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Esclavage, guerre, économie en Grèce ancienne

Pierre Brulé
Jacques Oulhen

Women and Democracy in Fourth-century Athens

Michael H. Jameson

Texte intégral

  • 1 Moses Finley, Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, ed. B. Shaw and R. Saller, New York, Viking P (...)

1The exploitation of persons of subordinate status took two contrasting forms in Greece, as we have come to understand especially from Moses Finley and Yvon Garlan1. The older and perhaps at one time universal type consisted of a series of gradations socially, juridically, politically, from persons with the most complete power and privilege to those with the least. Instead of clearly defined categories, the resuit was a continuous spectrum ranging from full, adult male members of the community (among whom there were further distinctions of property and genealogy) through serf-like statuses to chattel slaves. Sparta and the Cretan cities are the clearest examples. Some degree of movement between the grades is observable. By contrast, democratie Athens is the best example of societies with a few, sharply delineated statuses—adult male citizens, resident foreigners (metics, among whom are included freedmen), and chattel slaves. Women are a further category but also divided three-fold, between those whose guardians (kurioi) are citizens or foreigners and those who are themselves slaves.

2It has been pointed out that in societies such as Athens where adult males of citizen birth enjoyed the greatest political rights without property qualifications, the exclusion of the unfree and of women was most thorough. Spartan women were notoriously free in their behavior and influential (e. g., Arist. Pol. 1°269b-1°270a). Athenian women were ideally silent, anonymous and invisible, except in certain cuit contexts. They were to confine themselves to the house, not even answering a knock on the door and certainly not running out to the street (Menander Fr. 592 Koerte). They were not to associate with unrelated male visitors who came to the house. Their ownership of property was severely limited. The same sharpening of distinctions is found between slaves, a single category, and the free, and again between foreigners and natives with, by the mid-fifth century, strict prohibitions on intermarriage. The more valuable the rights of membership in the community became, the higher the barriers between the citizens and the excluded.

3But at the same time there were proportionately far more foreigners permanently resident in Athens, and vital to the economy, than in most Greek cities, although grants to them of citizenship were very rare. Chattel slaves too were unusually numerous and played a large and varied rôle in social and economic life. Alongside the inverse relationship between the freedom of citizens and the rights of ail other inhabitants there needs to be set a Greek view of the situation which has attracted less attention. This is the claim that in Athens foreigners, slaves and especially women were, in fact, exceptionally and dangerously free and equal in the encounters of daily life, whatever custom and law laid down, and that this was directly attributable to the extreme form of democracy. It is particularly this alleged freedom of women under democracy that I wish to address in this essay.

4Plato's surprising recommendation in the Republic that in the ideal state women be given the same training as men and that qualified women serve as guardians (451-457) has tended to obscure the more conventional conceptions of women to be found in his writings. He has no doubt that women as a whole are inferior to men (455; Laws 781 b). They are subject to emotions more than are men and certain soothing forms of music are appropriate for them (Laws 909e-910b). With children, they share a fondness for bright, variegated colors (Republic 557c). Most remarkable is his insistence that democracy fosters the freedom of women, a dangerous development that both he and Aristotle link to that posed by the freedom of slaves. Democracy, by promoting the concept of liberty, subverts ail hierarchical relationships in society and thus opens up the possibility of liberty for both women and slaves and hence their equality with male citizens.

“[The desire for liberty] necessarily penetrates... into private houses and finally to the implantating of anarchy even in the animais.... So the father must practice becoming like his child, and being afraid of his sons, while the son acts like the father and shows no respect or fear for the parents, ail for the sake of his freedom. Metic and citizen and citizen and metic, ail must be equal, and the same goes for the visiting foreigner.”

5Teachers and older men in général ingratiate themselves with their young charges while the young do not take them seriously but act as if they were on the same level.

  • 2 This passage is discussed by Jaqueline de Romilly, Problèmes de la démocratie grecque. Paris, Herm (...)

“The liberty of the masses reaches its very limit in such a city [a democracy] when the purchased slaves, male and female, are no less free than those who paid for them. And the degree to which equal rights (isonomia) and liberty apply to the relations of women to men and of men to women, is something I nearly forgot to mention” (Plato Rep. 562e-563b)2.

