The Women of Ancient Greece: Enigma Unbound?
In a popular edition of the selected works of Plato, an introduction to the famous dialogue of love, the Symposium, explains that love "in any noble sense of the word, means to Athenian gentlemen of this period the love of men for other men." It means, the introduction continues,
the protective love of a full-grown man for some gallant and promising youth or the love of two comrades for one another. These were the loves that mattered in a man's life and exalted his character. Women were kept secluded at home and their relationship to men was on a lower plane altogether (Loomis 157-8).
That reference straightforwardly sets limits on the options of the women of Golden Age Greece. It conveys the sense of a culture in which homosexual/homosocial love and behavior appear to have been valorized and heterosexual contact by and large an inconvenience, an embarrassment, an instrumental fact in the socially and personally tiresome but unavoidably necessary project of propagation of the race. What today would be called family values do not appear to have been of great concern to the upper classes of ancient Greece.
Ancient Greek civilization was undoubtedly patriarchal in character, and the evidence of the Platonic dialogues is that homosexual/homosocial behavior appears to have been more or less a routine feature of male elite experience. Further, women were not envisioned as part of the governing class. There is no ancient text attributed to a woman author that is comparable to the texts of Aristotle or Plato, who both wrote at length about government and law, or to the histories of Thucydides or Herodotus.
Even so, there are compelling reasons for questioning whether the characterization of women as isolated and scorned is appropriate. Scholarly investigation and analysis of texts dealing with ancient Greek social customs and practices have overtaken such comments as those by Loomis, ...