Spartans Abroad: Rape and No Accountability

Another poorly named “erotic story” from Plutarch

Plutarch, Love Stories 3

“A poor man named Skadasos used to live in Leuktra (which is a village in the land of the Thespians). He had two daughters who were named Hippo and Milêtia or, as some say, Thenô and Euksippê. Skedasos was a good man and solicitous of strangers, even though he did not have much. When two Spartan youths came to him, he welcomed them happily. Although they were lusting after the maidens, they were hindered from bold action by the good character of the father. On the next day, they went to Delphi. The same road laid before them.

So, after they got an oracle from the god about which they were in need, they returned homeward again, traveling through Boiotia and returning to the home of Skedasos. But he did not happen to be in Leuktra at the time. Still, the daughters welcomed the strangers in the family’s usual manner. But when the youths found them alone, they raped the girls. When they noticed that the girls were taking the offense pretty badly, they killed them and rid themselves of the burden by throwing the bodies in a well.

When Skedasos returned and did not see his daughters, he discovered that everything else he left behind was safe. He was at a loss over the affair until a certain dog kept pawing at him and often ran up to him and from him back to the well. From this he figured it out, and he raised his daughters’ corpses up from the well. Once he learned from his neighbors that they had seen those Spartans on the previous day and returning again on the next one, he attributed the deed to them because they were constantly praising the girls on the earlier day and counting as blessed the men they would marry.

He went to Sparta in order to take his case to the Ephors. When he was near Argos, because night overtook him, he stayed in an inn. There was another old man in the same inn who was from the city of Oreus in the region of Hestiaia. After Skedasos heard him groaning and cursing the Spartans, he asked him what evil he had suffered at their hands. He explained that he was a Spartan subject and that after Aristodemos was sent to Oreus as a governor, he proved himself to be very cruel and lawless.

He explained, “He lusted after my son. When he couldn’t persuade him, he attempted to rape him and abduct him from the wrestling school. Because the teacher was preventing him and there were many young men helping, Aristodemos retreated out of necessity. But on the following day, he outfitted a trireme, kidnapped the boy and sailed to the opposite shore where he was trying to rape the boy. He killed him because he was fighting back. After returned, he threw a dinner party.” The old man continued, “Once I learned of what happened and took care of the body, I went to Sparta and met with the Ephors. But they showed this no concern.”

Hearing these things, Skedasos lost heart because he was imagining that the Spartans would ignore his case as well. But he did explain his own misfortune to the stranger in turn. The man was advising him not to meet with the Ephors but just to return to Boiotia and build a tomb for his daughters. Skedasos, nevertheless, was not persuaded, but he went to Sparta to meet with the Ephors. When they did not pay attention, he went to the kings and then went up and wept before each of the citizens. When he gained nothing else, he was rushing through the city raising his hands to the sun. Then he was striking his fists on the ground and calling on the Furies. Finally, he killed himself.”

