Friday, March 21, 2008

Goddess Panties

Aphrodite as played by Alexandra Tydings
Inspired by a comment from Dan over at Xark, I decided that I should write an entry on underwear and ancient Greek myth. From time to time students ask me questions like, “What did Aphrodite wear?” I usually just refer them to vase paintings, but when I sat down and thought about it, I realized how little I know about ancient Greek garb. I am fairly confident that it didn’t look like what they dressed Alexandra Tydings in on Xena: Warrior Princess (even though I can’t resist posting that photo of her!), but was the idea of lingerie something an ancient Greek - perhaps an ancient Greek prostitute - would have understood?

What about your garden variety briefs? Sue Blundell says that ancient Greek women wore woolen rags when they were menstruating, but how would that have looked? What about underwear during pregnancy when incontinence might be an issue.

Ancient Roman women appear to have used leather bras and (wool?) briefs at least in some scenarios, but would the concept of clothes under clothes have been something the ancient Greeks understood? I think this is particularly interesting given that Greek women were not isolated or considered unclean while they were menstruating (unlike in many other parts of the Mediterranean and the world). In fact, as usual, our only discussion of menstruation comes from interested ancient Greek physicians who were drawing conclusions about women’s health. They don’t bother to identify whether their patients have to strip off something for examination.

I have reviewed my books - especially Women’s Life in Greece and Rome, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves, Women in Ancient Greece, and Courtesans & Fishcakes - and found nothing (except that woollen rag thing I mentioned above). I have checked Diotima, Perseus Project, and even JSTOR with no luck either. Thankfully, I got some answers in Anahita-L. One person asserts there was no underwear, and they might be right, but my sense is that their opinion stems from a lack of evidence rather than evidence of its lack. But Caroline Tully (through Anahita-l) reports that there IS a book out there that I haven’t read called Women’s Dress in the Ancient Greek World that references G-strings, bras and briefs (also an erotic dancing costume ^.^)!

I leave the rest to your imagination.

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