6Compare with this a passage in the oligarchic pamphlet written in the last decades of the fifth century and included in the manuscripts of Xenophon's writings (Ath. Pol. 1. 10-12) :

“At Athens extreme lack of discipline (akolasia) prevails among slaves and metics. There one cannot strike them and a slave will not get out of one's way. Let me explain the reason for this local custom : if it were customary for a free man to beat a slave, or (for that matter) a metic or a freedman, one would often strike an Athenian (citizen) thinking he was a slave. The people there are no better dressed than the slaves and the metics, and they look no better. If anyone is surprised that the Athenians allow slaves to live so well there, and some even to live extravagantly, they can be shown to do this too quite deliberately. For wherever a city's power is maritime, for financial reasons it is absolutely necessary to be subservient to the slaves in order to profit from their earnings and the same applies to setting them free [i. e., their owners take a cut from their wages and profits, and they are freed on condition of payments to their former owners]. Where slaves are well-to-do, it is no longer to my advantage for my slave to be afraid of you. At Sparta my slave fears you (which may seem right and proper) but if your slave fears me, there is the danger that he will give me the money he has earned (and to which you are entitled as his master) so as not be in danger himself. This is why we have granted freedom of speech (isegoria, literally “equality of speech”) both to slaves when they face free men and to metics when they face citizens because the city needs the metics on account of the many crafts they practice and our maritime way of life. That is why it is quite reasonable that we have also granted metics freedom of speech.”

7One need not suppose that the upper classes were, in fact, inhibited as they made their way through the streets of Athens. The hyperbole itself is revealing.

8Plato, further on in the passage we were considering, gives a comic twist to the Old Oligarch's splenetic version of what was evidently a topos :

“No one who had not experienced it would believe how much more liberty the beasts have (in a democracy) than anywhere else. The dogs absolutely act out the old saying, 'Like mistress, like maid, ' and the horses and donkeys are accustomed to making their way with complete freedom and dignity, bumping into anyone they meet on the street who does not get out of their way”—

  • 3 “The regulation of traffîc, ' remarks Bosanquet, perhaps a little sententiously, 'is in some degre (...)

9A familiar experience, we are told, when one leaves Athens for the countryside (Rep. 563c-d ; cf. Laws 942c-d : military training removes anarchia entirely from beasts as well as the men they serve). A complaint levelled against slaves and foreigners by Pseudo-Xenophon is now shown to be an example of a universal break-down of relationships brought about by extreme democracy3. In well-ordered, traditional societies the élite were identified unambiguously. Both custom (dress, ornaments, hair-style,) and natural condition (health and stature, for instance) marked off classes and statuses. Even in more moderate democracies, the free poor might not differ greatly in appearance from the slaves but they knew their place in the social hierarchy. The élite, for their part, were united on the necessity of keeping all others in their respective places.

  • 4 R. H. Randall. Jr. “The Erechtheum Workmen,» AJA 57 (1953), p. 199-210 ; Michel Austin and Pierre (...)

10In such societies, no slave had an opportunity to engage in more than the most menial work or to be entrusted with responsibilities and to be rewarded accordingly (the farm bailiff is an exception but that was a job dealing with other slaves, largely outofsight of citizens). In Athens, however, slaves and citizens performed the same tasks, sometimes side by side, as the records for the construction of the Erechtheion show, and if the slave was to earn enough to be profitable to his owner his conditions of work and life needed to approach those of the free workman4 Whereas in the New World slavery and race were inseparable, in antiquity everyone was at risk of enslavement. In practice, the Greeks derived the bulk of their slaves from non-Greek peoples. But although these included the grey-eyed, red-haired Thracians of the poet Xenophanes and a great many Anatolians, the racial affiliations of most slaves would not have revealed their status. On the other hand, the free poor, whether citizen, metic or freedman, with little or no land or other property to their name, would often have had to work for others, a subservience that could seem incompatible with the status of a citizen. Meanwhile talented slaves were earning good wages for their owners and being given the responsibility of running businesses as well as farms. From a traditional point of view, things were turned upside down.

11The free ways of metics and slaves at Athens are the subject of Pseudo- Xenophon's explanation. Aristotle builds on Plato's equation of democracy and license to focus on women. He sees democracy, in which artisans and wage-earners (banausoi and mistharnountes) predominate, in contrast to the democracy of farmers [Pol. 1296b), as equivalent to tyranny, with the demos as tyrant.

