Democracy: A Greek Myth

men womenAccording to one philosopher, “women were failed males. It was their lack of heat that made them more ‘formless’” (Garland 110).* This evolutionary step downward was “the first step along the road to deformity” (110). Even a doctor believed that “the creator had purposely made one half of the whole race imperfect and, as it were, mutilated” (110). As a result, girls’ education “was almost completely neglected. The majority received merely a basic training in how to run the household, generally from their mothers. Girls may even have been actively discouraged from becoming literate in order to keep them ‘unspoiled’” (103).

Such a low view of women did not destine them for successful married life. Girls “in their early to mid-teens typically married men who were old enough to be their fathers. … Arranged marriages were the norm” (Garland 48). Since “some pregnancies were unwanted, one solution was to undergo an abortion”; otherwise, “the unwanted infant was carried outside the city and abandoned to its fate” (59). One city even legalized “the abandonment of handicapped and sickly infants. … Girls were abandoned more frequently than boys. … Groups that were at risk of being exposed included the deformed and those who were the product of rape or incest” (60-61). Life was worse for chattel slaves, who were considered “an animate or ensouled piece of property” and “could not represent themselves in court. Starvation and flogging were regular punishments for bad behavior” (70-71). Yet the gods were treated like spoiled children; worshippers’ piety consisted of “giving the gods what they wanted” (131-32).

democracy greeceThe above portrait sounds like a third-world country. Its views on women are comparable to a radical Muslim nation today. Yet this was ancient Greece, the “birthplace” of democracy. Supposedly, c. 450 BC, Athenian citizens were made sovereign. Those citizens “consisted of all adult males over the age of twenty-one. … Each citizen exercised one vote and had the right to speak on whatever issue was under debate” (Garland 13). As a woman, I am still glad that I did not live in ancient Greece. Its people were dirty, ignorant heathens. Ancient Egypt, Israel, and Rome were better cultures in some ways. So I think our elevation of Greece at the expense of other ancient cultures is wrong, even if it did have some form of democracy or philosophy. I feel as though I have been sold a bill of goods.

On a side note, historians call c. 730-630 B.C. the “Orientalizing Period” because of Near Eastern influences on Greek culture (Garland 7). The Phoenicians lived on the Syrian coast in what is now Lebanon. Their cities included Tyre and Sidon. Phoenicia also appears in the Bible (Acts 11:19, 15:3, 21:2). King Solomon used cedar trees from Lebanon in the temple, thanks to a gift from King Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 5:6-10). Garland credits the Phoenicians with innovations in the Greek alphabet (4). Yet the Phoenician aleph (ox-head) and beth (house), changed in Greek to alpha and beta respectively, are also Hebrew (36). So is writing from right to left (36). The Bible refers to Ionia or Greece as Javan, one of seven sons of Japheth (Genesis 10:2; cf Isaiah 66:19, Daniel 8:21, 10:20, 11:2; Zechariah 9:13). So has anyone studied a possible Greek-Hebrew connection c. 1000-600 B.C.?  What are the real origins of Greek mythology?

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* Garland, Robert.  Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

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