Ἀνὴρ πένης Σκέδασος τοὔνομα κατῴκει Λεῦκτρα· ἔστι δὲ κώμιον τῆς τῶν Θεσπιέων χώρας. τούτῳ θυγατέρες γίνονται δύο· ἐκαλοῦντο δ᾿ Ἱππὼ καὶ Μιλητία, ἤ, ὥς τινες, Θεανὼ καὶ Εὐξίππη. ἦν δὲ χρηστὸς ὁ Σκέδασος καὶ τοῖς ξένοις ἐπιτήδειος, καίπερ οὐ πολλὰ κεκτημένος. ἀφικομένους οὖν πρὸς αὐτὸν δύο Σπαρτιάτας νεανίας ὑπεδέξατο προθύμως· οἱ δὲ τῶν παρθένων ἡττώμενοι διεκωλύοντο πρὸς τὴν τόλμαν ὑπὸ τῆς τοῦ κεδάσου χρηστότητος. τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ Πυθώδε ἀπῄεσαν· αὕτη γὰρ αὐτοῖς προύκειτο ἡ ὁδός· καὶ τῷ θεῷ χρησάμενοι περὶ ὧν ἐδέοντο, πάλιν ἐπανῄεσαν οἴκαδε, καὶ χωροῦντες διὰ τῆς Βοιωτίας ἐπέστησαν πάλιν τῇ τοῦ Σκεδάσου οἰκίᾳ. ὁ δ᾿ ἐτύγχανεν οὐκ ἐπιδημῶν τοῖς Λεύκτροις, ἀλλ᾿ αἱ θυγατέρες αὐτοῦ ὑπὸ τῆς συνήθους ἀγωγῆς τοὺς ξένους ὑπεδέξαντο. οἱ δὲ καταλαβόντες ἐρήμους τὰς κόρας βιάζονται· ὁρῶντες δ᾿ αὐτὰς καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν τῇ ὕβρει χαλεπαινούσας ἀπέκτειναν, καὶ ἐμβαλόντες ἔς τι φρέαρ ἀπηλλάγησαν. ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ ὁ Σκέδασος τὰς μὲν κόρας οὐχ ἑώρα, πάντα δὲ τὰ καταλειφθέντα εὑρίσκει σῷα καὶ τῷ πράγματι ἠπόρει, ἕως τῆς κυνὸς κνυζωμένης καὶ πολλάκις μὲν προστρεχούσης πρὸς αὐτὸν ἀπὸ δ᾿ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ φρέαρ ἐπανιούσης, εἴκασεν ὅπερ ἦν, καὶ τῶν θυγατέρων τὰ νεκρὰ οὕτως ἀνιμήσατο. πυθόμενος δὲ παρὰ τῶν γειτόνων, ὅτι ἴδοιεν τῇ χθὲς ἡμέρᾳ τοὺς καὶ πρῴην καταχθέντας ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους εἰσιόντας, συνεβάλετο τὴν πρᾶξιν ἐκείνων, ὅτι καὶ πρῴην συνεχῶς ἐπῄνουν τὰς κόρας, μακαρίζοντες τοὺς γαμήσοντας.

Ἀπῄει εἰς Λακεδαίμονα, τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντευξόμενος· γενόμενος δ᾿ ἐν τῇ Ἀργολικῇ, νυκτὸς καταλαμβανούσης, εἰς πανδοκεῖόν τι κατήχθη· κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ δὲ καὶ πρεσβύτης τις ἕτερος τὸ γένος ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ πόλεως τῆς Ἑστιαιάτιδος· οὗ στενάξαντος καὶ κατὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ἀρὰς ποιουμένου ἀκούσας ὁ Σκέδασος ἐπυνθάνετο τί κακὸν ὑπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων πεπονθὼς εἴη. ὁ δὲ διηγεῖτο, ὡς ὑπήκοος μέν ἐστι τῆς Σπάρτης, πεμφθεὶς δ᾿ εἰς Ὠρεὸν Ἀριστόδημος ἁρμοστὴς παρὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ὠμότητα καὶ παρανομίαν ἐπιδείξαιτο πολλήν. “ἐρασθεὶς γάρ,” ἔφη, “τοῦ ἐμοῦ παιδός, ἐπειδὴ πείθειν ἀδύνατος ἦν, ἐπεχείρει βιάσασθαι καὶ ἀπάγειν αὐτὸν τῆς παλαίστρας· κωλύοντος δὲ τοῦ παιδοτρίβου καὶ νεανίσκων πολλῶν ἐκβοηθούντων, παραχρῆμα ὁ Ἀριστόδημος ἀπεχώρησε· τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ πληρώσας τριήρη συνήρπασε τὸ μειράκιον, καὶ ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ διαπλεύσας εἰς τὴν περαίαν ἐπεχείρει ὑβρίσαι, οὐ συγχωροῦντα δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἀπέσφαξεν.  ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ εἰς τὴν Ὠρεὸν εὐωχεῖτο. ἐγὼ δ᾿,” ἔφη, “τὸ πραχθὲν πυθόμενος καὶ τὸ σῶμα κηδεύσας παρεγενόμην εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην καὶ τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐνετύγχανον· οἱ δὲ λόγον οὐκ ἐποιοῦντο.” Σκέδασος δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούων ἀθύμως διέκειτο, ὑπολαμβάνων ὅτι οὐδ᾿ αὐτοῦ λόγον τινὰ ποιήσονται οἱ Σπαρτιᾶται· ἐν μέρει τε τὴν οἰκείαν διηγήσατο συμφορὰν τῷ ξένῳ· ὁ δὲ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν μηδ᾿ ἐντυχεῖν τοῖς ἐφόροις, ἀλλ᾿ ὑποστρέψαντα εἰς τὴν Βοιωτίαν κτίσαι τῶν θυγατέρων τὸν τάφον. οὐκ ἐπείθετο δ᾿ ὅμως ὁ Σκέδασος, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην ἀφικόμενος τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντυγχάνει· ὧν μηδὲν προσεχόντων, ἐπὶ τοὺς βασιλέας ἵεται καὶ ἀπὸ τούτων ἑκάστῳ τῶν δημοτῶν προσιὼν ὠδύρετο. μηδὲν δὲ πλέον ἀνύων ἔθει διὰ μέσης τῆς πόλεως, ἀνατείνων πρὸς ἥλιον τὼ χεῖρε, αὖθις δὲ τὴν γῆν τύπτων ἀνεκαλεῖτο τὰς Ἐρινύας καὶ τέλος αὑτὸν τοῦ ζῆν μετέστησεν.

