Families & the status of women

In Gehennum a woman must marry outside her family. She joins her husband's family on marriage, and men rule the families. Marriage is monogamous. Although men sometimes keep concubines in addition to their wives, these arrangements are not condoned by society or the law.

When a woman marries, her share of her family's wealth is given to her husband as a dowry, and she has no legal control over it. Propertyless, dependent upon their menfolk to protect them from robbery, enslavement, and rape, and generally obliged to marry at the pleasure of the men of their families, Gehennese women are in an invidious position. They have few legal and no political rights.

As society is patrilineal, the paternity of any children is very important. This being the case, women are obliged to protect their reputations for fidelity: to be known as 'fast' is a disaster. Men are careful that they are not encumbered with the support of another man's bastards by their wives, sisters, or daughters. This care takes the form of protecting 'their' women from seduction, rape, and scandal. The reputations of 'their' women have become a point of honour for Gehennese men, and in many cases their protection has become oppressive.

In most Gehennese houses, a secure gynekeum is set aside as a refuge for the women, and is generally guarded as well as the family can afford. Such families as can afford it like to remove the need for their women to go out in public. Certainly, no woman of 'good family' goes out without a guard and chaperone.

The poor can't afford this rubbish. Poor women must work, and can afford no guards. They are less trammelled, but their reputations are little-regarded by wealthy men, who think it reasonable to flirt with, conduct affaires with, and seduce them.

The position of women is most invidious in the Archaic Period. In the Classical Period, the remarkable contributions of Aspasia (courtesan, raconteuse, educator, and inventor of the novel) and Ismene (astronomer, natural historian, scholar, and teacher) have recently had a dramatic effect on the position of women. The recognition of female intellect has made men turn to women for company. Integrated parties are now more common than stag dinners, and the ball and soiree are emerging to rival the symposium. Now a beautiful and witty wife is as great a credit as a fertile and virtuous one.

In the Classical Period progressive men now encourage their daughters to meet eligible suitors at dances and parties, and allow them some choice as to who they will marry. Although the law still makes the dowry the property of the husband, usage is beginning to reserve the income from it to the woman, and some men even allow their wives to manage their own dowries.

In the Decadent Period the lot of women is better still. It is customary among the dynastai and eupatridai for married women to control at least the incomes of their own dowries, and often the capital as well. Girls are much more often taught to read, and their intellectual (if not legal and political) equality with men is widely accepted. A change of standards allows 'proper' women to discuss literature and philosophy, to dance with men they scarcely know at private parties, to flirt playfully, and to accept admiration without it being concluded that they are of easy virtue.

Sexual mores

Gehennese sexual mores are quite unlike our own. Contact between men and women is restricted and controlled in a fashion reminiscent of a past, strait-laced epoch, but homosexuality is accepted and even expected conduct.

The measures taken to control women vary from age to age (see above), but they are consistently designed to protect the 'rights' of the men who control them. A woman (unless she is a prostitute or hetaira) will usually find it difficult to be alone with any man other than her husband, but this is not made so because sex is taboo, but because her husband would be thought a cuckold if she were, or if she has no husband, it would be thought that her guardian was letting her favours without providing her the security of a marriage. A woman who has the reputation of being 'fast' is a shame to her husband, and if she has no husband, will have difficulty getting one without a large dowry.

It may be that the Gehennese turn to homosexuality because their customs make heterosexual partners hard to find, but societies on Earth with similar arrangements have not all been so tolerant. Be that as it may, the Gehennese have no taboo against homosexuality, and expect and even encourage it under some circumstances.

A Gehennese person's adolescent experiments in sex are likely to be with a person of the same sex, and adolescent homosexual crushes are likely to be consummated. Good-looking youths are much admired and courted by Gehennese men, and (although their families usually take steps to protect them from being debauched by undesirable lovers) a romance with an older man of good character is considered wholesome and good for building character. The affairs of women and girls are conducted more discreetly, and with less public posturing and conspicuous gallantry, but are essentially similar.

