SEX CAN KILL: GENDER INVERSION AND THE POLITICS OF SUBVERSION IN ARISTOPHANES’ ECCLESIAZVSAE
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 June 2020
Scholarship on Ecclesiazusae (as on Wealth) has been largely divided between those who are in favour of a fantastical/positive reading of the play and view it as a celebration of comic energy void of serious social critique, and those who argue for an ironic/satirical interpretation and deem Praxagora's plan as a spectacular failure. The unsuccessful realization of the new political programme is often regarded as a commentary on the state of democracy at the time. Other views are more affirmative of the democratic values of the play: Scholtz claims that the women in Ecclesiazusae succeed into putting into action Lysistrata's dream of a cohesive civic order, although, according to him, the play does not present ‘an unambiguously pro or contra viewpoint vis-à-vis gynaecocratic communalism’. Rothwell believes that the satire is directed against the greedy dēmos rather than against Praxagora's plan. He sees the persuasion exercised by women as ‘a benevolent and indispensable force in democracy’, and argues that the women of Ecclesiazusae, like the women in Lysistrata, strive to assure the continuity of the community; in his view, the play is about ‘the potential advantages of leadership in building a community’. Moodie also outright rejects a threatening or pessimistic reading, and makes the case that the audience is encouraged to take the women seriously as political actors owing to their unusual interaction with the audience and the rupture of dramatic illusion, which creates a rapport between the women and the audience. If the play is subversive, it is so only in its ‘non-satirical presentation of female leadership’.
- Research Article
- The Classical Quarterly , Volume 69 , Issue 2 , December 2019 , pp. 528 - 544
- Copyright © The Classical Association 2020
Many thanks to Angus Bowie, Felix Budelmann, Isabel Ruffell, Matthew Wright and the anonymous reviewer of the journal, who read and commented on earlier drafts of this piece.
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5 Moodie, E.K., ‘Aristophanes, the Assemblywomen and the audience: the politics of rapport’, CJ 107 (2012), 257–81Google Scholar, at 278.
6 The preoccupation with sterility and cessation of reproduction is evident throughout Lysistrata and becomes the main motivation of the women to seize power (cf. 588–97, 648–52). On this topic, see N. Tsoumpra, ‘Comic leadership and power dynamics in Aristophanes’ (Diss., University of Oxford, 2014).
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9 Sommerstein, A.H., Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae (Warminster, 1998), 173Google Scholar notes that ‘it is likely, though not certain, that Blepyrus’ prayer proves effective […] while Blepyrus after much labour has given birth to a quantity of excrement, the Assembly under his wife's guidance has been giving birth to a new Athens’. However, Blepyrus does not find relief: Chremes’ question and Blepyrus’ answer (372–3 οὗτος, τί ποιεῖς; οὔτι που χέζεις; ἐγώ; | οὐ δῆτ’ ἔτι γε μὰ τὸν Δί’, ἀλλ’ ἀνίσταμαι) refer to his unsuccessful attempts, as previously the word χέζοντα (322 οὐ γάρ με νῦν χέζοντά γ’ οὐδεὶς ὄψεται). Even if Blepyrus was relieved, the product of his labour would be most suggestive. In this way, the contrast between the two parallel situations of Praxagora and Blepyrus is to be traced in the fertile female nature and the sterile male one. Contrast Leitao (n. 7), 146–81, who believes that Blepyrus finally gives birth to a turd and claims that there is a ‘heroic quality’ to Blepyrus’ pregnancy.
