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Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity

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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. Illustrations.

30 review for Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity

  1. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    4 Stars My last couple of forays into non-fiction historical writing have been kind of disappointing three-star affairs. This book, however – whether it’s the more academic tone or simply the subject matter – I really enjoyed. First published in the 70′s it probably contains some disputed or out-of-date ideas and evidence by now, but it was one of (if not ‘the’) first academic texts to thoroughly examine women’s roles in Ancient Greece and Rome. So, as a woman who is interested in Ancient Greek 4 Stars My last couple of forays into non-fiction historical writing have been kind of disappointing three-star affairs. This book, however – whether it’s the more academic tone or simply the subject matter – I really enjoyed. First published in the 70′s it probably contains some disputed or out-of-date ideas and evidence by now, but it was one of (if not ‘the’) first academic texts to thoroughly examine women’s roles in Ancient Greece and Rome. So, as a woman who is interested in Ancient Greek and Rome, and who gets irritated with 50% of the worlds population being treated as unimportant – and sometimes even completely ignored – by history textbooks*, I had to read. And it’s a very interesting read. Perhaps a little dry in places but I preferred that to an overly informal tone and I have read plenty much, much, drier – so I think this book probably got the balance about right for me. It’s well footnoted (always a plus, even if I don’t read every citation I like to know they are they in case I ever do want to check out the original source) but, most of all, the subject matter is really interesting. The book examines female roles from Ancient Greece – predominantly Athens as that’s where most of the literature and archaeological evidence comes from, but also Sparta and other city states which were generally lot more favourable towards women’s rights than ‘the birthplace of democracy’ was. From the more passive roles in Classical Greece it then moves through the Hellenistic period towards ancient Rome, where women, although second-class citizens, were considerably more free and even gasp allowed out of the house! It's political correctness gone mad, I tell you! As someone who is more interested with Ancient Greek literature and legends than the ins and outs of city state politics (and who is less interested in Rome than Greece), I found the early chapters; discussing the iconography and roles of Greek Goddesses, the portrayal of women in Homer, and the way women were depicted in Classical tragedy and comedy, more interesting and more accessible than some of the chapters based more on the historical facts. But that’s a personal preference, and I do think Pomeroy gives enough context in this book that you don’t have to be an expert on the politics of ancient Athens or Rome to understand it. Although the blurb asks many questions, Pomeroy avoids giving too many answers in the book. The evidence, both literary and archaeological, is sparse and fragmentary for anything to do with how the less privileged classes of Greeks and Romans lived. The literary evidence is almost entirely written by educated men and most histories of the period and analysis of the archaeological evidence has been done by men too. So often, rather than give a definitive answer, Pomeroy will promote a number of theories that both she and others have come up with. The only one of these I really couldn’t stand was when she mentions the Freudian Psychoanalytical approach to examine why male Greek playwrights wrote abut women in the way they did. I guess it was the 70s, but many Freudian ideas are now no longer regarded as sound in actual psychology so they need to start getting the fuck out of disciplines like History already. While there’s nothing, in theory, wrong with psychoanalysis and examining how a person’s childhood shapes the person they become, straight up Freudian psychoanalysis is full of all sorts of misogyny and bollocks and just needs to die. Also it's an approach that really works a lot better when you actually know something about the person's childhood and can use that to interpret how it informed their writing. If all you have is the writing, then you're just making shit up to fit your own theory - and that's just bad history. Over all, though, a very interesting and informative book. A lot of the Greek stuff I was at least passingly familiar with from A level Classics and First-Year Ancient History modules, but there were several ways of looking and interpreting things (such as the case for female primogeniture in Homer and the Troy myth) that somehow I’d missed myself and had never been mentioned by my teachers, so that was really interesting for me in a really geeky way. Also I know shamefully little about Roman history beyond the bits everyone knows: ‘gladiators!’ ‘The occupation of Britain!’ ‘Baths!’ ‘Pompey!” and ‘Ripping off the Greek Gods, changing their names and stealing their myths!’ – so the chapters on Roman society were really informative for me as well. And I am glad (though not at all surprised) to see that Roman women weren’t treated quite so badly as the poor old Athenians were. Seriously, Athens was a shit place to live if you were a girl. From the look of Amazon, most of Pomeroy’s works now seem to be out of print or really expensive, which is a shame. But if I ever spot one going cheap in a second-hand bookshop I will probably pick it up. I thought this was a very well written book that got the balance right between not patronising those familiar with the time frame and not alienating those who weren’t. Also, if anyone here is taking GCSE or AS/A level Classic Civs, I would really recommend reading the chapters on Homer and the Greek tragedies. I kind of wish I had. * The introduction here contains the ridiculous examples of ancient history books where the word ‘women’ was not included in the indexes, and a book on Ancient Greece that stated the only two unenfranchised classes were ‘resident aliens’ and ‘slaves’, conveniently forgetting that no women of any social class in Greece were enfranchised either. But I'm sure the writers weren't actually misogynists - they just momentarily forgot that women existed, that's all! And then so did their proof-readers, editors, and publishers. And that's almost worse.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Wide-ranging, interesting and provocative, this was marred by lackluster prose, projection of modern viewpoints, and long quotations out of place in such a slender work.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alexia Moon