Spartan warrior as depicted on a Greek red-figured vase, c. 480 bc. The Granger Collection, New Yor

Some Casual Misogyny in The Scholia to the Iliad

It is probably not surprising to hear that the Homeric poems express misogynistic ideology; even the ancient poet Palladas recognized that Homer was something of a misogynist. But, get this, the ancient scholia are pretty awful too!

In a recent article, Sarah Scullin collects misandrist myths and topics from Greece and Rome. Reading some ancient scholarship can make us see why someone might find such ideas attractive. The following lines and commentary from the Homeric Scholia come from the scene at the end of book 1 of the Iliad where Hera talks to Zeus about his recent conversation with Thetis.

Il. 1.539

αὐτίκα κερτομίοισι Δία Κρονίωνα προσηύδα·

“Immediately, she addressed Kronos’ son Zeus with heart-rending words.”

Schol. bT ad Il. 1.539

“heart-rending”: words which hit the heart. For, both of these things are womanly: to be suspicious and to not restrain speech.”

κερτομίοισι: τοῖς τὸ κέαρ βάλλουσι. γυναικεῖα δὲ ἄμφω, τό τε ὑπονοῆσαι καὶ τὸ μὴ ἐπισχεῖν τοῦ λόγου.

Il. 1.542-3

…οὐδέ τί πώ μοι
πρόφρων τέτληκας εἰπεῖν ἔπος ὅττι νοήσῃς.

“…never at all do you dare to willingly say to me whatever plan you are thinking up.”

Schol. A ad Il. 1.542-3

“not ever at all”: women get annoyed unless their husbands share everything in common with them.”

οὐδέ τί πώ μοι: δυσχεραίνουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες, εἰ μὴ πάντα αὐταῖς ἀνακοινοῖντο οἱ ἄνδρες.

Il. 1.553

καὶ λίην σε πάρος γ’ οὔτ’ εἴρομαι οὔτε μεταλλῶ,

“I never previously have been asking you or questioning you excessively”

Schol. bT ad Il. 1.553

“excessively you before”: women customarily deny it whenever they have been really annoying to their husbands.”

καὶ λίην σε πάρος: ἔθος γυναιξὶν ἀρνεῖσθαι, ὅτι ποτὲ παρηνώχλησαν τοῖς ἀνδράσιν.

Hera and Prometheus, tondo of a 5th-century BCE cup from Vulci, Etruria

A Reminder: Medical and Philosophical Traditions Consider Women Not Fully Human

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

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Ivory Sculpture from the MET

 

Penelope Addresses Odysseus

Homer, Odyssey 23. 205–230

“So he spoke, and her knees and dear heart grew weak there
As she recognized the signs which Odysseus pointed out as certain.
As she wept she went straight to him and threw her arms
Around Odysseus’ neck. She kissed him and spoke:

