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Aspasia and Feminism in Ancient Greece

            Cheryl Glenn, a professor at Oregon State University explains, "for the past 2500 years in Western culture, the ideal women has been disciplined by cultural codes that require a closed mouth (silence), a closed body (chastity), and an enclosed life (domestic confinement)".1 In Athenian society women could easily fit into this described mold. Women were domesticated and kept at home to attend to household duties. They were silent supporters of their men and stayed on the sidelines while their male counterparts took part in politics and other public activities. Xanthippe, Socrates's wife, was one of the few women who didn't fit into this mold, and stood out as a "shrew" for often shouting at Socrates and berating him publicly.2 However, she was an expectation to the norm, alongside a group of foreign-born, well educated, courtesan woman, called hetaerae, that were paid to accompany men to places that other woman were not permitted to attend.3 Aspasia became the most famous and influential of the hetaerae. Her legacy became anything but silent and she appears in multiple historical works by Plato, Xenophon, Cicero, Athenaeus, and Plutarch.4 It is clear she had an immense impact on her male counterparts, perhaps the most over her live-in lover Pericles. However, she became the subject of controversy when it was suggested that her influence took precedence in Pericles's political discussions.5 Her influence has been able to withstand the passing centuries and her story has been the muse for modern writing as the romantic heroine. However, there is a lot of mystery surrounding who Aspasia really was. For example, Aspasia literally means, "the desired one," which was likely a name given to her or one she took when entering the courtesan profession.6 Despite the fact that we can never truly know who Aspasia was, there is good reason to believe she had been a powerful and influential woman because while all other woman remained silent and absent from written record, Aspasia made her mark in many historical works.

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