“Also the things that occur in the final form of democracy are all favorable to tyranny—dominance by women (gunokratia) in the homes, in order that they may carry abroad reports against the men, and lack of discipline ( akolasia) among the slaves, for the same reason ; for slaves and women do not plot against tyrants, and also, if they prosper under tyrannies, must feel well-disposed to them, and to democracies as well (for the common people also wishes to be sole ruler). Hence also the flatterer is in honor with both.» (Pol. 1313b—1314a)

12Aristotle employs for solemn political theory what in the theater was a comic theme—a man is happy in the agora “but when the poor wretch opens the door ofhis house, woman controls everything (gunê kratei pantôn), orders him about, fights him at every turn” (Menander Fr. 251, 5-7). Women and slaves are not feared by the tyrant because they are not rivais to his power as free citizens must be. So he treats them with tolerance and they him with flattery. (The flatterer of the demos is the demagogue.) Aristotle speaks of “dominance by women in the home.» They are not merely equal but superior in power in the household and this is said to be granted to them (presumably by the tyrant or the tyrannical regime) in order that they may report abroad, outside the house, against the men. There is relaxation of controls (anesis) over slaves is for the same reason. Again, the tyrant's enemy is the free maie citizen who, in a household where women rule and slaves are relatively free, cannot be sure of the confidentiality ofhis speech and associations. Women, as well as slaves, are able to go outside the house to report what has gone on inside. The possibility of discontent or conspiracy being divulged is as advantageous to a democracy as it is to a tyranny. (The notion of women as secret agents or provocatrices is anticipated at Pol. 1°313b 11-17 in a reference to Hieron'spotagôgides at Syracuse). Freedom of movement as well as of speech for women and slaves is seen as characteristic of democracies and tyrannies. Needless to say, for Aristotle gunokratia anywhere is contrary to nature, the male being naturally superior to the female (Pol. 1°254b), the one ruling, the other being ruled (1°260a). Aristotle encapsulâtes anxiety over the freedom of women and slaves in a vision of espionage and offers it as the explanation for a much broader phenomenon.

13The passages we have been examining all seem to reflect a common anti-democratic theme which persisted in one form or another for at least a century. Full democracy in the eyes of its detractors threatened by its very nature three distinctions vital to the existence of the polis : (1) between free men and slaves ; (2) between citizens and foreigners ; (3) between men and women, who ideally participated only in the life of the family and, indispensably, in religious activities. The erosion of boundaries between these statuses would have been regarded by all Greek politai (i. e. free male polis members) as tantamount to anarchy. The anti-democratic argument claimed that full democracy without property qualifications led inevitably to this anarchy. Meanwhile, despite the looming shadow of Macedon, internally the Athenian democracy survived and in some respects flourished.

  • 5 Revolts by the Laution minets, the first probably stimulated by reports of the Sicilian slave revo (...)

14It requires no serious demonstration to show that, for all the alarmist talk of our sources, there was not the slightest possibility of an overthrow of male, citizen rule by slaves, resident foreigners or women. Slaves were no threat and there were no slave revolts at Athens until the second century B.C5. Their procurement from many different sources, as recommended by the philosophers (cf. Arist. Pol. 1°330a), is just what happened at Athens. In daily life they were isolated from other slaves or worked in small groups and were closely involved with individual households, the great exception, of course, being those in the mines, but even there they did not work in large gangs. That this alarm on the part of the privileged is also directed against resident foreigners and women shows that the anxiety takes the form of fantasy.

15The real concerns of the citizen body are not likely to have been uniform throughout. Comparison with modem societies suggests that the attitude of the lower classes to others excluded from their civic privileges, both those richer and socially more acceptable than themselves and their economic equals and inferiors, is likely to have been ambivalent. We do not, however, hear of the inflammatory issue of today, citizens' deprivation of employment by foreign immigrants or slaves, in part perhaps because of the reluctance to admit to the need of working for someone else.

16The perspective of the upper classes is, as always, a good deal clearer. Pseudo-Xenophon offered a plausible description of the relations between men of different status in the streets of Athens. All the poor are lumped together—citizens, foreigners and slaves—but the equal rights of one element indistinguishable to the eye in the mass of the poor, the poor citizens, puts all the poor beyond the reach of discipline. One could not strike a man who looked poor, nor a woman. How easy it was for citizen men to strike women they took to be slaves can be seen from incidents reported in the Demosthenic corpus ([Dem.] 59. 9-10, [Dem.] 47. 55-67 ; in the latter case men claiming property had to be dissuaded from carrying off a son of the citizen family whom they had taken to be a slave (61). No doubt, all small boys playing around farm yards looked much alike).

