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Greek And Roman Women In Ancient Times

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“What is said in praise of all good women is the same, and straightforward. There is no need of elaborate phrases to tell of natural good qualities and of trust maintained. It is enough that all alike have the same reward: a good reputation. It is hard to find new things to praise in a woman, for their lives lack incident. We must look for what they have in common, lest something be left out to spoil the example they offer us. My beloved mother, then deserves all the more praise for in modesty, integrity, chastity, submission, woolwork, industry, and trustworthiness she was just like other women.”

This public eulogy, written for Murdia and by her son, proves itself a powerful historical text because of the celebration and honor it bestows upon common women in ancient Rome. Indeed all women were grouped together and not judged by their individuality, had a set of standards to which society expected them to strictly adhere, and the lives of good women were lives of devotion to their families and loved ones.

Women in ancient Rome had no civil authorities or rights. They did not vote, nor were they allowed to serve on any council. The wisdom of the time thought it best to leave important decision to men, as women were prone to fragility and fickleness (Sherman p 70). One well respected elder expounded on this theory as he condemned women to the confines of their homes and relatives:

“Our ancestors decided that women should not handle anything, even a private matter, without the advice of a guardian; that they should always be in the power of fathers, brothers, husbands… Call to mind all those laws on women by which your ancestors restrained their license and made them subject to men: you can only just keep them under by using the whole range of laws. If you let them niggle away at one law after another until they have worked it our of your grasp, until at last you let them make themselves equal to men, do you suppose that you’ll be able to stand them? If once they get equality, they’ll be on top.”

Such common thought of the time left women restricted to typical domestic life. A good woman was a staunch homemaker, expected to be “chaste, dutiful, submissive (S 70).” While the general societal concept of women was prone to deem them inferior to men, many were aware of the value and innate worth of women; the latter more humane attitude toward women was the prevalent view, despite the oppressive conventional wisdom that taught otherwise.

Thus, women in Rome were to some degree inhibited by the conservative and ignorant social views that are similar to some traditional American notions that women should be kept barefoot, pregnant, and in the home. However, while their lives in the public sector were very much muted, ancient Roman women were able to enjoy lives with their husbands and children, and experience fulfillment with friends and social activities outside of their homes.

The lives of women in ancient Greece, however, greatly differed from the more peaceful lives of their Roman counterparts. Although there are few sources that give historians information about the lives of women in ancient Greece, a prominent poem of the period written by Semonides of Amorgos does give insight into society’s idea of women: women were evil.

The poem, entitled Poem on Women, is an explicit tale that describes the origins and innate nature of Greek women by comparing them to unsavory animals and symbols from current mythology. The writer writes that the god made one female from a “long-bristled sow.” He goes on to say that everything in her house

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