The Perils Of Ancient Motherhood

Nov 27 2012 @ 8:27am

Emily Wilson reviews a spate of books on motherhood, among them Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome:

Even male authors of antiquity were aware that motherhood was a very dangerous business, for women as well as for men and babies. Those who survived to adulthood must have been conscious that their mothers could have died giving birth to them; men must have been aware that fathering children on their wives could, and quite likely would, kill them. Orestes, who kills his mother in adulthood, is supposedly justified in his action, because he is avenging his father – and the Oresteia itself can be read as, among other things, an attempt to justify matricide and fatherhood (which are, revealingly, linked together). But the cultural background of the play includes the awareness that children very often "kill" their mothers, simply by being born; and husbands often "kill" their wives by making them pregnant.