors. Boys at the age of 7 were sent off to be secluded with men to emphasize their strength and endurance. Girls were also educated in athletic activities to ensure that they would grow up to be healthy mothers of strong Spartan warriors. Spartan women had more freedom than the Greeks and were expected to contribute to the well-being of the Spartan State. The women were outspoken and were encouraged to engage in public life and express their opinions in discussions. They were expected to shave their heads to not “scare off” their husbands when they come to see them at night.

Being a Good Wife in Classical Athens (Xenophon)

Status and roles of women were limited compared to men, and the ideal traits of a good wife were shaped by the social expectations of the period. She needed to be obedient to her husband, emphasizing the importance of a well-ordered household with the husband as the head of the family. She needed domestic skills including cooking, weaving, and managing the household. A primary role was to bear and raise healthy heirs. A good wife was expected to maintain sexual fidelity to her husband and avoid behaviors that can bring dishonor to the family. She needs to be physically beautiful while also being able to conduct to uphold the honor of her family.

Plato, Symposium

Central theme of the play is the nature of love, particularly focusing on erotic love or desire (honoring Eros). Phaedra’s argues that love is the greatest form of motivation (inspires heroism) Pausanias two types of love such as Common love (physical attraction) and Heavenly love (intellectual and emotional connection) Eryximachus scientific view of love, and it's a universal force that governs human relationships and also the harmony of the cosmos Aristophanes myth suggests that humans were once complete beings with two faces, four arms, and four legs, they would be split in half by the gods and the desire for reunion represents the origin of love Socrates= Diotima explores the nature of love as a process of going through levels of desire of eternal love.

Women at the Thesmophoria — Aristophanes

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