10 Blepyrus’ first thought when he discovers that his wife is not at home is that she is with a lover, seeking elsewhere the pleasure that he, being much older, cannot give her (323–6). Blepyrus’ impotence is also evident both in his fears that old men like himself may not be able to satisfy the women's sexual demands (465–72) and in his insecurity about his sexual performance (619–20). In fact, Blepyrus’ concern that women may force them to have sexual intercourse with them reveals another side to the (supposedly) upbeat ending. His wife also hints twice at Blepyrus’ near-impotence (525, 621–2). See Sommerstein (n. 9), 192–3 and Sommerstein, A.H., ‘Nudity, obscenity, and power: modes of female assertiveness in Aristophanes’, in Sommerstein, A.H. (ed.), Talking About Laughter and Other Studies in Greek Comedy (Oxford, 2009), 247–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
11 The equation of impotency and death is very common in comedy, as those who are old and sexually decrepit are often treated as dead. For Aristophanes, cf. Plut. 1008, 1033 and the discussion below about the old women in Ecclesiazusae; Eubulus’ joke in his Ἄστυτοι (fr. 14) juxtaposes the literal meaning ‘dead’ with ‘impotent’ in the case of Adonis. In later poetry the impotent member itself is viewed as a corpse (Automedon in Anth. Pal. 11.29.3–4 = 1519–20 Gow–Page, Garland of Philip; Ov. Am. 3.7).
12 As has been noted (Rosellini, M., ‘Lysistrata: une mise en scène de la féminité’ in Auger, D., Rosellini, M. and Saïd, S. [edd.], Aristophane, les femmes et la cité [Fontenay-aux-Roses, 1979], 11–32Google Scholar, at 17–18, Saïd, S., ‘Travestis et travestissements dans les comédies d’ Aristophane’, Cahiers du GITA 3 , 217–48Google Scholar, at 233–5, Bowie, A.M., Aristophanes: Myth, Ritual and Comedy [Cambridge, 1993], 259CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Sommerstein [n. 9], 185, Compton-Engle [n. 8], 169), the scene brings to mind the dressing and the ἔκθεσις of the Proboulos in Lysistrata.
13 For the interpretation of this passage, see Ussher, R.G., Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae (Oxford, 1973), 214Google Scholar and Sommerstein (n. 9), 224. If we identify the painter of the jars for funerals with Death, then the young man's exhortation to the old woman to go inside her house, lest her ‘lover’ sees her outside the door, acquires a double meaning: if Death sees the old woman standing out of the house, he will probably be more tempted to take her with him! Moreover, the young man implies that the old woman should not expect anyone but Death to knock on her door (cf. 989–90).
14 Henderson, J., The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy (New Haven and London, 1991), 137–8, 171Google Scholar, Sommerstein (n. 9), 223, Brown, P., ‘Scenes at the door in Aristophanic comedy’, in Revermann, M. and Wilson, P. (edd.), Performance, Iconography, Reception: Studies in Honour of Oliver Taplin (Oxford, 2008), 349–73Google Scholar, at 368–9. Cf. the door-knocking motif in Lysistrata, which also strongly invites sexual undertones of attempted penetration. See Revermann, M., Comic Business: Theatricality, Dramatic Technique, and Performance Contexts of Aristophanic Comedy (Oxford, 2006), 185Google Scholar.
15 Cf. Eq. 771, Lys. 1019. The gesture of being dragged by the penis is degrading for the man who submits to it, as it involves an involuntary handling of a part of his body or, in this case, a part of his costume. By contrast, in Ach. 1216 Dicaeopolis most happily welcomes and invites the gesture by his female companions. For the idea that control over costume in Aristophanes is associated with power and heightened status, see Compton-Engle (n. 8).
16 Sommerstein (n. 9), 225. This is the earliest passage where Procrustes is mentioned. See also Bacchyl. 18.27–30, Apollod. Epit. 1.4, Diod. Sic. 4.59.5, Plut. Thes. 11.1.
17 Ussher (n. 13), 217 and Sommerstein (n. 9), 225.
18 Sommerstein (n. 9), 227. These daughters are identified in the scholia with the man-eating mares of the Heraclean feat, perhaps in an attempt at rationalization of the myth.
19 Rothwell (n. 4), 71.
21 The magic song of the Sirens is a recurring theme throughout the Odyssey (39–40, 41, 44, 52, 158–9, 183, 185, 187, 192, 198; see Gresseth, G.K., ‘The Homeric Sirens’, TAPhA 101 , 203–18Google Scholar, at 205). Cf. Circe who sings and invites Odysseus’ men in her house in Od. 10.226–9.
