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Women In The Apology Of Socrates

1404 words - 6 pages

Women in the Apology of Socrates

The most striking thing about women in the Apology of Socrates is their absence from where we might expect them. Only two specific women are mentioned: 1) the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo, who answers Chaerephon's question that no one is wiser than Socrates (21a); and 2) Thetis, the mother of Achilles (who himself is not mentioned by name but only referred to as the "son of Thetis"), who warns him that he will die if he kills the Trojan hero Hector (28c). Only two other times does Socrates even mention women: 1) a disparaging reference that those who embarrass the city by coming into court, weeping and carrying on to win the sympathy of the jury, "are in no way better than women" (35c); and 2) a remark that Socrates would enjoy questioning people in the hereafter, "both men and women" (41c), although everyone he actually names is male. Socrates does not mention questioning women in his investigations. Nor do women occur either as spectators to his questions or in relation to all his talk about educating the "youth." The "youth" are obviously all young men. And again, Socrates mentions his family and his sons without mentioning his wife. Plato relates some relationships Socrates had with women (especially with Diotima in the Symposium), but those may be fictional. The only episode of Socrates questioning a woman that is clearly historical is related by Xenophon in his Recollections of Socrates: Socrates questions the courtesan Theodotê, who is famous for her beauty and poses for artists.

Socrates lives in a world where the spheres of life of men and women were radically separate. In Plato's Symposium, which is a drinking party, both men and women are drinking and partying, but they do so in separate parts of the house. The musicans and dancers go back and forth between the men's party and the women's party. Political life was regarded by the Greeks as part of the male sphere of things, and so there were certainly no women in Socrates's jury; but it is hard to know whether there were any in the audience. There has been some dispute about whether women attended Greek plays, the comedies and tragedies, when they were staged -- though there are references by Plato to women in theater audiences. We have this difficulty in part because it was not considered proper for strangers to address respectable women in public. The device of addressing a group of strangers as though there were only men present is also conspicious in the New Testament. Note Matthew 5:27, where there were certainly women present in the crowd that Jesus spoke to, here in the Sermon on the Mount, but he merely says "everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." There is nothing about what happens if a woman looks at a man lustfully. We are left to assume that this must be equally as bad for women, but Jesus doesn't actually say so.
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