The portrayal of Ancient Greek Women

The portrayal of Ancient Greek Women

In ancient Greece, women were described negatively in most cases. They were given no significant roles in society as they were considered incompetent. The classical Greek literature was one area where women were majorly looked down upon. Their portrayal is extremely jealous, troublemakers and the gender of unstable emotions. Examples of such women in the literature include Hera and Medea. In other instances, however, women in ancient Greece got definite descriptions and were respected. These were women who defied the norms and established themselves as fundamental members of the society by venturing into fields such as medicine that were male-dominated and even participated in acts of heroism (Keesling, 2017).


One of the notable women in ancient Greece was Hydna of Scione. Hydna grew to become an expert diver from a young age under the tutelage of her father, a diving instructor. In 480 BCE, the Persians attacked the Greek, sacked Athens and had their navy seek full destruction of the Greek army in a naval battle. Hydna and her father then opted to stop the Persians by swimming ten miles in the middle of a storm, diving beneath Persian ships and cutting off their moorings (Keesling, 2017). This brave action caused the vessel to drift, damage other vessels or run aground, making the Greek emerge victoriously. Due to her heroism, Hydna’s statue was erected in Delphi alongside that of her father’s.


As time went by, women were respected more in Greek societies and were even portrayed positively in literature. A good example is the story of Penelope in the Odyssey that was written in the 8th century BCE. Penelope was described as an epitome of marital fidelity. After her husband, King Odysseus is called to the Trojan War and fails to return after several years, Penelope is persuaded to remarry (Gorden, 2015; Gorden, 2015). She keeps her suitors at bay by developing challenges as she is still waiting on her husband despite the many teary and lonely nights. Odysseus comes back home after twenty years to his faithful and loving wife.




Agnodice was a Greek woman who lived in the classical era and considered among the strongest women of her time by being the first female midwife known to history. Being a woman with a passion for medicine in an era where females were not allowed to practice medicine, Agnodice opted to disguise herself as a man to study the course (Keesling, 2017). She specialized in midwifery and shone so much in the field that her male counterparts accused her and had her tried for seducing women. She was defended by wives of noblemen in the city and got acquitted. After Agnodice revealed herself as a woman, she got tried again for being a female physician practicing in Athens. It was her passion and bravery that made the authorities in Athens to grant female physicians the freedom of drilling in the city. Agnodice is still respected by midwives and the Greek society in general to date.


Lastly, Telesilla of Argos was one female who managed to earn respect in the Greek archaic society. She grew to become one of the most looked upon and influential poets in Greece. However, Telesilla’s poetry was not the only reason for her influence but her bravery too. When the Argive soldiers were defeated by King Cleomenes of Sparta and the Spartan army was progressing to take the city, Telesilla formed a makeshift army. This army was composed of the remaining men, slaves, and women. The valiantly under Telesilla’s command which forced the Spartan army to flee. Telesilla’s bravery, therefore, saved the Greek from being conquered by the Spartans (Keesling, 2017).



Gorden, A. (2015). Penelope, Unsung Hero. The Core Journal, 1(24), 15-17.

Keesling, C. (2017). Documenting Archaic and Classical Greek History. In Early Greek Portraiture: Monuments and Histories (pp. 151-216). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.