Vol.4, No.2 | [Article] Women, Death and the Body in some of Plutarch’s writings




This article focuses on some of Plutarch’s texts on women, death and the body, based on a comparison with material from modern Greece, where we find many of the same opinions about women, death and the body among men, and which are different from the women’s thinking about themselves. This article will also try to explain why we encounter many contradictions in Plutarch’s work on the topics: Women are assumed to be ruled by their men, to stay indoors without exposing themselves or talk in public, a habit which is considered extremely unmanly in connection with, for example, mourning. Simultaneously, women who act manly while saving their home and city by exposing not only their bodies, but even their private parts are considered to be brave women. How can we explain these contradictions, many of which Plutarch shares with other ancient male authors of sources? Based on studies in ancient Greek sources, mainly produced by Plutarch, combined with results from fieldwork which the author has carried out in contemporary Greece, and other ethnographic writings, a comparison is made through an analysis of women, death and the body. This is a useful way to try to consider the female part of society from a new approach and try to explain the contradictions we encounter in Plutarch’s texts, which presents the official male value-system, from which the ancient society traditionally has been considered, and which is also very similar to the values found in the writings of modern, particularly male, ethnographers. The absence of the female value-system leaves previous analyses one-sided and incomplete. Therefore, a comprehensive analysis requires the female point of view to be included. Hence, the article argues for the importance of changing our approach when working with ancient Greek culture. Taking account of the female sphere, which still exists in Greece, provides us with a basis for considering the female part of society, but, by so doing, the official male perspective, which is similar to the Western male perspective generally applied within Greek studies, has to be deconstructed.

Keywords : Greek history, ancient and modern; Comparative approach; Women and gender-studies; Plutarch; Women; Death cult and Death-rituals; Body