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Cheney School

Cheney School

Women in Ancient Athens

Women in Ancient Athens

We were very privileged that Dr Carol Atack from the University Oxford's St Hugh's College came to visit the classics centre this week to talk about democracy, gender and theatre in Ancient Athens. Year 8 Latin students were preparing Ancient Greek comedies for their own "Dionysia Festival" on Thursday, so this talk was the perfect opportunity to explore some of the important context to their plays. 
 
Dr Atack started by talking about democracy itself in Athens - a phenomenon that lasted just under 200 years in the city, and involved only men. She spoke about how, although the "agora" (marketplace) and similar public spaces for politics were dominated by men, that there were constantly visible religious buildings, such as the Parthenon on the Acropolis, which involved both men and women, and reminded everyone of the centrality of religion. There were also festivals involving women that took over public spaces. 
 
She spoke about life for women in Ancient Athens - that working at the loom would have been one of the key roles for a woman, who would have been married by 15 or 16. She also spoke about how Aristophanes used women in his plays as a way of forcing the audience to think about the problems the city faced. A lot of his plays were written while the city was in crisis, so the idea of, e.g. women running public affairs, or a battle of the sexes, was a way of using something that would have seemed ridiculous to people then to make them think about things. 
 
The Year 8s were putting on scenes from Aristophanes' Birds, Frogs, Clouds and Peace this week, which they have updated to include references to women's suffrage as part of the centenary since women were able to vote. Dr Atack's talk was a highly informative and thought-provoking journey into the context of these plays, and we are very grateful to her for all her time.


Dr Robinson, Classics