  • 6 Aristotle (Pol. 1319b) assumes that radical democracies will be lax in their standards, admitting (...)
  • 7 Claude Mossé, Athens in Decline 404-86 B. C., London and Boston, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973, p (...)

17Two reports illustrate the upper classes' assumption that all the excluded statuses were aligned with the demos against their betters. In 404 B. C. Theramenes assures the Thirty Tyrants that he had always fought against the view that there could be no good democracy without the participation of “slaves and those who, from poverty, would sell the city for a drachma (i. e., the free, native poor)” (Xen. Hell. 2. 3. 48), as if the enfranchisement of slaves was ever the goal of the radical democracy6. From 318 B.C. we have an account from Plutarch (Phocion 34) of the condemnation of the anti-democratic general Phocion and his associates. It claims that slaves, foreigners, and disfranchised citizens were among the judges while women as well as men (pasi kai pasais) were allowed into the theater where the trial took place. What is of interest here is the linking of ail three excluded categories (slaves, foreigners and women) as having had a hand in the humiliation of the conservative hero, not in the factuality of the claim7. The point of view of Plutarch's source is fully in accord with Plato's, that the principles of democracy inevitably lead to the breakdown of essential status distinctions, and with Aristotle's, that women and slaves conspire against the free (upper-class) males. The metic philosopher is silent about his own category.

  • 8 J. -P. Gould, “Law, Custom and Myth : Aspects of the Social Position of Women in Classical Athens, (...)

18When it comes to women in the democracy, a category with no direct impact on politics, one must ask what accounts for the philosophers' tirades whose tone, when not simply comic, verges on the hysterical. There was, to be sure, a long tradition of Greek misogyny, often dressed in comic guise, beginning for us with Hesiod and Semonides of Amorgos. In Greek culture as a whole the largest, most conspicuous and most permanent source of possible subversion to the state and to the established social order was none other than “woman.» The irrationality of women, and therefore their innate opposition to the well-ordered society managed by rational men is recognized as a characteristic tenet of Greek maie ideology.»[...] male attitudes to women [...] are marked by tension, anxiety and fear. Women are not part of [...] the male ordered world of the 'civilised' community ; [...] they threaten continually to overturn its stability and to subvert its continuinity [...] “, to quote John Gould. Or, in the words of Claude Mossé : “Dans la cité des hommes, la femme est du côté de tout ce qui menace l'ordre : le sauvage, le cru, l'humide, le barbare, l'esclave, le tyran.»8

  • 9 Claude Vatin, Recherches sur le mariage et la condition de la femme mariée à l'époque hellénistiqu (...)

19But whereas it is evident that male writers of all types and at all times could easily tap the rich vein of the misogynist tradition, this does not explain why the alarm is sounded at this time and linked precisely with democracy. It may be chance that Pseudo-Xenophon, writing in the last third of the fifth century, speaks only of foreigners and slaves and has nothing to say of (3), the equality and freedom of women. Or it may be that it was not until the fourth century that anxiety on this score, genuine or feigned, was joined to the other two. In Aristophanes' Lysistrata (411) and Ecclesiazousae (392) women make use of the institutions of contemporary Athens but an excess of democracy is not specified as the cause of their insurrection. Nor does it seem to me that these plays show that philosophical discussion of the ideal rôle of women was a subject of current debate. Their plots are examples of the topsy-turvy world of Aristophanic fantasy. At a deeper level, however, they may express the permanent anxiety of the Greek masculine world over its imperfect control over the female other half9.

  • 10 Julia Annas, Introduction to Plato's Republic, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981, p. 300.

20Plato and Aristotle's fantasies of imminent or present gunokratia are no less unrealistic but their true target is not women's liberation but democracy against which they employ the clichés of misogyny. And yet, I suggest, the realities of everyday life in democratic Athens offered the toehold of verisimilitude without which satire cannot be effective. One of the few interpreters of Plato to consider Republic 563a critically finds Plato's comments so absurd in view of the lack of liberty for intellectuals as well as women that she cannot believe Plato has Athens in mind when describing the tolerance of the extreme democratic state10. But Plato uses the topos of Pseudo-Xenophon which is explicitly applied to Athens, ' and one of the interlocutors in the Republic confirms that it is, indeed, a specifically Athenian traffic jam Plato has described. In any case, what other democracy could either Plato or Aristotle be referring to ?

