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Student Paper

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Published by: mrifenburg on Sep 27, 2012
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1Michael RifenburgHonors Composition II15 March 2012Half Voice: The False Representations of Female Rhetoric in Ancient GreeceThe suppression of the female voice in Ancient Western society demonstrated acultural bias based on physiological differences and assumptions of disposition based ongender. Women were trapped in the private, domestic sphere with limited access toeducation and the public realm of speeches, politics, and the collaborative developmentof academia. Centuries later, however, scholars have uncovered the histories of multiplewomen who shaped their societies despite disrespect and ridicule. Whether they wereforeigners or bold citizens, these women fought for a voice amongst proud, oppressivemen of their time.
As a result of unrelenting prejudice, however, most women’s
contributions exist within the intellectual products and judgments of famous male figures.In excerpts from her text,
 Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance,
Cheryl Glenn examines the power of the womenAspasia of Miletus and the poet Sappho of Lesbos. Aspasia is known for her sexualrelations with Pericles, but responsible for contributions to rhetorical argument throughspeech-writing and open conversations amongst men. Sappho, while recognized for herdescriptive, unique poetry, harbors the identity of a mystical or magical figure, whichdownplays the development of her literary potential through practice and education. Inrepresentation of the realm of the average female citizens of Ancient Greece, SueBlundell explores the hidden power within the domestic sphere in an excerpt from hertext,
Women in Ancient Greece
. Women often arranged financial matters and argued
2them in private courts, but still lacked the right to participate in public affairs. Althoughwomen of Ancient Greece communicated their ideas and skills through men, or despitethe prejudices of men, and receive some degree of credit in modern feminist academia,they were robbed of their voice in the interpretation of their contributions and thereforeare victims of a male-controlled, inaccurate representation that has persisted throughcenturies of history.Aspasia of Miletus, though powerful in her cultivated education and inventivewriting, is reduced historically as a sexual acquaintance and a persistent voice in the earsof Pericles and Socrates. She utilized her power as a foreign woman to ignore the limitsof Athenian society, but she could not fully bridge the gender gap of opportunity. CherylGlenn asserts that:
Plato’s Socrates reveals Aspasia to be the author of Pericles’s
oration…. Hence Aspasia surely must have influenced Pericles in the
composition of those speeches that both established him as a persuasivespeaker and informed him as the most respected citizen-orator of the age(39)
Aspasia crafted the language of the successful speech, but it wasPericles
not Aspasia
who delivered the funeral oration. (41)
Aspasia’s voice is
limited to assisting Pericles; when Pericles delivers her speech,he gains respect as a leader. Despite the fairly common knowledge among his intellectual
 peers of Aspasia’s influence
, Pericles still remains a prominent, eminent figurehead of Western rhetoric, while Aspasia is, if acknowledged at all, discussed as his sexual,intellectual benefactor.
While Aspasia’s success through Pericles might seem
fortuitousin the midst of silenced Athenian women, she was reduced to words without a
3corresponding face. She was like the modern day speechwriter for a politician, theprominent difference being a restriction based on the perception of her sex rather than theparameters of an occupation. Whether or not Aspasia was content in this position isirrelevant because of the distinction Pericles received in reputational and intellectualcredit for speaking her words. While she is remembered as a morally insufficient foreignmistress, Pericles retains an identity as a charismatic and influential figure. Aspasiareceived no compensation or recognition for her contribution in the public sphere otherthan, perhaps, a sense of satisfaction in her connection to male power; more importantly,she lost the opportunity to independently transform her creation into a historical memory,and by extension solidify the legitimacy of her aptitude and power.The Ancient Greek wife managed
the domestic domain of her family’
s life butreceived only satirical acknowledgments of her identity. By overseeing and participatingin household tasks, wool working, or managing family wealth, women laid thefoundation for the comfort, reputation, and financial well being of their husbands andfamilies. To prove women had power through their domestic knowledge, Sue Blundellstates
, “E
vidence is provided by some law-
court speeches. In one…
a mother, in a verycompetent and forceful manner,
tackles her son’s guardian
(her own father) about hismismanagement of the estate, at the same time demonstrating her sound knowledge of thefamily finances
” (143).
Law records, though arguably unbiased because they demonstrate
the woman’s legal dominance
over her father in this highly patriarchal time period, fail tocapture the perception of women that circulated in the public sphere. Blundell explains:
Aristophanes’ comedies are a rich source of information on similar femalestrategies… we hear about
infertile women who sneak babies into the

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