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Women in the Cretan Renaissance (1570-1669) Rosemary E. Bancroft-Marcus A woman born in the last century of Venetian rule in Crete could not have comprehended the variety of socially acceptable lifestyles open to women today. Indeed, it is doubtful whether she would have recognized the woman of today as properly female. The Veneto-Cretan woman1 of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could not have casual boyfriends, or choose between celibacy, cohabitation, traditional marriage or open marriage; she could not live unsupervised, spend her own money, or dedicate herself to a career; she could not prevent the conception of children, or divorce her husband, or increase her fertility; she could not wear mannish or immodest clothes; she could not be friendly with a man not her relative;2 she could not drive a bulldozer, or join the army; and she could not vote or become president or prime minister of her country. She was fettered by strong chains of social conformity, and if she defied the conventions, she risked becoming an outcast. Women of that time were very clearly differentiated from men. They were an inferior class, even within the middle and upper ranks of prosperous Veneto-Cretan society with which this paper is chiefly concerned. The conditions of a woman's life were dictated by male authority; men were both her protectors and her jailers. Woman's weakness and gentleness required that she be cossetted and sheltered in a comfortable apartment with attendant women,3 and kept in ig1By Veneto-Cretan women I mean women of the middle and upper classes of resident Cretan society who followed Italian fashions and whose husbands and fathers were bilingual in Cretan and Italian. They themselves, even if their family was Venetian, tended to speak only Cretan. Contemporary social attitudes are reflected in the literature. In EROF. IV 113134 , the Counselor blames King Filogonos for his daughter's secret marriage, because he permitted her friendship with Panaretos. 3Pierre Belon (Observations. . . en Grèce, Anvers 1555, f. 39r) testifies to the strict seclusion of Cretan women in the towns: "[Elles] sont toujours enfermées, et ne vont guère que la nuit, non plus à Γ église qu' à se visiter Γ une Γ autre." However, he was able to enjoy the sight of sunburned peasant women in provocatively low necklines 19 20 Rosemary E. Bancroft-Marcus norance of difficult problems and disturbing facts.4 Woman's susceptibility to undesirable influences required that she be guarded carefully from potential seducers, for a girl's immodesty brought shame on her whole family.5 Her father and brothers were held responsible for the avenging of any slight to her honor, as well as for punishing her if she went astray. The smallest unsanctioned physical contact could stir malicious gossip, since only officially engaged couples were permitted to talk freely, hold hands, embrace and kiss.6 Modesty and chastity were therefore enforced with extreme strictness by parents and jealous husbands. Unmarried girls were kept secluded at home in the company of a trustworthy nurse or duenna, passing their time with needlework, reading and conversation.7 The monotony was occasionally broken by visits from friends and relatives, or excursions to picnics, jousts, weddings and other permissible entertainments . When relaxing in private, Veneto-Cretan women took the air on discreet balconies and roof-top terraces shaded by potted plants and shrubs. There they lounged in loose chemises and comfortable highsoled slippers, drying their hair over wide-brimmed crownless sunhats . Hairstyles evolved from a simple style with central parting, a little height over the temples and soft curls, to a frizzed and highpiled style, and later back to a more natural look with high braided buns and perhaps a short curled fringe. Married women often wore some kind of head-dress, and widows, of course, wore black.8 On formal occasions, a fashionable young woman appeared in a beautiful dress of stiff, heavy fabric such as brocade, with a smooth deep-pointed bodice, a skirt opening in front over a rich contrasting underdress, sleeves elaborately puffed and winged, and a dainty transparent partlet coquettishly veiling the décolletage. Jewels of every kind and floating veils, especially when the singing of a dirge allowed them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 19-38
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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