In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.
There are children there naked and dirty in every house growing into the size of limbs and body at which we wonder. Each mother nourishes each child with her own breasts; they are not passed around to maids and nurses.”
nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur. melius quidem adhuc eae civitates, in quibus tantum virgines nubunt et cum spe votoque uxoris semel transigitur. sic unum accipiunt maritum quo modo unum corpus unamque vitam, ne ulla cogitatio ultra, ne longior cupiditas, ne tamquam maritum, sed tamquam matrimonium ament. numerum liberorum finire aut quemquam ex agnatis necare flagitium habetur, plusque ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges.In omni domo nudi ac sordidi in hos artus, in haec corpora, quae miramur, excrescunt. sua quemque mater uberibus alit, nec ancillis aut nutricibus delegantur.
“A certain girl who lost her virginity to a man in secret and forced an abortion of the fetus handled is so strongly and uttered no sound that she birthed the child without her father and those who were near her knowing. This is because the overcoming of her indiscretion with discretion prevailed over the magnitude of her pains.”
He whores (scortatur), he drinks, he smells like perfume at my cost!
The verb to whore (scortari) means quite often to take a prostitute, which is so called from a pelt. For the ancients not only called a pelt a scortum, but even today we call those things which are made of hide and pelt scortea. In some sacred rites and sacrificial places we have it written:
Let not a prostitute (scortum) be admitted
meaning by this that nothing dead should be present. In Atellan farces one may observe that they brought home a little skin (pellicula) instead of a scortum.
Scortatur, potat, olet unguenta de meo.
Scortari est saepius meretriculam ducere, quae dicta a pelle: id enim non solum antiqui dicebant scortum, sed etiam nunc dicimus scortea ea quae e corio ac pellibus sunt facta; in aliquot sacris ac sacellis scriptum habemus:
Ne quod scorteum adhibeatur,
ideo ne morticinum quid adsit. In Atellanis licet animadvertere rusticos dicere se adduxisse pro scorto pelliculam.
“For [Hermippos] says that when Pythagoras was in Italy he built a little home in the ground and told his mother to write down on a tablet what happened and the time and then to send it down to him until he came up again. His mother did that.
Later, when Pythagoras finally came up again he was shriveled and almost a skeleton. After he came to the assembly, he was saying that he came from Hades. Then he read aloud to them what had happened. And they were overwhelmed by what he said, crying and weeping and believing that Pythagoras was divine. They believed it so much that they gave him their wives so that they might learn some of his philosophy from him. They were called Pythagorean Women. Well, that’s what Hermippos says…”
There is another version of this in the Scholia to Sophocles’ Elektra 62-64
“Pythagoras confined himself in an underground hole and told his mother to tell people that he had died. When he reappeared, he told a lot of marvelous tales about resurrection and the things which happen in the underworld, and, to the living he related a full account of all the companions he happened to meet in the underworld; from this arose the belief that he was Aithalides son of Hermes before the Trojan War, then Euphorbus, then Hermotimus, then Pyrrhus the Delian, and then finally Pythagoras. Sophocles seems to be hinting at this story. Some assert, though unpersuasively, that the lines are aimed at Odysseus. But this is unconvincing, because Odysseus never did anything of the sort.”
After the suitor Amphimedon arrives in the underworld and tells the story of Penelope’s shroud and Odysseus’ return, Agamemnon responds:
“Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus,
You really secured a wife with magnificent virtue!
That’s how good the brains are for blameless Penelope,
Ikarios’ daughter, how well she remembered Odysseus,
Her wedded husband. The fame of her virtue will never perish,
And the gods will craft a pleasing song
Of mindful Penelope for mortals over the earth.
This is not the way for Tyndareos’ daughter.
She devised wicked deeds and since she killed
Her wedded husband, a hateful song
Will be hers among men, she will attract harsh rumor
To the race of women, even for those who are good.”
More than half of this speech praises Penelope for being a loyal, ‘good’ wife (and that is another issue of its own). Of course, this makes Agamemnon think of Klytemnestra. There’s a lot to be said about how this passage sets up the end of the Odyssey, but Agamemnon’s words are striking because they reflect a sad reality not just about misogynistic thinking but about the operation of human thought.
Let’s start with the misogyny: Agamemnon says here, quite clearly, that because of the behavior of one woman (well, two if we hear ambiguity in the phrase “Tyndareos’ daughter” and think of Helen too) all women have bad fame, even if they are “good”? A simple response to this is to wonder whether the same applies to men (of course not…) Let’s pass over the fact that the murder of Agamemnon was probably well deserved. I think this passage also reflects human cognition: the story of Klytemnestra is paradigmatic. We learn basic patterns about people and the world and apply these patterns (prejudices) as substitutions for deeper thought.