  • 11 Akolasia was characteristic of democracy in the eyes of another of its critics, cf. Isoc. 7. 20, 1 (...)

21In fact, after the flurry of genuine, threatened, or alleged prosecutions for impiety directed against intellectuals at Athens in the late fifth century and after the single certain case of a death penalty and execution, that of Socrates, we hear of no action against philosophers for seventy-five years, until 323 B. C. when Aristotle prudently withdraws from Athens on the death of Alexander. But in this same period we know of three cases of prosecutions of women for impiety, and at least three other cases in which, though not charged, or not charged with impiety, their dangerous behavior plays a prominent part. They are all, as far as we can see, foreigners, and there are charges or implications of servile origin, sexual and social promiscuity, orgiastic cuits and affronts to the vital mysteries of citizen women, of drugs and magic, and of alien penetration of the citizen body. The citizen's wife is the particular and vulnerable target—foolish women may see the acquittai of the wicked foreigners as permission to do as they like ([Dem.] 59. 11). The contagion that is feared—lack of self-control or discipline (akolasia) —is characteristic of women and the young. Solon's law restricting women at funerals and festivals was to prevent to atakton kai to akolaston (Plut. Solon. 21, the same two qualities that characterize the Thessaly to which Sokrates declines to escape, Plato Crito 53d)11.

22Foreign women, most of them purported to be ex-slaves, introducing new private cuits, dealing in vulgar and hostile but trivial forms of ritual action, participating illegitimately in ceremonies of citizen women—these seem very marginal figures to bulk so large in Athenian rhetoric and legal action in defense of piety and purity. An explanation may be proposed for the concern over them, and the over the allegedly free, equal and power- hungry women of the philosophers. While the public, political sphere remained impregnable so long as the democracy survived, in the area of social relations the discrepancy between ideal and the real had reached a point that it served to fuel anxiety over status relations in general. The economic ties between citizens and metics, the attachment of the slave as oiketes to an oikos, no doubt affected in practice the boundaries between the statuses. It was, for instance, the act of a Boorish Man to discuss important matters with his slaves rather than friends or family but no doubt it happened (Theoph. Characters 4. 6).

  • 12 The fact that women of the lower class worked and left the house has been recognized in recent yea (...)
  • 13 See, most recently, Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks, New York, Free Press, 1995, especially (...)

23The discrepancy was most evident, constant and intimate in the case of Athenian women. The standards of respectable women staying at home, leaving the house neither for shopping nor work, and appearing in public only at festivals and funerals and then only properly attended, were articles of ideology, not necessarily a description of current practice. To be sure, Plato in the Laws (781b), all fear of liberated women forgotten, raises the problem of inducing women to eat at public messes when they are “accustomed to living withdrawn and darkly.» An élite should have been able to keep its women at home with the help of slaves, but the example of non-élite women and the lack of sharp demarcation within the citizen body may have made this difficult. The farther down the economic scale the less feasible it became. Poorer women of any status had to shop, work in the fields, and help in the family's business as needed or run their own business, or even hire out to others, though this may be described as “slavish” (doulika, Dem. 57. 45). “How is it possible to prevent the women of the poor (aporoi) from going out ?” (Aristot. Pol. 1°300a, cf. 1°323a, “The poor have to use their women and children as servants because they lack slaves.”)12 In a society where political power was in the hands of “the many” the majority of the majority was inevitably poor, however poverty was defined. Just how the Athenian citizen population was divided economically is a complex problem. It seems likely that most Athenians were neither wealthy nor close to destitution and that there was, in effect, a large “middling” population. We do not know where the line was drawn in respect to working women any more than we do for the ownership of slaves.13

  • 14 K. J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle, Berkeley and Los Angeles, (...)

