Gender, spirit and soul : the differences in attitude of Plato and Augustine of Hippo towards women and slaves
This thesis will look at the changes brought about in the perception of women's role in society by the advent of Christianity. The early chapters will discuss the actual status of women in ancient Graeco-Roman and Jewish society, so far as that can be discovered; followed by St Paul's views on women, which heavily influenced St Augustine. I shall then examine the status assigned to women and slaves by Plato in his two outlines for ideal societies, the Republic and the Laws, and shall finish with an examination of Augustine's attitudes to women and slavery. Plato believed that intelligent women were just as capable as men of achieving the philosophical ideal, and he believed that there would be many intelligent women in any given society. Many of Augustine's Letters are addressed to 'holy women", though he was reluctant to accept that these women were not exceptional. Augustine had many female correspondents, most but not all of whom were consecrated virgins or chaste widows. It is quite clear that Augustine believed that these women could achieve salvation on their own account, and also that he respected the intellect of some of them. However, even these women were to live subdued, enclosed lives. In the City of God he follows Paul in circumscribing the actions of women, but his estimation of their intellect is consistently higher than Paul's. The major difference between Plato and the Christians on this issue was that for Plato, sex was a part of normal life, and indeed essential to the continuation of the State; whereas for Christians it had become a problem and a hindrance to salvation. Neither Paul nor Augustine considered it necessary to combat slavery, probably because they were more concerned with securing the afterlife than with correcting conditions in this life.