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Women's Lives at Home and at Work

The character Medea's comment in Euripides' play1 named after her that women2 were said to lead a safe life at home reflected the expectation in Athenian society that women from the propertied class would avoid frequent or close contact with men who were not members of their own family or its circle of friends. Women of this socio-economic level were therefore supposed to spend much of their time in their own home or the home of women friends3. There, women dressed and slept inrooms set aside for them4, but these rooms usually opened onto a walled courtyard where the women could walk in the open air, talk, supervise the domestic chores of the family's slaves5, and interact with other members of the household6 male and female. Here, in their territory as it were, women would spin wool7 for clothing while chatting with women friends who had come to visit, play with their children8, and give their opinions on various matters to the men of the house as they came and went. Poor women had little time for such activities because they, like their husbands, sons, and brothers, had to leave their homes, often only a crowded rental apartment, to find work. They often set up small stalls9 to sell bread, vegetables, simple clothing, or trinkets. Their husbands and sons sought jobs as laborers in workshops or foundries or on construction projects.10.

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