24There was a comparable contradiction in the attitude to work in general. The orators freely cite the vulgar occupations of their opponents while it is evident that many in the audience were similarly employed. K. J. Dover has suggested as a possible explanation that the listeners may have adopted the values of the well-to-do. This could apply equally to the attitude towards the seclusion of women. In the modem world one might compare the prized respectability of the the lower middle class as it seeks to distance itself from a lower class.14

25The freedom of movement of women in the democracy is taken by Aristotle to exemplify the general freedom they enjoy under a radical regime, but it is not to be separated from the freedom of foreigners, slaves, and, we must not forget, beasts. In the philosophers' parables, democracy through tolerance of these liberties undermines the polis, with no distinction being made between social and political relations. For Pseudo-Xenophon this stemmed from the distinctive maritime character of Athenian democracy, both militarily and economically. It benefitted from the free economic activity of foreigners and the relative independence of many slaves, in both cases of both sexes, we might add. The radical democracy, with the poorest citizens supplying the bulk of the fleet's rowers, ensured the dignity of the poor and, practically, of their women who because of their poverty violated by their activity outside the house the standards of behavior to which rich and poor paid lip service. Even within the house ail women, but especially those who were not rich, bore responsibility for running the household as an economic unit (cf. Xenophon's Oeconomicus, with allowance for the wealth involved). Their bossiness in the house, which Aristotle's gunokratia implies, was also something expected of them.

  • 15 See, e. g., Mossé, Athens in Decline, p. 91 ; John K. Davies, Wealth and the Power of Wealth in Cl (...)

26Formally the three categories of exclusion endured within the larger, traditional structure into the Hellenistic and Roman periods. But the society of the poleis as understood by the most privileged members was changing in important respects, most obviously in democratie Athens, in the direction of the significantly different Hellenistic world. In addition to the shift of most political power from individual or hégemonie cities to much larger monarchies, there were social and economic changes underway, which had not waited for the conquests of Alexander to make their appearance. The economy of the fourth century differed markedly from that of earlier centuries and social relations could not remain unaffected15. The large proportion of the Attic population that consisted of resident aliens and slaves, came to be matched in many Greek cities (cf. Arist. Pol. 1°326a). Without significant political power and the opportunities as well as the risks offered by city-state bellicosity, the attractions of citizenship may have faded for all but the wealthy. While democracy in Athens had protected all the non-élite thanks, in part, to the difficulty of distinguishing among them, and this had allowed them to engage effectively in the economic life of the city, the continuing growth of pragmatic economic and social relationships did not depend on political democracy but on that tolerance against which the critics of democracy had inveighed.

  • 16 Cf. William S. Ferguson, Hellenistic Athens. An Historical Essay, London, MacMillan, 1911, p. 85- (...)
  • 17 Cf. W. S. Ferguson, “The Attic Orgeones,” Harvard Theological Review 3 (1944), p. 69-140.
  • 18 Vatin, op. cit., p. 254-261. Ferguson, Hellenistic Athens, p. 38-47, still valuable for details, s (...)

27The condition of women in the Hellenistic world also changed in various ways, though our evidence outside Egypt is largely limited to the upper classes among whom wealthy women became prominent, and much remains speculative. Marriage came to be more of an equal contract between two persons, supported in Stoic ethics by the concept of the mutually supportive couple. Legal and economic rights increased with the greater mobility of men and the de facto self-reliance of their women. But it is generally agreed that the fundamental subordination of women to men hardly changed16. More important for women may have been the decline for most men of the public sphere and of the structures supporting it and consequently the greater importance of the family and other social ties, such as the cult associations of individuals and families17. In Athens, which now in some respects lagged behind the new foundations, the city's religious life was dominated by an élite to a greater degree than under the democracy in its prime (though then too the rôle of families with religious prerogatives had been recognized). The imposition of sumptuary laws and of the office of gunaikonomos to control women was an internai measure directed at the upper classes, but at Athens that office may not have outlived the philosophical tyranny of Demetrius of Phaleron. Neither were relevant to the poor18

  • 19 Patterson, op. cit., ch. 11. The various earlier forms of dependency were generally assimilated to (...)
  • 20 See, e. g., Frank W. Walbank, The Hellenistic World, London, Fontana, 1981, p. 167-175.
  • 21 The issues discussed in this essay were included in a paper on “Dangerous Women—the Subversion of (...)

