Children of Athena: Anthenian Ideas about Citizenship & the Division Between the Sexes
by Loraux, Nicole
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Subtitled Athenian Ideas about Citizenship and the Division Between the Sexes, Nicole Loraux' Children of Athena examines the literary background to the ambiguous position of the Athenian female. By the time of Pericles, the Athenian woman's verifiably Athenian parentage and fidelity to her citizen husband were essential to create a new citizen, but she herself was always less than a citizen. She may have been referred to as a resident of Attica, but she was never an Athenian.
Loraux' introduction and first chapter present the myths of the origins of mankind. No primordial Adam and Eve engaged in sexual reproduction populated the Athenian world. Instead, men and women were created separately.
Man was produced naturally, sprung autochthonously from Mother Earth, in conjunction with Athena and the smitten craftsman, Hephaistos. The story of the threefold parentage is that Hephaistos, unwilling to take Athena's no for an answer, ejaculated on her leg. That seed, wiped from the goddess' leg and thrown to the ground, soon became Erichthonios.
Erichthonios was brought up by the daughters of Kekrops, the ruler of Athens before it had become Athens. Since it wasn't yet Athens, those men whom Kekrops ruled were not Athenian citizens. Kekrops brought men together to live in a city, but Erichthonios was responsible for introducing the valued concept of (Athenian) citizenship.
The second chapter examines the origin of women. Unlike men, women were not natural. Myth advanced the primacy of the male in reproduction. Women were admittedly necessary, but only secondarily -- and as an evil.
Hephaistos was involved in the creation, not only of the first Athenian male (citizen), but also of the first woman. He built her as an artifice in his smithy. Athena, again involved tangentially in the creation, taught the first woman skills. Loraux adds that Athena made woman dangerous. Zeus bestowed the first woman on man as a great, albeit beautiful, evil. From these very separate beginnings, women and men are very different types of creatures. Men are citizens, while women are from the race of women (genos gynaikon). Just as there are no Athenian citizens who are female, so there is no race of men (genos andron).
To further explain the Athenian concept of the woman, Loraux looks at poetry. Misogynistic Semonides describes the ten varieties of female as the offspring of: pig, fox, dog, donkey, weasel, mare, monkey, bee, earth, and water. All except the offspring of the bee are evil, while the offspring of the bee in an unattainable ideal.
The third chapter discusses the Athenian name the and the logical/linguistic problems involved in providing names for women that incorporate the name of the city without being simultaneously the name for the goddess. The story of the origin of the city's name is that there was one more woman than there were men at the name choosing election. The men voted for Poseidon, the women for Athena. At the moment the women won they lost their right to be referred to as inhabitants of their city.
The last two chapters look at drama -- Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Euripides' Ion. Lysistrata should be familiar to those who have wondered about the role of women in Athenian society. The bawdy sex comedy is instructive. Loraux says, "absurdity instucts us, better than a long treatise could, about the condition of the female."
The final chapter on Ion balances the opening chapter. Instead of a myth of a child with two mothers (Athena and Mother Earth), Ion is the child of two fathers, Apollo, who forced himself on the mortal Kreous (Erichthonios' grand-daughter) and Xouthos, her non-citizen husband, the offspring (like Athena) of Zeus. Once the child was born Kreousa, acting like a man, exposed it by putting it in the hollow of a rock -- like the seed that landed on the earth when Erichthonios was conceived. Mother Earth is again instrumental at the beginning of a child's life. In the opening chapter of Children of Athena, Athena had acted as Erichthonios' protector. In the case of Ion, Apollo plays a similar role.
Children of Athena was originally written in 1984. Many of the intriguing ideas of this book have by now become mainstream. Because of some new scholarship Loraux revised the earlier edition with an epilogue bringing it up to 1993.
N.S. Gill, your Guide for Ancient/Classical History