Calder Classics

“Raise the Bar”: Powerful Women in Ancient Greece

Ancient GreeceRebekah JunkermeierComment

It wasn’t your average night out.

On the evening of April 29th, Calder Classics attended “Raise the Bar,” an event that featured 50 different lectures in 50 different bars around New York City. All for free. Over 9,000 people had reserved spots before the event started. At Tarallucci e Vino on the upper west side, Columbia Classics Professor Helene Foley spoke about powerful women in ancient Greek tragedy. Check out some of the most interesting facts from the lecture below!

Did you know…

-In ancient Greece, all playwrights and actors were male. Females were not allowed on stage.

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-These tragedies were written during the world's first democracy (5th cent BCE); a democracy that excluded women.

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-The typical woman in ancient Greece spent most of her time confined to her home. Women were second class citizens.

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-Professor Foley highlighted the following 6 major roles for women in ancient Greek tragedy:

1. Sacrificial virgin (Iphigenia, Antigone).

2. Civil disobedience (Electra). Female characters criticized the state in a way men at the time couldn’t.

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3. Sacrificial wife (Alcestis).

4. Women who save men.

5. Women raped by the gods. Professor Foley noted how striking it is that ancient Greek tragedies featured female characters on stage talking about rape. It was not until the twentieth century that women addressed this issue again in public performances.

6. Androgynous women who do bad things (Medea, Clytemestra).

-Even male playwrights noted that women's lot in ancient Greece not was not enviable. In Euripedes’ Medea, Medea states:

"Sooner would I stand

Three times to face their [men’s] battles, shield in hand,

Than bear one child!”

-Yet, in Greek tragedy, women often control the plot, whereas men rarely do.


Thank you Professor Foley and Raise the Bar for such a fun and intellectually stimulating event!

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