BMCR 2023.11.31

(K)eine wie die andere(n). Individualität als Dimension der griechisch-römischen Frauengeschichte

, , (K)eine wie die andere(n). Individualität als Dimension der griechisch-römischen Frauengeschichte. Gender Studies in den Altertumswissenschaften, 11. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2022. Pp. 219. ISBN 9783868219333.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]


20 years after the series “IPHIS – Beiträge zur altertumswissenschaftlichen Genderforschung [Contributions to gender research in ancient studies]” was launched with a volume edited by Barbara Feichtinger and Georg Wöhrle, the eleventh volume is now available. This is a field of research that has not lost any of its relevance in the last two decades and still offers great potential for new research questions.

The editors of the present volume, Angela Pabst and Sandra Scheuble-Reiter, focus on the question of the individuality of women. The contributions they have gathered here are from two two-day workshops held in 2016 and 2019 at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. From the perspective of the reviewer, it is somewhat regrettable that only about half of the papers given at the time were published here, as is now a common phenomenon in the publication of conferences and workshops. This means that the diversity of female figures from different periods and contexts presented at the workshops is reduced in the printed form. (This may also be due to the large overlap in speakers at the two workshops.)

In their introduction (1-11), the editors first lay out the conceptual framework and the genesis of the volume, before briefly summarizing the individual contributions. Their starting point is the observation that female individuals are still underrepresented in comparison to collectives of women in ancient studies research. The aim of this book is therefor to address this issue by focusing on the “individuelle Dimension der antiken Frauengeschichte” (1).

The contributions are divided into three groups. The first two essays, by Egon Flaig and Angel Pabst respectively, are presented under the title “The Concept of Individuality – in Modern and Ancient Thought”. In his essay “Individualismus als Ideologem. Überlegungen zur Pseudo-Theorie des ,Vormodernen Subjektes‘” (15-42), Flaig addresses the question of the timing of the emergence of individuality and self-reflexivity in humans. To do this, he first argues that individuality is always to be located in normative identity and alterity discourses. In a wide and insightful historical arc, he unmasks the false elevation of modernity over premodernity as a perpetuated “Selbstvergewisserung der westlichen Kultur seit dem 19. Jh.” (19). Flaig then illustrates in striking examples how this view has led to a construction of cultural superiority, in which self-reflection and self-awareness – and thus individuality – were styled as achievements of a Western modernity and thus roundly denied to premodernity. He also addresses the clumsy and often illogical attempts to ascribe Greco-Roman antiquity, from which modernity “im Wesentlichen ihre Kategorien, kognitiven Schemata und Problemstellungen gewonnen hat” (37), and emphasizes the importance of early Greek texts for the ideas of human subjectivity and individuality.

Angela Pabst examines Plutarch’s biographies, which he wrote as part of his Parallel Lives, in her discussion of “Farbenspiel des Mensch-Seins. Plutarchs Überlegungen zu Individualität und Exzellenz von Frauen” (43-75). These biographies are one of the central sources not only for the history of events and mentalities, but also – and particularly – for profiled personality portraits of individuals. The external appearance and personal characteristics, upbringing and nutrition of each person are presented here in detail and differentiated, with differences in the protagonists being of particular interest to Plutarch. In the second part, Pabst then turns to a work from the vast corpus of Plutarch’s writings other than biographical texts: On the Virtue of Women, in which Plutarch shows with historical examples that women in extreme situations are quite capable of matching men in courage and bravery. Pabst emphasizes that the historical exempla that Plutarch uses here are all taken from historiography and therefore focus on politics and war, hence on primarily male-inflected spheres. However, she cautions against the conclusion that women were of interest to Plutarch only in such contexts. She concludes that Plutarch sees men and women as individuals equally and makes behavioral recommendations for both.

Five case-oriented contributions follow, which focus on specific individuals. Nancy Richter begins with her analysis of Greek court speeches: “Anonyme Frauen? Die Nennung von Frauennamen vor Gerichtshöfen des klassischen Athen” (79-102). The low number of women’s names mentioned in the context of court cases is commonly interpreted as a reflection of social norms or taboos that prevented men from naming the women involved in court to protect their reputation. Richter, on the other hand, suggests that the striking discrepancy can be explained by the requirements of unambiguous identification of a person. She postulates that it was more practical to identify the women in question through their kinship relationships with men than through their name, since the men of the polis of Athens were probably better known to the listeners (99). A pattern for when women were mentioned by name in court speeches and when they were not is not discernible; it is therefore also not possible to draw reliable conclusions about the social status of the women.

