Education of Women in Ancient Greece

There can be little doubt of the educational accomplishments of the women of ancient Greece. There are numerous women including Sappho and Aspasia who exhibited talents that can only be gotten through education. There is a question as to how they achieved their education. There was dramatic development of schools in ancient Greece, but most of this developement seems directed at schools for boys instead of girls. Many of the institutions in ancient Greece were separated by sex. Women supposedly stayed in the home while men worked outside of the home. There were separate festivals for men only, and separate festivals for women only. There is a possibility that separate but equal facilities were provided for girls but it seems unlikely. In the case of the ancient Olympics there was the Heraea, but while there is much information about the ancient Olympics there is but one reference to the Herarea. The Festival at Olympia was a festival for men that has been extremely influential down through the years. Only recently has it seemed to impact women. Likewise the Dionysia seems to have provided the basis for theater, but theater is an area where women have made little progress until recently.

That education started at Olympia is suggested by the fact that the word for school in ancient Greek is gymnasium. The word ‘gymnasium’ means literally ‘house of nudity’. The first gymnasium was probably at Olympia because it was there in 720 BCE that Orsippos or Orrhippos was the first athlete to run nude. After that a gymnasium would be needed at Olympia to prepare athletes for the contest. It should be obvious that the use of this building quickly expanded from an undressing space to one that prepared the athletes in other ways. It is also interesting to note that illustrations of ancient trainers often included a switch much like the ones used by judges at the Olympics used to punish the athletes for their transgressions. Early on this type of training must have been quite punitive. As this type of training expanded into the area of music the training seems to have been more by example. Aristotle suggests that an early gymnasium included training in athletics, music, reading and writing, and drawing.

Though the education of young girls could not have been done at Olympia, there is some indication of education for women along similar lines. Particularly noteworthy was the early development of choruses for girls and women at the same time that the gymnasium was developing. Female choruses are mentioned by Herodotus as bieng used by the Aeginetans Hdt. (5.83). Pausanius states that “Lacedaemonian maidens hold chorus-dances’ (Paus. 3.10.7). Plato even refers to chorus girls in the context of reveling (Plat. Theaet. 173d). A fairly good point can be made that the chorus girls would have to be able to read or they would have spent a lot of time memorizing the songs that they sang. Hence the thought that they would have been subjected to training.

Plato explains at length the importance of choral training. Plato, Laws 654a: “Shall we … postulate that education owes its origin to Apollo and the Muses? … Shall we assume that the uneducated man is without choir-training, and the educated man fully choir-trained?” meaning that “the well-educated man will be able both to sing and dance well”

Plato is specific in the nature of this education of children when he says: Plato, Laws 2.659d: “that education is the process of drawing and guiding children towards that principle which is pronounced right by the law and confirmed as truly right by the experience of the oldest and the most just. So in order that the soul of the child may not become habituated to having pains and pleasures in contradiction to the law and those who obey the law, but in conformity thereto, being pleased and pained at the same things as the old man,—[659e] for this reason we have what we call ‘chants,’ which evidently are in reality incantations1 seriously designed to produce in souls that conformity and harmony of which we speak. But inasmuch as the souls of the young are unable to endure serious study, we term these ‘plays’ and ‘chants,’ and use them as such,—just as, when people suffer from bodily ailments and infirmities, those whose office it is try to administer to them nutriment that is wholesome in meats [660a] and drinks that are pleasant, but unwholesome nutriment in the opposite, so that they may form the right habit of approving the one kind and detesting the other. Similarly in dealing with the poet, the good legislator will use noble and laudable phrases to persuade him—and, failing persuasion, he will compel him—to portray by his rhythms the gestures, and by his harmonies the tunes, of men who are temperate, courageous, and good in all respects, and thereby to compose poems aright.”

Women were educated at home except for music and dance lessons.
Often they were educated by their husbands, brothers, or fathers and some
greek women were very well educated. Hetaera had special schools where they
learned entertaining, conversation, and rhetoric. Slaves were not educated.
If they were educated before they became slaves, they could work for their
freedom. Some of the women of every age participated in the activities of the temples. There they were taught by the older women dances, prayers, and rituals.

