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image: Coursework headerA woman with a green bandanna tied around her head says that she lived with a Berber family in Morocco for two months, and only saw the father once. The class follows this tangent for a few minutes, intrigued by her stories, until Slatkin directs them toward today's reading. The separation of men and women in this household, she points out, seems "directly relevant not just to the Berber example, but to a general picture of the way there's more demarcation than simply outside/inside." She makes the transition. "Is there a paradox about women and boundaries when we come to the readings for today?"

Again, the students seem a bit shy, so Slatkin tries a different tactic. "Let me ask you as a group: Did you like these readings? Find them provocative? Suggestive? Boring? Were you appalled?"

"Appalled," states one woman.

The primary readings--Greek medical writings translated into English--came from Women's Life in Greece and Rome, edited by Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant. Because most of the students are not classicists--the course is listed under ancient studies, classical civilizations, classics, and gender studies--Slatkin had also assigned three scholarly articles to help them put the primary works in context. The course description notes that in addition to studying how women were portrayed in ancient Greek literature and comparing women's literary roles with their social status, students will read contemporary studies to help them "analyze the origins of Western attitudes toward women."

"I'm not asking, 'Did you like most the part where you stick a feather up a woman to get her to menstruate?'" she explains, perhaps hoping to shock them into discussion. "I'm asking about the secondary articles." She's looking for arguments, ideas.

An intense woman in a white T-shirt and black sweater notes how one commentary pointed out the many bestial references to women in the ancient Greek medical writings. "I would have liked to know if men ever compared themselves to animals, and in what context."

Slatkin comments that Plato did compare men to animals, talking about their "raging impulse to conquest."

Instead of a lecture, this is the format the class will follow: Slatkin asking questions and offering insights in between student comments, until the discussion begins to resemble a rapid game of ping-pong.

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  DECEMBER 1999

  > > Volume 92, Number 2


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Coming of age
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Positively medieval
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Elements of style
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Gift trapped

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