22 All translations of Aristophanes are taken from the Loeb edition of Henderson (n. 2).
23 González-Terriza, A.A., ‘Los rostros de la Empusa: monstruos, hetera, niñeras y brujas: aportación a una nueva lectura de Aristófanes Ec. 877–1111’, CFC(G) 6 (1996), 261–300Google Scholar, at 273–4.
24 Apul. Met. 2.5 amoris profundi pedicis aeternis alligat; PGM 7.913–14, 16.24–5, Def. tab. 267 usque ad diem mortis suae. See Winkler, J.J., ‘The constraints of eros’, in Faraone, C.A. and Obbink, D. (edd.), Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (New York, 1991), 214–43Google Scholar, at 232–3.
25 For the implications of the assimilation of the old woman to Empusa, see González-Terriza (n. 23).
26 Ussher (n. 13), 221.
27 Diod. Sic. 20.41; [Ps.-Luc.] Philops. 3; Dio Chrys. Or. 55; Hor. Ars P. 340; Strabo 1.2.8. Since further below the women are also assimilated to aspiring witches, it is worth noting that Medea, the archetypical witch, has been conceptualized as a demon of infertility and linked to Lamia. See Johnston, S.I., ‘Corinthian Medea and the cult of Hera Akraia’, in Clauss, J.J. and Johnston, S.I. (edd.), Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art (Princeton, 1997), 44–70Google Scholar.
28 Philostr. V A 4.25; Apul. Met. 1.17. All evidence comes from the second century a.d., but note Stesichorus, fr. 182 F., according to which Scylla, herself a man-eater, was the daughter of Lamia; Scylla of course features in the Odyssey, like the Sirens. See also Ogden, D., Night's Black Agents: Witches, Wizards and the Dead in the Ancient World (London, 2008), 160–9Google Scholar.
29 According to the ancient scholia, which both Ussher (n. 13), 224 and Sommerstein (n. 9), 230 follow, ferrymen used to fight over passers-by as to who would embark on their boat.
30 Sommerstein (n. 9), 229.
31 As a term μαλακός (‘soft’) is suitable to describe the lack of erection. Herodotus associates μαλακία with femininity (7.153.4; cf. Arist. Eth. Nic. 1150b15). See Wohl, V., Love Among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens (Princeton, 2002), 171–88Google Scholar, who reads the references to μαλακία in Thucydides (see 1.122.4, 2.18.3, 3.37.2, 5.72.1, especially 6.13.1) as unmanliness, the opposite of the Athenian ideal of imperial aggression and manly hardiness.
32 Winkler (n. 24), 221; Faraone, C.A., Ancient Greek Love Magic (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1999), 19–20Google Scholar.
33 For λήκυθος as a symbol of death, see lines 538, 996, 1032, 1111. From the 460s to the 410s λήκυθοι became the most popular offering to the dead and developed a funerary iconography. See Garland, R., The Greek Way of Death (London, 1985), 107–8Google Scholar.
34 Sommerstein (n. 9), 227.
35 Garland (n. 33), 36–7, 107–8, 170–1, Oakley, J.H. and Sinos, R.H., The Wedding in Ancient Athens (Madison, 1993), 12Google Scholar and 16, Rehm, R., Marriage to Death: The Conflation of Wedding and Funeral Rituals in Greek Tragedy (Princeton, 1994), 12–14Google Scholar and 22–9, Sourvinou-Inwood, C., ‘Reading’ Greek Death: To the End of the Classical Period (Oxford, 1995), 332–3Google Scholar.
36 Sommerstein (n. 9), 186. For the common theme of conflation of marriage and funeral in tragedy, see Rehm (n. 35).
37 Sommerstein (n. 9), 232 ‘referring this time to the large marble lēkuthoi which were sometimes placed over graves’.
38 Saïd (n. 2), 60; Auger (n. 2), 92; Zeitlin (n. 2), 75.
39 Blepyrus being handed two young girls at the end of the play (1136–53) is hardly an example, as he seems more interested in the prospect of food than in sexual intercourse. See also n. 6.
