Nyleni Superville Blackford
Classics and English Literature
Femininity and Madness: Ancient Greek Ritual Mania and its Modernisation
Abstract
This paper is an examination of how ritual madness and gender interact within ancient Greek society. Examining how and why sacred ritual practices contrast with gender roles and sexual ideals, to reveal a hidden history of the true importance of women and mania in ancient religion. Women were considered susceptible to mania in religious contexts - the resulting frenzy was looked down upon, despite its influence within Greek society. Contrastingly, men would also engage in similar rituals however the manic aspect is hidden under illusions of strength. This can be seen in the religious roles of the Pythia and the ritual practices of the Bacchants and Korybants. It shows that although the Greeks feared madness, they could not escape it. They instead created a space for it in their religious practices, hiding it within the feminine sphere, away from the masculine parts of society.
The conclusions highlight some interesting parallels between modern and ancient conceptions of mentality and gender. In both modern and ancient worlds there is a fear around mental divergence, and the gender dynamics involved also mirror each other. The difference is that modern Western society does not have a god nor ritual through which to understand mental disturbances, therefore they seem to be abstracted from our society and are expressed through art. Through these ancient practices we can see how our Western society has been shaped, and hopefully learn how best to deal with the growing issue of mental health and gender disparity in our society.
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