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Is Doric feminine?

The Doric order is one of the three classical orders of ancient Greek architecture, characterized by its simple and sturdy column design. Despite its masculine associations today, there is evidence that the Doric order was originally viewed as feminine.

The Origin of the Doric Order

The Doric order originated in the western Dorian regions of ancient Greece, including the Peloponnese, Crete, and Sicily. It developed around 600 BCE and is the oldest and simplest of the three Greek orders. The Doric column has no base and typically rests directly on the stylobate or platform. It is stouter than the other orders, with a height of only about four to eight times the diameter. The capital features a plain abacus and echinus and is capped by a square abacus.

Early Greek writers and sculptors associated the emergence of the Doric order with feminine deities and priestesses. The Roman architect Vitruvius linked the development of Doric temples with the legendary priestess Anthousa, whose name means “flowery” or “blooming.” Pausanias described the origin of Doric architecture at a temple to Hera in Argos built by the mythical artificer Perseus for the goddess. He stated that Doric columns were made to resemble women’s proportions and that Perseus “brought them into resemblance with the female figure.”

Feminine Associations in Early Doric Temples

Many early Doric temples had strong connections to female deities and spheres of influence. Some key examples include:

  • Hera temples – The Doric order was extensively used in Archaic and Classical temples dedicated to the goddess Hera, including those located in Paestum, Olympia, Argos, and Samos.
  • Persephone temple – The Temple of Persephone at Locri Epizephyrii in southern Italy had Doric columns modeled after women in thick drapery.
  • Artemis temples – Doric temples were dedicated to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wilderness, and childbirth, in Brauron and Syracuse.
  • Demeter temples – As the goddess of fertility and agriculture, Demeter was worshipped at the Doric Temple of Demeter in Paestum.

The connections between Doric architecture and goddesses linked with fertility, nature, and the cycle of life indicate feminine connotations for the order in early Greek religion.

Feminine Proportions and Forms

In addition to the divine female associations, the proportions and design features of early Doric temples may have been inspired by feminine physical forms.

  • Robust, straight columns: Resembled the stature of mature women in thick drapery.
  • Fluted columns: The grooves were thought to reflect the delicate folds of women’s garments.
  • Column shape: The swelling curve mimicked the female body.
  • Capital cushions: Seen as rendering of women’s hairstyles.

The Doric order lacked the slender and delicate proportions of the later Ionic and Corinthian orders. Instead, ancient critics praised its “strength and severity” which mirrored the virtues of the ideal mature Greek woman as strong, fertile, and life-giving.

Later Masculine Associations

Despite early feminine links, by the 5th century BCE, Greek thought came to associate the Doric order with masculine qualities:

  • Strength and simplicity were viewed as masculine virtues.
  • Unadorned Doric façades contrasted with more ornate temples using the feminine-linked Ionic and Corinthian orders.
  • Prominent use in civic buildings highlighted male domains like politics, law, and the military.

The Roman adoption of Doric furthered its masculine persona. It conveyed ideas like gravity, solidity, and power appropriate for imperial monuments. The rival Ionic order was used for more graceful, luxurious, or intellectual buildings.

Evidence of Early Feminine Meaning

Despite later transformations, there is compelling evidence for viewing the Doric order as feminine in its early development:

Evidence Description
Mythological origins Doric architecture attributed to priestesses like Anthousa and developed for goddess temples.
Use in sanctuaries Extensive feminine dedications like Hera, Persephone, Artemis, Demeter.
Sculptural motifs Columns and capitals carved with women’s figures and clothing.
Written testimony Pausanias stated Doric intentionally modeled after women’s proportions.

Both literary descriptions and architectural remains reveal the meaningful femininity of early Doric design.


While later Greek and Roman architecture cemented the Doric order as a symbol of masculine strength and restraint, its genesis appears to have been inspired by the female form. The abundant ties to goddesses like Hera and Persephone, incorporation of feminine shapes and drapery, and explicit statements by ancient writers all point to a softer, more maternal character for one of history’s most iconic architectural styles. The Doric order evolved across centuries, acquiring different meanings, but the evidence suggests its primal spirit was feminine.