What are we talking about when we talk about women?

Mary Beard

  • Her Share of the Blessings by Ross Kraemer
    Oxford, 286 pp, £19.50, September 1992, ISBN 0 19 506686 3

Ancient religion has attracted some outrageous scholarship. And women’s religion in the ancient world – from cave people to the early Christians – has been blessed with far more than its fair share of lunacy. Part of this lunacy has, it is true, been confined to the wilder shores of popular imagination: vestal virgins having a dangerously good time with the highest-ranking senators of Rome; primitive mother goddesses ruling the roost in the never-never land of Stone Age matriarchy; beautiful Christian virgins speedily converting their thuggish Roman (would-be) lovers, then firmly leading them by the hand into the lion’s mouth. I am not only thinking of the licensed inaccuracy of film and fiction, however. Otherwise serious academics still offer arguments about women and religion that would be promptly – and rightly – laughed into the dustbin in almost every other field.

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