Friday, 13 March 2009

Archaeology of women

Who is she? A goddess, a ritual object, a votive offering, a vehicle for working magic or fulfilling wishes, a talisman for protection, a teaching or initiation device, or simply an ancient woman's embodiment of herself?
The Brooklyn Museum is staging an exhibition of prehistoric female statues (which may or may not be goddesses). It will be accompanied by a seminar to discuss early female figurines of the Neolithic Period from ancient Mesopotamia and of the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods from ancient Egypt.

Similarly, the Onassis Cultural Center is staging an exhibition, "Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens":
The purpose of the exhibition Worshiping Women is not to argue that Classical Athenian women were 'liberated' in any contemporary sense, like the figure of Lysistrata on the comic stage. It remains true that the lives of Athenian women were highly restricted when it came to mobility in the public sphere, participation in the political process, or control over their own bodies. But the study of religion provides a necessary corrective to this unremittingly bleak picture.
It is not that participation in religious ritual was an 'escape' for women from their lives of daily oppression, for it is highly unlikely that they perceived their own existence in this way. Rather, ritual defined who they were -- as women, as Greeks, and as Athenians.

1 comment:

Anthroslug said...

Thank you for the links (I doubt I'll have a chance to see either, but both are great), and for making the point that the female figurines are rather enigmatic. I too often see people assigning a (usually bizarrely modern) interpretation to them, and I am thrilled when I see someone who treats them as the puzzle that they really are.