Beyond Sappho: Learning and Teaching About Women Authors

I went through thirteen years of Classical education and only read ancient work by one woman in one of my classes. And that was in high school when we were preparing for the Catullus AP exam: we read a little bit of Sappho to help contextualize Catullus’ Carm. 51 (Ille mi par…). It is not that Sappho was not on the official courses when I was an undergrad or graduate student—I either missed the subject in rotation or skipped it.

My scholarly world was not wholly barren of Sappho, however. When I was in graduate school I worked my way through a fairly extensive reading list of Roman and Greek authors. I had some of it completed before I arrived, but spent the better part of every break and summer for three years working on a pared down canon of Classical texts. Of all those authors, there Sappho was the only woman on the list.

(And, to make matters worse, I am sure I encountered articles equivocating on whether or not Sappho’s poems can even be taken seriously as compositions by women).

PhD comprehensive exams are not just about reading Latin and Greek: you also need to pass topic exams and literature exams. I read the Conte, the Pfeiffer; with my peers I made bibliographies and Oxford Classical Dictionary-like summaries for all the authors on the reading lists. I passed my exams and the worst error I made was confusing Plato’s Gorgias and Protagoras.

These exams are both about providing students with sufficient exposure to the CANON! Of ancient literature as it has been passed down for us to do a credible job at imitating our betters. They also prepare us with the raw knowledge to speak and teach in the field. So, I made it through a PhD and into a tenure track teaching job knowing the names of only two women authors from the ancient world: Sappho and Sulpicia (and the latter only because I was a research assistant and got tasked with finding citations of an article about her). The Latin poet has also had her existence questioned.

And, I suspect like my own teachers, I perpetuated what I had learned. The first few years after the PhD are hectic, especially if you end up in a teaching heavy program where you are also expected to publish. When I taught a “Classical Literature Survey” course in my first year, it was pretty much the authors from my PhD reading lists (excepting those I really didn’t like.)

So I taught and wrote—I professionally professed!—with such an impoverished knowledge of the ancient world that I shudder to admit it know. I somehow didn’t know of the fragmentary work of Korinna—who allegedly made Pindar a better poet—or Praxilla. I did not learn of Nossis or Erinna until I started reading through the Greek Anthology to find more material for this website. I did not learn of dozens of other names until I received an email from a professor from my undergraduate English department. Certainly, some of this is my fault since I did not go looking for these authors. (And the list of the books below makes it clear that it was possible to learn more.) But the way we build and prioritize the received canon of works that a Classicist needs to read exacerbates it.

One gets the impression from reading overviews of ancient literature that women were not engaged in its production with the exception of a very few. Given the pervasive nature of song culture in early Greece, however, it seems incredible that there were not many more women’s songs. (And Andromache Karanika does a fabulous job of thinking about this in her book Voices at Work, 2014.) We see depiction of women playing instruments and singing in art and we hear them depicted singing while weaving. And this is just the beginning.

Well into the imperial age, we have evidence that elite women were engaged in activities similar to those of men. But we have limited examples of their work because ancients did not keep them. While we have the work of Julia Balbilla (see Patricia Rosenmeyer’s book for more), it survives in inscriptions and not because it was preserved intentionally. The marginalization of women authors started when contemporary male audiences and subsequent editors did not record and circulate their poetry and songs. As Classicists we need to admit and publicize more broadly that the canon we have is not purely accidental. Women authors have been systematically left out for millennia.

And it is not just poetry and literary evidence which is either lost or ignored. We have, I think, sufficient evidence that women were actively engaged in philosophy as well. The philosophical fragments of Perictione—pseudonymous and attributed to Plato’s mother—the Pythagorian Aesara (5th Century BCE), and the Spartan Phintys (3rd Century BCE) are not included in any of the new philosophical collections in the Loeb Classical Library. Even though the editors find the time to track down nearly every testimony for most minor philosophers. A small part of Perictione’s fragmentary text preserved by Stobaeus is printed on LCL 527 (437-8) in support of other Pythagoreans.

Last year I spent some time reading through and translating poets like Nossis; this year I pushed myself through the fragments of the philosophers above. While the provenance and authority of the texts are beyond problematic, their content is important. Perictione and Phintys present what is purportedly treatises on how to be a good woman from a philosophical perspective. And they read more like male fantasy screeds. But I think we could also see them as engaged in some cultural and intellectual realpolitik. Perictione’s emphasis on what “likemindedness” really means to a wife (basically accepted everything her husband says, likes, and does) should make us re-think how audiences received Odysseus’ wish for Nausikaa in the Odyssey and reconsider James Redfield’s arguments for homonoia/homophrosune as signaling consent. Aesara’s work is fascinating to me because it breaks down the soul/body dichotomy which Plato really solidifies in Greek philosophical traditions and sees a more complex engagement between thought, anger, and desire.

I have made a little noise talking about the problem with canons in classical curricula and how we overlook that what we have been taught is beautiful shapes what we look for in the world. We have to be critical in examining the way previous generations’ curation of the canon has shaped what we consider marginal and what we pass down to our students. We need women philosophers in the Loeb Classical Library. We need handbooks of the history of Classical literature and scholarship that do a more accurate job of telling us what women were doing in the ancient world and why we have such little extant evidence. And I don’t mean to imply that there are not scores of people doing this work already; but I think we need to make this kind of work more central to what we do as a discipline.

Yes, the ancients did not preserve much of the work created by women. This does not mean that it did not exist. Our discipline’s history until very recently is shaped by not having the evidence and by not teaching it. (And thanks much to the work of the Women’s Classical Caucus.) But part of figuring out whether or not Classical Studies as a discipline can survive is a critical re-evaluation of how we teach and learn about the ancient world at every level.

Image result for pfeiffer history of classical scholarship
Don’t look for Women in this index

There are many good texts about women in the ancient world. Below are some about women authors. Please email or comment to add some more. For great resources, please visit Diotima.

Balmer, Josephine. 1996. Classical Women Poets.

Greene, Ellen. 2005. Women Poets in Ancient Greece and Rome. Oklahoma.

Plant, I.M. 2004. Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology. Oklahoma.

Raynor, Diane J. 1991. Sappho’s Lyre: Archaic Lyric and Women Poets of Ancient Greece. Berkeley and Los Angeles

Snyder, J. M. 1989. The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome. Southern Illinois.

