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Ancient Greek Gender Roles Essay Topic Ideas

Ancient Greece was a fascinating and complex civilization. They developed so many ideas that became foundational to Western Civilization in philosophy, art, law, politics, just to name a few. When we look at the subject of gender, however, we realize that the ancient Greeks were very different from the modern world. Learning about this aspect of their culture is going to require jettisoning your assumptions about male and female gender roles, and such modern sexual identities as “gay” and “straight.” Famously, there was no role for women in political or public life in most parts of Ancient Greece (Sparta was a notable exception). Much Greek literature discusses sexual acts or relations between men that would be scandalous throughout much of Western history after Christianity, yet there was no conception of a “homosexual” in the classical world. Ancient Greece provides a rich resource for essay topics. Here are some you might want to consider.

  • Ancient Greek art tended to depict women clothed and men naked. What beliefs about men and women did this reflect? What social function did this have? What aesthetic function did it have for them?
  • For a Greek, being a man often meant being a hero. But what did being a hero mean? Analyze this role in literature such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey or one of the tragedies. You can compare this with historical evidence about real-life events in ancient Greece. How do these ideas compare with our notions of masculinity?
  • Greece was notoriously misogynistic, yet produced a great female poet in Sappho. How do her poems flout or conform to the conventions of female behavior in the classical world?
  • What was an ancient Greek wedding ritual like, and what do those rituals say about gender roles in that society?
  • How were the roles of women different in ancient Athens versus ancient Sparta? What about the political structure of those city-states might have contributed to the difference?
  • The early Olympic Games featured nude men competing athletically, and therefore women were banned from attendance.  Analyze the Olympic Games as an expression of Ancient Greek ideals of masculine and feminine, and how the body and competition were viewed in relation to these.
  • Women were largely absent from Greek political life, but what about Greek home life?
  • Examine the character Penelope in the Odyssey and how she represents the feminine ideal.

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