An English Translation of Bachofen's mutterrecht (mother Right) (1861)

Author: Bachofen, Johann Jakob
Bachofen, Johann Jakob
Mother Right (1861) by Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887) was the seminal document of the nineteenth century concerning the role of women in ancient societies. The title and term "mother right" requires explanation because its sense is not evident in English. The meaning of "mother" as the one who bears life, then cares for her child with selfless love, devotion, and sacrifice clearly imparts Bachofen’s point of departure. In this sense, Mother Right is a celebration of motherhood as the origin of human society, religion, morality, and decency. Volume two contains sections on “Lemnos” and “Egypt”.


“The idea that there were once or even continue to be societies ruled by women has been around for a long time. It is found in antiquity in the legends of the Amazons and in the celebrated account of the Lycians in Herodotus … Bachofen was able to present the history of society in his ground-breaking Das Mutterrecht (1861). This became, above all, a development from lower to higher forms of religion and spirituality … Translating Bachofen is not an easy task. Turning it into readable English is a major challenge. Dr. David Partenheimer is to be congratulated on having met many challenges with remarkable success.” (from the Foreword) Lionel Gossman, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Lionel Gossman
Translator’s Introduction

1. Legend of the Lemnian women as evidence of gynecocratic social conditions.
2. Transition from mother right to father right as illustrated by Hypsipyle’s relationship to Thoas and Jason. Pelasgians on Lemnos. Slaughter of the Athenian concubines. Contrast between Pelasgian and Apollonian rights.
3. Thoas and Dionysus. Thoas and Hypsipyle’s confrontation with Amazonianism. Downfall of gynecocracy resulting from Dionysianism.
4. The Relationship between Lemnian fire festivals and the atrocity of the Lemnian women. Victory of Apollonian paternity.

1. The Danaids and the gynecocratic foundation of their story. Hypermnestra as a pivotal figure between Io and Heracles. Progression from maternal tellurism to the paternal principle. The Danaids and mother right.
2. Predominance of mother right in the relationship of Isis and Osiris.
3. Role of craftsmanship in a gynecocracy.
4. Sesonchosis-Sesostris, the original Egyptian lawgiver and his relationship to mother right. Influence of mother right on Ancient Egyptian practices and customs. Relationship of Libyan Amazonian countries with Ancient Egypt.
5. Gynecocracy in the Egyptian royal house. Supremacy of Isis over Osiris as validation for gynecocracy. The law of Binothris vis-à-vis female regencies in ancient Egypt.
6. Egyptian marriage law at the lunar level. Distinctions among the lunar, tellurian, and solar stages of cultural development. Explication of the terms Eteocles and Eteo-Cretans.
7. Development of paternal authority of light in the lineage of Hypermnestra. Lynceus. Perseus. Heracles.
8. Symbolic significance of the legend of the Danaids after the collapse of woman rule.
9. Sophocles’ comparison of Oedipus’ daughters with Egyptian women. Oedipus legend as illustration of three cultural phases: tellurian-hetaeristic, Demetrian, and Apollonian.
10. Legend of Alexander’s encounter with Candace of India according to Julius Valerius.
Works Cited