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Ancient Athenian Theatre
Transcript of Ancient Athenian Theatre
Before 2000 B.C.E. - people living in Greece - matriarchal (mother goddess) - one theory*
After 2000 B.C.E. - "Hellenes" arrived - patriarchal (sky god) - dominated older culture
Domination represented in development of Greek religion - Zeus and Hera
(king/queen, brother/sister, husband/wife - but NOT friends or lovers - instead, opponents)
Zeus - prohibited women from active role in society
"defeminizes" female power (even childbirth)
- he produces Athena, godess of wisdom/war, from his head and Dionysus from his thigh
- female godesses represented as virgins (Athena/Artemis) - exception Aphrodite
- Hera seen as wife, but not worshipped as mother
Evolution of drama - 6th century
Dionysus - god of ecstasy
wine (his gift)
followers go into trances - visions of the gods
celebrations - groups with leader (chorus)
vary myths / dance-off / sing-off
actor - "answerer" - answer chorus (dialog)
Thespis - standardized interactions between actor and chorus
first tragedy - 534 B.C.E.
High point - 5th century
multiple-day festival - parades, singing, competitions
plays - 3 tragedians (4 plays each: 3 tragedies, 1 comedy)
5 comic writers (1 play each)
performed once only - in competition
14,000 men could attend
Plays as a function of government
writers - apply to gov't official (themes/plots)
approved playwrights - assigned a backer
cost: 16,000 drachmas for comedy / 30,000 for tragedy
adult male slave - 150-300 drachmas
warship - 3,000
tragedies were judged - 10 judges voted on tablets
1 official chose at random 5 tablets to decide the winner
winner - laurel wreath and glory
46 surviving plays
almost all from 5th century BCE
almost all from 5 playwrights
around 3% of what was written
Statue of Dionysos leaning on a female figure ("Hope Dionysos"), Roman, reflection of lost Greek artwork, c. 27 B.C.E.– 68 C.E., Metropolitan Museum of Art
(If you want to know more, come back and watch video below.)
Athens - 5th century B.C.E.
Gender in Greece
"Democracy" - great artistic expressions - art, philosophy, lit
500,000 people - but fewer than 15% had full rights
(adult Athenian male citizens who owned land)
- slaves - no rights
- foreign settlers - no rights even after generations
- women - almost no rights (seen as necessary "tool")
Defeat of Persian invasion
- 490s - 480s B.C.E.
- Athens and Spartans on same side of fight against Persia
- significant Greek victories, close to Athens (confidence)
"The Fifty Years"
Trade - wealth
Civic activity in Athens-
democracy, law, philosophy, art, great public buildings
Then... 431 B.C.E. -
Sparta and Athens - begin civil war with one another
Athens thought they'd easily win in months
27 years of war
404 B.C.E. - Athens surrenders to Sparta's rule
431 B.C.E. (just before war with Sparta)
411 B.C.E. (after 20 years)
For more about Gender in Greece (marriage expectations):
O'Neal, William J. "The Status Of Women In Ancient Athens." International Social Science Review 68.3 (1993): 115. Business Source Complete. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
For more about Athenian Drama and Athens in general:
Kenneth McLeish, Trevor R. Griffiths,
A Guide to Greek Drama
, Methuen Classical Greek Dramatists Series, London, 2003.
For more about most legal issues:
K. Kapparis, “Women and Family in Athenian Law,” in Adriaan Lanni, ed., “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context” (Center for Hellenic Studies On-line Discussion Series). Republished in C.W. Blackwell, ed., Dēmos: Classical Athenian Democracy (A. Mahoney and R. Scaife, edd., The Stoa: a consortium for electronic publication in the humanities [www.stoa.org]) edition of March 22, 2003. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patriarchy - men (not women) - involved in civic, economic and social life
All writers are male (drama, philosophy, law, history, etc.)
