Friday, September 18, 2009

“What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful”

If I had to pick between ancient Greeks and Romans I'd definitely say I'm a Hellanophile because I usually get a bitter taste in my mouth when I think about the Romans (if you really want to know why, ask me in person so I don't have to bore the rest of you). One thing they had going for them though was that they had more apparent respect for women than the Greeks did. And the Etruscans liked them even more! Here're some evidences from art:
First of all, this fresco shows a woman who apparently learned to read and write. Literacy in women was rare in the ancient world. Aside from Sappho, I'm unaware of many Greek women being allowed to learn to write (this fresco is actually sometimes called the "Sappho Fresco" even though it's from Pompeii).
Here's another fresco from Pompeii, this one a portrait of the people that lived in the house where it was found. Not only was the woman depicted literate, she was shown in equal status with her husband, something ancient Greek women were rarely shown as (there's a whole 'nother story to discuss when you mention Penelope, so let's not for now and just say Homer was the exception in Greek views on women).
This is an Etruscan sarcophagus that shows a husband and wife eating together. Greek women were not even allowed in the same room as men during mealtimes (unless they were prostitutes/dancers there to entertain) let alone lie with them on the same couch. Kudos to the Etruscans.
And here's just a nice Etruscan frieze that shows a husband and wife together. I believe this is from a tomb/funerary memorial/sarcophagus, so you could possibly say that this couple wanted to be together after death, which is sweet.

The quote in the title is by Sappho, since we're talking of ancient women.


Janeite42 said...

A very interesting post! When I first saw the picture of the fresco of the couple, I thought, "Wow, women were so liberated back then they could even smoke!" But on closer examination, I think it's a crack in the fresco.

As far as Penelope is concerned, yes, she is a remarkable woman, but I'll bet after Odysseus came back, she still didn't get to eat in the same room with him. And then there's Telemachus, who, not very far into the book, starts bossing his mother around. If my son spoke to me the way Telemachus speaks to his mother, I'd smack him upside the head and make him clean the catbox for a month!

btw, my word was "ilium". I think that's eerie.

Shannon said...

and ilium, yes that is very eerie...