Misogyny in Greek literature  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Misogyny comes into English from the ancient Greek word, misogunia, which survives in two passages. The earlier, longer and more complete passage comes from a stoic philosopher called Antipater of Tarsus in a moral tract known as On Marriage (c. 150 BC).

Antipater argues that marriage is the foundation of the state, and considers it to be based on divine (polytheistic) decree. Antipater uses misogunia to describe Euripides' usual writing—tēn en to graphein misogunian (the misogyny in the writing). However, he mentions this by way of contrast. He goes on to quote Euripides at some length, writing in praise of wives. Antipater doesn't tell us what it is about Euripides' writing that he believes is misogynistic, he simply expresses his belief that even a man thought to hate women (namely Euripedes) praises wives, so concluding his argument for the importance of marriage. He says, "This thing is truly heroic."

Euripedes' reputation as a misogynist is known from another source. Athenaeus, in Deipnosophistae or Banquet of the Learned, has one of the diners quoting Hieronymus of Cardia who confirms the view was widespread, while offering Sophocles' comment on the matter.

Euripides the poet, also, was much addicted to women: at all events Hieronymus in his Historical Commentaries speaks as follows,—"When some one told Sophocles that Euripides was a woman-hater, 'He may be,' said he, 'in his tragedies, but in his bed he is very fond of women.' " — Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, 2nd/3rd century.

The other surviving use of the original Greek word is by Chrysippus, in a fragment from On affections, quoted by Galen in Hippocrates on Affections. Here, misogyny is the first in a short list of three "disaffections" — women, wine and humanity (misogunian, misoinian, misanthrōpian). Chrysippus' point is more abstract than Antipaters', and Galen quotes the passage as an example of an opinion contrary to his own. What is clear, however, is that he groups hatred of women with hatred of humanity generally, and even hatred of wine. "It was the prevailing medical opinion of his day that wine strengthens body and soul alike."

So, as with his fellow stoic, Antipater, misogyny is viewed negatively, a disease, a dislike of something that is good. It is this issue of conflicted or alternating emotions that was philosophically contentious to the ancient writers. Ricardo Salles suggests the general stoic view was that, "A man may not only alternate between philogyny and misogyny, philanthropy and misanthropy, but be prompted to each by the other."

Misogynist is also found in the Greek — misogunēs — in Deipnosophistae (above) and in Plutarch's Parallel Lives, where it is used as the title of Heracles in the history of Phocion. It was also the title of a play by Menander, which we know of from book seven (concerning Alexandria) of Strabo's 17 volume Geography, and quotations of Menander by Clement of Alexandria and Stobaeus that relate to marriage.

Menander also wrote a play called Misoumenos or The Man She Hated. Another Greek play with a similar name, Misogunos or Woman-hater, is reported by Cicero (in Latin) and attributed to Atilius.

The context is worth quoting in full, because it deals directly with matters already discussed in this article.

"It is the same with other diseases; as the desire of glory, a passion for women, to which the Greeks give the name of philogyneia: and thus all other diseases and sicknesses are generated. But those feelings which are the contrary of these are supposed to have fear for their foundation, as a hatred of women, such as is displayed in the Woman-hater of Atilius; or the hatred of the whole human species, as Timon is reported to have done, whom they call the Misanthrope. Of the same kind is inhospitality. And all these diseases proceed from a certain dread of such things as they hate and avoid. — Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones, 1st century BC."

The more common form of this general word for woman hating is misogunaios

  • There are also some persons easily sated with their connection with the same woman, being at once both mad for women and women haters. — Philo, Of Special Laws, 1st Century.
  • Allied with Venus in honourable positions Saturn makes his subjects haters of women, lovers of antiquity, solitary, unpleasant to meet, unambitious, hating the beautiful, ... — Ptolomy, 'Of the Quality of the Soul', 2nd century.
  • I will prove to you that this wonderful teacher, this woman-hater, is not satisfied with ordinary enjoyments during the night. — Alciphron, 'Thais to Euthyedmus', 2nd century.

The word is also found in Vettius Valens' Anthology and Damascius' Principles.

In summary, Greek literature considered misogyny to be a disease, an anti-social condition, in that it ran contrary to their perceptions of the value of women as wives, and of the family as the foundation of society. These points are widely noted in the secondary literature.

See also




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