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Athenian Women in Ancient Greece

Ideology and reality concerning the lives of women in ancient Athens are not identical. It is traditionally asserted that ancient Athenian women had extremely low status, "relegated to the ranks of slaves and children," and "scholars suggest that they were even much worse off than the women of earlier and later periods of Greek history" (Cohen 3). However, primary and secondary sources fail to agree entirely on this assertion, and some of this perspective is due to unfounded assumption rather than to verifiable fact.

One reason that Athenian women were thought to suffer from low status was that they were confined to their homes (Cohen 3). This circumstance was regarded as a reflection that women were thus excluded from "social, public, and economic life" (Cohen 3). This is largely an unfounded assumption, however. Although women did not function as men did in the public and political spheres, Cohen (3) points out that "it does not necessarily follow that they did not have public, social, and economic spheres of their own" and that the separation of men's and women's spheres and roles does not equate to "seclusion and isolation." Ancient Athenian male-female role divisions were typical of those in the Mediterranean region at the time (Cohen 3).

One reason that debate exists on the subject of ancient Athenian women's rights is that scholars have selectively taken quotes from ancient texts and equated them with historical fact. A quote from Euripides, for example, states, "...there is one act that swings scandalous speech their way beyond all else: to leave the house and walk abroad. I longed to do it, but put the longing aside, and stayed always within the enclosure of my own house and court" (Cohen 3). Flacelière later picks up this quote as evidence that "adolescent girls were lucky if they were allowed as far as the inner courtyard since they had to stay where they could not be seen-well away e


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