Classical Studies
CLA 5-264-2016

Women in Antiquity

Women working wool. Epinetron: Louvre MNC 624, ca. 500-480 BCE

Instructors:  John Gruber-Miller, 312 College Hall; phone: x4326; email: jgruber-miller@cornellcollege.edu

Laura Farmer, Writing Studio Director, 124 Cole Library; phone: x4509; email: lfarmer@cornellcollege.edu

Brooke Bergantzel, Instructional Technology Librarian, Cole Library, phone x4125; email: bbergantzel@cornellcollege.edu

Ellen Wrede, Arts and Humanities Consulting Librarian, 307 Cole Library; phone: x4466; email: ewrede@cornellcollege.edu

John's Office Hours: M W 11:00 - 12 and by appointment.

Class Meetings: M-F 9-11 & select afternoons 1-3 in College Hall 020

Required Texts:

  • Elaine Fantham, et al., Women in the Classical World: Image and Text. New York: Oxford, 1995.
  • Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen Brown Fant. Women's Life in Greece and Rome. A Sourcebook in Translation. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2005.
  • Snyder, The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome
  • articles and other texts on Moodle

Course Goals: The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the ancient sources, methodologies, and the current debates focusing on women in antiquity. We will explore the representations of women in Classical literature and art as well as the place of women in ancient Greek and Roman culture. Ancient Greece and Rome have often been considered as the origins of Western attitudes toward women. Thus, we will

  • explore the similarities and differences between ancient and contemporary notions of female identity and the position of women in society.
  • interpret and critique various types of textual, visual, and archaeological evidence for the lives of ancient women.
  • investigate the legal, economic, religious, and social status of women in the ancient world with particular attention to issues of class and ethnicity.
  • understand ancient Greek and Roman cultural constructions of gender and how these may have affected the lives and behavior of women in Greek and Roman societies.
  • compare the lived day-to-day lives of Greek and Roman women with those of contemporary central Africa and early to mid 20th century United States.
  • learn the first steps in conducting oral interviews and ethnographic history.
  • improve both your verbal and written communication skills.

Course Requirements:

Class Participation: This includes coming to class prepared and participating actively in discussion. This will be a seminar course, and thus requires you to not only to do the reading before class, but to contribute actively to discussion. Do not be shy. The success of the discussions will depend on each person contributing thoughtfully to the class. By the same token, we all bring different backgrounds and perspectives to the course - this is what makes class interesting. It is, therefore, crucial to the success of the course that everyone show respect and courtesy to everyone else in the class, and a willingness to help each other learn and approach the material from new perspectives.

Informal writing assignments of various types based on class readings (approximately one for each section of the course). These essays are meant to be a chance to examine your own views, values and biases within the light of various readings. They will also help you prepare for class discussions and give you practice in analyzing primary sources before you have to tackle the final project. They will be graded on the depth to which you actively engage the readings and the level of thought you put into your reflections. These topics will be announced in advance. Here is the rubric for informal writing assignments.


Panel Presentation: Each person will be part of a group panel of three students on one of the following topics:

  • Sappho, women's choruses, lesbianism (Day 5)
  • Women and wealth: inheritance, occupations, prostitution (Day 7)
  • Women in domestic and civic space: housing, bathing, fountain house (Day 8)
  • Women's Roles in Civic and Private Religion: evidence for festivals, votives, priestesses, magical spells (Day 9)
  • Women's Bodies: Ancient Medical Theories, dress and portraiture, initiation rites (Brauronia) (Day 11)
  • Women's Education: domestic arts, religious rites, literacy and numeracy (Day 12)
  • Women in Roman foundation stories (Day 13)
  • Marriage & Women's Sexuality in Ancient Rome (Day 14)

Each panel will give a presentation on the topic and then lead a discussion on it for the rest of the morning. The panel should not be a series of separate unconnected reviews, but should be a coherent, well-organized presentation and discussion centering on the topic at hand. On the day of the presentation, the group will need to turn in a detailed outline of their presentation including which areas will be covered and how the presentation will be divided among panel members along with a list of discussion questions. In addition, each person will turn in an evaluation of your contributions and those of the other members of the group. I will also schedule a meeting with each group on the day before the presentation.

Individual grades for the panels will be based on your ability to collaborate with your group (peer evaluations), the amount of effort you put into the panel, and the success of the panel and following discussion as a whole. Factors that will determine the success of the panel include: a clear focus, preparation and organization, how well the topic is covered, pacing so that all the major topics are covered, integration of individual discussions into the group presentation, visual aids (when appropriate), how well the group generates and facilitates discussion.

Oral Interview Project: In order to see the lives of women of antiquity "from the inside," students will interview a woman who lived through the early or mid 20th century and compare her life with the lives of women from central Africa and from ancient Greece and Rome. More detailed instructions will be handed out later, but basically the project will involve the following main steps:

1. preparation for oral interview with a grandmother or other woman over 60 years old;
2. recording the interview
3. creating a podcast that lets all three women's voices be in dialogue with each other
4. writing a long letter back to the woman interviewed responding to her interests and answering her questions about women in ancient Greece and Rome and central Africa.
5. writing a critique of the entire project, including a reflection on the interview process, the questions asked, and the advantages and limits of oral ethnographies.

  • Tentative Deadlines:
  • First Thursday- workshop on oral interviews
  • First Friday - each group submits their interview questions on Moodle
  • Second Thursday or Friday- workshop on editing interviews and using Audacity
  • Third Tuesday - draft transcript of the podcast due
  • Third Thursday - draft of letter to woman interviewed ready to be workshopped
  • Third Friday - podcast completed
  • Fourth Monday - letter to woman interviewed completed.
  • Fourth Tuesday - reflection due


  • 20% informal writing assignments
  • 20% panel presentation
  • 30% oral interview project
  • 20% final exam
  • 10% class participation


Attendance: Since our class format is based primarily on discussion and workshops, it is essential that you come to class every day, prepared and ready to participate actively. Any unexcused absence after one missed class period will harm your final grade. If you must miss class, please inform me ahead of time if at all possible. If you have a fever and other symptoms of the flu, please do not come to class until you have been fever-free for 24 hours.

Drafts of Papers: Learning how to revise papers is an important element of becoming a successful writer, and conferences are an important element in honing your writing skills. The failure to submit a full-length draft when due will automatically result in a grade of C or below for that particular paper.

Deadlines: no late work will be accepted. If an emergency or illness occurs, please let me know immediately so that other plans can be arranged.

Academic Integrity: According to the Cornell College Student Handbook, plagiarism is "is the act of taking the work of another and presenting it as one's own, without acknowledgement of the original source." In other words, using others' ideas, words, even sentence structure, without crediting them is a serious academic offense. Plagiarism also includes writing a paper for another person, borrowing or buying an essay and submitting it as your own, or paraphrasing an article but forgetting to document it. Click here for Cornell's policy on Academic Honesty.

Accomodations for different learning styles: Cornell College is committed to providing equal educational opportunities to all students.  If you have a documented learning disability and will need any accommodation in this course, you must request the accommodation(s) from me as early as possible and no later than the third day of the term. Additional information about the policies and procedures for accommodation of learning disabilities is available on the Cornell web site at http://www.cornellcollege.edu/academic-support-and-advising/disabilities/index.shtml.

Maintained by: classical_studies@cornellcollege.edu Last Update: January 22, 2016 5:37 pm

Professor John Gruber-Miller
CLA 9-264-2010
Women in Antiquity

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