Written at opposite ends of the Mediterranean, the works writers Nossis of Locri and Chariton of Aphrodisias represent two very different views of women in the Hellenistic world. Chariton’s novel Callirhoe details the trials and the relationships of the character of the same name. Callirhoe, a woman of extraordinary beauty and fidelity represents Chairiton’s ideal fantasy of what a woman ought to be. As a character, Callirhoe rarely acts; events happen to her, catalyzed by her beauty and the desires she inspires in the men by whom she is surrounded. Callirhoe’s passivity is the result of her inaction and acceptance of the circumstances in which she finds herself. Upon the rare occasions in which she takes independent action, she does so on behalf of her husband, father, and son. Her passivity as a character enables her to be objectified by the other major players in the narrative, and in the course of her misadventures, Callirhoe is stolen, purchased, manipulated both emotionally and spatially, and finally reclaimed, like a stolen masterpiece.
On the other hand, Nossis of Locri is a woman writing about women, and the pictures she paints of their daily lives and relationships allow her audience a glimpse into the lives of real people. Her subjects are presented as independent agents performing actions rather than as the objects of others’ actions. Unlike Callirhoe, who is isolated amongst men from the women with whom she has already formed close relationships with, Nossis’ women form close interpersonal friendships with each-other as well as with the goddesses whom they worship, and their actions within Nossis’ body of work are undertaken with minimal male interference. The disparity between the actions of Callirhoe and the actions of Nossis’ subjects reveals the dichotomy between the expectations of the men outside, and the reality of the women inside the close-knit and multifaceted societies formed by women in the Hellenistic world.
Anne Zegers, ’16
Majors: English – Creative Writing Concentration, Geology
Sponsor: John Gruber-Miller