40 Auger (n. 2), 92–3.
41 As shown by the distaste of Deianeira and Phaedra for the magic practices they are advised or forced to follow. See Dickie, M.W., ‘Who practised love-magic in classical antiquity and in the late Roman world?’, CQ 50 (2000), 563–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 581.
42 Ogden, D., ‘Binding spells: curse tablets and voodoo dolls in the Greek and Roman worlds’, in Ankarloo, B. and Clark, S. (edd.), Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, vol. 2: Ancient Greece and Rome (London, 1999), 1–90Google Scholar, at 83–4 argues ‘that harmful magical practice was generally illegal throughout Graeco-Roman antiquity’, but struggles to find evidence for Athens; for a more balanced consideration, see Phillips, C.R., ‘Nullum crimen sine lege: socioreligious sanctions on magic’, in Faraone, C.A. and Obbink, D. (edd.), Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (New York, 1991), 260–76Google Scholar. Fifth-century and fourth-century legal actions that involved charges of using φάρμακα preserve a distinction between means and intent. For the criminalization of magic in fourth-century Athens, see Collins, D., ‘Theoris of Lemnos and the criminalization of magic in fourth-century Athens’, CQ 51 (2001), 477–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Eidinow, Ε., Oracles, Curses, and Risk Among the Ancient Greeks (Oxford and New York, 2007), 29CrossRefGoogle Scholar and nn. 23 and 24, and Eidinow, E., Envy, Poison, and Death: Women on Trial in Ancient Athens (Oxford, 2016), 33Google Scholar, who notes the apparent difference between general opinion and legal charge: ‘it is implicit in both accounts that, while some people found the activities of the gune magos indictable, others were quite happy to employ her for the same reasons.’
43 See Ar. Nub. 749–55, where practices like drawing down the moon and creating an eclipse are regarded as an opportunity for the unscrupulous to avoid paying their burdensome debts; and Soph. OT 387–9, where Oedipus denounces Teiresias as a μάγος and an ἀγύρτης, who only has sight when it comes to profit. Plato in Leg. 933b1–4 shows distrust against the practices of μάγοι and ἀγύρται, and believes that they create social tension and do not serve the public interest; [Hippocrates] in De morbo sacro 1.22–46 condemns the practices of magicians who tried to cure epilepsy through variegated interactions with divinity (ἐπαοιδάς). See Eidinow (n. 42 ), 152 and Eidinow (n. 42 ), 309, Collins, D., Magic in the Ancient Greek World (Malden, Mass., 2008), 33–63Google Scholar.
44 See Fowler, R.L., ‘Greek magic, Greek religion’, in Buxton, R. (ed.), Oxford Readings in Greek Religion (Oxford, 2000), 317–43Google Scholar, who distinguishes between Greek religious and magic acts on the grounds of social context: ῾one is approved, the other almost always is not᾽. Eidinow (n. 42 ), 31 suggests that the figure of a woman standing trial for supernatural activities may have become a stock figure of the cultural imaginary of ancient Greek society.
45 Cf. the old woman in Ecclesiazusae who swears by Hecate (1097).
46 Stratton, K.B., Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World (New York and Chichester, 2007), 41–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
47 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 313.
48 Henderson, J., ‘Older women in Attic Old Comedy’ TAPhA 117 (1987), 105–29Google Scholar, at 127 claims that ‘witches, as creatures of the night and of far-off or wild places, and as representatives of the opposite of civilized behavior, will only seldom have been relevant to the urban milieu and smart sensibility of comedies in the Aristophanic style. The equation old woman = witch thus finds no support in topical comedy.’ However, it is exactly the dismantling of the urban milieu and civilization that makes the equation both possible and appropriate here.
49 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 207.
50 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 207. For a publication of separation curses, see Faraone (n. 32) and the catalogue in Eidinow (n. 42 ).