“Don’t be angry at me Odysseus, since in all other things
You knew the most of humans. The gods granted this grief
Who denied that we would remain with one another
To enjoy our youth and come together to old age.
Do not be angry with me or criticize me for this now,
Because I did not rejoice when I first saw you.
For the heart in my dear breast always was trembling,
Afraid that someone would arrive and deceive me with words.
For there are many men who devise evil plans.
Not even Argive Helen the offspring of Zeus
Would have joined in sex and bed with a foreign man
If she had understood that the warlike Achaeans
Would one day bring her home to her fatherland.
Truly, then, a god drove her to complete the shameful act—
And she did not conceive of this ruinous blindness in her mind,
Before this, the ruin from which grief also first came to us.
But now, since you have laid out the clear signs already
Of our bed, which no other mortal has spied,
Except for you and I and one single attendant alone,
Akrotis, whom my father gave to me when I was on my way here,
The girl who has guarded the doors of our strong bedroom,
You are persuading my heart, even though it is truly resistant.”

ὣς φάτο, τῆς δ’ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ,
σήματ’ ἀναγνούσῃ, τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς·
δακρύσασα δ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰθὺς κίεν, ἀμφὶ δὲ χεῖρας
δειρῇ βάλλ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ, κάρη δ’ ἔκυσ’ ἠδὲ προσηύδα·

“μή μοι, ᾿Οδυσσεῦ, σκύζευ, ἐπεὶ τά περ ἄλλα μάλιστα
ἀνθρώπων πέπνυσο· θεοὶ δ’ ὤπαζον ὀϊζύν,
οἳ νῶϊν ἀγάσαντο παρ’ ἀλλήλοισι μένοντε
ἥβης ταρπῆναι καὶ γήραος οὐδὸν ἱκέσθαι.
αὐτὰρ μὴ νῦν μοι τόδε χώεο μηδὲ νεμέσσα,
οὕνεκά σ’ οὐ τὸ πρῶτον, ἐπεὶ ἴδον, ὧδ’ ἀγάπησα.
αἰεὶ γάρ μοι θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισιν
ἐρρίγει, μή τίς με βροτῶν ἀπάφοιτ’ ἐπέεσσιν
ἐλθών· πολλοὶ γὰρ κακὰ κέρδεα βουλεύουσιν.
οὐδέ κεν ᾿Αργείη ῾Ελένη, Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα,
ἀνδρὶ παρ’ ἀλλοδαπῷ ἐμίγη φιλότητι καὶ εὐνῇ,
εἰ ᾔδη, ὅ μιν αὖτις ἀρήϊοι υἷες ᾿Αχαιῶν
ἀξέμεναι οἶκόνδε φίλην ἐς πατρίδ’ ἔμελλον.
τὴν δ’ ἦ τοι ῥέξαι θεὸς ὤρορεν ἔργον ἀεικές·
τὴν δ’ ἄτην οὐ πρόσθεν ἑῷ ἐγκάτθετο θυμῷ
λυγρήν, ἐξ ἧς πρῶτα καὶ ἡμέας ἵκετο πένθος.
νῦν δ’, ἐπεὶ ἤδη σήματ’ ἀριφραδέα κατέλεξας
εὐνῆς ἡμετέρης, τὴν οὐ βροτὸς ἄλλος ὀπώπει,
ἀλλ’ οἶοι σύ τ’ ἐγώ τε καὶ ἀμφίπολος μία μούνη,
᾿Ακτορίς, ἥν μοι δῶκε πατὴρ ἔτι δεῦρο κιούσῃ,
ἣ νῶϊν εἴρυτο θύρας πυκινοῦ θαλάμοιο,
πείθεις δή μευ θυμόν, ἀπηνέα περ μάλ’ ἐόντα.”

Fracesco Primaticcio, Odysseus and Penelope (1563)

 

It Is Good For Women to Exercise Too! (But for Predictable, Instrumental Reasons)

Philostratus, Gymnasticus 27

“And there is also a notion older than this which seemed right to Lykourgos for Sparta. Because he meant to provide warrior-athletes for Sparta, he said, “Let the girls exercise and permit them to run in public. Certainly this strengthening of their bodies was for the sake of good childbearing and that they would have better offspring.

For one who comes from this training to her husband’s home will not hesitate to carry water or to mill grain because she has prepared from her youth. And if she is joined together with a youth who has joined her in rigorous exercise, she will provide better offspring—for they will be tall, strong and rarely sick. Sparta became so preeminent in war once her marriages were prepared in this way.”