28None of this is revolutionary. The most stubborn boundary, that between slave and free, endured, unaffected in practice by new philoso- phies, but the form it took universally in Old Greece was that of chattel slavery19. Slaves continued to be economic agents for individual families. While government was, in the hands of the wealthy, and economic disparities and class tensions had greatly increased20, most of the free poor were still citizens and internai social relations do not seem to have abandoned the restraint established by Athenian democracy. The conditions for women were a long way from the philosophers' nightmares of liberty and equality but, aside from the attempts at regulation of élite expenditure and display, there is no indication of any increase in repression. One suspects, though one cannot prove, that what had suited the needs of democratie Athens in practice was found now to be advantageous for the rest of a non-democratic Greek world. The Attic language was, then, not the only Athenian creation that become a koine21.


1 Moses Finley, Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, ed. B. Shaw and R. Saller, New York, Viking Press, 1982, ch. 8 ; Yvon Garlan, Les Esclaves en Grèce ancienne, 1982 (references are to the revised edition translated by Janet LIoyd, Slavery in Ancient Greece, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1988).

2 This passage is discussed by Jaqueline de Romilly, Problèmes de la démocratie grecque. Paris, Hermann, 1975, p. 113-16, who stops short of Rep. 563b.

3 “The regulation of traffîc, ' remarks Bosanquet, perhaps a little sententiously, 'is in some degree a real test of social order. '[...] No doubt this is what Plato means” (James Adam, in The Republic ofl'Plato, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1°900, on 563c). Rather, the relations of the components of a society unlike any Greece had known before are the issue. Plato, for all his amusement with the beast in the road, saw what we might call the sociological implications of democracy.

4 R. H. Randall. Jr. “The Erechtheum Workmen,» AJA 57 (1953), p. 199-210 ; Michel Austin and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Économies et sociétés en Grèce ancienne, Paris, Armand Colin, 1972, p. 300-307.

5 Revolts by the Laution minets, the first probably stimulated by reports of the Sicilian slave revolts, Diod. 34. 2. 19, Athen. 6. 272e-f ; Garlan, op. cit., p. 183-184.

6 Aristotle (Pol. 1319b) assumes that radical democracies will be lax in their standards, admitting illegitimate sons and those with only one citizen parent in order to give the demos a majority.

7 Claude Mossé, Athens in Decline 404-86 B. C., London and Boston, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973, p. 103-104, hesitates to accept the report but seems to draw conclusion from it : “We shall have to admit that if Plutarch's assertion is well founded, the Athenian demos must have countenanced the presence in its ranks of slaves, aliens and even women. This reveals the extent to which the traditional ideal of the polis had altered in a few years.» Only the admission of the disfranchised seems to me plausible, but the exaggeration is of a piece with earlier expressions of alarm.

8 J. -P. Gould, “Law, Custom and Myth : Aspects of the Social Position of Women in Classical Athens,» JHS 100 (1980), p. 57 ; Claude Mossé La Femme dans la Grèce antique. Paris, Albin Michel, 1983, p. 139-140. Cf. also the very balanced study of Roger Just Women in Athenian Law and Life, London and New York, Routledge, 1989, ch. 9 and 10. For an influential essay by an anthropologist, see Sherry ortner, “Is Female to Maie as Nature is to Culture ?” in Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, editors, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1974, p. 67-87. Cf. also the collected essays of Carole Pateman, The Disorder ofWomen. Democracy, Feminism and Political Theory, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1989. For exploration of a number of these themes in myth, see Pierre Vidal-Naquet, “Esclavage et gynécocratie dans la tradition, le mythe, l'utopie,» Le chasseur noir, Paris, 1983, p. 267-88 (translated and edited as “Slavery and the Rule of Women in Tradition, Myth and Utopia,» by R. L. Gordon in Myth, Religion and Society, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 187-200).

9 Claude Vatin, Recherches sur le mariage et la condition de la femme mariée à l'époque hellénistique, BEFAR 216 ; Paris, Boccard, p. 11 : “le poète conjure par le rire une angoisse diffuse.»

10 Julia Annas, Introduction to Plato's Republic, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981, p. 300.

11 Akolasia was characteristic of democracy in the eyes of another of its critics, cf. Isoc. 7. 20, 121. 131. I hope to offer a study of these “dangerous women” elsewhere and here only call attention to them as a further example of heightened anxiety over women in the fourth century : Ninos (Dem. 19. 281) ; Theoris ([Dem.] 25. 79-80) ; Phryne (Athen. 13. 590e) ; Sinope ([Dem.] 59. 116-117) ; Alke (Isaeus 6. 48-50) ; Neaira ([Dem.] 59). A number of these cases are reviewed from a different perspective by H. S. Versnel, Inconsistencies in Greek Religion I. Ter Unus, Leiden. E. J. Brill, 1990, p. 127-131. I know of only one prosecution for impiety in this period that does not involve a “dangerous woman,» that of a group of Delian men for asebeia in expelling Athenian administrators from the island, IG II2 1635, 134-40.