In the Archaic and Decadent Periods especially, enduring love between men is held in particularly high regard, and is thought to produce the most noble behaviour. In the military it is thought that a man fighting beside his lover will fight with the verve of two, maintaining, as he does, the honour of another man which is as dear as his own. Elite military units composed of pairs of male lovers enjoy high prestige, but are occasionally plagued by heterosexuals volunteering solely for the prestige.

Although Gehennese will often resume homosexual behaviour out of whim, to gratify a friend, or as part of the games at a dissipated party, and although relationships established in adolescence can persist for a life-time, they tend gradually to abandon homosexual activity after marriage, or at least after heterosexual opportunities become available. The proportion of the population which retains a preference for his or her own sex throughout life is no higher in Gehennese society then in our own.

The Gehennese are, on the other hand, afflicted with an extremely strong taboo against incest, which they view with great horror. Women need to be chaperoned even in the company of their brothers and fathers, to protect their reputations against suspicions of incest. There are also informal taboos against sex during menstruation and pregnancy, but these acts are viewed with distaste and disapproval, respectively, but not with horror.

In Gehennum, the story of Oepidus would be not just tragic and horrifying, but obscene. It would not be told or performed in public, and any dramatist who attempted to present it at a dramatic contest would be fined by the judges or condemned to a birching.

The Gehennese have no general taboo against sex with members of other intelligent species. Leshy are prized for their beauty, and junction with daimons is held to confer prestige and luck. Divers in general are considered semi-savage by upper-class society, but so are the working classes. As long as their conduct is decorous, individual merfolk are accepted as equal to humans.

Flyers universally have a reputation for want of chastity, and in truth do seem to seek out members of other races for sexual variety. As such unions are invariably sterile, marriage is not usually considered possible. This being the case, any affaire between a flyer and a human must be achieved clandestinely, and contrary to the wishes of the woman's guardian, and involves the risk of disgrace if it is discovered.

The Four Lives

A Gehennese citizen's career of public service is expected to fall into four parts, called lives. First there is the Life of the Child, in which the citizen is expected to learn the things he will need to know later. Then there is the Life of the Warrior, in which the citizen is expected to serve the State under arms. Then there is the Life of the Magistrate, in which the citizen helps to govern his community. Finally, in the Life of the Priest, the most respectable citizens represent their fellows to one or more of the many divinities. The Gehennese do not have a career of priesthood. Rather, priesthood is the last phase of a political career, a dignified and respected retirement from politics.

Ideally, each of the four lives should last twenty years. In the Archaic period this is a mere guideline. In the Classical period, it is an informal convention. In the Decadent Period it is beginning to firm into customary law.

Social stratification

The fundamental division of society in Gehennum is fivefold:


In the Archaic Period the ruling families of monarchial states are essentially a particularly privileged part of the eupatridai. In the Classical Period their descendants are in the same position: extraordinarily rich and influential, enjoying legal privileges, and living the four lives as thoroughly as their personal inclinations allow.

In the Decadent Period, however, the noble families (except for the House of Souvenir, which has hereditary tenure of the dictatorial office of Marshal of Gehennum) are assiduously kept away from any real military or administrative role. Their lives are frittered away in ceremonial duties and refined indulgence. They are made to attend a meeting of the Senate in Thekla every year, and to return to their ancestral homes in between. They hold office with high-sounding titles, but have no real function but to fritter away their colossal incomes.

Ostensibly, their semi-divine persons are too sacred for mundane warfare and administration, and they are performing important quasi-priestly duties. In fact they are being denied the right to live the four lives, they know it, and (with many) it rankles.


The "Good Families" in Gehennum are those whose wealth allows the men to live the four lives to the full, and means that the women need not work.

Women in this class may indeed supervise staffs of slaves involved in domestic and cottage industry. They often take a hand in domestic industry themselves (though usually not in the heavy or unpleasant aspects), and the management of large households, which can be quite involved. But they retain ample leisure for visiting, parties, religious observances, music, and athletic exercise.