51 Faraone (n. 32), 5 and Eidinow (n. 42 ), 150.
52 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 143–4 and 217–18.
53 The translations of the curses are taken from Eidinow (n. 42 ).
54 Eidinow's (n. 42 ) translation reads ‘meetings’, but ‘intercourse’ is more appropriate here.
55 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 151.
56 Probably a medical reference to ὑστερικὴ πρόπτωσις. See Ussher (n. 13), 201.
57 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 218.
58 One of the possibilities for the writer of the curse is that it was a woman jealous of Theodora's trade, a hetaira perhaps. See Dickie (n. 41), 516, Eidinow (n. 42 ), 218. Cf. a text from Attica (fourth century), which seeks to bind the wife of Dion, Glykera, so that she may become ἀτελὴς γάμου, which may be a curse to the couple's hope for children. See Kovacsovics, W.K., Die Eckterrasse an der Gräberstrasse der Kerameikos (Berlin, 1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Eidinow (n. 42 ), 350.
59 Sommerstein (n. 9), 216.
60 Ussher (n. 13), 201, Henderson (n. 14), 127. See also Slater, P.E., The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek Family (Princeton, 1992), 80CrossRefGoogle Scholar for the traditional psychoanalytic interpretation of the snake as a phallic object.
61 Cf. the Erinyes which are portrayed as dragons with attendant vipers (Aesch. Cho. 549; Eur. IT 286) and the snakes on Greek portrayals of royal tombs. See Slater (n. 60), 85.
62 See Eidinow (n. 42 ), 220–1 and 418.
63 Faraone, C.A., ‘The agonistic context of early Greek binding spells’, in Faraone, C.A. and Obbink, D. (edd.), Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (New York, 1991), 3–32Google Scholar, at 4–5. Cf. the use of both inscribed and uninscribed voodoo dolls in Classical Greece. See Faraone (this note), 24 nn. 19 and 31. Unfortunately, we have no indication as to whether the old woman makes twisting or perforating gestures on stage that would reinforce the interpretation of the binding curse.
64 Wünsch, Def. tab. Att. ii–iii, Audollent, Def. tab. xlii, Eidinow (n. 42 ), 140–1. Kagarow, E.G., Griechische Fluchtafeln (Leopoli, 1929), 5–6Google Scholar believes that the gesture (i.e. the piercing of the tablet) was the original ritual and that the verbal aspect was a later addition that reinforced and eventually replaced the action as people began to forget its original meaning. See also Thomas, R., Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece (Cambridge, 1992), 80CrossRefGoogle Scholar: ‘curses, whether private or public, must date back long before writing was used for them, and the efficacy of the curse did not depend on its being written’.
65 Cf. the public curses from the city of Teos (ML30) and the public display of later defixiones on temples and gravestones. See Gager, J., Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (New York and Oxford, 1992), 176–8Google Scholar. See also Thomas (n. 64), 80–2.
66 Faraone, C.A., ‘Aeschylus’ ὕμνος δέσμιος (Eum. 306) and Attic judicial curse tablets’, JHS 105 (1985), 150–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Eidinow (n. 42 ), 141.
67 See McClure (n. 20).
68 Faraone (n. 32), 8–9.
69 Faraone, C.A., ‘Aristophanes’ Amphiaraus frag. 29 (Kassel–Austin): oracular response or erotic incantation?’, CQ 42 (1993), 320–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
70 As identified by Bowra, C.M., ‘A love duet’, AJPh 79 (1958), 376–91Google Scholar. His thesis has been refuted by Olson, S.D., ‘The “love duet” in Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae’, CQ 38 (1988), 328–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar, who gives a much more suitable interpretation of the scene. Halliwell, F.S., ‘Aristophanic sex: the erotics of shamelessness’, in Nussbaum, M.C. and Sihvola, J. (edd.), The Sleep of Reason: Erotic Experience and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome (Chicago, 2002), 120–42Google Scholar, at 133 suggests an affiliation with the low-life scenes of subliterary mime.
