Gellius on Misogyny: Like Socrates, Euripides Had Two Wives


While entertaining banter about Socrates’ ugliness and his two wives, I got a bit interested in the assertion in Diogenes Laertius that the Athenians had passed a law permitting bigamy to increase the population and cope with the “lack of men”. As an aside, I learned a new word during this leipandria (“lack of men”; and not humans, but males specifically).

Strabo (6.3.3) mentions something similar among the Spartans during their conflict with the Messenians. The Spartans are also said to have a concern about their lack of population at 8.5.4). Apart from some fragmentary historians, however, there’s not much evidence for the laws.  Our good friend and contributor the Fabulous Festus pointed me to a Roman account:

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, 15.20

[Euripides] is reported to have hated women in a rather serious way, either because he despised the company of women by nature or because he had two wives at the same time (which was the law made by Athenian decree) and was worn down by his marriages. Aristophanes also memorializes his hatred in the first version of the Thesmophoriazusae:

Now, then, I address and advise all women
To punish this man for many reasons:
He has accosted us with bitter evils,
This man raised on a garden’s bitter harvest.

And Alexander the Aitolian composed these lines about Euripides:

The strident student of strong Anaxagoras, the mirth-hater,
Addressed me and never got used to making jokes while drinking.
But what he wrote, honey or a Siren could have made.”

6 Mulieres fere omnes in maiorem modum exosus fuisse dicitur, sive quod natura abhorruit a mulierum coetu sive quod duas simul uxores habuerat, cum id decreto ab Atheniensibus facto ius esset, quarum matrimonii pertaedebat. 7 Eius odii in mulieres Aristophanes quoque meminit en tais proterais Thesmophoriazousais in his versibus:

Νῦν οὖν ἁπάσαισιν παραινῶ καὶ λέγω
τοῦτον κολάσαι τὸν ἄνδρα πολλῶν οὕνεκα·
ἄγρια γὰρ ἡμᾶς, ὦ γυναῖκες, δρᾷ κακά,
ἅτ’ ἐν ἀγρίοισι τοῖς λαχάνοις αὐτὸς τραφείς.

8 Alexander autem Aetolus hos de Euripide versus composuit:

Ὁ δ᾽ Ἀναξαγόρου τρόφιμος χαιου στρίφνος μὲν ἔμοιγε προσειπεῖν
καὶ μισογελος καὶ τοθαζειν οὐδὲ παρ᾽ οἶνον μεμαθεκως,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ τι γράψαι, τοῦτ᾽ ἂν μέλιτος καὶ Σειρηνον ἐτετεύχει.

Such kind, but serious eyes…

This account is interesting for its echo of the tale about Socrates (or perhaps a source for it? Diogenes Laertius was later) and for its attempt to explain Euripides’ antipathy towards women. But I don’t know if it makes me think there was an actual decree.

Festus is more convinced, and I am hoping he will write something about it.


One thought on “Gellius on Misogyny: Like Socrates, Euripides Had Two Wives

  1. The law probably existed based on, principally, Andocides 1.124, 128-9; granting the polemic intent, I can see no other way the text can be understood. Socrates is another matter. Thye ancient criticism from Athenaeus you quote in the previous post is telliong, and add Plutarch, Aristides 27. There is a very weak argument that associates Socrates with Prodicus’ Two Choices, allegedly echoing in Clouds, and even more allegedly hinting a Socrates. I find the arguments for this weak and unconvincing, from scholars who should know better.


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