Men have the leisure in youth to get a complete education, and learn the arts that will enable them to obtain and fill public offices. In the life of the warrior they can serve in the more distinguished arms, and can either serve full-time in the army or among the companions of some influential family, or can gain valuable patronage and administrative experience as the secretary to some influential magistrate.

When they come to the life of the magistrate they can afford to occupy time-consuming public offices. Except in radical democracies during the Archaic Period, magistracies are generally unpaid, and men who have to work for their livings cannot afford to serve without pay, unless the duties are light.

All this sets them up to accumulate the requisite merit and public recognition to aspire to the more prestigious priesthoods at the close of their careers.


Next come the families that have political rights, but do not have the wealth or leisure to exercise them to the full. Artisans, craftsmen, small merchants, shopkeepers, merchant captains, labourers, peasants: even beggars, who have the leisure but cannot command the support.

Women in this class cannot afford idleness, nor even to restrict their efforts to household management and the production of goods and services for home consumption. The most prosperous work only at home, in cottage industry, not exposed to the public. Those a little less comfortably situated might work in their husband's shops. Those a little poorer work in factories, or as hired servants. And the really poor work in the rice-paddies alongside their men.

The ordinary citizens lack education, cannot afford the expensive arms of the more prestigious military units, and must work. They can serve as warriors only part-time, in the militia, and are very lucky to get a secretaryship. When they come to the age of the magistrate they generally lack the accumulated status to get a respectable magistracy, even if they have by now accumulated enough money to enjoy the required leisure. Such men fill subordinate magistracies, or hold office only in small communities. They retire into subordinate priesthoods if any, or hold custody of the little shrines of their little villages.


Fourth ranked are the metics, who are free indeed, but have no citizenship rights. They include some very rich people: wealthy merchants, artists, and master craftsmen (even though they are generally not permitted to own land). But they are not allowed to live the four lives: they must pay shield-money in lieu of performing citizen service.

In the Archaic Period, metics in the various states are mostly resident foreigners: citizens of other states who have emigrated for whatever reason, plus manumitted slaves, and the second or third generation descendants of such people. In many states, every metic must have a citizen patron to vouch for him, or face deportation. For the most part metics are glad of their freedom, and grateful enough for the protection of the state.

In the Classical and Decadent Periods, on the other hand, metics are usually many generations removed from whatever lost their families their citizenship, and resent their lesser status. Many fancy that, had their ancestors simply stayed at home, they would be citizens of some city and therefore of the empire. Those that can migrate to such cities as have easy citizenship laws, and build public works or otherwise scheme to be enfranchised by a local ordinance. The others grumble and seethe, especially when their shield-money becomes due.


At the bottom of the heap are slaves, who are in theory as much property as bullocks are. While slaves are not uncommon in Gehennum, they are far from constituting the most numerous section of the community. Slaves work as servants to the wealthy, or at furthest in their kitchen-gardens and on their home farms. The Gehennese economy is at no stage dependent on slave labour: unlike the Roman empire or the American Old South, the Gehennese have no external source of slaves with which to flood their populations.

In the Archaic Period most slaves are prisoners-of-war, or captives from sacked villages, towns and cities, or the children of such captives. Others have been taken, often as children, by pirates or bandits, carried off, and sold into slavery. Slaves certainly resent their chattel status, but they live in the households of their owners, and are not on the whole ill-treated.

In the Classical Period wars are less common, and captives correspondingly rarer. Slaves are less than common, and many are either the descendants of long lines of slaves or else reduced to slavery for debt. Only the richest households in this period own slaves, most hiring free servants.

In the Decadent Period slaves are becoming rather more common, as wars and the sackings of towns resume. Debt slavery is still common, and some poor families sell their own children. Most households in the gentry own several slaves, and even many families below the status of gentry buy one or two.

In the Decadent Period, where the position of the government is most secure, and where the law-makers are not dependent on the votes of disgruntled slave-owners, the level of legal protection of slaves is at its peak.