in drama - actors and audience are male as well
Women - no schooling except housekeeping, simple math, generally not taught to read or write
Sons - presented to the father's "phratry" or "genos" (societal groups)
Daughters - could be presented, but rare
Marriage - arranged by fathers - Dowery system
- in this system, considered the daughter's inheritance
- dowery does not become absolute property of husband, but he controls it
Xenephon (historian and philosopher, student of Socrates)
- wrote about how to "train" a new bride
"Proper" age for bride at 15 (or younger) - expected to know & say little
Young girl's most important virtue going into marriage considered ability to control appetite
Expectation to stay at home, keep orderly house, obey husband, bear and rear children, weave, supervise and teach weaving to slaves, be discrete, practice self-control
No exercise - housework
Wives - expected to be absolutely faithful
Husbands - expected to be be sexually active outside marriage
Wives and daughters
Drakon's law - 1st lawmaker in Athens - 621 B.C.E.
"The law of Drakon on justified homicide permitted a man to kill another man caught with his wife, mother, sister, daughter or concubine, that is, any woman under his legal protection."
The word "draconian"
Of interest to
- Pericles’ Law on Citizenship (451 B.C.E.)
Athenian citizen must be born of Athenian father AND mother
(Medea = set elsewhere, but idea is still in the culture)
4th century B.C.E. law: "If anyone shall give an alien woman in marriage to an Athenian man, representing her as being related to himself, he shall lose his civic rights and his property shall be confiscated, and a third part of it shall belong to the one who secures his conviction.”
Daughter with no siblings - at father's death, she inherits but the state intervenes and orders the closest male relative of her father to marry her
Widows with young children - could remain in house and take on the responsibility for the family assets (with help from male relatives in their transactions)
Poor woman - nurse, midwife, petty trading, small scale crafts, (dealing with men - not "respectable")
Prostitute (male and female) - legal
but female prostitute was outside of society
- male prostitutes had some restrictions
Brothel workers - mostly slaves - horrible conditions
High class prostitutes - (hetairai) - wealth & luxury
might be taken later as concubines later
trained to seduce
long lessons on social skills and "charm"
Women who did speak out got ridiculed as being androgynes (‘men-women’).
Dionysus Theater, Athens, Greece
Herodion Theatre, Athens, also called Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built 161 C.E., rebuilt in 1950s
Herodion Theatre in ruins, c. 1880
Gender in Society
No real legal status or protections for women
no business transactions beyond purchasing week's supplies
no real ownership (can inherit or be given property, but can't sell or bequeath)
Athenian law - men could marry one woman and have children with another (to increase population)
Men also could have two wives (legal for a period)
- Euripides - two wives (his bigamy is debated)
husband could not "rape" wife
rape (outside marriage) was considered an act of violence against the male father/guardian/husband, not against the female - punished with fine
wives & "seducers" faced consequences for adultery
- no consequences for husband who commits adultery (expected to have lovers / prostitutes)
- wife immediately divorced for adultery
- lover can legally be killed by husband (if caught in act)
As represented in earlier decade:
"the whole population" - see around 1:10
Relief, wood, from Samos. ca. 610 B.C.
For more on Zeus and Hera, see: http://people.duke.edu/~wj25/UC_Web_Site/myth/goddesses.html
Relief, marble. Temple of Hera at Selinus. ca. 465 B.C.
Gender & Law
Greek (right) and Persian (left) warriors, as depicted in ancient kylix (drinking cup), 5th c. B.C.E. National Archaeological Museum of Athens
A battle between Greeks and Greeks, from an amphora, about 400 B.C.E.,
both objects: Metropolitan Museum of Art See pdf at:
Amphora showing battle between Greeks and Amazons, about 400 B.C.E.
Euripides, Roman copy of ancient Greek sculpture from 330 B.C.E.
Carving in reading room of U.S. Supreme Court Library
Jar associated with weddings, 340–320 B.C., Greek, South Italian, Apulian
Greek Drinking Cup, 330–300 B.C.E., South Italian, Campanian, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Spear-Bearer" - Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (c.450-440 B.C.E)
For manliness in Athenian society, see http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/pericles-funeralspeech.asp
Terracotta Drinking Cup, Exterior - athletes, Interior - woman at laver, c. 500 B.C.E., Greek, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Greek Drinking Cup, 500 B.C.E., Getty Museum
More info here: