The Family in Greek History

The Family in Greek History

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The family, Cynthia Patterson demonstrates, played a key role in the political changes that mark the history of ancient Greece. From the archaic society portrayed in Homer and Hesiod to the Hellenistic age, the private world of the family and household was integral with, and essential to the civic realm. Early Greek society was rooted not in clans but in individual households, and a man's or woman's place in the larger community was determined by relationships within those households. The development of the city-state did not result in loss of the family's power and authority. Patterson argues, rather, the protection of household relationships was an important element of early public law. The interaction of civic and family concerns in classical Athens is articulated by the examples of marriage and adultery laws. In law courts and in theatre performances, violation of marital relationships was presented as a public danger, the adulterer as a sexual thief. This is an understanding that fits the Athenian concept of the city as the highest form of family. The suppression of the cities with the ascendency of Alexander's empire led to a new resolution of the relationships between public and private authority: the concept of a community of households, which is clearly exemplified in Menander's plays. Undercutting hitherto common interpretations of Greek experience as evolving from clan to patriarchal state, Patterson's analysis sheds light on the role of men and women in Greek more

Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 144.3 x 225.3 x 18.5mm | 344.74g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 6 diagrams
  • 0674005686
  • 9780674005686

Review quote

Everyone who is interested in ancient Greek society will want to think seriously about [Patterson's] conclusions...The ancient Greek family is more complex and flexible than has usually been supposed, and relationships by marriage and adoption could be as valid in determining inheritance as blood relationships...Contrary to previous assumptions, there does not appear to have been a moment in Greek history when membership in a larger kinship group, such as a clan, took precedence over the smaller unit of the family...As Patterson shows, the spheres of public and private always overlapped, and their separation from one another has been much exaggerated, especially by historians who seek to portray the ancient Greeks as keeping women in an oriental seclusion or for treating them as socially and morally inferior beings. The complex data in Patterson's book shows that it is grossly unfair to portray the ancient Greeks as misogynists. Greek literature and drama accurately reflect women's importance, both in the family and in the larger society. -- Mary Lefkowitz Washington Times Patterson...offers an attack on the continuing influence of century-old paradigms concerning the ancient Greek family. She argues convincingly that the oikos (household) and the state were closely interrelated, the state did not supersede or suppress the oikos, and there was no clear public/private split, because one's civic identity derived largely from one's oikos...[She] also explores the family in Hesiod, Homer, and early Greek law; marriage and adultery in Athens; and the family in Menander's plays. -- J. M. Williams Choice [The Family in Greek History] is a welcome and useful addition to the very recent body of scholarship that has appeared on the ancient Greek family and, although the title might not at first explicitly indicate it, to the much more considerable scholarship on the role of women in the Greek world. It is a book with both a broad ambitious and a definite thesis...It is an important contribution to several on-going revisionist debates in the field of Greek social history...Certainly all scholars with a particular interest in ancient gender studies and the history of the ancient family should read this book. -- Tim Parkin Bryn Mawr Classical Review Patterson is to be commended for demonstrating so clearly that some of the premises which stand at the basis of research into the Greek family are not tenable in the face of the available evidence...Patterson's study is eminently useful and has the potential of becoming a fundamental work in the field of the Greek family and society. It presents a forceful argument to rethink the basic premises of how the transformation of Greek society from the archaic through to the Hellenistic period defined the family. By attacking historical myths such as that of the genos as the quintessential family or the emergence of the state at the expense of the public role of the family and of women Patterson makes clear that ideas about the family in Greek history have been seriously misconstrued. The result is an excellent and challenging piece of scholarship. -- Marc Kleijwegt Scholia Reviewsshow more

About Cynthia B. Patterson

Cynthia B. Patterson is Associate Professor of History, Emory more

Table of contents

Introduction 1. The Nineteenth-Century Paradigm of Greek Family History 2. The Family in Homer and Hesiod 3. Early Greek Law and the Family 4. Marriage and Adultery in Democratic Athens 5. Adultery Onstage and in Court 6. Public and Private in Early Hellenistic Athens Conclusion Notes Indexshow more