The blog It’s All Greek to Me posted this entry with good sources for women writing

The title of this post is in part inspired by Sarah Bond’s repeated reminders that the women in the ancient world are more than Sappho.

A List of Women Authors from Ancient Greece and Rome for International Women’s Day

In our now annual tradition, we are re-posting this list with more names and updated links. Most of the evidence for these authors has been collected only in Wikipedia. I have added new translations over the past year and a new group of philosophers to the list this year. Always happy to have new names and links suggested.

I originally received a link to the core list in an email from my undergraduate poetry teacher, the amazing poet and translator Olga Broumas. The post is on tumblr on a page by DiasporaChic, bit the original author is Terpsikeraunos.

*denotes comments I have added with this re-post

** denotes names I have added

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon
Women in ancient Greece and Rome with surviving works or fragments

 

PHILOSOPHY

Here is a list of Women philosophers with testimonia and fragments (with French translations and commentary).

Aesara of Lucania: “Only a fragment survives of Aesara of Lucania’s Book on Human Nature, but it provides a key to understanding the philosophies of Phintys, Perictione, and Theano II as well. Aesara presents a familiar and intuitive natural law theory. She says that through the activity of introspection into our own nature – specifically the nature of a human soul – we can discover not only the natural philosophic foundation for all of human law, but we can also discern the technical structure of morality, positive law, and, it may be inferred, the laws of moral psychology and of physical medicine. Aesara’s natural law theory concerns laws governing three applications of moral law: individual or private morality, laws governing the moral basis of the institution of the family, and, laws governing the moral foundations of social institutions. By analyzing the nature of the soul, Aesara says, we will understand the nature of law and of justice at the individual, familial, and social levels.” – A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 B.C.-500 A.D., by M.E. Waith

*Wikipedia on Aesara

A translation of her work

**Aspasia of Miletus: wikipedia entry

**Axiothea of Phlius: wikipedia entry

**Bistala

**Damo: daughter of Pythagoras and Theano. wikipedia entry

**Deino of Croton: A student of Pythagoras.

A translation of Diogenes Laertius’ account.

**Diotima: wikipedia entry

**Eurydice: cf. Plutarch Conj. praec. 145a and e

**Hipparchia of Maronea: wikipedia entry

A translation of Diogenes Laertius’ account

**Klea: Cf.  Plut. Mul. virt. 242 ef

**Lasthenia of Mantinea: wikipedia entry

**Leontion: an Epicurean philosopher

Melissa: “Melissa (3rd century BC)[1][2] was a Pythagorean philosopher…Nothing is known about her life. She is known only from a letter written to another woman named Cleareta (or Clearete). The letter is written in a Doric Greek dialect dated to around the 3rd century BC.[2] The letter discusses the need for a wife to be modest and virtuous, and stresses that she should obey her husband.[2] The content has led to the suggestion that it was written pseudonymously by a man.[2] On the other hand, the author of the letter does not suggest that a woman is naturally inferior or weak, or that she needs a man’s rule to be virtuous.[1]” –Wikipedia

**Myia of Samos: wikipedia article

Perictione (I and II): “Two works attributed to Perictione have survived in fragments: On the Harmony of Women and On Wisdom. Differences in language suggest that they were written by two different people. Allen and Waithe identify them as Perictione I and Perictione II. Plato’s mother was named Perictione, and Waithe argues that she should be identified as the earlier Perictione, suggesting that similarities between Plato’s Republic and On the Harmony of Women may not be the result of Perictione reading Plato, but the opposite–the son learning philosophy from his mother. On the Harmony of Women, however, is written in Ionic prose with occasional Doric forms. This mixed dialect dates the work to the late fourth or third centuries BC. The reference in On the Harmony of Women to women ruling suggests the Hellenistic monarchies of the third century BC or later. On Wisdom is written in Doric and is partly identical with a work by Archytas of the same name. This work should be dated later, to the third or second centuries BC. Both the dates of the works and their dialects mean Perictione as the mother of Plato could not have written them. We then have two Pythagorean texts, attributed to otherwise unknown women named Perictione who should be dated perhaps one hundred years apart.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant

*N.B. This account leaves out the the basic narrative from Diogenes Laertius, that Plato’s father Ariston raped his mother Perictione.

A translation of a fragment attributed to Perictione here.

Phintys: “Phintys (or Phyntis, Greek: Φίντυς; 4th or 3rd century BC) was a Pythagorean philosopher. Nothing is known about her life, nor where she came from. She wrote a work on the correct behavior of women, two extracts of which are preserved by Stobaeus.” –Wikipedia

*Note, Stobaeus (4.32.61a) calls her the daughter of Kallikrates the Pythagorean (Φιντύος τᾶς Καλλικράτεος θυγατρὸς Πυθαγορείας). Here are some of her fragments on the prudence befitting women: part 1 and part 2.

Ptolemais of Cyrene: “Ptolemais is known to us through reference to her work by Porphyry in his Commentary on the Harmonics of Ptolemy. He tells us that she came from Cyrene and gives the title of her work, The Pythagorean Principles of Music, which he quotes. She is the only known female musical theorist from antiquity. Her dates cannot be known for sure. She clearly preceded Porphyry, who was born about AD 232; Didymus, who is also quoted by Porphyry, knew Ptolemais’ work and may even have been Porphyry’s source for it. This Didymus is probably the one who lived in the time of Nero, giving us a date for Ptolemais of the first century AD or earlier…One of the problems in dealing with this text is that it is in quotation. Porphyry does not clearly distinguish between the text he quotes from Ptolemais and his own discussion of the issues raised…A second issue is the problem of the accuracy of the quotation. Porphyry says in the introduction to fragment 4 that he has altered a few things in the quotation for the sake of brevity. We should not assume that this is the only quotation to have suffered from editing. On the other hand, where he quotes the same passage twice (fragment 3 is repeated almost verbatim in fragment 4) his consistency is encouraging. Ptolemais’ extant work is a catechism, written as a series of questions and answers. She discusses different schools of thought on harmonic theory, distinguishing between the degree to which they gave importance to theory and perception. Her text prefers the approach of Aristoxenus to that of the Pythagoreans, thus she should not be thought a Pythagorean, despite the title of her work.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant

A new translation of her fragment

**Theano the Pythagorean (I have collected her words here)

“When Theano the Pythagorean philosopher was asked what eros is, she said ‘the passion of a soul with spare time.’ ”

Θεανὼ ἡ πυθαγορικὴ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεῖσα τί ἐστιν ἔρως ἔφη· ” πάθος ψυχῆς σχολαζούσης.”

