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Post Info TOPIC: Female athletes in ancient Greece.


Runic Mook of the North (mod)

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Female athletes in ancient Greece.


Possibly, I could have posted this as "To Aenigma", but I hope this might have a common interest.

I'm a bit irritated because i just saw a documentary about the olympics in ancient Greece. From what I could see, a decent documentary. And when they started to talk about the importance of young beautiful athletes and the gymnasium in society and so on I thought it was interesting.

BUT, while they rightly stated that the Olympics was an all male thing (in contrast to the modern Olympics), it is simply not true that there was no females doing sports at all in ancient Greece. I mean, how can people who are supposedly expert classicists claim such a thing? What about the women of Sparta for example? Were not they part of the ancient greek world?

Please, somebody say that I'm justified in being irritated by this :(

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"So what you are saying is -I shouldn't play with fire" she said at last. "Of course you should" said One-Eye gently. "But don't be surprised if the fire play back." -Joanne Harris



Mookish Deity Most High

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I love the fact that I'm Mookychick's resident authority on all things Classical. This is what I get for being such an overt geek that the internet picks it up ^_^

Sadly, the documentary's got it right. Women were forbidden to participate or even watch the Olympic games. In Rome the theory was that to expose a woman to the sight of the naked male form in the arena, as well as the bloodshed, would corrupt her - I think it's pretty similar in the Greek world. A lot of this is tied up in the Greek gender binary. Women and men are totally alien: there was a very clear line between the sexes. If something was a male-activity, it excluded women and vice-versa. There's not a lot of activities in ancient Greece that span both sexes (apart from sex, and many even preferred to do that do with someone of their own gender), and frankly, they weren't very fussed about including women. What are they good for? (Just about nothing was the ancient answer.)

However, on the site of the Olympic games, they did hold games exclusively for women. The Heraea games provided an opportunity for female athletes to compete against one another, and although they didn't hold the same status as the Olympic games, they were still highly regarded and the victors were given crowns, statues and sacrifices (according to Pausanias), which is about the same as what male victors were given. They were even allowed to compete in the Olympic stadium, but it was shortened a bit (I forget how much by). It was also only for maidens, even though it was organised by married women.

Yes, Spartan women did hold a higher status than in other Greek states, but even there the gender binary is really strong, it's just redefined. Will write more when Mock the Week isn't on ^_^

Just a few sources:
Statue for a victoress (that should be the feminine version of victor, right?): http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Olympic4.htm
A Spartan girl in the Heraea: http://www.sikyon.com/Sparta/Art/sparta_peg08.html


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Booky Mooky (mod)

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Wow, it's like a whole history lesson in one post.
I feel educated.

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Runic Mook of the North (mod)

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Yep, I knew that the Olympic was an exclusive male thing. And that ancient Greece wasn't exactly a role model for modern feminism. If one is looking for examples of gender equality in ancient Europe, it's much easier to study the barbarians ;)

What provoked me was that they said in the documentary that females didn't do sports at all.

And also I'm in general a bit grumpy in about how the past is still presented to the public as being all about males. I don't think that women even in the most androsentric societies view themselves as insignificant and unimportant, nor that they are all really totally excluded from what is happening in society on the grand scale.

Still, we are generally fed stories about the past that have little to do with what the past was actually like, and all to do with telling tales carefully selected to boost the current male self-image. Ironically, a person having the traits of what we call a "real man" is secure enough to have no need for such fairy tales.

Thanks for the links by the way!

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"So what you are saying is -I shouldn't play with fire" she said at last. "Of course you should" said One-Eye gently. "But don't be surprised if the fire play back." -Joanne Harris



Mookish Deity Most High

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I'm too tired/drunk to make this more eloquent, but you're absolutely right: it is fully wrong that women did not do sports at all. Female sports play an important role in certain myths (Atlanta) and the Heraea proves that female athletes were celebrated, albeit to a lesser extent, albethat to a not much lesser extent.

Will post a more coherent analysis later, but currently too sleepy...

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Mookish Deity Most High

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I thought there was something that if a woman's horse was being used they were permitted to watch the horse perform and then had to leave or something like that.

