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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Women Ruled the Roost, 28 Sep 2009
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Spartan Women (Paperback)
At last, a book about women's history which concentrates on women's history rather than serving as vehicle for political theory. Significantly, it has been written by a classicist rather than a sociologist and can best be described in a single word - brilliant. One cannot fail to be dazzled by the width and depth of Pomeroy's scholarship.

Pomeroy makes the important point that "because of their influence and authority in society as a whole, to study Spartan women is not only to learn women's history but also to have a more complete knowledge of Spartan history." Not only has she succeeded in her task of correcting the false notion that "there were no female Spartiates" her integrated approach contrasts markedly with the febrile feminism which is often mistaken for scholarship.

Historically Spartan women have been defined by Helen of Troy, beautiful, wealthy and controlling (was she abducted or a willing participant?). That she could be the latter was implicit in the way of life in Sparta. The Spartans (boys and girls) were brought up to admire physical attributes and spent much of time out of doors physically training and exercising in the nude. Games included naked wrestling and athletics while all forms of sexual practice, including both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, were deemed acceptable. The main difference was that Spartan men were trained for fighting the girls weren't. However, "In Sparta beautiful people were highly esteemed", particularly those of noble birth. These days such concern with blood purity may have branded them as racist. Other Greeks criticised Spartan women for their licentiousness. Teiresias suggested that Spartan women's capacity to enjoy sex was nine times greater than that of Spartan men.

According to Plutarch, Gorgo - Queen of Sparta - was asked, "Why is it that you Spartans are the only women who can rule men?" to which she replied, "That is because we are the only ones who give birth to men". According to Cicero, Spartan women were in charge of their own fertility which makes the preoccupation of modern Feminists with Lesbos all the more revealing. Girls were encouraged to humiliate men in in public and criticise their exercising as a way of assisting in the latter's character building. Spartan women "jeered at cowards and bachelors" and exercised physical control in many ways. In addition, whereas Greek women generally were expected to speak through their husbands, "Spartan women were taught to speak and were encouraged to do so".

There were distinctions between those of noble birth and the lower classes and Pomeroy explains the functions of the helots and free non citizens and slaves as expertly as she identifies the three periods of Ancient Greek history. In addition, while from time to time she speculates, she does so only within the framework of the written and archaeological evidence available to her. Such evidence is listed in a superb appendix which lists "sources for the history of Spartan women". Her sources are as extensive as her outstanding bibliography and are subjected to an analysis of "the limitations of the genre of the work, the bias of the author or the craftsman and the potential problems of modern interpretation."

Pomeroy was Professor of Classics at Hunter College until her retirement with the title Distinguished Professor. Judging by the quality of this book never was a title so deserved. Her enthusiasm, scholarship and judgment are outstanding. The quality of her work has provided an impetus to read more of her extensive studies of the Ancient world. Her contribution to history as a whole as well as the history of women is well worth five stars .
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Spartan Women
Spartan Women by Sarah B. Pomeroy (Paperback - 25 July 2002)
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