Matriarchal societies

Discussion in 'History Talk' started by Rhonda Tharp, Feb 10, 2012.

  1. Rhonda Tharp

    Rhonda Tharp Active Member

    Is there any evidence that says Greece and Rome were at one time matriarchal, matrilineal or matrilocal? I am doing research on Priestesses and Vestal Virgins and I have come across some interesting quotes from historians as far back as the 1890s up through 2005 claiming that Greece and Rome were matriarchal. Having a hard time finding the empirical evidence, though.

    This quote was taken from Lewis Morgan's "Ancient Society"
    v
    v“When in a society little use is made in the home of the female intellect, we may expect a wide collapse of public morals.”
    v“The mature destruction of ethnic life, or family, will cause a society, like Greece and Rome, to collapse politically.”
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  2. Nadai

    Nadai Active Member

    That's really interesting. As part of my studies I learned about several matriarchal societies, but I've never heard from a history book of Greece or Rome ever being labeled as such. I do remember a myth though from when I was studying Classical Roman and Greek myth...it said that Greece was actually once headed by women, but during the coming about of Athens the people were caught in a heated debate as to whether they should name their city after the sea-god Poseidon or the goddess Athena...the women wanted to choose Athena, but the men wanted Poseidon; unfortunately there was an even number of votes, but women being the heads, won out(their votes were worth more I guess). Apparently Poseidon was a very sore loser because after that he began to patronize the city: floods, earthquakes, attacking sailors, etc. The city suffered so badly that, after some oracle consultation, women were stripped of their voting status as well as their position as the heads of their families.
    There is also another piece about a woman's position in Metamorphosis, I believe, in the story of The Ages. It may be the silver or the bronze age where it describes women as leading villages; if I remember correctly(it's been a while) women ruled over the home while their sons went off to conquest. The myth in particular said something along the lines of men nursing at their mother's breast for 1oo years before they are able to leave home from the shelter of their mothers to conquer their neighbors and die. Apparently after leaving the safety of home they didn't live very long. I suppose their could be other interpritations for that myth, but that was what my class was taught. As I said, I can't remember all of it, it's been a while.
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  3. RLynn

    RLynn Active Member

    I've always heard that the Jews are matrilineal, but I'm not sure about other cultures. I seem to have heard that the Greeks were once matriarchal. Interesting question. The British author John Fowles (The Magus, The French Lieutenant's Woman, etc.) would certainly agree that women are the key to civilized society. I am strongly inclined in that direction myself. Of course, ever since the Judeo-Christian Bible has become influential in the Occident, there has been a bias against women as a favorable cultural factor. Snakes have not fared so well either. :)
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  4. Nadai

    Nadai Active Member

    True. Women do seem to be painted as the villian often times from the Bible to Disney(as well as snakes and dragons). They certainly have gotten the short end of the stick. But it is true that the world would be non-existent if not for women; society would have fallen long ago;)
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  5. Alejandro

    Alejandro Active Member

    Never come across this version before. In all the versions I've read, Greece was always a collection of patriarchal societies which greatly revered female deities, usually to the detriment of Poseidon, who, while vying for city/town patronages, lost out to two goddesses. In the famous case of Athens, the city was, until this event, named Kekropia, after its fourth or fifth king Kekrops, an Egyptian Autochthon who was a son of Gaia having immigrated to Greece around the time that the gods were dividing up the world's territories among themselves. There happened to be several territories whose ownership Poseidon ended up disputing bitterly against some of his fellow deities, and Kekropia was one of these.


    King Kekrops had already worked closely with Athena, with whose help it is sometimes claimed that he invented writing. Athena also taught the people of this city to yoke oxen to the plough. Athena once also made an olive tree grow on the Acropolis of the city, at which time she called upon Kekrops to bear witness to her deed. She grew the tree spontaneously by magically evoking it with a touch of the ground with her spear. When Poseidon raised his dispute against Athena, he indicated, in the competition, that he had produced a spring of brackish water on the Acropolis, a feat he had managed by striking a rock with his Trident. However, as he had no witness to prove this, he had to give the city an extra gift, and he thereupon created the horse, which beast he consequently became the presiding divinity over. He created the animal likewise by striking a rock with his Trident, whence it emerged from the rock. During this contest Athena also created the owl and the snake, and both of these, as well as the olive tree, became sacred to her. Incidentally it was Athena who taught humankind how to tame horses using the bridle, which she herself had invented. She also invented the first chariot, and one legend even has it that a certain Hippeia [Equine] Athena, daughter of Poseidon by the Oceanid Polyphe, was the first person to use the vehicle.

