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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The first very misogynistic old poem

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In the ancient world, Greek and Roman, the woman has no presence in the social and political life even with very few exceptions.

The gynoecium (from Greek γυναικεῖον (gynaikeion from γυνή (Gyne) ,woman, and οἰκίον, oikion, house) was the domestic space in that the women were reduced limited to housework and childbearing  (see: http://en.antiquitatem.com/matron-lanam-fecit-epitaph-lapidary )

Note: as opposition, the androcium  (Lat androecium, and this from Greek ἀνήρ, ἀνδρός,aner, andros, man, male, and οἰκίον, oikion, house) is the space for men.

The view about the  women, that the ancient literary texts give to us, is in its huge majority misogynistic and contemptuous to the  women.

Note: misogyny,  μισογυνία,  'hatred of women' or contempt to women;  from Greek μισόγυνος, misogynos,  and this from μισέω (miseo), "hate" , and γυνή (Gyne), "woman."

All texts concerning women are not misogynist nor is the entire Greek culture and society. Of course, in Greek religion and mythology, beside  the myth of Pandora as introducer in the humanity of all evil (similar, therefore, to  the role of Eve in the Judaeo Christian Paradise), it is  also  the important role of numerous goddesses and heroines . But generally, as I said, what transpires is a very sexist view.

Semonides of Amorgos (VII -. VI BC), who according to tradition was born on the island of Samos and then he went to organize the colony of Amorgos in the Cyclades, is a satirical poet of poor quality from whom only 29 fragments are preserved.

The most technical manuals of literature called him "iambic poet," though the term has no absolute specific meaning of the  content or the form of this kind of poetry,

One of the longer fragments is Fragment number 7, of which 118 lines are preserved. It is the most famous poem of Semonides by his shocking, today we would say aberrant, misogyny, and it is one of the oldest examples. Since Hesiod, shortly before, also offered a misogynistic and contemptuous view about the woman in his Theogony and Works and Days.

The famous poem of Semonides is often called Iambus on women.

In this poem it is is given  a view on the various kinds of women that clashes with our modern society and gives us a huge upset. But if  it is objectionable, it does not mean that it does not must be known, not least because it is necessary to know the origin and use over time of these social topics, which then are reflected in the literary work and secondly because there is still even people with very similar ideas which are  close to those of Semonides and they must be put before the mirror of the time.

Moreover, although its literary quality is rather poor, the document helps us to know Greek thought.

To be fair, we must say that Semonides  is also acid and critical to men. For example, in the  Fragment 1D, that I reproduce at the end of this article, on the vulnerability of man.  In fact, as many bitter critics, this of Amorgos seems angry at the world.

Also he is not so original; his comparison of the different genres of women with animals, either by his physical resemblance or his behavior, it links to the world of "fable" in which the vices and human virtues are embodied in talking animals, a genre that his also  linked to some myths, like this of Prometheus, who partitioned the qualities between  many animals and  ran out raw materials for men and so he had to change the appearance of many animals by men, yet retained their animal spirit . Perhaps even he is inspired in some folktale.

In the poem we can establish two parts: the first tells us that God made ten different types of women, which he describes making them come from eight animals: dog, donkey, pig, fox, weasel, the monkey, the mare and bee and from two natural elements: the sea and the earth. The comparison or identification is with the negative aspects of these animals; only he has a positive and laudatory view on the bee, which is working and prudent. Moreover, the comparison is only with the function or household chores that are attributed her in Greek society. So the only type that is not censored  is it which guaranteed and work for the prosperity of the house, of the oikos (οἰκοs).

Note incidentally that the word "economy" comes precisely from the Greek term  οἰκονομία (oikonomia), consisting of oikos (οἰκοs),house, and νομία (nomia) from νομοs, nomos, rule, law, principle. So the economy is beginning the science of household management.

The second part extracts the moral lesson, after to say:

"So, Zeus made  this enormous pain, woman”'

Ζεὺς γὰρ μέγιστον τοῦτ’ ἐποίησεν κακόν, γυναῖκας·

Semonides collects these comparisons without any psychological depth from the topics that the society of men of his time uses; imagine us banquets and celebrations of men in which, among others, these would be topics of conversation and sexist jokes of this kind.

It is more likely this poem is written specifically for the symposium, an exclusively male space or eating time only for men that  pleased very much  the Greeks and in which they used so  unfair and sexist topics,  expression of male sexual power, that would amuse male diners. Actually what they are criticizing is the transgression of the behavior which they expect from the domestic and submissive wife.

But we can also think that the vices and behaviors that are criticized: gluttony, obesity, ugliness, clumsiness, hysteria, volubility, laziness, inertia, malice, wickedness, vanity, conceit or lust, are proper  to men and women but for men they are more reprehensible in women, whose activities should be focused on the prosperity of the home and family. It is, this criticism also in women forced men to be critical of these attitudes themselves, regardless of who practiced them.

Of course, in this battle of the sexes, women also sometimes formulate  topical and platitudes of such inaccuracy on men. And these competitions, of course, are very old and they have endured over the centuries.

This is a vision on their day, more prosaic day and stuck to the reality of the moment than this of the Homeric epics, with its beautiful and graceful women of the war heroes.

Unfortunately, these and several other topics (remember the frequent comparison with snake in Western culture from the episode of Eve in the Earthly Paradise) are still used until to this day in popular songs of all time everywhere,  in sexist macho pearls immersed in any context, in frequently tasteless jokes and even in any more serious look treatise. We could provide hundreds of citations. Certainly they are not uncommon in men meetings in taverns.

