Saturday, February 11, 2012


Richard V. Cudjoe, The Social and Legal Position of Widows and Orphans in Classical Athens. Symboles, 3. Athens: Centre for Ancient Greek and Hellenistic Law, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, 2010. Pp. xxi, 309. ISBN 9789609925006.

Reviewed by Konstantinos Kapparis, University of Florida (

Version at BMCR home site

The present study by Richard Cudjoe is an extended version of his doctoral thesis completed at the University of Glasgow in 2001 under the supervision of the eminent legal scholar Douglas M. MacDowell, and was published by the Center for Ancient Greek and Hellenistic Law, in Athens. The book focuses upon the legal status of widows and orphans in Classical Athens, but the reader will find much more than legal history. Cudjoe, a senior lecturer at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, frequently employs intriguing anthropological parallels with the Akan widow and traditional and modern paradigms of widows and orphans in Ghanaian society. Ever mindful of the potential perils of such parallels, the author employs them judiciously as a starting point for insightful discussions in his efforts to place the Athenian widow and orphan in their socio-cultural context. The book is divided into two parts, the first concerns widows and the second orphans.

The opening chapter begins with a horrifying list of all major catastrophes that resulted in heavy losses for the Athenian army: Egypt, Koroneia, Delion, Amphipolis, Sicily, Aigospotamoi, Corinthian war, Chaeroneia, just to name a few. Countless men were killed at the prime of life, leaving behind widows and young orphans. Cudjoe's vivid account of the demographic cost of wars introduces the reader to the main issues of his topic. Although he is aware of the long controversy, Cudjoe seems to accept as fact a story found in later authors (Diogenes Laertios, Athenaios), that as a response to the demographic problems of Athens during the Peloponnesian war a decree passed permitting Athenian men to take more than one wife. However, Cudjoe does not ask the most important question when discussing the credibility of this story: if only one Athenian parent was needed for a child to be a citizen in those years (cf. D. 57.30), why would one need a second lawful wife? A concubine, or even a mere slave could have given a citizen man his son and heir just as easily, which strongly suggests that this rather strange tale is nothing more than an anecdote from later antiquity.

The second part of chapter one discusses the laws of Solon on inheritance and family life, providing the relevant laws and interpreting them as a reaffirmation and streamlining of traditional family patterns. Cudjoe rightly resists the tendency of some scholars to attribute to the archon a pattern of bureaucratic responsibilities that would be alien to Athenian law; for example, the suggestion that all guardians had to be registered with the archon before they could take over their responsibilities. Cudjoe sensibly argues that the archon would only intervene if there was a problem, but if the family had made its own arrangements and the guardians started performing their duties smoothly and without problems, then the archon was not needed. Every surviving piece of legislation involves the archon only when there were problems with the appointment of the guardians or they did not do their job properly.

The second chapter deals with widows in the oikos of their deceased husband. At the beginning Cudjoe provides a comprehensive list of all the passages in the Attic Orators where widows are mentioned, and then offers a brief background discussion on marriage and what happened when the husband died. The underlying views on marriage and family are very much in line with widely accepted orthodoxies in the international bibliography, such as the role of the woman as a "passive participant" (p. 114) in the main events of her life and her limited function as the mere vessel for the continuation of the family lines. However, some of these orthodoxies should not be uncritically accepted. For example, the fact that a woman was not present at the engyê does not necessarily mean that she had no influence or say on her future; the formal contract may have been an affair to be agreed among men, but the entire marriage was not, especially in the case of second or third marriages, when the woman was more mature and with enough life experience and assertiveness to speak for herself, as several references which Cudjoe acknowledges suggest (see pp. 101-114).

In the third chapter, Cudjoe provides sensible discussions on property matters, marriage, dowry and the maintenance of the widow, and examines re-marriage as an economic and social necessity. He interprets the famous passage in Isaios 3.13-14 describing the wild parties of Pyrrhos and his wife, as proof that different, much stricter moral standards applied to marriage by engyê than other types of relationships (p. 108). However, one needs to be cautious both with the rhetoric of Isaios, at this point almost certainly distorting the facts about the lawful wife of Pyrrhos and presenting her as a hetaera, and also with moral perceptions surrounding various forms of relationships in classical Athens. There is no good reason to assume that the relationship between two metics (for example Pasion before his naturalization and Archippe or Lysias the orator and his certainly non-Athenian wife, respectfully mentioned in D. 59.22) assumed less rigorous standards of propriety. Cudjoe states that a stigma was attached to the working woman in 4th century Athens (p. 118) and returns to the topic later (pp. 155- 161) with a brief discussion on working women in the classical period. However, women's labor is an understudied topic of great significance, and since the poor and respectable working woman features often in the sources, more work is certainly needed on this topic.