    For the dispute, Zeus appointed as arbitrators Kekrops, Kekrops son Erysikhthon, the powerful local Autochthon Kranaus, and the local river Hisagos, who unanimously, and with the additional nomination of Kekrops wife Queen Agraulos, decided to give the city to Athena, and it was renamed Athenai [Athens] in her honour. In vengeance, Poseidon flooded the Thriasian Plain of Attika, but the arbitrators decision was upheld by the other ten of the Twelve Olympians, the Attikans soon recovered and fortified the Acropolis, and the sea-god was later appeased, since then always bearing a place of honour in the city of Athens.

    So going by that account, there is only one female character, way in the background, who supports Athena, while the sea-god doesn't seem to gain backup from anyone else at all, whatever his/her gender. It would seem the whole region wanted Athena to be their patron. A similar event took place at Argos, whose three river-gods Inakhos (who was also king at the time), Asterion and Kephissos chose Hera over Poseidon, with far worse consequences than the Attikans experienced. Poseidon first dried the three rivers up and then flooded the entire country, after which each of the rivers only had water after rain, while in summer the only springs that provided water were those at Lerna Town. Poseidon was later worshipped there, with a temple in the city built by the people at the spot where the tide of his waters had ebbed. Here his cult title was Prosklystios, "Flooder." Poseidon had a similar dispute with Athena (again) about the neighbouring city of Troizenos, but Zeus judged that the two deities should hold that place in common.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2016
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  6. Myrddin

    Myrddin Well-Known Member

    I'm liking Poseidon less and less. In my opinion, he needs to learn to get over himself. It sounds like Athena did more for the city of Athens, anyway, so she actually, deserves the honour.

    Really doesn't sound like Poseidon deserves to worshipped after everything he did to these people. In my books, he's lucky to get anything at all.
  7. Alejandro

    Alejandro Active Member

    Well, there seem to be two forces at play in these myths: the relationship between Poseidon and Athena; and the personification of the sea. There's always some creative tension between Athena and the sea-god in the stories which feature both of them, and while their purposes seem to eventually end up in the same place, they almost always appear on the opposing sides of any conflict, excepting events like the Titans' and Gigantes' Wars. In some very oldskool versions of the mythology Poseidon is actually Athena's father while in even more popular ones than that he is her grandfather, where she appears as the daughter of his son the Libyan merman-god Triton. Add to those domestic issues the fact that the worship of Poseidon in these myths points quite clearly to a religiously focused fear of the sea and its potentially destructive power. Poseidon thereby seems like one of those gods who in most of his cults was feared rather than loved.
  8. fibi ducks

    fibi ducks Active Member

    If you have time I would strongly recomend Mary Rennault's books - 'The King Must Die' and ' The Bull From the Sea'. She was inspired by Robert Graves' vision of a matriarchal past to Greece's pre-history.

    I've heard it said that the story of Agamemnon's murder by his wife (Clytemneastra) and her lover, and the subsequent vengeance carried out by the son Orestes on Clytemneastra (Oreste's mother of course), and finally the settlement of the matter with the furries - that all of this illustrates the end of the matriarchal way of things in that place.
    For the queen to have her husband killed by a younger repacement is, some say, the central act of a matriarchal world. (And by Robert Graves' account, it is also the theme on which all true poetry reflects).
    But for the son to kill his mother, and in vengeance too, is the upsetting of this matricrchal order.
    And the furries are the Goddess herself, they say, who have no greater interest than avenging the killing of a true queen.
    Now I don;t remember the nature of the deal that is struck with the furries as to why they relent and make settlement. Does anyone else remember?

    To harp back to Graves, he does see a majority of the Greek myths as reflections of the struggle between the older matricrchal order in that part of the world, and the conquering patriarchal invaders.

    I don;t know enough to evaluate the truth of his claims. But I can say that he has been very influential, and that much neo-pagan opinion has stemmed from his book 'The White Goddess'.
    All the best, F.D.
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  9. Caburus

    Caburus Active Member

    Another conflict between Poseidon and Athena could be seen in Plato's story of Atlantis.

    According to Plato, the Egyptians identified Athena with the goddess Neith, and saw her as the patron of Sais in Egypt and of Athens. Atlantis was an island empire that was divided by Poseidon between his sons. Atlantis waged war against Egypt and Athens, which could therefore symbolise Poseidon conflicting with Athena. Atlantis was eventual repulsed by Athens, just as Athena won her other conflict with Poseidon. Afterwards both Atlantis and the then Athenian empire were destroyed by inundation and earthquake. This is exactly what Poseidon did to Attica when he lost to Athena, although Attica was later recovered.

    I wonder if the Atlantis myth could somehow be connected to the contest between Athena and Poseidon for Athens? They both follow a similar pattern - Poseidon conflicts with Athena over territory; Athena triumphs; the territory fought over is flooded.
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  10. Myrddin

    Myrddin Well-Known Member

    Poseidon is such a bag of ducks. :) I really don't like him.

    E. M.

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