A Latin scholar, poet, and biographer, Boccaccio (1313–1375) is most famous today as the author of the Decameron. This compilation of 100 tales, by turns serious, bawdy, and irreverent, purports to be a rendition of the stories told over the course of 10 days by 10 young men and women who had fled Florence to escape the Black Death. Many of the tales are based on older legends, and they frequently reflect the humor of the common people of the era, often at the expense of their spiritual and social betters. Religious authorities were frequent targets of this sort of satire, reflecting their ubiquitous presence in the lives of medieval Europeans, as well as, perhaps, a deep undercurrent of resentment regarding their privileges.
Giovanni Boccaccio, “Putting the Devil Back in Hell” (3.10), from The Decameron: Selected Tales / Decameron: Novelle scelte, trans. Stanley Appelbaum (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2000), 87–93.
World Economic Forum
The Global Gender Gap Report was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to analyze disparities between genders in a worldwide context. It assesses national gender gaps in political, economic, health, and education-related areas and ranks countries according to data, allowing comparisons across regions, time, and income groups. According to the report’s introduction, these rankings “are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.” This excerpt looks at women’s impact on economic growth through increased education, participation in the labor force, and women’s role as consumers, or the “power of the purse.”
From “The Global Gender Gap,” World Economic Forum, 2010. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf (downloaded November 20, 2012).
Agatharcides of Cnidus
The societies and trade networks that flourished along the Red Sea (or “Erythraean Sea” as the Greeks called it) in antiquity were well documented by writers of many different cultures. Gold was one of the most sought after trade items. In the second century BCE, a Greek historian named Agatharchides of Cnidus vividly described the dangerous circumstances under which gold was mined in Nubia.
Agatharchides of Cnidus, “The Gold Mines of Lower Nubia,” from Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, Stanley Burstein, ed. (New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1997); pp. 49-52.
This is a small sample of the array of painted, scratched, and scribbled graffiti archaeologists have discovered on the walls of the city of Pompeii, which was sealed in ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, eds., Roman Civilization: Selected Readings, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 276–278.
Titus Livy was born in the last century BCE (either 59 or 64 BCE) in northern Italy. Livy was a Roman patriot, and his history reflected his pride in Rome’s accomplishments. Unfortunately, only about a quarter of his original History survives. Nonetheless, it is still the best single source for Roman history, and for the parts of his History that survive, Livy is an irreplaceable primary source.
The incident related in the passage presented here involves an extremely rare instance of public political protest on the part of the women of Rome. The issue was the proposed repeal of the Lex Oppia, or Oppian Law. In 215 BCE during the Second Punic Wars, one of Rome’s three great conflicts with Carthage over dominance in the western Mediterranean, the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal inflicted a devastating defeat on the Romans at the battle of Cannae. In the wake of that defeat, the Oppian Law was passed, prohibiting women from having more than half an ounce of gold, wearing clothes in public adorned with expensive purple dye, or riding in a carriage except on religious holidays. These restrictions were implemented to suppress public displays of wealth at a time when Romans were forced by Hannibal’s successes to undergo enormous sacrifices in order to raise and equip new armies. In 195 BCE a movement arose, supported by public demonstrations by women, to repeal the restrictions. The women appealed to the consuls. One of them, Marcus Porcius Cato, adamantly opposed repeal, and the other consul, Lucius Valerius, supported repeal.
Women were denied political rights in Rome. In fact, Roman law invested the father of the family with extraordinarily broad powers (patria potestas), including even the right to kill unwanted children at birth. During the Republic, women were ordinarily under the control (manus) of their husbands, and other women had guardians who made all major decisions. The protest was a real-life effort by women to make themselves heard.
From Livy in History of Rome, Book XXXIV 1-H, Roland Mellor, ed., The Historians of Ancient Rome, 1998, 332–33, 335–36, 338. Routledge, a division of Taylor & Francis Books, LTD.
The Odyssey as a literary work is a mixture of fact and fiction. It was composed around 800 BCE, but it may have originated even later. Authorship, composition date, and historical accuracy of this text are all highly controversial subjects among classicists. Our concern here is not with these issues, but with the view The Odyssey provides of gender relations in an aristocratic society. The position of noblewomen in the world of The Odyssey was mixed. The world of The Odyssey was not unlike that of the western Middle Ages (without the castles). Noble lords, who were great warriors, lived on self-sufficient manorial estates, worked by peasants. In that world, as in most aristocratic societies, women were valued because of their bloodlines. Aristocracies traditionally assert their right to rule on the basis of superior ancestry, so it was important to have noble ancestors on both the father’s and the mother’s sides. The noblewomen in this society also had important duties, managing the estates and their household economy, especially during the prolonged absences of the noblemen. In Penelope’s case, for example, she has successfully run the estate for years in Odysseus’s absence.
The passage presented here represents the culmination of both The Iliad and The Odyssey, because it returns Odysseus to the embrace of his wife and household, ending his long absence both at Troy and on the journey back. When he finally reaches home, he does not know what to expect, and he is characteristically cautious, concealing his identity until he has appraised the situation. Despite Odysseus’s long absence, Penelope continues to wait for him. Hers is an unenviable task. Not only does she bear the burden of worry for her absent husband, but she also has to deal with the insistent pressure from the boorish noble suitors. She reveals an enormous strength of character throughout this ordeal.
The Odyssey of Homer, trans. Samuel Butler. New York: Walter J. Black (1944): 287–90.