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Through the ages, philosophers, almost all of whom were male, have affected society’s thoughts as well as reflecting them. The discussion begins with one of the most influential philosophers in the western tradition, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (423–347 BCE). Plato’s influence through the ages, on many philosophical topics, has been enormous, but he is of interest here because of his radical views regarding women (see Bluestone 1994). In his well-known work The Republic, Plato argues that women, like men, can rule, and that those who demonstrates the required talents ought to be given access to education. Plato’s views about women as expressed in this work do not reflect society’s thoughts of the time, and they had no impact on how Greek society viewed women. The poor reception of his views, whether it was to argue against them or to ignore them, does, however, tell us something about the society we came from. In this chapter, we first look at the society in which Plato lived and study what he said about women. His view is then contrasted with Aristotle’s and with the views of other thinkers throughout the ages. Chapte r 1 R From Ancient Times to Early Modern Europe 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 3 16/11/09 6:19 PM 4 THE BOLD AND THE BRAVE The Status of Women in Ancient Greece Plato lived in Athens, a city generally considered the birthplace of democracy. When seeking to judge whether a principle such as democracy applies to all people fairly, it is helpful to ask: for whom? The answer in ancient Greece was: not for everyone. The principle applied only to the Athenian male citizens, and excluded women, slaves, and those who were not native Athenians (Kitto 1951, pp. 124–25). Through their examination of the literature and art of the time, including philosophical essays, letters, political speeches, legal documents, plays, poems, and pottery, scholars have determined that Athenian women did not participate in politics, were generally excluded from socializing with men other than their husbands or close relatives, were not allowed to attend schools, could not own property, had limited freedom to move about alone, and generally lived under the care of a man, whether father, guardian, or husband (Kitto 1951, p. 218). However, this is not to say that women had no influence. Women contributed to Athenian society not only through their husbands but also because they were almost entirely responsible for the domestic aspect of life, which included not just bearing and raising children and managing households but also storing and preparing food, as well as crafts such as weaving and sewing. Similarly, slaves were an integral part of Athenian society (Davis 1978, pp. 99–103). Poorer women worked outside the home, selling their crafts or produce in the marketplace, or as midwives or wetnurses. There were also female physicians at this time. Girls and women received some formal education at home, in subjects such as rhetoric (the art of persuasive speaking), from fathers, brothers, or husbands; and they learned domestic skills such as weaving, music, and dancing, all in preparation for their allotted social role. Boys went to public schools and studied grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 4 16/11/09 6:19 PM From Ancient Times to Early Modern Europe 5 and astronomy. The exceptions to the rule were prostitutes or women companions (hetaerae). Although legally no freer than other Athenian women, they associated more freely with men and had more freedom of movement. In order to be more interesting companions to men, they attended schools and were taught grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic (a form of argumentation). One well-known example of an extraordinary woman, thought by some scholars to have been a hetaera, is Aspasia of Miletus (c. 470–c. 400 BCE). She not only acquired an exceptional education but influenced politics as well. As a “foreign” resident in Athens, she had greater freedom than Athenian women did. At the insistence of her father, she was educated by her mother and by household slaves. (In ancient Greece some slaves were used as educators, though most were not educated.) As a young woman, Aspasia moved to Athens and became the consort of Pericles, a highly respected and powerful statesman and general. Aspasia was one of the few women to socialize with the leading thinkers of the time. She was well respected for her skills in rhetoric, and her abilities were acknowledged by several prominent Greeks, including...


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