Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Don't let this happen again...

I was working on my book today and wanted to share this passage from The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis, pp. 198-199

"Women attained great power and influence in the Roman Empire," writes P. Donaldson. "They enjoyed freedom of intercourse in society; they studied literature and philosophy; they took part in political affairs; they defended their own law cases if they wished; and they . . . engaged in the government of provinces and the writing of books. . . . But all this was swept away in the rising tide of Christianity." 47

It has been the custom of Christian historians for eighteen centuries to bewail the freedom of Roman women and to hold them responsible for the decline of the Roman Empire. But the facts do not bear out this accusation. Rome did not fall until after it had adopted Christianity, a fact which suggests the "heretical" belief, voiced by Dante, Gibbon and others, that Christianity itself caused the decline and fall of the empire and the Dark Ages that followed, "when this power of destruction and decay sat like a ghost on the throne of the Caesars." 48

The extreme patriarchalism of the Paulist-Semitic Christians was wounded to its core by the freedom and power of the Roman women. The Semitic women had for centuries been the slaves and chattels of men, and it was the intention of the church fathers to put all women in similar subjection, as decreed by Paul, "the little,bald, bandy-legged renegade Jew" of Tarsus, as James Cleugh describes him.49

Paul's antifeminism amounted to an active phobia of all things female. Modern psychologists have attributed Paul's misogyny to everything from homosexuality to resentment of women's repugnance at his own misshapen body and ugly features.50

Whatever the cause, Paul's contempt for women led to disastrous results just when the patriarchal revolution was beginning to level off toward a true equality of the sexes. Western women and Western civilization are still suffering from the rabid misogyny of Paul and the church fathers. One has only to read the fulminations of these early "fathers" to realize the vitriolic unease with which the Christian Church regarded women and to plumb the depths of the church's psychopathic determination to degrade the female and annihilate her soul.

A modern French historian of ancient Rome, who certainly can- not be regarded as a feminist, has written the deserved epitaph of these Roman women whom the early church so hated and feared: One of the fairest examples of human greatness was the woman of Imperial Rome. Thanks to ber, proud and free as Arria, ancient Rome, in the very years she was about to receive . . . the bloody baptism of Christianity, scales one of the loftiest moral heights humanity has conquered.81

But the most fitting epitaph for Roman and all pre-Christian women was written by a Roman poet of the empire, speaking for all women of all time:

Clames licet et mare caelo
Confundas! Homo sum! 52

Which, freely translated, means:
You men may raise all the hell you want to about it!
I, too, am a human being!

Birth control and abortion were so common in this era that women were begged to consider having at least two babies. I've been thinking about the comments someone made on Athana's blog, Radical Goddess Thealogy as to whether her wish to wipe out patriarchal religion altogether is too extreme. When I consider all we lost with the advent of patriarchy - peace, prosperity, advanced technology - I have to conclude that it may may be entirely necessary to do away with male gods completely. It only seems unreasonable if you don't look at the torture and death that has happened and is happening all over the world. It's going to take radical change to restore balance. I just hope that if we do manage to restore a natural social order, that we hang on to it.


At 10:36 AM, Blogger TheGreenKnight said...

Okay, I've got to respond to some of this. As a specialist in the Middle Ages, I know for a fact that the transformation of the classical heritage is a lot more complicated than this.

First, the idea that it was Christianity that caused the fall of Rome is simply the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Constantine adopted Christianity in 315; the Western Roman Empire lasted another century and a half. It fell apart largely because the Emperors, who had relocated the capitol to Constantinople, decided it was too expensive all things considered to maintain the Western borders. The Eastern Roman Empire, with its official Christianity, then proceeded to be the most brilliant civilization in Europe for the next thousand years. After the Western Roman Empire fell apart, largely because of political decisions coupled with a combination of economic exhaustion, foreign invasion, climate change, and corruption, the only institution that remained to carry Western Roman civilization into the future was the Church. Without it, we would have no knowledge of Rome at all. The whole of ancient literature that survives today is in manuscripts that were copied and preserved by monks during the medieval period.

