olynthos

Tetradrachm of the Olynthos mint of Macedon during the time of the Chalkidian League c. 383-348 BC

Head of Apollo left, wearing laurel wreath / Kithara within incuse square

A kithara was a professional version of the two-stringed lyre. As opposed to the simpler lyre, which was a folk-instrument, the kithara was primarily used by professional musicians, called kitharodes. The kithara’s origins are likely Asiatic. The name “guitar” is derived from kithara.

In Greek mythology, Sappho ascended the steep slopes of Mount Parnassus where she was welcomed by the Muses. She wandered through the laurel grove and came upon the cave of Apollo, where she bathed in the Castalian Spring and took Phoebus' plectrum to play skillful music. The sacred nymphs danced while she stroked the strings with much talent to bring forth sweet musical melodies from the resonant kithara.

The Chalkidian League was a federal state that existed on the shores of the north west Aegean from around 430 BCE until it was destroyed by Philip II of Macedon in 348 BC.

Olynthos (Olynthus) was a city of Chalcidice, a peninsula in ancient northern Greece, part of the modern region of central Macedonia.

Gendering Space in Greek Houses

Ancient Greek houses were divided so that women were secluded from the world outside and from the rest of the house and from the outside.  There was the gynaikontis (women’s space) and the androkontis (men’s space) and ne’er the twain shall meet.  This is what the literature tells us.  Mostly.  The archaeological record shows that this may have worked differently than previously assumed.

The houses of the rich may well have had a physical distinction between these spaces, but physically dividing one’s house that way was a little more difficult for anyone else.  Greek houses, as shown primarily by evidence from Olynthos and Athens,* tended to be organized around a courtyard and sometimes a colonnaded pastas.  Some houses had an upstairs.  Some did not.

[Houses in Olynthos now.  Not somewhere I’d want to try and live.]

The only area that can definitively be designated male is the andrōn (the men’s dining room), which cannot be found in smaller houses.  The rest of the house is a bit more difficult to divide on a physical level.  If we hold to a strict division and the courtyard is designated women’s space, men can’t get anywhere in the house.  The same goes in reverse.  Additionally, one of the primary tasks women did, weaving, would have been impossible without good lighting.  It simply would not have been practical to do draw a line and say “you can’t step across this.”  Not only would nobody be able to move around the house, but some things did happen in common, sleeping and eating, for example.


[This house is typical to the point of possibly being unique.]

The only option, as some scholars argue, is to consider this a conceptual division of space rather than a physical one.  It was partially a division was one of time, where different people stayed out of the more central parts of the house during different parts of the day.  It could also have been a division of behaviour, with people pretending others simply weren’t there.

*[Skip this if you’re not interested in sources]  Olynthos is problematic in that it is not very close to Athens and provides evidence from a little later than the height of what most people call Classical Greece.  However, it is also one of the best we have.  The city was sacked and most of it was never reoccupied.  The site gives us not only exact layouts for individual houses, but also evidence for what sorts of items might have been used in various rooms.  The problem with studying Athenian houses is mostly a question of access.  There is a lack of funding and most ancient houses are buried under buildings whose owners really don’t want you digging at their foundations thank-you-kindly.  Then there’s the archaeologist who got into a spat with the Greek state and refused to release his findings.  So yeah, evidence is kind of a big problem.

Image Sources:

Ancient Olynthos Chalkidki, image by Christaras A, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ground Plan, Source: Traveling to Nikiti

Sources:

Antonaccio, Carla M. “Architecture and Behavior: Building Gender into Greek Houses.” The Classical World 93.5 (2000): 517-533.

Nevett, L. C. “Gender Relations in the Classical Greek Household: The Archaeological Evidence.” The Annual of the British School at Athens 90 (1995): 363-381.