Sample Essay: Women in the Ancient World

Ancient World

There exist strong feministic beliefs that life of the females in the ancient world had been quite difficult and unfair. The assumptions that women had no rights, were not considered as important as men, were not respected, had no power, were not educated, and played no important role in society are quite common and are not groundless. However, the analysis of the primary sources shows that such a statement is only partially accurate. For example, in Mesopotamia, India, Greece, and China, women were inferior to men, but still respected and valued for their main duty – giving birth.   

The Code of Hammurabi states that the wife and another man she was caught with had to be bind together and thrown into the water. In such a way, a woman and a man are presented as equal when being punished for the unworthy deeds (13). At the same time, the superiority of a man is not proven as his word in Mesopotamia was not a law. If a husband accused a wife in anything, he needed evidences to make her punished (13). At the same time, the role of a woman was regarded as a special one as some of the Code points emphasize the necessity to be punished not only for striking a daughter or a female slave, but also for the possibility to cause miscarriage. In such a way, the reading hints that the women were obviously perceived as weaker, but their ability to give birth was far not the last of their social roles.

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In the Middle East and the North of Africa, women were not neglected in any way. On the contrary, the Law of Manu shows that they were honored by the male representatives whether they were their husbands, fathers or brothers (49). Honoring women was closely connected with prosperity. However, such treatment did not mean that they were in the same position as men. Each gender had its prescribed role. The female role was obviously connected with cleaning, cooking, supporting the household and giving birth to children while the males defended them (49). Nevertheless, the emotionality of women stayed the same sensitive throughout history. It can be seen in the poem Her Purpose Is Frightening, Her Spirit Cruel which reflects the worries they had to feel while living in the world of the men warriors (56). At the same time, A Woman Well Set Free shows that women of Ancient India did not have a very diverse life and mostly had to stay at home. Nevertheless, staying at home and giving birth to warriors did not humiliate, but glorified women. Ramayana also supports the above-mentioned rules for the females in India. Among such, one should pay attention to Sita’s appearance. However, the unhappy ending of the story shows the contradiction to the above-mentioned rules. Men, in contrast to women, were beyond reproach (59). While women seemed to be glorified and valued, they were not free. As a result, many situations left them no choice and made them bear with what they did not want.

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The Book of Songs: The Odes written in a quite depressed way reflects the mood of a woman, who lived in the ancient Chinese society. The inferiority of a woman can be understood as she had to wait for a man. She confessed that her life was toilsome as she was the wife, who shared everything with her husband. One can understand that women were valued and protected by the family members as she hid the truth from her brothers (89). However, her daily life started early and finished late. Therefore, one can conclude that she was responsible for the house and household as well as the previous representatives of the Indian society. At the same time, the ambitions and feelings of a woman were not encouraged as the poem sounds as if it is the only way to pour out her heart.

   The views of the Greek society on the role of females were similar to those of the Indians. Household and children were the main concerns of women together with the worries about their husbands, who were all the time at a risk. For instance, Homer represented how Andromache did not hide her tears when sending Hector for a battle (97). According to this scene, one can conclude that the females were in a weak position and needed a strong male shoulder nearby. They obviously appreciated and respected their husbands. In general, the position of a woman can be considered as more passive in contrast to the man's one. She could only bless him and ask gods to save while he was fulfilling his noble duties.

Some other evidences of the female inferiority can be found in the works of Xenophon, Aristotle, and Plutarch. In Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, the readers can see that the relations between men and women had to be based on partnership and equality. However, the roles obviously could not be same as males were stronger and more endurable. These characteristics give a hint that their tasks should be outdoors. The weak female nature predetermines them to do the indoor tasks (111). In such a way, the infants, the household, dealing with servants are considered to be the female tasks. Although such duties seem to be easier that those meant for men, they limit the freedom of women and create man limitations for them. Although there are some prescribed duties for men as well, they still are freer and more superior to women for bearing more responsibilities. The limitations for women were to a great extent predetermined by their physical peculiarities and duties to give birth to children. In such a way, the ability of women to intake wine to eat anything instead of following a diet was limited in contrast to men, who could not pay attention to these things (111). At the same time, the physical competitions were considered as necessary for both genders. Plutarch’s Lycurgus put particular attention to the physical exercises and especially their role in women’s ability to child-bearing (111). In the same way, he also emphasized that this aspect is the most important regarding the female role. In his Politics, Aristotle pointed out that women could be responsible for the life of the town only when males were busy with more important things like wars (111). Nevertheless, even in such case, men were considered as superior. The text of Aristotle sounds as if they passed their duties to the weaker members of the society not because they were worthy, but because males had no other choice.

To sum it up, the position of women in the ancient world was practically the same regardless the country. Although they were valued for their physical ability to give birth to children, the same role limited their freedom and predetermined their place as the indoor one. One cannot say that women were humiliated, but they were obviously inferior to men especially for inability to manifest their emotions and ambitions.

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