The fourth chapter discusses the legal and social implications of a pregnant widow, while the fifth chapter explores the property rights of widows, beginning with some interesting anthropological parallels with the British and the Ghanaian widow. Three major issues raised in this chapter need some comment. First, Cudjoe correctly acknowledges that the law quoted in Isaios 10.10, limiting transactions by women to the value of 1 medimnos of barley (roughly the money necessary to provide for the household for one week), was not always observed in daily life in Athens. In fact, I would go so far as to consider it an obsolete statute. This law belonged to another era, but because it was inscribed on the axones of Solon among other laws that still remained in place in the 4th century, Isaios can quote it as a real law, even though it had probably not been enforced since the early years of the Athenian empire, when wealth coming into the city changed the economic capacity of women along with that of men.

The second issue which this chapter raises is that of the economic rights and capacity of women in the intriguing speech Against Spudias (Dem. 41). Cudjoe's otherwise very sensible account generates some confusion as to whether jewelry was routinely calculated in the dowry, as in the case of the wife of Spudias, or not, as in the case of her sister, the wife of the speaker, but correctly concludes that sometimes it was and sometimes it was not. For example, the wife of Spudias had 10 minae worth of jewelry added to her dowry of 30 minae offered to Spudias, because her first husband Leocrates had bought her a lot of jewelry. When they divorced, her father Polyeuktos compensated Leocrates for the value of the jewelry and when she remarried he calculated it into her dowry. The other daughter did not take expensive jewelry with her but only a dowry of 30 minae, and her father in order to equalize the dowries of his two daughters, promised her husband an additional 10 minae, which was going to be raised through a mortgage on the family home after his death, so that in the end each of his daughters had a dowry of 40 minae.

The third issue is the status and dowry of Archippe, which is one of the few instances in the entire book where Cudjoe seems to be genuinely confused. Just to clarify matters, at the death of Pasion Archippe was not and could not possibly be an epikleros. She already had two legitimate sons, one of them an adult (Apollodoros was 24 years old when his father died), and by law now kyrios of the household. From a legal point of view, Pasion did not even have the right to make a will and appoint a guardian for his younger son, since Apollodoros was automatically the kyrios of his underage brother. The only reason why the will and family arrangements of Pasion stood was because they were put together with the consent of his elder son, if not at his instigation, as he might not have had any desire to look after his younger brother or his mother. If Apollodoros had any objection to the will, after the death of Pasion, he had the legal right to ignore it, to automatically assume control of everything, to cancel the marriage of his mother to Phormion, or to keep his young brother with him. But Apollodoros went along with the terms of the will because these arrangements suited a young, carefree, rich playboy at the prime of life, as he was at the time. Only years later (more than 20 for the last and most bitter round attested in Dem. 36, 45 and 46), when he had fallen out with his family, did he decide to contest the legality of those arrangements and claim a larger share of the family fortune for himself. By then his brother was an adult and his mother had been married to Phormion and had children from him, and thus not surprisingly, it was too late to convince anyone that the arrangements, which he had de facto accepted for so long, were illegal and intended to deprive him of his inheritance.

In the sixth chapter Cudjoe offers an excellent account of the appointment process, duties and responsibilities of a guardian, while the seventh chapter focuses on the epikleros. My only objection here is the excessive emphasis upon the view that women never inherited, but only were used as vessels to transmit property. Whatever theoretical model we may adopt to explain the institution of the epikleros and the way property passed through women in Athens, for all intents and purposes of the law and the practicalities of daily life, a woman without brothers took her father's property. If she was not an epikleros, because she had already been married while her father was alive and had children at the time of his death, like the two daughters of Polyeuktos, then the remaining property of her father would pass into her possession in its entirety, and if there were more than one legitimate daughters, the remaining property would be equally distributed among them. If she was an epikleros, her father's property went with her, but in either case her paternal wealth was hers and joined with her husband's property it would provide for the well-being of her family. Chapters 8 and 9 are concerned with matters related to the nurture of the orphan and the management of his property. Chapter 10 offers an account of the termination of the guardianship and the accountability of the guardian, followed by a brief concluding section.

Any disagreement can only be considered minor in light of the engaging presentation and thorough scholarship of this superb book. Richard Cudjoe has succeeded in unraveling the threads of very complex issues with clarity and wisdom.

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