Family Life in Ancient Greece

Question: my question is about the change in Family Structure after Alexander the Great conquered Athens

someone told me that greek men didnt live with thier wife
(i mean they didnt sleep together, were together, see each other…etc)
and so love between husband and wife almost didnt exists
but it changes after the war because Alexander revoked the rights of citizen.

  1. i want to know where can i find article about this subject. like what were the changes and how it effect on the changes.
  2. if there is any compositionspieces or anything in art that can prove it – i will glad.
  3. (if you can) what were the relationship between the husband and wife

Answer: I am not convinced that Alexander had that much effect on the culture of Athens according to the following:
“Athens restored again its democratic constitution, after the unification by force of Greece from Phillip II of Macedon and later Alexander the Great, but it was politically shadowed by the Hellenistic empires. Finally after the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC, Athens was restricted to matters of local administration.” (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_democracy)

In ancient Greece the sexes were quite separated, especially among the upper classes. In the finer houses there were separate women’s rooms usually on the second floor. But Odysseus describes a bed big enough for he and his wife which he made himself. In the play “Lysystrata” by Aristophanes there are numerous husbands demonstrating love for their wives. But a common story is that the Greek aristocrat kept his wife for children and turned to a hetaerae for companionship. The ancient Greeks slept in a bed called a kline which has room only for one person. The demise of this system may have more to do with economic necessity than anything else invce the weathy would be the ones sleeping apart while the poor slept together. Family structure varies a lot with social standing. Even today many poor families sleep together in a bunch. Only upper classes get to sleep in separate beds.

In ancient Greece as in Africa today in many areas the women of the family are compelled to rise early to fetch water so the men could have a meal at sunrise before they go to work. Because of their separate roles the men and women would lose time together. This may be why the symposium was for men only; the women had to turn in early so they could get up early and fetch water. The only women who could stay with the men were the higher status women who did not need to fetch water.

In Euripides, “Electra” line 54 Electra states, “O black night, nurse of the golden stars, [55] in which I go to the river’s streams, bearing this pitcher resting on my head” and demonstrates her demoted station in life.

Question: Still, maybe hard for me to accept, that such wonderful culture admired male body and didn’t female too –
why in Rome this view change? Why the Greek culture “hated” so much the relationship with female? and what made this changes?

Answer: Ancient Greece was a wonderful culture because of the ideas it developed and what it did with those ideas. Some of the ideas seem fresh to us because we have adopted them. But other ideas were not adopted by later cultures. The nude male body was associated with the hero and the athlete. This was not a sexual association. Later when the nude female body was valued by the Greeks there came a sexual association with the nude male as well.

The Romans understood aesthetic value of the Greek art but they did not appreciate the religious value. The nude athlete performed as a part of a religious festival. The Romans displayed the Greek art for their own pleasure.

The ancient Greeks did not hate the relation to the female. But they did seem to think the female took away from the focus and strength of the hero. That the relation between the sexes was different for the deities and for the mortals suggests that the status of the female deteriorated over time. In fact during the Mycenaean period the female was economically vital while during the classical period their importance fell off. Yet their importance for the production and raising of children was still recognized.

During the classical period there was much emphasis on the fact that men were responsible for their children and not those fathered by someone else. Women were somewhat confined to the home simply because this helped to assure that everyone knew who fathered the children.


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