Woman is fickle: a journey through an ancient topos

The topos of the fickle woman is well attested in ancient popular misogyny and returns from time to time in several contexts.

Our journey starts from Semonides of Amorgos, the author of the famous iambic poem (fr. 7) against women in which the poet compares women to different types of animals (or natural elements) characterised by specific flaws.

After having emphasised women’s changeability (ὀργὴν δ ἄλλοτ ἀλλοίην ἔχει ‘her mood changes from one moment to the next’, v. 11), Semonides associates the unreliability of women with the unpredictability of the sea (fr. 7, 39-42):

ὥσπερ θάλασσα πολλάκις μὲν ἀτρεμὴς
ἕστηκ’, ἀπήμων, χάρμα ναύτηισιν μέγα,
θέρεος ἐν ὥρηι, πολλάκις δὲ μαίνεται
βαρυκτύποισι κύμασιν φορεομένη.
ταύτηι μάλιστ’ ἔοικε τοιαύτη γυνὴ
ὀργήν· φυὴν δὲ πόντος ἀλλοίην ἔχει.


Just as the smooth unrippled sea at times

stands still, a joy to mariners in summer,

and then at times is wild with pounding waves

This woman’s temperament is just like that.

In this context, the term ὀργή is interesting for its double meaning of ‘temperament’, ‘natural attitude’ (7, 11) and of ‘wrath’ (7, 42).

The woman, then, is fickle like the sea and terrible in her wrath like the stormy sea.