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British University Censors Ancient Greek Poem for Domestic Violence

Ancient Greek poem women
Ancient Greek women getting water from a fountain are depicted on a vase. Public Domain

A British university censored an ancient Greek poem with references to violence against women in order to not upset students, the London Times reported on Monday.

According to the report, the work, called “Types of Women” — which is more than 2,500 years old — is taught to first-year Classics students at Reading University.

The poem, sometimes translated simply as “Women,” or rendered as Semonides 7, is an Archaic Greek satirical poem written by Semonides of Amorgos in the seventh century BC.

The poem is based on the idea that Zeus created men and women differently, and that he specifically created ten types of women, based on different models from the natural world.

Ancient Greek poem referred to violence against women

The university removed passages of the poem partly to avoid distressing students. “The portion of the poem now omitted involved a brief reference to domestic violence,” it said, adding “that part seemed unnecessarily unpleasant and (potentially) triggering.”

Reading said the poem contained “a particularly nasty reference to smashing your wife’s teeth out with a rock, in an effort to control her.”

It said the professor decided not to include those lines to avoid focusing on extreme misogyny and “so as not to give first-year Classics students, who may be learning about ancient Greece for the first time, an inaccurate impression of Greek culture and literature from this period, which while clearly misogynistic, does not generally highlight acts of domestic abuse.”

Students were told before discussions that the work was an example of “extreme misogyny in archaic Greece,” The Times reports.

Would universities ban the Bible or the Koran?

The decision by the university has created strong reactions by some classicists.

Ewen Bowie, professor emeritus of classical languages and literature at Oxford University, told the Daily Mail that ancient works needed to be “understood in context”. He added: “When you start censoring reading lists you are putting your foot on the slippery slope.”

Several readers also expressed their disapproval at the comments section of the Times.

“Aren’t these students supposed to be mature enough to sit on a murder trial? Shame on the teachers though; either drop the text if there is something better or assume the students are adults who can identify and deal with the unsavory aspects of the text,” a reader said.

Another said: “Perhaps they’d like to ban the Bible or Koran too, for the references to deeply uncomfortable paragraphs about slaves, what wives did to husbands, how daughters extracted their father’s seed etc. Crikey! Get a grip!”

“I wonder how they teach Anglo-Saxon and Viking history these days,” a third reader commented.

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