Second, most modern Biblial scholars believe that Paul did not write all of the letters attributed to him, and also did not write some of the most misogynist passages. If you lift those passages out of the letters in which they appear, you can see that their vocabulary and theology are often quite different from their contexts. The attempt to psychoanalyze a long-dead person may be tempting, but it's not really that productive. Textual criticism is a better approach when texts are all we've got.

Third, although I've not heard any historian blame Roman women for the fall of Rome, it is simply not the case that Roman women were as free as Davis and Donaldson suggest. Although during periods of tumult a handful of upper-class women did become temporarily powerful, they were pilloried at the time for being unwomanlike. And they were a tiny, mostly disdained exception. It's easy to look at a few people like Livia, Lesbia, or Cornelia, and think that they represented a vanguard. Unfortunately, they didn't. By contrast, women in the late Middle Ages could and did hold public office, inherit property, and start their own businesses. By the time the Middle Ages was over, women were gaining a level of autonomy previously unknown. Then, the Renaissance happened, a group of Italian scholars rediscovered the glories of ancient Greece and Rome, and almost overnight women lost everything they had gained.

Fourth, it's odd to think of the Roman state religion as non-patriarchal. Yes, there were goddesses; but the big deity was Jupiter, who had more power than all the other gods put together. Additionally, although some gods were female, this made absolutely no difference to the lives of real women.

Fifth and finally, we did not lose advanced technology with Christianity. The Romans were good at only one kind of technology: civil engineering. They never developed any other kind, because their enormous slave population made it possible for work to be done without machines. The first real technological explosion happened in medieval Europe with the invention of water and windmills -- the first time that machines could be powered by something other than muscle.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger ursa said...


At 12:03 PM, Blogger ursa said...

Morgaine I seem to be having trouble with the blogger and have lost comments,I hope this one gets through. I don't like Romans I think that what thier culture retained of womens freedoms came fom earlier cultures like the Etruscans.they had plenty of female slaves to beat and oppress so that they might spare the influential. Women did do well in the middle ages but shortly after, Witch burning took of in a big way which may have been in part backlash .As long as its God the mother I don't mind if they want a Divine Son. Men seem almost romantically attached to representations of their own image, an enthusiasm I just can't share, but they may require some spiritual out let in this form, I think of Isis and Horus
Re a previous conversation we had about Y's and hybrids you asked If I had any sources.Well I got the book you recommended by Primatologist Frans De Waal and on the last page he says '' do we perhaps act like a hybrid between those two apes?." I have read two previous books by him and he has not mentioned this.So now at least thanks to you we have the beginings of a source for the genetic component in all this.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger TheGreenKnight said...

Ursa has a really good point about the Romans and Etruscans. I'd also like to add that, from my own tradition, which is Celtic Anglicanism, the idea of God as Mother is very strong. There are all kinds of ways to be non-patriarchal.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Athana said...

The world used to be a virtual utopia, with women powerful enough to lend their considerable healing power and stability to all -- including men. The data is all around us now. For starters go listen to the speakers at the Matriarchy Conference on FIRE. Or read James DeMeo's *Saharasia*.

Women have very little to give men now, because the patriarchy has ripped their power away from them.

The archaeological record shows that before around 4000 BC, life was good for everyone, men and women alike. No war. Little violence. Little poverty. No spouse abuse. No child abuse. No "I'm better than you are." No slavery. And no domination of women! Women had an equal share of the power.

But lots of adventure, sensuality, and pleasure! Life was by no means boring!

And look at us now. Constant war, poverty, drug addiction, depression, ennui, and abuse. Social hierarchy is so common we don't even recognize it anymore. We have developed heavy armor so we don't see the bad stuff. Katrina forced us to look at some of it -- the poverty, at least.

We don't like to look at this stuff -- partly because we feel helpless to change it. But we can change it. How? By holding our breaths, counting to three -- and giving women some of their power back!


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