    I finally had the chance of reading and finishing this book and I loved it. This book is amazing and I love how detailed and accurate it is. The author is an academic so all of her work is based on historical sources which, for me, as history student, is ideal. I have a big problem with most books about the Sacred Feminine or about Women in History because there's a big tendency to just say things and not back it up with historical references. Some authors tend to say "Women did this" or I finally had the chance of reading and finishing this book and I loved it. This book is amazing and I love how detailed and accurate it is. The author is an academic so all of her work is based on historical sources which, for me, as history student, is ideal. I have a big problem with most books about the Sacred Feminine or about Women in History because there's a big tendency to just say things and not back it up with historical references. Some authors tend to say "Women did this" or "Goddesses were portrayed like this" but show no source to these affirmations and I really don't like that since I have no way of understanding where it came from. This book is not like that, the author writes in a very clear but detailed way and provides all the sources necessary for the reader to understand and check the information she's giving us. I had a different image of how life for women was in Ancient Greece and it was an eye opener to read this book, specially to understand that women were treated differently depending on what part of the Ancient Greece they were with a huge contrast between Athens and Sparta (I prefer Sparta). Also when it comes to Rome, I love how she explained everything and traced several parallels to Egypt and to previous Hellenistic period to show a comparison of how things were. Also enjoyed a small chapter on the cult of Isis which had a huge impact on the history of Women in Classical Antiquity. I got this book from the Library at my University but I'm going to purchase a copy for myself since this book is amazing, indeed.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Simpson

    Short, but pretty densely-packed with information, and yet still pleasant to read. I'm sure armchair historians will quibble with the work, but let 'em (where's their book?) ... I found the book to be well-researched, well-sourced, and well-reasoned. There were some "leaps" and assumptions, but that goes with the territory. I would have liked another 100-200 pages of this book, but I enjoyed what was there.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Martine

    An informative book, but Pomeroy's feminism shines through so much that I have no faith in her objectivity. Combined with the age of this book, I'd advise everyone to look at Pomeroy's assertions with a highly critical eye.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ellana Thornton-Wheybrew

    I'm not convinced by all the arguments raised in this, but as a groundbreaking book it is exceptional. This is a thorough look at a subject that has only recently been a part of Classical Studies, and often discusses the lack of evidence as well as the evidence itself.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Skye

    I read this book because I am a feminist, a Latin teacher, and a lover of anything about the ancient world. Clearly this book is well deserving of its secure place on college curricula, and is a fantastic sourcebook. I learned so much, often about areas of the ancient world I didn't even know I didn't know about. The writing style is direct and organized, and I underlined frequently because I was learning so much. The only downside was that it wasn't exactly a page-turner. I get that it's hard to I read this book because I am a feminist, a Latin teacher, and a lover of anything about the ancient world. Clearly this book is well deserving of its secure place on college curricula, and is a fantastic sourcebook. I learned so much, often about areas of the ancient world I didn't even know I didn't know about. The writing style is direct and organized, and I underlined frequently because I was learning so much. The only downside was that it wasn't exactly a page-turner. I get that it's hard to write page-turning nonfiction, especially ones that are somewhat designed as textbooks... But I kept wondering if I was doing a disservice to the book by reading it front to back. Maybe it would be best read as it probably is assigned in college courses-- a chapter here, a section there, based on the needs of the reader. I'll continue recommending it, even though it ain't no beach read :)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    I found that I couldn't focus well on this book. It isn't very academic because it treats a lot of assumptions about the classical world as fact. This is a common problem with the question of women in the ancient world as remaining literature generally portrays women in epic roles which are quite a bit different from the material evidence that is now used to understand the lives of everyday women. It is disappointing For a more accurate and thoughtful critical review of women's role in classic I found that I couldn't focus well on this book. It isn't very academic because it treats a lot of assumptions about the classical world as fact. This is a common problem with the question of women in the ancient world as remaining literature generally portrays women in epic roles which are quite a bit different from the material evidence that is now used to understand the lives of everyday women. It is disappointing For a more accurate and thoughtful critical review of women's role in classic literature, I would recommend Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman. If material history is more your cup of tea, then i would recommend more recent archaeology studies and peer reviewed essays.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    One of my absolute favorite books from college. Note that the list of "types" in the title is also a ranking. In many ways it was better to be a whore in Classical Greece than a wife, especially in the upper classes. Exhaustively researched using primary sources such as laws, legal documents, letters, plays, etc. from the period. Surprisingly engaging and easy to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I really wanted to like this book, but the author jumps around too much to make any sense. There's a lot of 'we'll see that in such and such chapter' or just plain jumping from one culture to another without clear connections. All around disappointing read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Pomeroy looks at the roles of women in the classical world of the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. Interesting to see how some attitudes rarely change, even after thousands of years. Well written and researched, worth reading whether you're a feminist or not

