NEW YORK – The Pancyprian Association Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) presented Bucknell University Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies Stephanie Larson’s lecture on Ancient Women at Work: Power, Sex and Revenge on November 14 at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan. A portion of the proceeds from the event went to the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (ASCSA), the charity chosen by Prof. Larson, who is a member of the prestigious school.
Pancyprian WIN President Theana Iordanou gave the welcoming remarks and introduced a video on ASCSA titled Discover the American School, which highlighted the incredible work and impressive history of the institution. Iordanou then introduced Prof. Larson noting that her daughter had attended Bucknell and had been one of Larson’s students and now considered her a dear friend.
A Greek cultural historian and philologist with special interests in the construction and maintenance of regional, ethnic, and gender identities in Archaic and Classical Greece, Larson began her presentation in Greek since as she noted, she doesn’t get the opportunity very often to practice her Greek language skills in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where Bucknell University is located. She mentioned that when she meets a student of Greek descent, she always reaches out to them because of her love of the Greek language and culture. Larson thanked Iordanou, WIN, and ASCSA, and also invited everyone to sit in on one of her classes any time they happen to visit Bucknell, though they would have to take all the tests, she quipped.
Prof. Larson’s current interests include issues of kingship and gender in Herodotus; the use of local traditions in the Pan-Hellenic poetry of Pindar; Euripides and the sophists; Odysseus in Greek tragedy; and the transformation of ancient Greek through Byzantine Greek to Modern Greek.
Prof. Larson co-directs the Thebes Synergasia Excavation Project with Professor Kevin Daly, also an Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Bucknell University.
She began her lecture by noting that the slides featured pictorial representations between idealization and subjectivity and while they give an idea about the work that women did in ancient Greece, we should keep in mind cultural obsessions with women, voyeurism, the male gaze, relationships of power, and systems of value and exchange. The artists who created these images were also very likely to all have been men.
Prof. Larson highlighted her lecture with examples from ancient sources including Herodotus and the ancient playwrights Sophocles and Euripides, among others.
Fetching water, cooking, baking, caring for children, and weaving were among the types of work depicted in vase paintings and figurines. Women were also involved in all aspects of funeral rites from preparing bodies for burial to mourning as depicted in grave stele.
Among the items involved in ancient women’s work raising children was an ancient potty chair, excavated by ASCSA in 1947 but not identified as a potty chair until the 1960s, Prof. Larson noted, adding that the man who excavated it thought it was a wine cooler before the true function was identified.
Women also participated in symposia, often as musicians, dancers, or courtesans who would join in the philosophical discussions as well.
Kneading and baking bread were also part of ancient women’s daily work with one figurine showing a woman waiting by the oven for the bread to bake. Prof. Larson pointed out that the well-known English phrase “bun in the oven” referring to a pregnant woman is in fact of Greek origin.
Weaving was especially associated with women in ancient times and the depictions included famous female characters including the paragon of the faithful wife, Penelope, who famously undid her weaving at night and her opposite Clytemnestra who threw a woven net over husband Agamemnon in order to murder him. Some of the darker aspects of ancient women’s work involved poisoned robes like the one Medea sent to Jason’s betrothed that burned off her skin when she touched it and the poisoned robe sent to Herakles that led to his death and apotheosis.
Helen of Troy was also a weaver, weaving the story of the Trojan War, when called to watch the duel between Menelaus and Paris, she set aside her weaving.
Iordanou thanked everyone for attending and mentioned WIN’s upcoming events including the Christmas Party on December 11 and the Annual Gala on March 6, honoring Tasoula Hadjitofi, author of The Icon Hunter.
Among those present at the event were Pancyprian President Philip Christopher, Pancyprian Cultural Division President Ismini Michaels, ASCSA Executive Director George T. Orfanakos, Head of Economic & Commercial Affairs at the Consulate General of Greece in New York Georgios Michaelides, Atlantic Bank President Nancy Papaioannou, and Cyprus-U.S. Chamber of Commerce Secretary Maria Pappas of Neuberger Berman Investment Advisors LLC.
More information is available on Facebook: Pancyprian WIN.