If you were a widow, especially with children to support, life was hard. You could make a poor living working wool into garments. In this simile from Homer, he compares the equal balance of the warring sides to a poor woman carefully measuring out her wool.
ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ὧς ἐδύναντο φόβον ποιῆσαι Ἀχαιῶν,
ἀλλ᾽ ἔχον ὥς τε τάλαντα γυνὴ χερνῆτις ἀληθής,
ἥ τε σταθμὸν ἔχουσα καὶ εἴριον ἀμφὶς ἀνέλκει
ἰσάζουσ᾽, ἵνα παισὶν ἀεικέα μισθὸν ἄρηται.
But they were not able to make a rout of the Achaeans but the Achaeans held fast like a careful working woman holds the scales and lifts up the weight and wool on each scale, making them equal so that she might win a miserable wage for her children.
But there was an easier way. Even if you were past the prime of life, there was always prostitution. There would always be someone desperate enough. Here Bitto ditches her shuttle to take it up.
κερκίδα τὴν φιλαοιδὸν Ἀθηναίῃ θέτο Βιττὼ
ἄνθεμα, λιμηρῆς ἄρμενον ἐργασίης,
χαῖρε, θεά, καὶ τήνδ᾽ ἔχε: χήρη ἐγὼ γὰρ
τέσσαρας εἰς ἐτέων ἐρχομένη δεκάδας,
ἀρνεῦμαι τὰ σὰ δῶρα: τὰ δ᾽ ἔμπαλι Κύπριδοςἔργων
ἅπτομαι: ὥρης γὰρ κρεῖσσον ὁρῶ τὸ θέλειν.
This singing shuttle, Bitto dedicates to Athene, fitting for poorly paid work. She said “Greeting Goddess, having reached my fortieth year, I am rejecting your gifts. I am reapplying myself to the the works of Venus; I can see that lust is stronger than beauty.
Greek Anthology 6.47
However even this source of income must eventually come to an end. Here a famous courtesan dedicates her mirror to Aphrodite. She can’t bear to see her grey hair.
Ἑλλάδα νικήσασαν ὑπέρβιον ἀσπίδα Μήδων
Λαῒς θῆκεν ἑῷ κάλλεϊ ληιδίην
μούνῳ ἐνικήθη δ᾽ ὑπὸ γήραϊ, καὶ τὸν ἔλεγχον
ἄνθετό σοι, Παφίη, τὸν νεότητι φίλον
ἧς γὰρ ἰδεῖν στυγέει πολιῆς παναληθέα μορφήν,
τῆσδε συνεχθαίρει καὶ σκιόεντα τύπον.
Greece, which defeated the mighty shield of the Persians, Lais by her beauty made her plunder. She was defeated by old age only. And the proof of her defeat she dedicates to you, Venus, this object a friend to youth. For the grey hairs whose true appearance she loathes to see, even their shadowy image she hates.
Greek anthology 6.20