Καίτοι καὶ πρεσβύτερον τούτου, ὃ καὶ Λυκούργῳ ἐδόκει τῷ Σπαρτιάτῃ· παριστάμενος γὰρ τῇ Λακεδαίμονι πολεμικοὺς ἀθλητὰς, “γυμναζέσθων,” φησὶν, “αἱ κόραι καὶ ἀνείσθων δημοσίᾳ τρέχειν.” ὑπὲρ εὐπαιδίας δήπου καὶ τοῦ τὰ ἔκγονα βελτίω τίκτειν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐρρῶσθαι τὸ σῶμα· ἀφικομένη γὰρ ἐς ἀνδρὸς ὑδροφορεῖν οὐκ ὀκνήσει οὐδὲ ἀλεῖν διὰ τὸ ἠσκῆσθαι ἐκ νέας· εἰ δὲ καὶ νέῳ καὶ συγγυμναζομένῳ συζυγείη, βελτίω τὰ ἔκγονα ἀποδώσει, καὶ γὰρ εὐμήκη καὶ ἰσχυρὰ καὶ ἄνοσα. καὶ ἐγένετο ἡ Λακεδαίμων τοσαύτη κατὰ πόλεμον, ἐπειδὴ τὰ γαμικὰ αὐτοῖς ὧδε ἐπράττετο.

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Gender, Smell and Lemnos: More Misogyny from Greek Myth

A proverb from the Suda

“By a Lemnian Hand: [meaning] cruelly and lawlessly. This is from a story: for they say that the women in Lemnos allegedly killed their husbands because they weren’t having sex with them”

Λημνίᾳ χειρί: ὠμῇ καὶ παρανόμῳ. ἀπὸ τῆς ἱστορίας· φασὶ γὰρ τὰς ἐν Λήμνῳ γυναῖκας τοὺς ἄνδρας αὐτῶν ἀνελεῖν αἰτιωμένας, ὅτι αὐταῖς οὐκ ἐμίγνυντο.

A few years ago I was looking up some odd word or another in the work of the lexicographer Hesychius (ok, to be honest, I was looking up words for feces and was looking at κοκκιλόνδις· παιδὸς ἀφόδευμα; kokkilondis: “a child’s excrement”). I found the following words which are pretty much absent from all modern lexica.

Kikkasos: the sweat flowing from between the thighs

κίκκασος· ὁ ἐκ τῶν παραμηρίων ἱδρὼς ῥέων.

Kikkê: Sex. Or the bad smell [that comes] from genitals

κίκκη· συνουσία. ἡ ἀπὸ τῶν αἰδοίων δυσοσμία

Obviously, the specificity of these two lexical items is amusing. But their very existence perplexed me a bit. Where did they come from? How were they used? (They don’t actually appear anywhere but in Hesychius.) After some contemplation and a little restraint, I can only conclude that the words emerge from a generally misogynistic context which also considered sex in some way unclean.

The story that I kept thinking of was that of the Lemnian women—it is one of the few connections I could make between sex and bad smells. It is also one of my least favorite myths because it echoes modern misogynistic taboos which marginalize and alienate female bodies. So, I almost didn’t write this post. But I do think that it is worth making these connections, however uncomfortable they are.

Here are two versions of the Lemnian women tale.

Apollodorus, 1.114

“Jason was the captain of the ship as they disembarked and neared Lemnos. The island then happened to be bereft of men and was ruled by Hypsipyle, Thoas’ daughter, for the following reason. The Lemnian women used not to honor Aphrodite. She cast a terrible smell upon them and, for this reason, their husbands acquired spear-won women from Thrace and slept with them.

Because they were dishonored, the Lemnian women slaughtered their fathers and husbands. Hypsipyle alone spared her father Thoas by hiding him. After they landed on the women-controlled island, they slept with the women. Hypsipyle gave birth to sons after sleeping with Jason: Eunêos and Nebrophonos.”

