The best books about women in classical Greece, and how to think about them

Sue Blundell Author Of Women in Ancient Greece
By Sue Blundell

Who am I?

Since I retired from lecturing in Classical Studies I’ve been writing more pieces on women in the ancient world, and also some plays. One of them, 189 Pieces, is about the Portland Vase, a beautiful example of Roman glass whose label in the British Museum tells us that it was owned by the Duke of Portland. This is true—he’d inherited it—but it was bought at great expense by his grandmother, the wonderful Duchess of Portland. Giving women their place in history has been my aim in much of my work. Nowadays I’m obsessed with female footwear, and Cinderella, Goody Two-Shoes, and Carrie Bradshaw take up a lot of my time. 


I wrote...

Women in Ancient Greece

By Sue Blundell,

Book cover of Women in Ancient Greece

What is my book about?

My book presents an overview of the lives of women in archaic and classical Greece. It explores women’s lived experience in its social and legal framework, and also analyses representations of women in myth, literature, and the visual arts. There are chapters on Goddesses, Creation Myth, Homer, the Amazons, Sappho, women’s bodies, Athenian and Spartan society, religious practices, women on stage, philosophical perspectives, and women in sculpture. Much of human life is there.

The books I picked & why

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Myth and Society in Ancient Greece

By Jean-Pierre Vernant, Janet Lloyd (translator),

Book cover of Myth and Society in Ancient Greece

Why this book?

Vernant was an influential scholar when I began writing about women in ancient Greece in the 1990s. His discussions of the social, political and religious institutions of the time, and their relationship with popular mythology, were informed by French structuralist theory.  For me his analysis of the role of marriage in a society devoted to virgin goddesses was particularly stimulating.

Myth and Society in Ancient Greece

By Jean-Pierre Vernant, Janet Lloyd (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Myth and Society in Ancient Greece as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this groundbreaking study, Jean-Pierre Vernant delineates a compelling new vision of ancient Greece. Myth and Society in Ancient Greece takes us far from the calm and familiar images of Polykleitos and the Parthenon to reveal a fundamentally other culture ― one of slavery, of masks and death, of scapegoats, of ritual hunting, and of ecstasies.

Vernant’s provocative discussions of various institutions and practices (including war, marriage, and sacrifice) detail the complex intersection of the religious, social, and political structures of ancient Greece. The book concludes with Vernant’s authoritative genealogy of the study of myth from Antiquity to structuralism and…


Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

By Carolina Hein,

Book cover of Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

Why this book?

Mulvey’s ground-breaking essay on women in film had a huge impact on the scholarship around the visual representation of women in a range of media. Her arguments about masculine voyeurism gave rise to countless discussions of ‘the male gaze,’ and influenced my own exploration of depictions of females in Greek sculpture. Here, the nude goddess Aphrodite was often presented as the object of a desiring gaze. But in ancient Greece the situation was complicated by the popularity of the male nude and the widespread acceptance of homoerotic relations. Mulvey herself went on to distinguish between the straight and the gay gaze. 

Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

By Carolina Hein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seminar paper from the year 2006 in the subject English Language and Literature Studies - Literature, grade: 2,3, University of Constance, 3 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: In a time of rapid technological progress and development, everything changes quite fast. These changes can be seen in every field of life. For instance, the way of supplying basic needs or the way how to make own life better, but also certain norms and values are quite different today. Instead of visiting a theatre in order to be entertained, people can watch TV or use the internet. If a man…


Greek Tragedy

By Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz,

Book cover of Greek Tragedy

Why this book?

Thrilling portraits of violent women in Greek tragedy—for example, Clytemnestra, Electra, and Medeaseem like an anomaly in a society that expected women to get married, bear children, be quiet, and stay at home. In this accessible introduction to the subject Rabinowitz examines tragedy in its original theatrical and social contexts. Her analyses of selected plays are grounded in psychoanalytic and feminist theory, and include vivid accounts of some modern performances. Whatever is happening in the world, there is always a Greek tragedy that speaks to it. 

Greek Tragedy

By Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Greek Tragedy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Greek Tragedy sets ancient tragedy into its original theatrical, political and ritual context and applies modern critical approaches to understanding why tragedy continues to interest modern audiences. * An engaging introduction to Greek tragedy, its history, and its reception in the contemporary world with suggested readings for further study * Examines tragedy's relationship to democracy, religion, and myth * Explores contemporary approaches to scholarship, including structuralist, psychoanalytic, and feminist theory * Provides a thorough examination of contemporary performance practices * Includes detailed readings of selected plays


Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body

By Anne Brydon (editor), Sandra Niessen (editor),

Book cover of Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body

Why this book?

"The statements we make just by getting dressed in the morning." This book about fashion and dress codes, and how they interconnect with gender, sexuality, and class, is lively and thought-provoking. My own study of the women who appear in Greek vase paintings led me to look more closely at women’s relationship with their clothing. In particular their handling of shoes became a source of fascination, and in my current research I’m focussing on narratives around female footwear. In the book, Brydon’s chapter "Sensible Shoes" has been an inspiration. Stilettos, for example, are seen as being entirely ambiguous in their significance, items which can both empower and disable the wearer. Like the knife they are named after, they are double-edged. 

Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body

By Anne Brydon (editor), Sandra Niessen (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Consuming Fashion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Clothing the body is one of the most complicated acts of daily existence. When a nun ponders red shoes, an architect knots his bowtie, a lesbian laces her Doc Marten's, or a nude model disrobes, each is engaging in a process of identity-making that is both intensely personal and deeply social. In an increasingly material world, negotiating dress codes is a nuanced art, informed by shifting patterns of power and authority, play and performance, as well as gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity and race. Drawing on ethnographic knowledge to connect theory and practice, authors reveal links between material culture, social and…


Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths

By Natalie Haynes,

Book cover of Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths

Why this book?

In this witty and intelligent book, broadcaster and novelist Natalie Haynes applies a woman’s mind to stories that in the past have been told to us mostly by men. She presents us with ten female characters who not only feature in ancient myths, but also have starring roles in later paintings, plays, novels, films, operas, and musicals. They include Pandora, Helen, Medusa, Eurydice, and Penelope: whether traditionally seen as victims or villains, all these women are explored in their ‘difficult, messy, murderous’ complexity. 

Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths

By Natalie Haynes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pandora's Jar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Funny, sharp explications of what these sometimes not-very-nice women were up to!' - Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale

The Greek myths are among the world's most important cultural building blocks and they have been retold many times, but rarely do they focus on the remarkable women at the heart of these ancient stories.

Stories of gods and monsters are the mainstay of epic poetry and Greek tragedy, from Homer to Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, from the Trojan War to Jason and the Argonauts. And still, today, a wealth of novels, plays and films draw their inspiration from stories…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Greece, Greek mythology, and classical Greece?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The King Must Die, The Spartans, and The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum if you like this list.