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Following Sarah

Ann Hanson

Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves is good to think with, as Claude Levi-Strauss would say. I suspect that many of us can recall times when Sarah’s female quartet was good to think with and influential in the narratives we ourselves were crafting. When gathering materials for Women & Society in Greek & Roman Egypt back in the mid-1990s, Sarah was my guide for information historians with wide-reaching interests would hope to discover in the third and sixth chapters Peter van Minnen and I were writing together. Chapter three, ‘Family Matters,’ probed eleven family archives in which women and girls were important players, spanning the nearly 900 years during which Greeks and then Romans were overlords in Egypt. Archives in which female family members are prominent highlight household activities, weaving, preparation of food, receiving and sending baskets packed for family and friends living elsewhere. Although women and girls not infrequently make use of scribes to write in their behalf, letters composed by Aline and Eudaimonis, wife and mother of the strategos Apollonios, reveal the two women’s vivid personalities and preferences. They were readers as well as writers, and the young daughter Heraidous lives with her grandmother because educational opportunities are greater in Hermoupolis. By contrast the two daughters and granddaughter of the peasant-farmer Kronion are illiterate, and scribes do the reading and writing for the entire family; both daughters, well-dowered by their father, married their full brothers, and moneys are set aside as dowry for the marriage of the granddaughter in later years. The group lives together in the family home, until rent by accusations that the eldest son, Kronion Jr., spent the dowry of his sister-wife, and the pair of married siblings then divorce. Kronion Jr. left the home for a time, but returned after some years to farm once again with his brothers. In his will Kronion Sr. names as his heirs his two younger sons and his granddaughter; he leaves to his two daughters token amounts of money because the girls acquired their share of family assets as dowry when they married. Kronion Jr. inherits only a tiny sum, because, as Kronion Sr. affirms, ‘my eldest son wronged me in many matters over the course of my lifetime,’ a negative judgment that continues to fester in his father’s mind. Chapter six, ‘Being Female,’ traces the life cycle from birth and childhood, through marriage and adult life, to death, and burial; it culminates in the ambiguities of women’s lives, for some appear as weaklings, but others are viragos. At my request both Sarah read our two chapters and supplied her imprimatur.

In 1995 Sarah added a new preface to Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (pp. ix-xiii), explaining her decision not to revise the original text, although acknowledging her revised thinking as to the existence of pre-historic matriarchy, and prominence of the gene, or clans, in archaic Greece. This 1995 version is now an internet resource or e-book. Women in Hellenistic Egypt from 1984 also becomes an internet resource, although both were conceived and brought to light before books were being read on electronic tablets. By now Sarah has many other titles available in electronic format — her Plutarch’s Advice to the bride and groom from 1999, her Spartan women from 2002, her Murder of Regilla from 2007, and last year’s Pythagorean women. Two of my favorites, both from the 1990s and products of The Clarendon Press, with a copy of each in the Classics Library, Phelps Hall, as well as in Sterling Memorial Library, do not appear among Yale’s internet resources: that is, Sarah’s Xenophon, Oeconomicus: a social and historical commentary with English translation (1994) and her Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece (1997). Their absence has to do with their stars (that is, the prematurity of their birth vis-à-vis omnipresence of electric format in academic circles). I shall extol their virtues more fully in my paper.

Session/Panel Title

40 Years of Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women’s History in Classics

Session/Paper Number


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