“While Theano was walking she showed her forearm and some youth when he saw it said “Nice skin”. She responded, “it’s not communal”.

Θεανὼ πορευομένη ἔξω εἶχε τὸν βραχίονα· νεανίσκος δέ τις ἰδὼν εἶπε· ” καλὸν τὸ δέμας·” ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίνατο· ” ἀλλ’ οὐ κοινόν.”

**Timycha of Sparta: wikipedia entry

Continue reading “A List of Women Authors from Ancient Greece and Rome for International Women’s Day”

Odysseus’s Sister and Names for In-Laws

We have posted before about Odysseus’ sister Ktimene. She is mentioned by the swineherd Eumaios but never by Odysseus. The scholia connect her to one of Odysseus’ companions. The evidence for this seems to be the fact that Ktimene was sent to Same for marriage (where Eurylochus is from) and a kinship term used for him by Odysseus. Also of interest, according to the scholion, Odysseus may have had more sisters.

Homer, Odyssey 15.364-41

Strong Ktimenê, the youngest of the children she bore.
I was raised with her, and she honored me little less.
But when we both made it to much-praised youth,
They gave her to Samê and received much in return
But she gave me a cloak, tunic and clothing
Dressing me finely and give me sandals for my feet
And sent me to the field. But she loved me more in her heart.

οὕνεκά μ’ αὐτὴ θρέψεν ἅμα Κτιμένῃ τανυπέπλῳ
θυγατέρ’ ἰφθίμῃ, τὴν ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων·
τῇ ὁμοῦ ἐτρεφόμην, ὀλίγον δέ τί μ’ ἧσσον ἐτίμα.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἥβην πολυήρατον ἱκόμεθ’ ἄμφω,
τὴν μὲν ἔπειτα Σάμηνδ’ ἔδοσαν καὶ μυρί’ ἕλοντο,
αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ χλαῖνάν τε χιτῶνά τε εἵματ’ ἐκείνη
καλὰ μάλ’ ἀμφιέσασα ποσίν θ’ ὑποδήματα δοῦσα
ἀγρόνδε προΐαλλε· φίλει δέ με κηρόθι μᾶλλον.

Schol. BW ad Od. 15.364 ex

“Ktimenê is the proper name of Odysseus’ sister, whom Eurylochus is supposed to have married.”

Κτιμένη] Κτιμένη κυρίως ἐκαλεῖτο ἡ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφὴ, ἧς
ὁ Εὐρύλοχος ὑπονοεῖται ἀνήρ. λέγει γὰρ “καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα
σχεδόν” (κ, 441.). B.Q.

“She bore the youngest of the children”: [this means] of the female children. For his father only had Odysseus [for a son]. There were more sisters of Odysseus.”

ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων] θηλειῶν γοῦν. μόνον δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Οδυσσέα πατὴρ τέκε (π, 119.). καὶ πλείους οὖν αἱ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφαί. Q.

Homer, Odyssey 10.438-442

“So he spoke, and I was turning over in my thoughts
As I began to draw the sharp-edged sword next to my thick thigh,
Whether I should cut off his head and drive him to the ground
Even though he really was my relative. But our companions
Were restraining me with gentle words from all sides.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε μετὰ φρεσὶ μερμήριξα,
σπασσάμενος τανύηκες ἄορ παχέος παρὰ μηροῦ,
τῷ οἱ ἀποτμήξας κεφαλὴν οὖδάσδε πελάσσαι,
καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα σχεδόν· ἀλλά μ’ ἑταῖροι
μειλιχίοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν ἐρήτυον ἄλλοθεν ἄλλος·

Schol. QVB ad Od 10.441 ex

Q “Instead of the genitive here, “even though he was an in-law”.

V. “Relative”

QV For he married Odysseus’ sister Ktimene.
B “even though he was my brother-in-law by my sister Ktimenê.”

καὶ πηῷ] ἀντὶ τοῦ, καὶ πηοῦ περ ἐόντος. Q. συγγενεῖ. V.
Κτιμένην γὰρ γεγαμήκει τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφήν. Q.V. γαμβρῷ
μοι ὄντι ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδελφῇ Κτιμένῃ. B.

Suda

“Pêos: A relative by marriage. In-law. Also, “in-lawness” [Pêosunê], relation-by-marriage. There is also Pêôn [genitive plural], for “of relatives-by-marriage. Homer has: “relatives and friends” [Il. 3.163]

Πηός: ὁ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενής. καὶ Πηοσύνη, ἡ συγγαμβρία.
καὶ Πηῶν, τῶν συγγενῶν. ῞Ομηρος· πηούς τε φίλους τε.

Etymologicum Gudianum

“…There is a difference between in-law and friend. People who have no connection to you by birth are friends. In-laws are related to you through marriage.”

διαφέρει δὲ πηὸς φίλου· φίλοι μὲν λέγονται οἱ μηδὲν τῷ γένει προσήκοντες·  πηοὶ δὲ οἱ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενεῖς.

peos

For a beautiful narrative re-imagining of the life of Ktimene, see Mary Ebbot’s “Seeking Odysseus’ Sister”

“What Kinds of Things Are Roses”: More Poems from Nossis

Yesterday I posted some fragments from Nossis. Here are some more.

Greek Anthology, 6. 265

“Reverent Hera, who often comes down
From the sky to gaze upon your fragrant Lakinian home.
Take the linen robe which Theophilos, the daughter of Kleokha
Wove for you with the help of her noble daughter Nossis.”

Ἥρα τιμήεσσα, Λακίνιον ἃ τὸ θυῶδες
πολλάκις οὐρανόθεν νεισομένα καθορῇς,
δέξαι βύσσινον εἷμα, τό τοι μετὰ παιδὸς ἀγαυᾶς
Νοσσίδος ὕφανεν Θευφιλὶς ἁ Κλεόχας.

6.138

“These weapons the Brettian men hurled down from their unlucky shoulders
As they were overcome by the hands of the fast-battling Lokrians.
They are dedicated here singing the Lokrians glory in the temple of the gods.
They don’t long at all for the hands of the cowards they abandoned.”

Ἔντεα Βρέττιοι ἄνδρες ἀπ᾿ αἰνομόρων βάλον ὤμων,
θεινόμενοι Λοκρῶν χερσὶν ὕπ᾿ ὠκυμάχων,
ὧν ἀρετὰν ὑμνεῦντα θεῶν ὑπ᾿ ἀνάκτορα κεῖνται,
οὐδὲ ποθεῦντι κακῶν πάχεας, οὓς ἔλιπον.

7.414

“Pass by me, give an honest laugh, and speak over me
A loving word. I am Rhintho from Syracuse,
A minor nightingale of the Muses. But from my tragic
Nonsense poems, I made my own ivy crown.”

Καὶ καπυρὸν γελάσας παραμείβεο, καὶ φίλον εἰπὼν
ῥῆμ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἐμοί. Ῥίνθων εἴμ᾿ ὁ Συρακόσιος,
Μουσάων ὀλίγη τις ἀηδονίς· ἀλλὰ φλυάκων
ἐκ τραγικῶν ἴδιον κισσὸν ἐδρεψάμεθα.

Greek Anthology, 5.170

“There is nothing sweeter than love: all other blessings
Take second place. I even spit honey from my mouth.
This is what Nossis says. Whomever Kypris has not kissed,
Does not understand her flowers, what kinds of things roses are.”

Ἅδιον οὐδὲν ἔρωτος· ἃ δ᾽ ὄλβια, δεύτερα πάντα
ἐστίν· ἀπὸ στόματος δ᾽ ἔπτυσα καὶ τὸ μέλι.
τοῦτο λέγει Νοσσίς· τίνα δ᾽ ἁ Κύπρις οὐκ ἐφίλασεν,
οὐκ οἶδεν τήνας τἄνθεα, ποῖα ῥόδα.

Greek Anthology, 9.604

“This frame has the picture of Thaumareta. The painter
Caught the form and the age of the soft-glancing woman well.
Your house dog, the little puppy, would paw at you if she saw this,
Believing that she was looking down at the lady of her home.”

Θαυμαρέτας μορφὰν ὁ πίναξ ἔχει· εὖ γε τὸ γαῦρον
τεῦξε τό θ᾿ ὡραῖον τᾶς ἀγανοβλεφάρου.
σαίνοι κέν σ᾿ ἐσιδοῖσα καὶ οἰκοφύλαξ σκυλάκαινα,
δέσποιναν μελάθρων οἰομένα ποθορῆν.

“What Kinds of Things Are Roses”: More Poems from Nossis

Earlier this year I posted some fragments from Nossis. Here are some more.

Greek Anthology, 6. 265

“Reverent Hera, who often comes down
From the sky to gaze upon your fragrant Lakinian home.
Take the linen robe which Theophilos, the daughter of Kleokha
Wove for you with the help of her noble daughter Nossis.”

Ἥρα τιμήεσσα, Λακίνιον ἃ τὸ θυῶδες
πολλάκις οὐρανόθεν νεισομένα καθορῇς,
δέξαι βύσσινον εἷμα, τό τοι μετὰ παιδὸς ἀγαυᾶς
Νοσσίδος ὕφανεν Θευφιλὶς ἁ Κλεόχας.

6.138

“These weapons the Brettian men hurled down from their unlucky shoulders
As they were overcome by the hands of the fast-battling Lokrians.
They are dedicated here singing the Lokrians glory in the temple of the gods.
They don’t long at all for the hands of the cowards they abandoned.”

Ἔντεα Βρέττιοι ἄνδρες ἀπ᾿ αἰνομόρων βάλον ὤμων,
θεινόμενοι Λοκρῶν χερσὶν ὕπ᾿ ὠκυμάχων,
ὧν ἀρετὰν ὑμνεῦντα θεῶν ὑπ᾿ ἀνάκτορα κεῖνται,
οὐδὲ ποθεῦντι κακῶν πάχεας, οὓς ἔλιπον.

7.414

“Pass by me, give an honest laugh, and speak over me
A loving word. I am Rhintho from Syracuse,
A minor nightingale of the Muses. But from my tragic
Nonsense poems, I made my own ivy crown.”

Καὶ καπυρὸν γελάσας παραμείβεο, καὶ φίλον εἰπὼν
ῥῆμ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἐμοί. Ῥίνθων εἴμ᾿ ὁ Συρακόσιος,
Μουσάων ὀλίγη τις ἀηδονίς· ἀλλὰ φλυάκων
ἐκ τραγικῶν ἴδιον κισσὸν ἐδρεψάμεθα.

Greek Anthology, 5.170

“There is nothing sweeter than love: all other blessings
Take second place. I even spit honey from my mouth.
This is what Nossis says. Whomever Kypris has not kissed,
Does not understand her flowers, what kinds of things roses are.”

Ἅδιον οὐδὲν ἔρωτος· ἃ δ᾽ ὄλβια, δεύτερα πάντα
ἐστίν· ἀπὸ στόματος δ᾽ ἔπτυσα καὶ τὸ μέλι.
τοῦτο λέγει Νοσσίς· τίνα δ᾽ ἁ Κύπρις οὐκ ἐφίλασεν,
οὐκ οἶδεν τήνας τἄνθεα, ποῖα ῥόδα.

Greek Anthology, 9.604

“This frame has the picture of Thaumareta. The painter
Caught the form and the age of the soft-glancing woman well.
Your house dog, the little puppy, would paw at you if she saw this,
Believing that she was looking down at the lady of her home.”

Θαυμαρέτας μορφὰν ὁ πίναξ ἔχει· εὖ γε τὸ γαῦρον
τεῦξε τό θ᾿ ὡραῖον τᾶς ἀγανοβλεφάρου.
σαίνοι κέν σ᾿ ἐσιδοῖσα καὶ οἰκοφύλαξ σκυλάκαινα,
δέσποιναν μελάθρων οἰομένα ποθορῆν.

Stolen Voices and the Specters of Domestic Violence

We are happy to have this guest-post by Idone Rhodes (bio below) reflecting on classical texts and lives lived outside of them

“Bind my hands in chains (as they merited fetters),
Until all madness departs, if any friend is present:
For madness brought thoughtless arms against my mistress;
She cries, injured by my frenzied hands.”

Adde manus in vincla meas (meruere catenas),
dum furor omnis abit, siquis amicus ades:
nam furor in dominam temeraria bracchia movit;
flet mea vaesana laesa puella manu.

Ovid’s Amores 1.7 starts out with Ovid’s apparent guilt over beating his lover. He details the “madness” that drove his “thoughtless arms” against his mistress and now proclaims that his hands “merited fetters” for the crime of passion.

As we find out later on, this behavior stemmed from his desire for sex and his lover’s unwillingness to provide that. Although readers hear Ovid apologize for this behavior straight off the bat, this first passage reeks of the poet’s trying to make himself feel better for what he did, as opposed to an actual recognition of the error behind his actions and a genuine expression of contrition. This understanding shines through particularly in his parenthetical, “(they [have] merited fetters).”

A response like this one is not uncommon in modern examples of domestic abuse. The abuser will promise to get better, to mend his ways, as a way to get back into the good graces of his partner. Moreover, he will blame his behavior on “madness” and claim that it wasn’t the “real him” doing such things. “Abusers often apologize a lot and buy gifts and make big, sweeping excuses, and promise things will be different. And maybe they mean it, or it least it feels like they mean it. Some even try to seek help for their abusive behaviors. But it’s also important to remember that apologies can be part of the manipulation cycle,” as one Bustle article by Teresa Newsome points out. By outlining his abuse and his penance in this way (articulating that he deserves to be locked up while also ascribing his crime to furor), his victim (or a victimized reader) might take his apology at face value and forgive him.

***

Each day she wakes up, showers, and heads downstairs to make her son breakfast. Bustling around her, other mothers do the same for their young children, who remain fast asleep in their apartments above. She rouses her son from bed, dresses him, and finishes getting ready for the day. The woman and her two-year-old walk 25 minutes to the nearest bus stop. Hopping off the bus a few stops later, she leaves her son at his daycare and heads to her GED program. At the end of the day, she picks him up, and they return home.

As in the morning, a flock of mothers swarms the kitchen at six pm, but this time children dance around them, yelling and playing. After dinner, the woman meets with her career counselor while volunteers watch her son in the play room. This is the daily the life of a survivor of domestic violence, and her son bore witness to the events that brought them to need the services of this shelter. Her story—and his—is certain to be as old as civilization.

In recent years in the United States, the conversation about domestic violence and abuse (defined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship”) has become more public, and laws have evolved—though not everywhere—to further protect victims and survivors of intimate partner violence. New York State’s Family Protection and Domestic Violence Intervention Act of 1994 finally recognized “domestic violence as a violent crime” and “protects victims of domestic violence by creating mandatory arrest policies and requirements that police responding to domestic violence complaints prepare and file incident reports.”[1]

In many states, standards have existed and still exist which require that a victim’s injuries be visible or permanent at the time of her trial in order for any case to be brought against her abuser; no bruises, no conviction, as one Atlantic article by Rachel Louise Snyder notes. Not only does this practice discount non-physical forms of abuse, such as mental or emotional manipulation, it doesn’t consider the fact that these trials often occur weeks, months, or even years after a woman has left her abusive situation.

Nonetheless, stigma around the issue (arising in large part from societal expectations about gender roles and the nuclear family) often dissuades or downright prevents victims from coming forward or leaving abusive relationships. Victims would rather endure their abuse than potentially disrupt their expected family role (as an obedient and loyal wife, for instance, or, more complicatedly, as the primary caregiver), as well as their family’s reputation in general.[2] Loveisrespect, an organization that works with young people to raise awareness for domestic violence, lists “believing abuse is normal,” “cultural/religious reasons,” and “pregnancy/parenting” as some of the deciding factors for remaining in an abusive relationship.

The normalization of violence against women is deeply ingrained in our society, and it’s become tough for women to disrupt the pretense of a “perfect” family and risk facing the perceived shame of coming forward. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.” We all likely know people from all of our communities who have dealt with domestic abuse, but the issue is still considered so taboo that it goes undiscussed, remains hidden in the shadows.

As a volunteer and youth board member at an organization working to end domestic violence and aid those affected by it and as a student of the Classics, I found myself curious about the antiquity of domestic violence as a concept, as a part of cultural grammar. I wanted to see how ancient sources revealed the experiences of survivors, not just of physical violence, but also of psychological abuse in all its forms.

I have long turned to Classical literature when searching for a better understanding of a modern issue. For instance, when learning about democracy in the present, I look back to Ancient Greece to understand how the notion and practice of dêmokratia has evolved over time. In many ways, these stories represent a previous iteration of where and who we are now. By struggling with works from antiquity, we have the opportunity to grapple with what has changed and what needs to change between then and the present; we might see how domestic violence, rather than actually evolving out of society, has just grown into it to such a point that abuse is no longer a recognized issue.

Before I dive in, I want to add a caveat to my article. I would like to fully acknowledge that men, just like women or any other person, can and do experience domestic violence. In fact, one in nine men are reported to experience such abuse. Moreover, domestic violence impacts LGBTQ relationships as well, with the compounded factor of finding safety in communities or families that are not accepting. For example, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women have suffered “rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner,” in contrast to the 35% of heterosexual women. Ancient examples, however, almost exclusively feature female victims and male perpetrators, so that dynamic will occupy much of this discussion.

Given my interest in the civic life of Athens, which is often hailed, rightly and wrongly, as a model of American civic and political life, I figured I’d start there. While tragedy is a more obvious choice in looking for examples of violence, I’ve started with comedy, as it connects more closely with the how society can hide (from) and rationalize domestic abuse.

Lysistrata: οὐ γὰρ γρύζειν εἰᾶθ᾽ ἡμᾶς. καίτοὐκ ἠρέσκετέ γ᾽ ἡμᾶς.
For you did not allow us to mutter, and you do not appease us.

Magistrate: κἂν ᾤμωζές γ᾽, εἰ μὴ ᾽σίγας.
You would cry out in pain, unless you kept silent.

