Joan Breton Connelly
PORTRAIT OF A PRIESTESS
Women and ritual in ancient Greece
"...Joan Breton Connelly's Portrait of a Priestess is the biggest, fullest and most up-to-date study of these important women from the time of Homer through to the early years of Christianity. Beautifully illustrated and substantially documented, it is also highly argumentative and certainly more ambitious than merely a catalogue of known priestesses, their images and a description of their functions, which would have been enough of a subject in itself. For Connelly, "on the other hand, there were the priestesses" does not mean that these were exceptions to the rule, nor even that the prominence of women at the level of the sacred somehow compensates for their invisibility elsewhere, but that our picture of the place of Greek women in society as a whole must be substantially adjusted. That decent women were not supposed to be talked about is a literary mirage, according to Connelly, shown to be false by the fact that the names of priestesses appear in inscriptions; I suspect that Thucydides, who mentions Chrysis and next to no other woman, might have been less than bowled over by such an inconsistency.
The question of whether women could attend the Athenian theatre gives a good flavour of her approach. On the European side of the Atlantic at least, it is generally, though not universally, agreed that they were not, as a rule, among the audience. If a woman appearing at a door or at a funeral caused so much anxiety, if women seen drinking with men were branded prostitutes, one would surely have heard about it if women spent hours and hours a day each year squeezed among the tiddly crowds of sweaty men (with no separate toilet facilities) during the days-long festivals of Dionysus, giggling at satyr-phalluses and Aristophanic obscenities about their adulteries, or bored enough to allow their eyes to wander during one of Sophocles' choral odes to make eye contact with someone of the opposite sex. It would have been a uniquely remarkable experience for both sexes, and one that surely would have been remarked upon. For Connelly, however, the fact that some important priestesses had front-row seats in the Hellenistic theatre on which their offices were inscribed is an argument in favour of the belief that women who were not priestesses did indeed attend the theatre. Only our cultural biases prevent us from seeing this truth..." Full article>>