οὗτοι ναυαρχοῦντος ᾿Ιάσονος ἀναχθέντες προσίσχουσι Λήμνῳ. ἔτυχε δὲ ἡ Λῆμνος ἀνδρῶν τότε οὖσα ἔρημος, βασιλευομένη δὲ ὑπὸ ῾Υψιπύλης τῆς Θόαντος
δι’ αἰτίαν τήνδε. αἱ Λήμνιαι τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην οὐκ ἐτίμων· ἡ δὲ αὐταῖς ἐμβάλλει δυσοσμίαν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οἱ γήμαντες αὐτὰς ἐκ τῆς πλησίον Θρᾴκης λαβόντες
αἰχμαλωτίδας συνευνάζοντο αὐταῖς. ἀτιμαζόμεναι δὲ αἱ Λήμνιαι τούς τε πατέρας καὶ τοὺς ἄνδρας φονεύουσι· μόνη δὲ ἔσωσεν ῾Υψιπύλη τὸν ἑαυτῆς πατέρα κρύψασα
Θόαντα. προσσχόντες οὖν τότε γυναικοκρατουμένῃ τῇ Λήμνῳ μίσγονται ταῖς γυναιξίν. ῾Υψιπύλη δὲ ᾿Ιάσονι συνευνάζεται, καὶ γεννᾷ παῖδας Εὔνηον καὶ Νεβρο-φόνον.

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Schol ad. Pind. P4 88b

“The story goes like this: Because the Lemnian women had carried out the honors for Aphrodite improperly, the goddess inflicted a bad smell upon them: for this reason, men turned them away. They all worked together and killed their husbands in a plot. Then the Argonauts, as they were travelling to Skythia, arrived in in Lemnos; when they found that the island was bereft of men, they slept with the women and then left. The sons who were born from them went to Sparta in search of their fathers and, once they were accepted among the Lakonians, they became citizens there and settled in Sparta.

ἱστορία τοιαύτη· ταῖς Λημνίαις γυναιξὶν ἀσεβῶς διακειμέναις περὶ τὰς τῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης τιμὰς ἡ θεὸς δυσοσμίαν προσέπεμψε, καὶ οὕτως αὐτὰς οἱ ἄνδρες ἀπεστράφησαν· αἱ δὲ συνθέμεναι πρὸς ἑαυτὰς ἐξ ἐπιβουλῆς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἀνεῖλον. τηνικαῦτα δὲ οἱ ᾿Αργοναῦται τὸν εἰς Σκυθίαν στελλόμενοι πλοῦν προσωρμίσθησαν τῇ Λήμνῳ, καὶ εὑρόντες ἔρημον ἀρσένων τὴν νῆσον συνελθόντες ταῖς γυναιξὶν ἀπηλλάγησαν. οἱ δὲ φύντες ἐξ αὐτῶν ἦλθον εἰς Λακεδαίμονα κατὰ ζήτησιν τῶν πατέρων, καὶ προσδεχθέντες παρὰ Λάκωσι καὶ πολιτευσάμενοι συνέθεντο ἐπιθέσθαι τῇ Σπάρτῃ…

This tale seems to combine with a larger treatment of Lemnos as clear from the proverb above and this one:

A proverb from Zenobius (4.91)

“A Lemnian evil”: A proverb which they say comes from the lawless acts committed against husbands by the women of Lemnos. Or it derives from the story of the women who were abducted from Attica by the Pelasgians and settled in Lemnos. Once they gave birth, they taught their sons the ways and the language of the Athenians. They honored each other and ruled over those who descended from Thracians. Then the Pelasgians, because they were angry over this, killed them and their mothers. Or the proverb derives from the bad smell of the Lemnian women.”

Λήμνιον κακόν: παροιμία, ἣν διαδοθῆναι φασὶν ἀπὸ τῶν παρανομηθέντων εἰς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐν Λήμνῳ ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ τὰς ἁρπαγείσας ὑπὸ Πελασγῶν ἐκ τῆς ᾿Αττικῆς γυναῖκας εἰς Λῆμνον ἀπαχθῆναι· ἃς ἀποτεκούσας τρόπους τε τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων διδάξαι τοὺς παῖδας καὶ γλῶτταν· τούτους δὲ τιμωρεῖν ἀλλήλοις καὶ τῶν ἐκ τῶν Θρᾳσσῶν γεγενημένων ἐπικρατεῖν· τοὺς δὲ Πελασγοὺς ἐπὶ τούτῳ ἀχθομένους κτεῖναι αὐτοὺς καὶ τὰς μητέρας αὐτῶν. ῍Η διὰ τὴν δυσωδίαν τῶν Λημνιάδων γυναικῶν τὴν παροιμίαν διαδοθῆναι.

