Rehak, Paul. “Imag(in)ing a Women’s World in Bronze Age Greece: The Frescoes from Xeste 3 at Akrotiri, Thera” in Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin & Lisa Auanger eds. 2002. Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World. University of Texas Press, Austin. ISBN 0-29-77113-4
A collection of papers covering classical Greece
Rehak, Paul. “Imag(in)ing a Women’s World in Bronze Age Greece: The Frescoes from Xeste 3 at Akrotiri, Thera”
The first article in this collection is solidly on the homosocial end of “from homosocial to homoerotic”, although the author attempts to connect the two, at least in terms of possibilities. The details of the frescoes themselves provide a tantalizing glimpse of a fascinating culture.
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Rehak works on reconstructing (or at least plausibly imagining) female-centered aspects of Cretan society based on a series of frescoes from one particular site on the island of Thera. Aegean art of this era (ca. 1700-1100 BCE) does not portray images of sexual intercourse or even displays of affection or intimacy (whether between members of the opposite or same sex). But the activities depicted for women in these paintings do indicate a homosocial environment and show rites of passage at different stages of a woman’s life, an interpretation aided by fixed artistic conventions for portraying different sexes and ages.
The series of paintings focuses around the gathering of saffron crocuses. Both male and female figures are present, but generally in sex-segregated groupings and with women portrayed as larger and more central to the important activities. The majority of the article reviews the various scenes and figures in detail. Rehak also considers medicinal uses of saffron and how they may be depicted in some of the paintings. The author seems to be on solid ground in establishing the depiction of a gender-segregated society in which women are shown in higher-status contexts. However his conclusion that in such a context, “it would be surprising indeed if these...women did not express their care and attention for each other erotically” is given little additional support other than a later association of floral landscapes with sexuality. More importantly (to me) seems the evidence that gender segregation did not automatically imply lesser status for women.