Spartan Women

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Famous Spartan Women

1. Helen of Sparta / Troy

  • Extraordinarily beautiful. 'Face that launched 1000 ships.'

2. Gorgo- daughter of King Kleomenes and wife of Leonidas.

  • Mentioned by Plutarch and Herodotus- "only Spartan women give birth to real men"
  • Herodotus: Tell Kleomenes- "Daddy send this foreigner [Aristogoras] away before he corrupts you".           Figuring out exiled Demaratus' secret message about the Persian invasion.

3. Cynisca: 'little pup'

  • First woman to win in Olympics- though women weren't allowed. Trained winning horses.
  • Sister of Agesilaus (Xenophon may have known her).
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Plutarch- Sayings of Spartan Women

"Let the poor cowards be mourned, but with never a tear I do bury you, my son, who are mine, yea, and Sparta's aswell."

  • Mother learns of son's death. Mourn cowards: brought disgrace. Honour the dead- brought glory to Sparta.

"Ill report is spread about you: either clear yourself of this, or stop your living"

  • Letter from mother to son who fled battle. Either prove accusations wrong or kill yourself in shame.

"Say not so, strangers; Brasidas was a noble and gallant man, but Sparta has many better than he."

  • Brasidas' mother refutes claims that he was the best. Even a man like Brasidas isn't exceptional in Sparta.
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Plutarch- Life of Lycurgus

Exercised: discus, javelin- physical fitness.

Immodest: exercised/danced/sang nude.

Unusual marriage ceremony:

  • Woman captured, head shaved, sack and belt, dark room
  • New husband goes back to male dorm- sneak out at night to visit her.

Spouses may not see each other until after the births of several children.

Reinforces gravestone, chapter 44.

Due to physical fitness: girls "would meet the challenge of childbirth in a succefful and relaxed way."

"Girls would make fun of the youung men"- instruct them on their behaviour.

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Xenophon- Chapter 1, Spartan Society

Exercised as much as men: become strong parents for strong children.

Job was child-bearing only- key role for Spartan success. Helot women did other jobs.

Married at 'physical peak' for fertility.

No adultery: open marriages with husband's permission. All for strong children.

Only had a gravestone if they died in childbirth: for glory of Sparta. (Like hoplites only had one if they died in battle).

Marriage wasn't really a concept of love.

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Aristotle

Deeply misogynistic views:

Blame for fall of Sparta.

Caused panic and disruption when Thebes invaded.

Lycurgus couldn't control them: gynocracy. They 'lived luxuriously' compared to men.

Owned 2/5 land. -Caused decline in population by unequal wealth distribution.

Prevents thriving population- depriving men?

Had more power when men away (true).

Larger roles than any other Greek women. Kept life going when men away.

Have significant influence: if men fight all day, women have to watch out for helots.

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Aristophanes

Lysistrata:

Comedy, physically fit (bibasis - heel to buttock jumps)

Lusted after by Greek world (+Athens). Pokes fun at 'Athenian concept' of 'thigh flashers'

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