Arnold Wycombe Gomme, the son of a suffragette, is famous for publishing an article in 1925 that critiqued what he regarded as the current paradigm on the issue of the ‘position’ of classical Athenian women, and offered a rebuttal, utilising ancient and modern texts and works of scholarship. Gomme argued that previous scholars had misread the ancient evidence and fostered an unnecessarily bleak view of the Athenian male’s attitude towards women by taking expressions of misogyny too seriously and ignoring evidence of women being honoured in Athens. This article has been widely accepted as constituting a radical break in the discourse on the lives and ‘status’ of women in classical Athens, and spawned several positive responses in the decades that followed. However, while the importance of this article has been duly noted, it has attracted little interest as a site for the study of classical receptions, and as a complex and fragmented text in its own right, a response to the anxiety of the extended franchise and the discovery of new non-classical civilisations, such as Minoan Crete, that seemed to offer more ‘modern’, freer female figures. The essay itself is the site of multiple receptions: of Greek literature and art, of nineteenth-century texts and of contemporary scholarship, and was itself received and continually sited by the peers of Gomme who applauded his approach to the topic. Gomme explores Attic tragedy, comedy, sculpture, pottery and historiography, and compares the attitudes found therein with those seen in nineteenth-century novels, as well as excerpting passages from classicists writing on Athenian women and critiquing them. In my paper I will discuss the content and impact of the article, concentrating on its interest for scholars of historiography as a site for multivalent and conflicting receptions, and as an expression of anxiety and dis-ease at a time of intense social change. I will draw attention to the impressive number of texts appealed to and cited by Gomme, which range from Menander and Aischylos to Jane Austen and Phyllis Bottome. Most importantly, I will analyse the shifting and uneasy relationship of the figures of the ancient and modern woman in Gomme’s text, remarking upon the ways in which these two constructions continue to haunt historiography today.

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