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Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women…

Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (original 1975; edition 2015)

by Sarah B Pomeroy (Author)

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952820,084 (3.86)10
"The first general treatment of women in the ancient world to reflect the critical insights of modern feminism. Though much debated, its position as the basic textbook on women's history in Greece and Rome has hardly been challenged."--Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement. Illustrations.
Title:Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity
Authors:Sarah B Pomeroy (Author)
Info:Bodley Head (2015)
Collections:Your library, Currently reading

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Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity by Sarah B. Pomeroy (1975)


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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
I picked up this book from a library display based on its interesting title. Originally published in 1975, this book provides an introduction to what we know about women's lives in classical antiquity. ( )
  mari_reads | Mar 15, 2020 |
An overview of the position of women in Classical antiquity in myth, legend, literature, and history.

This was a groundbreaking book when it was published in 1975, the first to examine the position of women of those times in such a comprehensive manner. In some ways it's very much of its time. I suspect a modern book would give more credence to systemic sociological and economic factors rather than psychoanalytical ones, for example. But, having said that, it's full of interesting tidbits presented in an engaging manner. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Apr 15, 2016 |
Pomeroy published this book the same year Evelyn Reed's Woman's Evolution was published. Overall, Reed's book, while it has some too obviously Marxist views (too much pounding of the private property is evil drum), is superior in its scholarly efforts to examine what life for women must have been like in both pre-history and antiquity.

Too often Pomeroy asserts statements that demonstrate how much she still believes the idea that men are superior to women, sometimes soon after making statements that are clearly feminist. On page 8 of the edition I have, for instance, she stated that "a fully realized female tends to engender anxiety in the insecure male." Yet on p. 33, she asserts, "thus, the role of women--because it was biologically determined--displayed a continuity throughout these obscure times--despite the upheavals that changed men's lives," clearly buying into the idea that women's roles are solely determined by biology.

Pomeroy also gives up valuable logical ground too easily, asserting, for instance, that there is no evidence for matriarchal cultures prior to the pre-historical Greek cultures she examines, even while admitting that this period appears to be transitional--from matriarchal to patriarchal, which is something Reed argues more strongly and more clearly. Even though Pomeroy wants to paint herself as a feminist, she buys into the arguments against matriarchal cultures and strong women with the same illogical arguments that are still used today: there is no definitive proof for matriarchal societies (even though plenty of evidence exists, this evidence is usually dismissed since we cannot read anything specific about that era), therefore they did not exist. This spurious argument goes the other way--since there is no definitive proof that the patriarchy always existed.

Perhaps more disturbing is how she dismisses owners' rape of their slaves as the women's being "sexually available," as well as how she continually refers to prostitutes and courtesans as "whores."

So, while this book offers some tantalizing insights into the lives of women from the early Greek through the Roman republican periods, Pomeroy's basic argument isn't really an argument at all: she believes the misogynistic Stoics' "argumentation [that women should confine their energies to marriage and motherhood} is brilliant and difficult to refute. And this rationalized confinement of women to the domestic sphere, as well as the systematization of anti-female thought by poets and philosophers, are two of the most devastating creations in the classical legacy" (230). No kidding.

Overall, Pomeroy could have used more Marxist perspective in her examination, while Reed could have beat that drum less often, but both books are worth reading, examining, and re-visiting. ( )
1 vote hefruth | Oct 6, 2013 |
  Mry | May 17, 2008 |
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Sarah B. Pomeroyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chu, CalvinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The first general treatment of women in the ancient world to reflect the critical insights of modern feminism. Though much debated, its position as the basic textbook on women's history in Greece and Rome has hardly been challenged."--Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement. Illustrations.

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"The first general treatment of women in the ancient world to reflect the critical insights of modern feminism. Though much debated, its position as the basic textbook on women’s history in Greece and Rome has hardly been challenged."–Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement

With few exceptions, our picture of classical history remains to this day peopled with male heroes- warriors, kings, philosophers, poets, dramatists, lawgivers. In this insightful and penetrating study, the author begins to right the balance by focusing on the little-noted but highly influential women of antiquity. Beginning with the earliest classical mythologies, this book traces the Western origins of misogyny and the paradoxical 'double standard' that remains a fixed issue of feminist debate even now. We see the heroines of the Trojan War- Penelope, Clytemnestra, Andromache, the beautiful Helen- revered and powerful, yet regarded by their fathers and husbands as objects of conquest, and totally dependent on males for their security, prestige, and self-identity. We repeatedly see how the vicissitudes of history - wars, colonization, civil disorder- alternately heightened and diminished the primary social purpose of women as childbearers, and thus how female sexuality and the institution of the family were in large part defined by the interests of the state for several centuries. In addition, the author analyzes the impact of various Greek and Roman legal codes upon the status and rights of women, focusing on such vital social and economic issues as inheritance, marriage and divorce, and manumission from the power of fathers or husbands. Utilizing evidence from a wide array of literary, artistic, historical, archaeological, and legal materials, the author gives substance and dimension to the public and private lives of women of all classes in antiquity. From the Helenistic queens, some of the most shrewd and powerful women in history, to the lowliest slave women of Augustan Rome- the author treats them all with the even hand of a seasoned historian, evaluating the quality of their experience and drawing forth the universals that apply to the lives of women in all times.
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