As Llewellyn-Jones points out, the reference to domestic violence is obvious in this excerpt from Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, an Ancient Greek comedy giving insight into the ways women “control” Athenian politics.[3] Lysistrata illustrates that, although Athenian men do not please their wives, the wives voice no complaints about their treatment. In most circumstances, a situation like this might indicate only a dysfunctional relationship, not an abusive one; however, the use of the verb ἐάω (to allow) indicates that these women have not chosen to remain silent; they simply have no other option. The magistrate further drives home this reality with his response, where he essentially suggests that if women were to say something out of turn to their husbands, they would face some sort of physical attack. By pointing out her husband’s error, Lysistrata would undermine his authority; by speaking at all, she has challenged his masculinity by feeling she has the right to voice her mind, so he responds violently. He further perpetuates a cycle of psychological abuse by “stealing” her voice, and he attempts to gaslight her by suggesting that her prevention from speaking is actually for her own benefit! Looking back on Latin and Ancient Greek texts reveals a culture accepting of domestic violence, a situation which can be expected from a society deeply committed to patriarchy.[4]

Today silence, or lack thereof, can play a similarly integral role in domestic abuse. As much as we like to believe we’ve progressed culturally since antiquity, our understanding of gender roles has actually not much changed. A woman who is too loud or “mouthy” or open with her opinions is seen as a threat to the men around her, especially in a situation when she is seen as in danger of equaling, let alone outstripping, her husband or partner.

In short, women in abusive relationships learn to keep silent to avoid upsetting their partners in a way that might incite violence or repercussions. This cycle creates a situation in which the woman loses her autonomy (as the man becomes her mouthpiece). I have observed that some of the women I work with have found opportunities for education only after leaving their abusive homes; their partners or situations inhibited them from educating themselves, possibly as a means of keeping these women quiet and unable to speak for themselves, just like the women of Lysistrata.

Moreover, as Kristen Lewis writes in an article for the Huffington Post, “victims often have family ties to or are financially dependent on their abusers,” as was certainly the case during the time period in which Lysistrata was written.[5] The silence extends beyond the relationship as woman has nowhere to turn to for aid or assistance. Her grievances fall on deaf ears conditioned by the belief that a man has ownership over, and can therefore do whatever he wants to, his wife. Although there are many more laws now protecting victims of domestic abuse (as opposed to the nearly zero laws regarding the issue in Ancient Greece and Rome), the learned pattern of silence creates an isolation tank, out of which many do not emerge for fear that they might lose resources from their partner or face harsher violence if the partner were to find out.

With so many sources depicting so many aspects of intimate relationships in the ancient world, Classicists have the opportunity, as well as the responsibility, to detect the indications and representations of abuse in these materials; by understanding this phenomenon’s roots in the past, we can equip ourselves with a more keen and precise lens for preventing, detecting, and combating intimate partner violence in the world around us today.

Women with a mirror. Fragment of an Attic white-ground vase, ca. 480–470 BC.

***

My name is Idone Rhodes. I am an 18-year-old senior at Milton Academy. Feel free to contact me at rhodesidone@gmail.com.

I would like to give acknowledgment and many thanks to @dreadfulprof for his guidance and editorial recommendations in the creation of this article.

Notes

[1] Nolder, Michelle J. “The Domestic Violence Dilemma: Private Action in Ancient Rome and America.” Boston University Law Review, vol. 81, 2001, pp. 1119–1147.

[2] “3. Causes and Complicating Factors.” SVAW – Domestic Violence: Explore the Issue, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, 2003, hrlibrary.umn.edu/svaw/domestic/explore/3causes.htm.

[3] Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd. “Domestic Abuse And Violence Against Women In Ancient Greece.” Sociable Man, 2011, pp. 231–266., doi:10.2307/j.ctvvn9fm.16.

[4] Tuttle, Kate. “Tracing the Roots of Misogyny to Ancient Greece and Rome with Mary Beard.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 28 Dec. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-women-and-power-20171228-story.html.

[5] Kapparis, K. “Women and Family in Athenian Law.” Women and Family in Athenian Law, 22 Mar. 2003

The Cause of All Great Wars

To follow up yesterday’s post about Helen’s Consent

Athenaios, Deipnosophists, 13, 10, 560b

“[It is clear] that the greatest wars also happened because of women. The Trojan War happened because of Helen; the Plague because of Chryseis; Achilles’ rage because of Briseis; and the War called the Sacred War, as Duris claims in the second book of his histories, by another married woman from Thebes who was kidnapped by some Phocian. This war also lasted ten years and in the tenth when Philip allied himself with the Thebes it ended. Then the Thebans took and held Phokis.”

… ὅτι καὶ οἱ μέγιστοι πόλεμοι διὰ γυναῖκας ἐγένοντο· ὁ ᾽Ιλιακὸς δι᾽ ῾Ελένην, ὁ λοιμὸς διὰ Χρυσηίδα, ᾽Αχιλλέως μῆνις διὰ Βρισηίδα· καὶ ὁ ἱερὸς δὲ καλούμενος πόλεμος δι᾽ ἑτέραν γαμετήν, φησὶν Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέραι ῾Ιστοριῶν, Θηβαίαν γένος, ὄνομα Θεανώ, ἁρπασθεῖσαν ὑπὸ Φωκέως τινός. δεκαετὴς δὲ καὶ οὗτος γενόμενος τῶι δεκάτωι ἔτει Φιλίππου συμμαχήσαντος πέρας ἐσχεν· τότε γὰρ εἷλον οἱ Θηβαῖοι τὴν Φωκίδα.

Herodotus, 1.2-4

“This is how the Persians say that Io came to Egypt—and not the story the Greeks tell—and this was the first transgression. After that, they claim some Greeks—and they can’t name them—went to Tyre and kidnapped Europê, the daughter of the king. These men would have been Cretans. At this point, the score was even. But then the Greeks were at fault for a second crime. For the Greeks sailed in a great ship to Aia, the Kolkhian, city and to the river Phasis.

Once they finished why they went there, they left, but they also kidnapped Medea, the king’s daughter. When the king sent a herald to Greece demanding recompense for the abduction and asking for his daughter to be returned, the Greeks answered that they would give nothing to the Kolhkians since they had not received anything for the abduction of Io.

In the next generation after that, they say that Priam’s son Alexandros, once he heard about these things, wanted to steal a wife for himself from Greece because he was absolutely certain he would face no penalties since the earlier men hadn’t. When he kidnapped Helen as he did, it seemed right at first for the Greeks to send messengers to demand her return and recompense for the abduction. When the Greeks made these demands, the Trojans brought up the abduction of Medeia and the fact that the Greeks were demanding from others the very things they themselves were not willing to give or repay.

