Women and Girdles in Ancient Greece

There are numerous references to girdles in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

An anaysis of these references will be performed with an eye to reconstructing
what a girdle might have looked like. This is particularly interesting because it might reveal some nature of the Minoan influence on classical Greek culture. Mycenaean images do suggest that the Minoan influence was strong. An important consideration is the technology of weaving in the Minoan an Mycenaean Cultures. The Mycenaean culture was an Indo-European culture as evidenced by the nature of their proto-Greek language. The Indo-European language is rich in words related to weaving so the Myceneans may have had an advantage here. The typical classical attire, the peplos for women, and the chiton for men, are based mainly on rectangles of cloth that are easily woven. The pictures of the Minoans show clothing that is more fitted to the body. One possible explanation for this is that the Minoan garments were not woven but were rather knotted or simply made of string.

Consider Iliad, 14.181: ” and she girt about her a girdle set with an hundred tassels.

The Greek word for girdle that is used here is ‘ζώνῃ’. The meaning here implies no more than a belt or cord that circles around. Attached are tassels or fringe ‘θυσάνοις’. Since Homer uses this same term to apply to the tassels of the Aegis of Athena at 2.448 it seems unlikely that a string skirt is described. But it could be the apron of the Minoan attire. At any rate around the waist seems the likely location.

Consider Iliad, 14.214: “She spake, and loosed from her bosom the broidered girdle, [215] curiously-wrought, wherein are fashioned all manner of allurements; therein is love, therein desire, therein dalliance–beguilement that steals the wits even of the wise.”

The Greek word for girdle that is used here is the phrase “κεστὸν ἱμάντα” and this tranlates literally as embroidered belt. The word ‘κεστὸν’ is related to the Greek word ‘κεντέω’ which means ‘to prick’. Later the word ‘κεστὸς’ was used to mean ‘girdle’. In this case the girdle could not be a cord as before but must be broader like a belt.

Then at Iliad, 14.214: “This (Aphrodite) laid in her hands, and spake, and addressed her: Take now and lay in thy bosom this girdle,”. The greek word translated as bosom in this case is ‘κόλπος’. A better translation would be ‘womb’. Rather than being above the waist this girdle is below the waist and covers the womb.

At Iliad 23.260. “and fair-girdled women” The word Homer uses is ‘ἐϋζώνους’. Essentially he seems to mean well clothed so the reference is to all the garments.

At Odyssey 3.154 “and put on board our goods and the low-girdled women.”
The word Homer uses is ‘βαθύζωνος’. This probably does not relate to the location of the girdle. Rather it is a reference to the fact that Trojan women wore their garments with deep folds.

At Odyssey 3.154 “and about her waist she cast a fair girdle of gold,..”. The word for girdle used is ‘ζώνην’ and there is no doubt about its location.

Goddesses wear almost transparent dresses and girdles that are not
cords or thongs. It could be a chain or a series of plates, but more likely it is an embroidered belt with the pieces of gold stiched on.

At Odyssey 10.543: “Round about me then she cast a cloak and tunic as raiment, and the nymph clothed herself in a long white robe, finely-woven and beautiful, and about her waist she cast [545] a fair girdle of gold, and upon her head she put a veil. ”

Here again the girdle seems to be a belt holding in place a rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around the body.

At Odyssey 11.245:”And he loosed her maiden girdle, and shed sleep upon her”

At first glance it seems a girdle is a chastity belt, but it would also be consistent that women wore a belt over their womb.

At Odyssey 23.147:”So the great hall resounded all about with the tread of dancing men and of fair-girdled women;”

The word used here is ‘καλλιζώνων’. The obious intent is that the girls were beautifully dressed.

Based on these readings a girdle composed of a cord with tassels hanging
off of it seems likely. What follows is a picture of such a girdle below the waist. But such a girdle can be worn at the waist and above the breasts. The picture illustrates two girdles, a tasseled one below the waste and an belted one above. By the descriptions either position can be exchanged as the location of a girdle is not certain.

Images of Ancient Greek Girdles

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