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Mookish Deity Most High

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^^ I'd need to look that up, but I'm not sure: women couldn't enter into transactions worth more than a tiny bit of barley, so she herself could not have bought a horse. However, I'd need to do some more research to check out whether they can own property like a horse, and how you'd get around it.

This is way better than translating Apuleius, thanks guys ^_^

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Mookish Deity Most High

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I don't know, that's just what I remember from military history class last year hahaha....

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Mookish Deity Most High

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You're probably right: there could easily be a loophole. I'm much better informed on Roman than Greek culture, so I'm having to guess a bit.

To understand the status of women you have to understand their understanding of reproduction. Women were seen as the soil in which children were grown: however, whilst in most parts of the Hellenic world women are nothing more than dirt, in the Spartan mentality Spartans were the greatest people around, so Spartan women were very very important as the growers of Spartan men. Thus, women had a fair bit of respect. I went to a lecture by the guy who was the historical consultant on 300, and he said that the scene where Leonidas looks to Gorgo for her approval was in no way out of keeping with the Spartan mentality.

Thus, Spartan women were encouraged to be as physically perfect as possible, like the men, in order to prove the superiority of the Spartan race. As children, they had a strict training programme not that different from the men's I believe, with things like discus-throwing. They also did it naked, I think, which is rare in Ancient Greece. Helen of Troy was a Spartan by birth, and I remember reading a poem of Ovid's in which, as a child, she was playing in the palestra (gym in Latin, as Ovid was writing in Latin).

In other words Irilar, you are totally justified: women did do sports, and even competed and were celebrated as athletes. In many ways, much better than certain sports today.

Is there anything else anyone would like to know about the Classical world, while I'm here? ^_^

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Runic Mook of the North (mod)

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Since you ask, I'd be interested in anything you know about the classical world from the female perspective.

Oh, and when on the study trip to Rome, our professor mentioned the cult of some goddess I unfortunately have forgotten the name of, whose male priests had to undergo castration.

I was pondering that this as an interesting parallel to the vow of chastity for vestal virgins, how booth these groups of chosen ones put themselves outside the norm of breeding.

Do you remember the name of said goddess? I think she was one of those imported from outside the greco-roman core areas.

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"So what you are saying is -I shouldn't play with fire" she said at last. "Of course you should" said One-Eye gently. "But don't be surprised if the fire play back." -Joanne Harris



Mookish Deity Most High

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I just spent 40 fucking minutes typing out an awesome reply, and then the system logged me out and so I couldn't post it, and it got eaten. FAIL.

Irilar, I think you're thinking of Cybele? She is an import: she was Phrygian goddess they brought her to Rome to try and stop Hannibal and called her the Magna Mater. Her priests castrated and cut themselves in wild frenzies during the rites. Does that sound about right?

The female perspective is really interesting, but I can't be arsed to write it out again. I did talk a lot about Sappho and Sulpicia, as two female poets. Sappho's one of the more interesting lyric poets in that she had a contemporary of both place and time: Alcaeus, and their poetry is really different. They're not therefore following a formula (to some extent), and so Sappho was writing about what she wanted to write about. It's easy to let the lesbianism overpower her work (Anacreon wrote a poem in which he pursued a girl, but of course, being from Lesbos, she preferred women. That never fails to crack me up), but I think some of her most powerful stuff is when she's talking about her daughter. I'd say that's a pretty good example of the female perspective. However, Sappho's stuff only survived because men preserved it, so if she wrote anything too risque/critical, it may have been lost along the way.

Sulpicia is a Roman poet, but we know very little about her (it's all supposition) and most of her stuff was ascribed to Tibullus first. She however, did write some really cool stuff. In elegy, it's very male-dominated, and women/lovers are just a construct for the poets to write about situations in sexual relationships: they're not very important. Sulpicia wrote elegy from a woman's perspective, so of course it's quite different. She wrote about the shame that would occur if her love became common knowledge (infamy is from the root word fama in Latin, meaning rumour), which is not a topic much addressed by male poets, and says that the worst thing she ever did was walk away from her beloved because she had to hide her passion. Similarly, she complains that her uncle is dragging her to the countryside. I think it's Rhiannon Ash who says that she's rebelling against the patriarchy, which I think is bull, but she definitely illuminates the social constrictions binding Roman women, even those of high birth.

There's loads more to write, but I'll have to get back to you later ^_^

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