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Published during the seventies, this is one of the first--if not the first--books in English to discuss the roles of women in classical antiquity from a scholarly feminist perspective. It is written on an introductory level suitable for undergraduates and studious high schoolers.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Siemann

    Now-classic feminist history of the topic; seems fairly obvious, but that means that it did its job.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    more like a 3.75. Good, very interesting.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Really enjoyed the chapters about Athens and Sparta but towards the end of the Roman chapters it kind of ran out of steam which is odd as that's where the evidence becomes more available

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' pretty much sums up this book. Pomeroy does her absolute best with the slim historical record available to her, and this is a scrupulous cataloguing of deep and careful research into the lives of women of Greek and Roman antiquity. That it is sometimes a little dry speaks more to Pomeroy's very elevated self-definition of the historian's role. She is at pains to point out that you can make inferences and draw hypotheses but that none of them can 'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' pretty much sums up this book. Pomeroy does her absolute best with the slim historical record available to her, and this is a scrupulous cataloguing of deep and careful research into the lives of women of Greek and Roman antiquity. That it is sometimes a little dry speaks more to Pomeroy's very elevated self-definition of the historian's role. She is at pains to point out that you can make inferences and draw hypotheses but that none of them can be taken as facts. There's also the reality of human nature, which is often forgotten in these cases, that laws are made more often and made more powerful because people keep doing the things the laws forbid; that celebrities loom larger than ordinary people, and aren't comparable to them; and that how leaders want their populace to act is not often congruent with how they do act. I also came away with a deep aversion to Juvenal, at least from what's quoted in this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Manon

    A pretty interesting account of the lives of women in classical Greek and Roman societies. My main problem with it would be the form or pace of it which made it longer to read than I expected. I enjoyed the material and the way the author made good efforts to take a look at all women, not just the upper class ones, but I did not always have the motivation for this kind of scholar writting; so I often picked up another read instead of continuing this one when the motivation wasn't there.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Darío

    Don't judge me, yes, I'm able to read two books in the same day. This book was easy to read, the font was huge, and I already knew most of the information. I'd recommend it to people just getting into the ancient world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kate Boham

    In this book, Ms. Pomeroy draws on archeological evidence as well as histories and literature of the times to bring to light the little known stories of women in the Ancient World. It's an excellent read and a recommended resource for anyone with an interest in the Ancient World.

  20. 4 out of 5

    R

    This is a book I read with a history book reading club. This book was published in 1975 and you can hear the 1970's come through loud and clear. An interesting read especially if you are interested in Early Rome and Greece. Having a bit of knowledge of antiquity would is helpful.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Becky Carr

    A good overview of women’s roles and status in Ancient Greece and Rome. You might need some secondary sources to look up some of the events or myths that Pomeroy briefly touches on.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Hickman Walker

    This was much drier than I was hoping and ended up being nothing more than a slog in the end. A pity because the content is actually interesting.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Janna G. Noelle

