ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Politics and Social Issues»
  • Social Issues

Status of Women in the Ancient World

Updated on July 4, 2014
Greek Courtesan Playing The Flute
Greek Courtesan Playing The Flute | Source

A Greek Poet Describes the Perfect Wife


When the question of women’s rights is raised, the controversy is constant and has been so since the times of ancient Greece. And much of it has been caused by the view of women as cruel and dangerous. Dangerous because of their power over men. The ancient Greek poet Semonides of Amorgas depicts ten kinds of women made from animals, two from earth and sea and one from a bee – the only one portrayed to make a good wife.

“Another is from a bee; the man who gets her is fortunate, for on her alone blame does not settle. She causes her property to grow and increase, and she grows old with a husband whom she loves and who loves her, the mother of a handsome and reputable family. She stands out among women, and a godlike beauty plays about her. She takes no pleasure in sitting among women in places where they tell stories about love. Women like her are the best and most sensible whom Zeus bestows on men.”

If a woman is useful says Semonides, it makes her all the more dangerous and she is the greatest curse the gods have sent to men. It is difficult for a married man to live happily or escape poverty.

The Powerful Mythic 'Medea' - Painting By John William Waterhouse
The Powerful Mythic 'Medea' - Painting By John William Waterhouse | Source

Powerful Women of Ancient Greece


In Greece at this time and for a long time after, women suffered many social and legal disabilities. They lacked political rights even in fifth century Athens, the hub of the literate world at the time.

But then there were women like the poetess Sappho who were well-educated and could converse with the philosophers with skill. So could the courtesans of ancient Greece.

The poet and playwright Euripides too, like Semonides, bowed to the power of women in the end. In his great play ‘Medea’ the chorus, in pity for Medea’s desertion by Jason, sings an ode of defence against men: Honour”, they declare, “is coming to the race of women; no longer shall evil repute be ours.”

Women Were Powerful In Ancient Greece
Women Were Powerful In Ancient Greece | Source

Ancient Greeks – Pioneers of the Women’s Rights Movement


Hesoid’s curious Pandora opens a jar and lets the evils into the world. However, Hesoid and Semonides in his account of the bee-woman hesitate to condemn all women. For the first time a culture thus questioned the justice of woman’s subordination to men. In respect of women’s liberties as in so many other ways, the Greeks must be admitted to be pioneers.

Ahalya, Painting By Raja Ravi Varma
Ahalya, Painting By Raja Ravi Varma | Source

Women Held an Elevated Position on Early Vedic India


When it comes to ancient India it won’t be far fetched to say that the high position, learning, and mental prowess of women cannot find a parallel in the history of the world.

Where did it all go?

Decline of Women in Later Vedic Period


In the India of the later Vedic period, women who had enjoyed a very high position earlier and even took part in the sacred ceremonies began to lose power. All their sacraments excluding marriage were performed without the recitation of the Vedic mantras. Polygamy reared its ugly head at this time, although the wife was still accorded a very high position and according to the ‘Satapathan Brahmana’, she is half her husband and completes him. Consider Maitreyi and her husband Yajnavalkya, the great philosopher.

“Maitreyi”, he said, “verily I am going away from this my house into the forest. Let me make a settlement between thee and that Katyakani, my other wife.”

“My Lord,” said Maitreyi, “if this whole earth, full of wealth, belonged to me, tell me, should I be immortal by it? What should I do with that by which I do not become immortal? What my Lord knoweth of immortality, tell that to me.”

And he replied: “Thou who art truly dear to me, thou speakest dear words. Come, sit down, I will explain it to thee, and mark well what I say.” Then followed one of the most abstruse philosophical dissertations about the Universal Self, and its relation to the individual.

But this too was condemned and the Brahmana was not to teach his wife philosophy!

In the later Vedic period, women could no longer take part in religious ceremonies. They were not allowed to attend the political assemblies. Much of this change was due to an anxiety to maintain the physical purity of women. They lost the right to remarry or divorce. A submissive wife who could keep her mouth shut and dine after her husband was the ideal and if she bore a daughter, the child was seen as a source of misery. She had to further burn herself along with her dead husband.

The Laws of Manu Humiliated Women


The mythical king and ‘lawgiver’ Manu, although theoretically sweet in his praise of women, humiliated them in his laws. “In childhood, a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead, to her son; a woman must never be independent.” A husband must be constantly worshiped as a god by a faithful wife. She who shows disrespect to a husband who is addicted to some evil passion shall be deserted for three months and deprived of her ornaments and furniture. If she left her husband’s home, she would be instantly confined or cast off in the presence of the family. Sometimes she could even be beaten with a rope or a split bamboo. But the husband is not required to follow a similar line of conduct.

Women in Ancient India Held in High Regard for their Intellect


Women were taught to dance, sing and play various instruments, and some of them were still highly learned. Despite the gradual deterioration in their position, even in the later Vedic period, women maintained a high position in the intellectual world., especially the rising class of courtesans. The wealthy and highly regarded Ambapali was so charming and accomplished that the democratic assembly of the Lichhavis decided that she must not be married but remain a public woman for the pleasure of all. The King of Magadha visited her and so did the Buddha who received a park from her as a gift.

Someone wise once remarked that the position of a civilization depends on the position of its women.

Look at us today.

Medea - BBC

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Interesting. I was just at Vietnam's Women Museum and it is amazing to see how much women contribute to life in society and the power they wield in their family and community.

    • Anita Saran profile image
      Author

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment CyberShelley. Glad you discovered something.

      Grand old lady - thank you very much for reading my stuff and leaving insightful comments. Yeah, the Greeks were not so very different.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      It's very interesting to know that there was a time when women held respect and power, and that this time preceded the time when she became subjugated and held down by laws. It is particularly interesting to know that even in the ancient times, the Greeks had a concept of marriage as a commitment that lasted down to the long haul, and considered it a good thing to grow old with one wife.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      Thank you for this very interesting walk through female history. I learnt quite a few things that I didn't know before this read. Thanks for sharing.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)