In Gehennum formal education is the perquisite of wealthy men. Poor children are taught folktales and the steps of narrative dances by priests, and learn their parents' trades and domestic skills mostly by watching, with some instruction from their parents. Apart from this the best education that they can hope for is an apprenticeship in some technical art. Children in cites nearly all learn to count, but in some rural parts not even this skill is universally practiced with facility.

In the Classical and Decadent Periods especially, girls in families wealthy enough to allow them enough leisure are taught to read and write by other literate women in their homes. If they are so inclined, they can obtain further education by reading, and sharpen their rhetorical and dialectic skills at women's or mixed symposiums.

The Gehennese ideal is a balanced development of mind and body. Scholastics (rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, and music) and Gymnastics (running, swimming, jumping, archery, javelin-throwing, wrestling, kick-boxing, and war-dances) are considered complements in Gehennese education, no man being complete without both of them.

Athletics is supposed to fit the citizen for the Life of the Warrior, Scholastics for the Life of the Magistrate. For this reason many States oblige all citizens between the ages of eighteen and twenty to take instruction in gymnastics under publicly-appointed coaches. Democracies and some monarchies also provide for basic training in scholastics for these epheboi, but only those who have already been taught to read and write by their families profit.The teaching of rhetoric and dialectic involve research, lecturing, and debate on a broad range of topics, from natural history and philosophy to military science and law. Scholastics therefore has a deal of content in addition to its formal curriculum.

The gentry see to it that their sons can write, and often arrange for them to devote their time to gymnastics and scholastics from the age of fifteen. Depending on the family's wealth a boy might have private tutors and coaches, might join classes with a teacher or coach retained by fees, or might be taught and trained by older friends and family connections.

A boy's education might be supervised directly by his father or another relative, or by a state magistrate in charge of education, but often a slave or servant called a pedagoges is employed for this task. It is also part of the pedagogue's duties to protect his charge from moral hazards, such as, if the boy or youth is sexually attractive, the importunities of unsuitable admirers.

Mentor & protege

In many places, particularly in the leisured classes of the citified states and later periods, it is common or even usual for an youth to form a special relationship with a young warrior. The elder of the two is expected to guide and advise his protege, to set him an example of manly conduct. Their mutual regard is supposed to lead each to higher conduct, as each seeks to be admirable to the other.

This is considered a profound relationship for both mentor and protege, and a very important formative experience. Sexual relations between mentor and protege are common, and in some parts (particularly on the island of Samarios) expected, lauded, and officially encouraged.

The relationship usually lasts beyond the younger man's coming-of-age at twenty, and sometimes continues even when the older man marries. Certain military units, generally called 'the Sacred Band' consist of pairs of male lovers, many of them in mature mentor-protege relationships, and enjoy high regard. The most famous are the Sacred Band of Samariopolis (in the Archaic Period) and a tagma of the Imperial Guards in the later periods.


It is very common for Gehennese men, particularly when young, to form small bands of close friends, with more-or-less stable membership. These fratrai vary in nature from small informal groups of five or six, to street-gangs of several score, from groups that simply exercise and talk together in the gymnasium and forum to learned societies with special interests, from dinner-and-politics clubs to secret societies.

Most fratrai are formed when a few young men band together in ephebe training. The members train and play together in those two years. They exercise, hunt, and drink together afterwards, and perhaps arrange to drill and serve with the same military or militia units. After they marry, they will dine at one another's homes on a regular basis, talk politics, and help one another when in difficulties. This kind of fraternity experiences little turnover of members. When a member leaves, it will usually be because of a political difference with the fraternity's main stream, or because a friendship has gone sour. Although the members of course make new friends as they live on, they do not often invite them to join their fratra. Such a fratra as this is in essence simply a circle of friends—but it is likely to adopt a name, and dedicate itself to some exemplar, hero, or great daimon, and to remain somewhat more formal than a mere casual circle.

Copyright © 1988-2004 Brett Evill. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.