Up to that point of time, the whole matter was only kidnapping on either side. But the Greeks were more to blame after this since they were the first to lead an army to Asia before anyone led one against Europe. As the Persians claim, they believe it is the work of unjust men to kidnap women, but the act of fools to rush off to avenge women who have been abducted. Wise men have no time for raped women, since it is clear they they would not have been abducted if they had not been willing themselves.

They claim that the men of Asia make no big deal when women are abducted while the Greeks, all because of one Lakedaimonian woman, raised a great army, went to Asia, and destroyed Priam’s power. Since that time, they consider Greece their enemy.”

οὕτω μὲν Ἰοῦν ἐς Αἴγυπτον ἀπικέσθαι λέγουσι Πέρσαι, οὐκ ὡς Ἕλληνές, καὶ τῶν ἀδικημάτων πρῶτον τοῦτο ἄρξαι. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἑλλήνων τινάς οὐ γὰρ ἔχουσι τοὔνομα ἀπηγήσασθαι φασὶ τῆς Φοινίκης ἐς Τύρονπροσσχόντας ἁρπάσαι τοῦ βασιλέος τὴν θυγατέρα Εὐρώπην. εἴησαν δ᾽ ἄνοὗτοι Κρῆτες. ταῦτα μὲν δὴ ἴσα πρὸς ἴσα σφι γενέσθαι, μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἕλληνας αἰτίους τῆς δευτέρης ἀδικίης γενέσθαι: [2] καταπλώσαντας γὰρμακρῇ νηί ἐς Αἶαν τε τὴν Κολχίδα καὶ ἐπὶ Φᾶσιν ποταμόν, ἐνθεῦτεν, διαπρηξαμένους καὶ τἄλλα τῶν εἵνεκεν ἀπίκατο, ἁρπάσαι τοῦ βασιλέος τὴν θυγατέρα Μηδείην. [3] πέμψαντά δὲ τὸν Κόλχων βασιλέα ἐς τὴν Ἑλλάδα κήρυκα αἰτέειν τε δίκας τῆς ἁρπαγῆς καὶ ἀπαιτέειν τὴν θυγατέρα.τοὺς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς οὐδὲ ἐκεῖνοι Ἰοῦς τῆς Ἀργείης ἔδοσάν σφι δίκαςτῆς ἁρπαγῆς: οὐδὲ ὤν αὐτοὶ δώσειν ἐκείνοισι.

δευτέρῃ δὲ λέγουσι γενεῇ μετὰ ταῦτα Ἀλέξανδρον τὸν Πριάμου, ἀκηκοόταταῦτα, ἐθελῆσαί οἱ ἐκ τῆς Ἑλλάδος δι᾽ ἁρπαγῆς γενέσθαι γυναῖκα, ἐπιστάμενον πάντως ὅτι οὐ δώσει δίκας. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐκείνους διδόναι. [2]οὕτω δὴ ἁρπάσαντος αὐτοῦ Ἑλένην, τοῖσι Ἕλλησι δόξαι πρῶτὸνπέμψαντας ἀγγέλους ἀπαιτέειν τε Ἑλένην καὶ δίκας τῆς ἁρπαγῆς αἰτέειν. τοὺς δέ, προϊσχομένων ταῦτα, προφέρειν σφι Μηδείης τὴν ἁρπαγήν, ὡς οὐδόντες αὐτοὶ δίκας οὐδὲ ἐκδόντες ἀπαιτεόντων βουλοίατό σφι παρ᾽ ἄλλωνδίκας γίνεσθαι.

μέχρι μὲν ὤν τούτου ἁρπαγάς μούνας εἶναι παρ᾽ ἀλλήλων, τὸ δὲ ἀπὸτούτου Ἕλληνας δὴ μεγάλως αἰτίους γενέσθαι: προτέρους γὰρ ἄρξαι στρατεύεσθαι ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην ἢ σφέας ἐς τὴν Εὐρώπην. [2] τὸ μέν νυνἁρπάζειν γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν ἀδίκων νομίζειν ἔργον εἶναι, τὸ δὲἁρπασθεισέων σπουδήν ποιήσασθαι τιμωρέειν ἀνοήτων, τὸ δὲ μηδεμίανὤρην ἔχειν ἁρπασθεισέων σωφρόνων: δῆλα γὰρ δὴ ὅτι, εἰ μὴ αὐταὶἐβούλοντο, οὐκ ἂν ἡρπάζοντο. [3] σφέας μὲν δὴ τοὺς ἐκ τῆς Ἀσίης λέγουσιΠέρσαι ἁρπαζομενέων τῶν γυναικῶν λόγον οὐδένα ποιήσασθαι, Ἕλληναςδὲ Λακεδαιμονίης εἵνεκεν γυναικὸς στόλον μέγαν συναγεῖραι καὶ ἔπειταἐλθόντας ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην τὴν Πριάμου δύναμιν κατελεῖν. [4] ἀπὸ τούτου αἰεὶἡγήσασθαι τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν σφίσι εἶναι πολέμιον.

Note: much of the language in this passage referring to abduction and kidnapping could also be translated as rape. I left the language more anodyne to reflect what seems to be Herodotus’ own dismissal or ignorance of the women’s experience.

File:Helen of Sparta boards a ship for Troy fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.jpg
Helen boards a boat: House of the Tragic Poet, Pompei

Tawdry Tuesday: The First Greek Sex Manual

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen vase

As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

An Unlikely Hybrid: Medusa, Miley Cyrus, and the Politics of the Female Tongue

Homer, Iliad 11.36-37

“And set on the shield as a crown was a grim-faced Gorgon, glaring fiercely”

τῇ δ’ ἐπὶ μὲν Γοργὼ βλοσυρῶπις ἐστεφάνωτο / δεινὸν δερκομένη…

Gorgon 1
Images from Wikimedia Commons and the MET website, article by Madeleine Glennon 2017

The Gorgon’s face is one of the most recognizable symbols from antiquity, adorning everything from vases and cups to temple pediments and metopes to confront the viewer with her petrifying stare and snaky ropes of hair. While the apotropaic function of the Gorgon is usually attributed to the directness of her gaze (one that is highly unusual in Greek art), depictions of Gorgons–including their most famous representative, Medusa–in archaic art frequently include an additional provocation in the form of a tongue.

