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Dangerous Gifts

Gender and Exchange in Ancient Greece

By Deborah Lyons

Publication Year: 2012

Inspired by anthropological writing on reciprocity and kinship, this book applies the idea of gendered wealth to ancient Greek myth for the first time, and also highlights the importance of the sister-brother bond in the Classical world.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Because this book has taken quite a long time to write, I find myself in the awkward position of having to acknowledge more debts than I can hope to remember. I implore the many friends and colleagues whose insights have so often pointed me in the right direction or opened up a new way of thinking to forgive me if I have neglected to give them credit. ...

Note to the Reader

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-6

Deianeira sends her husband Herakles a poisoned robe. Eriphyle trades the life of her husband Amphiaraos for a golden necklace. Atreus’ wife Aerope gives the token of his sovereignty, a lamb with a golden fleece, to his brother Thyestes, who has seduced her. ...

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1. Gender and Exchange

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pp. 7-21

In a footnote to his fundamental article on “the mythic idea of value” in ancient Greece, Louis Gernet noted “the significance of the theme of the woman’s role in the transfer of a talisman or other precious object from one person to another.”1 Gernet, however, was less interested in the agents of these exchanges than in the objects exchanged: ...

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2. Marriage and the Circulation of Women

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pp. 22-52

The codes governing women’s (and men’s) economic behavior form part of what may be called the “economics of gender.” By this phrase, I mean a whole range of valuations and transactions conditioned by the different statuses of men and women. Primary among these transactions is marriage and, as a consequence, ...

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3. Women in Homeric Exchange

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pp. 53-64

If the extreme pessimism of the Hesiodic view of women was not shared by the Homeric tradition, it nevertheless finds its analogues there and in the larger body of myths surrounding the Trojan War.1 Like the woman created in the Theogony or the Works and Days to serve as a deceitful gift in a transaction between two gods, ...

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4. Women and Exchange in the Odyssey: From Gifts to Givers

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pp. 65-76

As has often been observed, the Odyssey rewrites the Iliad, and never more than in its treatment of women. The later poem consistently calls our attention to the ways in which the earlier poem ignores or elides the work of women. That the Iliad describes an exclusively male world to a far greater extent than does the Odyssey cannot be disputed. ...

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5. Tragic Gifts

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pp. 77-90

As I have shown, exchange between men and women in Homeric epic is harmless as long as the gendered protocol of exchange is respected. The exchanges represented in tragedy, however, are almost always destructive.1 In this context, even gifts of cloth can be dangerous. ...

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6. A Family Romance

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pp. 91-109

The previous chapters have dealt with the kinds of relationships between men and women that in Greek myth tend to be characterized by risk, hostility, and danger. These include relationships between wives and husbands as well as between mothers and sons. ...

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7. Conclusion: The Gender of Reciprocity

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pp. 110-112

From women as gifts to women as givers, from benign to dangerous exchange, from treacherous marriages to the idealized bond between siblings, I have taken a sometimes circuitous path to end with a model of reciprocity between women and men that appears—in stark contrast to much of what came before—positive, even optimistic. ...


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pp. 113-134


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pp. 135-152


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pp. 153-166

E-ISBN-13: 9780292735545
E-ISBN-10: 0292735545
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292729674
Print-ISBN-10: 0292729677

Page Count: 182
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gifts -- Greece -- History.
  • Ceremonial exchange -- Greece -- History.
  • Barter -- Greece -- History.
  • Sex role -- Greece.
  • Greece -- Social life and customs.
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