Season Premiere: Women in Ancient Greece

Fleetwood Mac's best-selling album, Rumours was released in 1977.

A few weeks ago, I created a poll on Twitter asking what I should write about. Ultimately, discussions of the ancient Greek and Roman world came out on top. Although it's easy to discuss mythology, or why Zeus was less than honourable, that's not what I want to discuss today. Instead, it's important to talk about the roles of women from Greek Antiquity.

Before we get started, it's important to note my first two horror collections are now available in paperback.

In some cases, women directly participated in warfare. Of course, Ares is known as the "god of war" (sorry, Kratos), Artemis holds her own when it comes to combat and military skills- so does Athena. It's no surprise that women in the real world played an active role in waging war. This doesn't necessarily refer to female warriors, but there is certainly evidence of that.

"fair use"

Other than female warriors, women did play a major role in defending cities when attacking soldiers were about to make their way over the surrounding walls. In some cases, women protected the cities by throwing ceramic pots at the head's of invading soldiers; often causing them to fall from the city walls and to their death.

Today Artemis is identified from Greek mythology as the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon and the twin sister of Apollo. Artemis is the goddess of wild Nature, a virgin huntress for the other deities. She is goddess of the moon, as her brother Apollo is god of the sun. She has a triple aspect associated with the sky as Selene, the moon goddess, Artemis on earth, and Hecate in the lower world. This triple aspect is also associated with youth maturity and death. She is often represented as a lithe young woman with a bow and arrow. Her femaleness is associated with youth and birth. The bow and arrow, with which she shoots her victims, represents death, often caused by sickness. Her realm then, as conceived by her parents is wild nature, with maidenhood and the protection of nursing mothers in that realm. Death due to sickness is also included. (

With the few sources historians have found from female writers of Antiquity, these writers often "glorified" warfare. This juxtaposes the mindset of warfare in the 21st century. More specifically, the response to war is much different. In ancient Greece, warfare was viewed as a "contest", and a "tournament" for glory.

Some female poets of Antiquity wrote about this, and romanticized the issue of men going to fight in battle. However, female writers did not always write about warfare. According to Jone Johnson Lewis, "Sappho of Lesbos was a Greek poet who wrote from about 610 to about 580 B.C.E. Her works include some poems about love of women for women." (Johnson Lewis, 2019)

Unfortunately, much of her poetry was lost by the time the Middle Ages rolled around. Furthermore, only one poem has survived- and it's just sixteen lines of a complete poem.

A common misconception is that Sappho's poems were all about love. We don't necessarily have a way of proving that. However, it was a common social activity to share written work or poetry with other women on the island of Lesbos. Whether the connection Sappho shared with other women were "sexual" remains unclear, yet people continue to speculate. Regardless of the nature of their relationship, it's clear these women shared an important intellectual connection; and perhaps that's why Sappho wrote the poems she wrote.

Although mostly believed to be fiction (and from literature of the time), there was the story of the "Amazons."

The Amazons were an ancient, all-female warrior race. Despite being a (likely) fictional race of enhanced human beings, the Amazons have played a significant role in the epic poetry drawn from Greek Antiquity.

The story of the Amazons comes from the cultural idea of a "distant land", opposite from our own. The mystery behind this was something that fascinated the people of Antiquity. According to myths, one of Hercules' twelve labours was to visit the Amazons to challenge Hippolyte, their queen. In another story, Penthesilea led an army of Amazons to fight for Troy against the Greeks, but she was killed by Achilles (much to his regret).

So, how can we explain the survival of an all-female civilization, past a single generation? Well, it's likely they had relationships with men from different areas.

(c) Justice League (2017)

So, let's consider Amazon culture in the modern world. "Wonder Woman" first appeared in All Star Comics #8, on October 21, 1941. In just a few weeks, the character will celebrate an 80th anniversary.

(c) DC Comics

However, the character herself is about 5,000 years old. "How is that possible?" readers might ask. Well, Princess Diana of Themiscyra is a demigod. Although she can be killed through a violent death, Diana is more or less living forever. She's immortal.

Aside from immortality, expert hand-to-hand combat, high intelligence, Diana is the most respected warrior from Paradise Island. Interestingly, she was close to 5,000 years old when she joined the Justice League of America.

(c) DC Comics

With respect to Wonder Woman's origin story, this is very much a way of the Amazon myth surviving in modern culture. I must confess, this was the first place I heard of the Amazons. The world of comic books is famous for this. Writers will take previously-existing stories, and make it their own. There's something beautiful about that.

Is Diana immortal? Yes. Can she die? Also "yes" if you include violent death. In recent weeks, I've been reading some "Wonder Woman" comics, and want to read them as much as possible going forward. In terms of final thoughts, there is some legitimacy to the Amazon myth. Special thanks to DC Comics for bringing this concept to modern culture.

What are your thoughts? Let us know what you liked about our season premiere!

The Modernist Son, 2020-2021.

Further Reading:

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All