He wrote: “The man is by nature fitter for command than the female just as an older person is superior to a younger, more immature person.”
Although some men disagreed, most Greeks accepted the view that women must be guided by men. In court, fathers or guardians represented women, as they did for children. In well-to-do Athenian homes, women lived a secluded existence, shut off and “protected” from the outside world.
Greek playwrights such as Sophocles, and Aristophanes prominently featured women or families in their tragedies and comedies. Social, political, and religious issues often were played out within family dramas, as in Sophocles's Antigone, where a heroine's disobedience of a ruler's command puts her into conflict with her uncle and guardian. In Aristophanes's comedy, The Clouds, a father tries to take control of his spendthrift son.
Women played their most significant public role in religion. Their participation in sacred processions and ceremonies was considered essential for the city's well-being. In well-to-do Athenian homes, women managed the entire household. They spun and wove, cared for their children, and prepared food, but lived a secluded existence and were rarely seen in public. Their slaves or children were sent to buy food and to fetch water from the public well. Only poor women went shopping alone in Athens.
This drinking cup from 480 B.C. illustrates subjects Athenian boys studied: speech and playing the lyre. How does this image show the differences between Athenian and Spartan systems of education?
They worked outside the home, often beside their husbands. They obtained water, did the family wash in a stream, and tended sheep or worked as spinners, weavers, or potters.
Unlike girls, who received little or no formal education, boys attended school if their families could afford it. Besides learning to read and write, they studied music, and memorized poetry. Equally important, they learned the skill of public speaking because, as citizens in a democracy, they would have to voice their views.
Young men received military training and, to keep their bodies healthy, participated in athletic contests. Unlike Sparta, which put military training above all else, Athens encouraged young men to explore many areas of knowledge.
An entire Greek family brings a bull for sacrifice to Asclepius, the god of health, and Hygieia, his daughter (the large figures at left), in this marble relief from the 400s B.C.
How was democracy limited in Athens?
Strong local identification, an independent spirit, and economic rivalry led to fighting among the Greek city-states. Despite these divisions, Greeks shared a common culture.