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Greek Women and Men in History, Literature, and Religious Life Introduction William F. Wyatt, Jr. In the Modern Greek Studies Association's symposium on "Women and Men in Greece: A Society in Transition," sex roles, if any, were subordinated to a larger purpose, or, perhaps better, were united to further a noble cause, the understanding of an important issue. The question of the proper role of women in Greece and elsewhere has been an important one, and a conference on the topic seemed timely to the Executive Committee of MGSA, though the issue is potentially divisive. Scholarship is sometimes maligned as being elitist or exclusive, and it is sometimes ignored as being irrelevant or boring. But scholarship at its social best can serve to diffuse emotional issues and by diffusing them place them in a clearer, sharper light. Scholarship cannot resolve an issue of social import, but it can present facts and suppositions to the individual which he or she can act or decide upon either intellectually or emotionally. Like literature, scholarship is an intellectual refinement of emotional experience. The relation of men and women, the battle of the sexes, is clearly an emotionally laden issue which all of us today confront in one way or another. I think it fair to say that at no time in the history of the world has the question been placed in exactly the way it has been now. 4 William F. Wyatt, Jr. At no time in world history have women been able to bargain for social and economic benefits with the success they have enjoyed of late. Certainly in the ancient world and in Greece until fairly recently any such bargaining was impossible. Ernestine Friedl in her marvelous Vasilika remarks somewhere that village men do not feel threatened by women because the sexes are regarded as essentially different species. Nowadays and in this country at least I think we are agreed that we all belong to the same species and that every individual possesses talents which it would be foolish—or even fatal—to overlook. It was not always so. What can scholarship do to help clarify issues, and what can we as individuals do in order properly to understand our subject? As is the case with any intellectual endeavor we must first and foremost avoid reductionism, the tendency to substitute a clear and simple explanation for an exhaustive but possibly confusing account of a set of conditions and circumstances. Reductionism comes in many forms and at many periods in history. The Greek Fathers of the Church, according to Eva Topping, devised a "theology for women" which regarded all women as essentially base and deceitful. Some women doubtless are, as are some men, but the Fathers' theology is too simplistic and reductionist: every woman is an individual, more or less complex, and more or less interesting depending on her nature and her upbringing. It will not do to state the same predicates of every woman. Topping records a chapter of intellectual history, as does P. Kitromilides when he fits nineteenth-century Greek attitudes toward women into the framework of European views derived from the Enlightenment . I venture to predict that no one will read his account of the life of Elizabeth Moutzan-Martinengou without being moved. R. Bancroft-Marcus gives an accounting of the ironic situation with drama in Crete during the Cretan Renaissance. Because women were ignorant of Italian and knew only Greek, they influenced Cretan drama to break away from its Italian prototype and produce the great works we possess today. The subservient language and the subservient populace produced a superior literature. These papers show thai times change; they do not show that people have subsequently abandoned their reductionist views of the question. A second pitfall to be avoided is schematism, the belief that a system of coordinates is sufficient to explain a situation or a person or an event. Sex roles are frequently expressed in schematic ways, and a violation of the scheme can be troubling. E. Constantinides writes of the andreiomeni, the woman warrior who adopts male characteristics . The fact that most such women fail or are betrayed reveals how dangerous a masculine-behaving woman was considered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 3-5
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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