The “Real Widow” in the City: Widows, Public Space, and Speech in 1 Timothy and the Acts of Thecla

1 Timothy’s concern with widows registers in the very length of the passage he devotes to these women in 1 Tim 5:3-16. In this passage, the author works to severely limit those included in this category not least with an age restriction and the insistence that young widows must (re)marry so that they do not spread gossip or fall victim to their passions. In this paper, I show that 1 Timothy’s restrictions reflect the very possibilities widowhood might occasion for women’s public, political participation in antiquity. That frequent foil for 1 Timothy, the Acts of Thecla highlights just such possibilities that contest the kind of gendered public/private dichotomy 1 Timothy seeks to create. A contrast between the Acts of Thecla and 1 Timothy helps to reveal the way in which widows’ economic decision-making and freedom might contribute to a vision of women as political actors whose voices helped to create the public spaces of the Greek democratic polis.