The story of the Lemnian crimes (Lêmnia Erga) is told by Herodotus (6.137-138): the Pelasgians were driven out of Attic and took Lemnos; then they got their revenge by abducting Athenian women during a festival. When the sons of these women grew up, they frightened the native Pelasgians and they were all killed.

In the major tales, it is clear that the women are not completely at fault, but they are the ones who seem to suffer the most. Within the broader narrative of the Argonaut tale, especially, we can see how women are defined by their bodies as loci of sexual interest or disinterest, the ability to produce children, and anxiety that they might not remain subordinate to male desire. The casual detail of the Pelasgian tale is especially harrowing.

Festivals for Women and Different Marriage Customs

Paradoxographus Vaticanus, 25-28, 45

25 “Among the Iberians there is a tribe [and] and in a certain festival they honor women with gifts, however so many demonstrate at that time that they can weave the most numerous and beautiful cloaks.”

Παρὰ τοῖς ῎Ιβηρσιν ἔθνος ἐστὶ ἐν ἑορτῇ τινι τὰς γυναῖκας τιμῶν δώροις, ὅσαι ἂν πλεῖστα καὶ κάλλιστα ἱμάτια ὑφήνασαι τότε ἐπιδείξωσιν.

26 “Among the Krobuzoi it is the custom to mourn when an infant is born and consider the one who dies lucky”

Παρὰ Κροβύζοις ἔθος ἐστὶ τὸ μὲν γεννώμενον βρέφος θρηνεῖν, τὸν δὲ θανόντα εὐδαιμονίζειν.

27 “Among the Nasamoi in Libya it is the custom that on the first day a woman is married that she has sex with everyone who is present and then take gifts from them. After that, she has sex only with the one who marries her.”

Παρὰ Νασαμῶσι τοῖς ἐν Λιβύῃ νόμος ἐστὶ τὴν γαμουμένην τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ συγγίνεσθαι πᾶσι τοῖς παροῦσι καὶ παρ’ αὐτῶν δῶρα λαμβάνειν καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο τῷ γήμαντι μόνῳ μίγνυσθαι.

28 “The women of the Sauromatoi do not get married unless they kill an enemy man.”

Αἱ τῶν Σαυροματῶν γυναῖκες οὐ πρότερον γαμοῦνται, ἂν μὴ ἄνδρα κτάνωσι πολέμιον.

45 “The Liburnians have shared wives and they raise their children in common for five years. When they make it to the eighth year, they compare the children for their similarity to the men and they distribute to each one who is similar. And that one keeps him as a son.”

Λιβύρνιοι κοινὰς τὰς γυναῖκας ἔχουσι καὶ τὰ τέκνα ἐν κοινῷ τρέφουσι μέχρι ἐτῶν πέντε· εἶτα τῷ ἔκτῳ συνενέγκαντες ἅπαντα τὰ παιδία τὰς ὁμοιότητας πρὸς τοὺς ἄνδρας εἰκάζουσι, καὶ ἑκάστῳ τὸν ὅμοιον ἀποδιδόασι, καὶ λοιπὸν ἐκεῖνος ὡς υἱὸν ἔχει.

51 “The Assyrians sell their daughters in the marketplace to whoever wants to settle down with them. First the most well-born and most beautiful and then the rest in order. Whenever they get to the least attractive, they announce how much someone is willing to take to live with them and they add this consolation price from the fee charged for the desirable girls to these [last ones].”

᾿Ασσύριοι τὰς παρθένους ἐν ἀγορᾷ πωλοῦσι τοῖς θέλουσι συνοικεῖν, πρῶτον μὲν τὰς εὐγενεστάτας καὶ καλλίστας, εἶτα τὰς λοιπὰς ἐφεξῆς· ὅταν δὲ ἔλθωσι ἐπὶ τὰς φαυλοτάτας, κηρύττουσι πόσον τις θέλει προσλαβὼν ταύταις συνοικεῖν, καὶ τὸ συναχθὲν ἐκ τῆς τῶν εὐπρεπῶν τιμῆς ταύταις προστίθενται [ταῖς παρθένοις].

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