Greek and Roman mythology

            For both the Greek and Roman empires, the role of mythology and religion played an important role in the empires development.  There are in fact striking similarities to the Greek or Roman’s daily life based on the importance of one god or goddess over another to a family’s or state’s personal and political desire.  In the context of the following pages, the role of mythology and religion will be discussed, and their central role to the growth of Greek and Roman societies will be presented.

            Athenian women in ancient Greece were considered to be little more than slaves during the 5th century mainly due to the role of Hera, whose role as an Olympian was constantly overshadowed by the lovemaking of her husband to other women, and the lack of control she had over him.  Indeed, in Greek culture it seems that because the Greek Gods were so powerful, and the Goddess’ powers were no match for her male counterpart, women suffered unduly.  In this facet of thinking, a young child, a girl, was not expected to have an extended education:  She was not expected to know how to read or write.  In fact the common thought of the time was that to educate a woman was to waste time.  However, women who were of high social birth were often times schooled and in fact it is reported that during religious celebrations women were chosen to participate although their numbers were minimal.  This participation may be asserted to have been the doing of Athena, the patron Goddess of Athens, and the Goddess of wisdom.  It may well be hypothesized that any education granted a woman in Greece, was granted due to the importance that Athena played in the reality of the people.  Also, Athena was one of the three virgin Goddesses, and so, a woman was expected to be chaste until marriage, in order to follow the footsteps of Athena.

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            There were three classifications for women in Athens:  The first class was that of the lowest standing, a woman who was a slave to other women in that she helped take care and raise the children of a domestic household.  This woman would also do chores.  The second class of woman in Athens was the citizen.  The third class of woman in Athens was the Hetaerae.  This was the woman who was likened to the Geisha of China:  “Hetaerae women were given an education in reading, writing, and music, and were allowed into the Agora and other structures which were off limits to citizen and slave women. Most sources about the Hetaerae indicate however, that their standing was at best at the level of prostitutes, and the level of power they attained was only slightly significant” (Schnurnberger 1991).

            The female citizen in Athens would often times have to marry in order to have any type of power or control.  A girl was taught how to do household chores, how to mend clothes and how to cook in order to make a better wife.  There was one playing field in which both men and women were considered somewhat equals and that was the religious sphere.  In Athens there were at least 120 festivals having religious significance every year.  There were countless rites and rituals for children taken as rites of passage.  Marriage was one religious festival in which women played a major role (Schnurnberger 1991).  It is in the main role of marriage that a woman had any power in Greece.  The fact that the Goddess of marriage was Hera, and the main Goddess of the Olympians played a major role in the lives of the women during the times.  Since emphasis in a woman’s role in society was based on how well she kept her household, the link between Hera, marriage, and the reality of the women is indisputable.

            Although women in Athens were limited in their power they did exercise intelligence despite common restrictions to their gender (due in large part because the Goddess of Wisdom was Athena, as mentioned prior, the Patron Goddess of Athens).  For the most part however withholding of sex to her husband was a way in which a wife could enforce her own desires onto her husband and change his mind.  Finally, women were also worshipped in the form of goddesses, and often times during rituals, a woman’s presence was essential; thus a woman’s power in ancient Greece was subtle, but existent.

            In ancient Rome women usually kept their presence restricted to the home while their male counterparts would hold jobs for six hours a day and even have to wait in line for the tokens which gave families their daily grain rations.  Women however joined the men in bathing rituals at the end of the day in which social interaction was done.  In one famous line which highlights the Roman woman’s life, Cicero states, “’Our ancestors, in their wisdom, considered that all women, because of their innate weakness, should be under the control of guardians.’” (Livius 1912).  Thus a woman’s guardian was a man, which changed from early life with the father to later life with the husband.  This fact remained true until the end of the Roman republic then after the reign of Augustus, a woman whose father and whose husband had died and who had already borne three children was considered her own guardian (Livius 1912).  This type of independence is due in large part to the patron Goddess of Rome, Juno.  Juno was in charge of finances and the Romans believed that if their patron Goddess could be of a beneficial nature, then they too could allow their women, after certain circumstances, to be entrusted with money matters.

             The early histories of Rome date its beginnings to the time after the fall of Troy. The lands that fell under Greek control would spawn forth conflicts – out of which, the rise of Rome would come. As Virgil told in his chronicle of Aeneas, the souls of the Trojan taken by Greece “cried feebly” in Hades since their defeat. Aeneas, being of Trojan decent would avenge the fallen Trojans as “god foretold you should not die, before /You reach’d, secure from seas, th’ Italian shore.” (Atchity 107) This landing on the “Italian shore” would lead to rise of the Roman Empire, and its eventual conquering of the known world.

            Since the dawn of the Roman civilization, it is said, the city and its people have been chosen by the Gods as their favored people. “But the Fates had, I believe, already decreed the origin of this great city and the foundation of the mightiest empire under heaven. The [virgin mother of Romulus and Remus] was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins.”. (Atchity 141) The Vestal named Mars as their father and told masses of her divine assault. The many skirmishes that would come from the homeland of these twins would be the site on which Rome would be built, with Romulus being directly credited with the founding and naming of Rome itself.