    This book is said to be a ground-breaking text in the realm of Classical Studies in that it seeks to describe the status of women in antiquity from the Bronze Age through to the Hellenistic Period of Ancient Greece and onto the late Republic and early Empire of Rome. What results from this inquiry is utterly fascinating. Other than some surviving poetry by Sappho, the bulk of what the author had to work with was written by men about women – often in a seemingly hyperbolic, idealized view on how This book is said to be a ground-breaking text in the realm of Classical Studies in that it seeks to describe the status of women in antiquity from the Bronze Age through to the Hellenistic Period of Ancient Greece and onto the late Republic and early Empire of Rome. What results from this inquiry is utterly fascinating. Other than some surviving poetry by Sappho, the bulk of what the author had to work with was written by men about women – often in a seemingly hyperbolic, idealized view on how they felt women should be. Regardless, Pomeroy examines poetry, prose, plays, philosophical writings, legal documents, and letters to construct a highly engaging glimpse into the lives of the different classes of women indicated in the book's title.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Prunus Incisa

    Ah. What a fine and refreshing read after multiple non-scientific ones I have encountered recently. The book was very detailed, scientifically-accurate, at moments brutally honest and, most surely, a non-biased feminist read. Sarah B. Pomeroy stuck to her book's title and managed to do an excellent job in showing the reader what it was like being a goddess, whore, wife or a slave in classical antiquity, offering us multiple references to historical artifacts and literature descriptions, that Ah. What a fine and refreshing read after multiple non-scientific ones I have encountered recently. The book was very detailed, scientifically-accurate, at moments brutally honest and, most surely, a non-biased feminist read. Sarah B. Pomeroy stuck to her book's title and managed to do an excellent job in showing the reader what it was like being a goddess, whore, wife or a slave in classical antiquity, offering us multiple references to historical artifacts and literature descriptions, that have greatly contributed to broadening the reader's understanding not only of women's roles, but of what life was like in antiquity in general. For those interested in learning what it meant to be a woman in ancient times, this book offers the best insight that you could possibly get. A very rare example of when what the book has to offer you is way more than you have initially expected it to. Brilliant.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daisy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The whole book is about feminism. It started from the greek goddesses to the women from the Roman period. Women were inferior during that time, we all know that with the exception of the Amazons (but the amazonians could be fake) and Spartan women enjoyed more or less equal rights as their male counter parts because Spartans went to war all the time and they needed women to bear more children thus it was encouraged for spartan women to train in gymnastics and music and sports. The men shared The whole book is about feminism. It started from the greek goddesses to the women from the Roman period. Women were inferior during that time, we all know that with the exception of the Amazons (but the amazonians could be fake) and Spartan women enjoyed more or less equal rights as their male counter parts because Spartans went to war all the time and they needed women to bear more children thus it was encouraged for spartan women to train in gymnastics and music and sports. The men shared their wives to other men while it was allowed for women to engage in extramarital affairs with other men. All babies born out of wedlocks were recognized as long as their fathers were Spartan citizens. Men were married at 18 and during the wedding ceremonies the elders locked up all women and men in a dark room and all the men could randomly take a woman home as his wife. Right after marriage men were sent to join the armies until the age 30, which means they couldn't live together for 12 years, if a women is found not pregnant the marriage was nullified. Aristotle blamed the later decline of Spartan population to its women, because the men were mostly absent, the women enjoyed a lot of freedom and many refused to follow the strict discipline and as a whole, the population started to decrease. It was also in Athens during the 6th century that a distinction was made by then ruler of Athens Solon to differentiate between women and whores. He forbad all sale of children or self sale into slavery with the exception of a sell of an unmarried woman who lost her virginity by her male guardian and Solon created brothels and prostitution for foreign merchants in Athens. All Athenian women were required to have dowries, all fathers were required to give his daughters a dowry fitting his economic status, so fathers would not raise daughters if he could not have the money or could not foresee a beneficial marriage. the wealthy relatives sometimes were give dowries to poor relatives' daughters. Sometimes even states would give dowry to men who had served in the army. If a women had no dowry she would probably serve as a concubine and not a wife. The dowry was to remain the wife's properties throughout the marriage and the husband could touch the principal but had to pay interest to the wife at 18% annually. the money would be returned to her guardian at divorce or death. Young women were often married off at 14 to men around 30 so by the time the husbands were dead the women could still marry another men to produce more children.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt Sautman