Hetaera with a lyre
Hetaera with a lyre

Boys were educated in schools; girls were more often educated at home. Boys
learned grammar, rhetoric, dialectic – these were meant to help students
communicate effectively, and included a study of literature and language –
arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy. Girls were taught weaving and
other household chores, dancing, music, and physical education. As with the boys,
girls were organized into age groups. These groups often involved choruses at
a local temple or cult site. The chorus was led by a superior peer plus a female adult.
In the choruses song and dance was taught. These were the items to be performed at various religios festivals. Because the songs involved the poetry of legend and myth they
had the opportunity to learn the myth and history of their ancestors. Girls could also be involved in temple service which coul last for a number of months. (Prent, Cretan Sanctuaries and cults, p487) Girls
intended to be hetaerae were educated in schools where they also learned
grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic.
In fact Greek women
seem to have been the best educated women of any culture up until fairly
recently into the 19th century.

Culture involves skills that are passed on by education and training
and are devloped by discipline and practice. Women have always been involved
with their own culture related to the family and child rearing. But they
have always been involved in early childhood education as well. In many
societies they are involved in later aspects of education as well. In ancient
Greece the separation of women emphasized a separate women’s culture with
special religious holidays and festivals.

Women told stories around the fire after the evening meal
Women told stories

In the dialog “Protagoras” by Plato, Progaoras provides a comprehensive statement of the involvement of women in education both as adults and children. There he states: “[325c]They teach and admonish them from earliest childhood till the last day of their lives. As soon as one of them grasps what is said to him, the nurse, the mother, the tutor, and the father himself strive hard [325d] that the child may excel, and as each act and word occurs they teach and impress upon him that this is just, and that unjust, one thing noble, another base, one holy, another unholy, and that he is to do this, and not do that. If he readily obeys,—so; but if not, they treat him as a bent and twisted piece of wood and straighten him with threats and blows.” Protagoras goes on to detail later stages of education in ancient Greece, but there is some doubt if women particitated much in these.

Music was one of the main subjects for the education of
women. Some women became important in the area of entertainment. Ancient
Greece laid the theoretical foundation for contemporary polyphonic music so
it is probable that the women of Greece had their effect.

Aritotle, in his Politics, makes a number of interesting comments about education.
Book VII Chapter 3: ” The customary branches of education are in number four; they are — (1) reading and writing, (2) gymnastic exercises, (3) music, to which is sometimes added (4) drawing.
1338a12: And therefore our fathers admitted music into education, not on the ground either of its necessity or utility, for it is not necessary, nor indeed useful in the same manner as reading and writing, which are useful in money-making, in the management of a household, in the acquisition of knowledge and in political life, nor like drawing, useful for a more correct judgment of the works of artists, nor again like gymnastic, which gives health and strength; for neither of these is to be gained from music.”

The emphasis that he places on music in interesting because of the emphasis he places on music. He seems to rank music higher than the other area because it has no practical use in his opinion. This seems at odds with the fact that this is the emphasis for women’s education, yet they are ranked lower.

Before the Trojan war women in Greece voted, but they lost their
vote because men felt that they voted irresponsibly. They did not regain the
vote until well into the twentieth century as a result of woman sufferage.
One of the problems was that women did not receive the same education as men.
Men received a formal education, while women would be educated only if they
pursued it. Only hetaerae were educated about the affairs of men but they
were not considered citizens. The idea was that women did not need a formal
education because they did not need to compete with men. The fallacy of this
is that women need to support the work of the men and if they are not educated
then they cannot provide support. Also women are invariably involved with
the early education of all children. If they are well educated then they can
provide more adequate and accurate education in the early years. Recent
research has shown that this early education is vital for establishing goals
and skills that are important for later life. If women are properly educated
then they serve their role as women better and they can vote responsibly.

