Gender Role Conflicts, Violence, and Emotions in Ancient Symposia

Ancient sources that mention the presence of respectable women at symposia are few in number. Usually the symposium served as an occasion for citizen men to drink and socialize with other men, whereas women—if they joined the gathering—were present for the men’s entertainment. In the exceptional case of citizen women taking part in a symposium they are expected to stay quiet and to attract no attention (e.g. Plutarch, Sept. sap. conv. 150–55). Interestingly, a small number of sources narrate of citizen women not remaining quiet at a symposium—either on their own initiative (Diogenes Laertius 6.97–98) or because of a preceding male provocation (Demosthenes 19.196–199; cf. Cicero, Verr. 2.1.66–67). This kind of active female behavior causes a gender role conflict that makes the men involved try and restore the social order by undertaking a violent attempt to treat the free born woman like a prostitute. The incidents are accompanied by strong affective responses on the part of the women as well as the men: Male wrath and female fear add to the vividness of the narrations. My paper explores both, the narrative structure of the texts ins question as well as the social structure that the narrations presuppose. The analysis sheds new light upon the Lukan scene of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in the house of the pharisee (Luke 7:36–52). Here, a woman joins a symposium, actively approaches the main guest, and is subsequently treated like a sinner by the host. But differently from the Graeco-Roman sources the text does not bring up the woman’s fear. Instead, the Lukan Jesus underscores the love and thankfulness that her behavior displays.