The chapter “Adultery, women, and social control” in David Cohen’s book Law, Sexuality, and Society argues that adultery in Classical Athens was not as straightforward as the laws created for it, and that scholars need to start looking at the how and the why of it to truly gain insight. What Cohen is examining in this chapter is how sexuality and honour are linked. For a man, it’s actively protecting the sexual purity of the women in his care. For a woman, it’s maintaining that purity before the eyes of others. We can see this, Cohen says, in the community standards: the man’s realm being outdoors and the woman’s indoors. Cohen notes how authors (Euripides and Aristophanes in particular) depict women as powerful, yet dangerous. They
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Cohen’s final argument is looking at the “why” of adultery given that punishments were fairly severe. Cohen states that a great deal of men cared for their wives, and so adultery not only broke the external code of honour but also the internal trust built up between the two. But if a woman wasn’t emotionally satisfied at home, it could push her towards this act and that’s why she’d face automatic divorce. The motivations for the man involved are less clear, but could be trying to establish dominance over the other male to his falling in love with the married woman himself.
Overall, I found this chapter an interesting look into the laws of society as they pertain to adultery, and how that society then uses them. I appreciated the idea that just because something is law, doesn’t mean that people are punished to the full extent of it; that a grey area exists. This chapter addresses some questions I’ve had while learning about women in the ancient Greek world. In particular, why would the punishments for adultery be so severe if the woman was never left unsupervised or was always in her home? Where would she have the opportunity to stray? It’s also the first piece of scholarship that I’ve read that acknowledges that married couples have feelings. Most tend to look at the issues of paternity and dishonour that the man must face in front of society,