The schools of ancient Greece were so effective and well known that they
have been widely copied. This is even true of the schools today. They
had their day divided by subject periods and they studied similar to those
today. A teacher presented subjects according to his skill to students divided
by age. A school usually included a gymnasium where physical training was
done as well.

Girls were trained for marriage while boys were educated to become warriors. In the
Politics Aristotle emphasizes this as follows: Education of women: Politics 1260a20
“…the temperance of a man and of a woman, or the courage and justice of a man and of a woman, are not, as Socrates maintained, the same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying. And this holds of all other virtues, as will be more clearly seen if we look at them in detail, for those who say generally that virtue consists in a good disposition of the soul, or in doing rightly, or the like, only deceive themselves. Far better than such definitions is their mode of speaking, who, like Gorgias, enumerate the virtues. All classes must be deemed to have their special attributes; as the poet says of women,
“Silence is a woman’s glory,”

Sparta was one of the few places about which we possess a fair amount of information. In Sparta education of girls took place in the sanctuaries of Artemis at the margin of Spartan territory. Artemis, the goddess of maidenhood, was the main Greek goddess of girls’ education. At the temples scantily clad girls started their initiation with physical exercises. They were instructed through music and dancing in choruses. Evidence from other cities such as Athens confirms that this was the custom all over Greece. Girls were considered to be like wild animals that had to be tamed. For this reason they were called “bears” in Athens. This is reflected in mythology where the names of girls such as the Leukippides and Hipponoe are found. This suggests that girls were compared to wild mares who had to be domesticated.

During their final training for motherhood, aristocratic girls in Sparta had to pass through a lesbian affair. This was similar to the island of Lesbos, where Sappho instructed groups of aristocratic girls. In this period, special stress was laid on enhancing their physical beauty, so that their marriages would be successfully consummated. Helen of Troy (Sparta) was included in the cult practice because of the importance and effect of her beauty. She was actually worshiped as a goddess in Sparta. In fact, in a number of Greek cities, a beauty contest constituted the end of girls’ initiation. The protection of Artemis lasted until the birth of the first child, for motherhood, not loss of virginity, was the definitive entry into the world of adult women.

Plato compares the training in Sparta to what the princes of Persia must have received as training. He is not very complimentary about how women may have done training. He says: (Plato Laws 694d) “Probably he spent all his life from boyhood in soldiering, and
entrusted his children to the women folk to rear up; and they brought them up
from earliest childhood as though they had already attained to Heaven’s favour
and felicity, and were lacking in no celestial gift; and so by treating them as
the special favorites of Heaven, and forbidding anyone to oppose them, in
anything, and compelling everyone to praise their every word and deed, they
reared them up into what they were.”

Many details of Greek girls’ training can be found in the myths concerning Artemis, even though they tend, as myths so often do, to concentrate on the most dramatic part of the story: the final entry into marriage. The “taming” of a girl is expressed in a number of myths that all circle around her resistance to “domestication.” The pursuit of the Proetides, the capture of Thetis by Peleus or of Persephone by Hades, the races to win Atalante, and even the capture of Helen by Paris-all these myths are concerned with the perceived resistance of girls to enter wedlock. Greek mythology tends to emphasize a man’s poit of view but not without revealing some of what women had to endure.

Resources:

  • Hanson, Victor Davis/ Heath, John, “Who Killed Homer : The Demise of
    Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom”, Encounter Books,
    April 2001, Dimensions: 9.01″ x 5.98″ x 1.05″, Paperback, ISBN: 1893554260
  • Winterer, Caroline, “Culture of Classicism : Ancient Greece and Rome in
    American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910″, Johns Hopkins University Press,
    December 2001, Dimensions: 9.22″ x 6.3″ x 0.89”, Hardcover, Category:
    History/Ancient – General, ISBN: 0801867991

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Questions and Answers

Question: What were the moral and ethical values of the men and women of
Ancient Greece?

