A History of Women in the West, Volume I Summary

A History of Women in the West, Volume I

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The first installment in a projected five-volume series on women’s history, A HISTORY OF WOMEN IN THE WEST, VOL. I is an encyclopedic survey of the lives of women in Greek and Roman society. Eschewing radical feminist trends, the authors of these essays focus on issues of domesticity, family life, religion, and state policies regarding women. Using an interdisciplinary approach, they range between myth and history to capture the essence of women’s lives in a time when the documentary record was constructed almost exclusively by men. Scant evidence coupled with the distorted perspective offered by exclusively male views leads these essayists to speculate often, but they ground their conjecture in fact whenever possible and seldom stray far from their immediate focus. Several writers spend considerable effort in debunking theories that have distorted the image of women, including ideas popular with modern feminists, such as nineteenth century anthropologist Jacob Bachofen’s theory of matriarchy.

Though they are not overtly political in their analysis, the authors never lose sight of the fact that women were not equals in ancient society; confined to their homes or assigned duties as helpmates or servants, they were systematically excluded from full participation in public life. As a result, women’s history has been ignored and their contributions minimized or discredited. The wide-ranging scholarship and the balanced approach taken by Pantel and her team of essayists makes a significant contribution to rectifying these injustices and establishing a history both by and for women.

Sources for Further Study

Belles Lettres. VIII, Fall, 1992, p. 47.

Choice. XXX, December, 1992, p. 677.

The Christian Century. CIX, August 12, 1992, p. 752.

New Directions for Women. XXI, July 1992. p. 32.

The Times Literary Supplement. June 19, 1992, p. 12.

Washington Times. May 10, 1992, p. B8.