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Herodotus 1.61.1

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Herodotus 1.61.1

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Oct 31, 2016 4:25 pm

A sex question to shake things up a bit.

ἀπολαβὼν δὲ τὴν τυραννίδα τρόπῳ τῷ εἰρημένῳ ὁ Πεισίστρατος κατὰ τὴν ὁμολογίην τὴν πρὸς Μεγακλέα γενομένην γαμέει τοῦ Μεγακλέος τὴν θυγατέρα. οἷα δὲ παίδων τέ οἱ ὑπαρχόντων νεηνιέων καὶ λεγομένων ἐναγέων εἶναι τῶν Ἀλκμεωνιδέων, οὐ βουλόμενός οἱ γενέσθαι ἐκ τῆς νεογάμου γυναικὸς τέκνα ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατὰ νόμον.

Having become tyrant of Athens again, Pisistratus fulfills his promise to Megacles and marries his daughter. However, as he didn't want to get his new wife pregnant and condoms were hard to come by in those days, he has sex with her οὐ κατὰ νόμον.

It seems to me that Herodotus was no prudish Victorian and οὐ κατὰ νόμον doesn't mean that Herodotus is passing judgement here; translating "in an unnatural way" or "indecently" seems to be a mistake to me. The way I see it, it's just an euphemism for something I'm not going to explain more in detail here, and would be better translated "unusual" or "uncustomary". Or what do you think?

Thanks!
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Re: Herodotus 1.61.1

Postby jeidsath » Mon Oct 31, 2016 5:31 pm

I wonder if some wit changed it from οὐκ ἐμίσγετό οἱ κατὰ νόμον.
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Re: Herodotus 1.61.1

Postby mwh » Fri Nov 04, 2016 2:52 am

κατὰ νόμον usually means simply “in accordance with custom,” and does so elsewhere in Herodotus (6.52, 7.41). It will mean exactly the same here. But sodomizing one’s new wife (to unpack the euphemism) was not something that would meet with social approval; the bride would be deemed disgraced and her father dishonored.

But now that you’ve brought down the tone, here’s a tale of a deal struck between Demetrius Poliorcetes king of Macedonia and a witty and independent Athenian call-girl who went by the name of Mania:
αἰτουμένην λέγουσι τὴν πυγήν ποτε
ὑπὸ τοῦ βασιλέως Μανίαν Δημητρίου
ἀνταξιῶσαι δωρεὰν καὐτόν τινα,
δόντος δ’ ἐπιστρέψασα μετὰ μικρὸν λέγει,
"Ἀγαμέμνονος παῖ, νῦν ἐκεῖν’ ἔξεστί σοι."
(Machon, 3rd cent.BCE, vv.226-230 Gow)
"They say that once, asked for her butt (i.e. anal sex) by King Demetrius, Mania asked him too for a certain reciprocal gift. And on his giving it she turns round and after a moment says, ..."

What she says is the first verse of Sophocles’ Electra: "Son of Agamemnon, now you can."
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Re: Herodotus 1.61.1

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Nov 04, 2016 4:25 pm

mwh wrote:But now that you’ve brought down the tone

Hey! It wasn't me who unpacked the euphemism! But thanks.

The way I see it, Pisistratus failed to endear his new wife and his new father-in-law not so much because of what he did but because of what he left undone. Herodotus isn't making a distinction between natural and unnatural sexual practices, or is he? Megacles wanted to have an alliance between the two families, but Pisistratus cheated him and neglected his marital duties.

Thanks for the other bit. Ἀγαμέμνονος παῖ, νῦν ἐκεῖν’ ἔξεστί σοι is a pompous thing to say for a courtesan; I wonder how many people got the reference to Sophocles. But I suppose the sheer pomposity of the line must have seemed funny even without knowing the specific reference? Sorry for asking what must seem obvious, but did I understand correctly that by "reciprocal gift" Mania really means "reciprocal service"?
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Re: Herodotus 1.61.1

Postby jeidsath » Fri Nov 04, 2016 5:21 pm

Beyond any anatomical difficulties with that suggestion, the higher class of courtesans seemed to have used a language of gift exchange. Setting prices and selling services would have been base. I would imagine that there are modern examples, though I really couldn't say. However, here are Socrates and Theodote talking about how she makes a living:

εἰπέ μοι, ἔφη, ὦ Θεοδότη, ἔστι σοι ἀγρός;

οὐκ ἔμοιγ’, ἔφη.

ἀλλ’ ἄρα οἰκία προσόδους ἔχουσα;

οὐδὲ οἰκία, ἔφη.

ἀλλὰ μὴ χειροτέχναι τινές;

οὐδὲ χειροτέχναι, ἔφη.

πόθεν οὖν, ἔφη, τὰ ἐπιτήδεια ἔχεις;

ἐάν τις, ἔφη, φίλος μοι γενόμενος εὖ ποιεῖν ἐθέλῃ, οὗτός μοι βίος ἐστί.
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Re: Herodotus 1.61.1

Postby mwh » Fri Nov 04, 2016 7:07 pm

Hdt would respect the distinction between νομος and φυσις, so I doubt he’d call any kind of sex unnatural. What Pisistratus did and what he left undone are two sides of the same coin, it seems to me. Either way it dishonored Megacles.

Mania’s reapplication of the Sophoclean incipit is not pomposity, it’s wit. Wit was a quality much valued in hetairai (though not the main one, obviously).

I think the δωρεα τις will not refer to reciprocal sexual servicing, though it would make a kinkier story if it did (and a dildo would take care of Joel’s anatomical difficulties). I imagine a more conventional arrangement. As Joel says, it wouldn’t be couched in crass commercial terms, any more than in εραστης-ερωμενος relations. But accomplished hetairai accrued fabulous riches.

Machon or his source actually stole the story, that’s to say readapted it. One of the most celebrated 4th-cent. tragic actors was Theodorus, and his wife would not let him sleep with her (either κατα νομον or ου κατα νομον, presumably) when a performance was imminent. When he returned home victorious (from a performance of Soph’s Electra?), his wife greeted him as follows: “Ἀγαμέμνονος παῖ, νῦν ἐκεῖν’ ἔξεστί σοι.” (Plutarch Mor. 737)
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Re: Herodotus 1.61.1

Postby Hylander » Sat Nov 05, 2016 3:10 pm

As Joel says, it wouldn’t be couched in crass commercial terms, any more than in εραστης-ερωμενος relations. But accomplished hetairai accrued fabulous riches.


You can see the same thing in Balzac (Mme Marneff in La cousine Bette), Flaubert (La marėchale in L'éducation sentimentale), Zola (Nana) and Proust (Odette in Du côté de chez Swann, at the very beginning of her social climb to become the duchesse de Guermantes). Demi-mondaines and hetairai didn't grant their favors for money (at least not after they achieved a certain social status), but they wisely and prudently accumulated wealth in the form of gifts from their gentlemen admirers while they were in their prime, against the day when they would no longer be attractive to wealthy men.
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