Answer: This is not an easy question because the Greeks were strongly
moral, were aware of their morality, and argued about it a lot. Aristotle
wrote a whole book about ethics and much of Plato is concerned with ethical
clarification. The great damatists of Ancient Greece were concerned to
present moral questions in their dramas. Many persons have spent their whole
lives studying this question with the satisfaction that they received a
wonderful education by studying the ancient Greek literature.

In his Nichomachean Ethics Book X:Ch.8 Aristotle says: “For if the
gods have any care for human affairs, as thay are thought to have, it would be
reasonable both that they should delight in that which was best and most akin
to them (i.e. reason) and that they should reward those who love and honor
this most, as caring for the things that are dear to them and acting both
rightly and nobly. And that all these attributes belong most of all to
the philosopher is manifest. He, therefore, is the dearest to the gods.
And he who is that will presumably be also the hapiest; so that in this way
too the philosopher will more than any other be happy.” This is a very general
statement. After your consideration you may wish to investigate specifics.

Question: in what respects did the lifestyle of women in the 5th century
Athens differ from that of women elsewhere in Greece?

Answer: The standard of living was higher in Athens. There was better
art and more opportunities for education. More import goods were available
there.

Question: I have a paper to write And i was wondering if you could help me,
here is the question: Did the representation of masculinity and/or femininity
in Greek tragedy challenge or affirm conventional gender roles in 5th century
Athens?

Answer: This is an interesting subject, but you will be better off if you
investigate if they are a challenge to gender roles today. This is especially
important in the light of 19th century education. Was a person like Susan
B. Anthony influenced by the Greek literature that was commonly used in
schools at her time?

Question: beauty

Answer: Beauty is an easy subject because it is lovable. It is also attractive. The ancient Greeks considered it also valuable. A family with a beautiful daughter could look forward to gifts from men suitors. When Helen left with Paris her family thought her beauty was so valuable that they launched an army to get her back. Some women such as Leda were so beautiful that they got the attention of Zeus and they were raped by him. This was not the destructive rape that so often occurs but one that results in the birth of a hero.

Question: what kinds of arts and crafts did greeks do?

Answer: The Ancient Greeks did not distinguish arts and crafts and referred
to them all as crafts. They did many different kinds of crafts including:

  • woodworking including furniture and ship building.
  • metalwork including statuary, weaponry, implements, utensils, and jewelry.
  • stone carving including sculpture, plaques, and gemstones
  • ceramics of all kinds: utensils, figurines, plaques, masks
  • weaving
  • painting and illustration
  • architecture

Question: what educational fields could women do

Answer: The only formal education that an ordinary woman could pursue was
music and dancing. If a woman was to be a hetaera there were special schools
that taught other subjects including retoric. But Greek women were fortunate
that there were so many educated people because they could educate themselves
if they wished. Many women did that. A few women disguised themselves as
men and attended the schools for men.

Question: I think men in ancient Greece are sexists!

Answer: So do a lot of other people. But how do you account for the fact
that women flourished in ancient Greece as they did in no other country up
until the 17th century? And they may have flourished more than anywhere
at any time, but that is debatable. What we have from ancient Greece is what
men thought of women, but not what women thought of men. Man and women were segregated with separate organizations and activities. The men valued reading and writing highly. Women did not and so few writings from them remain.

Question: How did Philosophers affect ancient greek society Sat, 18 Nov 2000
16:45:56 -0500 (EST)

Answer: Philosophers provided the higher education of the ancient Greek
society. They also provided considerable material for discussion and
entertainment at the popular symposiums.

Question: group of women who were very educated they had a certain name what was it?

Answer: Women philophers were very educated.

Question: ho weducated were the woman in ancient greece?

Answer: Some of the women were very well educated and accomplished. But
they got that way by educating themselves for the most part.

Question: In the play Medea, what were the rights for women
like?

Answer: At no time in Ancient Greece did women have any rights. The notion
of rights was new and only male citizens of some of the Greeks states had
rights.

Question: what about hypatia?