    Detailing the lives of women within Greece and Rome, Pomeroy presents a history that seeks to dismantle the patriarchal narratives casted upon contemporary understandings of classical cultures. While Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves may not be as revolutionary as some of the prominent works of the black feminist authors I have reviewed in the past, there is a cultural value to Pomeroy's approach. Pomeroy presents patriarchy not as something that has always-already existed, but instead as the Detailing the lives of women within Greece and Rome, Pomeroy presents a history that seeks to dismantle the patriarchal narratives casted upon contemporary understandings of classical cultures. While Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves may not be as revolutionary as some of the prominent works of the black feminist authors I have reviewed in the past, there is a cultural value to Pomeroy's approach. Pomeroy presents patriarchy not as something that has always-already existed, but instead as the byproduct of cultural shifts instilled by the normalization of anti-women world views a la the standardization of writings by Greek poets and philosophers who occupy a misogynistic position within their rhetoric. Pomeroy's text may have some blind spots, but overall there is a wealth of material here for the classically minded feminist. My chief complaint is that in the edition I own, a large number of commas have been replaced with periods in my type. I have no idea how this error happened on so wide of a scale, and I hope this oversight was fixed in subsequent editions.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Suz

    The more things change, the more things stay the same. An older book (published in '75), it's a scholarly discussion of the attitudes and roles of women during Classical/Hellenistic Greek/Roman times. It's a nice book, discussing issues from a feminist point of view, and is one of the earliest/first books looking at how (Mediterranean) women lived during ancient times. I studied Classical Civilizations as an undergrad, but the professors rarely focused on the lives of women, so it was nice to see The more things change, the more things stay the same. An older book (published in '75), it's a scholarly discussion of the attitudes and roles of women during Classical/Hellenistic Greek/Roman times. It's a nice book, discussing issues from a feminist point of view, and is one of the earliest/first books looking at how (Mediterranean) women lived during ancient times. I studied Classical Civilizations as an undergrad, but the professors rarely focused on the lives of women, so it was nice to see a glimpse of the lives they led, and gave a fresh insight into their lives from a studied angle, rather than through some pop-culture filter. I liked, not just the look at gender roles, but the evidence presented, and alternative theories also presented (even if they were not agreed with). Interesting. Enlightening. But definitely some very dry, heavy reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Orla

    Pomperoy is one of my favourite academics when it comes to Gender in the ancient world, I enjoyed her contribution to 'Ancient Greece: A Political, Social and Cultural History' and her work in 'Spartan Women'. This book really brings together a lot of her work really highlights both the difficulty and the importance of examining the lives of women in ancient Greece and Rome. She crosses class boundaries, a rare thing for a classicist and talks about the use of goddesses in patriarchal societies, Pomperoy is one of my favourite academics when it comes to Gender in the ancient world, I enjoyed her contribution to 'Ancient Greece: A Political, Social and Cultural History' and her work in 'Spartan Women'. This book really brings together a lot of her work really highlights both the difficulty and the importance of examining the lives of women in ancient Greece and Rome. She crosses class boundaries, a rare thing for a classicist and talks about the use of goddesses in patriarchal societies, a pet interest of mine. But vitally she also has an accessible style. This is not a book that only Classicist, ancient historians or gender specialists can read. Anyone with an interest in the topic will get something out of this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cody VC

    Dry in places but still very interesting. It's also a bit fascinating how relevant this continues to be in terms of our understanding the roots of Roman-influenced Western culture - the author observes as much in her preface from 1994 when discussing why she didn't revise the 1975 text, and it's now 2012. She writes that she "would present some of this material slightly differently today" but the crux of it remains the same, which says as much about the strength of her work as it does about our Dry in places but still very interesting. It's also a bit fascinating how relevant this continues to be in terms of our understanding the roots of Roman-influenced Western culture - the author observes as much in her preface from 1994 when discussing why she didn't revise the 1975 text, and it's now 2012. She writes that she "would present some of this material slightly differently today" but the crux of it remains the same, which says as much about the strength of her work as it does about our societies.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Fostergrants

    This book was perfect for a paper I wrote on the sexism and misogyny we inherited from Victorian-age interpretations of pre-Gothic art and artifacts. This is a perspective, since so much of ancient history is left unverifiable, but I enjoyed her perspective immensely. As always, cross-check your ideas with updated research, but this book added a lot of depth and texture to my concepts of women in history, and how skewed things get when we rely solely on the analyses of men long dead in piecing This book was perfect for a paper I wrote on the sexism and misogyny we inherited from Victorian-age interpretations of pre-Gothic art and artifacts. This is a perspective, since so much of ancient history is left unverifiable, but I enjoyed her perspective immensely. As always, cross-check your ideas with updated research, but this book added a lot of depth and texture to my concepts of women in history, and how skewed things get when we rely solely on the analyses of men long dead in piecing together our history.

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