Life Cycles

Athenian girls during classical period

In the Greek cities of the classical period, as in all human societies, the activities and roles assigned to gender, that is, to the feminine or masculine social identity, were learned during childhood through socialization. The identification of gender began with the birth, when a garland of olive leaves was hung at the door of the house if the new-born was a boy and wool if it was a girl. Thus, pointing to the future potential of the boy as an athletic champion and of the girl as a wife who produced cloth.

In Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, performed in Athens at the end of the fifth century BC, a chorus of old women recalls the ritual roles they had performed as children, between the ages ranging from seven to fifteen years old: 

“When I was seven years old, I was arrephoros (carrier of sacred objects), then, at ten, aletris, grinding the grain for the goddess. With a saffron dress, I was a bear in the festivities of Brauron and kanephoros when I was a beautiful maid, wearing a necklace of dried figs” (Lysistrata, 641-647).

Of the four rituals mentioned in Lysistrata, 'acting like the bear' (arkteuein) in the sanctuary of the goddess Artemis in Brauron seems the closest to a rite of passage to prepare girls for adult life. The name alludes to the girls danced like 'bears' as an act of substitution for the previous death of a bear consecrated to the goddess.

These rituals, like the participation of the girls in the choirs that regularly competed in the religious festivals, dancing and singing, contributed to the socialization of the girls and the recognition of their participation in the collective responsibility.

Picture: Arkteuein. Illustrated by Iñaki Diéguez.

Arkteia - Festival de la osa en Braurón. Ilustrado por Iñaki Diéguez

Arkteia - Festival de la osa en Braurón. Ilustrado por Iñaki Diéguez

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The Pastwomen Network co-organizes the International Seminar "Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender Archaeology" at the University of Tübingen.

July 4-10, 2022

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