Antiques & The Arts

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey & les femmes en Grèce antique | ANALEPSE

Less than a year after the release of their previous opus, Ubisoft Montreal is back with a new episode of its franchise, dedicated this time to Ancient Greece: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The game is not out yet, we don’t know much about it, except for one key element on which Ubisoft has communicated extensively: the free will of the players. Indeed, for the first time since the creation of the saga, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is more oriented towards role-playing than adventure play: the dialogues and actions of the characters are chosen by the players and will thus have a strong influence on the progress of their adventures. The highlight of Ubisoft’s commitment is choice, left to the player, to play the role of a man or a woman. Unfortunately, at the time of this announcement, there was a real outcry from some of the players who, to sum it up, believed that playing a woman in ancient Greece was like “playing a slave”. Of course, we can blame it on the misogyny that has been going on for decades, especially in the context of epic films, for example, that never really depicted women from Antiquity as strong and independent characters. But what was it really like? Since the 1950s, several historical studies have investigated the subject, sometimes adopting an ideological point of view rather than a scientific one. Without detaching itself from the political, cultural, socio-economical context, and by abandoning all positive or negative value judgments I think it’s time to look at the status of women in ancient Greece, on the occasion of the release of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Before we begin our analysis, it seems essential to me to take stock of a key element of Greek history: the questions from the sources. Whether they are texts written by poets, doctors, historians, speakers or philosophers, they all have one thing in common: their authors are exclusively men. The History of the Women of Ancient Greece is therefore only relayed by testimonies and male perspectives. In addition, the two-party organization of Greek society, with a male world and a female world
each with its own and separate spaces, certainly did not facilitate the collection of women’s testimonies… as men couldn’t access female places, where they formed their personalities and found their role models. In general terms, male/female otherness in Ancient Greece is still perceived as a male superiority. The Greek woman is thus dependent all her life on her Kurios which could be translated as “master” or “owner”, who could be her father, husband, or son, for example. The woman receives a rather brief education (some basic calculation, reading and music skills), and is largely confined to the Oikos, i. e. the home. In the minds of the Greeks, it is a typically feminine private space, in which women carry out their traditional activities: cooking, cleaning, weaving etc… We often imagine the woman locked in the room that was strictly reserved for her: the Gynoecium. But it’s a false image because some houses didn’t have one. However, this myth perfectly evokes what was expected of women: that they are limited to the private sphere without encroaching on the male public space. In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the woman we can embody is from the city of Sparta,
in the Peloponnese, and is called Kassandra. As a mercenary, Kassandra is the very archetype of an assassin: cunning, discreet, she is also an outstanding fighter. This presentation matches perfectly with the idealization that Plutarch, an ancient philosopher of Greek origin, made of women in Sparta. Women who he said, were a model of heroism, sometimes even more so than their husbands. The other sources, which have the majority, are unfortunately formal on that point: Spartan women were no more courageous than other Greeks. Nevertheless, it is important to qualify this point, by focusing on one of the particularities of Sparta: the education given to women. ndeed, unlike other cities, Sparta is actively involved in the education of young girls, which is partly made up of physical and sports training almost as rigorous as the boys’: running, wrestling, discus and javelin throwing. No wonder Kassandra knows how to fight so well… Moreover, in ancient Greece, races take place naked, which fuelled the image of the indecent and obscene Spartan woman. It is true that the latter, unlike the Athenians for example, do not remain confined to their homes and may appear naked. But as historian Edmond Lévy points out, “only malice[can] draw conclusions about their virtue.” Sparta also develops the rivalry of young girls, through sports competitions but also song trials, where they must reflect civic and religious values that have been taught to them. In addition, and for the first time in Assassin’s Creed, between two adventures, Kassandra will also be able to have romantic relationships, and among others: homosexual ones. It’s historically accurate from Ubisoft since the sources report that homosexual relations between women or homo-erotic, i. e. platonic, were admitted to Sparta. However, the Greeks did not really like to talk about female homosexuality: the few texts we have are not enough to make it a certain normality. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, this opportunity to have homosexual relationships allowed women to free themselves from strictly family relationships and to escape a little bit of the social pressure of marriage. But if marriage is a very codified and traditional event in Ancient Greece, Sparta continues its originality with one notable exception: men are required to live in a community until the age of 30. So until that age, the husband only sees his wife in secret, even though the latter has become a mother. The woman was then a little more independent than in other Greek cities, and actively participated in the management of the staff, to household management and the education of children. Finally, born in Sparta, Kassandra is the granddaughter of King Leonidas I, hat I talked about in a previous video. Also, if she hadn’t embarked on a career as a mercenary, she could have had a completely different future…. Indeed, in addition to the particularly important endowments in Sparta, women can inherit half of their fathers’ property allocated to their brothers, and even, in some cases, inherit from their husbands. Thus, women could be rich in Sparta, and it would seem that they had full and free disposal of their property, and thus exercised a significant role of influence on the city. But if the Spartan woman was able to free herself, at the very least, from male domination, by all the elements I have just presented to you, where does this idea come from, then, that, the Greek woman was especially dependent on men? Well, here again, we must return to the key point I raised at the beginning of the analysis: the question of sources. Indeed, our documentation is particularly abundant with regard to the city of Athens, but relatively poor for the other cities. Athenian history has therefore occulted and still occult today, the history of other cities such as Corinth, Sparta or Thebes, whose writings have not reached us. And unfortunately, the status of women in Athens was particularly retrograde. Unlike Spartan women who could be rich, Athenian women couldn’t own real estate and did not enjoy theirs own properties. Indeed, it is their husband who managed their properties and benefited from it. The most eloquent example is the one of the epikleroi. For those only daughters, whose parents died, they did not inherit the property of their lost ones. The city would appoint them a husband who would inherit the property of his deceased in-laws. Similarly, where Spartan women had some sexual freedom, female sexuality is particularly controlled in Athens. Indeed, through reproduction, women are involved in civic renewal, that must be protected from any contamination. If sexual relations outside marriage are so tolerated for men, they are strictly prohibited for women. Athenian democracy, on which our documentation is the most abundant, thus corresponds to the most misogynistic period and the most repressive against women, which has significantly influenced our current vision of women in Ancient Greece. In conclusion, it is clear that the situation of women in ancient Greece is not uniform it varies according to the cities, according to the centuries, and even according to the authors, some who may have idealized or, on the contrary, denigrated women ! For all that, it seems that Kassandra’s condition was better than the one of Athenian woman. Through their education, their competitive spirit, their potential sexual freedom, the absence of their husband and their potential wealth, Spartan women were able to develop a certain autonomy in the city. Nevertheless, we must not fall into the opposite excess: they had no political or military role, for example. So is it a serious mistake for Ubisoft to make us play a Sparta warrior? In my opinion, not at all! The main interest of the Assassin’s Creed saga is to entertain us, and from that perspective, I find that the artistic freedom that Ubisoft has given itself is welcome. Strong and independent female characters are rare in video games. So playing the character of Kassandra is, in my opinion, an interesting choice that makes the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey game experience all the more pleasant!

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