“Worshipping women”

“Worshipping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens,” is at the Onassis Cultural Center in Midtown Manhattan.  The show sets out to address a particularly serious cluster of misconceptions:

The main misconception is the notion that women had a universally mute and passive role in Athenian society. It is true that they lived with restrictions modern Westerners would find intolerable. Technically they were not citizens. In terms of civil rights, their status differed little from that of slaves. Marriages were arranged; girls were expected to have children in their midteens. Yet, the show argues, the assumption that women lived in a state of purdah, completely removed from public life, is contradicted by the depictions of them in art.


There is no more moving image in the show than that of two women, one seated and one standing, facing each other in carved relief on a marble grave stele dated to the fourth century B.C. …An inscription identifies the woman commemorated by the stele as Nikomache. The exhibition catalog suggests that she is the seated figure, the one who has settled in and will keep her place when the other walks away.   The parting is evidently in progress as the women clasp hands and meet each other’s gaze.

Sappho again, and a poem called “Long Departure”:

Then I said to the elegant ladies:

“How you will remember when you are old

The glorious things we did in our youth!

We did many pure and beautiful things.

And now that you are leaving the city,

Love’s sharp pain encircles my heart.”

The article cited above does not say whether the incorporation of Sappho’s poetry is suggested by the show’s curators or not.  A slide show of items from the exhibition is here.