The contribution of Sandra Scheuble-Reiter relates to the late Roman Republic and the early imperial period: “Exigit hoc socialis amor foedusque maritum: moribus hoc, coniunx, exigis ipsa tuis (Ov. Pont. 3,1,73-74). On the scope of action for the wives of Roman exiles” (103-133). Scheuble-Reiter shows the different options that were available to wives whose husbands were in exile and considers cases from 102 BC to 8 AD. Divorce, the dissolution of the marriage, and the continuance of the marriage were all possible; in the latter case, the woman was able to stay in Rome (and support her husband from there morally, financially, and also practically), or follow her husband into exile. As far as the sources show, it is not possible to systematize how the women’s decisions turned out.

After these two women’s collectives, concrete individuals come to the fore in the next section. In her second contribution in the volume, Sandra Scheuble-Reiter examines Archippe, a female figure from classical Athens: “Ἄστη, μέτοικος oder ‚weder – noch‘? Überlegungen zum Status der Archippe, der Frau des Bankiers Pasion”. Archippe has received much attention in research, which has focused in particular on the question of her legal status. Twice married to metics (Pasion and Phormion), who then received Athenian citizenship, she owned real estate – a privilege of Athenian citizens – and appears in three speeches by Demosthenes (a connection with the contribution by Nancy Richter might therefore have been useful). Scheuble-Reiter can demonstrate in a convincing analysis of Demosthenes’ speeches that Archippe was with a high probability an Athenian citizen – which explains her property ownership – who decided to take the rather unconventional step of marrying a metic.

The following contribution by Ann-Cathrin Harders analyzes Adea-Eurydike, a woman from the circle of Alexander the Great: “Außergewöhnlichkeit und Akzeptanz. Adea-Eurydike, Philipp Arrhidaios und die Geburt der basilissa im frühen Hellenismus” (173-197). Like Scheuble-Reiter in her first contribution, Harders asks about the scope of action for charismatic and politically capable women in the period immediately after the death of Alexander. She can show that not only Olympias, the mother of Alexander, but also Adea-Eurydike, his still young niece and wife of the Argead Philip Arrhidaios, who had been acclaimed as basileus, had great influence and authority in this phase. Harders rightly emphasizes that Adea-Eurydike was in 323 the one “die das meiste dynastische Prestige in sich vereinigte, da sie auf eine argeadische Abstammung von mütterlicher wie väterlicher Seite verweisen konnte” (179). However, she only really came to prominence – in Diodorus and Arrian – after the death of Perdiccas in 320 and led (ultimately unsuccessfully) an army against the troops of Olympias. Harders even considers the possibility that Adea was proclaimed basilissa, despite the scarcity and lateness of the sources for that conclusion.

The final contribution is Christiane Kunst’s “Melania the Younger between Typus and Biography” (199-219). She pursues the fundamental question of why women in the principate are so often marginalized as individuals in literary texts and then so prominently come to the fore in late antiquity. As an example, Kunst first provides an overview of the sources on Melania and then outlines her biography. She addresses the question of her individuality, especially in the light of the Vita written by Gerontius, and nuances the problems arising from his intentionality. She emphasizes that the individual traits of Melania can be made plausible but not definitely proven (215), and points out that the individualized depiction of the ascetic and humble Melania was an important element of the goal of the source texts.

The volume clearly shows the relevance and diversity of gender research in the humanities. It illuminates female figures and the questions of their individuality in a broad chronological spectrum and also extends the scope to the modern era through the introductory essay by Flaig. The approach pursued here could be continued with documentary texts to supplement or contrast with the image thus gained. The volume’s overall design is both appealing and neat.


Authors and titles

Angela Pabst / Sandra Scheuble-Reiter: Einführung

Egon Flaig: Individualismus als Ideologem. Überlegungen zur Pseudo-Theorie des ,Vormodernen Subjektes‘

Angela Pabst: Farbenspiel des Mensch-Seins. Plutarchs Überlegungen zu Individualität und Exzellenz von Frauen

Nancy Richter: Anonyme Frauen? Die Nennung von Frauennamen vor Gerichtshöfen des klassischen Athen

Sandra Scheuble-Reiter: Exigiet hoc socialis amor foedusque maritum: moribus hoc, coniunx, exigis ipsa tuis (Ov. Pont. 3,1,73-74). Zu den Handlungsspielräumen der Ehefrauen römischer Exilanten

Sandra Scheuble-Reiter: Ἄστη, μέτοικος oder ‚weder – noch‘? Überlegungen zum Status der Archippe, der Frau des Bankiers Pasion

Ann-Cathrin Harders: Außergewöhnlichkeit und Akzeptanz. Adea-Eurydike, Philipp Arrhidaios und die Geburt der basilissa im frühen Hellenismus

Christiane Kunst: Melania die Jüngere zwischen Typus und Biographie