Thursday, December 10, 2009

Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves by Sarah B. Pomeroy

Pomeroy's book "Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves" was originally published in 1975 and since then has become a standard read for anyone interested in the lives of women in classical antiquity. With a new forward by the author, it was republished in 1995. Where typical books on women in ancient history tend to focus on women in the noble class (where a great deal more of our knowledge rests), Pomeroy takes time to focus on the lesser known, portions of women's lives, that of the wife and slave.

Pomeroy's work starts in the dark ages and travels through the days of the Roman matron.
This is a long timeline to navigate, and Pomeroy does an excellent job of stating when there is a sketchy amount of research on a subject, and stating multiple theories when they exist. She always takes time to draw parallels between her current topic and her previous chapters, especially drawing parallels, and breaking them, between Greece and Rome. At one point, she sums up this difference by saying that Roman women, unlike Greek women, were allowed to attend dinner parties.

The book is clear, concise, and readable for anyone not versed in ancient history or feminist theory, and a wonderful addition to those who are versed in the same old subjects. Pomeroy covers classical marriage contracts (and how to break them), legal and medical texts, women in politics, prostitution, the debate on female infanticide, women as seen in classical literature (by male and female authors), and the importance of religion to woman, especially the cult of Isis.

"Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves" would be a great read for anyone interested in feminist studies, ancient history, or would like to challenge their worldview on the role of women through the ages.

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