Answer: Hypatia was an Alexandrian Greek who lived during later Roman times.
See: Hypatia of Alexandria

Question: what was the deference between womens education in Athens and in Sparta ?

Answer: Women in Sparta were trained in athletics.

Question: what did spartan girls learn?

Answer: From their mother they learned how to have families and do
housework. In school they were trained in athletics. Some may have been
trained to sing, dance, and play an instrument.

Question: communal bathing

Answer: This did occur, among women mostly. This was associated with
bringing water and washing clothes.

Question: Why were Greek men taught music but not women?

Answer: Greek men were required to attend school and music was one of the
subjects in their curriculum. Some Greek women attended school. In these
schools often music and dance were the only subjects. The hetaerae attended
special schools which included music as part of the curriculum.

Question: hi, i have to do a persuasive speech on ancient greek education and i was going to say that athenian education was better than spartan do u have any ideas that i could include to make it better?

Answer: You are in trouble. It is not at all clear that Athenian education
is better than Spartan. The Athenians only showed superiority in their
advanced education. The Athenian system of advanced education was the best
in the world for over a thousand years. But the Spartans probably had better
early education. Spartan women spent all their time on the care and education
of their children. This education eventually allowed the Spartans to defeat
the Athenians. But after the conquest of Greece by Alexander the advanced
education of Athens allowed it to prosper. The system of Sparta collapsed.
Today it is clear that both types of education are required.

Question: In reference to one of the questions below (Greek men are sexist!) and your reply, (then how did women get so far in their society?) I pose this: If Greek men weren’t sexist, then how does the conflict between men and women come up in “Lysistrata?”

Answer: Surely some of the Greek men were sexist. But the women were
protected from these men by being isolated. They were also protected by
marriage conventions and fear of the goddesses. But the facts of Lysistrata
involve a comic inversion that requires interpretation.

Question: Spartan women when they reached the age of 30?

Answer: Spartan men could live with their families after age 30 but the women
were usually married by the time they were 18.

Question: In Homer’s epic “The Odessey” why were women treated the way they were?

Answer: Custom, Religion, Necessity.

Question: why are you going on about this, all the acient greeks are long dead. i know women have long way to go but going on about how acient greek girl were taught or not taught isn`t going solve any prlomblems women face in the workplace is it p.s. i am a woman

Answer: It is unlikely that women will ever get anywhere without a lot of
hard work and study. The fact is that studying about the ancient Greeks is
one of the best ways to get a good education. Ancient Greek learning is
the foundation upon which much contemporary learning is based. It takes only
a little study of ancient Greek women to realize that the study of these
women will provide many valuable insights. You may be a woman but you have
yet to achieve a good education. Why wait?

Question: if women stayed most of thier time at home, what did they do?

Answer: Women were not caged or kept under lock and key. They stayed home
because of custom. The wealthier women spent more time at home than the
poorer ones. There were many things to do in the home. Mainly the wives had
to bear and raise children. They also carried water and wastes and cleaned.
Cooking was a common activity. Weaving was a creative activity that even rich
women performed. Women also performed music and read books sometimes. Often
slave women would do the menial cleaning while rich ones wove and read books.
There did not seem to be much visiting from house to house. Visiting was
accomplished at the many festivals which included the women.

Question: Prove/Disprove – women living in oligarchic sparta were more liberated than women in democratic athens

Answer: The proof is provided by references which I will not now provide
but I will provide statements which I believed to be true for which references
can be found:

  • Spartan women were freed of all duies except child bearing.
  • Spartan women could own property.
  • Spartan women could participate in Athletics (perhaps in the nude).

But

  • Spartan women had to submit to being raped by their husband.
  • Spartan women had to submit their babies to a review of a committee of men.
  • Spartan women could not live with their husband until they had been married for about ten years so they lived with their parents.

Question: was school in side or out side

Answer: Mostly school was outside under a shade tree. Sometimes it was on a
porch. More rarely it was inside. To the ancient Greeks school was a place
where the students gathered at their leisure to listen to the teachers who
gathered there.

Question: Pictures of Schools?