Long and lolling, often poised between vicious-looking canine teeth, this aspect of the Gorgons’ iconography has conventionally been interpreted as a way to enhance her grotesqueness. Over time, however, depictions of the Gorgon shifted dramatically to portray these figures with typically feminine, even beautiful, features while retaining her uncompromisingly confrontational gaze. You can see a great timeline visualizing this evolution on the MET website.

Gorgon 2

The ubiquity of the Gorgon’s tongue in archaic art has always intrigued me. That this feature of her iconography is unique to this period, and a feature unique to the Gorgon in particular, makes it all the more intriguing, as it suggests a fleeting but pervasive mode of representing female transgressiveness. The Gorgon’s tongue made me wonder about the significance of this gesture: why would a stuck-out tongue be characteristic of a female monster? After all, in contemporary iconography (I’m thinking here especially of emojis) a stuck-out tongue is correlated most often with silliness and disinhibition, a response to the goofy or outrageous.

Gorgon 3

Nonetheless, it’s not difficult to think of counterexamples. We, especially as children, might stick out our tongues in response to something offensive or unwelcome. And, of course, the gesture in the right context may appear sexually charged. A good illustration of the latter comes in the form of Miley Cyrus, a figure who, like the Gorgon, also exhibits a dramatic shift in her public image.

Google “Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance” and the prevailing image that will turn up is one that sees Cyrus bent over against co-performer Robin Thicke, clad in flesh-toned latex bustier and shorts, her tongue stuck out sharply, complementing the two spiky buns above her brow. The performance drew shock and condemnation, not least because of the transformation it evinced in the former Disney Channel darling.

Miley Cyrus VMA

Like Cyrus, the evolving image of Medusa calcified in ancient art is also a testament to transformation. As Ovid relates (Met. 4.793-803), Medusa was formerly a beautiful young woman who was raped by Poseidon in a temple of Athena and punished by the goddess with her snaky hair. While earlier accounts like that of Hesiod (Theog. 270-6) suggest that Medusa was born to her distinctive form, the Ovidian narrative connects Medusa’s sexuality and desirability–and Athena’s savage punishment of this–with the transformation in her appearance.

Likewise, Cyrus’ performance cast her in a sexually-charged role that drove home her evolution from Disney Channel PG fame. While Cyrus later said in an interview that her hairstyle was consciously infantilizing, it was hard for me not to see those spiky buns in conjunction with Medusa’s similarly unconventional and distinctive hairdo.

Why, then, would a stuck-out tongue define such a transformation? On the one hand, it is provocative, a function that seems at odds with the archaic Gorgon’s apotropaic power. But coupled with her fierce, frontal gaze, the Gorgon’s visage forces viewers into a confrontation. As some would characterize Cyrus’ performance, the Gorgon’s ferocious visage is similarly nothing if not transgressive.

And it is the tongue, I think, for both Cyrus and the Gorgon, that embodies this quality. A stuck-out tongue reaches out into the space between viewer and viewed. The tongue, after all, is the only part of the body that can easily be extended out of its natural confines. Thus, unlike the eyes, it is vividly visceral. In this sense, the petrifying effects associated with the Gorgon’s gaze gain clearer significance. While her face is safely rendered in paint or stone, her eyes and tongue can still serve to confront the viewer with a reminder of their fleshy corporeality. The tongue, in particular, serves as a gesture of defiance against the medium in which the Gorgon’s gaze has been fixed.

Cyrus’ performance, too, can be interpreted as an act of defiance against the public image she had accrued earlier in her career. More specifically, her exaggerated facial and bodily expressions make the viewer aware that they are viewing her like an object. This is a dynamic that meets active resistance in the display she created at the VMAs, one that works to displace the previous image of Cyrus that each viewer brings to their perspective on her performance.

 

Amy Lather is an Assistant Professor of Classics at Wake Forest University. Her research focuses on archaic and classical Greek aesthetics, hence her fascination with the Gorgon’s tongue. She can be reached at latherak@wfu.edu.

 

 

A Marriage of Pity then Pride

Pliny, Letters 18.7-10

“This final testament is more praiseworthy because duty, trust, and shame have dictated it and because in it [Tullus] articulates his gratitude to all his relatives for their duty to him and especially to his wife. His most enduring wife has received the most charming homes, a great deal of money and probably deserved as much if not more from a husband she was criticized for even marrying.

For a woman of a famous family with pristine character—no longer young and long widowed with two children—seemed too indecorous in seeking marriage to a rich old man so deformed by sickness that he would even seemed disgusting even to a woman he had married when he was healthy and young. Since he was twisted and broken in every limb, he used to enjoy his great wealth with only his eyes and could move in bed without others. And this is foul and pitiable to add, his teeth had to be cleaned and washed for him. It was often heard from him—when he was complaining about the insults of his condition—that he licked the fingers of his own slaves each day.

Still, he was alive and he wanted to live with his wife’s help mostly, someone whose perseverance turned the ‘mistake’ of her criticized marriage into an object of renown.”

Quo laudabilius testamentum est, quod pietas fides pudor scripsit, in quo denique omnibus adfinitatibus pro cuiusque officio gratia relata est, relata et uxori. Accepit amoenissimas villas, accepit magnam pecuniam uxor optima et patientissima ac tanto melius de viro merita, quanto magis est reprehensa quod nupsit.

Nam mulier natalibus clara, moribus proba, aetate declivis, diu vidua mater olim, parum decore secuta matrimonium videbatur divitis senis ita perditi morbo, ut esse taedio posset uxori, quam iuvenis sanusque duxisset. Quippe omnibus membris extortus et fractus, tantas opes solis oculis obibat, ac ne in lectulo quidem nisi ab aliis movebatur; quin etiam (foedum miserandumque dictu) dentes lavandos fricandosque praebebat. Auditum frequenter ex ipso, cum quereretur de contumeliis debilitatis suae, digitos se servorum suorum cotidie lingere. Vivebat tamen et vivere volebat, sustentante maxime uxore, quae culpam incohati mat/rimonii in gloriam perseverantia verterat.

 Codices vindobonenses 2759-2764 in the Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek, in Vienna, Austria