             The God Mars, the powerful God of War, would come to symbolize the strength and power of future Roman Empire. The early Roman Empire would dominate the whole of Italy, and by the first century CE, most of the known world. This power would also bring vast wealth to Rome.

            During this time of great power and wealth, Rome would see a range of leaders, from the wisdom and power of Augustus Caesar, to the gluttony and decadence of Nero. The city of Rome itself would expand its borders many times during this era. As well as the increasing of city size, the greatest constructions that the modern world associate with ancient Rome were also constructed in this time.

            For the citizenry of Rome, this would have been a time of great pride – even with the flaws of some of this era’s rulers. A father, speaking to his children, would illustrate for them the importance of civil duty (as the first democratic state, the people held a fair amount of power in the government). He would have also spoken on the importance of respect for the senators and politicians. The Roman state was lead by the senators, but each senator came from different areas of the Roman state. Because of this, this representative democracy, was well respected by the majority of its citizens.

            Another important quality of Roman pride would be the power that Rome had over their bordering neighbors. To the north, the Gauls would cower under the might of Caesar. To the south, Egypt and the northern lands of Africa would be tied directly to Rome for protection and trade. Far to the east, the Persian Empire would be held at bay for centuries.

            The pride of Romans and their strength that came from the freedom of personal ownership of property, and business, would also be an important topic of discussion. The passing of property through each family’s line of succession, offered a sense of immortality that few other civilizations had felt before. Previous to the Roman Empire, such inheritances where reserved for the royalty and nobility of each given society.

            The pressing of Rome’s power during this era, also called for the use of many of Rome’s men as soldiers. The father would explain to his son the importance and pride that enveloped the Roman legions. The first emperor of Rome, Caesar, was a general of noble birth. This status as the first singular ruler of Rome solidified the respect that the people had for those in the Roman army. Other great leaders of the time, such as Mark Anthony, would reach high status within the nobility, primarily because of their effectiveness as leaders of Roman legions.

            A first century father would also have great expectations for his daughter. He would tell her of her place in society, and teach her the dignity that came with being a Roman citizen. Though she would be destined to marry a man of her father’s choosing, she would, none the less, be taught of the value she held within society. The more respected and mannered the daughter would become, would directly affect that caliber of husband she would attract. The marriage would be a great affair for the father, as the joining of two families could greatly improve social standing, influence and wealth.

            The changing government of first century Rome, was a time of upheaval, however. The acts of Caesar and his ascension to the throne of an actual Roman Empire, were seen by many as an act of treason against the Roman republic. However, Caesar did address this issue by maintaining the Roman Senate, and the relative power of its senators. A person within Rome, especially a business owner, would see this time as an age of tension, but also of prosperity.  The power which Caesar gained during his political career is attributed to his stating that he was ordained by the Gods to rule Rome, which was a key understanding to his quick rise to power and his gluttony with power.

            The city of Rome would come out of the formation of the empire with great amounts of gold and wealth – spoils from Caesar’s European conquests. This would translate to the people of Rome as a boom of buying and personal wealth. A business, such as a well respected bakery, would see their amount of business increase as well. The ability for a greater number of the Roman citizenry to purchase luxuries would improve the demand for baked goods as well.

            The prestige that Roman citizens commanded throughout the empire would also be a source of great pride. Those who lived within the city walls were seen as the highest order of citizens – even among the city’s peasantry. The lands that surrounded the city of Rome would look to the architecture and grandeur of its palaces and temples as the pinnacle of human design and, beyond that, the closest to the Gods that one could reach.

            The conspicuous nature of the city’s design would be known throughout the world. The great Coliseum, the Parthenon, and Nero’s great bath house were all constructed during the first century CE. This era was a time of incredible building and the development of new building techniques such as the large dome of the Pantheon.  The aqueduct, Rome’s system of water canals that channeled fresh water from the Italian Alps to the city, was also built, and improved upon during this age. The ability to have running water in every home within the city walls created a mystic around Rome of being a city worthy of the Gods.

            A well respected citizen of Rome at this time would have great pride in all of the aspects of Roman life. He, in turn, would pass this pride along to his children. These children would receive the knowledge that the father had accumulated through out his life. Some children, mainly the males, would be allowed into the university system to enter into the academic elite – something that would be far more likely from the children of a wealthy store owner.

            The mythologies that surround the foundation of Rome hold a great amount of power within its citizenry. These people would see themselves as chosen amongst all other people on Earth to be elite and powerful. The accepted guidance by the Gods and their worship within the city would stir nationalism, pride and loyalty for centuries.

WORKS CITED

Atchity, Kenneth J. “The Classical Roman Reader: New Encounters with Ancient Rome”.         Oxford University Press. New York.             1997. P. 100-118 & 137-143.

Illustrated History of the Ancient Roman Empire.  Roman society roman life. Retrieved 27

March 2007, from Illustrated History of the Ancient Roman Empire. (2006).

            Web site:  http://www.roman-empire.net/society/society.html.

Sheldon, Jo-Ann. “As the Romans Did: A Source Book in Roman            Social History”. Oxford            University Press. New York. 1988.

Schnurnberger, L. Let There Be Clothes. Workman Publishing; New York, 1991.

 

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