Danielle Jouanna

(Les Belles Lettres, 288 pages, 2017)


Greek myths and epics abound in memorable depictions of parent-child relationships, legendary good parents, and also murderous ones. Less is written about ordinary fathers and mothers in the classical age, their roles, their expectations, and their emotional investments in their children. To what extent did they have to comply with the educational norms and the duty of raising the future ideal citizen of Athens? And what was it like to be a child? Drawing on multiple sources from literature, art, and archeology, Danielle Jouanna vividly portrays childhood in Athens during the fifth and fourth centuries b.c. While doing so, she debunks a couple of myths along the way.


After numerous studies on the Greek (male) citizen—and, much later on, the Greek woman—interest has risen in the last two decades about the Greek child. Iconographic studies of headstones and archeological excavations of children’s cemeteries have shed new light on this long-neglected topic. Jouanna presents a clear synthesis of these recent contributions. An accomplished Hellenist, she weaves in her own careful analysis of Aristophanes’ plays, Platonic dialogues, legal treatises, and Hippocratic texts to depict the various stages of a Greek child’s life, from birth to early adulthood. Her areas of interest include topics as far ranging as ancient gynecology and obstetrics, gender roles, adoption, children’s tales, rites of passage, games and toys, pederasty, and the Ephebic Oath sworn by eighteen-year-old males on their way to becoming citizens of Athens.


Jouanna writes in the wake of the many who, since Philippe Ariès’ preeminent book on the history of childhood, have focused their research on this important but too often overlooked phase of human life. The newer research she includes adds greatly to our understanding. Scholars and lovers of Greek antiquity have, for generations, been enthralled by the famous kalos kaghatos ideal of the good and beautiful man. This ideal, as Jouanna observes in her conclusion, is remaining evidence of the greatness of Athens. But, in this clear and concise book, she depicts how real children and parents lived in those ancient times.


Danielle Jouanna is a historian specializing in Ancient Greece. She has published a number of well-received books, such as Aspasie de Milet, égérie de Périclès (Fayard, 2005—Prix Diane Potier-Boès 2006 de l’Académie Française), L’Europe est née en Grèce (L’Harmattan, 2009), as well as more recently, Les Grecs aux Enfers (2015) and Rire avec les Anciens (2016), both published by les Belles Lettres.