Women in ancient Greece

Daily Life of Women Depicted on Pottery

Scenes from the daily life of women form our next heading, and we include therewith those relating to marriage or preparations for nuptials, which play so important a part in woman's life. The “type” of a marriage procession on B.F. vases is liable to be confused with the subject of the marriage of Zeus and Hera; the bride and bridegroom appear in a four-horse chariot, accompanied by persons who, if not deities, at any rate bear similar attributes, such as the caduceus of Hermes or the torches of Artemis (as pronuba ). In scenes of simpler character the wedding party walk in procession or drive in a cart. On later vases the bride is generally led by the hand by her husband, accompanied as before in appropriate fashion. We also find scenes representing the bridal pair on their marital couch (lectus genialis ), and the return of the bride after the ceremonies. Other scenes may possibly represent a betrothal, a bridal toilet, or a nuptialsacrifice, and, finally, the arrival of the bridal pair at their house, with a servant preparing the marriage-bed.

More common, especially on R.F. vases of the fine style, are scenes taken from the life of the women's apartments (γυναικωνῖτις), such as women at their toilet, spinning wool, or bleaching linen, or embroidering. Under the heading of toilet scenes are included single figures of women arranging their hair, painting their faces, fastening on their girdles or shoes, or putting clothes in a wardrobe. They also play with cats or dogs or pet birds, and there is a subject identified as a “consolation” scene. Again, we see women bathing both in private and public baths, or even swimming; but in some of these scenes the bath merely forms part of the toilet. Many of these toilet scenes may perhaps be idealised and regarded as groups of Aphrodite, the Graces, etc.

A favourite subject, but almost confined to the B.F. hydriae, is that of maidens with pitchers on their heads fetching water from a fountain, which is usually in the form of a building with columns and lion's-head spouts of water; the maidens, five or six in number, carry the empty hydriae flat on their heads, the full ones upright. Women are sometimes seen in gardens or orchards, gathering fruitor (on late R.F. vases) frankincense. Other miscellaneous scenes which cannot be classified are: a woman in bed, woman with foot-pan, at a meal, reading from a scroll, burning incense, spinning a top, balancing a stick, riding in a mule-car; two or more women wrapped in one large cloak; and an accouchement scene. Those in which children appear include a nurse and child; a child learning to walk; a mother, and a child in a high chair; and a woman beating a child with a slipper; subjects of children playing with toys, etc., have already been discussed (p. ). Finally, there are the scenes in which women appear as jugglers or performing dances in armour, of which mention has been made; these were probably amusements associated with banquets.

A very common decoration of vases, especially the inferior ones of Apulia, is that of a woman's head, either as the main subject or in some subsidiary part of the decoration; these, however, are so common that they hardly call for detailed description.