71 Headlam, W., Herodas: The Mimes and Fragments, ed. Knox, A.D. (Cambridge, 1922)Google Scholar and Olson (n. 70).
72 See Faraone (n. 32), 55–95, 133–60 and passim, who discusses the cases of Xen. Mem. 3.11.16, Ar. Nub. 996–7, Lucian, Dial. meret. 4.1 and Theoc. Id. 2. For an early appearance of magic incantation in fr. 1 of Sappho, see Petropoulos, J.C.B., ‘Sappho the sorceress: another look at fr. 1 (LP)’, ZPE 97 (1993), 43–56Google Scholar.
73 Faraone (n. 32), 83.
74 See Winkler (n. 24), Faraone (n. 32), 58.
75 See also PGM 36.69–101: ῾[…] as you are in flames and on fire, so also the soul, the heart of her, NN, whom NN bore, until she comes loving me, NN, and glues her female pudenda to my male one, immediately, immediately; quickly, quickly᾽. A similar formula is repeated in PGM 36.102–33 and 1334–60. Cf. PGM 36.187–210 ῾Hecate, you, Hecate, triple-formed, since every seal of every [love spell of attractions] has been completed, I adjure you by the great name of ABLANATHANA and by the power of AGRAMARI, because I adjure you, you who possess the fire, ONYR, and those in it, that she, NN, be set afire, that she come in pursuit of me, NN […]᾽.
76 Dickie (n. 41), 580.
77 Faraone (n. 32), 150–4, Dickie (n. 41), 580–1.
78 Faraone (n. 32), 1–2, 149–54.
79 For the social construction of gender in magic, see Faraone (n. 32), 146–60.
80 The same goes for the three old women who wear heavy make-up (887–9, 929, 1072) and are all dressed up (879 κροκωτόν) like the old hetaira in Plut. 962–3, 1064–5. See Halliwell (n. 70), 126–42 and Sommerstein (n. 10), 248–50.
81 See Henderson, J., ‘Sparring partners: a note on Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae 964–965’, AJPh 95 (1974), 344–7Google Scholar.
82 Faraone (n. 32), 83. By contrast, Dickie (n. 41) argues that it is not clear that the spells were written with the intention of achieving marriage, since most of them are directed not at untameable young women but at women experienced in sex, who sometimes are involved in marriages with someone else. In this case, the man's attempted magic practices would be more appropriate, since his target is not a young virgin secluded in the house and guarded by her relatives.
83 Faraone (n. 32), 151 notes the use of the verb ἄγω to describe the effect of the spell.
84 ἀγωγή spells frequently refer to the torment experienced by the lover. Cf. Sappho, fr. 1 with Petropoulos (n. 72). See also Winkler (n. 24), 225–6, who argues that the ἀγωγή ritual worked as a therapy for the invasive forces of erōs through behaviour modification: the practitioners take on the aloofness of the victims, while they transfer their torment to them, and thus gain control over the situation.
85 Rothwell (n. 4), 19–23.
86 See Golden, M., ‘Demography and the exposure of girls at Athens’, Phoenix 35 (1981), 316–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Cudjoe, R., The Social and Legal Position of Widows and Orphans in Classical Athens (Athens, 2010)Google Scholar. See also Eidinow (n. 42 ), 307–8.
87 Dem. 27.53–5 and [Dem.] 36.14–16. See Foxhall, L., ‘Household, gender and property in classical Athens’, CQ 39 (1989), 22–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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90 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 312–35.
91 Eidinow (n. 42 ) discusses three four-century graphai trials against women who were charged with the practice of magic, as well as other incidents that involve women notorious for claiming special influence with the gods or using poisonous philtra.
92 Eidinow (n. 42 ), 10.
93 Sommerstein (n. 1) and Sommerstein, A.H., ‘An alternative democracy and an alternative to democracy in Aristophanic comedy’, in Sommerstein, A.H. (ed.), Talking About Laughter and Other Studies in Greek Comedy (Oxford, 2009), 204–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.