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What Are Slave Owners (who are female) Called?

March 31, 2015

Marg Mowczko has a very worthwhile and interesting post up today at her blog New Life: “The Household Codes and Male Slaves with Female Masters.” One reader notes how odd (how marked) “Female Masters” and “Women Masters” is.

In her reply, Marg remarks:

It’s a real problem. When we say “lady” we usually don’t think it’s the feminine of “lord”, and when we say “mistress” we don’t usually think it’s the feminine of “master”.

“Lady” and “mistress” often don’t convey the literal meaning anymore.

English may have evolved since slave times. I would be interested in learning about other languages whether they encode femininity differently than English does for terms of Lords and Masters of human slaves when the owners of people are female or women.

And how about ancient Greek, used for systems of slavery prescribed by the likes of Plato and Aristotle? I’m looking now at how playwright Euripides has this line: κυρία γάρ ἐστι νῦν. Was this standard at any time?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    April 1, 2015 10:49 pm

    In the days when class system was the first human category, kyria was the female equivalent of kyrios. The gods were theoi, male ad female, and citizens were andres, male or female. Men of the second class were always lesser than women of the top class. The Reformers called Margaret of Navarre a “prince.” Women lost a lot of status with social egaliterianism, democracy and the Reformation, firmly shut back out of the art academies of Europe for another hundred years.

  2. April 3, 2015 11:55 am

    Great points, Suzanne. The Greeks had kyria/kyrios, thea/theos. Is there andrea/andres in the same analogy?

  3. April 3, 2015 12:27 pm

    Not quite how I see it. This is what I think.

    kyrios kyria
    theos (grammatically male and female) thea was a poetic alternative
    anthropos (grammatically male and female)
    aner (grammatically masculine but used in fact for a citizen or worthy Christian for both male and female)
    Pais (male and female)

    Each one is a little different. For theos, it is best to translate that Athena was a god, and not use the word goddess – I think. Theos emphasizes the divinity of the god, and thea emphasizes the femaleness. Just as anthropos emphasizes the humanity of the human and gune emphasizes the femaleness.

    The most important categories were god, human, upper class, citizen class, slaves, monsters, animals. An upper class female always had priority over a male in the lower classes and it was that way until recently. The husband of a queen was always her subject, still is. Gender was a second degree issue.

  4. April 3, 2015 12:28 pm

    Athena was usually called he theos Athena, so god.

  5. April 4, 2015 7:23 am

    Do you see this in Ancient Greek some how we see “man” in old English, and “brethren” too, as inclusive of both females and males?

    Interesting how Homer’s Illiad compares aner and anthropos (with Zeus/Dios as Father over all)

    Book I –
    πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε:

    Book II
    ἐκ Διός, ὅς τε θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀνάσσει,

  6. April 4, 2015 9:23 am

    ὁ διάκ. ποταπῂ γυνὴ τυγχάνει οὖσα;
    ὁ ἐπίσκ. μὴ λέγε γυνὴ, ἀλλ’ οἷος ἂνθρωπος.
    ἀνὴρ γάρ ἐστί παρὰ τὸ τοῦ σώματις σχῆμα.

    The deacon speaks: Now, if it’s not too much trouble, tell us about Olympias,
    if you have some knowledge of her.
    The bishop: Which one? There are several.
    The deacon: The deacon (diakonos) of Constantinople,
    who was the bride of Nebridius, the former prefect.
    The bishop: I know her well.
    The deacon: What kind of woman is she?
    The bishop: Do not say “woman,” but “such a person” (anthropos),
    for she was a man (aner) despite her bodily appearance.
    The deacon: How is that?
    The bishop: By her life, her asceticism and knowledge,
    and her patient endurance in trials. Madigan, Osiek, 2011

    Sometimes aner and anthropos are used as syonyms, both similar to each other in contrast to the gods, and sometimes they contrast with each other. Depends on context. That is surrounding vocabulary.

  7. April 4, 2015 12:43 pm

    Theos and anthropos are nouns of commom gender and can be preceded by an article of either gender, like diakonos or pais. The nouns are first declension so they are somehow derived from a masculine source but were used specifically for both genders. Becuase we lack the masc. and fem. articles in English it is very hard to make a comparison between the grammatically gendered languages and those which aren’t. What we do know is that the majority of people on earth speak languages without grammatical gender so it is best not make too many theological points from grammatical gender.


  1. oh, the humanity in the Hebraic Hellene to the Korinthians (I Cor. 15:20-22) | BLT

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