Answer:

Question: who was phallaria?

Answer: Someone who has a butterfly named after her. ‘φάλλαινα’ means ‘whale’. But the Latin spelling of this word is ‘ballaena’, This is from the Indo-European ‘bhel-2’, ‘To blow, swell, with derivitives releted to various round objects and to the notion of tumescent masculinity’. The second part of the name ‘aria’ is from ‘we-‘, ‘to blow’ and relates to the English word ‘air’. The name might mean ‘balloon’

An interesting possibility is that she is the nymph that Ochis tried to rape and the one who prayed that he come back to life and became the orchid flower.

Question: What were schools like?

Answer: Schools involved a teacher who spoke to students to teach them.
Sometimes the teachers and students asked questions of each other. Students
had few books to read. They did learn to read and write. They carried books
with pages made of wood. Each of the pages had a recess that was filled with
wax or clay. The students wrote in these books with a stylus. Students were
taught rhetoric, mathematics, music, and athletics. Often there was no school
room with classes taught in the shade of a tree. Students were often
accompanied to school by a slave who helped them learn.

Question: why dont u put imformation about young girls on this website because i am trying to find imformation for my report

Answer: Young girls were taught mainly by their mother. Some got to go to
school. There they learned music and athletics mainly, but girls that
were preparing to be a hetaera learned rhetoric as well. Some girls were
taught academic subjects by their brothers or fathers.

Question: did women want to be educated

Answer: Some women were naturally inquisitive and sought all the education
they could get. Some felt obligated to learn the trade of their husband so
they could help him out. Others wanted to please their husband so they
listened to their husband’s instruction. But others were more interested in
women’s work and remained uneducated.

Question: What was required of Spartan girls during their education process?

Answer: Though they had more educational opportunities than other Greek
girls, very little was required of them. They were encouraged to taunt the
boys by exercising naked in front of them and shouting at them as they
exercised. Some of their education was devoted to physical training which
was supposed to make then be better able to endure childbirth.

Question: why did women have very few rigts in ancient societies?

Answer: For the most part no one had any rights. Only a few men in ancient
Greece had rights because these men invented the concept of rights. We are
lucky that they did this because now we can talk about rights for all people.

Question: i need pictures on anicent greece education

Answer:

Question: What are the differences between the education of women in Ancient
Sparta and women in Ancient Athens

Answer: Education was prescribed for women in Sparta while in Athens it was
optional. Spartan education emphasized athletics, while Athens emphasized
music and dance for women.

Question: Where can primary sources (copies of) regarding the education of women in ancient Greece be found?

Answer: This is tough. I think most of the primary sources come from hellenistic and Roman commentators on Greek works. Pausanius and Plutarch are examples of this type of person. But there are a number of scholars who have compiled collections of these writings as relates to women and you may find resources there. For example:
Click here. Mary R. Lefkowitz also wrote Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation Click here which may be helpful.

Question: why were the Hetaerae educated in ancient greece if they were little more than prostitutes? what was the reasonong or the benifits of education women deemed for such a life, espically if they were not classed as greek citizens?

Answer: Hetaerae were much more than prostitutes. They were more like Dolly in the play “Hello Dolly”(1964). They were expected to be entertainers and the Greek men expected them to hold an intelligent conversation. They were also expected to make interesting speaches. They were not citizens because no women were citizens. In Greece Hetaerae were free women. Prostitutes were slaves. They were freer that the wives and daughters of Greek men who were confined to their house except for special occaisions.

3 thoughts on “Education of Women in Ancient Greece”

  1. I am writing a paper and I need to know the 5 w’s and the h about girls in Athens and girls in Sparta: who, what, where, why, when, and how.

  2. I know many people are probably wondering the history of both the Ancient Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta. Athens was more focused on philosophy, nature, intelligence and the importance of education, where Sparta was focused on war, battle, and creating fierce soldiers that will become a success in the military. In fact, boys were already separated from their mothers at age 7 and would set off to the military. Hope someone found this helpful!

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