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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Women and the Megaron

In researching the Mycenaean Palaces of the Greek Bronze Age, I came across a paper discussing the purpose of the megaron (by Jarrett Farmer), primarily arguing that it was less a throne room, and more a center of ritual -- in spite of evidence suggesting a throne -- and only an occasional space, rather than one in every day use as a political audience chamber. His theory is based on a number of things, from the wear of the floor tiles to the limited access to the physical space itself, but one part of the argument is the real dearth of imagery of MEN sitting upon thrones of any kind:
Rehak compared images of seated figures from frescos (Fig12), sealings (Figs 13, 14), rings (Fig 15), and sealstones to the fresco motifs in the megaron, and put forward the startling observation that almost all seated figures of identifiable sex in Aegean art are female.

07Mykenischer Kopf01
Female Portrait, wiki commons
In particular there's discussion of a few processional images, in which men are carrying cups toward a seated woman on a throne, and how these images are most often interpreted as goddesses receiving honors or offerings. But, Farmer says, why couldn't they be reflective of just the standard operating procedures of ritual at the time? Why COULDN'T the throne in the megaron have been meant for a woman? Especially if the space was NOT in fact a throne room for the king, but rather, a ritual/cult/religious space?

Well, for that matter, why couldn't women, as priestesses, have been running the place -- but okay, maybe there isn't a lot of support for that in the linear b tablets, so I can see why no one would want to make that claim.


It does, perhaps, put a slightly different spin on the whole "Helen's husband would become King of Sparta" element of the mythology, doesn't it? Because what if Helen weren't just a princess -- what if her role was something greater than that? Something related to the megaron as a ritual and religious space? What if that throne in the megaron was going to be hers?

And not just the myths involving Helen, either, but also the story of Ariadne and Theseus -- Ariadne, the princess of Crete, daughter of Minos. The woman who helped Theseus escape, only to be abandoned on Naxos and made a goddess by Dionysus. Dionysus, who himself may or may not have been related, at that time, to the hearth and the fire and the ritual drinking taking place in the megaron. A priestess Ariadne as the consort of such a god makes an incredible amount of sense.

I'm not sure we'll ever really know one way or the other what the roles of women were in Mycenaean Greece, but theories and discussions like these definitely provide some food for thought.

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