Abstract: Playing with Dolls: Little Girls, Nymphs and Sexuality in Ancient Greece

Nymphs, semi-divine creatures of mythology, represent an unusual class of females of ancient Greece.  They were ubiquitous and widespread.  They were worshipped by humans, and they themselves served the gods.  The nymphs therefore bridged the worlds between the mortal and the divine.  Modest young girls in art and poetry desired to model themselves after the nymphs, because their goal was to “become nymphs” as they took the steps towards marriage preparation.  Nymphs were accessible and sympathetic archetypes for a young girl preparing for the most important transition of her life.

Nymphs, however, had one characteristic that set them apart from other women, particularly modest mortal women: nymphs were allowed to be sexually promiscuous. Sometimes they were chosen by gods for sexual partnerships, sometimes they chose mortal men as their partners, and sometimes they slept with their mythological counterpart, the semi-divine satyrs.  While a nymph was unlikely to refuse a deity, and a mortal was unlikely to refuse a nymph, nymphs are frequently seen rejecting the satyrs.

As female figure who were allowed (in myth) a certain amount of sexual autonomy, this lecture examines the relationship between young mortal women in ancient Greece, suggesting the popularity of the nymph in ancient Greece was based in part on the variety of levels at which she could be interpreted.  For a young girl preparing for marriage and motherhood, the nymphs represented models of behavior that reflected a young girl’s ambivalence towards her own sexuality.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Larson, Jennifer, Greek Nymphs (New York: Oxford University Press: 2001)

Ellen D. Reeder, Pandora: Women in Classical Greece (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

On Ancient Greek Weddings: http://ablemedia.com/ctcweb/consortium/ancientweddings.html

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