Houses, Women and Children
Now in the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens
Delphi tried again, pulling the strands of wool and trying to loop the thread through the loom as best she could. She managed about twenty seconds of furious fiddling before it fell apart in her hands. She threw it down in irritation. She was not made to weave.
In desperation, she looked again at the three big jugs of water that stood in the corner of the courtyard. She couldn’t go out again to get more. But there was literally nothing else to do.
Delphi was bored.
Delphi was bored of her toys, mostly carved dolls and animals. Apparently, she was supposed to be practising being a mother with them. As soon as she’d heard that, she’d refused to touch them on principle.
She could play knucklebones, a game where you balance pieces of bone on the back of your hand and try to catch them, but she’d never really got the knack for it and it was no fun on her own. She could go and find her friends, but the girls would probably be with their mothers or sisters, weaving, and Plato would be at his lessons or in the gymnasium.
She sighed and picked up the weaving again.
The problem was that Delphi’s family was unusually small now. Most families were large and the households would have many women. As her dad often pointed out, somewhat apologetically, she was at that awkward age where she was too old to need a nanny but not old enough to get married.
Everything seemed to be building towards Delphi getting married. It was then that she would be fulfilling her role – doing what good Athenian women should do. She should be preparing herself for it.
But that was just much too terrifying to contemplate.
Delphi's House: Fact box
Greek houses were quite different to ones we have today. They were usually built all on one level, around a central courtyard. In Athens, these would usually be quite cramped and entire families and their slaves would often be squeezed into one small house!
In nice houses, and usually at the front, there would be a room called the andron. This was the area reserved for men and would be the place where guests were received or where drinking parties were held. The women’s quarters, called the gynaeceum, were inside the house and was where women were expected to stay! Another important feature was the hearth - a kind of fireplace which acted as a shrine to the goddess of the home, Hestia.
Women had very little control over their lives in Ancient Greece and were seen almost like a possession of their father or husband! They were expected to stay indoors and carry out ‘women’s tasks’, like looking after children, making clothes or collecting water.
Sadly, it would not have been a lot of fun to be a woman in Ancient Greece – but there were some exceptions to the rule! Women and girls played an important role in religious ceremonies, and some, like Aspasia, the wife of the Greek statesman Pericles, had a considerable reputation for their intelligence in their own right.
Education in Ancient Greece
Children’s education in Greece varied hugely depending on whether you were a citizen or not, and if you were a boy or a girl. There were no schools or teachers as such – education was usually carried out by the family or the family’s slaves.
Boys, who were citizens, would often be an apprentice to an older man, who would arrange for their education. It would include learning to read and write, attending the theatre and learning to speak persuasively so they could participate in Greek democracy.
Physical training was also an essential part of any boy’s education, as the Greeks believed a healthy body was very important. Also, it made sure they were physically strong so they could fight well in the army when they were older! Therefore, boys would often wrestle or run races at the gymnasium.
Girls sadly wouldn’t be allowed to do any of these things. They were expected to learn how to look after the home from their family and be ready to get married.