From Girl to Woman: the Role of the Parthenos in Ancient Attic Religious Ritual
Persons, Gwendolyn S.
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The purpose of what follows is to explore the contradictions of femininity in ancient Attica by specifically focusing in on some religious and ritual functions of parthenoi (peri- and post-pubescent unmarried citizen females) in Attica. For young women in Ancient Athens and its environs, parthenia was a phase of life equally celebrated and reviled. The period of a young woman’s life when she was on the verge of physical and reproductive maturity was a frightening time when she was constantly at risk, and her very maidenhood was to be protected at all costs. However, in order to complete her transition into womanhood, it was first necessary for a maiden to be seen by her prospective suitors. Thus the period of maidenhood in a young woman’s life was a constant back and forth between the public and private realms. Parthenoi were relegated to the private realm, that is the protection and concealment of their natal households primarily in order to protect their virginity, and thus their desirability as future brides. However, this time within the privacy of the home was also used to train maidens as future wives and domestic workers, which only further increased their marriageability. Indeed, the very ritual which ushered the citizen born girls of Attica into their time as parthenoi was essentially a private ritual, shrouded in secrecy and accomplished entirely separate from men in a sanctuary of Artemis. The focus of the ritual, which will be examined more closely later, is utterly ensconced in the private realm, with a focus not simply on the individual girl’s body, but on its inner-workings and its relationship to the goddess in a very personal sense with regard to the girl’s entrance into a dangerous period of transition to reproductive viability and womanhood.These materials are public at the request of the author.