I am not sure whether this serves as a bit of an anticipatory apologetic on the part of epic–that the tale of Penelope cannot match up to negative messages about women. It probably stands as an acknowledgement of a “negative expectancy effect”–we are primed to hear negative tales and to believe negative things. I suspect that on Homer’s part this is probably less about women and more about anticipating the reception of this poem.
But, at the very least, this is a clear indication that Homer knows the way it goes: we live in a cultural system that discounts positive stories about women in favor of negative ones and which, accordingly, downgrades the authority of the stories they tell. In our responses to the testimonies of men and women, men have the privilege of being individuals whose lives might be ruined by rumor and false claims, while women are always already undermined. This is is an example of structural misogyny.
For discussions of this passage see: On the contrasting fame of Klytemnestra and Penelope, see Franco 2012, 60–61. For invocations of Klytemnestra as an example of how a woman can ruin a nostos, see Murnaghan 2011, chapter 4 and Nagy 1999, 36–39.
Franco, Cristina. 2012. “Women in Homer,” in Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon, eds., A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. London. 55–65.
Marquardt, Patricia. 1989. “Love’s Labor’s Lost: Women in the Odyssey,” in Robert Sutton, ed., Daidalikon: Studies in Honor of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. Chicago. 239-248.
Murnaghan, Sheila. 2011. Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey, Second Edition. Lanham.
Nagy, Gregory 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge
“Stoner waited a few moments more, shuffling his papers; then he cleared his throat and began the class.
‘During our first meeting we discussed the scope of this seminar, and we decided that we should limit our study of the medieval Latin tradition to the first three of the seven liberal arts–that is, to grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic.’ He paused and watched the faces–tentative, curious, and masklike– focus upon him and what he said.
‘Such a limiting may seem foolishly rigorous to some of you; but I have no doubt that we shall find enough to keep us occupied even if we trace only superficially the course of the trivium upward into the sixteenth century. It is important that we realize that these arts of rhetoric, grammar, and dialectic meant something to a late medieval and early Renaissance man that we, today, can only dimly sense without an exercise of the historical imagination. To such a scholar, the art of grammar, for example, was not merely a mechanical disposition of the parts of speech. From late Hellenistic times through the Middle Ages, the study and practice of grammar included not only the ‘skill of letters’ mentioned by Plato and Aristotle; it included also, and this became very important, a study of poetry in its technical felicities, an exegesis of poetry both in form and substance, and nicety of style, insofar as that can be distinguished from rhetoric.’
He felt himself warming to his subject, and he was aware that several of the students had leaned forward and had stopped taking notes. He continued: ‘Moreover, if we in the twentieth century are asked which of these three arts is the most important, we might choose dialectic, or rhetoric–but we would be most unlikely to choose grammar. Yet the Roman and medieval scholar–and poet–would almost certainly consider grammar the most significant.'”
“In Haliartos in Boiotia, there was a certain girl of surpassing beauty whose name was Aristokleia. She was the Daughter of Theophanes. Stratôn the Orkhomenian and Kallisthenes the Haliartian were both wooing her.
Stratôn was wealthier and was somewhat more taken with the virgin. For he happened to see her once when she was bathing in the fountain Herkunêin Lebadeia. For she was making reading to carry a basket for Zeus the king. But Kallisthenes was closer to winning her, for he was related to her.
Theophanes was at a loss in the matter—for he was fearing Stratôn he stood apart from nearly all the Boiotians because of his family and wealth. He was planning on getting advice about the choice from Trophonios. Stratôn, however, was convinced by the girl’s servants that she was leaning towards him, so he considered it best to have the girl to be married make the choice. But when Theophanes asked his daughter in front of everyone, she chose Kallisthenes. It was clear that Stratôn took the dishonor badly.
After a period of two days, he approached Theophanes and Kallisthenes, saying he wanted to preserve their friendship, even if he had been denied the marriage by some envious god. They praised what he said and asked him to come to the feast for the wedding. But he, once he had gathered a mob of his friends and no small a retinue of servants which were distributed among the attendees unnoticed, waited until the girl wen to the Spring Kissoessa to make the customary sacrifice to the local nymphs. There, all the men who were in ambush rushed out and grabbed her. Stratos had gained a hold of the virgin. Kallisthenes, as one might expect, grabbed her in turn and those with him were helping. They all pulled on her until she died without them knowing, stretched to death in their hands.
Kallisthenes was out of sight immediately, either because he killed himself or left Boiotia as an exile. No one is able to say what happened to him. But Stratôn killed himself openty over the maiden.”