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Page 6

The Honor paid Womanhood in Athens

 

    Obviously from a young woman with a limited intellectual horizon the Athenian gentleman can expect no mental companionship; but it is impossible that he can live in the world as a keenly intelligent being, and not come to realize the enormous value of the "woman spirit" as it affects all things good. Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, above all Pallas-Athena,—city-warder of Athens,—who are they all but idealizations of that peculiar genius which wife, mother, and daughter show forth every day in their homes? An Athenian never allows his wife to visit the Agora. She cannot indeed go outside the house without his express permission, and only then attended by one or two serving maids; public opinion will likewise frown upon the man who allowed his wife to appear in public too freely[7]; nevertheless there are compensations. Within her home the Athenian woman is within her kingdom. Her husband will respect her, because he will respect himself. Brutal and harsh he may possibly be, but that is because he is also brutal and harsh in his outside dealings. In extreme cases an outraged wife can sue for divorce before the archon. And very probably in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the Athenian woman is contented with her lot: partly because she knows of nothing better; partly because she has nothing concrete whereof to complain.

    Doubtless it is because an Athenian house is a "little oasis of domesticity," tenderly guarded from all insult,—a miniature world whose joys and sorrows are not to be shared by the outer universe,—that the Athenian treats the private affairs of his family as something seldom to be shared, even with an intimate friend. Of individual women we hear and see little in Athens, but of noble womanhood a great deal. By a hundred tokens, delightful vase paintings, noble monuments, poetic myths, tribute is paid to the self-mastery, the self-forgetfulness, the courage, the gentleness "of the wives and mothers who have made Athens the beacon of Hellas"; and there is one witness better than all the rest. Along the "Street of Tombs," by the gate of the city, runs the long row of stelae (funeral monuments), inimitable and chaste memorials to the beloved dead; and here we meet, many times over, the portrayal of a sorrow too deep for common lament, the sorrow for the lovely and gracious figures who have passed into the great Mystery. Along the Street of the Tombs the wives and mothers of Athens are honored not less than the wealthy, the warriors, or the statesmen.

 

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