Woman Beats Man? Must Be the Drugs

Recently (by which I mean today), I was mentioning one of the more amusing and astounding ‘issues’ of the presidential campaign to Palaiophron: Donald J. Trump’s request that Clinton be tested for drugs before the next debate. See, her energy and focus in the last debate must have come from some kind of performance enhancing substance (you know, instead of studying, native ability or any of that).

As I was mocking the claim, it dawned upon me that any high school student of Vergil would recognize this as a classic misogynistic claim at home in ancient Greece and Rome: see, men are strong and women are not. If women beat men, it is because they are witches. That’s it. It must be the drugs.

This is, of course, a delegitimizing subversion of the classic Greek creation-myth dichotomy: men are strong but stupid; women are weak, but smart. The positive values of each accrue to men in a patriarchal society: female intelligence is rewritten as guile and bewitchment. If women are strong, then, obviously, they are perverse.

Within this system, then, we get Medea, Dido, Helen and more! We also get charming lines like this:

Euripides,  Fr. 464

“Get married already, get married, and then die
Either by poison or a trick from your wife.”

γαμεῖτε νῦν, γαμεῖτε, κᾆτα θνῄσκετε
ἢ φαρμάκοισιν ἐκ γυναικὸς ἢ δόλοις.

Charming, charming indeed. But, since it is in meter and we can make up contexts for it that may have rendered the sentiment a little less hateful, it is far more sophisticated than losing a contest and blaming it on drugs.Even this garbage is more sophisticated:

 Eubulus fr. 205 (from Athenaeus, 13.8)
“So very honorable Zeus! Would I ever say anything bad
About women? By Zeus, may I die if I slander
that best of all possible possessions! If Medea was
A wicked witch, didn’t Penelope at least do something good?
If someone says that Klytemnestra was bad,
I could mention noble Alcestis. Perhaps someone will
Slander Phaedra? By god, just mention
That another girl was honest, that one….
Shit, I’m screwed. The good women all evade me,
Though I can manage to mention many of the bad ones still.”

ὦ Ζεῦ πολυτίμητ᾽, εἶτ᾽ ἐγὼ κακῶς ποτε
ἐρῶ γυναῖκας; νὴ Δί᾽ ἀπολοίμην ἄρα,
πάντων ἄριστον κτημάτων. εἰ δ᾽ ἐγένετο
κακὴ γυνὴ Μήδεια, Πηνελόπη δέ <γε>
μέγα πρᾶγμ᾽. ἐρεῖ τις ὡς Κλυταιμνήστρα κακή:
Ἄλκηστιν ἀντέθηκα χρηστήν. ἀλλ᾽ ἴσως
Φαίδραν ἐρεῖ κακῶς τις: ἀλλὰ νὴ Δία
χρηστή τις ἦν μέντοι—τίς; οἴμοι δείλαιος,
ταχέως γέ μ᾽ αἱ χρησταὶ γυναῖκες ἐπέλιπον,
τῶν δ᾽ αὖ πονηρῶν ἔτι λέγειν πολλὰς ἔχω.


To legitimate this post, here’s Helen drugging Telemachus and Menelaos in the Odyssey to make them forget their troubles:

Od. 4.219-232

“Then in turn Zeus’ daughter Helen made different plans.
Straightaway she tossed a drug into the wine they were drinking,
A drug which dispels pain, calms anger, and makes men forgetful of troubles.
Whoever drinks this one it has been mixed in the bowl
Would feel a tear down his cheek for a whole day,
Not even if his mother or father were to die
Or even if someone should cut down his brother or dear son
With an ax as he looked on with his own eyes.
Zeus’ daughter had such cunning drugs
Good ones, which Thôn’s wife Polydamna gave her
In Egypt where the fertile earth produces the most drugs—
Many a good once mixed, many are harmful
And each man there is a healer beyond all other men,
Since they descend from the race of Paiêon.”

ἔνθ’ αὖτ’ ἄλλ’ ἐνόησ’ ῾Ελένη Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα·
αὐτίκ’ ἄρ’ εἰς οἶνον βάλε φάρμακον, ἔνθεν ἔπινον,
νηπενθές τ’ ἄχολόν τε, κακῶν ἐπίληθον ἁπάντων.
ὃς τὸ καταβρόξειεν, ἐπὴν κρητῆρι μιγείη,
οὔ κεν ἐφημέριός γε βάλοι κατὰ δάκρυ παρειῶν,
οὐδ’ εἴ οἱ κατατεθναίη μήτηρ τε πατήρ τε,
οὐδ’ εἴ οἱ προπάροιθεν ἀδελφεὸν ἢ φίλον υἱὸν
χαλκῷ δηϊόῳεν, ὁ δ’ ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῷτο.
τοῖα Διὸς θυγάτηρ ἔχε φάρμακα μητιόεντα,
ἐσθλά, τά οἱ Πολύδαμνα πόρεν, Θῶνος παράκοιτις,
Αἰγυπτίη, τῇ πλεῖστα φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα
φάρμακα, πολλὰ μὲν ἐσθλὰ μεμιγμένα, πολλὰ δὲ λυγρά,
ἰητρὸς δὲ ἕκαστος ἐπιστάμενος περὶ πάντων
ἀνθρώπων· ἦ γὰρ Παιήονός εἰσι γενέθλης.

Yeah, there are more drugs in Homer.

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