ABSTRACT

Before attempting to explore the lives of historical metic women in classical Athens, I begin first with mythical representations of metic/foreign women in fifth-century Athenian tragedy. There are two reasons for this. First, the earliest uses of the terms for metics (metoikia, metoikos, etc.) are found in the tragedies of Aeschylus, while Sophocles’ Antigone imagines her living death in terms of metoikia, and women who would qualify as metics in the minds of the Athenian audience appear in a number of plays by Euripides. In fact, tragedy is the only contemporary literary evidence for metic women in the fifth century as metics and can be valuable evidence despite Pomeroy’s dismissal:

I believe it is also necessary to avoid drawing conclusions about Greek women of the Classical period from the depiction of Bronze Age heroines in Greek tragedy. Tragedies have been examined to provide insights into the attitudes of particular poets towards women—in them a poet reveals his ideals and fantasies about women—but tragedies cannot be used as an independent source for the life of average women. 1

It is a mistake to view the women of tragedy as pure reflections of a heroic past as if it were a mirror of the Bronze Age instead of a repurposing of those stories for a new audience. There are certainly idealizations with tragedy, but myth should always be understood as imbued with the attitudes and viewpoints of the period in which they are produced, not as some sort of constant, stable entity. 2 Furthermore, the idealizations and fantasies found reflected in tragedies had a direct impact on the lives of average women, metic and citizen alike—they lived subjected to these ideologies in many instances. Tragedy is thus a vital contemporary source for understanding the lives of metic women. Outside of tragedy, we have primarily later historical references to women who lived in the period by authors such as Plutarch and Athenaeus. The first discussions of what metic status constituted besides tragedy occur only in the fourth century. Thus, it is from these 27plays (with the addition of one inscription) that we can discern the earliest meaning attributed to metic status and how women figured into the institutionalization of metic status because most metic characters within the plays are women.