12 The fact that women of the lower class worked and left the house has been recognized in recent years but there has been less interest in its implications. Cf., e. g., Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves. Women in Classical Antiquity, New York, Schocken Books, 1975, p. 73 ; Mossé, La Femme, p. 58-59 ; Orlando Patterson, Freedom in the Makingo of Western Culture, Basic Books, 1991, p. 106-108 ; David Cohen, Law, Sexuality and Society. The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 150-154 ; Virginia J. Hunter, Policing Athens. Social Control in the Attic Lawsuits, 420-320 B. C., Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 20, 29, in a study which also explores the informai powers of Athenian women ; Elaine Fantham et al., Women in the Classical World. Image and Text, New York, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 106-109.

13 See, most recently, Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks, New York, Free Press, 1995, especially p. 478-479. Victor Ehrenberg wrote that “only very poor people of Athenian origin” would have allowed their women to work outside the house (The People of Aristophanes, New York, Schocken, 1962, p. 205). I do not see the justification for “very.» For women beyond the age of child-bearing the restrictions probably were not strongly felt. “The woman who goes out of the house should be of such an age that on meeting her one asks not whose wife (gune) she is but whose mother” (Hyperides ap. Stob. 74. 33).

14 K. J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1974, 34-35, who, however, is more inclined to suppose that jurors were in fact “fairly prosperous.» Josiah Ober, Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1989, p. 272-277, cites examples of public respect or at least tolerance for hard and even menial work, but grants that simultaneously “popular ideology reflected an aristocratic ethos which regarded all manual labor as inherently slavish [...] (277)”. For the hoplite as the ideal Athenian, cf. Hanson, op. cit., p. 384-385.

15 See, e. g., Mossé, Athens in Decline, p. 91 ; John K. Davies, Wealth and the Power of Wealth in Classical Athens, New York, Arno Press, 1981, p. 38-87 ; Paul McKechnie, Outsiders in the Greek City in the Fourth Century B. C., London and New York, Routledge, 1989 ; Edward E. Cohen, Athenian Economy and Society. A Banking Perspective, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 3-8.

16 Cf. William S. Ferguson, Hellenistic Athens. An Historical Essay, London, MacMillan, 1911, p. 85- 87 ; Vatin, op. cit. -, Pomeroy, op. cit., ch. 7 ; Rict Van Bremen, “Women and Wealth,» in Averil Cameron and Amélie Kuhrt, editors, Images of Women in Antiquity, London and Canberra, Croom Helm, p. 223-242 ; Fantham et al., op. cit., p. 155-162.

17 Cf. W. S. Ferguson, “The Attic Orgeones,” Harvard Theological Review 3 (1944), p. 69-140.

18 Vatin, op. cit., p. 254-261. Ferguson, Hellenistic Athens, p. 38-47, still valuable for details, shows himself a convinced follower of the anti-democratic critics : “[...] an élegant like Demetrius could not but be disgusted at the licence of the Athenian rabble—the lack of the respect of the young for the old, of the common for those in authority ; the impertinence of the slaves and the offensive displays of the parvenus and vain women ; in a word, at the results of the democratie theory which had sought, so far, as possible, to permit men zen hos tis bouletai (41)”.... lite anxiety would seem to have been in full flood at the beginning of the twentieth century.

19 Patterson, op. cit., ch. 11. The various earlier forms of dependency were generally assimilated to the free poor. The rural peasantry of the newly conquered regions of the east are another matter. See Garlan, op. cit., p. 106-112.

20 See, e. g., Frank W. Walbank, The Hellenistic World, London, Fontana, 1981, p. 167-175.

21 The issues discussed in this essay were included in a paper on “Dangerous Women—the Subversion of the Polis” presented to the workshop on “Reason and Religion in Fifth-century Greece” at the University of Texas at Austin in September 1996. 1 am grateful for the comments of the other participants.

© Presses universitaires de Rennes, 1997

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