It's time to read the text  in the translation by J. M. Edmonds. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1931. 2.:

Semonides on Women

In the beginning God made woman's mind apart from man's. One made He of a bristly Sow; all that is in her house lies disorderly, defiled with dirt, and rolling upon the floor, and she groweth fat a-sitting among the middens in garments as unwashed as herself. Another did God make of a knavish Vixen, a woman knowing in all things, who taketh note of all, be it bad or good; for the bad often calleth she good and the good bad; and she hath now this mood and now that. Another of a Bitch, a busybody like her mother, one that would fain hear all, know all, and peering and prying everywhere barketh e'en though she see nothing; a man cannot check her with threats, no, not if in anger he dash her teeth out with a stone, nor yet though he speak gently with her, even though she be sitting among strangers —she must needs keep up her idle baying. Another the Olympians fashioned of Earth, and gave to her husband all wanting in wits; such a woman knoweth neither evil nor good; her only art is to eat; and never though God give a bad winter draweth she her stool nigher the fire for the cold. Another of the Sea, whose thoughts are in two minds; one day she laughs and is gay —a stranger seeing her within will praise her, saying ‘There's no better wife in all the world, nay, nor comelier’; the next she is intolerable to behold or draw nigh to, for then she rageth unapproachably, like a bitch with young; implacable and nasty is she to all, alike foe and friend. Even as the sea in summertime often will stand calm and harmless, to the great joy of the mariners, yet often will rage and toss with roaring waves, most like unto it is such a woman in disposition, nor hath the ocean a nature of other sort than hers. Another's made of a stubborn and belaboured She-Ass; everything she doeth is hardly done, of necessity and after threats, and then 'tis left unfinished; meanwhile eateth she day in day out, in bower and in hall, and all men alike are welcome to her bed. Another of a Cat, a woeful and miserable sort; for in her there's nought of fair or lovely or pleasant or desirable; she is wood for a love-mate, and yet when she hath him turneth his stomach; she doeth her neighbours much harm underhand, and often eateth up unaccepted offerings. Another is the child of a dainty long-maned Mare; she refuseth menial tasks and toil; she'll neither set hand to mill nor take up sieve, nor cast forth the muck, nor, for that she shunneth the soot, will she sit beside the oven. She taketh a mate only of necessity. Every day will she wash herself twice, or even thrice, and anointeth her with unguents. She ever weareth her hair deep-combed and wreathed with flowers. Such a wife may be a fair sight for other men, but she's an ill to her husband if he be not a despot or a king, such as take pride in adornments like to her. Another cometh of an Ape; she is the greatest ill of all Zeus giveth man. Foul of face, such a woman maketh laughter for all men as she goeth through the town; short in neck, she moveth hardly, hipless, leanshanked —alas for the wretched man that claspeth such a mischief! Like an ape she knoweth all arts and wiles, nor recketh of men's laughter. Neither will she do a man any kindness; all her care, all her considering, is how she shall do the greatest ill she may. Another of a Bee; and happy he that getteth her. On her alone alighteth there no blame, and life doth flourish and increase because of her; loving and loved groweth she old with her husband, the mother of a fair and name-honoured progeny; she is pre-eminent among all the women, and a divine grace pervadeth her; neither taketh she delight in sitting among women where they tell tales of venery. Such wives are the best and wisest that Zeus bestoweth upon men; these other kinds, thanks unto Him, both are and will ever be a mischief in the world. For this is the greatest ill that Zeus hath made, women. Even though they may seem to advantage us, a wife is more than all else a mischief to him that possesseth her; for whoso dwelleth with a woman, he never passeth a whole day glad, nor quickly shall he thrust out of doors Hunger the hated housefellow and hostile deity. But when a man thinketh withindoors to be gladdest at heart by grace of God or favour of man, then of all times will she find cause for blame and gird herself for battle. For where a woman is, they e'en cannot receive a stranger heartily. And she that most seemeth to be discreet, she is all the time doing the greatest harm; her husband is all agape for her, but the neighbours rejoice that yet another is deceived. And no man but will praise his own wife when he speaketh of her, and blame another's, yet we cannot see that we be all alike. Aye, this is the greatest ill that Zeus hath made, this hath he put about us as the bondage of a fetter irrefragable, ever since Death received them that went a-warring for a woman.


Fragment 1 D
Helplessness and vulnerability of man

Thundering Zeus, lad, hath the ends of all things there be, and doeth with them what he will. There's no mind in us men, but we live each day as it cometh like grazing cattle, knowing no whit how God shall end it. Yet Hope and Trust keep us all a-pondering the impracticable; some abide till a day come, others for the turning of years. There 's none alive but thinketh he will come home winged with wealth and good things next year; yet one of us ere he reach his goal is taken with unenvied Age, another's mind is wasted by miserable Disease, or Death sendeth him below dark Earth whelmed by War. Some die at sea when they have laden a ship with their substance, confounded by storm and the many waves of the purple brine; others tie a noose about their miserable neck and leave the sunlight of their free choice. So true is it that nothing is without ills, nay, ten thousand the Dooms of men, and their woes and sorrows past reckoning. If they would be advised by me, we should not set our hearts on good things, nor yet do ourselves despite by letting our minds dwell upon evil troubles.

   
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