Skip to main content
Rhetoric, Possibility, and Women's Status in Ancient Athens: Gorgias' and Isocrates' Encomiums of Helen
Rhetoric Society Quarterly
  • Susan L. Trollinger, University of Dayton
Document Type
Publication Date
Over the last fifteen years or so, scholars in the fields of anthropology, history, and classics have paid considerable attention to the status of women in Hellenic antiquity. They point out that Athenian women were not permitted to participate in the social, cultural, economic, and political arenas of the Athenian life in the same ways or to the same degree that their male counterparts did. Whereas men were invited to move about the public sphere, women were confined largely to the private sphere. The segregation of women to the domestic arena is evidenced, these scholars argue, by the fact that Athenian women were defined in the terms of their ability to reproduce Athenians. Unlike Athenian men, they were primarily responsible for "the production of legitimate heirs to the oikoi, or families" (Pomeroy 60). In conjunction with this responsibility, women alone bore the burdens of childbearing, nursing, and cooking (Pomeroy 72). Although some women worked outside as well as inside the home as washerwomen, woolworkers, vendors, nurses, and midwives, all women were prohibited from buying and selling land, or making contracts of a significant value (Pomeroy 73). Moreover, the laws of the polis excluded women from the political population: "Direct participation in the affairs of government-including holding public office, voting, and serving as jurors and soldiers-were possible for only the male citizens" (Pomeroy 74). As a rule, scholars agree that the protocols of participation in the public and private life were established along the lines of gender.
Inclusive pages

Permission documentation is on file.

Taylor and Francis
Peer Reviewed
Citation Information
Susan L. Trollinger. "Rhetoric, Possibility, and Women's Status in Ancient Athens: Gorgias' and Isocrates' Encomiums of Helen" Rhetoric Society Quarterly Vol. 22 Iss. 1 (1992)
Available at: