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Erotic Geographies in Ancient Greek

Literature and Culture

Erotic Geographies in Ancient Greek Literature and Culture addresses the following
question: how does a place “get a reputation?” The Athenians associated sexual
behaviors with particular places and their inhabitants and this book decodes the
meaning of the sexualization of place and traces the repercussions of these
projections. Focusing on Corinth, Sparta, and Lesbos, each section starts from
the fact that there were comic joke words that made a verb out of a place name to
communicate a sexual slur. Corinth was thought of as a hotbed of prostitution;
Sparta was perceived as a hyper-masculine culture that made femininity a pro-
blem; Lesbos had varying historically determined connotations but was always
associated with uninhibited and adventurous sexuality. The cultural beliefs
encoded in these sexualized stereotypes are unpacked.
These findings are then applied to close readings, ultimately demonstrating
how sensitivity to the erotics of place enables new interpretations of well-
known texts. In the process of moving from individual word to culture to text,
Erotic Geographies recovers a complex mode of identity construction illuminat-
ing the workings of the Athenian imaginary as well as the role of discourse in
shaping subjectivity. Gilhuly brings together a deep engagement with the
robust scholarly literature on sex and gender in Classics with the growing
interest in cultural geography in a way that has never been done before.

Kate Gilhuly is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Wellesley College,

USA. She is author of The Feminine Matrix of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece
(2009) and the co-editor of Space, Place, and Landscape in Ancient Greek Literature
and Culture (2014). She began her research on cultural geography while at the
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
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Erotic Geographies in
Ancient Greek Literature
and Culture

Kate Gilhuly
First published 2018
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
and by Routledge
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
© 2018 Kate Gilhuly
The right of Kate Gilhuly to be identified as author of this work has been
asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now
known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in
any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publishers.
Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered
trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without
intent to infringe.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Gilhuly, Kate, 1964- author.
Title: Erotic geographies in ancient Greek literature and culture /
Kate Gilhuly.
Description: Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY : Routledge, 2017. |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017003321 | ISBN 9781138741768 (hardback :
alk. paper) | ISBN 9781315182667 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Greek literature--History and criticism. | Geography in
literature. | Eroticism in literature. | Stereotypes (Social psychology) in
literature. | Corinth (Greece)--In literature. | Lesbos (Greece :
Municipality)--In literature. | Sparta (Extinct city)--In literature.
Classification: LCC PA3015.G44 G55 2017 | DDC 880.9/3538--dc23
LC record available at

ISBN: 978-1-138-74176-8 (hbk)

ISBN: 978-1-315-18266-7 (ebk)

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Acknowledgements vi

Introduction: The erotics of place 1

1 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place: Bewitching arts
of the courtesans 11
2 Medea in Corinth 30
3 Laconic sex 43
4 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song on the comic stage 73
5 Lesbians are not from Lesbos 91
6 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality in Longus’
Daphnis and Chloe 117

Bibliography 138
Index 148

I started this book as a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced
Study. I am grateful to have been able to participate in the cross-disciplinary
conversations of that program and to enjoy the creativity that it encouraged.
Tim Rood, Emma Teng and David Frankfurter were especially helpful in the
early stage of this book. I am thankful to have received financial support from
Wellesley College, the Mellon Foundation for travel to Greece, and a fellowship
from the Loeb Classical Library Foundation.
Alex Purves and Victoria Wohl gave me thoughtful advice and encourage-
ment at a book seminar at the Newhouse Center for Humanities at Wellesley
College. I am thankful to Carol Dougherty for all her wise observations and
clear suggestions, and have benefited enormously from thinking and learning
about cultural geography together with her. As always, I am gratefully indebted
to Leslie Kurke, whose comments have been invaluable and whose intellectual
enthusiasm and generosity is always encouraging.
I could not have done anything without my mother, Anne Gilhuly. This
book is dedicated to her. She has encouraged me all along and has excised as
much jargon as I would allow. Dennis Young is an inspiration to me, helping
my writing to flow with his charming conversation and other talents. Mark
Bush, my husband, has been my constant interlocutor; his humor and good
nature have sustained me all along. My children Anabel and Aidan patiently and
graciously turn my books face down when ever their friends come over. Finally,
I would also like to thank the two anonymous readers who gave helpful feed-
back and the editors at Routledge for all their work on this volume.
The erotics of place

How does a place get a reputation? That is the question this book addresses.
The idea comes from Lucian’s Dialogues of The Courtesans 5, a depiction of a
conversation in which one courtesan, Klonarion, tries to understand what her
friend Leaina is up to, living together with another woman as her lover. As
Klonarion interrogates Leaina about how women alone could possibly have sex
without a man, Lucian stuffs his text with allusions to various geographically
sited notions of sexuality. Klonarion has heard that a rich Lesbian loves Leaina
and that they are living together. This Lesbian’s name, Megilla, is the feminized
version of the Spartan interlocutor in Plato’s Laws.1 She lives with another
woman, Demonassa, from Corinth, whose name seems to be based on the
masculine Demonax, the name of Lucian’s teacher, a Cynic philosopher who
practiced in Athens, combined with the ending -assa, a Lesbian feminization,
on analogy to Sappho’s Arkheanassa.2 When Leaina reports her conversation
with Megilla, trying to understand her sex and gender, she wonders if she is
like the Theban Tiresias, who had turned from woman to man. In this dialogue,
Lucian uses geography to amplify the sexual semantics of the conversation
between the two courtesans, alluding to Lesbian women, Spartan pederasty,
Corinthian prostitutes, and the Theban Tiresias’ transexuality. This dialogue
represents the first time Lesbos is explicitly associated with female homo-
sexuality (5.2), and it seems that Lucian is purposefully shining a light on the
Greek literary and ideological penchant for linking various locales with particular
sexual practices.
Indeed, in classical Athens, there was a discursive trope, popular in comedy,
but also found elsewhere, of making a place name into a verb, which then
signified the idiosyncratic behaviors associated with the place.3 Many of these
words had connotations of a distinctive sexual culture.4 Korinthiazomai means to
traffic in prostitutes, phoenikizein means to give head, and sybarizein is to be a
voluptuary. Not all of the meanings were erotic and most signified a con-
stellation of attributes. In a comment on a passage of the Iliad, Eustathius notes:

… περι.τοῦ … λεσβιάζειν … γράφουσιν οἱ παλαιοὶ καὶ ταῦτα. εἰσὶ

βλασφημίαι καὶ ἀπὸ ἐθνῶν καὶ πόλεων καὶ δήμων πολλαὶ ῥηματικῶς
πεποιημέναι· ἐθνῶν μὲν οἶον κιλικίζειν καὶ αἰγυπτιάζειν τὸ πονηρεύεσθαι
2 The erotics of place
καὶ κρητίζειν τὸ [ψ?] φεύδεσθαι … ἐκ πόλεων δὲ οἷον λεσβιάζειν τὸ
Concerning “to act like a Lesbian” the ancients write also the following
things: many slanders have been made verbally derived from peoples and
cities and demes. For instance, to act like a Cilician and an Egyptian means
to be a rascal and to act like a Cretan means to lie … from cities for
example, to act like a Lesbian means to do shameful things.5

These coinages come from Old Comedy, mostly Aristophanes, whose life
spanned a tumultuous time in Athenian history. After the Persian Wars, Athens
began to grow into an imperial power, and then was drawn into conflict with
its neighbors and engaged in its well-documented over-reach. Exploring its
newfound power, rebuilding its city, the harbor and the long walls, and
becoming the foremost maritime power in Greece, and then tragically squan-
dering that power, Athens was constantly coming to terms with its changing
image. It used representations of other places against which to forge its own
identity, and often these depictions were erotic. I try to unpack the dense set of
associations that were projected by these erotic stereotypes and also to consider
in what ways these projections tell us something about Athens.
Intriguingly, many of these geographic associations have lived long and traveled
far, even being translated into different languages. English speakers use adjec-
tives derived from some of these places—sybaritic pleasure, laconic speech, and
Lesbian women, for instance. These words are like fossils, though, living on
without the context in which they were invented, and the humor in their
origins has been completely effaced by time. This book starts with three of
these coinages—korinthiazesthai, lakonizein, and lesbiazein—and explores their
cultural and literary significance, as well as the legacy of the Athenian penchant
for attaching a sexual meaning to a place.
A consideration of place promises to complicate notions of the study of
ancient sexuality by insisting that if, as Foucault claimed, there is a history of
sexuality, there is also a geography of sexuality. Attention to place has the
possibility of leading scholars of ancient Greek sex and gender out of Athens
toward a more variegated understanding of the ancient world. And, indeed, it
already has: James Davidson ended his extensive study of homosexuality in ancient
Greece with a chapter entitled “Conclusion: A Map of Greek Love,” in which he
revisits many local homosexualities, using geographic language to describe his
findings, “Having travelled so far on our explorations of the subject, we can at least
attempt to draft a provisional map of the landscapes we have explored,” and
claiming that “Greek Homosexualities are the peculiar and specific same-sex love-
ways associated with different communities.” 6 In Locrian Maidens, James Redfield
uses his study of the frontier area of Italian Locris to examine the problem of
women in the city-state by focusing on Epizephrian Locri as a site of difference, a
place Redfield wants “to put on the map.” He finds this colony to be “a particular
atypical instance” of the interaction between gender and politics.7
The erotics of place 3
This book, by contrast, is not exactly trying to move away from Athens, but
rather to see the way Athenian discourse affected the identities of other places
and to uncover the Athenian investments that shaped these places. I have
chosen to examine the erotic reputations of Corinth, Sparta, and Lesbos, elu-
cidating the way in each case that Athens’ own identity is implicated in the
construction of these various others. My exploration of Corinth and Sparta
suggests that Athens (mostly in the fifth century BCE) saw these two cultures as
polar extremes between which it wanted to locate itself. My study of Lesbos
starts in Athens, but moves away from there in time and space, ultimately back
to Lesbos (and Lucian) in the Roman Imperial period, exploring the way that
the erotic topos of Lesbos took on a life of its own, and absorbed meanings and
created new associations as it moved through space and time.
I chose these three places because they seem to have attained especially
strong symbolic associations with very particular sexual cultures. Sparta was
thought of as a hyper-masculine culture and was identified with pederasty;
Corinth was thought of as a hotbed of prostitution; and Lesbos had varying
historically determined connotations, but was always associated with unin-
hibited and adventurous sexuality. In these three cases, there is rich enough
information to explore why Athens needed to shape a brand for each one of
these locations and what were the deeper meanings encoded in each sexual
Clearly, I work from the assumption that the notion of place is essentially
relational: each place is defined in opposition to others and therefore contains
the other within its own identity.8 Seeing the construction of a communal
identity through comparison to another place is an interpretive model that has
a venerable past in the study of Greek history and literature, and certainly
François Hartog’s Mirror of Herodotus: The Representation of the Other in the
Writing of History and Froma Zeitlin’s article “Thebes: Theatre of Self and
Society in Athenian Drama” are formative models in my thinking. Both of
these authors interpret the other as a site of displacement, providing a negative
model for the conceptualization of the self. Like Hartog, I am interested in
exploring the way the Athenians grappled with cultural difference, although I
am examining differences within the Greek-speaking world. My focus on place
corresponds with Zeitlin’s treatment of Thebes as a topos both as a geographic
entity, a place, and as a recurrent theme or commonplace.9 Broadly speaking, I
am merging aspects of these two approaches, considering the construction of
cultural identities through the relationship of self and other, and analyzing
dramatic representations of places in terms of their historical context.
My conception of place has been influenced by cultural geographers who
acknowledge that place is a social construct.10 For David Harvey, a place can be
the locus of the imaginary, a site for the negotiations of social relations, a form
of discourse and of power, and at the same time a material practice.11 My
interest concentrates on the subtler aspects of place, the way it is imagined,
talked about, and the curious propensity of places to accrete erotic meanings.
At the same time, I trace how these meanings transform over time and are
4 The erotics of place
contested. Geography provides the ground for these meanings to accrete, but
oftentimes the material practice of place falls away and its meaning is transferred
to its people.
Tim Creswell emphasizes the primacy of place to identity, suggesting that we
think of place as a “‘necessary social construction’—something we have to
construct in order to be human.”12 In contrast to space, a more amorphous and
abstract concept, place is where embodied affective experience happens. Place
is both performed and practiced. “It provides the conditions of possibility for
creative social practice.”13 This book delves into the creation of place on the
imaginary level, and investigates how completely external forces can shape
the identity of a place and can effect the kind of identities that are thought to
be practiced there. Places have a reciprocal relation to identity: in order to have
an identity, you need to be some place, and at the same time the place you
come from communicates identity.
If place and the social are crucially interdependent, it follows that gender and
sexuality are also implicated in the construction of place. Cultural geographers
have been studying sexualities now for 40 years, demonstrating how spatial
relationships shape “sexual desires, practices and identities, as well as how they
are represented, policed and treated in law and everyday life.”14 These scholars
find that the sexuality of space often only becomes visible when it is non-
normative. Thus, in our time, gay spaces are marked as different, while
heterosexual spaces go unmarked—they are just places. In the cases that I
am examining, Athens represented the sexual culture of other places as non-
normative—that is, different from the implicit Athenian norm—a normativity
that is never explicated,15 although its contours can be traced through reflec-
tion. While one very compelling area of study for cultural geographers is lived
space, I do not have access to this dimension of ancient places. Rather, this
project is constrained by representations of places.
Yi-Fu Tuan notes that the task of the cultural geographer is to study
“humanly constructed and modified places and the forces … that have brought
them into being. A curious gap in the expansive and growing literature on
place is the attempt to address directly the role of human speech in the creation
of a place…”16 In a discussion of John Updike’s reaction to London as a city
experienced through literary references, including “The Kiplingsesque grandeur
of Waterloo Station and “the Dickensian nightmare of fog and sweating pave-
ment and besmirched cornices that surrounded us when we awoke”17—or we
might think of people who trace the events of Joyce’s Ulysses in Dublin on
Bloomsday—Tuan evokes “the seemingly magical idea that mere words can
call places into being.”18 The connection that Tuan refers to between language
and place suggests the intriguing possibility that a study of place promises a
means of seeing the effect of the imaginary in the real—the way that what we
imagine, think, and say can be transformed into constituent elements of reality.
This is the main contribution of my study of Lesbos, which traces the staying
power of a discourse grounded in place and the way it can transmogrify over
time, making once-invisible identities culturally legible.
The erotics of place 5
Other geographers have linked the representation of place to ideology,
interpreting these depictions of places as expressions of and legitimations of
social power relations.19 In the cases I am examining, the social, cultural, and
political relations of one place to another are expressed through the lens of
eroticism, necessarily entailing sex and gender. Somehow there is a stickiness
between these two registers of social construction. Even though these erotic
stereotypes come from outside, they have become intimately associated with
the places they describe; they are used as shorthand for communicating infor-
mation about the essential differences in geography, the material practices that
are enacted over and over again in a place as seen from outside.20
While geographers argue that place is operative in the construction of identity,
it almost goes without saying that sex and gender have long been understood
to be radically constitutive of identity. In The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir
claimed that “he is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other,” and thus
definitively articulated the notion that gender is a crucial differentiator in the
construction of subjectivity.21 Judith Butler notes the process by which an
infant enters “into the domain of language and kinship through the interpella-
tion of gender.” The “it” becomes a “she” or “he” in order to become human.
“It is unclear that there can be an ‘I’ or a ‘we’ who hasn’t been submitted,
subjected to gender, where gendering is, among other things, the differentiat-
ing relations by which speaking subjects come into being.”22 The eroticization
of place always entails the gendering of that place.
This book is deeply engaged with classical scholarship on sex and gender,
and aims to bring them together and contribute new dimensions to each of
them. The study of sexuality in classical Athens has tended to focus on male
homosexuality, with the stage having been set by the important contributions
by K.J. Dover, Michel Foucault, and David Halperin. The work of these
scholars emphasizes the way sexuality focalizes issues of power and penetration
in both practice and discourse.23 Further, Greek pederasty was used as a radical
example of Foucault’s argument that sexuality is historically contingent, not a
natural enduring aspect of human experience, but rather a product of the time
in which it existed. James Davidson has suggested that Dover and Foucault had
personal investments in the study of ancient sex determined by different facets of
contemporary homophobia that converged to create the conditions for the
development of a dogmatic and incorrect view of Greek sexuality as relentlessly
focused around penetration and the distinction between active and passive sex
roles.24 He argues that sexuality must be understood from a broader perspective
and cannot be understood extracted from the whole Greek context in which it
existed.25 What is at stake here is the notion of a trans-historical gay subject, with
the constructionist view suggesting there is no continuity between Greek and
modern love, while others suggest that this view is born out of homophobia.
Like Foucault and other constructionists, I think that sexuality is historically
contingent, determined by the context in which it is embedded. At the same
time, I agree with Davidson that the laser focus on penetration leaves too much
out of the discussion. In my own work, I have suggested that sexuality needs to
6 The erotics of place
be considered together with gender and not only masculinity—Greek discus-
sions of male homosexuality persistently recruit the feminine in order to depict
pederasty as a socially productive and generative type of love. No facet of sex
or gender exists in isolation, but rather the experience of erotic subjectivity has
meaning in relation to all the imagined possible subject positions in any given
context. Furthermore, I think that the field of sexuality is irrational and com-
plex, and not monolithically focused around penetration, although sometimes it
clearly is. Rather, with Eve Sedgwick, I think that various, even contradictory
discourses of sex circulate simultaneously, and that power determines which
discourses change and which stay the same over time.26
Feminine sexuality is harder to see in the ancient record, but I have found
that a focus on geography brings it somewhat more clearly into focus. Since the
reputations I examine were forged in the crucible of Athenian comedy and
projected onto other places, in a sense they represent a kind of Athenian dis-
cursive imperialism. As a by-product of examining an Athenian “rhetoric of
otherness,” this book emphasizes representations of feminine sexuality. For the
Athenians to associate other cultures with effeminate imagery asserts a sense of
Athenian dominance, and this is certainly the case in terms of Corinth and
Lesbos. In terms of the Spartans, the Athenians imagined them as closed off and
over-masculine, but the pejorative element of this depiction only becomes
visible through a representation of how these hyper-males interact with women
in a non-productive way.
This book is structured as three base chapters, each of which is followed by a
kind of case study, in which I show how the notion of place I have elucidated can
significantly transform the way we interpret canonical texts. At times, place is a
challenging category to work with, since places are open fields of significance
and various meaning can circulate in a place, and are at times contested. Even
Aristotle admitted this: “Ἔχει δὲ πολλὰς ἀπορίας τί ποτ᾿ ἔστιν ὁ τόπος/ there are
many difficulties with regard to what a place is” (Aris. Phys. 208a). Propositions
about what a place means can only be speculative, suggestive, and allusive,
because the meaning of place is imaginary. But the proof is in the pudding, as
they say: these studies of place elucidate aspects of well-known texts in new
ways, readings that would not be accessible without a sense of what the
meaning of the places they evoke are.
The first chapter addresses Corinth and its association with prostitution.
Corinth was known as a place of luxury and refinement, but the nature of the
pleasure associated with Corinth was quite distinct. With Aphrodite as Corinth’s
patron deity, there were temples to honor the goddess at every port. Situated
between the Ionian and Aegean Seas, at the focal point of east–west and north–
south trade routes, it was a crucial center for trade, and extended its hospitality
to many. Not surprisingly, sex trade flourished there, and the connotations it
garnered at Athens have been likened to the significance of “Paris” in the mind
of a nineteenth-century Englishman. In Aristophanes’ Wealth, Corinthian
hetairai are used to figure the mercenary ways of prostitutes who prefer wealthy
customers to poor. A fragment of Aristophanes uses the verb form based on the
The erotics of place 7
city’s name, korinthiazomai to mean “play the part of a prostitute,” and the
masculine agent noun formed from this verb means “one who pimps
I do not contest the reality of a flourishing sex trade in Corinth. However, the
fact that merely being an inhabitant of Corinth was, in some contexts, the
equivalent of trafficking in sex indicates a deeper anxiety about Corinthian culture.
For Athens had prostitutes of its own. Representations of Corinthian courtesans
tend to cluster around specific themes: tourism and hospitality; capitalizing on
maritime commerce; issues of gender; working with the body; and oligarchy.
Significantly, all of these themes relate to tensions in the Athenian polis, especially
as it re-defined itself over the course of the fifth century as a maritime empire, a
city with a new port, a democracy defined in relation to oligarchy, and an
intellectual and cultural hub that welcomed multitudes of tourists for both
ritual and secular tourism. Corinth, I suggest, performed the role of an internal
other, like the courtesan: it was a screen for anxiety about the kind of place
Athens was becoming as it grew into its identity as a maritime empire.
The second chapter reads Euripides’ Medea against these general observations
about Corinth. The myth of Medea and Jason is told in many versions, and
always spans a great immense swathe of territory by land and sea. But Euripides
chose to set his tragedy in Corinth. His depiction of Corinth includes many of
the elements that characterized Corinth in the previous chapter—that it was a
crossroads for travelers who took advantage of this opportunity by being overly
hospitable and that it was characterized by a marketplace ethos. Furthermore, I
suggest that Medea herself is depicted against the shadow of a courtesan,
standing, unattached, on the street the entire play, with her only resources
being sex and magic, the standard toolkit of the hetaira. This approach proves to
have explanatory power for many curious and unexplained aspects of the play.
For instance, if we think of the contemporary image of Corinth when Euripides
wrote, the sense of Corinth as the Vegas of the ancient world, it explains why
Aegeus could make his seemingly unmotivated appearance, only to talk to
Medea about sex magic. Aristotle complained that Euripides’ use of Aegeus was
irrational (Arist. Poet. 1461b20). My reading of this tragedy is corroborated by
the fact that Medea is so frequently recalled by courtesans in the aftermath of
Euripides’ play.
The third chapter takes on Athens’ erotic stereotype of its most formidable
enemy in the late fifth century BCE, Sparta. K.J. Dover observed that one of
the most prevalent and persistent generalizations about homosexuality in
Greece is that Spartan military institutions fostered it and that in the classical
period, Dorian regions were most tolerant of overt homosexuality.27 This
notion is in large part derived from a couple of passages in Plato’s Laws. In
comic usage, we find the verb Lakonizein, “to imitate Spartan manners,” a term
that modern scholars have assumed means to practice pederasty. However, it
rarely occurs in this sense. In the Symposium, Plato himself writes that Spartan
pederasty was similar to the Athenian institution in that it was complicated.
Xenophon, who is sympathetic to Sparta, describes this as a culture that
8 The erotics of place
nurtured homoerotic bonds for their role in education, but considered active
homosexual sex in the same category as incest.
In this case, my research has uncovered findings that are contrary to expecta-
tions: the strong association of Sparta with pederasty entails its hyper-masculine
military ethos, its oligarchic political constitution, and its status as the most
formidable land army in Greece. However, all of these associations are positive
and so do not feature in comic depictions of Spartan mores. Rather, the
Athenians were fascinated with what room this intense culture of masculinity
leaves for the role of women in Sparta. In Aristophanes’ writing, Spartans are
mocked for treating women as men and there is an ongoing depiction of
Spartan women as more strongly invested in death culture than reproduction.
Our contemporary fascination with pederasty has blurred our vision of the
ancient sources. My project brings Athenian perceptions of Spartan difference
into clearer focus at the same time as it reveals a contemporary fetishization of
pederasty in the ancient world to the detriment of a clear understanding of the
role of the feminine in ancient sexuality.
The fourth chapter shows how this Athenian view of Sparta offers new
insights into an understanding of Aristophanes’ most sustained depiction of
Spartans in Lysistrata. I show how Aristophanes intertwined the high lyric culture
of Spartan women’s ritual with the low stereotype of Spartan men as prone to
anal sex to produce a deeply ambiguous peace play. While the representation of
sexuality in Lysistrata certainly has not gone unremarked, it seems that the
meaning of the differences between Athenian sexual proclivities depicted in
the play—procreative heterosexuality—and Spartan erotic practice—non-
reproductive heterosexuality—have not been adequately interpreted. My
interpretation poses serious questions for the contemporary scholarly consensus
that views Lysistrata as a pro-Spartan peace play.
The fifth chapter turns to the representation of Lesbos on the Athenian
comic stage and beyond. To a modern audience, the island of Lesbos is
indelibly marked by an association with female homosexuality. An unex-
amined modern conception is that the association of Lesbos with female
homosexuality is linked to the poetry of Sappho, whose lyrics describe erotic
scenarios between women. But Lesbos was not associated with female
homosexuality until the Roman Empire, six centuries after Sappho’s death.
The first sexualization of Lesbos occurred when Aristophanes coined the term
“lesbiazein,” literally to act like a person from Lesbos, but which had the
connotation of performing lewd (hetero)sexual acts and playing music in the
style of Lesbian poets, such as Alcaeus and Sappho. Aristophanes used this
word to make fun of Euripides, who incorporated complex Eastern music in
a mash-up of genres that modern scholars call “The New Music.” “Lesbian”
was originally a slur against an Athenian man for his musical style. I argue that
this derogatory aesthetic term was the origin of a collective sexual identity for
Lesbos and that this later interacted with the reception of Sappho on the
comic stage to eventually come to signify female homosexuality. The Roman
representation of female homosexuality as a Greek practice paved the way for
The erotics of place 9
later writers in the Athenian tradition to articulate the association between
Lesbos with female homosexuality.
The evolution of the meaning of Lesbos reveals a history of sexual morality
and provides a case for examining the slow shift of possibilities for talking about
sexuality. Beginning in the Hellenistic period, but coming to fruition under the
Roman Empire, female homosexuality was articulated as a new, illegitimate
position. It is the removal afforded by the association between sexuality and
geographic space that tempers the articulation of this once-unspoken identity.
Furthermore, the examination of this process, whereby Lesbos was first attributed
a communal sexual identity, which was then merged with and transformed by
the influence of the figure of Sappho to articulate a sexual identity, shows how
discourse creates reality.28 This chapter moves away from Athenian identity,
exploring how discourse evolves, tracing the way a topos can be retained,
accreting new meanings as it moves through various historical and geographic
The sixth chapter looks at the most famous Greek novel, Longus’ Daphnis
and Chloe, which depicts the discovery of heterosexuality on the island of
Lesbos. I read this text as an intervention, an attempt to redirect the erotic
reputation of Lesbos away from any association with non-normative sexuality
toward a mythic and historical association with heterosexuality. More than any
of the other texts I have analyzed, this text explicitly thematizes place. Longus
writes a novel, a genre that was characterized by international travel, but
miniaturizes its scope, limiting travel to Lesbos alone. He constructs the pastoral
habitat of Daphnis and Chloe intentionally as a landscape, described as an
analogy to a narrative painting. My focus in this chapter is on the representation
of female musicians in the text, in the inset mythological tales, as well as in the
incorporation of the poetry of Sappho. I suggest that images of female musical
agency and avoidance of heterosexual engagement are systemically incorporated
into the landscape and are repurposed in the service of Chloe’s mythology—the
story of a girl who gradually gives up music, grows silent, and gets married.
By injecting the notion of place into an analysis of ancient sexuality, we can
recover a complex mode of identity construction. We can identify the Athe-
nian investments that contributed to the identities of other Greek nations and
ethnicities, as well as analyze the ideological work these cultures were made to
perform in the Athenian imaginary. We also see the way Athenian inventions
persist and gain new meanings in new contexts. A theorization of place is
especially important in the field of Classics since it is a discipline that is defined
by time and place. Ultimately, factoring considerations of place into our
notions of sexual history reveals crucial ways in which our ideas about sex and
place replicate ancient Greek practice. Just as the Athenians projected non-
normative sexual acts onto other places, so ancient Greece operates in our
cultural imagination as a site of sexual difference that both facilitates and dis-
tances the imagination of other possibilities.29 The relationship of erotics to
place inevitably reveals the construction of identity and suggests a dynamic
relationship between the real and the imagined. While place grounds and perhaps
10 The erotics of place
holds meaning, it seems clear that there is nothing inherently erotic in any
place. This projection is human-made; its efficacy proof of the magical way we
can call things into being with our thoughts, and yet the obviousness of its
construction suggests that there is space for change.

1 Gilhuly 2006; Gilhuly 2015: 171–173.
2 Yatromanolakis 2007: 285–286 n.463.
3 We find the words αἰγυπτίαζειν, ἀττικίζειν, βοιωτιάζειν, κορινθιάζεσθαι, λακεδαιμο-
νιάζειν, λακωνίζειν, μεγαρίζειν, χαλκιδίζειν, σιφνιάζειν, αυβαρίζειν, συβαριάζειν,
χαλκιδίζειν, and χιάζειν, meaning to imitate the manners of people from a particular
place-a city, an island, region or ethnic group.
4 Of place name verbs, to imitate the Corinthians, Khalkidians, Lesbians, Spartans,
and Siphnians all imply a penchant for a particular kind of sexual behavior.
5 P.741.19–24 of the text printed in Rome, 1542 (Vol. 2) See also Suetonius Περὶ
Βλασφημιῶν καὶ πόθεν ἑκάστη preserved in cod. Paris. Bibl. Nat. suppl. Gr. 1164.
6 Davidson 2007: 468.
7 Redfield 2003: x.
8 In terms of cultural geography, this notion is expressed by Harvey 1996: 261.
9 Hartog 1988; and Zeitlin 1990: 131.
10 Harvey 1996: 293.
11 Harvey 1996: 294.
12 Creswell 2004: 33.
13 Creswell 2004: 39.
14 Browne and Brown 2016: 1.
15 Browne and Brown 2016: 2.
16 Tuan 1991: 684.
17 Updike 1980: 35–36, quoted in Tuan 1991: 690.
18 Tuan 1991: 690–691.
19 Cosgrove 1983; Burgess and Gold 1985; Rose 1994: 46–47.
20 Creswell notes that a shared sense of place is based on mediation and representation
(2009: 1).
21 Beauvoir 1989: 6.
22 Butler 1993: 7. Notice the way English has been adapted to represent gender
neutral individuals (ze) or non-binary subjects (they), demonstrating the way that
gender, subjectivity, and language are intimately intertwined.
23 Dover 1978; Foucault 1985; Halperin 1990.
24 Davidson 2001: 37. See also Thornton 1991 and 1997: 193–202; Richlin 1998.
Hubbard (1998) suggests that pederasty was associated with elite culture. See also
Cohen 1991 and Foxhall 1998. For an overview of scholarship on ancient sexuality,
see Karras 2000.
25 For assiduous attention to sexuality in context and genre, see Ormand 2009.
26 See Gilhuly 2009: 6–9; Sedgwick 1990: 44–48.
27 Dover 1978: 185–187.
28 I maintain this claim, since I am arguing that shifts in linguistic usage and discursive
accretions paved the way for the articulation of “lesbian” identity and its association
with Sappho in the second century CE, despite the fact that David Halperin says
I sound like an “essentialist caricature of a social constructionist” when I say that
discourse constructs sexuality (Blondell and Ormand 2015: 319).
29 For the imprint of Latin and Greek texts on the development of modern scientific
discourses of sexuality, see Orrells 2015.
1 Corinth, courtesans and the
politics of place
Bewitching arts of the courtesans1

Corinth is called wealthy because of its commerce, since it is situated on the

Isthmus and is master of two harbors, of which one leads straight to Asia and the
other to Italy; and it makes easy the exchange of merchandise from both
countries that are so far distant from each other … and also the duties on what
by land was exported from the Peloponnesos and what was imported to it fell
to those who held the keys. And to later times this remained ever so. But to
the Corinthians of later times still greater advantages were added, for also the
Isthmian games which were celebrated there used to draw crowds of people.
And the Bacchiadae, a rich and numerous and illustrious family, became tyrants
of Corinth, and held their empire for nearly two hundred years, and without
disturbance reaped the fruits of commerce; and when Cypselus overthrew
these, he himself became tyrant, and his house endured for three generations …
and the temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it owned more than a thousand
temple slaves (hierodouloi), courtesans (hetairai) whom both men and women had
dedicated to the goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these women
that the city was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship
captains freely squandered their money, and hence the proverb, “not for every
man is the voyage to Corinth.” Moreover it is recorded that a certain courtesan
said to the woman who reproached her with the charge that she did not like to
work or touch wool: “Yet such as I am, in this short time I have taken down
three webs.”
(Strabo 8.6.20–21)

Strabo’s dense description records fascinating commentary about Corinth, a

major travel hub, where people could indulge in expensive pleasures. The
emphasis he places on prostitution in his description would not surprise
anyone familiar with Corinth’s reputation in the ancient world and would
be especially familiar to an Athenian. Indeed, the Athenians associated
Corinth so closely with prostitution that the verb comic poets derived from
the city’s name, korinthiazesthai, “to play the part of the Corinthian,” means
either to be a courtesan (hetairein) or, in the case of a male, to be a pimp
While there is no doubt that a culture of prostitution flourished in ancient
Corinth, the pervasive association of Corinth with courtesans in Athenian
12 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
representations (and those, like Strabo’s, that are influenced by them) suggests
that the notion of Corinth as a place of prostitution was significant as a dis-
course as well as a reality. For Athens, like every other port city, had prostitutes
of its own. While Strabo identifies the numerous courtesans at Corinth who
helped make the city so wealthy as hierodouloi hetairai, temple slaves/courtesans,
the only other reference to sacred prostitutes in Corinth is preserved in a frag-
ment of Pindar recorded by Athenaios (13.573–574). Since the Athenian
sources do not mention sacred prostitution at Corinth, the highly fraught and
intriguing topic of sacred prostitution—what was it? Did it really exist?—is not
directly relevant to our discussion.3
Putting aside the reality of sex trade in ancient Corinth, this chapter poses
these questions: why does Athens consistently talk about Corinth as a place of
prostitution? What does this tell us about Athens? Benedict Anderson has
revealed the degree to which communities are constituted by imagined
relations that are constructed through narrative.4 In this chapter, I try to
understand how one community, Athens, differentiated and defined itself
through its imagination of an Other place, Corinth. I want to uncover what it
was about Corinth that produced a people who, from an Athenian perspec-
tive, could be encapsulated by the idea of high-class prostitution, and further
to think about how this image served the construction of Athenian civic
My argument focuses on the Athenian discourse about Corinth, but as will
become clear, the imaginary Athenian version of Corinth is related to its
geography and culture, as well as the social and political climate of the place.
Yi-Fu Tuan has discussed the way that language has at times been overlooked
in studies of place, noting that language has the power to make things visible
that were once overlooked: “What once was a mere marker on the horizon
can be transformed, by imaginative narration, into a vivid presence.”5 Indeed,
language shaped ideas about Corinth and the way its history was written for
centuries to come. Thus, while my argument concentrates on courtesans,
it could not be written without Corinth. It explores the intangible, the
imaginary, the discursive aspect of the identity of a place, its reputation, its
If we read the source material carefully, it becomes clear that Athenian
depictions of Corinthian courtesans correlate with issues that relate to tensions
within the Athenian polis during the fifth century as its identity evolved
into a major port city, a preeminent naval power, and the intellectual
and cultural center of the Greek world. Thus the Corinthian courtesan
provided a representational figure with which to explore the fraught issues
of tourism, commerce, gender, the banausic arts, and democracy as it was
defined in relationship to oligarchy. In what follows I proceed thematically,
examining representations of Corinthian courtesans in conjunction with
Athenian attitudes about Corinth and its culture, at the same time exploring
how Athens constructs its own identity in opposition and identification
with Corinth.
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 13
Servant to strangers
Corinth was a passageway for numerous people and thus also cultures. Aelius
Aristides celebrates Corinth as a common city for all Greeks:

It receives all cities and sends them off again and is a common refuge for
all, like a kind of route or passage for all mankind, no matter where one
would travel, and it is a common city for all Greeks, indeed, as it were, a
kind of metropolis and mother in this respect.
(Aelius Aristides, Orations 46.22)

Although Aristides wrote under the Roman Empire, the idea of Corinth as a
place through which many people passed was by no means new. At least from
the seventh century BCE onward, Corinth was host to many travelers and
came to be known for its embrace of strangers.
And, in fact, many of these strangers would have been Athenians, since
Corinth is not far from Athens (about 55 miles). The speech “Against Neaira”
provides a sense of the ease of travel between Corinth and Athens in the
ancient world: the prosecution mentions a number of illustrious Athenians who
consorted with Neaira while she lived in Corinth, including Xenokleides the
Poet, and also notes that she accompanied Metaneira to Athens, when Lysias
the Sophist sponsored her initiation into the Mysteries. Likewise, in Euripides’
Medea, when Medea is plotting her revenge against Jason and her escape from
Corinth, Aegeus, King of Athens, conveniently happens to be traveling
through Corinth. His serendipitous appearance on stage has seemed puzzling to
critics since Aristotle, and a threat to the organic unity of the plot.6 While the
happenstance arrival of Aegeus conflicts with the conventions of tragedy, it
conforms perfectly to the idea of Corinth as a travel hub.
Corinth’s wealth is frequently ascribed to its ability to capitalize on its location
and to serve the needs of those passing through. An epigram written for Xeno-
phon bills Corinth as philoxenos, or welcoming to foreigners, and in his epinician
ode for Xenophon of Corinth, Pindar describes Corinth in the following way:

ἐπαινέων οἶκον ἥμερον ἀστοῖς
ξένοισι δὲ θεράποντα, γνώσομαι
τὰν ὀλβίαν Κόρινθον, Ἴσθμίου
πρόθυρον Ποτειδαῖνος, ἀγλαόκουρον.
In praising a house with three victories at the Olympic games, I shall come
to know wealthy Corinth, gentle to townsmen, while a servant to for-
eigners, door-way of Isthmian Poseidon, city of glorious children.
(O. 13.1–5)

The image of Corinth that emerges from Pindar’s poem is that of a rich city
with a well-developed hospitality industry that is a gateway to sea travel.
14 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
Pindar’s choice of the words ξένοισι θεράπων is significant, for the willingness
of the Corinthians to cater to those passing through the city (and to grow rich
doing it) is key to the city’s reputation. The connotation of subservience in this
kind of business, which I have emphasized in my translation, also left its mark
on the image of Corinth.
The ability of the Corinthians to make the most of their geographic location is
often given sexual parameters: in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazousai, Cleisthenes
likens the transport of ships across the isthmus to describe the antics of Euripides’
kinsman as he struggles to appear like a woman: “That’s some isthmus you’ve
got there, buddy. You shuttle your cock back and forth more than the
Corinthians” (Thesmo. 647–648). This eroticizing of geography employs a logic
similar to that which underlies the adage about Corinth that likens a sailing
voyage to a tryst with a courtesan, and may also relate to the treatment of the
Corinthian envoy in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. When she arrives on stage, the
women admire her, remarking that she is attractive from the front and behind
(Ar. Lys. 76–91). Perhaps they are treating this unnamed woman in the same
way as Lampito and the Boiotian before her, as embodying features and
prejudices of the land she hails from. Lampito is vigorous and hale, since the
Spartans are so strongly associated with military discipline. The Boiotian woman
is admired for her beautiful plain, since Boiotia is so rural. The Corinthian is
attractive on both sides because her front and back sides stand for the gulfs on
either side of the isthmus.7 Although nothing in the text overtly indicates it, a
scholiast notes that the Corinthian is a porne, or prostitute. As Strabo mentions,
the Isthmian games brought many tourists to the vicinity of Corinth, and this
also takes on a sexual implication in the record of a courtesan named Isthmia.
The wealth of Corinth and its reputation as a host city are linked to its
geographic location, since it is the gateway to the sea. Corinth is a place of
transition, a way-station for people traveling both by land and by sea. Of
course, during the classical period, Athens itself received many visitors, drawn to
the city for all manner of reasons including trade, culture, and ritual practices.
Athenian humor about Corinth’s hospitality culture must thus on some level be a
projection of an evolving Athenian self-identity. Creating an aura of nostalgia
around Corinth seems to have been one means of distancing Corinth from
Athens, and the courtesan provided a ready-made means to represent a sense
that there was something mercantile and inauthentic about Corinth and its
inhabitants, something temporary, and that it was a place of transactions that
are tinged with regret or nostalgia.
In my conceptualization of nostalgia, I evoke it in terms of its Greek roots,
nostos and algos, homecoming and pain, a pain that arises from the unfulfilled
desire to return home. I am following the philosopher Jeff Malpas, who char-
acterizes nostalgia as an experience of loss and estrangement.8 This estrangement
operates on both a spatial and a temporal level. One is not home, but wants to
go there, and the idea of home that one desires is also a thing of the past. This
notion of a painful longing that arises when one is not at home is as old as
Odysseus, but one that never seems to go away.
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 15
The courtesan, “the ultimate symbol of pleasure,” is also a figure of nos-

talgia. She symbolizes estrangement insofar as she is a surrogate for a socially

embedded relationship with a woman, or more extremely we could follow
Derrida’s reading of Rousseau and think of the courtesan as a dangerous sup-
plement for the always denied libidinal investment in the mother.10 In the
ancient world, the courtesan was a figure of nostalgia too. Many of them are
remembered for their ability to make witty sympotic conversation engaging in
literary double entendres, puns, and apothegms, thus enacting the dangers of
linguistic iterativity—Derrida’s notion of the instability inherent in repetition.
McClure has argued that in the Second Sophistic, hetairai are prime vehicles for
articulating nostalgia for classical Athens.11 I argue that this is an appropriation
of a much earlier discourse, one that was already active in the fifth and fourth
centuries BCE, in descriptions of Corinth, its culture of luxury, and its
Anxiety about tourism finds expression in an anecdote about Lais preserved
by Athenaios. Diogenes the Cynic (412–323 BCE) questions Aristippus about
his relationship to Corinth’s most famous courtesan:

“Αρίστιππε, κοινῇ συνοικεῖς πόρνῃ. ἢ κύνιζε οὖν, ὡς ἐγὼ, ἢ πέπαυσο.”—

καὶ ὁ Ἄρίστιπος· “ἇρά γε μὴ τί σοι ἄτοπον δοκεῖ εἴναι, Διογενες, οἰκίαν
οἰκεῖν ἐν πρότερον ᾤκησαν ἄλλοι;” “οὐ γὰρ,” ἔφη. “τί δὲ ναῦν ἐν ᾗ
πολλοὶ πεπλεύκασιν·” “οὐδὲ τοῦτο,” ἔφη, “οὕτως οὖν οὐδὲ γυναικὶ
συνεῖναι ἄτοπόν ἐστιν ᾖ πολλοὶ κέχρηνται.”
“Aristippus, you are living with a common prostitute. Either be a Cynic
then, as I am, or stop yourself.” And Aristippus said, “It doesn’t seem out
of place to you, does it, to live in a house in which others have lived
previously? “No,” he said. “What about a ship in which many others have
sailed?” “Not that, either,” he said. “In the same way then, it is not at all
out of place to be with a woman whom many have enjoyed.”
(Ath. Deip. 13.588)

In his response, Aristippus evokes precisely the two terms that define nostalgia:
home and travel. He makes the analogy of being with Lais to inhabiting a
domestic space that will house others, and of a ship that conveys numerous
passengers, emphasizing the impersonal movement of people in space and
time. Spatial dislocation is conveyed in the repeated use of the word “atopos”
in defense of his temporary and alienated use of Lais—it is not “no-place” to
look at a home as temporary housing and a voyage as part of an ongoing
commercial venture. In the same way, it is not “atopos” placeless to live with
a prostitute, that is, to have an intimate encounter in the explicit context of
iterativity, or seriality, intimacy with a woman who will share herself with
In the passage above, I translated atopos as strange, but as Vlastos notes: “The
Greek is stronger; ‘strangeness’ picks it up at the lower end of its intensity-range.
16 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
At the higher end ‘outrageousness’ or even ‘absurdity’ would be required to
match its force.”12 It is a word that is found in the register of pleasure and
philosophy, and thus seems particularly at home in the repartee of Aristippus,
who founded the hedonistic school of philosophy. He was once a student of
Socrates who ventured far from his teacher. According to Diogenes Laertius, he
was the first to receive pay for his teachings. He seems to have had tense
relations with Socrates’ other students. In Xenophon’s Memorabilia he argues
with Socrates in defense of the enjoyment of pleasure and in the Phaedo he
was noted to be absent at the death of Socrates, although he was nearby in
Aegina, not too far to come if he had wanted to do so. Aristotle records a small
dialogue between the two in which Aristippus accuses Plato of deviating from
Socrates’ teaching. On the other hand, the adjective atopos and related forms
are found 230 times in Plato’s works, and the related form atopia “is closely
associated with Socrates throughout Plato, especially with the peculiar mode
of discourse and the aporia or bewilderment it engenders.”13 Aristippus’ com-
ment pits his doctrine of embodied pleasure in competition with Plato’s
moralist philosophy that argues that the pleasures of our world are only εἴδωλα
of true pleasures.
The repetition of the word atopos also begs the following question: does
Aristippus protest too much? It is only his commitment to living completely in
the present that allows him to experience alienation from home, travel, and the
prostitute as not alienated/atopos. This notion of placelessness that Aristippus so
energetically denies in his response to Diogenes has an interesting resonance
with the French anthropologist Marc Augé’s thoughts about the negation of
place in his writings about non-places.14 While Augé is writing about super-
modernity, certainly in this sense his observations are not relevant to ancient
Corinth. Where there is a link between Augé’s non-places and Corinth is that
the non-place is associated with spaces one encounters while traveling: the
airport, the hotel room, the bus station, places that seem generic and could be
anywhere. For Augé, the non-place incites no sense of belonging, and this
notion dovetails with the way Aristippus engages with what could be a home, a
voyage, and a wife only for their temporary use-value, insisting on the transient
nature of his engagement and inhabiting the home as a hotel, a ship as a means
of conveyance for multitudes, and living in a house with a prostitute. In this
triad, Lais is subsumed by the mood of nostalgia, constellated in relation to
estrangement from home and dislocation of travel. She is just an interior that a
traveler inhabits. And in this sense, Lais is wealthy, to return to Pindar’s words,
because she is a servant to strangers.

The gender of Corinth

At a very basic level, the homology of Corinthians to hetairai effeminizes them.
While Philetairos’ and Poliochos’ plays Korinthiastes derive their title from a
male agent, often translated as whoremonger, the overwhelming usage of this
stereotype refers to Corinthians as hetairai—that is, again, as high-class female
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 17
courtesans. This gendering was clearly consolidated during the classical period.
In a discussion of what would constitute the best physical regimen for the
guardians, Plato enumerates pleasures that should be avoided, such as Attic
pastry, the Syracusan table and a Sicilian array of delicious tidbits. When he
adds another pleasure to the list, Plato plays on the link between Corinth and
the Greek word for maiden, kore: “You would censure the Corinthian maid
(Κορινθίαν κόρην) as the girlfriend of men who were to keep themselves fit?”
(Republic 404d). In Aristophanes’ Wealth, a text that has more than a passing
interest in Corinthian hetairai, there is a reference to Corinthian courtesans that
is suggestive in terms of gender:

καὶ τάς γ᾽ ἑταίρας φασὶ τὰς Κορινθίας,

ὅταν μὲν αὐτάς τις πένης πειρῶν τύχῃ,
οὐδὲ προσέχειν τὸν νοῦν, ἐὰν δὲ πλούσιος,
τὸν πρωκτὸν αὐτὰς εὐθὺς ὡς τοῦτον τρέπειν.
And they say that the Corinthian courtesans,
Whenever a poor man happens to make trial of them,
They don’t pay him any mind, but if he is rich,
They turn their asshole straight to him.

The word πρωκτός, which I have translated rather bluntly as “asshole,” is

curious here. As Henderson notes, it is a “pure” obscenity—there is no double
entendre in this instance, and thus such a word would be heard in a context
that adhered only to the most relaxed standards of linguistic decorum. Further,
this usage represents one of three times that this word, common in the discussion
of homosexuality, is applied to women. The other two have attenuating
circumstances: one is in a comic compound (Peace 976) and the other (Lys.
1148) is used to describe a Spartan man’s desire for Reconciliation, the mute
nude in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. The Spartan ambassador’s nation-state affiliation
rendered him a consummate pederast (and thus obsessed with backsides), in
much the same way as Corinthians were thought of as prostitutes. According to
Henderson, “πρωκτός was the vox propria for the anus in comedy and has an
exclusively male (and therefore usually homosexual) reference … Its low tone
assured that even in the absence of a joke its mere mention could be counted
on to raise a laugh.” Dover explains the seeming gender transposition of the
proktos from male to female in a positivist way, claiming that it “suggests that
hetairai may commonly have insisted on anal intercourse as a simple contraceptive
Rather than read a trace of ancient contraceptive practice in this passage, I
would suggest that the reference to Corinthian courtesans is a joke. When they
are assigned proktoi, the audience is cued to read them as male, and if all
Corinthian hetairai have proktoi, then Aristophanes is drawing on the stereotype
of all Corinthians as courtesans and the implication that they are willing to do
18 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
anything for money. The veil of the stereotype is pulled away for a moment to
reveal the joke’s referent—that is, all Corinthians are subsumed under the label
of hetairai.
Indeed, Wealth, which is noted for its reticence about contemporary politics,
is laced with references to Corinth, which alternate between allusions to Corinth’s
representation as a city of courtesans with the recent establishment there of a
mercenary army. Wealth feeds the foreign troop at Corinth (173); Philonides,
who is characterized as distinctly unattractive in comic anecdotes preserved by
the scholiasts, is said to have won the love of the famous Corinthian courtesan
Lais because of his money (179). Later Cario sings about Circe, who recently in
Corinth turned Philonides’ comrades into wild boars (303–315). The scholiast
informs us that Circe is Lais, and we are left to wonder why Cario is singing
about Philonides’ comrades instead of Philonides himself. Van Leeuwen’s sug-
gestion that Philonides was associated with the mercenary army at Corinth
helps to make sense of this. If Philonides’ comrades are to be understood as
mercenaries, then we can understand their transformation into boars, for in
Aristophanes’ writing, boars were symbolic of both lechery (Pl. 1024) and
ferocity in battle (Lys. 1255). Stationed in Corinth, with their money earned
through military service, both of the metaphorical meanings of the boar are
relevant to these comrades—they could visit courtesans with the money they
earned fighting. On this reading, Cario’s song conflates Corinth’s association
with courtesans and the establishment there of a mercenary army. Intriguingly,
the chorus winds up claiming that they will hang up Circe by the balls (312), in
another gender conversion that suggests that the seductress of Corinth refers to
a man.
The degree to which Corinth was identified by its female prostitutes is fur-
ther attested in the sayings of Stratonikos, preserved in Athenaios. He refers to
Heracleia, known for its male prostitutes as Ἀνδροκόρινθος, Man-Corinth,
punning on Akro-Corinth, the high hill overlooking the isthmus. He goes on
to say that he was circumspect coming out of the gates of Herakleia because it
was like exiting a porneion, or brothel (Ath. 8.351 c–d). The fact that Herakleia
needs to be gendered masculine implies that the unmarked term, Corinth, is
gendered feminine.
The effeminization of the Corinthians is fundamental to their association
with courtesans. On the comic stage, where citizen-actors wore phalloi and
performed for a male audience (at least putatively), this is clearly an expression
of dominance. In a suggestive analysis of Eupolis’ Cities, Ralph Rosen has
argued that the feminine gender of the cities in that play allows Eupolis to
embody the relationship between city and ally as one between a collection of
males (the Athenians) and an allegorized female ally.15

The gender of work

The characterization of all Corinthians as courtesans implicitly affirms the
Athenian’s phallic agency and their ability to dominate Corinth. But there is
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 19
more to the courtesan than gender. For courtesans were women who worked.
A common rhetorical formulation for the job of the courtesan is ἐργάζεσθαι
τῷ σώματι, to work with one’s body (e.g. [Dem.] 59.20). There is a spatial
component to work, whether one works in or outdoors, and the location of
work is gendered. Physical, outdoor labor was not value-neutral for the Athe-
nians. Military service and farming were noble, manly pursuits, but craftsman-
ship and trade, things that could transpire indoors, were stigmatized. Corinth,
however, fostered a culture that encouraged industry and thus capitalized on its
position as a center of trade. A hint of the pejorative connotations that were
associated with Corinthian socio-economic attitudes can be found in a digres-
sion in Herodotus’ description of the stratification of Egyptian society. After
noting that the warrior class is forbidden from engaging in retail trade (banausia
2.165), he says:

εἰ μὲν νῦν καὶ τοῦτο παρ᾿Αἰγυπτίων μεμαθήκασι οἱ Ἔλληνες, οὐκ ἔχω

ἀτρεκέως κρῖναι, ὀρέων καὶ θρήικας καὶ ΣκύΘας καὶ Πέρσας καὶ Λυδοὺς
καὶ σχεδὸν πάντας τοὺς βαρβάρους ἀποτιμοτέρους τῶν ἄλλων ἡγημένους
πολιητέων τοὺς τὰς τέχνας μανθάνοντας καὶ τοὺς ἐκγόνους τούτων, τοὺς
δὲ ἀπαλλαγμένους τῶν χειρωναξιέων γενναίους νομιζομένους εἶναι, καὶ
μάλιστα τοὺς ἐς τὸν πολεμον ἀνειμένους μεμαθήκασι δ᾿ὦν τοῦτο πάντες
οἱ Ἔλληνες καὶ μάλιστα Λακεδαιμόνιοι. ἥκιστα δὲ Κορίνθιοι ὄνονται
τοὺς χειροτέχνας.
I cannot say for certain whether the Greeks learnt this from Egypt, because
I see that the Thracians, Persians, Scythians, Lydians and almost every non-
Greek people also regard those who learn a trade and their descendants as
the lowest stratum of society, as opposed to those who have nothing to do
with artisanship and especially those who concentrate on warfare. How-
ever that may be, all the Greeks have adopted this attitude, with artisans
coming in for the most contempt in Lacedaemon, and the least in Corinth.
(Herod. 2.167, trans. Waterfield)

Here craftsmanship and trade are opposed to warfare, and the Corinthians are
singled out as the most permissive of this implicitly unmasculine lifestyle. While
Herodotus might not be considered a direct conduit for Athenian attitudes, it
seems clear that Athenians and those concerned with Athenian policy con-
stituted an important component of his audience. Herodotus’ representation of
Corinth was certainly known in Athens and seems to tap into a shared set of
beliefs. Indeed, the same denigration of craftsmen is found in a variety of other
Athenian sources. Aristotle says that the best polis would not make a banausos
(craftsman) a citizen (Pol. 1278a8).
Similarly, Plato in his Republic excludes craftsmen (demiourgoi) and farmers
(georgoi) from participating in government. Xenophon depicts Socrates elabor-
ating the beliefs that inform Herodotus’ opposition between artisanship and
20 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
ἀλλὰ καλῶς, ἔφη, λέγεις, ὧ Κριτόβουλε. καὶ γὰρ αἵ γε βαναυσικαὶ
καλούμεναι καὶ ἐπίρρητοί εἰσι καὶ εἰκότως μέντοι πάνυ ἀδοξοῦνται πρός
τῶν πόλεων. καταλυμαίνονται γὰρ τὰ σώματα τῶν τε ἐργαζομένων καὶ
τῶν ἐπιμελομένων, ἀναγκάζουσαι καθῆσθαι καὶ σκιατραφεῖσθαι, ἔνιαι δὲ
καὶ πρὸς πῦρ ἠμερεύειν.τῶν δὲ σωμάτων θηλυνομένων καὶ ἀσχολίας δὲ
μάλιστα ἔχουσι καὶ φίλων καὶ πόλεως συνεπιμελεῖσθαι αἱ βαναυσικαὶ
καλούμεναι. ὥστε οἱ τοιοῦτοι δοκοῦσι κακοὶ καὶ φίλοις χρῆσθαι καὶ ταῖς
πατρίσιν ἀλεξητῆρες εἶναι. καὶ ἐν ἐνιαις μὲν τῶν πόλεων, μάλιστα δὲ ἐν ταῖς
εὐπολέμοις δοκούσαις εἶναι, οὐδ᾿ ἔξεστι τῶν πολιτῶν οὐδενὶ βαναυσικὰς
τέχνας ἐργάζεσθαι.
“Well said, Kritoboulus,” he said, “for indeed the banausic arts, as they are
called, are disparaged, and are, reasonably enough, held in complete dis-
dain in our states. For they utterly ruin the bodies of the workmen and the
foremen, forcing them to sit still and stay indoors, and in some cases to
spend the day by the fire. The effeminization of their bodies accompanies
a weakening of their minds. Moreover, these so-called banausic arts leave
no leisure for attention to one’s friends and city, so that their practitioners
seem bad at dealing with friends and bad defenders of their country. In
fact, in some of the states, and especially in those reputed to be versed in
the arts of war, it is not even possible for any of the citizens to work at
banausic arts.”
(Xen. Oik. 4.2–3)

Xenophon states explicitly that artisans’ bodies are effeminized (θηλυνομένων),

because their work brings them indoors and keeps them stationary. Their lack
of leisure renders them incapable of pursuing social, political, and military
affairs. But it was not only elite intellectuals like Plato and Xenophon (who
suffered at the hands of the demos) who availed themselves of this stereotype;
Aristophanes, whose comedies were produced for the entire citizen body, also
associates craftsmen with women in the Ekklesiazousai. When a large group of
cross-dressing women infiltrate the assembly, Chremes, a citizen, mistakes them
for artisans, noticing how pale-faced the assembly had been the morning the
women took over (Ar. Ekkl. 382–388). The association of pale skin with the
feminine is the product of the gendering of space that Xenophon describes in
the Oikonomikos—“for a woman it is more honorable to stay inside than to
spend time in the field, whereas for a man it is more shameful to abide inside
than to pursue things outdoors” (Xen. Oik. 7.30). Artisanship is gendered
feminine because it demands time spent indoors and is opposed to the mascu-
line pursuits of farming, politics, war, and social interaction. Put in these terms,
craftsmanship is effeminate and opposed to democratic masculinity. I will take
up the political dimension of this characterization in the next section.
The Corinthians were perceived as effeminate because they did not stigma-
tize artisanship, and thus many citizens were involved in trade. The pejorative
associations that the Athenians made with craftsmanship—that it forced one to
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 21
work inside and that it was effeminizing—conform to the image of the hetaira.
Indeed, one crucial element that separates the identity of the hetaira from the
porne is space: the porne is a streetwalker, where often the courtesan’s status is
determined by the more rarefied, indoor context in which she operates.16
Thus, Socrates goes to visit the illustrious Athenian courtesan Theodote in a
private home, attended by her mother and maids. As hetairai, the Corinthians
are imagined as women who work with their bodies indoors. The emasculating
quality of the Corinthian work culture is pointedly elicited at the end of the
Strabo passage, cited earlier:

δὲ καὶ μνημονεύεταί τις ἑταίρα πρὸς τὴν ὀνειδίζουσαν, ὅτι οὐ φιλεργὸς

εἴη οὐδ᾿ἐρίων ἅπτοιτο, εἰπεῖν “ἐγὼ μέντοι ἡ τοιαύτη τρεῖς ἤδη καθεῖλον
ἱστοὺς ἐν βραχεῖ χρόνῳ τούτῳ.”
Moreover it is recorded that a certain courtesan said to the woman who
reproached her with the charge that she did not like to work or touch wool:
“Yet such as I am, in this short time I have taken down three webs.”
(Strabo 8.6.20)

The joke here hinges on wordplay that does not come across in English. The
courtesan’s claim that she has taken down three webs can also mean that she
has lowered three masts or cavorted with three ship captains. Instead of weav-
ing, woman’s work par excellence, the courtesan is busily “lowering masts.”
Her indoor work even allows her to get the better of the real men doing manly
work in Corinth, where the courtesan is on top and the men are emasculated.

Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth

Earlier in this chapter, I quoted a famous proverb about Corinth: “Not for
every man is the voyage to Corinth.” As I have argued throughout this chapter,
the courtesan is a conceptual medium through which the Athenians could talk
about many topics, and in this case too, I think there is more to this proverb
than the idea that Corinth was a port town where it was easy to squander
money on the numerous and expensive courtesans. The very notion of the
expensive courtesan is intriguing. For recent studies investigating depictions of
prostitution have noted that a discursive opposition coalesced around the dis-
tinction between the hetaira and the porne:17 the hetaira was associated with an
elite discourse that embraced a culture of pleasure, cultivated Eastern, specifically
Lydian luxury, and was associated with gift exchange and undemocratic politics,
while the porne was associated with the agora, democracy, and monetary
exchange. The point of this opposition is to allow for the representation of
contest between these ideological strata, and so we often see a woman repre-
sented as a hetaira only to be reconfigured and traduced in the image of a porne.
Frequently, depictions of Corinthian courtesans blend elements from each pole
of this discourse in a suggestive way. For they are generally identified as hetairai
22 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
in order to denote elitism and sophistication, with the implication that they
cultivate an Eastern aura; yet at the same time, there is a ubiquitous emphasis
on the mercenary ways of these women, so that any prestige communicated in
the name of hetaira is immediately undermined by the persistent references to
the high prices they charge. The mercenary hetaira is in a sense demystified, like
an expensive gift with the price tag still on it.
As Strabo and Herodotus record, Corinth was ruled by oligarchs and tyrants,
the Bacchiadai, Cypselus and Periander. Since Herodotus’ treatment of various
Greek poleis has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, I only make brief
reference to provide background for my argument. While Herodotus describes
tyranny and other types of tyrannical rule in various Greek states, the treatment
of Corinth diverges distinctly from the other mainland Greek poleis, especially
Sparta and Athens. Sparta never lived under a tyrant (Hdt. Hist. 5.92), although
it did suffer under Cleomenes, who was a transgressive ruler par excellence.
Nonetheless, the Spartans are resolutely free. Athens, on the other hand,
was once ruled by tyrants—Peisistratus and his successors. Herodotus’ narratives
about the Peisistratids are constructed teleologically to explain how the Athenians
freed themselves from tyranny. Although Corinth also only experienced a brief
stint of tyrannical rule, Herodotus never depicts the Corinthians throwing off
the yoke of the master. The enduring image of the Corinthians in the Histories
is as a city that has more in common with the slavish barbarian, willingly submitting
to despotic rule, than with the freedom-loving Greeks.
The costliness of the Corinthian courtesans suggests a contrast to a narrative
that describes Solon’s establishment of cheap prostitutes readily available for all
Athenians as a democratic measure:

σὺ δ᾿εἰς ἅπαντας εὗρες ἀνθρώπους Σόλων

σὲ γὰρ λέγουσιν τοῦτ᾿ἰδεῖν πρῶτον νόμον
δημοτικόν, ὦ Ζεῦ, πρᾶγμα καὶ σωτήριον,
(καί μοι λέγειν τοῦτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἁρμοστόν, Σόλων)
μεστὴν ὀρῶντα τὴν πόλιν νεωτέρων
τούτους τ᾿ἔχοντας τὴν ἀναγκαίαν φύσιν
ἁμαρτάνοντας τ᾿εἰς ὂ μὴ προσῆκον ἦν,
στῆσαι πριάμενόν τοι γυναῖκας κατὰ τόπους
κοινὰς ἅπασι καὶ κατεσκευασμένας.
ἑστᾶσι γυμναί, μὴ ᾿ξαπατηθῇς· πάνθ᾿ὅρα.
οὐκ εὖσεαυτοῦ τυγχάνεις ἔχων, ἔχεις
<ἐρωτικῶς> πως. ἡ θύρα ἀνεῳγμένη.
εἷς ὀβόλος· εἰσπήδησον. οὐκ ἔστ᾿οὐδὲ εἷς
ἀκκισμός, οὐδὲ λῆρος, οὐδ᾿ὑφήρπασεν,
ἀλλ᾿εὐθυς ἢν βούλει σὺ χὢν βούλει τρόπον.
ἐξῆλθες· οἰμῴζεν λέγ᾿. ἀλλοτρία ᾿στι σοι.
But you, Solon, found a law for all men:
For they say that you were the first to think of
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 23
This democratic and saving matter
(And it is appropriate for me to say this, Solon).
When you saw that the city was full of young men,
And that they had a compulsive nature
To err against what wasn’t theirs,
You established women in various places you’d bought
To be shared by all and ready for action.
They stand naked, lest you be fooled: look everything over.
You’re not feeling well, you feel somehow turned on
—The door is open.
One obol. Leap in. There is no prudery, no foolishness,
she doesn’t snatch herself away.
But immediately whom you want,
and the way you want her. You leave. Tell her to go to hell. She’s not
(Philemon fr. 3)18

Philemon describes Solon’s strategy for accommodating Athenian masculinity

to an egalitarian social order. First, he identifies a problem: young Athenian
men desire women that are not their own. If left to their own devices, these
men will violate their fellow-citizens’ households through illicit sex. This
system relies on a few crucial assumptions: that an Athenian man had the right
to have sex; that he had the right to an intact household; and that women can
be counted among a man’s possessions. Solon’s pragma soterian is to establish
public prostitutes. Now young men can still have what does not belong to
them, without impinging on the integrity of another man’s household.
The prostitute retains a structural similarity to the original, prohibited plea-
sure of another man’s woman: she has a place in the civic order, but has no
relationship with the man who takes her; she is κοινὰς ἅπασι, common to
everyone, but ἀλλοτρία᾿στι σοι, not yours. The original conflict posed by the
sexual double standard is absorbed in a paradox, the incorporated outsider.
Solon’s solution, making a commodity easily available and accessible to all
Athenian men, is significantly described as a democratic (δημοτικόν) matter.19
If we return to the semantic opposition between the hetaira and the porne and
their association with democracy and oligarchy, respectively, we can see that
the restricted access to Corinthian courtesans suggested in the proverb by
οὐ παντὸς, not for every man, might also be construed as an allusion to the
Corinthian political constitution. For Corinth was never democratic and access
to political affairs was never available to everyone, but only to the few. A prose
version of the proverb was also found as an inscription on a red-figure vase
painting in a private collection in Rome in 1847, which said: “Corinth is not
for everyone” (οὐ παντὸς ἐστι Κόρινθος). This dates the adage to the fifth
century BCE and more readily supports a political reading.20 Horace also used
this saying in a political context. He translated the maxim into Latin (non cuivis
24 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
homini contingit adire Corinthum, Epist. 1.17.36) and embedded it in a poetic
epistle urging his friend Scaeva to curry the favor of leading political men in
order to further his public ambitions.
I suggest that there is a political meaning to Corinth’s reputation and that the
maxim “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth” casts a political comment
into the language of travel and geography. The difficulty of gaining access to
the courtesans also represents the idea that political participation in an oligarchy
was the perquisite of the wealthy elite. Indeed, the exclusivity of Corinth’s
political elite was historically dramatized after the failure of the allied forces at
Nemea in 394 BCE (Corinth, Argos, Athens, and Boeotia against Sparta),
when the anti-Athenian contingent that had stayed behind at Corinth, that is,
the elite, closed the gates to the allied troops who were fighting for democratic
ideals as they retreated back to Corinth in defeat (Xen. 4.2.23; Dem. 20.52–55).
The cachet that might be conferred by the idea of exclusive access is undercut
by the persistent references to the high cost of Corinthian hetairai. If the term
hetaira communicates a sense of (here, political) exclusivity, it is undercut by the
implication that for the right price, Corinthian courtesans are eager to please.
The mercenary hetaira encodes the image of Corinth as a place that is politically
exclusive yet commercially promiscuous.
In its negation—“Not for every man”—the proverb about sailing to Corinth
highlights Corinthian difference in its association with the courtesan. But as I
said earlier, the courtesan is not only an other—she is also an internal Other,21
and there is the possibility for (Athenian) male identification with this figure as
well as difference. While the courtesan provides a way to highlight the political,
cultural, and social differences that the Athenians perceived between their city
and Corinth, there is also the suggestion of similarity and association in this
figure. And in a way, this makes sense, because Athens had so much in
common with Corinth. Both were port cities that used their naval prowess to
develop their wealth and influence in the Greek world; when Athenian
democracy faltered, it was replaced by an oligarchy; both cities had similarly
complex economies and were visited by many.
The Athenians developed the association of Corinth with prostitution just
as the Piraeus was becoming a major urban center in Athens. Arguably it is
this civic reconstruction that enabled Athens to supersede Corinth as a Greek
political and economic power. Themistocles spurred the development of the
harbor after the Persian invasion. It was completed in 477 BCE; under Pericles
in 458/457, long walls were built that linked the city to the port, and so in the
mid-fifth century, the Piraeus emerged as a new focus of civic activity. The
development of the Piraeus prompted a recalibration of the relationship of city
to harbor. It is represented ambivalently and often with a degree of hostility in
a number of texts in the fifth and fourth centuries, frequently disparaging its
commercial character:22 Aeskhines notes that the Piraeus was the place where
Timarchus sold himself as a prostitute to foreigners;23 Aristophanes depicts it as
home to prostitutes;24 and Lysias mentions it as the center of operations for
metic merchants who manipulate grain prices.25 Jim Roy argues that the astu
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 25
felt threatened by the distinctive culture that developed in the Peiraeus. Sitta
von Reden notes that the Piraeus was used in the “‘rhetoric of otherness’—that
is, the emphasis of the cultural limits of citizenship, which were essential for the
self-consciousness of the Athenian polis.”27 Perhaps the Athenian discourse
about Corinth as a place of prostitution is a projection of anxiety about
the development of the Piraeus in the fifth century. For through the develop-
ment of the Piraeus, Athens increased its nautical power, opened itself to more
trade, welcomed more foreigners, and encouraged the growth of the hospitality
industry that so often attends such civic development. As I have argued, these
are the pejorative associations encoded in the figure of the courtesan and they
were as relevant to Athens as they were to Corinth. In the register of prosti-
tution, Corinth served as a variegated site of affiliation and difference against
which Athens could fashion its own identity.

The courtesan has legs: the afterlife of Lais

Given the background we have established, it is intriguing to consider the way
in which the Athenian characterization of Corinth as a place of prostitution
lived on in later sources. Athenaeus records an anecdote about the rivalry
between Lais the Corinthian and Phryne, the most beautiful Athenian

διαζηλοτυπυμένη δέ ποτε ἡ Λαίς τῇ Φρύνῃ πολὺν

ἐραστῶν ἔσχηκεν ὄμιλον, οὐ διακρίνουσα πλούσιον
ἢ πένητα οὐδ᾿ὑβριστικῶς αὐτοῖς χρωμένη.
Competing with Phryne at one time, Lais had a whole
crowd of lovers, and she did not distinguish between rich and poor, nor
did she treat them arrogantly.
(Ath. 13.588e)

At first glance, we might think that the decline of Lais indicates that the political
associations between Corinth and Athens, and Lais and Phryne have been
reversed. Now Lais panders to a crowd and makes no distinctions, while
Phryne is in high demand. But if we consider this passage in the context in
which it is preserved, I think it suggests another way of understanding the
power and the meaning of the Athenian discourse of Corinth as a place of
This passage invites us to map a competition between Corinth and Athens
directly onto the discourse of prostitution, and supports the argument of reading
both cities together. The fact that the two women are in competition points to
a certain degree of parity, yet clearly Phryne has an advantage. Phryne was
known as a true beauty and was associated with the rich and famous; she was
reputedly the model for Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos and Apelles’ Aphrodite
Rising from the Sea. Hypereides, a fourth-century orator, confesses to loving her
26 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
more than even the most expensive courtesan Myrrhine, whom he kept in
Athens. He defended her on a capital charge and won his case upon exposing
her breast in court (Ath. 13.590). Phryne is a courtesan associated with the
culture and politics of fourth-century Athenian democracy.
Lais was Corinth’s most famous courtesan; her name was included in a list of
hetairai by Anaxandrides in his Gerontomania (Ath. 13.570d). Indeed, there were
two Laises of Corinth: one who lived during the Peloponnesian war and one
who lived later in the fourth century.28 Understandably the two are confused,
and often the anecdotes about “Lais” do not indicate which one is being
referred to. For the purposes of this aspect of my argument, since I am con-
sidering the discourse of Corintihan courtesans as received in the Roman
Empire, the distinction does not really matter.
The power and arrogance of Lais is captured in an epigram: ἡ σοβαρὸν
γελάσα καθ᾿Ἑλλάδος, “She laughed haughtily at Hellas” (Pl. Epigr. 15). The
connection between Lais and Corinth was so strong that Eriphos, a con-
temporary of Antiphanes, a comic poet who wrote in the middle period,
declares in his Peltast, when he praises the bounty of a generous table, “Such
delights, o Syrian, neither Corinth nor Lais proffered, nor are they fare of
the abundant Thessalian hosts, of which my hand has not been deprived”
(Ath. 4.137d). According to W.S. Anderson, this quip implies “that Lais is
equal to Corinth, the place of her practice, in wealth and in practical power.”29
If we consider the passage where Athenaeus talks about the competition
between Lais and Phryne in light of the other details his text records about the
professional career of Lais, it suggests that the theme of the accessibility and
over-exposure of Lais may have had a different connotation during the Second
Sophistic, and one that speaks to the power and attraction of the original
Athenian discourse.
We first get a glimpse of Lais even before she became a courtesan: Apelles
brought her to a symposium and his friends chided him for bringing a maid, a
parthenos, not a hetaira, he retorted: μὴ θαυμήσητε, εἶπεν, ἐγὼ γὰρ αὐτὴν μέλ-
λουσαν εἰς ἀπολαυσιν μετ᾿οὐδ᾿μετ᾿οὐδ᾿ὅλην τριετίαν καλὴν δείξω / Don’t be
shocked, for I will show you that she will be, after not even a whole three
years’ time, a beautiful woman for the purpose of pleasure. But also included in
the Deipnosophistae are passages concerning Lais that focus on her old age. Phi-
letairos’ Huntress is recalled in which she is reported to have died “fucked out”
(βινουμένη, Ath. 13.587e) and her demise as depicted by Epicrates in his play,
the intriguingly titled Anti-Lais, is also preserved:

αὕτη γὰρ ὁπότ᾿ἦν μὲν νεοττὸς καὶ νέα,

ὑπὸ τῶν στατήρων ἦν ἀπηγριωμένη,
εἶδες δ᾿ἂν αὐτῆς Φαρνάβαζον θᾶττον ἄν·
ἐπεὶ δὲ δόλιχον τοῖς ἔτεσιν ἤδη τρέχει
τὰς ἁρμονίας τε διαχαλᾷ τοῦ σώματος,
ἰδεῖν μὲν αὐτὴν ῥᾷόν ἐστιν ἢ πτύσαι·
ἐξέρχεται τε πανταχός᾿ἤδη πετομένη,
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 27
δεχεται δὲ καὶ στατῆρα καὶ τριώβολον,
προσίεται δε καὶ γὲροντα καὶ νέον.
For when she was a chick and young,
made wild by the staters
You could get a glimpse of Pharnabazus more quickly than of her
But since now she has run the course in years,
And the harmonies of her body relax,
It is easier to see her than to spit.
But now, she goes flying around everywhere
And takes both staters and triobols
And attaches herself to old and young alike.
(Ath. 13.570 c–d)

As a young woman, Lais had the exotic allure of a Persian satrap, suggesting that she
was powerful, luxuriant in an Eastern style, and willing to grant audiences only spar-
ingly. But as time wore on, she became ubiquitous, undiscriminating, and desperate
for money. The sorry image of Lais depicted here, an aging courtesan, so far from the
haughty beauty laughing at all of Greece, is a provocative symbol of loss and decay.
Considering the account of the competition between Phryne and Lais in this
context, we can understand it in a different way: Lais who was once sought-
after and rare grows old and is no longer desired by wealthy men. She has been
replaced by Phryne, just as Corinth was replaced by Athens as a maritime
power, tourist destination, and center for trade. Athens has been drawn into its
own projection of Corinth.
Aulus Gellius records an anecdote about Lais that he ascribes to Sotion the
Peripatetic, written in his Horn of Amaltheia:

“Lais,” inquit “Corinthia ob elegantiam venustatemque formae grandem

pecuniam demerebat conventusque ad eam ditiorum hominum ex omni
Graecia celebres erant, neque admettebatur nisi qui dabat quod poposcerat;
poscebat autem illa nimium quantum.” Hinc ait natum esse illud frequens
apud Graecos adagium:
οὐ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐς Κορινθον ἔσθ᾿ὁ πλοῦς,
quod frustra iret Corinthun ad Laidem qui non quiret dare quod posceretur.
“Ad hanc ille Demosthenes clanculum adit et ut sibi copiam sui faceret petit.
At Lais μυρίας δραχμὰς poposcit—” hoc fecit nummi nostratis denarium
decet milia. “Tali petulantia mulieris atque pecuniaae magnitudine ictus
expavidusque Demosthenes avertitur et discedens ‘ego,’ inquit, ‘paenitere
tanti non emo.’” Sed Graeca ipsa, quae fertur dixisse, lepidiora sunt: οὐκ
ὠνοῦμαι, inquit,μυρίων δραχμῶν μεταμέλειαν.
Lais of Corinth, he says, used to earn a lot of money because of the ele-
gance and charm of her beauty, and was frequently visited by wealthy men
28 Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place
from all over Greece; but no one was received who did not give what she
demanded, and her demands were extravagant enough. He says that this
was the origin of the proverb common among the Greeks:
Not every man may fare to Corinth town,
For in vain would any man go to Corinth to visit Lais who could not pay
her price. “The great Demosthenes approached her secretly and asked for
her favors, but Lais demanded ten thousand drachmas”—a sum equivalent
in our money to ten thousand denarii. “Amazed and shocked at the
woman’s great impudence and the vast sum demanded, Demosthenes
turned away, remarking as he left her: “I will not buy regret at such a
price.” But the Greek words which he is said to have used are neater; he
said οὐκ ὠνοῦμαι μυρίων δραχμῶν μεταμέλειαν.
(Aulus Gellius 1.8.3, trans. J.C. Rolfe)30

This narrative suggests a near-homology between Lais and Corinth, and links
her to the proverb about Corinth. In this context, sailing to Corinth is explicitly
linked to sleeping with Lais, a courtesan emboldened to demand an obscenely
high price. The exchange with Demosthenes is telling too, for here we
have Demosthenes, the consummate Athenian orator, long remembered and
venerated for fighting for democracy and freedom against the imperialist Philip of
Macedon, engaged with Lais, the courtesan-icon of Corinth. Demosthenes is
seduced by what Corinth/Lais has to offer, but when he finds out her exorbi-
tant fee, he quips “I will not buy regret for ten thousand drachmas.” Lais’
excessive demand propels Demosthenes to the mindset of the morning after.
Forgoing the allure of an easy present pleasure, he gives voice to its necessary
consequence—remorse for what has been spent, nostalgia for the past. The failed
negotiation between Demosthenes and Lais demonstrates that the courtesan is a
figure of regret and nostalgia, representing squandered potential and loss.
In the classical period, Athens took the place that Corinth had previously
occupied as one of the preeminent cities in Greece with the greatest maritime
power. The image of Corinthians as courtesans encodes the Athenian perception
that Corinth was an Orientalizing city of men willing to work with their bodies
indoors, more luxuriant than warlike, excessively committed to pleasure, incapable
of democracy, and if in any way like Athens, Corinth was a thing of the past, the
subject of nostalgia. Although Athens constructed this version of Corinth to
explore dangerous possibilities about its own identity, eventually Athens itself was
drawn into the discourse about Corinth and prostitution. During the Roman
Empire, we see that literary collectors adopted the Athenian discourse about
Corinth as a way to think about both cities. These authors confirm my contention
that Athens was constructing its own place identity through the branding of
Corinth, and also that this discourse reflects an anxiety about an internal other, the
kind of place Athens was becoming as it grew into its identity as a fifth port city. In
the Roman context, the courtesan is used to represent the rise and fall of Corinth
and Athens, the seductive allure of power and its inevitable demise.
Corinth, courtesans and the politics of place 29
1 A version of this chapter originally appeared in Kate Gilhuly, “Corinth Cour-
tesans and the Politics of Place,” in Kate Gilhuly and Nancy Worman (eds),
Space, Place, and Landscape in Ancient Greek Literature and Culture, pp. 171–199. ©
Cambridge University Press, 2014. It is used here with the permission of the original
2 The verb korinthiazesthai is found in six comic fragments (one by Aristophanes), and
a noun related to it, korinthiastes (translated as “whoremonger”), is the title given to
two comic plays—one by Aristophanes and another by Poliochus.
3 Budin (2008a) and Beard and Henderson (1997) argue that sacred prostitution never
existed in antiquity, while Yamaouchi (1973), Del Chiaro (1986: 20), Kurke (1996)
and Davidson (2009: 360–362) argue that it did. While the argument made by
Budin (2008a), that the supposed Eastern origins of this practice do not actually refer to
sacred prostitution, is sound, neither her argument nor that of Beard and Henderson is
convincing regarding the testimony of Pindar and Strabo.
4 Anderson 2006: 8.
5 Tuan 1991: 689.
6 Aristotle Poet. 1461b20.
7 For an in-depth discussion of the dynamics of this passage, see Gilhuly 2009:
Chapter 4.
8 Malpas 2012: 161–176.
9 McClure 2003: 289.
10 Derrida 1967: 155.
11 McClure 2006: esp. 27–58.
12 Vlastos 1991: 1n1.
13 Blondell 2002: 73.
14 Augé 2008: Introduction.
15 Rosen 1998.
16 Davidson 1998: 112–114.
17 Derived from the verb pernemi, meaning to sell. For a discussion of prostitution
terminology, see Dover (1978: 120–121); Davidson (1998: 109–126); Kurke (1999:
178–183); McClure (2003: 11–25); Gilhuly (2009: 13–14).
18 This text is from Kassel-Austin, adopting Kaibel’s suggestion to read νόμον in line
two; (ἐρωτικῶς) line 12 is the suggestion οf Edmonds (1961).
19 While the most basic meaning of δημοτικόν, does not necessarily have the strong
political charge conveyed by my translation “democratic,” the ascription of this
invention to Solon suggests that it should be understood in this way. See Halperin
1990: 100.
20 Panofka 1847: 21–22.
21 Beard and Henderson 1977: 481.
22 For an examination of the evolution of the discourse of the Piraeus’ place in the
city, see Garland (1987: 161); Dougherty (2010).
23 Aeschines 1.40.
24 Aristophanes Peace 1.65.
25 Lysias 22.14.
26 Roy 1998: 199.
27 Von Reden 1995: 32.
28 On the dates of the two different Corinthian courtesans named Lais, see Anderson
(1986: 45).
29 Anderson 1986: 47.
30 This narrative almost certainly merges the identity of the two Laises, since the Greek
adage, as I have suggested, originated in the fifth century or shortly thereafter, and
Demosthenes lived a generation later.
2 Medea in Corinth

The only extant tragedy that is situated in Corinth is Euripides’ Medea.1 The
myth of the Argonautica from which Euripides derived his drama tells of many
adventures in which Jason and Medea travel all over the Mediterranean and
Black Seas, and commit various evil deeds, many of which lend themselves to
tragic themes. Euripides could have drawn on any aspect of this story, but he
intentionally chose the part of the story set in Corinth.2
To the audience, the setting of the tragedy here would have been significant,
not least because the Athenians were on the verge of war with the Corinthians and
their Peloponnesian allies over a pattern of transgressive and broken alliances.3 As
Thucydides has it, two years earlier, Athens had made an alliance with Corcyra,
a Corinthian colony, and by doing so had stirred up tensions throughout the
Peloponnese. In response, the Corinthians helped the Potidaeans to secede
from the Athenian alliance. When Athens had besieged Potidaea with Corinthians
trapped in the city, Corinth pressed Sparta to invade Attica. As a result, the
Peloponnesian League voted to go to war. Thucydides’ history locates the
beginning of the Peloponnesian war at these tensions between philoi, “friends,”
Corinth and her colony, and between Sparta and Athens. The themes of
friendship and alliance are central to the play, and surely the recent political
events would have made the choice of setting all the more meaningful.
Beyond these immediate political tensions, as I elaborated in the previous
chapter, Corinth, as a neighbor and major port city, a hub of travel and trade,
occupied a prominent place in the Athenian imaginary. This chapter explores
the interaction between Euripides’ Medea and the way that fifth- and fourth-
century Athenians imagined Corinth. I suggest that Euripides’ depiction of
Corinth resonates with a generalized characterization of Corinth as a travel hub,
an overly hospitable gateway to the East, with a dominant marketplace ethos.
As we explored in the previous chapter, these conceptions were distilled in
comedy in a stereotype that imagines Corinth as a city of courtesans. In this
chapter, I will suggest that Euripides’ choice of Corinth as a setting for his tragedy
engages with this comic discourse about place and that the trace of the courtesan
is legible in the text.
Before I dive into my argument, I want to add a cautionary note here. My
observations about the relationship between contemporary conceptions about
Medea in Corinth 31
Corinth and Medea will not change the way we understand the arc of the
drama, but rather will give a sense of how Euripides made the myth resonate
with contemporary themes, and perhaps will add to our understanding of why
Euripides had the reputation of being transgressive of tragic norms. If his audience
saw the figure of the courtesan in Medea, then Euripides was degrading the
elite, as Aeschylus says in Aristophanes’ Frogs (1011). Further, it might help
explain how it is possible that a play as fascinating and enduringly powerful as
Medea was part of a trilogy that won third place in a competition of three.
Euripides produced Medea in 431 BCE, before any extant articulation of the
comic coinage korinthiazesthai, which beyond its basic meaning, “to play the part
of a Corinthian,” meant “to hetairein,” to play the part of a hetaira, because of
the many courtesans in Corinth. But just because the word korinthiazesthai may
not yet have been uttered does not mean that the components of the stereotype
had not yet been imagined. Recently Nigel Nicholson has suggested that we
expand our notion of intertextuality to move beyond literary allusion and to
consider literary texts as social acts that participate not only in a secluded literary
world, but also in the social life of the community.4 Drawing on the works of
Bakhtin and his circle, Nicholson notes that texts take shape in response not
only to prior speech acts, but can also anticipate possible future utterances. In
this chapter, I argue that Euripides’ Medea anticipates the comic discourse that
imagines Corinth as a city of courtesans. I am not suggesting that Medea is a
courtesan, or that this interpretation limits or defines her. As many scholars
have noticed, her characterization is comprised of multiple strands: barbarian,
witch, hero, goddess. I am suggesting that her character is also colored by the
image of the courstesan, a figure that encodes Athenian anxiety about contemporary
Corinthian culture.
As discussed in the previous chapter, throughout antiquity, Corinth was
known as a place that catered to people passing through. At least from the
seventh century onward, Corinth was celebrated as host to many travelers and
came to be known for its embrace of strangers. Thucydides’ introduction of
Corinth emphasizes what a well-traveled city Corinth was, and notes that the
Corinthians capitalized on their location and adapted to changing market patterns
to accommodate more traffic. An epigram written for Xenophon bills Corinth
as philoxenos, or welcoming to foreigners, and in his epinician ode for Xenophon
of Corinth, Pindar describes Corinth as a rich city, with a well-developed
hospitality industry that is a gateway to sea travel. Corinth was viewed as a
Greek city exposed to infection from the East.
Euripides’ Medea participates in the conceptualization of Corinth as a place
through which travelers passed and a society that is perhaps too hospitable.
Jason and Medea arrive in Corinth having slaughtered their way through the East
and are greeted by the Corinthians with a great big welcome mat. In the
opening speech, the Nurse describes Medea as ἁνδάνουσα μὲν φυγὰς πολίταις
ὧν ἀφίκετο χθόνα / “pleasing as an exile to the citizens of the land to which
she has come” (10). Fritz Graf notes that one of the unifying elements in
Medea’s mythic biographies is that she is always a foreigner.5 And yet she is
32 Medea in Corinth
able to bond so closely with the chorus of Corinthian women that they betray
the royal house for her.
At the same time, Jason of course has wheedled his way into the highest
echelons of Corinthian society. His decision to marry into the royal family is
what provokes Medea’s feelings of betrayal and the powerful revenge she
exacts—the murder of his fiancé, her father, and the children Medea and Jason
shared. By the end of the play we know that neither of them will stay in
Corinth: Medea is riding away in Helios’ flying chariot (1317–1419), to live
together with Aegeus in Athens (1384–1385), and she predicts Jason’s ignominious
death after he continues his travels on the Argo (1387). In other versions,
Medea stayed longer, and even ruled Corinth. According to the scholia,
Parmeniskos records that the Corinthians paid Euripides five talents to transfer
blame of the murder of the children from the Corinthians to Medea. They
killed her children because they did not want to be ruled by a foreign woman
and sorceress.6 In Euripides’ telling of the myth, Medea’s stay is more emphatically
Aegeus’ presence in Corinth is explained completely by the fact that he is en
route from Delphi to Troezen. Aristotle complained that Euripides’ use of
Aegeus is τῷ ὰλόγῳ, irrational, because it is not based on what is probable or
necessary.7 Scholars have justified Aegeus’ presence by explaining that it allows
for a safe haven for Medea, elaborates the problem of male childlessness, and
that his fidelity serves as a counterpoint to Jason’s perfidy. Nonetheless, as Mark
Buchan writes, “Aegeus remains a foreign presence, a haphazard addition and
an affront to any organic unity of the plot.”8 The fact that Aegeus happens by
does, however, correlate to the reputation of Corinth that exists beyond the
tragic stage—for Corinth is the thoroughfare par excellence, for people going
from Delphi to Troezen, from north to south and from east to west.9 Medea’s
interaction with Aegeus is also important to my argument, and I will return to
it shortly.
Scholars have long interpreted the character of Medea through the lens of
one of two typologies—the barbarian witch or the Greek male aristocrat. I
would argue that it is precisely these two strands that come together in the
figure of the hetaira. In the introduction to his 1938 commentary, D.L. Page
emphasized the importance of Medea’s foreign status to our interpretation of
the play: “Because she was a foreigner she could kill her children; because she was
a witch she could escape in a magic chariot. She embodies the qualities which the
fifth-century Athenian believed to be characteristic of Orientals.”10 While
Medea’s foreignness is definitely an important aspect of her characterization,
her language and comportment have also been interpreted as conforming to
the Greek heroic code.11 She controls the discourse of the play.12 “She has
exchanged oaths as an equal with Jason, and she has a xenia-like relationship
with Aegeus, that is, the reciprocal relationship that normally was shared
between male aristocrats. Medea competes for honour, reputation and revenge,
and she lays claim to language and imagery from typically male spheres (military,
athletic, political).”13 Helene Foley has argued that Medea’s self is divided
Medea in Corinth 33
between a male heroic side and a feminine maternal side. My argument builds
on this observation, identifying the way in which masculine and feminine are
intertwined in the character of Medea as conforming to the gendering of the
There is a peculiarity to the way that Corinthian courtesans are represented
on the comic stage: as many scholars have noted, in general the hetaira is asso-
ciated with gift exchange, while the porne is associated with a money economy.
While Corinth’s prostitutes are almost universally identified as hetairai, their
defining characteristic is that they are interested in profit. Thus, as discussed at
length in the previous chapter, the adage “Not for every man is the voyage to
Corinth” is explained by a scholiast as a complaint about the high cost of
courtesans there. The mystification regarding gifts as payment and clients as
friends that we see, for instance, in Xenophon’s portrayal of Socrates’ encounter
with Theodote is entirely absent. The particular constellation of sex traffic, gift
exchange, and profit that characterize the discourse of Corinthian courtesans
resonates with issues explored in Medea.
Before we turn to these themes, it is worthwhile to briefly consider the staging
of the play, insofar as it conforms to the representation of prostitution. The play
opens on the scene where the paidagogue and the nurse are talking. The paida-
gogue mentions that he overheard old men talking about the banishment of
Medea and her children as they were playing pessoi near the Spring of Peirene
(68–70). This quotidian detail of old men idly whiling away their time,
exchanging gossip that is overheard, conveys the sense that Medea’s tragedy
takes place against the backdrop of the day-to-day traffic of urban activity.
Medea comes out of the house, stands on the street for the entire play, and has
exchanges with the chorus of Corinthian women and various men, some local,
some traveling, some who seek her out, others passing by. Significantly we see
her wheeling and dealing with all of these men, oftentimes her sexuality
coming into play.
In the first episode, when Medea addresses the Corinthian women, she
masterfully compels their sympathy by appealing to the plight of women, a
plight that many have noted does not really apply to her. As Helene Foley
writes, “Medea is far from the passive victim of marriage and masculine brutality
that she claims to be.” As Christopher Gill writes, in her own marriage “she
played an unusually active, ‘male’ role,” a characterization that conforms to
“the unusually assertive, quasi legalistic way (for a woman) in which she pleads
her case to the chorus, Jason and Aegeus, and also with her adoption elsewhere
of the ‘heroic’ stance and values in pursuing her vengeance.”15 Curiously,
Medea claims that women must buy a husband: ἃς πρῶτα μὲν δεῖ χρημάτων
ὑπερβολῇ/πόσιν πρίασθαι, δεσπότην τε σώματος / “first it is necessary for us
to buy a husband, as a master of our body, for an excessive amount of money”
(232–233). Mastronarde notes that in the heroic world, the groom gave gifts to
the bride’s family, and infers that this is an instance of tragedy’s anachronism,
importing the contemporary practice of giving bride gifts into a heroic narrative.16
In any case, Medea’s language conveys an unusual degree of fiscal agency for a
34 Medea in Corinth
woman. Medea chose her husband herself, winning him not with money, but
heroic deeds. She refers to getting a husband as an agon (235) and sealing the
marriage with the clasping of hands, “a gesture typical of the affirmation of
bonds between men; for a marriage a man typically grasps the woman’s wrists
in a gesture of domination.”17
The intertwining of female sexuality with the rhetoric of the masculine
aristocratic sphere continues throughout the play. Later, I will argue that it is
precisely these two strands of discourse that characterize the courtesan’s iden-
tity. This combination is especially notable in Medea’s confrontation with Jason
in the agon of the play (446–626). Medea speaks to him in the language of
aristocratic friendship—with an emphasis on philia or friendship (470, 499, 513)
and charis reciprocity (508):

ἦλθες πρὸς ἡμᾶς, ἦλθες ἔχθιστος γεγώς

[θεοῖς τε κἀμοὶ παντί τ᾽ ἀνθρώπων γένει];
οὔτοι θράσος τόδ᾽ ἐστὶν οὐδ᾽ εὐτολμία,
φίλους κακῶς δράσαντ᾽ ἐναντίον βλέπειν,
ἀλλ᾽ ἡ μεγίστη τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποις νόσων
πασῶν, ἀναίδει᾽.
You have come to me, you have come although you are the most hateful
man, [to the gods, to me and every race of humans]; This is neither
boldness nor daring, having treated friends badly, to look them in the face,
but the greatest of all sicknesses among men, shamelessness.

Jason has transgressed the Greek heroic code because he has hurt his friends
(470), caused Medea to do the same (483–487, 502–505), and has forsaken the
oaths sworn between them. In his response to Medea, Jason refuses to engage
in the terms of aristocratic friendship that depend on reciprocity, a long-term
relationship, and an embedded economy. Jason denies Medea’s charis by
emphasizing the role that Aphrodite played in their liaison: ἐγὼ δ᾽, ἐπειδὴ καὶ
λίαν πυργοῖς χάριν, Κύπριν νομίζω τῆς ἐμῆς ναυκληρίας σώτειραν εἶναι θεῶν
τε κἀνθρώπων μόνην / “Seeing that you build up your favor excessively, I in
contrast think that Cypris alone of men and gods is the savior of my expedition”
Fritz Graf suggests that this quarrel links back to Pindar’s representation of
Medea and Jason in Pythian 4. There, Aphrodite invents the iunx to give to
Jason, a love wheel with which to beguile Medea:

πότνια δ᾽ ὀξυτάτων βελέων

ποικίλαν ἴϋγγα τετράκναμον Οὐλυμπόθεν
ἐν ἀλύτῳ ζεύξαισα κύκλῳ
μαινάδ᾽ ὄρνιν Κυπρογένεια φέρεν
πρῶτον ἀνθρώποισι, λιτάς τ᾽ ἐπαοιδὰς ἐκδιδάσκησεν σοφὸν Αἰσονίδαν:
Medea in Corinth 35
ὄφρα Μηδείας τοκέων ἀφέλοιτ᾽ αἰδῶ, ποθεινὰ δ᾽ Ἑλλὰς αὐτὰν
ἐν φρασὶ καιομέναν δονέοι μάστιγι Πειθοῦς.
The queen of the sharpest weapons, Cyprogeneia, having yoked the iunx, a
raving bird, four-spoked, to an inescapable wheel, she first bore it to men from
Olympus and she taught the wise son of Aeson prayers and charms so that he
might steal from Medea shame before her parents and so that the desire for
Hellas might whirl her with the whip of persuasion burning in her heart.
(Pindar P. 4 213–219)

Significantly here, it is Medea, earlier described as παμφάρμακος ξείνα, a for-

eign woman knowing all healing arts (Pindar P. 4 233), who is enchanted by
Jason’s magic wheel. As elsewhere in narratives about Aphrodite, erotics operate
in a realm where the line between subject and object is reversed, and where
the weapons of the weak are powerful.19 As Pindar tells it, after benefiting
from Medea’s magical protection against fire-breathing bulls, Jason abducts
Medea with her consent. Graf sees the ambivalence about Medea’s agency that
this sequence of events suggest—was she beguiled by magic or did she go
willingly?— as recapitulated in Euripides’ depiction of Medea’s and Jason’s
disagreement. “What in the mythic tradition was ambivalence in drama became
two personal readings of the past.”20 Where Medea claims the two were bound
by a relationship of charis, Jason responds that she helped him because she was
under the sway of Aphrodite. He develops this line of reasoning further when he
responds to Medea with a generalizing comment about women and sexuality:

ἀλλ᾽ ἐς τοσοῦτον ἥκεθ᾽ ὥστ᾽ ὀρθουμένης

εὐνῆς γυναῖκες πάντ᾽ ἔχειν νομίζετε,
ἢν δ᾽ αὖ γένηται ξυμφορά τις ἐς λέχος,
τὰ λῷστα καὶ κάλλιστα πολεμιώτατα
But you women have come to such a point that when your bed is right
you believe you have it all, but if some mishap befalls that quarter, you
reckon that the best and finest things are the most inimical.

Jason utterly rejects Medea’s claims to heroic masculinity, insists that their
bond is merely erotic, under the fickle sway of Aphrodite, and recasts Medea as
a lovesick woman.
In addition to sexualizing her, Jason persistently subverts Medea’s efforts to
construct the two as equal friends with the notion of profit. He repeatedly
describes her sentence of exile as a profit (kerdos (615)), a benefit she will gain if
she willingly leaves Corinth:

ὡς οὐ κρινοῦμαι τῶνδέ σοι τὰ πλείονα.

ἀλλ᾽, εἴ τι βούλῃ παισὶν ἢ σαυτῇ φυγῆς
36 Medea in Corinth
προσωφέλημα χρημάτων ἐμῶν λαβεῖν,
λέγ᾽: ὡς ἕτοιμος ἀφθόνῳ δοῦναι χερὶ
ξένοις τε πέμπειν σύμβολ᾽, οἳ δράσουσί σ᾽ εὖ.
καὶ ταῦτα μὴ θέλουσα μωρανεῖς, γύναι:
λήξασα δ᾽ ὀργῆς κερδανεῖς ἀμείνονα.
I will not make any more distinctions about these things with you, but if
you wish to take some of my money to help you or the children in exile,
say so. I am ready to give with an unstinting hand and to send tokens to
my guest friends, who will treat you well. You will be foolish if you are
not willing to do this, woman. Leave off your anger and you will gain
more profit.

As Medea tries to appeal to a heroic code, Jason responds with a crass offer
of payment. According to Melissa Mueller, “Jason insults (Medea) by
attempting to obfuscate his true debt of charis to her with the rhetoric of
kerdos.”21 When Medea tries to relate to Jason as an aristocrat, he responds
to her as a sex-crazy woman. Where Medea tries to claim a debt of charis
from Jason, implying that they are bound by the conventions of aristocratic
reciprocity, Jason keeps throwing back in her face the implicit subtext of a
woman trafficking in a man’s world—a context in which all she has to
exchange is sex for profit.
Later, when Medea encounters Aegeus, again she makes a transaction in
which her sexuality is implicated. She exacts a promise from Aegeus to give her
safe harbor in Athens in return for her help with his childless marriage. She
claims that she knows pharmaka that will result in fertility: παύσω γέ σ᾽ ὄντ᾽
ἄπαιδα καὶ παίδων γονὰς σπεῖραί σε θήσω: τοιάδ᾽ οἶδα φάρμακα / I will stop
you from being childless, I will enable you to sow the seeds of children. For I
know drugs such as these (718). Pharmaka means poison or remedy and the
ambiguity here fits with our growing uneasiness about Medea’s plans. Medea
here draws on her identity as magical, and she is referring to potions for Aegeus
to use with his wife. There is a long association of courtesans with magic,
particularly love magic in antiquity.22 In fact, Aristophanes’ Wealth refers to the
famous courtesan Lais as “Circe of Corinth” using drugs to compel Philonides’
companions. Circe is Medea’s aunt, and so on the comic stage we see the
explicit assimilation of Eastern witch to Corinthian prostitute.23
Lending strength to the erotic undertones in the interaction between Aegeus
and Medea is the tradition in which Medea went on to become the wife
of Aegeus at Athens, and to bear his children.24 What are these drugs Medea
has and how exactly will she help Aegeus with his childlessness? Without
answering any of the questions Medea’s drugs pose, in this exchange Medea is
clearly depicted as engaged in aristocratic sex traffic. Finally, she demands that
Aegeus swear an oath to guarantee his promise. Again her actions intertwine
sexual exchange with an aristocratic male code of behavior.
Medea in Corinth 37
We have noticed the intertwining of the language of charis and philia in
Medea’s interactions with Jason and Aegeus. While charis has an essential con-
nection to heterosexual erotics,25 the rhetoric of philia between a man and a
woman generally relates to marriage. As Gill observes, however, Medea’s
heroic character “enables her to attach to marriage and childbirth the kind of
significance, as a mode of philia, which is typically associated with the bonding
between male chieftains.”26 Non-familial philia between a man and a woman is
found in the context of the relationship between a courtesan and her clients.
An idealized version of these two qualities, charis and philia in the courtesan’s
sphere, is depicted most explicitly in Xenophon’s description of Socrates’
encounter with Theodote in the Memorabilia 3.11.1–18.27 The dialogue
between Theodote and the Socratic entourage begins with a volley of who
should have charis for whom, Socrates for being shown Theodote’s beauty or
Theodote because he profits from it:

ὦ ἄνδρες, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, πότερον ἡμᾶς δεῖ μᾶλλον Θεοδότῃ χάριν

ἔχειν, ὅτι ἡμῖν τὸ κάλλος ἑαυτῆς ἐπέδειξεν, ἢ ταύτην ἡμῖν, ὅτι
ἐθεασάμεθα; ἆρ᾽ εἰ μὲν ταύτῃ ὠφελιμωτέρα ἐστὶν ἡ ἐπίδειξις, ταύτην
ἡμῖν χάριν ἑκτέον, εἰ δὲ ἡμῖν ἡ θέα, ἡμᾶς ταύτῃ;
Gentlemen, said Socrates, should we have more gratitude (charis) for
Theodote, because she showed us her beauty, or she for us, because we
beheld it? Does the obligation to be grateful rest with her, if she profits by
showing it or with us, if we profit more by looking?
(Xen. Mem. 3.11.2)

Socrates is toying with the problem of charis in the hetaira’s economy. Theodote
is a grand hetaira, distinguished from a prostitute only by the kind of economy
she inhabits. As opposed to the porne, the courtesan traffics in a mystified
economy of friends and favors and gifts, where a courtesan has clients, sex,
and gets paid money. And so here all crude mention of sex for money is
avoided, and instead we enter the euphemistic sphere of charis and philia.
When Socrates asks Theodote how she makes a living, she responds that she
depends on her philoi:

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.
Tell me Theodote, he said, “Do you have a farm?” “No,” she replied. “Or
perhaps a house that brings in money? “I have no house,” she said. “Well,
certainly then, some craftsmen?” “No. None.” “Then from where do you
get your necessities?” “If I have a friend, she said who wants to treat me
well, this is my livelihood.”
(Xen. Mem. 3.11.4)
38 Medea in Corinth
Theodote relies on reciprocal gratification, charis, or “favors” for her liveli-
hood. Socrates proceeds to tell Theodote how she can maximize her “favors”:

δεῖ τοίνυν, ἔφη, πρῶτον μὲν τοὺς φροντίζοντάς σου τοιαῦτα ἀξιοῦν, οἷα
ποιοῦσιν αὐτοῖς μικρότατα μελήσει, ἔπειτα δὲ αὐτὴν ἀμείβεσθαι
χαριζομένην τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον: οὕτω γὰρ ἂν μάλιστα φίλοι γίγνοιντο καὶ
πλεῖστον χρόνον φιλοῖεν καὶ μέγιστα εὐεργετοῖεν.
First then you must ask those who care about you to do such things they
deem appropriate they will do without a moment’s hesitation. And next
you should reciprocate, gratifying them in the same way. Thus they would
become most friendly to you and they would be your friend for the most
time and they would be especially generous.
(Xen. Mem. 3.11.12)

Throughout the passage there is an emphasis on using reciprocity/charis to

seduce her clients to become her philoi. Socrates describes how she can max-
imize her potential for seduction through a series of metaphors that allude to
masculine aristocratic pursuits, hunting,28 dining,29 and euergesia.30
At the end of their discussion, Theodote, charmed by Socrates’ knowledge
of seduction, invites him to visit her often so that they can lure lovers together.
Socrates here turns the tables and tells Theodote that he might not have time
for her because he is so busy with his “girlfriends,” philai/philosophers, whom
he attracts with potions and spells and magic wheels:

ἀλλὰ διὰ τί οἴει, ἔφη, Ἀπολλόδωρόν τε τόνδε καὶ Ἀντισθένη οὐδέποτέ

μου ἀπολείπεσθαι; διὰ τί δὲ καὶ Κέβητα καὶ Σιμίαν Θήβηθεν παρα-
γίγνεσθαι; εὖ ἴσθι ὅτι ταῦτα οὐκ ἄνευ πολλῶν φίλτρων τε καὶ ἐπῳδῶν καὶ
ἰύγγων ἐστί.
“But why do you think,” he said, “that Apollodoros and this here Anti-
shthenes never leave me? And why are Kebes and Simias from Thebes
always hanging around? Know well that these things don’t happen without
many philtres, incantantaions, and magic wheels.”
(Xen. Mem. 3.11.17)

Having defined the courtesan’s art of seduction in the language of the mascu-
line elite, Socrates then describes his appeal to his philosophic circle in terms of
the tools of the courtesan’s trade: love philtres, incantations, and the iunx—the
magic wheel used to make a lover return.
In his discussion of reciprocity, Socrates enacts an inversion between the
terms of the elite masculine sphere, associating the culture of elite masculinity
with Theodote and appropriating erotic magic for philosophy. The result of
this inversion is that Theodote is now pursuing Socrates. As depicted here in
Xenophon’s Memorabilia, the courtesan encounter involves the intermingling of
elite masculinity with exotic eroticism. Theodote must bring her bewitching
Medea in Corinth 39
seduction to bear in the realm of elite masculine practice. In much the same
way, Medea must negotiate with aspects of elite Greek male culture as well as
magic and sexuality. Her characterization brings together the same elements
that define the courtesan: elite masculine culture and exotic erotica.31
While it might seem to be a strange exercise in over-reading to search for
the invisible courtesan in a genre from which she is excluded, there is
some intriguing evidence that suggests that perhaps I would not be the first to
see the specter of the hetaira in the characterization of Medea. Significantly,
there are numerous fragments from Machon’s Chreiai about courtesans, which
parody the lines of Euripides’ Medea.32 For instance, the witty Lamia is
remembered as having alluded to the closing scene of the tragedy:

ὑπερβολῇ δὲ τῆς Λεαίνης σχῆμά τι

περαινομένης εὖ παρά τε τῷ Δημητρίῳ
εὐημερούσης, φασὶ καὶ τὴν Λάμιαν
τὸν βασιλέ᾽ εὐμελῶς κελητίσαι ποτὲ
ἐπαινεθῆναὶ θ᾽. ἡ δὲ τοῦτ᾽ ἀπεκρίθη:
“πρὸςταῦτα καὶ Λέαιναν, εἰ βούλει, κράτει.”
Going above and beyond, Leaina in the lioness position offered herself
readily and found much favor with Demetrius; they say that Lamia also
once rode the king gracefully and then was praised for it. And she
answered in the following way: “in view of that take on Leaina too if you
(Ath. 13.577d)

This allusion recalls an exchange between Jason and Medea—when he

responds to her violence against her children:

οὐκ ἔστιν ἥτις τοῦτ᾽ ἂν Ἑλληνὶς γυνὴ

ἔτλη ποθ᾽, ὧν γε πρόσθεν ἠξίουν ἐγὼ
γῆμαι σέ, κῆδος ἐχθρὸν ὀλέθριόν τ᾽ ἐμοί,
λέαιναν, οὐ γυναῖκα, τῆς Τυρσηνίδος
Σκύλλης ἔχουσαν ἀγριωτέραν φύσιν.
There is no Greek woman who would ever have dared this, before whom
I thought you worthy to marry, a lioness, not a woman. You have a
nature wilder than Tyrrhenian Scylla.
(Eur. Med. 1339–1343)

Medea retorts, as she flies away on her grandfather’s chariot: πρὸς ταῦτα καὶ
λέαιναν, εἰ βούλῃ, κάλει/καὶ Σκύλλαν ἣ Τυρσηνὸν ᾤκησεν πέτραν:/τῆς σῆς
γὰρ ὡς χρῆν καρδίας ἀνθηψάμην./“Call me a lioness if you wish, and a Scylla
who inhabits the Tuscan cliff; for I have touched your heart as I ought” (1359–
1361). In the tragic context, presumably the term “lioness” is used to portray
the ferocity of Medea’s infanticide, and Scylla refers to the threshold Jason and
40 Medea in Corinth
Medea crossed to come from the East to Corinth.33 But this quotation by Lamia
has an interesting way of contaminating Euripides’ text, for it reminds us that
Leaina was the name of a sexual position as well as a very common name for
courtesans.34 The sexual position of the lioness demanded that the woman be on
top—considered shameful for women—and the allusion to Medea flying away in
her chariot reinforces the image of the woman being powerful over a man.
In another example, Medea’s alliance to Aegeus is analogized to the quoti-
dian unpleasantries of being a prostitute: Θαῒς πρὸς γράσωνα πορευομένη
ἐραστήν, ἐπεί τις αὐτὴν ἠρώτα ποῦ πορεύεται, εἶπεν: “Αἰγεῖ συνοικήσουσα τῷ
Πανδίονος” / Thais was once on her way to a lover who smelled like a goat,
and when someone asked her where she was going, she said “To stay with
‘Aegi,’ the son of Pandion” (Ath. 13.585d). Playing on the similarity of Aigeus’
name with the word for goat, Thais makes a joke of her client’s rustic odor. At
the same time, it sends us back to the exchange Medea made with Aegeus of
safe haven for fertility and locates this sex trade squarely within the realm of
Finally, Jason says to Medea ἔρρ᾽, αἰσχροποιὲ καὶ τέκνων μιαιφόνε./ be
gone doer of shameful deeds and murderer of children (Eur. Med. 1346). The
term αἰσχροποιὲ is taken up again by Machon:

Λαίδα λέγουσι τὴν Κορινθίαν ποτὲ

Εὐριπίδην ἰδοῦσαν ἐν κήπῳ τινὶ
πινακίδα καὶ γραφεῖον ἐξηρτημένον
ἔχοντ᾽: “ἀπόκριναι, φησίν, ὦ ποιητά μοι,
’τί βουλόμενος ἔγραψας ἐν τραγῳδίᾳ ‘ἔρρ᾽,
αἰσχροποιέ’ ;” καταπλαγεὶς δ᾽ Εὐριπίδης
τὴν τόλμαν αὐτῆς “σὺ γάρ,” ἔφη, “τίς εἶ, γύναι;
οὐκ αἰσχροποιός;” ἡ δὲ γελάσασ᾽ ἀπεκρίθη: “τί
δ᾽ αἰσχρόν, εἰ μὴ τοῖσι χρωμένοις δοκεῖ;”
They say that Lais the Corinthian once saw Euripides in a garden having a
pen and a tablet affixed to him, ‘Tell me,” she says, “Poet. Intending what
did you write in your tragedy, ‘Go, doer of shameful deeds?’” Euripides
was shocked by her effrontery and said, “Who are you woman? If not a
doer of shameful deeds?” And she, laughing, responded, “What is shameful,
if it does not seem so to the one doing it?”
(Ath. 13.582c–d)

Here Lais quotes Eur. Medea, asking, as A.S.F. Gow puts it, “why did you
charge Medea with sexual immorality?”35 The scholiast notes that the use of
the word αἰσχροποιέ caused some conflagration: (κεχίασται) ὅτι δοκεῖ τὸν
στίχον τοῦτον εἰπὼν Εὐριπίδης ἐκβεβλῆσθαι / “(It is marked with a cross)
because it seems that saying this line Euripides was thrown out.” While it is not
clear in what way Euripides was “thrown out,” the sense that the word was
objectionable is clear. Page thinks that it must have had its sexual nuance in
Medea in Corinth 41
431 BCE when the play was produced. LSJ defines αἰσχροποιός as “doing

foully” in Medea, and euphemistic for fellator in Machon. Later αἰσχρός-

compounds clearly indicate lewdness. When used in Bacchae (1062), sexual
immorality is unambiguously invoked: the messenger quotes Pentheus’ state-
ment that he will mount a pine in order to watch the maenads’ αἰσχρουργία.
Aeschines uses the same word in On the Embassy in the description of how
Demosthenes got the nickname “Batalos”: ἐν παισὶ μὲν γὰρ ὢν ἐκλήθη δι᾽
αἰσχρουργίαν τινὰ καὶ κιναιδίαν Βάταλος / Among the boys he was called
Batalos because of some dirty deed and his lewd submissive sexuality.37 In the
Machon passage, Lais’ retort to Euripides, that shame is in the eye of the doer,
is a quotation of Eur. Fr. 19, a well-known line from the lost Aeolus, and may
have referred to the incest between Macareus and his sister Canace.
The allusions to Euripides’ Medea in these Chreiai attest to the notion that the
contours of the courtesan in the character of Medea were recognizable to
ancient audiences. Euripides represents Medea in the register of the masculine
elite—fiercely committed to helping her friends and hurting her enemies, a
giver of gifts, and deeply invested in the convention of the oath—at the same
time that he explores the ramifications of female sexuality in the public sphere.
I am suggesting that his decision to characterize Medea in this way was linked
to his choice to dramatize the Corinthian portion of this myth. Euripides’
Corinth transgresses against the proprietary norms that shape tragedy. Euripides’
Corinth is the Corinth of comedy; it is the Corinth of courtesans.

1 Oedipus Tyrannos refers to offstage action that took place there. Considering the
afterlife of this play and its enduring dramatic force, it is hard to believe that when
Euripides entered Medea as part of his submission to the tragic competition at the
city Dionysia in 431 BCE, he won only third place.
2 It is also thought that he introduced the story of infanticide to his tragedy. In other
versions the Corinthians killed the sons of Jason and Medea after she gives her gifts
to the princess that kill her and her father Creon. For an overview of Euripides’ use
of the Medea myth, see Mastronarde 2002: 44–64.
3 For arguments that the language and themes of the play resonated with the political
discourse of the moment, see Boedeker (1991), Tessitore (1991) and Lloyd (2006).
4 Nicholson shared a forthcoming paper with me provisionally entitled “Cultural
Studies, Oral Traditiona and the Promise of Intertextuality.”
5 Graf 1997: 38.
6 See scholia to lines 9 and 264 in Schwartz (1891).
7 Aristotle Poet. 1461b20. See Buttrey 1958; Mastronarde 2002: 281–282.
8 Buchan 2008: 3.
9 Buttrey (1958) has argued that the Aigeus episode is the thematic and structural
fulcrum of the play: it is the third of five episodes where the audience would have
expected four, and while it seems to provide Medea’s predicament with a happy
solution, it actually enables her brutal plan to kill her children.
10 Page 1938: 21.
11 Knox 1979: 295–322.
12 Boedeker (1991: 109) calls Medea “the author of her own story.”
13 Mastronarde 2002: 27.
42 Medea in Corinth
14 Foley 1989.
15 Gill 1996: 161.
16 Mastronarde 2002: 210.
17 Foley 1989: 75.
18 Various people suggest this is a link to Pindar.
19 Jenny Strauss Clay makes this argument in her treatment of the Homeric Hymn to
Aphrodite, 1989, 2006: 152–201.
20 Graf 1997: 29.
21 Mueller 2001: 482.
22 On the link between pharmaka and prostitution, see Eidinow (2010), as well as
Faraone (1999: 146–160).
23 Significantly in Roman literature Corinth comes to have a strong association with
24 Sfyroeras 1995: 127–129.
25 Redfield 1982.
26 Schein 1990: 57–73; Gill 1996: 161.
27 Konstan 1997: 91; Goldhill 1998.
28 Xen. Mem. 3.11.7–8.
29 Xen. Mem. 3.11.13–14.
30 Xen.Mem. 3.11.13.
31 Curiously, the power inversion enacted by Socrates over Theodote when he says he
is too busy for her because of all his lovers that he seduces with magical charms,
including the iunx, replicates the power dynamics at play in Pindar’s description of
Jason’s use of Aphrodite’s newly invented iunx to free Medea of shame before her
parents (Pindar P. 4 213–219, discussed above). In both cases the sorceress is
overwhelmed by the tools of her own trade.
32 Machon’s floruit was in the third century BCE, he was reputedly born in either
Corinth or nearby Sicyon.
33 Boedeker 1991: 108.
34 There is one very famous woman that Euripides and every other Athenian would
have been familiar with when this play was written. The first courtesan with this
name was the associate of Harmodius and Aristogeiton—democratic heroes, two
young aristocrats who rose up against the last and evil tyrant of Athens Hippias
when they killed his brother. Leaina was tortured to death in 514 BCE, in an effort
to compel her to betray the tyrannicides’ plot. To honor her, the Athenians erected
a statue of a lioness with no tongue. The second Leaina was the lover of Demetrios,
to whom Lamia refers.
35 Gow 1964: 128.
36 Page Eur. Med s.v.
37 Dover 1978: 75.
3 Laconic sex

The verb that means to act like a Spartan is λακωνίζειν. This coinage has a
range of meanings. Most frequently, it means to imitate Spartan manners—to
copy their distinctive style of dress and hair, to speak tersely, or, in a political
sense, to act in Sparta’s interest. These usages are found across a range of genres.
In comic parlance, as H.D Jocelyn notes, the Lacedaemonians were known as
breakers of promises, lovers of money, and proverbial pederasts.1 The word
lakonizein by itself is preserved as a fragment (Aristophanes 338) and Hesychius
explains that it means “to use paidika.” The Suda adds that it comes from
Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazousai 2.
If this were the end of the story, no expectations would be disappointed—
the Spartans were represented as pederasts. This sexualization might be inter-
preted as shorthand for a matrix of political and ideological associations with
Sparta: its hyper-masculine military ethos, its elitism, and its conservative mixed
political constitution. In this case, we would expect to see many instances of
this sexualized usage in comedy, since Athens’ relationship to Sparta was
marked by hostility and comic playwrights were free with other terms mocking
elements of pederasty, such as εὐρυπρῶκτος, καταπύγων, and λακκόπρωκτος.2
Intriguingly, this is not the case. The coinage used as a sexual stereotype is
rarely found.
One additional consideration that may be pertinent is Sir Kenneth Dover’s
suggestion that lakonizein might not be gender-specific. In Aristophanes fr. 907,
Alcibiades, whose sexuality was “all over the map,”3 is referred to as son of
κυσολάκων, which Photius notes is compounded of kusos, pudenda muliebra,
and lakon “Spartan,” translated idiomatically as “Spartan pussy.” Photius con-
tinues: “To use paidika they call lakonizein, for that is how Theseus used
Helen.” Dover says: “It seems that Aristotle mentioned the idea that Theseus
and Helen ‘invented’ anal intercourse, and since Helen was a Spartan heroine
the original meaning of ‘lakonize’ will have been ‘have anal intercourse,’ irre-
spective of the sex of the person penetrated.”4 If Photius is referring to Aristotle
the philosopher and not the historian (“contemporary?” says Dover),5 perhaps
this anecdote accords with his extremely negative portrayal of Spartan women:
ζῶσι γὰρ ἀκολάστως πρὸς ἅπασαν ἀκολασίαν καὶ τρυφερῶς / Τhey live dis-
solutely in regard to every kind of dissoluteness, and luxuriously (Aristotle Pol.
44 Laconic sex
1269b). Athenaios records Hagnon of Tarsus corroborating this understanding
of lakonizein as non-gender specific anal sex, saying that “before marriage it is
customary for Spartans to associate with virgin girls as with paidika” (602d).
It makes sense that what would seem most remarkable and different about
Spartan sexual culture to Athenians would be the anomalous role assigned to
women there, for Athenians practiced pederasty too, but they did not, for
instance, encourage their women to exercise naked. The only extended comic
depiction of Spartan sexuality we have is found in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and
indeed here it is Spartan heterosexuality that is on stage. I will examine the way
in which Spartan sexuality is represented in this play in detail in the next
chapter. For now, it is our task to consider whether we should give credence to
Photius’ comment, found in a ninth-century CE lexicon attributed to him, or
to interpret the sexual nuance of the term in its more common understanding:
to be a pederast.
If lakonizein does mean to use paidika regardless of gender, it would be useful to
understand what the Athenians thought about anal sex (not how nervous they
were about it) and why this particular sex act would encapsulate something
about how they perceived people from Sparta. Furthermore, if lakonizein means
to use paidika of either gender, this coinage will raise interesting questions for
students of the history of sexuality, since this would throw a wrench in theories
of Greek sexuality that argue that the gender of one’s sex partner does not
construct identity.6 In this case it would not be the role (active/passive) that
defines a sex act, but the gender of the object of desire, the fact that the Spartans
used women as boys.
Unfortunately, there is no handbook that records Athenian attitudes to anal
sex, and references to women involved in this type of sexual converse are few
and far between, thus making our task more difficult. Herodotus seems to
allude to it in the case of Peisistratos and the daughter of Megakles (1.61.1 ff),
saying he had sex with her not in the normal (and in an unreproductive) way.7
Aristophanes only uses πρωκτός three times to refer to women: one in Peace to
describe Theoria as part of a comic compound; another instance occurs in
Wealth to describe Corinthian courtesans and set up a joke about pederasty; and
a third usage occurs in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, referring to Spartan sexual
practice.8 According to Henderson, πρωκτός is too vulgar to apply to women,
and instead the word πυγή is more frequently used in discussions of women’s
While anal sex is fetishized in contemporary heterosexual pornography, in
recent theoretical discourse, there is little discussion of this practice. Furthermore,
the more taboo a sex act is, the more liable it is to be filtered through a dis-
torted lens. Indeed, a strong association with male homosexuality and anal sex,
and revulsion at the idea of it, underlies much of contemporary homophobic
discourse, as explicated by Leo Bersani in his tour-de-force article, “Is the Rectum
a Grave?’9 Moreover, the strength of the link between male homosexuality and
anal sex in contemporary thought has distorted readings of ancient texts,
making women into men and heterosexual acts into pederastic ones, perhaps to
Laconic sex 45
avoid the uncomfortable admission that everyone has an anus, and one is as
permeable as another.
As we are well aware, although the Greeks did not stigmatize
erotic relations between men, they were nonetheless very anxious
about the role of the penetrated male in homoerotic relationships.10
Significantly, the problem with the passive male in homoerotic rela-
tionships is often articulated as residing in his similarity to a woman.
What then does it mean for a woman to play this role—or, to put
it another way, to be a woman who is playing the role of the man
taking the woman’s part?
Under these circumstances, the only way to proceed is to be aware of
our own projections as we examine the places where the word lakoni-
zein has an erotic nuance and lay those representations beside Athenian
attitudes toward Sparta and its inhabitants, determining if and how they
fit together. Admittedly, the shape of this argument is circular, and the
best hope is that we can learn something new by perambulating its

Act like a Spartan, sexually speaking

August Meineke suggested that fragment 351 of Eupolis, which contains the
word lakonizein, might mean “to use paidika”:

ΑΛΚΙΒΙΑΔΗΣ μισῶ Λακωνίζειν, ταγηνίζειν δὲ κἂν πριαίμην.

Β πολλάς δ᾿† οἶμαι νῦν βεβινῆσθαι
ΑΛ ὅς δὲ πρῶτος ἐξηῦρον τὸ πρῷ᾿πιπίνειν.
Β πολλήν γε λακκοπρωκτίαν ἡμῖν ἐπίστασ᾿εὑρων.
ΑΛ εἶἑν· τίς εἶπεν ’ἁμίδα παῖ’ πρῶτος μεταξὺ πίνων
Β Παλαμηδικόν γε τοῦτο τοὐξεύρημα καὶ σοφόν σου.

Alcibiades I hate doing it the Spartan way, but I would pay to grill them.
B But I think that many (of their) women have been screwed by you.
Al … I who first invented drinking in the morning.
B Since you discovered it, you understand much cistern- assery
among us.
Al Well then. And who first said, “Boy, a chamber pot!” in the midst of
B Yes, this is a wise and Palamedic discovery of yours!
(Eupolis 351/K-A 385)

Kock rejects the sexual connotation of λακωνίζειν here because it does not
correlate with the notion of luxurious dining evoked by ταγηνίζειν. He inter-
prets λακωνίζειν as suggesting simple Spartan fare, as opposed to the richer fare
suggested by ταγηνίζειν, but admits that on this reading there is no coherence
between the first and second lines.
46 Laconic sex
Clifford Hindley has discussed this passage and the meaning of λακωνίζειν at
length, noting the salacious and excretory language in the passage—βεβινῆσθαι,
λακκοπρωκτίαν, and ἁμίδα—and suggests a scenario that would give sense to
the fragment, especially the move from λακωνίζειν to ταγηνίζειν: Alcibiades
and his interlocutor are discussing the purchase of a male slave. Alcibiades
replies that he is not interested in anal sex with men, but would buy the slave
as a cook. Then his interlocutor replies, “Well I think many women have been
screwed by you.”11
While I agree with Hindley that there is probably a sexual meaning to lako-
nizein in the passage, I am hesitant about importing the slave-purchasing sce-
nario, since it means assuming a lost pronoun, inventing a character, and
making ταγηνίζειν mean to be a fry cook, which is not attested to elsewhere.
As I have argued elsewhere, if ταγηνίζειν has a sexual nuance, it seems to fall
within the realm of heterosexuality. Furthermore, if we remember Photius’
comment that λακωνίζειν can be engaged in with women as well, then here
λακωνίζειν, ταγηνίζειν, and βεβινῆσθαι can all denote sex acts that Alcibiades
performs with women. I might translate: “I don’t like to do it the Spartan way,
but I would pay to flip them over. Well, I believe that many women have
been screwed by you.” The contrast in the passage is between ways that Alci-
biades has had women, not the genders of the partners.
Hindley argues convincingly about another instance of the word lakonizein
found in Xenophon’s Hellenica. It is a derogatory narrative about Thibron’s
failure to protect his troops against a surprise attack by the Persian General,

προϊόντος δὲ τοῦ χρόνου κατανοήσας ὁ Στρούθας ὅτι Θίβρων βοηθοίη

ἑκάστοτε ἀτάκτως καὶ καταφρονητικῶς, ἔπεμψεν ἱππέας εἰς τὸ πεδίον καὶ
καταδραμόντας ἐκέλευσε περιβαλλομένους ἐλαύνειν ὅ τι δύναιντο. ὁ δὲ
Θίβρων ἐτύγχανεν ἐξ ἀρίστου διασκηνῶν μετὰ Θερσάνδρου τοῦ αὐλη-
τοῦ. ἦν γὰρ ὁ Θέρσανδρος οὐ μόνον αὐλητὴς ἀγαθός, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀλκῆς
ἰσχύος, ἅτε λακωνίζων, ἀντεποιεῖτο.
As time went on, Strouthas realized that Thibron’s expeditions on each
occasion were disorganized and over-confident. He sent cavalry to the
plain and ordered them to run down on them, surround the enemy, and
to carry off what they could. Meanwhile Thibron happened to be in his
tent after breakfast with Thersandros the flute player. Thersandros was
not only a good flute player, but also laid claim to physical prowess,
inasmuch as he was an imitator of things Spartan (was the active partner
in anal sex).
(Xen. Hell. 4.8.18)

While some translations interpret lakonizein here as “throwing the discus”12 and
others amend διασκηνῶν to διασκεύων (Riekher’s suggestion), Hindley argues
that Xenophon has portrayed an extremely negative portrait of Thibron thus
Laconic sex 47
far, perhaps motivated by a personal grudge against him. He emphasizes the fact
that Thibron and Thersandros are said to have returned to their tent after
breakfast, indicating indulgence as opposed to military readiness. Thersandros is
a famous aulos-player with pretensions toward physical strength, not with the
sword, but the phallus. Aulos-playing itself has a strong association with the
realm of erotic behavior.13 As Hindley notes, understanding lakonizein to mean
active partner in anal sex accords with all the details presented without emendation
and, furthermore, makes sense of a later comment that Thibron was succeeded
in Spartan command by Diphrades, a man who in contrast to Thibron was not
ruled by pleasures of the body (Xen. Hell. 4.8.22).14
If what is distinctive or worthy of mocking about Spartan sexual practice
is anal penetration of men and women, then clearly Athenian notions of the
distinctive elements of Spartan gender construction will be germane to this
argument. I think that the strong association of Spartan culture with pederasty
combined with the emphatic interest in same-sex male relations on the part of
historians of ancient Greek sexuality has resulted in a diminished understanding
of the Athenian perception of Spartan sexuality. The difference between Sparta
and Athens in terms of their sex and gender constellations is most notable in
terms of representations of Spartan women. However, these depictions can
only be fully appreciated in the context of the whole system. In the sections
that follow, I will consider how the Athenians conceived of Sparta and Spartans
broadly, paying careful attention to gender, and then I will focus on Spartan
pederasty, culminating with a discussion of the Athenian construction of Spartan

The Spartan image

Since 1933, when François Ollier first published his still-influential text Le
Mirage Spartiate, classical scholars have been conscious of the fact that much of
what we know about Sparta comes to us from non-Spartan literature, and
many of these sources have the tendency to idealize Sparta.15 Since then,
scholars have refined this notion, noting that some of our sources from the fifth
and fourth centuries BCE, when Sparta was most powerful, are also very
negative. Sparta was a cohesive polis of few men, whose highly structured,
almost cult-like civic construction in its artificial and utopic organization
attributed to Lycurgus, depended on the political, economic, and military
oppression of the periokoi, those dwelling around, and enslavement of the
helots (whose name means captives)—state-owned slaves who were constantly
threatening revolt.
Although the constitution was mixed, in the fifth century, Sparta acted as an
oligarchy, and as this was Athens’ real alternative to democracy (as opposed to
the more frequently imagined possibility of tyranny), the image of Sparta pro-
voked strong reactions since it played into Athens’ major political faultlines.
Thucydides compares the two poleis, articulating the extent to which the
Spartan character was a foil for Athenian character:
48 Laconic sex
ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐν τούτῳ μόνῳ Λακεδαιμόνιοι Ἀθηναίοις πάντων δὴ
ξυμφορώτατοι προσπολεμῆσαι ἐγένοντο, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις πολλοῖς:
διάφοροι γὰρ πλεῖστον ὄντες τὸν τρόπον, οἱ μὲν ὀξεῖς, οἱ δὲ βραδεῖς, καὶ
οἱ μὲν ἐπιχειρηταί, οἱ δὲ ἄτολμοι, ἄλλως τε καὶ ἐν ἀρχῇ ναυτικῇ πλεῖστα
ὠφέλουν. ἔδειξαν δὲ οἱ Συρακόσιοι: μάλιστα γὰρ ὁμοιότροποι γενόμενοι
ἄριστα καὶ προσεπολέμησαν.
But not only in this, but on many other occasions were the Lakedaimo-
nians the most convenient people for the Athenians to be at war with, for
they were the most different in their character. The Athenians were swift,
while the Spartans were slow, Athenians, expedient, the Spartans cautious;
the Spartans were the most useful to a maritime empire like Athens. In fact
the Syracusans demonstrated this, since they were most similar to the
Athenians and were the best at fighting against them.
(Thuc. 8.96.5)

Clearly, as I argued in the chapter on Corinth, Athenian ideas about its

neighbors are integral to Athens’ self-definition as a rising and falling empire in
the fifth and fourth centuries. In this passage we see that Sparta was constructed
as a site of difference—an other against which Athens could construct its own
image. Consequently, there is a persistent concern to take care to distinguish
what Ollier called “la vraie Sparte” from sentimental illusion that still influences
scholarship on Sparta to this day.16 Since the aim of this chapter is not to
determine the reality of Spartan life, but rather to embrace the Athenian dis-
tortion of Sparta and how that perception was encoded in images of Spartan
sexuality, this study approaches the Spartan mirage from a different vantage
point, and will hopefully illuminate more precisely why and how Athens
shaped Sparta in the way that it did.
While its constitution may have been a lightning rod for various political and
philosophical biases in Athens and elsewhere, the perception of Sparta as a
manufacturer of valiant men has never been questioned. The “masculinity” of
Sparta also encodes a number of other attributes that the ancients associated
with gender in ways that are different than we would today. As we saw in the
last chapter, Corinth was gendered feminine through its association with the
courtesan, and this reflected, among other things, the fact that Corinth seemed
to Athenians to be uncomfortably receptive to foreigners. In the same way,
Sparta’s masculinity might be thought of as the condensation of a range of
Athenian perceptions about Sparta and Spartans.
If Corinth was too receptive, the opposite could be said about Sparta. Recall
that in his discussion of banausia, Herodotus delineates a continuum ranging
from devotion to warfare to tolerance of craftsmanship, with Sparta at the
opposite end of the trajectory from Corinth. And just as Corinth’s receptivitiy
to foreign travelers and influence resulted in its being gendered feminine,
implicitly the impenetrability of Sparta contributes to its strong association with
masculinity. One of Agis’ apophthegms neatly articulates this gendered
Laconic sex 49
relationship: “As he was going about among the walls of the Corinthians and
observed that they were high and towering and vast in extent, he said, ‘What
women live in that place?’” (287.6). The Spartans had no walls because, as they
said, their men were their walls. This notion of self-containment surfaces in
numerous representations of the Spartans. It is reflected in their penchant for
geographic containment, self-control, conservatism, and homogeneity among
the citizens (appropriately referred to as homoioi), as well as in Sparta’s restrictive
attitude toward interacting with other cultures and economies.
Tucked away inland in the Peloponnese, Sparta was settled in a natural fortress,
with Mount Taygetus rising to the West and Parnon to the East; the city lay
nestled in the valley of the Eurotas River. In Xenophon’s Hellenica, as the
Thebans first ponder the Arcadian’s encouragement to invade Lacedaimonian
territory (370 BCE), they hesitate, thinking that Laconia is δυσεμβολωτάτη,
hard to enter (Xen. Hell. 6.5.24). In his discussion of the ideal state, Aristotle
uses this same adjective to describe the best type of land for a state: hard for
foreigners to invade, easy for citizens to exit.17
Lycurgus is credited with preparing men for battle by creating a city that was
organized like a military camp:

οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἦν ἀφειμένος ὡς ἐβούλετο ζῆν, ἀλλ᾽ οἷον ἐν στρατοπέδῳ τῇ

πόλει καὶ δίαιταν ἔχοντες ὡρισμένην καὶ διατριβὴν περὶ τὰ κοινά, καὶ
ὅλως νομίζοντες οὐχ αὑτῶν, ἀλλὰ τῆς πατρίδος εἶναι διετέλουν
No man was allowed to live as he pleased, but in their city, as in a military
encampment, they always had a prescribed regimen and employment in
public service, considering that they belonged entirely to their country and
not to themselves…
(Plut. Lyc. 24.1, trans. Perrin)

By setting up the city in the same way as life would be on a military expedi-
tion, Lycurgus attains a kind of internal consistency. The Spartans never want
to suffer the disadvantage of an away game: there is no difference between life
at war and in peace.
Sparta’s geographic integrity was a feature replicated in its political constitu-
tion, and self-control was a quality that Lycurgus sought to imbue in individual
citizens. According to Plutarch, Lycurgus meant to establish a state that was a
self-sufficient whole, comprised of self-sufficient citizens:18

οὐ μὴν τοῦτό γε τῷ Λυκούργῳ κεφάλαιον ἦν τότε, πλείστων ἡγουμένην

ἀπολιπεῖν τὴν πόλιν ἀλλ᾽ ὥσπερ ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς βίῳ καὶ πόλεως ὅλης νομί-
ζων εὐδαιμονίαν ἀπ᾽: ἀρετῆς ἐγγίνεσθαι καὶ ὁμονοίας τῆς πρὸς αὑτήν,
πρὸς τοῦτο συνέταξε καὶ συνήρμοσεν, ὅπως ἐλευθέριοι καὶ αὐτάρκεις
γενόμενοι καὶ σωφρονοῦντες ἐπὶ πλεῖστον χρόνον διατελῶσι.
It was not, however, the chief design of Lycurgus then to leave his city in
command over a great many others, but he thought that the happiness of
50 Laconic sex
an entire city, like that of a single individual, depended on the prevalence of
virtue and concord within its own borders. The aim, therefore, of all his
arrangements and adjustments was to make his people free-minded, self-suf-
ficing, and moderate in all their ways, and to keep them so as long as possible.
(Plut. Lyc. 31.1 trans. Perrin)

Spartan virtue then was not imperial, but rather founded on a notion of self-
control and self-containment.
Thus, the Spartans’ military control of their land and defense of their territory has
a conceptual analog in the personal virtue of sophrosune, self-control imbued in its
citizens. This notion of civic integrity from geographic boundaries to citizen
body finds expression in a Spartan saying: “[Antalcidas] used to say that the
young men were the walls of Sparta, and the points of their spears its boundaries”
(217.e). In Thucydides’ depiction of the meeting of the Peloponnesian confederacy
at Sparta in 432 BCE (after the Athenians interfered with the Corinthian
colony of Potidaea), Archidamus addresses the Spartans and closes by repeatedly
appealing to their civic commitment to sophrosune, self-control, the faculty that
allows Spartans to be steady in good times and bad. He continues:

πολεμικοί τε καὶ εὔβουλοι διὰ τὸ εὔκοσμον γιγνόμεθα, τὸ μὲν ὅτι αἰδὼς

σωφροσύνης πλεῖστον μετέχει, αἰσχύνης δὲ εὐψυχία, εὔβουλοι δὲ
ἀμαθέστερον τῶν νόμων τῆς ὑπεροψίας παιδευόμενοι καὶ ξὺν χαλεπότητι
σωφρονέστερον ἢ ὥστε αὐτῶν ἀνηκουστεῖν, καὶ μὴ τὰ ἀχρεῖα ξυνετοὶ
ἄγαν ὄντες τὰς τῶν πολεμίων παρασκευὰς λόγῳ καλῶς μεμφόμενοι
ἀνομοίως ἔργῳ ἐπεξιέναι, νομίζειν δὲ τάς τε διανοίας τῶν πέλας παρα-
πλησίους εἶναι καὶ τὰς προσπιπτούσας τύχας οὐ λόγῳ διαιρετάς.
We are both warlike and wise, and it is our sense of order that makes us
so. We are warlike, because self-control contains honor as a chief con-
stituent, and honor bravery. And we are wise, because we are educated
with too little learning to despise the laws, and with too severe a self-
control to disobey them, and are brought up not to be too knowing in
useless matters—such as the knowledge which can give a specious criticism
of an enemy’s plans in theory, but fails to assail them with equal success in
practice—but are taught to consider that the schemes of our enemies are
not dissimilar to our own, and that the freaks of chance are not deter-
minable by calculation.
(Thuc. 1.84.3)

In an analysis of this passage, Gregory Crane describes Spartan sophrosune or

self-possession as a quality that is “internal and allows the Spartans to construct
their view of the world and their reactions from the inside out,” thus cultivat-
ing an “internal consistency.”19 He argues that the Spartans cultivated an
autonomous “moral space” that was impervious to fluctuations of the external
world.20 Foucault describes sophrosyne as “a state that could be approached
Laconic sex 51
through the exercise of self-mastery and through restraint in the practice of
pleasures.” Anne Carson notes that in terms of gender, sophrosyne for men is a
nuanced concept regarding “the power to keep one’s physical and psychological
boundaries intact,” while for women it is more circumscribed, restricted to the
notion of chastity, or maintaining physical and especially sexual boundaries.21
In the sense of protecting the boundaries of the self, sophrosyne describes the
personal characteristic of being impervious to external forces.

The founding legend of Spartan valor, Herodotus’ telling of the Battle of
Thermopylae, both corroborates and expands on the themes thus far noted in
the depiction of Spartans in significant ways. Three hundred Spartans, each
with a son to succeed him, were chosen for a suicide mission—to man the pass
at Thermopylae under the leadership of King Leonidas. The Spartans fought
with just a smattering of Theban, Thespian, and Phocian troops besides. When
Xerxes asks Demaratus, his Spartan advisor, to interpret the strange pro-battle
behavior of the Spartans, combing their long hair and exercising naked,
Demaratus tells him that this is how they prepare to fight to the death. He
continues: νῦν γὰρ πρὸς βασιληίην τε καὶ καλλίστην πόλιν τῶν ἐν Ἕλλησι
προσφέρεαι καὶ ἄνδρας ἀρίστους. / You are about to confront a kingdom and
the finest city of those in Greece, and the best men (7.209). Earlier he had told
Xerxes that the Spartans are the best at fighting in formation (7.104). He
famously describes how their commitment is forged:

The point is that although they’re free, they are not entirely free: their
master (despotes) is the law (nomos), and they’re more afraid of this than
your men are of you. At any rate they do whatever the law commands,
and its command never changes: it is that they should not turn tail in battle
no matter how many men are ranged against them, but should maintain
their positions and either win or die.
(Hdt.7.104, trans. Waterfield)

In Herodotus, the Spartans’ reputation is that they are exceedingly brave, but
also that they are subjugated by their customary law. Their master, despotes, is
nomos. It is important to note that despotes in Herodotus has a connotation of
“arbitrary authority,” as Ellen Millender notes.22 The Spartans are raised to
conform utterly to their cultural beliefs, and in terms of warfare, this idea is
uncompromising: win or die.
Even the place the Greeks chose for the land battle with the Persians reso-
nates with the image of Spartan insularity. Herodotus describes the reasons why
Thermopylae was chosen:

ἡ νικῶσα δὲ γνώμη ἐγίνετο τὴν ἐν Θερμοπύλῃσι ἐσβολὴν φυλάξαι: στει-

νοτέρη γὰρ ἐφαίνετο ἐοῦσα τῆς ἐς Θεσσαλίην καὶ ἅμα ἀγχοτέρη τῆς
52 Laconic sex
ἑωυτῶν: τὴν δὲ ἀτραπόν, δι᾽ ἣλωσαν οἱ ἁλόντες Ἑλλήνων ἐν
Θερμοπύλῃσι, οὐδὲ ᾔδεσαν ἐοῦσαν πρότερον ἤ περ ἀπικόμενοι ἐς
Θερμοπύλας ἐπύθοντο Τρηχινίων.
The conquering opinion was to guard the opening in Thermopylae: For it
was narrower than the one into Thessaly and at the same time nearer to
their own land. They did not know about the path, which led to the
destruction of those Greeks who fell at Thermopylae until arriving at
Thermopylae. They learned about it from the Trachinians.

The Greeks chose to engage the Persians at a place near home where there was
little access for the vast Persian army. As Paul Cartledge describes it, Thermo-
pylae, or hot baths, was “the first only truly defensible pass into central
Greece.”23 Like Sparta, Thermopylae is a natural fortress, with a sheer cliff on
one side and marshland and sea on the other. Herodotus places heavy emphasis
on the narrowness of the way in:

ἡ δὲ αὖ διὰ Τρηχῖνος ἔσοδος ἐς τὴν Ἑλλάδα ἐστὶ τῇ στεινοτάτη ἡμί-

πλεθρον. οὐ μέντοι κατὰ τοῦτό γε ἐστὶ τὸ στεινότατον τῆς χώρης τῆς
ἄλλης, ἀλλ᾽ ἔμπροσθέ τε Θερμοπυλέων καὶ ὄπισθε, κατὰ τε Ἀλπηνοὺς
ὄπισθε ἐόντας ἐοῦσα ἁμαξιτὸς μούνη, καὶ ἔμπροσθε κατὰ Φοίνικα ποτα-
μὸν ἀγχοῦ Ἀνθήλης πόλιος ἄλλη ἁμαξιτὸς μούνη.
Moreover regarding the pass through Trachis, it is at its narrowest a half
plethron. But this is not however the narrowest part of the rest of the
region, but before Thermopylae and after, until Alpeni which is after, it is
only a single carriage road and before that along the Phoenix river near the
city Anthela it is only a single carriage track again.

As long as this emphatically narrow pass remained impenetrable, the fighting

went badly for the multitude of Persians. When Ephialtes, an informer, told the
Persians about the mountain pass by which they could flood the plain, they
overwhelmed the Spartans with their numbers. The Greeks were forewarned,
and Leonidas decided to let any non-Spartans go, while the Spartans (and a few
others) fought to the death, as Herodotus supposes, calculating that he would
win great renown for Sparta from his valor, at the same time trusting an oracle that
predicted either Sparta would be laid low by the Persians, or a king, descended
from Heracles, as Leonidas was, would die in battle.
The detail that Leonidas is descended from Heracles is significant. For
Heracles, from whom the Dorians and especially the kings traced their lineage,
is a hero who is “compulsively masculine,” “the very type of the super male.”24
He is invincible, dominating, and extremely virile. He is reputed to have had
72 sons by many women, and in one version a single daughter (Aristotle
HA 7.6585b22–24), “the exception that confirms the rule.”25 The Spartans
Laconic sex 53
descend from the most virile hero who is so manly he only has sons.
Significantly, he is not characterized by moderation in any respect, but rather
by its opposite. After proving himself the bravest of heroes (ἀνὴρ γενόμενος
ἄριστος), Leonidas died in battle. As in the case of Hector, the two
sides fought over his corpse, and eventually the Spartans were able to drag his
body away.
Simonides remembered the glory of the Spartan warriors who fought for
Greece in the battle of Thermopylae soon after the event. The fallen were
described as having met a beautiful death:

τῶν ἐν θερμοπύλαις θανόντων

εὐκλεὴς μὲν ἁ τύχα, καλός δ᾿ὁ πότμος
βωμὸς δ᾿ὁ τάφος, πρὸ γόων δὲ μνᾶστις,
ὁ δ᾿οἶκτος ἔπαινος·
ἐντάφιον δὲ τοιοῦτον οὔτ᾿εὐρὼς
οὔθ᾿ὁ πανδαμάτωρ ἀμαυρώσει χρόνος.
Of those dying in Thermopylae,
the chance was glorious and the death was beautiful; their tomb is an altar,
they have remembrance instead of lamentation, their pity is praise. Neither
decay, nor time, which subdues all will obscure their shroud.
(Simonides fr. 531 PMG)

As this fragment makes clear, for these soldiers, their death is their monument.
Herodotus and Simonides have enshrined the glory of these warriors,
depicting their total self-sacrifice for Greece, their utter commitment to valor,
the willingness of a few men to confront many, and fight to the death. He
represents these events as the aetiology of the supremacy of West over East, a
founding myth of freedom over subservience. Returning to these events in
the fourth century, Xenophon reports that Procles the Philasian addresses the
Athenians, urging them to go to the aid of the Lacedaemonians against the
Thebans, because at Thermopylae, the Spartans had acted as a defensive wall,
refusing to allow the Persians into Greece:

εἴ ποτε πάλιν ἔλθοι τῇ Ἑλλάδι κίνδυνος ὑπὸ βαρβάρων, τίσιν ἂν μᾶλλον

πιστεύσαιτε ἢ Λακεδαιμονίοις; τίνας δὲ ἂν παραστάτας ἥδιον τούτων
ποιήσαισθε, ὧν γε καὶ οἱ ταχθέντες ἐν Θερμοπύλαις ἅπαντες εἵλοντο
μαχόμενοι ἀποθανεῖν μᾶλλον ἢ ζῶντες ἐπεισφρέσθαι τὸν βάρβαρον τῇ
If ever again danger should come to Greece from barbarians, whom would
you trust more than the Lacedaemonians? Whom would you more gladly
make your allies than these, some of whom, stationed at Thermopylae,
every man chose to die fighting rather than to live and introduce the
barbarian to Greece?
(Xen. Hell. 6.5.43 trans. Brownson)
54 Laconic sex
The notion of the Spartans as a near-perfect human bulwark against the invading
other is an image that is recapitulated in a variety of contexts. Here Procles recalls
Spartan die-hard bravery to convince the Athenians to aid the Spartans against
the Thebans. This recollection of the Spartan defense in the Persian war more
than a century later attests to the fact that this characteristic had become a
defining feature of Spartan identity. But even in Herodotus’ and Simonides’
famous memorial of Spartan valor, there are the seeds of a less laudatory narrative
about Spartan identity, which lies in the relationship of the Spartans to death.
As is often the case with Herodotus, his account of Thermopylae is ambiguous;
consider his description of the manner in which the Three Hundred fought:

ἅτε γὰρ ἐπιστάμενοι τὸν μέλλοντα σφίσι ἔσεσθαι θάνατον ἐκ τῶν περιιόντων
τὸ ὄρος, ἀπεδείκνυντο ῥώμης ὅσον εἶχον μέγιστον ἐς τοὺς βαρβάρους,
παραχρεώμενοί τε καὶ ἀτέοντες.
Because they knew that they were going to die at the hands of those
(Persians) coming around the mountain they showed as much strength as
they had against the barbarians, fighting with abandon and insane madness.
(Hdt. 7.223.4)

Focusing on Herodotus’ description of the Greeks around Leonidas as aware of

their imminent death and demonstrating their strength against the barbarians in
what for Homer were pejorative terms, παραχρεώμενοί τε καὶ ἀτέοντες, “with
abandon and insane madness,” Michael Clarke suggests that Herodotus registers
disapproval of the distinctly Spartan ideology of total commitment to death.26
Nicole Loraux notes that this is an important distinction between Athenian and
Spartan military ideology: Athenian rhetoric urged its citizens not to fear death,
while Spartan propaganda went further and extolled the idea of death in battle
as an end in itself.27 This association of the Spartans with death resonates with
other perceptions of Spartan culture that might be summed up in the notion of
their reticence to engage in intercourse—a theme which surfaces in depictions
of their economy, politics, linguistic practice, and heterosexuality—topics that
are explored in the following sections.

Keeping the barbarian out

War was not the only aspect of life in which the Spartans tried to keep the
barbarian at bay; Spartan society rebuffed foreign influence in other ways too.
In Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus, we learn that the lawgiver, about whom Plutarch
admits that nothing is surely known, revoked gold and silver coinage, and
replaced it with lead instead. He gave large chunks of lead a relatively low
value, rendering the currency unwieldy:

μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο τῶν ἀχρήστων καὶ περισσῶν ἐποιεῖτο τεχνῶν ξενηλασίαν.

ἔμελλον δέ που καὶ μηδενὸς ἐξελαύνοντος αἱ πολλαὶ τῷ κοινῷ νομίσματι
Laconic sex 55
συνεκπεσεῖσθαι, διάθεσιν τῶν ἔργων οὐκ ἐχόντων, τὸ γάρ σιδηροῦν
ἀγώγιμον οὐκ ἦν πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους Ἕλληνας οὐδ᾽ εἶχε τιμὴν καταγελώ-
μενον, ὥστε οὐδὲ πρίασθαί τι τῶν ξενικῶν καὶ ῥωπικῶν ὑπῆρχεν, οὐδ᾽
εἰσέπλει φόρτος ἐμπορικὸς εἰς τοὺς λιμένας, οὐδὲ ἐπέβαινε τῆς Λακω-
νικῆς οὐ σοφιστὴς λόγων, οὐ μάντις ἀγυρτικός, οὐχ ἑταιρῶν τροφεύς, οὐ
χρυσῶν τίς, οὐκ ἀργυρῶν καλλωπισμάτων δημιουργός, ἅτε δὴ νομίσμα-
τος οὐκ ὄντος.
In the next place, he banished the unnecessary and superfluous arts. And
even without such banishment most of them would have departed with
the old coinage, since there was no sale for their products. For the iron
money could not be carried into the rest of Greece, nor had it any value
there, but was rather held in ridicule. It was not possible, therefore, to buy
any foreign wares or bric-à-brac; no merchant-seamen brought freight into
their harbors; no rhetoric teacher set foot on Laconian soil, no vagabond
soothsayer, no keeper of harlots, no gold- or silver-smith, since there was
no money there.
(Plutarch Lyc. 9.3, trans. Perrin)

Part of Lycurgus’ constitution was designed to seal Sparta and Spartans off from
congress with the rest of Greece. Plutarch also claims that in order to protect
the people from infection, Lycurgus did not let them travel abroad (27.3).
Spartans are better at home, but when you take the Spartan out of Sparta, all
bets are off. This notion finds expression in one of the “Spartan Sayings”:
“When a man from Argos said that the Spartans became more unscrupulous on
going abroad and being out of the control of their long-established laws, he
said, ‘But you, when you come to Sparta, do not become worse, but better’”
(Plut. Moralia 221). Spartan behavior was so highly regulated that it depended
on the confines of the place and the stricture of its laws to keep its citizens in
The historians’ description of Pausanias’ antics in the Persian Wars seems to
be a case study in what could go wrong when a Spartan left Sparta. After victory
at the battle of Plataea, Pausanias marveled at all the riches Xerxes had left
behind for Mardonius. He had the Persian bakers and chefs prepare a meal in
the style of the king, and then set beside it a Laconian meal. Amused at the
disparity, he sent for the Greek commanders and said: “Men of Greece, my
purpose in calling you here is to show you just how stupid the Persian King is.
Look at the way he lives, and then consider that he invaded our country to rob
us of our meager portions” (Hdt. 9.82). Once he makes this comparison, it is as
though Pausaius himself becomes infected by the desire for Persian luxury and
tyrannical power. Thucydides records that Pausanias dedicated a tripod at
Delphi, giving himself credit for destroying the Persian host and raising the
suspicion that he no longer wanted to remain an equal to his fellow citizens
(Thuc. 1.132.2). He was recalled from a siege of Byzantium because the allies
were irritated with his headstrong behavior; he seemed to imitate the tyranny
56 Laconic sex
(μίμησις τυραννίδος). In response, the Spartans sent out no more commanders,
afraid that they too would suffer the fate of Pausanias (I.95.3). Later, he intri-
gued with Xerxes, planning to help subjugate Greece to Persia so that he could
rule all Hellas. He asked for Xerxes’ daughter’s hand in marriage. When he
received a favorable response from the king, he was elated and started imitating
Persian manners:

ταῦτα λαβὼν ὁ Παυσανίας τὰ γράμματα, ὢν καὶ πρότερον ἐν μεγάλῳ

ἀξιώματι ὑπὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων διὰ τὴν Πλαταιᾶσιν ἡγεμονίαν, πολλῷ τότε
μᾶλλον ἦρτο καὶ οὐκέτι ἐδύνατο ἐν τῷ καθεστῶτι τρόπῳ βιοτεύειν, ἀλλὰ
σκευάς τε Μηδικὰς ἐνδυόμενος ἐκ τοῦ Βυζαντίου ἐξῄει καὶ διὰ τῆς
Θρᾴκης πορευόμενον αὐτὸν Μῆδοι καὶ Αἰγύπτιοι ἐδορυφόρουν, τράπε-
ζάν τε Περσικὴν παρετίθετο καὶ κατέχειν τὴν διάνοιαν οὐκ ἐδύνατο, ἀλλ᾽
ἔργοις βραχέσι προυδήλου ἃ τῇ γνώμῃ μειζόνως ἐς ἔπειτα ἔμελλε
Receiving this letter, Pausanias, who was before in great esteem among the
Greeks on account of his leadership at Plataea, was then much more elated
and no longer was able to live in the customary way, but putting on
Median apparel when he went out from Byzantium, and when he traveled
through Thrace a body guard of Medes and Egyptians went with him. He
had a Persian table set for him, and he was not able to conceal his purpose,
but in the small details was clear about what greater intentions he was
planning for the future.
(Thuc. 1.130)

Pausanias was eventually punished to the brink of death for his betrayal. His
conversion demonstrates the intensity of Spartan difference and the degree to
which the Spartan character depended on restriction.
Like in Thermopylae, we see in the case of Pausanias that when outside
influences are ultimately not resisted, dissolution follows. This same pattern is
evident in the case of Cleomenes. Cleomenes was king along with Demaratus and
was successful until the end of his life, when he went crazy. His relatives put
him in the stocks and then he hacked himself to pieces with a knife he
obtained from a guard. While Herodotus believes his mental illness was caused
by what he did to Demaratus (6.84), he notes that most Greeks attribute his
madness to the fact that he corrupted the Pythia, while the Athenians and
Argives believed it was because he desecrated a grove in the sacred precinct of
Eleusis (6.75). However, the Spartans held that Cleomenes had been corrupted
by a Scythian delegation that came to seek an alliance against Darius. He spent
a lot of time with them, learned to drink undiluted wine, and that is what
drove him mad (6.84). The story of Cleomenes replicates the pattern seen in
the case of Pausanias: Spartans are outstanding as long as they can remain her-
metically sealed in Spartan culture, untouched by outside forces, but when
corrupted, they become dissolute.
Laconic sex 57
Sparta actually had an institutionalized practice of driving foreigners away.
While Sparta participated in the same culture of xenia as other Greek city-states,
receiving foreigners under patrons, and welcomed non-Spartans for religious
festivals, it was also known for its practice of xenelasia. This practice was viewed
with skepticism in Athens, and a consideration of it perhaps provides access to
the source of some Athenian ideas about Sparta.
Thucydides is the first to mention the practice, in the terms offered by
Pericles to end the Megarian Decree at the onset of the Peloponnesian War.
Later, Thucydides has Pericles refer to the practice in his Funeral Oration, a
speech that is fundamental to understanding Athenian perceptions of Sparta:

“διαφέρομεν δὲ καὶ ταῖς τῶν πολεμικῶν μελέταις τῶν ἐναντίων τοῖσδε.

τήν τε γὰρ πόλιν κοινὴν παρέχομεν, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ὅτε ξενηλασίαις
ἀπείργομέν τινα ἢ μαθήματος ἢ θεάματος, ὃ μὴ κρυφθὲν ἄν τις τῶν
πολεμίων ἰδὼν ὠφεληθείη, πιστεύοντες οὐ ταῖς παρασκευαῖς τὸ πλέον
καὶ ἀπάταις ἢ τῷ ἀφ” ἡμῶν αὐτῶν ἐς τὰ ἔργα εὐψύχῳ: καὶ ἐν ταῖς παιδείαις
οἱ μὲν ἐπιπόνῳ ἀσκήσει εὐθὺς νέοι ὄντες τὸ ἀνδρεῖον μετέρχονται, ἡμεῖς
δὲ ἀνειμένως διαιτώμενοι οὐδὲν ἧσσον ἐπὶ τοὺς ἰσοπαλεῖς κινδύνους
Then, again, our military training is in many respects superior to that of
our adversaries. Our city is thrown open to the world, and we never expel
a foreigner or prevent him from seeing or learning anything of which the
secret if revealed to an enemy might profit him. We rely not upon manage-
ment or trickery, but upon our own hearts and hands. And in the matter
of education, whereas they from early youth are always undergoing
laborious exercises, which are to make them brave, we live at ease, and yet
are equally ready to face the perils which they face.
(Thuc. 2.39.1, trans. Marchant)

Pericles criticizes the Spartan strategies of hyper-militarism, over-management,

and deceit. He contrasts Athenian openness with the (implicitly Spartan) prac-
tice of the expulsion of foreigners. As Thomas Figueira notes, xenelasia was a
practice initiated by Lycurgus, and was connected to Lycurgan monetary ordi-
nances, demonetizing and prohibiting the use of silver and gold. It was part of
an effort to isolate Sparta from the traffic in goods and services.28
In the Birds, Aristophanes has Peisetaerus threaten Meton with xenelasia:

ὥσπερ ἐν Λακεδαίμονι
ξενηλατοῦνται καὶ κεκίνηνταί τινες:
πληγαὶ συχναὶ κατ᾽ ἄστυ.
Just as in Lacedaemon
They drive out the foreigners and many people are tossed. Blows are
frequent throughout the town.
(Arist. Birds 1010–1012)
58 Laconic sex
The practice is explained further in a gloss on another passage from Aristophanes’
Peace, in which the Spartans are described as subject to bribery, greedy, and
deceitful to outsiders: κἀνέπειθον τῶν Λακώνων τοὺς μεγίστους χρήμασιν. /οἱ
δ᾽ ἅτ᾽ ὄντες αἰσχροκερδεῖς καὶ διειρωνόξενοι /And they persuaded the leaders
of the Spartans with money, since they are greedy and dissembling to their
guests (Arist. Peace 623–624). All of these characteristics seem to be subordinate
to the practice of xenelasia. The entry for διειρωνόξενοι in Suda is as follows:

‘Dieironoxenoi ‘dissembling with guests/foreigners: deceiving xenoi and

lying by means of eironeia and hypocrisy. The Spartans, among whom
there was even a law of xenelasia established. That the Spartans are greedy
and conniving after insignificant things the oracle reveals: money lust will
destroy Sparta, and nothing else. And they were also inhumane about
xenoi, and it was not permitted for any xenos to enter Sparta all the time,
but only on limited days.

As Figueira argues, the Athenians thought of the Spartans as culturally isolated,

hostile toward non-Spartans, deceitful, and greedy. Xenelasia may have been
practiced when resources were scarce,29 driving out foreigners violently with-
out letting them retain their possessions so that there would be more
for Spartans, and thus it is associated with deceit and greed. Dionysius of
Halicarnassus links the close guardianship of citizenship among many Greek
poleis (including Athens), finding extreme expression in the practice of xenelasia,
as a response to declining population numbers, the Spartan problem Aristotle
famously referred to as oliganthropia (Arist. Pol. 1270a32–4). One further ratio-
nalization of xenelasia is represented by Thucydides in the Funeral Oration,
cited above, where he notes that its purpose was to protect the secrecy of
Spartan military activities from inquiring outsiders (2.39.1).30
The Spartans then were self-sufficient in terms of their geography—at home
as well as when they went on military campaign, they were a community that,
at a moment’s notice, would drive foreigners out, they did not welcome trade
with other poleis, and they had non-fungible currency. If corrupted by the
other, they were ruined. As individuals, they were willing to sacrifice their lives
for their city, practiced moderation in food and pleasure, and, furthermore,
they were and still are perhaps most famous for their restraint in their language
—giving their place name, “laconic,” to a quality of speech that is concise to
the point of seeming inarticulate or enigmatic.31
One notable example of Spartans being laconic is found in Herodotus’
account of the Samians, who had been driven out of Samia by Polycrates, as
they applied to the Spartans for aid against the tyrant. After the Samians spoke
at length, the Spartans replied that they had forgotten the first part and could
not understand the last. For their next approach, the Samians brought a bag,
and said: “‘This bag needs grain.’ The Lacedaemonians reply that the word
‘bag’ was redundant, but they still decided to help them” (3.46).32 For the
Spartans, language is unnecessary where the real can be substituted. Thus, the
Laconic sex 59
word “bag” need not be uttered if the thing itself is present. They prefer the
signified to the sign.
Some commentators have associated the Spartans’ lack of wordiness with the
near-complete dearth of Spartan writing in the literary record.33 According to
fifth-century Athenian sources, Spartans were illiterate.34 Indeed, there are
some apophthegms that disparage poetry and the arts: it is said about Demaratus,
the King of Sparta from 510 to 491 BCE, that “as he was listening to a musician,
he said, ‘He seems to do his silly task fairly well’” (Plut. Moralia 220a3).
In Herodotus’ depiction of Aristagoras’ Map (5.49–55), the Milesian tyrant
appeals to Cleomenes, the King of Sparta whose madness was discussed above,
to free the Ionians from Persian domination. He brings a bronze chart inscribed
with a map of the world to illustrate the geography from Sardis to Susa. After
two days of rumination, Cleomenes meets again with Aristagoras and asks how
long the journey would take inland. Aristagoras makes a mistake and tells the
truth: three months. At this, Cleomenes, in good Spartan style, tells Aristagoras
to get out of Sparta. In contrast to the bag in the Samian story, the map here is
not a way to ground language in the concrete reality to which it refers, but
rather a metaphor with no real connection to the land it depicts. In other
words, “the map is not the territory.”35 After two days of thinking, the Spartan
king comes up with a question that demonstrates that the map is an abstraction
and not part of the lived experience of the land.
Aristagoras does not go away, but supplicates Cleomenes at his house,
offering him increasing sums of money for his willingness to commit Spartan
manpower to the Ionian cause. Gorgo, the King’s eight-year-old daughter, is
there (who later becomes enshrined in Spartan lore) and tells her father that
he must leave or be corrupted by Aristagoras (Hdt. Histories 5.51). For the
Spartan king, living up to his Spartan values prevails over helping other
Greeks who are far away. In the context of this narrative of Spartan insularity,
the juxtaposition of the narratives of the map and the bribery draws a con-
nection between the Spartans’ attitude to money and metaphor. Spartans
eschew the domain of metaphor and symbolism for the real. They prefer
concrete reality to the realms of untethered symbolism, avoiding the potential
and generativity that inhere in the domains of language and finance. They do
not reach out, help others, communicate, travel, make exchanges or talk
much, but rather prefer that objects speak only for themselves and that Spar-
tans are free to return to the same fixed reality. The controlling metaphor
here is one of non-productivity. To put it another way, the Spartans did not
favor “intercourse’ with others.

Spartan pederasty: impervious or not?

The next step in this argument is to relate these generalizations about Spartan
culture to their sexual reputation. It is possible to imagine that the image of
Sparta and Spartans as insular and self-possessed, conservative and fixed, and
non-(re)productive would to some extent correlate to ancient notions of
60 Laconic sex
pederasty. For the love of boys is associated with a conservative education and
was indeed a very important aspect of Spartan culture. The culture of pederasty
allows boys to be mentored and molded by older men, promoting institutional
self-replication. One of the secondary definitions of the term lakonizein, to act
like a person from Sparta, is frequently translated as “to be a pederast,” and
while I think that this does not communicate the full meaning of the word,
certainly the identification of Sparta as a culture that nurtured a pederastic
educational system is well-founded. Thus, in 1978, when K.J. Dover published
Greek Homosexuality, he wrote:

The most widely accepted generalization about Greek homosexuality at

the present time is that it originated in the military organization of Dorian
states (so that its diffusion throughout the Greek world was a product
of Dorian influence) and that in the classical period overt homosexual
behaviour was more acceptable in certain Dorian regions (notably Sparta
and Crete) than elsewhere.36

However, as soon as we try to get more specific than this generalization, things
seem to get more complicated and contradictory. The fifth- and fourth-century
sources that reflect on Spartan pederasty are Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, and
Attic Comedy, with Plutarch presenting our most detailed account from a
much later vantage point, writing at the beginning of the second century CE.
Culling from these sources, we can develop a picture of Spartan pederasty,
which was thought to be an integral part of the distinctive system of Spartan
education, referred to as the agoge. Those boys who were not rejected at birth
for deformity joined a herd, agela, at age seven and were watched by older
boys, a magistrate, and any older man in the community. From the ages of
twelve to eighteen, they moved from their homes to live together for military
training, and were taught by twenty year-old leaders. At this point, they were
expected to take grown male lovers, who would introduce them to adult male
life. At meals they were tested and punished if they were found to be inade-
quate. They were made hardy by the allotment of a single garment for all
seasons and a minimum of food, so they would learn to scavenge. In religious
ceremonies their toughness was tested by lashings, and they learned to sing and
dance in formation for ritual celebrations.
On completion of this training, they might join the krupteia, secret service,
living in the countryside and might perhaps at times brutally slaughter helots.
Having arrived at this stage of his education, a boy would be accepted into a
syssition, an eating group that presumably formed a military band. Together
they would dine on simple black broth, taking moderate alcohol and talk of
war and politics, inviting the younger boys to listen.
It is not hard to imagine that this extremely homosocial upbringing fostered
homoerotic relationships. However, how exactly this eros was practiced is not
entirely clear. It is clear that the social organization favored the community
over the family. Adult men were encouraged to play the role of surrogate
Laconic sex 61
father to youths (Xen. Lak. Pol 6.1–2), and Plutarch identifies these role-
models as erastai.37 Writing in the second century CE, Aelian (VH 3.10.12)
adds that the Ephors would fine any kaloskagathos (elite Spartan) who did not
act as the erastes to any of the well-born boys (kalos pephuzotes).
Xenophon is often considered a privileged source because he moved to
Sparta in his later life, and his sons participated to a certain extent in the Spar-
tan agoge (education). But we must consider Xenophon’s representation of
Spartan pederasty in the larger context of his disposition toward various sexual
exchanges. For throughout Xenophon’s writing, there is a distinct bias in favor
of heterosexuality and a papering-over of homosexual relations: his Oikonomi-
kos provides a thorough and perhaps the most idealizing depiction of marriage
of any preserved writing from the classical period; his Symposium depicts ped-
erastic sex as unappealing and unreciprocal, and ends with a desexualization of
pederasty and a valorization of heterosexual marriage. Also, his depiction of the
interaction between Socrates and Theodote (Mem. 3.11ff.) is unique in that it
depicts Socrates in the act of heterosexual flirtation.
In the Lak. Pol., Xenophon says that the love of an older man for a boy was
considered a fine form of paideia, as long as the older man loved his soul and
not his body:

ὁ δὲ Λυκοῦργος ἐναντία καὶ τούτοις πᾶσι γνούς, εἰ μέν τις αὐτὸς ὢν οἷον
δεῖ ἀγασθεὶς ψυχὴν παιδὸς πειρῷτο ἄμεμπτον φίλον ἀποτελέσασθαι καὶ
συνεῖναι, ἐπῄνει καὶ καλλίστην παιδείαν ταύτην ἐνόμιζεν: εἰ δέ τις παιδὸς
σώματος ὀρεγόμενος φανείη, αἴσχιστον τοῦτο θεὶς ἐποίησεν ἐν Λακε-
δαίμονι μηδὲν ἧττον ἐραστὰς παιδικῶν ἀπέχεσθαι ἢ γονεῖς παίδων ἢ καὶ
ἀδελφοὶ ἀδελφῶν εἰς ἀφροδίσια ἀπέχονται. τὸ μέντοι ταῦτα ἀπιστεῖσθαι
ὑπό τινων οὐ θαυμάζω: ἐν πολλαῖς γὰρ τῶν πόλεων οἱ νόμοι οὐκ ἐναν-
τιοῦνται ταῖς πρὸς τοὺς παῖδας ἐπιθυμίαις.
But Lykourgos had in mind customs that were opposite these: if ever
anyone, being such as he should, admired the soul of a boy and made trial
of him to make him into a blameless friend and to be together with him,
he praised him and thought this was an excellent form of education, but if
anyone is seen to reach/yearn for the body of a boy, he accounted this the
most shameful thing, and caused lovers to hold off from boyfriends no less
than parents abstain from love with children and siblings from siblings. I do
not marvel that these things are not believed by some. For in many cities,
the laws are not opposed to desire for boys.
(Xen. Lak. Pol. 2.13–14)

While Xenophon seems to be comparing a chaste love with a physical one, his
precise meaning is not that clear. The verb συνεῖναι does mean have inter-
course in some cases, so it is feasible here that Xenophon is employing the same
type of fuzzy logic at work in Pausanias’ speech in Plato’s Symposium,38 where
he condemns a purely physical love, but finds a spiritual love with sexual
62 Laconic sex
gratification acceptable. Then there is also Xenophon’s statement that it was
bad to be seen reaching for a boy’s body. Does that mean it was OK if done
out of the public eye? Furthermore, ὀρεγόμενος can be interpreted either as a
physical action, “to reach for,” or, more abstractly, “to desire.” Is it the nature
of the desire at issue or the act itself? Later writers, who may be influenced by
Xenophon, seem to suggest that penetration was forbidden. Recently James
Davidson has argued on the basis of evidence from Cicero that Spartan boys
had sex to the extent they could without taking off their cloaks.39 While the
exact meaning of what Xenophon is referring to here is unclear, for the most
part, scholars think that Xenophon believed that Lykourgos advocated a chaste
pederasty, that is to say, non-penetrative.40
Whether this description reflects Spartan pederastic practice or what Xenophon
wants to think about Sparta is another question altogether. Davidson hardly
makes allowances for the gap between institutionalized expectations and
practice at all, and values Xenophon’s testimony above all others—“the gold
standard”41—without considering the evidence for Xenophon’s biases. Adding
only further obfuscation, toward the end of his Lak. Pol., in a discussion of
contemporary Spartan engagement with other Greek city-states, Xenophon
says: “If anyone should ask me if still now the laws of Lycurgus seem to remain
undisturbed, this by Zeus I could no longer say confidently!” (Lak. Pol. 14.1).
The evidence we have from Plato is also contradictory. In his Symposium, the
character Pausanias says that Athens and Sparta have complex (ποικίλος) cultural
norms determining when a boy should gratify a lover or not. A lover who
loves the boy for his body should not be gratified, because he would be
inconstant, while a lover who loves the boy’s soul should be gratified, because
he is invested in the moral improvement of his beloved (182b–184a). Pausanias
represents the pederastic culture in Sparta as similar to that of Athens; he contrasts it
with other places that either allow gratification of the lover tout court, like Elis
and Boeotia, because they are not proficient at persuasion, or places that do not
allow pederasty at all, as in Ionia and the Persian Empire, because they are
ruled by tyrants who are threatened by the homosocial ambition, loyalty, and
the friendship that pederasty engenders (182b–c).
It is interesting that Pausanias likens Spartan pederasty to Athenian
pederasty, since there seem to have been some significant differences. Sparta
had a different vocabulary for lovers (espnelas, those who are inspired, the
lovers, and aitas, the breeze or beloved) and it seems that these long-term
relationships were embedded in the distinctive Spartan educational system. In
the Symposium, the thrust of Pausanias’ description is to define when it is OK
for a boy to gratify his lover sexually. Plato represents this Athenian general as
someone who thinks of Spartan pederasty as involving sexual gratification in
certain cases.
However, in Laws, the Athenian interlocutor describes Spartan pederasty in
far less positive or euphemistic terms. He says twice that in Crete and Sparta
the institutions of common meals and gymnasia promote homosexuality, which
he claims is contrary to nature and motivated by pleasure:
Laconic sex 63
And whether one makes the observation in earnest or in jest, one certainly
should not fail to observe that when male unites with female for procrea-
tion the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to
nature when male mates with male or female with female, and that those
first guilty of such enormities were impelled by their slavery to pleasure.
(Pl. Laws 1.636b, trans. Bury)

Here the crucial difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality is that

heterosexuality is natural and has procreation as its purpose. Departing from the
rhetorical approach of Pausanias, who likened Sparta’s erotic culture to that of
Athens, Plato here depicts Spartan customs as different from his ideal (although
Athenian practices are not mentioned here); they are similar to those of Crete
and are against nature. Furthermore, what he says differs in kind from other
descriptions of pederasty, for he is talking about penetration. Later in the Laws
he continues in the same vein, describing Sparta and Crete as places where men
have the same kind of intercourse with men as they do with women:

For whereas, in regard to not a few other matters, Crete generally and
Lacedaemon furnish us (and rightly) with no little assistance in the framing
of laws which differ from those in common use—in regard to the passions
of sex (for we are alone by ourselves) they contradict us absolutely. If we
were to follow in nature’s steps and enact that law which held good before
the days of Laius, declaring that it is right to refrain from indulging in
the same kind of intercourse with men and boys as with women, and
adducing as evidence thereof the nature of wild beasts, and pointing out
how male does not touch male for this purpose, since it is unnatural—in
all this we would probably be using an argument neither convincing nor
in any way consonant with your States.
(Pl. Laws 8.836b–c, trans. Bury)

The words Plato uses to describe the act make clear that he is talking about
intercourse in a technical sense, πρὸς μεῖξιν ἀφροδισίων / the mingling of
sexual pleasures, and again emphasizes that he finds same-sex pairing unnatural,
conceding that this viewpoint would not find adherents in Sparta or Crete.
Later he says that all men would reproach the man who plays the woman’s part
with the likeness he bears to his model (8.836e). It seems very clear here that
Plato is associating Sparta with, and objecting to, male penetration in a pederastic
relationship. Commenting on this passage, Paul Cartledge says: “This implies
that, had Plato not firmly believed Sparta to be the scene of wide-spread or
universal male homosexual intercourse, he would have been only too happy to
take it as a model.”42
Whatever the actual sexual deed between men our authors are referring to,
or not talking about or whitewashing, it seems clear that Athenians and others
believed that in Sparta there was a robust culture of pederasty.43 According to
Cartledge, “the evidence of Xenophon and Plutarch is sufficient to establish the
64 Laconic sex
important conclusion that pederasty in Sparta was institutionalized and com-
pulsory.”44 Even though our sources present a variety of views about the
nature of Spartan homoerotics, they all believed that Sparta was a culture that
fostered erotic bonds between men. Both Xenophon and Plato represent this
pederasty in positive terms: Plato assimilates it to Athenian practice (Symp.
182b) and Xenophon projects the same anxiety he has about pederasty in
Athens onto his discussion of it in Sparta. As Tom Hubbard has argued, in
Athens, pederasty was the preserve of the elite, and our sources reflect the same
ambiguity about Spartan pederasty as they do about Athenian elites.45 In the
writings of both Xenophon and Plato, we find elite identification with and
anxiety about Spartan homoerotic culture.
For all their distinctive qualities, these sources seemed ready enough to think
of Spartan and Athenian pederasty as similar institutions. Moreover, pederasty
was imagined as being linked to death and non-reproductivity in Athenian
literature. In Plato’s Symposium, the speech of Phaedrus constructs a pederastic
eros that is founded on death, in which lovers are evaluated by their willingness
to die for each other. Pausanias separates procreative heterosexual eros from
“heavenly love” between men, stigmatizing heterosexuality as worldly and
base. Eryximachus effaces heterosexuality from his depiction of eros too. It then
becomes the challenge for the final three speakers, Aristophanes, Agathon, and
Socrates, to reconfigure pederasty as a love that is regenerative, culminating
with Socrates’ recounting Diotima’s lesson about love as “giving birth in the
beautiful.” The coup that Socrates pulls off in his contribution to the evening is
to depict an idiosyncratic pederasty that appropriates the rhetoric of the female
role in procreation and thus is creative, open-ended, and therefore integral to
cultural reproduction. In the Symposium, absent Socrates’ rhetorical flare and his
introduction of Diotima, pederasty excludes or struggles to include the feminine
and so cannot lay claim to regeneration.46

Is the womb a tomb?

In the case of Sparta, instead of recruiting the feminine to inject vitality into a
pederastic system, it seems that the laconic brand of pederasty contributed to a
gender matrix in which the contours of male pederastic eros determined even
feminine sexuality and marriage. Like boys did at Athens, girls exercised naked
in public places and were on view in processions, and were erotically admired
by potential suitors in the process.47 In “The Life of Lycurgos,” Plutarch
describes some distinctive features of Spartan marriage practice:

ἐγάμουν δὲ δι᾽ ἁρπαγῆς, οὐ μικρὰς οὐδὲ ἀώρους πρὸς γάμον, ἀλλὰ καὶ
ἀκμαζούσας καὶ πεπείρους. τὴν δὲ ἁρπασθεῖσαν ἡ νυμφεύτρια καλουμένη
παραλαβοῦσα, τὴν μὲν κεφαλὴν ἐν χρῷ περιέκειρεν, ἱματίῳ δὲ ἀνδρείῳ
καὶ ὑποδήμασιν ἐνσκευάσασα κατέκλινεν ἐπὶ στιβάδα μόνην ἄνευ φωτός.
ὁ δὲ νυμφίος οὐ μεθύων oὐδὲ θρυπτόμενος, ἀλλὰ νήφων, ὥσπερ ἀεί,
δεδειπνηκὼς ἐν τοῖς φιδιτίοις, παρεισελθὼν ἔλυε τὴν ζώνην καὶ
Laconic sex 65
μετήνεγκεν ἀράμενος ἐπὶ τὴν κλίνην. συνδιατρίψας δὲ χρόνον οὐ πολὺν
ἀπῄει κοσμίως ὃ ὑπὲρ εἰώθει τὸ πρότερον, καθευδήσων μετὰ τῶν ἄλλων
νέων. καὶ τὸ λοιπὸν οὕτως ἔπραττε, τοῖς μὲν ἡλικιώταις συνδιημερεύων
καὶ συναναπαυόμενος, πρὸς δὲ τὴν νύμφην κρύφα μετ᾽ εὐλαβείας
φοιτῶν, αἰσχυνόμενος καὶ δεδοικὼς μή τις αἴσθοιτο τῶν ἔνδον, ἅμα καὶ
τῆς νύμφης ἐπιτεχνωμένης καὶ συνευπορούσης ὅπως ἂν ἐν καιρῷ καὶ
λανθάνοντες ἀλλήλοις συμπορεύοιντο.
They married through seizure, not when the women were little and
unready for marriage, but when they had grown up and were mature. The
one called “bridesmaid” took the one who had been seized and cut her
hair to the scalp, and decking her out in a man’s cloak and sandals, she lay
her down on a mattress alone without a light. The bridegroom, not
drinking, and not impotent, but sober, had dined as always in his group,
coming beside her he loosened her zone and lifted her up, carrying her to
bed. After spending not a long time, he went away in an orderly fashion to
sleep with the other young men as was his custom before. And thereafter,
he continued in this way, spending the day with his age-mates and going
to sleep with them, then he would carefully visit his bride in secret. He felt
ashamed and feared lest someone of those in the house might notice him,
and at the same time the bride was scheming and contriving with him so
that they might go out together without the others noticing.
(Plut. Lyc. 15.3–4)

Cartledge suggests that the hair cutting in this rite is probably meant to symbolize
the end of maidenhood and the beginning of marriage.48 The cross-dressing has
been interpreted as apotropaic,49 while Devereux suggests that it was designed
to ease the transition for the young man from the highly homosocial and
homosexual agoge to full heterosexual intercourse. Indeed, this courtship seems
to resemble more closely depictions of pederastic courtship than heterosexual
marriage, with clandestine nocturnal meetings, shame before family members,
and reluctance to make public the liaison.50 Joanna Lim notes that young
Spartan boys wore short hair, and grew it long when they became married.
Thus, short hair was associated with the boys of the agoge.51 The husband was
not permitted to live with his wife, and sometimes children were born before
the couple was married. Plutarch claims that pederasty was so highly approved
of among the Spartans that the women practiced it themselves, and men were
happy to share their eromenoi:

οὕτω δὲ τοῦ ἐρᾶν ἐγκεκριμένου παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς, ὥστε καὶ τῶν παρθένων ἐρᾶν
τὰς καλὰς καὶ ἀγαθὰς γυναῖκας, τὸ ἀντερᾶν οὐκ ἦν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον ἀρχὴν
ἐποιοῦντο φιλίας πρὸς ἀλλήλους οἱ τῶν αὐτῶν ἐρασθέντες, καὶ διετέλουν
κοινῇ σπουδάζοντες ὅπως ἄριστον ἀπεργάσαιντο τὸν ἐρώμενον.
So esteemed were erotics among them that even the aristocratic women
loved maidens, and there were not jealous rivalries, but those who desired
66 Laconic sex
the same boys, made a foundation of friendship toward one another, and
together applied themselves so that the beloved become as noble as
(Plut. Lyc. 18.4)

This willing sharing of the beloved, which correlates to James Davidson’s view
of pederastic practice in general, also extended into the realm of hetero-
sexuality.52 We learn from Xenophon (LP 1.7–9) and Plutarch (Lyc. 15.11–18)
that among the Spartans, wives might also be shared among men:

For example, an elderly man with a young wife, if he looked with favour
and esteem on some fair and noble young man, might introduce him to
her, and adopt her offspring by such a noble father as his own. And again,
a worthy man who admired some woman for the fine children that she
bore her husband and the modesty of her behaviour as a wife, might enjoy
her favours, if her husband would consent, thus planting, as it were, in a
soil of beautiful fruitage, and begetting for himself noble sons, who would
have the blood of noble men in their veins.
(Plut. Lyc. 15.7, trans. Perrin)

While scholars have interpreted these distinctive marriage customs according to

a range of interpretive models, I would again note that from an Athenian point
of view, they seem more akin to pederastic courtship practices than hetero-
sexual marriage. For Athenian women did not exercise in public—young men
did. They wore modest clothing and engaged in open acknowledged public
marriage ceremonies; Athenians did not share wives for procreation, but did
commonly share eromenoi.53
Beyond marriage practices, there are other ways that Spartan women seem to
live in the service of Spartan masculinity to the exclusion of feminine difference.
There is a robust tradition about Spartan mothers in Greek culture, much of
which is preserved in Plutarch’s Moralia, known as “The Sayings of Spartan
Women.” Here, we find that by far the most common theme is a mother
glorifying death in battle as the highest attainment. The most well-known of
these sayings is “with it or on it,” ἄλλη προσαναδιδοῦσα τῷ παιδὶ τὴν ἀσπίδα
καὶ παρακελευομένη ‘τέκνον’ ἔφη ‘ἢ ταύταν ἢ ἐπὶ ταύτας.’/ “Another mother
handing over a shield to her son, exhorting him, she said, ‘With this or on it.’”
(241f3) The mothers are joyous when their sons die in battle (e.g. 241b2) and
renounce the sons who are cowards (241d3), and if they deem their sons cow-
ardly, they encourage them to die. One mother, seeing her son returning from
battle, bearing the news that all of the Spartan army had perished, threw a tile at
him, killing him, and said: “So they sent you as the bearer of bad tidings?”
(241c5). Another accepts gladly the death of her five sons when she learns that
Sparta was victorious (241c7). The anecdotes go on and on in this way, but one
in particular seems to articulate the essence of Spartan maternity:
Laconic sex 67
Ἄλλη, τῶν υἱῶν φυγόντων ἐκ μάχης καὶ παραγενομένων ὡς αὐτήν,
“ποῦ,” φησίν, “ἥκετε δραπετεύσαντες, κακὰ ἀνδράποδα; ἢ δεῦρο ὅθεν
ἐξέδυτε καταδυσόμενοι;” ἀνασυραμένη καὶ ἐπιδείξασα αὐτοῖς.54
Another, when her sons had run away from battle and came to her, said,
“Where have you come now you runaways, evil slaves? Do you intend to
go back down here from whence you came out?” And with these words
she pulled up her garment and gave them a demonstration.
(Plut. Moralia 241c4)

These apophthegms emphasize the notion that Spartan mothers, like Spartan
soldiers, were committed to death as an end in itself. They imagine that in
Sparta, maternal love is subsumed by a military ethos that prioritizes death on the
battlefield. When these cowardly sons return to their mother, she shows them
her vagina, “from whence they came,” to demonstrate that their safe but igno-
minious return from warfare is a regression in terms of the Spartan cultural code.
The sons are born from their mother to die for their country, and coming home
from battle without winning is as unthinkable as grown men returning to their
mother’s womb. In Sparta, generative maternity is reconfigured as a death wish.

Female excess
Aristotle has a very negative assessment of Spartan women that runs along dif-
ferent lines. He suggests that Lycurgus ran out of legislative steam when it came
to organizing the lives of the women:

And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to
make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his
intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who
live in every sort of intemperance and luxury. The consequence is that in
such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizens fall under
the dominion of their wives, after the manner of most warlike races,
except the Celts and a few others who openly approve of male loves. The
old mythologizer would seem to have been right in uniting Ares and
Aphrodite, for all warlike races are prone to the love either of men or of
women. This was exemplified among the Spartans in the days of their
greatness; many things were managed by their women … But, when
Lycurgus, as tradition says, wanted to bring the women under his laws,
they resisted, and he gave up the attempt. These then are the causes of
what then happened, and this defect in the constitution is clearly to be
attributed to them. We are not, however, considering what is or is not to
be excused, but what is right or wrong, and the disorder of the women, as
I have already said, not only gives an air of indecorum to the constitution
considered in itself, but tends in a measure to foster avarice.
(Arist. Pol. 1269b20, trans. Jowett)
68 Laconic sex
The image painted here is that Lycurgus folded at the first sign of Spartan
women’s resistance, and thus they manifest all the weakness he militated against
in Spartan men. They are given to luxury, avarice, and insolence, and they
dominate their men. This image of Spartan women is represented on stage,
especially in Euripides’ tragedies.55 In the Trojan Women, Hecuba represents
Helen’s lust for Paris as lust for his wealth (896–991). Euripides’ Andromache
represents Helen’s daughter, Hermione, in a similar way. She is superficial,
selfish, and cruel. In this play Euripides emphasizes that her character is
dependent on the fact that she is from Sparta, and the play on the whole is
“fiercely anti-Spartan in its sentiment.”56 Andromache has been claimed by
Achilles’ son Neoptolemos as a spear-prize. Astyanax is dead, hurled from the
Trojan walls to blot out the line of Hector, and she has born a son, Molossus,
to Neoptolemos. Neoptolemos has recently married Hermione, who sig-
nificantly is childless and jealous enough of Andromache and Molossus to try to
have them killed with the help of her father, Menelaus.
Menelaus threatens to kill Molossus, and Andromache surrenders herself in
his stead. When she realizes that Menelaus deceived her, she rages at him:

Ἀνδρομάχη: οἴμοι: δόλῳ μ᾽ ὑπῆλθες, ἠπατήμεθα.

Μενέλαος: κήρυσσ᾽ ἅπασιν: οὐ γὰρ ἐξαρνούμεθα.
Ἀνδρομάχη: ἦ ταῦτ᾽ ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς παρ᾽ Εὐρώτᾳ σοφά;
Andromache: Alas; you snuck upon me with deceit. I am deceived!
Menelaus: Announce it to everyone. For I will not deny it.
Andromache: Is this what passes for cleverness, among you who live by
the Eurotas?
(Eur. Andr. 435–437)

Later, Peleus lays responsibility for the lack of chastity on Sparta’s educational

οὐδ᾽ ἂν εἰ βούλοιτό τις

σώφρων γένοιτο Σπαρτιατίδων κόρη,
αἳ ξὺν νέοισιν ἐξερημοῦσαι δόμους
γυμνοῖσι μηροῖς καὶ πέπλοις ἀνειμένοις
δρόμους παλαίστρας τ᾽ οὐκ ἀνασχετοὺς ἐμοὶ
κοινὰς ἔχουσι. κᾆτα θαυμάζειν χρεὼν
εἰ μὴ γυναῖκας σώφρονας παιδεύετε;
Ἑλένην ἐρέσθαι χρῆν τάδ᾽, ἥτις ἐκ δόμων
τὸν σὸν λιποῦσα Φίλιον ἐξεκώμασε
νεανίου μετ᾽ ἀνδρὸς εἰς ἄλλην χθόνα.
Not even if she wanted to could any maiden of the Spartans be modest,
since they are alone outside of the house with young men, with naked
thighs and robes hiked up, and they share running tracks and wrestling
grounds in a way that is unendurable to me. And then should you wonder
Laconic sex 69
why you don’t educate your women to be chaste? You should ask Helen
this question, who leaving her kindred caroused from home with a young
man to another land.
(Eur. And. 595–604)

Peleus’ curmudgeonly assessment comes across as an oddly contemporary

commentary on Spartan educational practices. We see many Attic projections
of the Spartans refracted in the depictions of Helen, Hermione, and Menelaus:
excess, greed, deceit of foreigners, and unreproductive women.
Ellen Millender argues that these tragic depictions of Spartan women are
dependent on Athenian conceptions of barbarian societies: “as Athens’ new
foil, Sparta inevitably inherited much of the conceptual baggage which had
accompanied and would continue to figure in Athenian representations of the
barbarian world, including the association of gynecocracy and autocracy.”
François Hartog also sees connections between the Spartans and Scythians in
Herodotus’ discussion of the Spartan kings’ funeral rites, concluding that the
Spartan kings’ funeral rites pose a “case of otherness where death is concerned …
even within Greece itself.”57 Yet both note that these depictions contain dis-
tinctive elements of the representation peculiar to Sparta. While I think that
both of these scholars point out significant resonances between Spartans and
barbarians, I would frame it slightly differently, and suggest that in these simi-
larities, the Spartans are not thought of as like barbarians, but rather that they
participate in an idiom of degeneracy where the power of kings and women
represents a corrupt political ideology that devalues male citizen identity.
Furthermore, we must consider that the Spartan women on the tragic stage are
all Spartans out of Sparta. Like their male counterparts, in their excess these
women seem akin to Spartan men who leave Sparta, while the women who
stay in Sparta mirror Spartan men at home. If you take the Spartan out of
Sparta, he or she becomes feminized, barbarized, losing Spartan identity. This
speaks to the notion that Sparta is imagined as a radically masculine city, one
that cannot admit the feminine other.
Moreover, the various depictions of Spartan women we have considered, as
figures who replicate masculinity up to and including male sexuality, as committed
to death in battle, or being a symbol of luxuriance, excess, avarice, and ultimately
death, conform to the contours of the Spartan character as imagined in other
arenas. If we return to the meaning of the word lakonizein, what can we now say
about what it meant to the Athenians to act like a Spartan? Sparta and Spartans
were self-contained, they were nearly impermeable in their persons, while their
land and their economy could not sustain foreign influence. They embodied a
conservative warlike masculinity, they nurtured a robust culture of pederasty, and
this was imagined either to extend to or exclude the feminine in a detrimental
way. The Spartans were not a generative people, preferring the same fixed to the
new; rather, their ideology was so extreme that they seemed to valorize death.
They were not productive in terms of language, goods, or population, to the
extent that Spartan mothers gloried in producing sons to die in battle for their polis.
70 Laconic sex
In the Athenian mind, what sexuality represents these characteristics? As I
have suggested, pederasty does in fact conform with many of these perceptions,
but the notion of having anal sex with women is perhaps more pointed in its
significance, for this is an explicit denial of reproductivity—this sexual schema
resonates with the fact that Spartan culture did not encourage trade, travel,
pleasure, or commerce, everything that falls under the rubric of social inter-
course, and also everything that was associated with Corinth and the feminine.
When applied to women, lakonizein repudiates reproduction altogether to the
extent that mothers come to have a robust association with death. This
seems an appropriate stereotype for the Athenians to project onto their most
formidable enemy. They represent them through a behavior that seems to be
caught up in fear. It is presumably so shameful that it is hardly mentioned and it
signifies hyper-masculinity that is so intense that it even perverts the hetero-
sexual realm, suggesting hyper-militarism, the specter of death, and a culture of
The Spartans were characterized by a sexual practice that was filled with
anxiety in the case of young men and hardly ever mentioned in the case of
women. In the next chapter, which considers stereotypes about Sparta as fig-
ured in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and comedy in general, we will further explore
how the Athenians encoded their mirage of Sparta in a sexual stereotype.

1 Jocelyn 1980: 13.
2 Henderson 1991: 210.
3 Wohl 1999: 352.
4 Dover 1978: 187–188.
5 Dover 1978: 188.
6 Davidson 2001: 41.
7 On Herodotus, see Pomeroy 1975: 144; Dover 1978: 101–102. There are some
vase-paintings, from Athens and elsewhere, interpreted as heterosexual anal sex (e.g.
R577, B670 and CP16).
8 See Chapter 2 for a discussion of this usage in Wealth. I will discuss Lysistrata 1148 in
detail in the following chapter.
9 Bersani 1987.
10 Halperin 1990: 130; see also Dover 1978; and Foucault 1985. Cf. Davidson 1998,
especially 168–172, 175–179; and Davidson 2001. See too Boswell 1982–1983: 102,
107, 110, cited in Bersani 1987: 212.
11 Hindley 1994.
12 This is the translation of Carleton Brownson (Xenophon 1918 and 1921).
13 Aulos-playing was common at erotically charged symposia; see Xenophon’s Sympo-
sium 2.1–3; Theognis 237–243. In Plato’s Symposium, the guests decide to send the
Flute-girl out and entertain themselves with conversation (176 e–177a): Gilhuly 2009:
62–65; see also Protagoras 347b9–d5; and Plut. Alc. 2.4; Harmon 2005: 354–355.
14 Hindley 1994: 360.
15 Ollier 1933.
16 Ollier 1933: 35.
17 Politics I 7.1326b41.
18 For a discussion of Plutarch’s Spartan history, see Starr (1965: 260).
Laconic sex 71
19 Crane 1988: 204.
20 Crane 1988: 204–206.
21 Carson 1990: 142.
22 Millender 2002: 30; Most, G., 1996: 11-35.
23 Cartledge 2006: 47.
24 Slater 1968: 337 and 339.
25 Loraux 1995: 119.
26 Clarke 2002.
27 Loraux 1995: 63–74; Clarke 2002: 75.
28 Figueira 2003, especially 44–47.
29 Figueira 2003: 57.
30 Figueira 2003: 58.
31 Cartledge 2004: 169.
32 For an analysis of the contest between modes of communication, Ionian and Spartan,
and words and objects in this passage, see Murnaghan (2001).
33 Janson 1981: 1.
34 See Cartledge 1978; and 90F 2.10 DK “Dissoi Logoi,” Pl. Prot. 342a ff. Isocrates
Panath. 209.
35 Korzybski 1941: 58.
36 Dover 1978: 185.
37 Cartledge 2001: 97.
38 See below.
39 De Re. 4.4: Lacedaemonii ipsi, cum omnia concedunt in amore iuvenum praeter
stuprum, tenui sane muro dissaepiunt id, quod excipiunt; conplexus enim con-
cubitusque permittunt palliis interiectis / But the Spartans themselves, even though
they allow everything in the love of youths beyond the shameful act itself, for I
believe that they actually separate that thing which they prohibit by a wall; for they
permit embraces and lying down together with their cloaks interjected.
40 Cartledge 2001: 94; Davidson 2007: 330.
41 Davidson 2007: 315.
42 Cartledge 2001: 208 n. 21. In his Politics, 2. 1269.b, Aristotle also comments on
Spartan predilections, saying that warlike people are either under the sway of the
company of men or women and this is why the Spartan women manage their
affairs. I think this statement is ambiguous about sexuality and will consider it below
in my discussion of the sociology of gender in Sparta.
43 As an aside, I would like to make the strong claim that the gap between the signifier
and sign is perhaps nowhere greater than in discussions of sex. The history of
sexuality should acknowledge that it must be primarily discursive. The enterprise of
recuperating Spartan sex from texts seems to me to be wrongheaded. Even if some
sources say that Spartan boys were courted with their clothes on, should we really
believe that Spartan pederasty was a chaste love? Couldn’t a prohibition encourage
the act it forbids? How much does what is said about sex ever correlate with the act?
44 Cartledge 2001: 97.
45 Hubbard 1998: 71.
46 See Gilhuly 2009: Chapter 3.
47 Plut. Lyc. 15.1 The image of athletic girls lends itself to association with eros, since
gymnasia were known as places where beautiful youths could be seen naked, to
the extent that erotics at gymnasia had to be regulated: Aeschin 1.10, 12; see also
Aristophanes’ Clouds 973–976; Scanlon 2002: 214–215.
48 Cartledge 2001: 101.
49 Gernet 1932: 7, 11, 132.
50 See e.g. Alcibiades’ failed effort to seduce Socrates at Symp. 217e–219d. Note that
Lucian in DOC 5 seems to allude to this practice.
51 Lim 2003: 32.
72 Laconic sex
52 Davidson 2001: 41.
53 Davidson 2007: 26–27.
54 Purves 2014: 101–102.
55 Ellen Millender’s dissertation makes clear that it is through the work of Euripides
that Helen becomes truly “Spartan.” He represents Helen in association with
contemporary notions of Sparta
56 Johnson 1955: 9–13.
57 Hartog 1988: 152.
4 Lyric poetry, rape, and Spartan
song on the comic stage

The most sustained extant comic depiction of the Spartans can be found in
Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Significantly for my argument, this comedy showcases
an Athenian projection of Spartan women and female sexuality.1 In this chapter,
I argue that in Lysistrata, Aristophanes represents the Spartans as failing to
engage in reproductive intercourse, while at the same time contextualizing this
depiction in the midst of the semantic proliferation of Athenian comedy, and
thus forcing the Spartan image to be read in terms of comedy’s promiscuous
and generative production of meaning. The Spartans are excluded from the
regenerative thematic of comedy, reproductive heterosexual marriage, and thus
I argue that Lysistrata is not purely motivated by the pro-Spartan Panhellenic
spirit that so many commentators have seen in the play, but rather that this
superficial unity theme is undercut by a persistent representation of the Spartans
as failing to engage in normative sexual and cultural reproduction.
On the comic stage, we are immediately confronted with a significant cultural
disparity between Athenian discursive exuberance and Spartan semantic
restraint. The Spartans did not worship Dionysos as extensively or in the same
way as the Athenians, and did not sponsor dramatic festivals. Instead, their
performance culture was centered around choral dancing. Vulgar, low culture
was the purview of drunken helots who were made to perform obscene songs
and dances at syssitia.2 “So at Sparta comedy, one of the most important
expressions of democracy in ancient Athens, was connected with Helots and
their social expression and humiliation by the Spartans.”3 In Sparta, there is
some evidence linking women’s ritual to dionysiac worship, but not men’s.4
To cast Spartans on the comic stage, then, is to subject them to a range of
signification in which they would not willingly engage. The bare fact that
Aristophanes represented Spartans on stage in Lysistrata is a form of cultural
In this chapter I will consider the effect of depicting Spartans as inclined
toward anal sex with women, and how that is woven into other aspects of
representations of Spartans. But even the depiction of Spartan men in Lysistrata,
who are counterparts to the Athenians on stage and equally mocked, may have
communicated more than immediately meets the eye, if being the subject of
comedy in itself was considered demeaning for a Spartan. The fact that
74 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
Aristophanes represents Spartans speaking in a dialect emphasizes their otherness.
While Stephen Colvin has written a study about dialect in Aristophanes analyzing
the Spartan speech in Lyisistrata carefully, he claims that there is no comic
ridiculing of non-Attic speakers.5 Rather, Aristophanes’ imitation shows
authentic familiarity with Laconian dialectical features. He does, however, note
that dialect imitation is a facet of geographic characterization and that Aristophanes
“exploits stereotypical national characteristics as a source of humour,” adding
that in the case of Lysistrata, “the Laconian women are tanned and muscular
while their men are obsessed with pederasty and anal intercourse.”6 David Bain
responds that in comedy it is a universal concept that “foreigners are funny,”
conceding that this is “perhaps not a linguistic issue.”7 In terms of my argument,
perhaps the more accurately Aristophanes represents Spartan dialect, the more
pointed the humor.

Spartan men in Lysistrata

In Lysistrata Spartan men are depicted as speaking differently, lacking linguistic
fluency, being bellicose, dirty, anti-democratic, and overly fond of anal sex.
When the women are gathered to discuss the sex strike, Lampito refers to the
pugnacious reputation of the Spartans, mentioning that her husband barely gets
home before he is armed and on his way (105–106). The chorus of old men
describes Cleomenes, the Agiad King in Sparta, in a demeaning way (c. 519–
490 BCE); he backed Isagoras the Archon Eponymous when he was in conflict
with Cleisthenes, staging an oligarchic coup and attempting to take over the

ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ Κλεομένης, ὃς αὐτὴν κατέσχε πρῶτος,

ἀπῆλθεν ἀψάλακτος, ἀλλ᾽
ὅμως Λακωνικὸν πνέων
ᾤχετο θὤπλα παραδοὺς ἐμοί,
σμικρὸν ἔχων πάνυ τριβώνιον,
πινῶν ῥυπῶν ἀπαράτιλτος,
ἓξ ἐτῶν ἄλουτος.
Since not even Cleomenes who seized he first
went away untouched, but
nevertheless breathing his laconic breath
he went, handing his weapons over to me
having a very small little tribon,
unplucked dirty and gross,
he hadn’t washed for seven years.
(Ar. Lys. 273–280)

According to Henderson, Cleomenes is represented as “no mean opponent,”

with his Spartan spirit and unkempt appearance.8 Perhaps there is also the
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 75
suggestion of Athenian sexual dominance over the manly Spartan here. Cleo-
menes is described as not unmolested, ἀψάλακτος, a word related to the one
Lampito uses in the first scene to characterize the way in which the women felt
her up like a sacrificial animal (ᾇπερ ἱερεῖόν τοί μ᾽ ὑποψαλάσσετε, 84). Even
though Cleomenes breathes Spartan breath, which may be a reference (through
an Athenian translation) to the Spartan term for erastes, eispnelas, which means
breather, in a distinctly un-Spartan act, he hands over his weapons to the
Athenians. This detail evokes the disappointment of the Spartans mother’s
advice as she hands her son his shield on his way to battle: “With it or on it.”9
The garment referred to in this passage, the tribon, was worn by Spartans, slaves,
and philosophers. The diminutive form of the tribon is disempowering. While
Henderson says that “unplucked” refers to Cleomenes’ beard (although there is
only one other and much later related usage: Lucian Salt. 5) and the dirty
unwashed detail suggests manliness, I would add that in the passage thus far, the
gaze is wandering downward from breath to weapons to short cloak, and that
the physical description “dirty, gross, and unplucked” is sexually objectifying,
representing the emasculation of a tough foe. According to LSJ, παρατίλλω
refers only to hairs not on the head, and Aristophanes uses the word elsewhere
to describe (male) adulterers who are plucked in the genital area.
At line 618, the chorus of old men say that they smell the tyranny of
Hippias, alluding again to Sparta’s fear of a free democratic Athens and their
desire to establish Hippias as a tyrant. They go on to say:

καὶ πάνυ δέδοικα μὴ τῶν Λακώνων τινὲς

δεῦρο συνεληλυθότες ἄνδρες ἐς Κλεισθένους
τὰς θεοῖς ἐχθρὰς γυναῖκας ἐξεπαίρωσιν δόλῳ
καταλαβεῖν τὰ χρήμαθ᾽ ἡμῶν τόν τε μισθόν,
ἔνθεν ἔζων ἐγώ.
And I fear greatly lest some of the manly Spartans
gathering at the house of Cleisthenes incite the
women with trickery to take our money and the pay
on which I make my living.

In this brief passage Aristophanes weaves together various aspects of Athenian

stereotypes of Spartans: they are anti-democratic, deceitful, and “excessively fond of
anal intercourse with adult men.”10 Thus, Cleisthenes, often the butt of comic
ridicule, who was unable to grow a beard or kept his face clean-shaven, is evoked as
the effeminate Athenian who hosts the Spartans. The men go on to remark on the
audacity of women to suggest that they reconcile with the Spartans who cannot
be trusted: οἷσι πιστὸν οὐδὲν εἰ μή περ λύκῳ κεχηνότι / to whom there is no more
trustworthiness than a wolf with a gaping mouth (629). The wolf is a symbol of
faithlessness and rapaciousness; this description develops the notion of the Spartans
as not to be trusted. Henderson sees a reference to Spartan pederasty here.11
76 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
When the Spartan messenger enters to announce that they are ready for
reconciliation, Kinesias asks if he is a man or a dust cloud, konisalos (982), again
playing on the notion of Spartans as dirty. He pretends his hard-on is a skutale
(991), the iconic Spartan walking stick. When the Spartan ambassadors arrive
on stage, a ridiculous image is conjured by the chorus’ description that they are
dragging their long beards on the ground and they look like pigpens, because
their cloaks are distended by their erect phalli. When the speaking ambassador
is asked how he is doing, he responds in true laconic fashion: τί δεῖ ποθ᾽ ὑμὲ
πολλὰ μυσίδδειν ἔπη; ὁρῆν γὰρ ἔξεσθ᾽ ὡς ἔχοντες ἵκομες / Why is it necessary
for me to speak many words? For you can see in what state we have arrived
(1076–1077), alluding to his hard-on and demonstrating the Spartan penchant
to avoid words when the material world can communicate just as well. While
the depiction of Spartan men in Lysistrata seems to be on a par with Athenian
self-mockery and the kind of comic depiction we would expect from Aris-
tophanes, the genre itself is low and, perhaps from a Spartan perspective,
beneath the dignity of a citizen.

Spartan women in Lysistrata

The subjection of Spartan women to comedy in Lysistrata is more aggressive
than the treatment of the men and, even in terms of Athenian norms, much
more offensive. For instance, Lampito shares her name with the mother of one
of the contemporary Kings of Sparta, Agis II, who at the time the play was
produced was in charge of the garrison at Dekeleia.12 Lampito is the only
woman in the play who has the same name as a familiar living woman, and this
is derogatory.13 Out of respect, Athenian women were referred to through
their relationships to men.14 So while the name Lysistrata may refer through
word-play to Lysimache, and Myrrhine was a common name, it seems that in
these choices, Aristophanes chose a more subtle and considerate strategy to
elicit resonance with contemporary Athenian women.15 Lampito, however,
was not afforded this kindness.
Frustration with the Agiad family seems plausible, since Agis was respon-
sible for the Spartan military post at Decelea, established in 413 BCE, on the
advice of Alcibiades. This cut the Athenians off from the income from the
silver mines at Laurium, from land routes for food imports, and established a
year-round Spartan presence between Attica and Thebes. The desolate war-
weary mood that motivates the play could likely be a response to some of
these constraints.
Another strong association with Sparta that pervades the play and informs the
characterization of Lampito is Sparta’s choral dance culture. Numerous scholars
have discussed its influence in the exodus song.16 In addition to Lysistrata,
Alcman’s Partheneia, Euripides’ Helen, and Theokritos’ 18th Idyll all seem to
reflect a widespread and long-term familiarity with a rich culture of female
choral dance in Sparta.17 Spartan musical culture was known to be very static
and traditional:
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 77
διετήρησαν δὲ μάλιστα τῶν Ἑλλήνων Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὴν μουσικήν,
πλείστῃ αὐτῇ χρώμενοι, καὶ συχνοὶ παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἐγένοντο μελῶν ποιηταί.
τηροῦσιν δὲ καὶ νῦν τὰς ἀρχαίας ᾠδὰς ἐπιμελῶς.
The Lakedaimonians most of all Greeks preserve their music, they made
much use of it, and frequently there were lyric poets among them. Even
now they guard their old songs very carefully.
(Ath. Deip. 14.632f)

Moreover, it is assumed that Spartan royalty performed the role of choral

leadership and, as I will argue below, I think that Lampito is introduced in the
play in connection to her role in Spartan ritual dance.

The introduction of Lampito

In the section that follows, I will examine the allusions to Spartan music
and consider how they are intertwined with other thematic concerns of the
play. I will suggest that Aristophanes interlaces the charming, conservative imagery
of Spartan choral dance with less flattering associations of Spartan culture, in
particular the Spartan penchant for anal sex with women, and thus does some-
thing very un-Spartan to that which is essentially Spartan. In Lysistrata,
Aristophanes animates Spartan ritual culture in a context of promiscuous sig-
nification, thus forcing Spartan dance into dialogue with Sparta’s sexual reputation
in Athens, and Spartan culture into the multifarious conversation of the Athenian
comic stage.
As mother of King Agis, Lampito was a member of the Agiadai. Schwyzer
identifies the suffix used in Lampito’s name as appropriate to Kosenamen or a
nickname.18 The connotation of λαμπ- is shining or lustrous. For instance, one
of Dawn’s horses is named Λαμπος, “Bright.” Henderson claims that the suffix
of Lampito connotes sacerdotal privileges. If we imagine that Lampito was
known for her role in Spartan choral dance, which seems likely for a female
member of one of the ruling families, then some admittedly loose yet intriguing
associations come into play between Lampito and Agido, one of the women
named in Alcman’s Partheneion PMG 1:

ἐγὼν δ᾿ἀείδω
Αγίδως τὸ φῶς· ὁρῶ
Ϝ’ ὥτ᾿ ἅλιον ὅνπερ ἇμιν
Ἀγιδὼ μαρτύρεται
Φαίνην· ἐμὲ δ᾿οὔτ ἐπαινῆν
οὔτε ἁμῶς ἐῇ· δοκεῖ γάρ ἤμεν αὐτὰ
ἐκπρεπὴς τὼς ὥπερ αἵ τις
ἐν βοτοῖς στάσειεν ἵππον
παγὸν ἀεθλοφόρον καναχάποδα
τῶν ὑποπετρίδιων ὀνείρων.
78 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
I sing the light of Agido. I see her like the Sun, which Agido summons to
shine in witness for us. To praise or blame her I am not allowed in any
way by our famous leader of the Choir. For she herself seems to be
supreme, as if one were to set among the herds a prize winning courser,
strong with ringing hooves, of the race of winged dreams.
(PMG 1.39–49, trans. Bowra)

Alcman depicts Agido as a light, shining like the sun. The suffix -ido is nearly
equivalent to -ito, the ending of Lampito’s name, so where Agido is thought to
refer to the leader of the choir from the ἀγ- root, as well as to identify her as a
member of the Agiad family, we know that Lampito is also a member of that
dynasty and her name signifies the brightness associated with Agido in the
Partheneion. There is disagreement about whom the αὐτὰ of line 43 refers to,
Agido or Hagesichora, whose name also means leader of the dance. What is
clear is that “she” is like a horse among cows.
Greg Nagy suggests we should understand Agido and Hagesichora as choral
characters in a sacred mimesis. He also notes that in various depictions of
Spartan dance, Helen acts as a leader of the dance: for instance, in Theokritos
18, “the Epithalamium for Helen,” a chorus of Spartan girls evoke Helen as
chorus leader in language that recalls the description of Hagesichora in Alcman
PMG l. [39]19 However, he notes that Agido and Hagesichora should probably
be more closely identified with the Leukippides. Pausanius (3.16.1) records that
Spartan priestesses to the Leukipiddes were eponymously named (and their
name means white horse). Nagy continues:

It is crucial to stress this explicit identification here, by name, of distinct

human and superhuman characters. The human characters are acted out by
“priestesses” who are the variable element in the identification, in that they
are continually being replaced by upcoming generations, in the progression
of time, while the immortal superhuman characters are the constant, with
an unchanging identity that provides the ultimate model. Just as the
human Leukippides are not, from our standpoint, real people but instead
characters filled by different real people at the different times of seasonally
recurring ritual events, so also the figures named as Agido and Hagesikhora
in Alcman PMG 1 are for me not real people per se but choral characters.
Specifically I suggest that Agido and Hagesikhora are characters in a sacred
mimesis, through the ritual of choral performance, of the cult figures
known to Pausanias as the Leukippides.

If we follow Nagy, then the identification of Lampito with a ritual performer

of a role in Alcman’s Partheneion would suggest that we see her as a ritual sub-
stitute for the human and superhuman characters (perhaps the animals as well?)
named in Alcman’s song.
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 79
In a lucid literary reading that is complementary to Nagy’s interpretation,
Anastasia Peponi notes the way deixis functions in these lines. She traces how
Agido and Hagesichora are elicited through two different fields, light and
movement, as depicted by the language of horses running, together signifying
the coming of dawn. Furthermore, these two sets of imagery are completely
interwoven so as to be indistinguishable, and are constantly being reshaped. She
refers to Hagesichora as “a spectrum of constant visual metamorphoses.”21
Peponi suggests that Agido and Hagesichora lead choruses in a ritual performed
at dawn in honor of Artemis Orthria —celebrating the rising sun. The imagery
of beautiful women, golden sunlight, and galloping horse flow one into
another, coaxing the mind’s eye to see the various images coming into view as
though variously illuminated by the coming light of dawn.22
Aristophanes’ introduction of Lampito conforms with the notion of Lampito
as Spartan choral performer in other ways beyond just the imagery of light in
her name and her identification with the Agiad family. Lysistrata admires
Lampito as if she were an animal:

οἷον τὸ κάλλος γλυκυτάτη σου φαίνεται.

ὡς δ᾽ εὐχροεῖς, ὡς δὲ σφριγᾷ τὸ σῶμά σου.
κἂν ταῦρον ἄγχοις.
Sweetheart, how beautiful you are!
You have such great color and your body
Is full to bursting! You could strangle/embrace a bull.
(Ar. Lys. 79–81)

The word σφριγᾷ, which I have translated as “full to bursting,” is a word that is
applicable to both young people and high-fed horses. The introduction of the
bull here evokes Alcman’s competition between the beautiful horse and the
cattle. Lampito responds that she stays in shape through adherence to a regimen:
γυμνάδδομαι γὰρ καὶ ποτὶ πυγὰν ἅλλομαι / I exercise naked and I kick toward
my butt (82). Naerebout suggests that ἅλλομαι has choral implications.23 Here
Lampito seems to refer to the bibasis, a vigorous dance performed by Spartan
women, perhaps in a cultic context.24 When Myrrhine comments on Lampito’s
breasts, she responds: ᾇπερ ἱερεῖόν τοί μ᾽ ὑποψαλάσσετε / Don’t fondle me
like a sacrificial victim (84), again raising the suggestion that there is something
theriomorphic about Lampito.25
The resonance with the imagery of Alcman’s Partheneion and the cultic
context it refers to continue in the scene in which the women take their oath
to withhold sex from their husbands. As Lysistrata begins the ritual, she con-
fuses the ritual registers of oath swearing, a peacetime activity, and blood
sacrifice, signaling the opening of hostilities. She asks for cuttings and says that
her oath will involve μηλοσφαούσας, sheep-slaughtering. Kalonike objects that
she should not swear about peace over a shield and then suggests that they
could perform animal sacrifice if only they had a white horse:
80 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
εἰ λευκόν ποθεν
ἵππον λαβοῦσαι τόμιον ἐντεμοίμεθα.
Λυσιστράτη· ποῖ λευκὸν ἵππον;
Kalonike: If we could find a white horse from somewhere we could cut it
as a victim?
Lysistrata: Where is a white horse?

Lysistrata’s question as to where they can find a white horse adds emphasis to
Kalonike’s suggestion, as if to ensure that the joke lands. As Nagy points out, in
Alcman, the choral leaders, Agido and Hagesikhora act out the role of the
mythical characters the Leukippides, whose name means white horse and who
are compared to racehorses in the poem. The local Spartan cult figures are
associated with Helen and the Dioscuroi. My argument has a symbiotic rela-
tionship with both Nagy’s and Peponi’s reading of Alcman. Nagy suggests a
logic of ritual mimesis in ongoing performances of the song, where an elite
Spartan woman plays the role of choral leader who is in turn understood as a
white horse, maybe Helen or one of the Leukippides: “Such characters or
characterizations would be in turn part of a seasonally recurring institutional
mimesis of authoritative role models like divinities or royal ancestors.”26
Aristophanes’ association of Lampito with all the various roles of the women
named in the Alcman fragment we have would confirm Nagy’s contention that
the names Agido and Hagesichora do not refer to real people, but to roles
within a ritual mimesis that represent mythological characters like the Leukippides
and Helen. The changing spectrum of Alcman’s imagery with which Lampito
is identified, the bright leader of Spartans, white horse/Leukkipides, and Helen,
also recalls the poetic logic that Peponi alluded to—a spectrum of related and
transforming images.
In Alcman’s poem, this imagery in turn sets the scene for rape, whether it is
the Dioscuroi taking the Leukippides or Theseus seizing Helen.27 There are
various versions of this story, and many of them involve Helen being very
young, seven or ten. Plutarch records that Helen was sacrificing to Artemis
Orthria when she was seized. The story of Helen and Theseus was probably
known by Homer, since he writes of Aithra accompanying Helen to Troy, and
versions were written by Stesichorus and Alcman.28
In Lyisistrata, Lampito herself refers to Helen and Menelaus, who were
worshipped together in Sparta (Herodotus 6.61.3), saying that Helen distracted
Menelaus from military pursuits with her beauty: ὁ γῶν Μενέλαος τᾶς Ἑλένας
τὰ μᾶλά πᾳ γυμνᾶς παραϊδὼν ἐξέβαλ᾽, οἰῶ, τὸ ξίφος / Just as Menelaus, they
say, threw down his sword when he saw the breasts of Helen naked (Ar. Lys
155). Henderson notes that this line is a reference to Euripides’ Andromache,29 a
play that is remarkable for its anti-Spartan sentiment and vehemently negative
portrayal of Spartan women.30 Through this reference, the characterization of
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 81
Lampito as a performer of Spartan ritual mimesis is further developed, but at
the same time it is contaminated by an Athenian dramatic reference that is very
derogatory toward Sparta. The double and contradictory signification in this
remark—producing Lampito in reference to the conservative, static culture of
Spartan women’s ritual at the same time that it forces this pristine image to
confront a more contemporary negative Athenian representation of Spartan
women—is, I think, at the heart of Aristophanes’ use of Spartan women in
Lysistrata, and how he subjects the Spartans to the Dionysiac experience. He
refuses to allow Spartan culture to be insulated from outside influence: he
brings a quaint and controlled image of Sparta preserving its seventh-century
music and ritual into the modern world and into dialogue with the contemporary
Athenian culture.
In the previous chapter I focused on the comic stereotype of Spartans as
people who pursued anal sex with women, and I think this is an important
strand of signification that is intertwined with the representation of the Spartans
on the comic stage. Indeed, the association of anal sex with Sparta is related to
the myth of Helen’s abduction by Theseus. To recall Photius’ comment: “To
use paidika they call lakonizein, for that is how Theseus used Helen.” In the
figure of Helen, and by way of the emphasis on abduction in Spartan maiden
songs, Aristophanes links high Spartan ritual culture with its vulgar shadow
side—the good Helen of Spartan cult, a representative of a nubile and beautiful
woman is brought into contact with the story of her abduction and anal rape
by Theseus.
Interestingly, when Lysistrata is having trouble getting all the women of
Greece to join in her sex strike, she laments that the race of women is παγκα-
τάπυγον (137). Later, when the women occupying the acropolis are trying to
sneak off to their husbands, she makes up an oracle from Zeus about birds,
claiming that if the birds fly off, they will be called καταπυγωνέστερον (776).
Henderson cites Dover, noting that this word literally refers to a man anally
penetrated by another man.31 James Davidson has made much of the first passage,
using it to support his argument that katapugon, which literally means toward or
into the buttocks, does not signify anal penetration: “In Aristophanes … the
word and its cognates make a lot of sense if we understand a reference to a
general sexual excess … and less if we translate them in terms of passive anal
penetration.”32 The instance of its usage in Lysistrata is a lynchpin of his argu-
ment, referring to the idea that women in Greek comedy are stereotypically
characterized by uncontrolled lust, but I think that Davidson implicitly relies on
the association of anal sex with male homosexuality and not with women
when he suggests that Lysistrata’s use of katapugon could not possibly refer to
anal penetration.33
Davidson is arguing against the overly schematic discourse of power and
sexual position advanced by Dover and Foucault, and while I agree that the
word does not always refer to anal penetration, I suggest that in this case it
does. The humor in the statement lies in the fact that Lysistrata is actually using
the word in both its technical sense and in its more watered-down usage
82 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
referring to a lack of self-control.34 In the immediate context, the women are
sexually uncontrolled, but taking a view of the bigger picture, she is signaling
that the notion of women as objects of anal penetration is a concern of the
drama. Furthermore, as I discussed in the previous chapter, the notion of anally
penetrated women also poses problems for Dover and Foucault’s notions of
Greek sexuality because in their schema, the gender of sexual object does not
matter. But clearly, in this case, it does.
Interestingly, the Spartan penchant for anal sex with women seems to reflect
little about the women themselves; they are decisively not seen as dominated,
but rather especially and sometimes too powerful. In this play, Lampito is a
leader of the women of Greece on a par with Lyistrata; she is the first to agree
to work together with Lysistrata in the sex strike (144) and her capitulation
motivates the other women to join the scheme. Like Lysistrata, Lampito has
positive qualities that would be gendered masculine in the lens of Athenian
gender roles. She has self-control and is able to choose a plan for peace over sex
with her husband, and she is physically fit, performing exercises (the bibasis) that
were practiced by Athenian men.35 In Lysistrata, anal penetration of women
reflects most significantly on Spartan men. In the course of this chapter we will
analyze the significance of this practice on the comic stage. At this juncture,
however, it becomes clear that Athenian sexual discourse was irrational—some-
times a sexual actor is defined by the power position he inhabits, while at other
times he is defined by the gender of the person he engages with.36
This analysis of the introduction of Lampito has shown that Aristophanes
presents Spartan women in the language of traditional ritual music at the same
time that he elicits a vulgar Athenian view of the peculiarities of Spartan sexual
culture. These themes recur later in the play, at the climax of the play, in the
Diallage scene, and in the denouement, the Spartan exodus song; in other
words, throughout the representation of Spartan women on stage.

Diallage, which is usually translated as Reconciliation, also means surrogate. As
I have argued elsewhere, Diallage is a surrogate for the foreign women who
entered with Lampito. They represent Athens’ enemies: Lampito, the Spartan,
the Corinthian woman, and the Boiotian woman. Diallage is figured through
the same metaphors as these women were depicted. She is a sacrificial victim, as
Lampito complained (84), parsed and divided among the men; she is a sexual
object, admired for her sexual allure like the woman from Corinth (91–92),
and she is the land, like the Boeotian woman, about whom Lysistrata and
Kalonike exclaimed: “Lys: She has a fine plain! Kal: Yes by Zeus, and her
pennyroyal is neatly trimmed” (87–89).
Diallage is a mute nude female. Matthew Dillon describes her as a symbol of
pure sexuality, “a triumph of the life instinct over the urge to destroy,” or a
convenient way to unite the men.37 He argues that Lysistrata reflects the arid
conditions of post-Deceleian Athens by foregoing agrarian language and
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 83
deploying women alone as symbols of fertility. Thus, the play is more urban
than other peace plays. He concludes that “Aristophanes’ assertion of a happy
end in the face of a bleak reality is neither ironic sarcasm nor vapid escapism,
but an expression of hope, however muted.”38
While I think that Dillon’s emphasis on the theme of fertility in the play is
important, I come to a different conclusion. Fertility is a central concern of
comedy, which is thought to have developed in part from agrarian rites.
Cornford identified the paradigmatic plot of a comedy as moving from agon, sacri-
fice, feast, to marriage, komos, thus moving from a conflict toward a regenerative
life-affirming resolution.39 What is most interesting to me in Aristophanes’
Lysistrata is not where the play conforms to this paradigm, but where it bristles
against it, revealing the cultural tensions that animate the peculiarities of the text.
“Where society is riven by tensions and inequalities … its ideology will be
complex and unstable, and literary texts will betray signs of the strain involved in
forging such refractory materials into a unified composition.”40 Any suggestion of
reconciliation between the Athenians and the Spartans would have been fraught
with ambivalence, since the Athenians were still in the process of waging war
against them. According to Thucydides, the Spartan garrison at Deceleia and the
dire effects it had on the Athenians only provoked a more intense desire for
victory (7.28.3). In Lysistrata, Aristophanes gives voice to a desire for peace, but
only one that comes at the Spartans’ expense. Aristophanes subordinates the
Spartans in the reconciliation fantasy by persistently demonstrating the way that
Spartans do not partake of the literary and sexual fertility that comedy proffers.
The reconciliation between the Spartans and the Athenians is only possible
because the two cultures have different attitudes toward women and sex. The
Spartans leer after Diallage’s backside, while the Athenians prefer the front. As
Lysistrata lectures the two ambassadors about their shared heritage (which was
always unstable and short-lived),41 the men become docile. When Lysistrata
rebukes the Spartans for turning on the Athenians who helped them in a battle
against the Messenians, the Spartan ambassador admits wrongdoing, but is dis-
tracted by Diallage’s physique: ἀδικίομες: ἀλλ᾽ ὁ πρωκτὸς ἄφατον ὡς καλός /
We did wrong. But how ineffably beautiful is her anus! (1148). As Henderson
notes, “the buttocks and anus are mentioned in comedy almost exclusively
with reference to men.”42 The word πρωκτός had a low vulgar tone and its
mere mention would provoke a laugh.
Lysistrata then criticizes the Athenians for turning their backs on the Spartans
who were allies in overthrowing Hippias and the Thessalian cavalry who were
aiding him, and again the ambassadors respond with desire for Diallage:

Λάκων· οὔπα γυναῖκ᾽ ὄπωπα χαϊωτεραν.

Ἀθηναῖος· ἐγὼ δὲ κύσθον γ᾽ οὐδέπω καλλίονα.
Spartan: Never have I seen a woman so very gaping.
Athenian: I have never seen such a beautiful clinch.
84 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
The reconciliation then goes into its negotiation phase, where Dial-
lage’s body becomes a map of the territories contested in the
Peloponnesian War:

Λάκων· ἁμές γε λῶμες, αἴ τις ἁμὶν τὤγκυκλον

λῇ τοῦτ᾽ ἀποδόμεν.
Λυσιστράτη· ποῖον ὦ τᾶν;
Λάκων· τὰν Πύλον,
τᾶσπερ πάλαι δεόμεθα καὶ βλιμάδδομες,
Ἀθηναῖος· μὰ τὸν Ποσειδῶ τοῦτο μέν γ᾽ οὐ δράσετε.
Λυσιστράτη· ἄφετ᾽ ὦγάθ᾽ αὐτοῖς.
Ἀθηναῖος· κᾆτα τίνα κινήσομεν;
Λυσιστράτη· ἕτερόν γ᾽ ἀπαιτεῖτ᾽ ἀντὶ τούτου χωρίον.
Ἀθηναῖος· τὸ δεῖνα τοίνυν παράδοθ᾽ ἡμῖν τουτονὶ
πρώτιστα τὸν Ἐχινοῦντα καὶ τὸν Μηλιᾶ
κόλπον τὸν ὄπισθεν καὶ τὰ Μεγαρικὰ σκέλη.
Λάκων· οὐ τὼ σιὼ οὐχὶ πάντα γ᾽ ὦ λισσάνιε.
Λυσιστράτη· ἐᾶτε, μηδὲν διαφέρου περὶ σκελοῖν.
Ἀθηναῖος· ἤδη γεωργεῖν γυμνὸς ἀποδὺς βούλομαι.
Λάκων· ἐγὼν δὲ κοπραγωγεῖν γα †πρῶτα† ναὶ τὼ σιώ.
Spartan: We will take it, if someone wants to give us this encirclement.
Lysistrata: What my friend?
Spartan: Pylos, which we have asked for so long and we are squeezing.
Athenian: By Poseidon you will not do this!
Lysistrata: Give it to them my good man.
Athenian: Then whom will we do?
Lysistrata: Ask for another place instead of this.
Athenian: Well then, hand over to us first of all this Echinus, and the
Malian gulf behind it and these Megarian legs.
Spartan: Not all that by gods, good man!
Lysistrata: Let him have it. Don’t make a big deal about legs.
Athenian: Now I want to strip naked and cultivate!
Spartan: And I want to carry dung first!

The land of Greece, the fertility it symbolizes, is mapped onto Diallage’s body.
The contested sites of the Peloponnesian War become Diallage’s butt (the
encirclement), anus (Pylos), pubic hair (Echinous), vagina (Malian gulf), and
legs (the walls connecting Megara and Nisaia).43 While Dillon notes the sig-
nificance of the equation of agriculture and sex, especially in the last two lines
quoted above about cultivating the land and spreading manure, he makes
nothing of the distinction between vaginal and anal sex.
However, for the Athenians, there was a distinction. Recall Herodotus’
description of Peisitratus’ abuse of Megacles’ daughter:
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 85
Pisistratus married Megacles’ daughter according to his agreement with
Megacles. But as he already had young sons, and as the Alcmeonid family
were said to be under a curse, he had no wish that his newly-wedded wife
bear him children, and therefore had unusual intercourse with her. At first
the woman hid the fact: presently she told her mother (whether interrogated
or not, I do not know) and the mother told her husband. Megacles was
very angry to be dishonored by Pisistratus; and in his anger he patched up
his quarrel with the other faction.
(Hdt. 1.61.1–2, trans. Godley)44

Herodotus says that Peisistratus had sex that was οὐ κατὰ νόμον—literally,
not according to custom. This behavior shamed his wife and constituted an
act of dishonor against Megacles that led to renewed political hostilities. Pei-
sistratus here engages in a type of tyrannical sexual perversion that represents
him as being outside of the system of reciprocal regenerative heterosexual
marriage. In this case, at least, anal sex with women is judged to be
Without noticing the important distinction between Aristophanes’ depiction of
Spartan versus Athenian heterosexuality, Dillon goes on to conclude that the theme
of panhellenic unity overrides the lingering misgivings and that the happy ending is
muted optimism.45 Rather, I think that Aristophanes’ vision of unity and hope is
one that purposefully excludes the Spartans and their allies. For the Athenians, anal
sex is not vaginal sex from a different angle. It is not fertile. The comic regeneration
that Aristophanes confers upon the Athenians through the reconciliation scene does
not extend to the Spartans because the stereotype of their idiosyncratic sexual pre-
dilections excludes them from the affirmation of the sexual and, implicitly, social
reproduction that comedy dramatizes.
Aristophanes concludes Lysistrata with a series of songs. And these songs enact
another facet of Spartan resistance to the creative expression of comedy. The first the
Spartan sings while dancing the dipodia and celebrating the successful collaboration
with the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War (1247–1271). In this song, the Athe-
nians are called godlike, σιοείκελοι (1253) for their efforts at Artemisium, while the
Spartans are compared to frothing boars (1255–1256) at Thermopylae. This song is
followed by an Athenian response. The singer first enjoins husbands and wives to
stand together and then invokes an array of gods, Apollo and Artemis, Dionysos,
Zeus and Hera, other daimons, and Aphrodite. The chorus responds with cultic cries
to Dionysos, thus emphasizing the dionysiac element of their song and the play:

ἀλαλαὶ ἰὴ παιήων:
αἴρεσθ᾽ ἄνω ἰαί,
ὡς ἐπὶ νίκῃ ἰαί.
εὐοῖ εὐοῖ, εὐαί εὐαί.
Io Paean! Io alalai!
Leap up, yo!
86 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
For victory, cry!
Euoi euoi, euai, auai.

These celebratory ejaculations have seemed to some scholars a more appro-

priate ending to the play, prompting them to question if the final Spartan
exodus was not somehow a transposition.46 Why is a victory claimed here,
before the Spartan song? I think that the victory cry is for Aristophanes’ play
and for Athens over Sparta. The quaint Spartan song that follows emphasizes
the differences between the two cultures; the juxtaposition of the Athenian
panoply of divine comic influence and Spartan restraint in the area of
signification is precisely the point.
The Spartan song is introduced when the Athenian ambassador asks:
πρόφαινε δὴ σὺ Μοῦσαν ἐπὶ νέᾳ νέαν / Show forth a new muse for a new song
(1295). The response is a song which is anything but new. This introduction is
ironic and leads in to an Athenian version of a dance that the Spartans had been
doing for two-hundred years. The imagery of the song correlates to the
seventh-century BCE poetry of Alcman, thus implying an unchanging ritual
tradition. But here women’s ritual dance is performed by men in ridiculous
costumes; the audience sees something that could not be imagined in Sparta—a
dionysiac version of traditional cultic dance:

Ταΰγετον αὖτ᾽ ἐραννὸν ἐκλιπῶά

Μῶα μόλε Λάκαινα πρεπτὸν ἁμὶν
κλέωα τὸν Ἀμύκλαις σιὸν
καὶ χαλκίοικον Ἀσάναν,
Τυνδαρίδας τ᾽ ἀγασώς,
τοὶ δὴ πὰρ Εὐρώταν ψιάδδοντι.
εἶα μάλ᾽ ἔμβη
ὢ εἶα κοῦφα πάλλων,
ὡς Σπάρταν ὑμνίωμες,
τᾷ σιῶν χοροὶ μέλοντι
καὶ ποδῶν κτύπος,
ᾇ τε πῶλοι ταὶ κόραι
πὰρ τὸν Εὐρωταν
ἀμπάλλοντι πυκνὰ ποδοῖν
ταὶ δὲ κόμαι σείονθ᾽ ᾇπερ Βακχᾶν
θυρσαδδωᾶν καὶ παιδδωᾶν.
ἁγεῖται δ᾽ ἁ Λήδας παῖς
ἁγνὰ χοραγὸς εὐπρεπής.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε κόμαν παραμπύκιδδε χερί, ποδοῖν τε πάδη
ᾇ τις ἔλαφος: κρότον δ᾽ ἁμᾷ ποίει χορωφελήταν.
καὶ τὰν σιὰν δ᾽ αὖ τὰν κρατίσταν Χαλκίοικον ὕμνει τὰν πάμμαχον.
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 87
Leaving lovely Taygetus behind
Come to us, renowned Spartan muse
Give glory to Amyclean Apollo and Athena of the Brazen House, and
the noble sons of Tyndareus
Who gallop along the Eurotas.
Hey, there leap,
Ho bound lightly!
As we hymn Sparta
There choruses dance for the gods and there is the beating of feet where
maidens, fillies
Leaping stir up the dust with fast feet,
And they shake their hair like bacchants
holding the thyrsus and playing.
And the daughter of Leda is the leader,
The pure, lovely, choregos.
Come now band your hair with your hand and leap with your feet like
a deer. Clap your hands to spur the chorus on! And sing for the goddess
most powerful, all winning, Athena of the Brazen House!

We are returned to the imagery of Alcman that was also evoked in the characteriza-
tion of Lampito. The exodus mentions parthenoi dancing by the Eurotas, is sung in
Spartan dialect, lyric rhythm, and seems to represents a choral performance, replete
with internal instructions of leaping, pounding the feet, clapping hands, and kicking
up dust in the air.47 (That the audience was familiar with Alcman’s Partheneia is clear
from the fact that Euripides’ Helen, produced the year before, also evokes the same
imagery (1465–1470).)
According to Anton Bierl: “Everything exudes the spirit of Alcman’s partheneia
which manifestly take up the topic of female rites of marriage in the context of an
annual festival affirming the overall order of the city and nature.”48 There is the
evocation of place through the naming of geographic features and the reference to
the Dioscuroi who will abduct the Leukippides to be their wives. There is the beauty
of the girls, their seductive waving hair, and the analogy of the girls to horses, who
will be tamed in marriage. The lovely Helen is the leader of the chorus: “Fair-haired
Helen is the goddess of the young women on the verge of marriage; she is the ideal
choral leader to lead the dance: she is the symbol of girls, chaste and not the legendary
unfaithful wife.”49
This interpretation of the references to Alcman at the end of Lysistrata as an affir-
mation of marriage and thereby the social order, and an evocation of the good Helen
is not possible in terms of the foregoing reading. In the context of this play, we have
encountered Lampito as a performer of Spartan cultic dance and as an Agiad, perhaps
even Agido, who enacts the mythological role of the Leukippides and maybe also
Helen. We have also seen Lampito treated as a sacrificial animal, following which
her characteristics were transferred to Diallage, the surrogate. In this form she
embodied the contested geography in the Peloponnesian War and became the
88 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
object of Spartan and Athenian sexual predilections, with Spartan heterosexual desire
depicted as non-procreative and therefore out of alignment with the purpose of
comedy. One element of the final song that does not seem to evoke Alcman’s lyric is
the comparison of the girls’ to bacchants, shaking their hair with thyrsus in hand.
Euripides does something similar in his Helen (1353–1367). In his tragedy, every facet
of Helen and her myth is evoked—the good wife, the unfaithful one, the one who is
desired, the one who acts on her desires, the cause of the war, the good sister, and the
cultic Spartan Helen. In Euripides’ tragedy, the dionysiac effect is to take Helen out
of Sparta and to put her in contact with the multiplicity of her narrative identity.
In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a similar dynamic is at work. Aristophanes evokes
the imagery of the Partheneia, casts one of its performers in his play, and brings
Sparta into dialogue with a larger poetic conversation. The reference to Helen
about to be abducted at the end of this play not only evokes the good part of
her story, but also brings to mind the low and debased aspect of Helen. If the
audience knew the story of Theseus raping Helen and inventing anal sex—
lakonizein—then this would be in their mind at the end of the play. If not,
Helen would nonetheless be on the verge of entering Spartan marriage the way
the Athenians envisaged it, and the implication is the same.
Wilamowitz thought the song was meant to sound unrefined and up-country:
“Sparta enjoys choruses to the gods and footstamping,” as Bierl translates him.50
More commonly now, scholars see this exodus as a choral Spartan dance that is a
means to celebrate the panhellenic unity brought about through the course of the
play by giving expression to an aspect of Spartan culture that was well-known from
public performances, high culture, and well-loved. Bierl argues that the allusions to
the Partheneia annul the separation between the sexes and conjoins the Spartans and
Athenians together in a collective remarriage that conveys a sense of peace and
cosmic order.51 While I agree with him that this song is an expression of Spartan high
choral lyric poetry, I think that this aspect of Spartan culture has been tainted by
other projections of Spartan culture. This high-culture scene of the abduction of
Helen, the maiden dance signifying initiation into Spartan marriage has been infected
with the low comic notion of Spartan heterosexual sexual preference. Sparta’s
penchant for timeless stasis is represented by its unchanging ritual culture, and its
reticence to engage in reproductive intercourse on multiple levels is encoded in a
desire for anal sex with women. When Sparta meets Aristophanes’ comic muse, these
high and low images of its culture are inextricably intertwined in a comedy that
subjects Spartan culture to the antithesis of its predilections. In Lysistrata, the domi-
nant, warlike, manly, death-inducing Spartans are made to submit to their antithesis
—the sheer innovation, reproduction, and exuberant fertility of Athenian comedy.

1 I have written about this play previously, and this argument complements my earlier
interpretation. There I suggested that the explicit plot in which the women of
Greece use a sex strike to bring about a reconciliation between the Spartans and the
Athenians is subverted by a ritual subtext in which Diallage, a surrogate for the
Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song 89
female representatives of Athens’ enemies, is symbolically sacrificed. While the sur-
face of the play moves toward peace as well as sexual and gustatory satisfaction, the
subtext enacts Athenian dominance over the Spartans as well as Corinth and
Boeotia: Gilhuly 2009: Chapter 5.
2 Plutarch Lyc. 2:8.9; Constantinidou 1988.
3 Constantinidou 1988: 25.
4 Constantinidou 1988: 15–30.
5 Colvin 1999: 302–306.
6 Bain 2001: 14–15.
7 Colvin 1999: 306.
8 Henderson 2001: 105.
9 Plut. Moralia 241.
10 Henderson 2001: 152.
11 Henderson 1991: 211.
12 This village was located on the trade route from Euboia to Attica and was the pri-
mary land route for food. It also prohibited the Athenians from accessing the silver
mines in Laurium. See Henderson 2001: 77.
13 Gilhuly 2009: 153–154.
14 Schaps 1977.
15 Papademetriou 1948–1949: 146–153; Lewis 1955: 1–12. Henderson (2001) is
skeptical about this association, as is Sommerstein (1990: 5 n.31). See also Gilhuly
2009: 143–154.
16 Willamowitz-Moellendorff 1900: 92; Calame 1977.1: 333–350; Calame 1977.2:
119–128; Perusino 1998; Willi 2002: 139–141; Bierl 2011; Steiner 2011: 306 n.43.
17 In contrast to Athens, where there were domestic cults, private cult is not attested in
18 Schwyzer 1939: 478–479.
19 Nagy 1990: 346; Calame (1977.2: 62) also suggests that Helen represents the goddess
of the morning (Orthria).
20 Nagy 1990: 346–347.
21 Peponi 2004: 302.
22 Peponi 2004: 302–303.
23 Naerebout 1997: 281–282; Bierl 2011: 426. Calame (1977.1: 236–237) sees these
lines and 1308–1351 as related to ritual running in the plantanistas.
24 Pollux 4.102; Plut. Life of Lyc. 14.1–2; Pomeroy 2002: 12–15.
25 Henderson links the analogy of maidens to fillies in the exodus to theriomorphic
maiden dances such as the Arkteia. See Henderson 1987: 156, 221; Calame 1977.1:
26 Nagy 1990: 24.
27 Plut. Theseus 31–34; Burkert 1985: 150; Gumpert 2001: 95–96.
28 Hard 2004: 360.
29 Eur. And. 629ff.
30 Eur. And. 595–601; Millender 1996: 215–277.
31 Henderson 2001: 84.
32 Davidson 2001: 22; see also Davidson 1998: 167–182.
33 See previous chapter, p. 81. Cratinus fr. 241 also uses a form, Καταπυγοσύνη, to
describe probably the female partner of Kronos in fathering Hera/Aspasia in an
“unnatural” way.
34 This conforms to Dover’s analysis that the word had lost its force by Aristophanes’
time and had become a generalized insult: Dover 1980: 113, 143.
35 Lawler 1945: 62.
36 Sedgwick 1990: 44–48.
37 Dillon 1987b: 103.
38 Dillon 1987b: 104.
90 Lyric poetry, rape and Spartan song
39 Cornford 1993: 16-19; Ackerman 2002; Sfyroeras 2004: 251–268.
40 Konstan 1995: 5.
41 For a discussion of the flaws in Lysistrata’s political argument, see Gilhuly (2009:
42 Henderson 1991: 149.
43 For this geographic embodiment, see Henderson 2001: 205.
44 Although Herodotus was not Athenian, this narrative does recount Athenian history,
and Athenians made up at least part of Herodotus’ putative audience.
45 Dillon 1987b: 104.
46 For this view, see Van Leeuwen 1903 s.v.; and Srebrny 1959.
47 Bierl 2011: 415–416.
48 Bierl 2011: 430.
49 Bierl 2011: 431.
50 Willamowitz-Moellendorff 1900: 94.
51 Bierl 2011: 435.
5 Lesbians are not from Lesbos1

According to the BBC, in May 2008, campaigners from the island of Lesbos
mounted an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to stop gay rights organizations
from employing the name “Lesbian,” claiming that the use of the word to
denote sexual orientation violated their human rights. In a subsequent inter-
view, lesbian women countered that the name was given to them, not taken,
in the first place.
How did Lesbos develop a sexual identity? As David Harvey writes, places
“are an intense focus of discursive identity, filled with symbolic and repre-
sentational meaning.” In this chapter I want to examine the evolution of the
discursive identity of Lesbos, how being a lesbian came to be first and foremost
associated with female homosexuality, nearly obscuring in most parts of the
world the base meaning of the word—to be an inhabitant of the East Greek
island Lesbos. This chapter thus represents a shift in direction from the preceding
chapters. While the sections on Corinth and Sparta explored the identity of
Athens in relation to other locations from a synchronic perspective, this chapter
takes a diachronic approach, starting with an Athenian image of Lesbos and
tracing the way it changed over time. This shift in perspective allows me to
explore the impact of eroticizing places, examining the way in which discourses
of place and sexuality are implicated in the construction of identity.
Anyone who has ever been anywhere knows that all places are complicated.
Even the smallest town on a distant island will reveal diversity, peculiarity, and
surprises to the attentive visitor. This complexity is related to our perception of
the openness of place—an openness revealed in the way in which spatial
metaphors are used to convey the possibility of numerous combinations of
meaning, or open-ended interpretations, such as “field of signification” or the
concept of a “horizon of expectations,” which refers to the cultural expectations,
textual conventions, and ideology that readers and authors share. These fields
and horizons are subject to change over time, so that successive generations see
new things in texts. The following argument examines the associations and
projections in the ancient world that laid the ground for the identification of a
place, Lesbos, with female homosexuality.
While there is a sense of permeability to place, each place is also distinctive,
and people are wont to articulate and share these distinctions. Places, as we
92 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
have seen, can be put into words and thus given identities. However, in
contrast to the porous quality of place, language has a way of fixing bound-
aries containing meaning. An unexamined modern conception is that the
association of Lesbos with female homosexuality is linked to the poetry of
Sappho, whose poetry describes erotic scenarios between women.2 While
Sappho’s poetry is not unrelated to the reputation of Lesbos, the dynamic
between poetry and sexuality needs to be examined more closely. Although
her poetry was well-known throughout antiquity, her sexual orientation was
not explicitly defined until centuries after her death, and when Lesbos is
directly associated with women who love other women in Lucian’s Dialogues
of the Courtesans, Sappho is not explicitly named. Furthermore, there is a sig-
nificant gap bridged by associating one person’s birthplace and one’s sexual
orientation, and a still more significant gap between every single person from
all the cities and villages on the island of Lesbos and a collective sexual
In what follows, I suggest that a complex, centuries-long collocation of
cultural conceptions about the culture of Lesbos, combined with Athenian
comic practice, the representation of the courtesan, and the reception of
Sappho, eventually paved the way for the strong association of Lesbos with an
image of alternative female sexuality. Although the figure of the courtesan is
not necessarily integral to any aspect of this web of meaning, the plasticity of
this figure, her relevance to issues of sexuality, and her suitability to represent
women doing unwifely things draw her into this set of associations, where, as
I shall argue, she becomes the sine qua non for the articulation of female
homosexuality. The point of this argument is to show how discourse creates
In his important book on the early reception of Sappho, Dimitrios Yatro-
manolakis considers the transmission of Sappho’s image and her poetry; he
introduces the notion of interdiscursivity, which he describes as “a textural [sic]
interplay among habitually or intentionally enacted systems of signification
from various domains of experience and expression.” This cultural transmission
occurs through “metonymic webs of signification,” that is, the image of
Sappho in Yatromanolakis’ work, or here the idea of “Lesbians,” is projected
through a range of discourses and cultural tropes that transform the meaning of
the subject.3 I have found these notions helpful for conceptualizing the inevi-
tably non-linear trajectory and evolution of the associations pertaining to the
people of Lesbos in antiquity. Yatromanolakis makes suggestive observations
about the relationship between Sappho’s image and its interaction with ste-
reotypes about sexuality, Lesbos, and its musical culture. However, this chapter
has a different emphasis and argument: I consider an arc of literary interplay
that demonstrates how, in the case of lesbian sexuality, discourse constructs
sexual identity. Furthermore, I emphasize the role of the reception of Lesbos,
suggesting that Athenian discourses surrounding “The New Music” and its
personification on the comic stage played a pivotal role in evolving perceptions
about Lesbos and its association with sexuality.4
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 93
Images of Lesbos: erotics and gender
As early as Homer, when Lesbos is mentioned in the catalog of gifts that
Agamemnon wants to give Achilles to persuade him back into the fray of
battle, the way in which the island and its inhabitants are evoked is significant.
Agamemnon says:

δώσω δ᾿ἑπτὰ γυναῖκας ἀμύμονα ἔργα ἰδυίας

Λεσβίδας, ἂς ὅτε Λέσβον ἐῠκτιμένην ἕλεν αὐτὸς
ἐξελόμην, αἲ κάλλει ἐνίκων φῦλα γυναικῶν.
And I will give seven women from Lesbos, knowing blameless works,
whom, when Achilles himself took well-built Lesbos, I myself chose, who
surpassed the tribes of women in beauty.
(Iliad 9.128–130)5

In the first place, Lesbos is represented by its women. They are distinguished by
their beauty and their skill at women’s work, i.e. weaving and other domestic
labor. The reason why Agamemnon has these women to offer is because his
forces overcame Lesbos in war. Here Lesbos is introduced as gendered and
subjugated to the Greek army. At the same time, it is described as well-built; it
is a worthy prize. The erotic aura of Lesbos and its association with the feminine
are replicated throughout the ancient reception of Lesbos, and emphatically so
through the lens of Athenian democracy.
The erotic identity of Lesbos was forged to a great extent in the crucible of
Athenian comic representational practices involving places, prostitutes, and the
personification of style. Making a verb out of a place name and imbuing it with
derogatory and sexually explicit meaning was a familiar ploy in Athenian
comedy. Thus, korinthiazomai means to traffic in prostitutes, phoenikizein means
to give head, and sybarizein is to be a voluptuary. This tactic is important for
the evolution of the meaning “lesbian” because it attributes a shared sexual
identity to people from Lesbos. Eustathius comments on a passage in the Iliad:

περι τοῦ … λεσβιάζειν … γράφουσιν οἱ παλαιοὶ καὶ ταῦτα. εἰσὶ βλασφημίαι

καὶ ἀπὸ ἐθνῶν καὶ πόλεων καὶ δήμων πολλαὶ ῥηματικῶς πεποιημέναι·
ἐθνῶν μὲν οἶον κιλικίζειν καὶ αἰγυπτιάζειν τὸ πονηρεύεσθαι καὶ κρητίζειν τὸ
[ψ?] φεύδεσθαι … ἐκ πόλεων δὲ οἷον λεσβιάζειν τὸ αἰσχροποιεῖν.
Concerning “to act like a Lesbian” the ancients write also the following
things: many slanders have been created through verbs from peoples and
cities and demes. For instance, from peoples, to act like a Cilician or an
Egyptian means to be a rascal and to act like a Cretan means to lie … from
cities for example, to act like a lesbian means to do shameful things.6

As discussed earlier many verbs of this type could denote a constellation of

inclinations; thus, to act like a Spartan meant to be a pederast, break promises,
94 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
and love money. However, he notes that “the ancient grammarians attribute no
characteristic vice to the whole population of Lesbos except the practice of
Despite the help of ancient commentators like Eustathius, it is not entirely
certain what sexual act lesbiazein implies. LSJ defines lesbiazein and lesbizein
succinctly as “to do like the lesbian women, LAT. fellare.” Jocelyn also argues
for fellatio, noting that in a fragment of Pherecrates, the quote from Homer above
is parodied, and women from Lesbos are jokingly assimilated into laikastriai, a
word he has argued persuasively means mouthing of the penis:8

δώσει δέ σοι γυναῖκας ἑπτὰ Λεσβίδας.

καλόν γε δῶρον, ἕπτ᾿ ἔχειν λαικαστρίας
He will give to you seven Lesbian women
A fine gift, to have seven Laikastriai.
(Pherecrates 149 K-A)9

While I follow Jocelyn in his assessment of the meaning of laikastria, I think it is

important to note here that the evocation of the Homeric passage might at the
same time recall the original passage, which described the women as skilled in
blameless works, or weaving— that is, a manual occupation. In the Iliad, the
women are eroticized because of their beauty, but are considered superior as
“gifts” because of their sexual allure and productive capacity. Perhaps then
lesbiazein may imply manual stimulation in addition to oral stimulation of the
penis and thus may mean something similar to laikazein, although not exactly
the same thing.
There has been speculation that this Pherecrates fragment linking Lesbians to
laikastriai plays on the lambda with which both words begin. This same asso-
ciation is articulated in a suggestive passage from Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen,
where an old hag tells a young woman that you put the “L back in Lesbian”:10

ἤδη τὸν ἀπ᾿ Ἰωνίας

τρόπον τάλαινα κνησιᾷς
δοκεῖς δέ μοι καὶ λάβδα κατὰ τοὺς Λεσβίους.
Already poor girl, you want to itch
In the Ionian mode
In fact, you seem to me to be the L, Lesbian-style.
(Ar. Ekkl. 922)

Musurus comments: λάβδα· λαιχάζουσιν οἱ Λέσβιοι ἀπὸ τοῦ πρώτου στοχείου /

L: the lesbians fellate from the first letter. While the meaning of this explana-
tory note is not crystal clear, Jocelyn suggests that Aristophanes’ point is to
elicit the act laikazein without actually having the old woman utter the
obscenity.11 While some scholars think that the Λ refers to the shape of legs in
a sexual position,12 others suggest that the letter is emphasized to create the
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 95
onomatopoetic suggestion of lapping. The context of Aristophanes’ reference
to Lesbians is intriguing, since it is preceded by his reference to the Ionian itch
(κνησιᾷς), and a musical term, τρόπος, which refers to a mode or style. The
desiderative κνησιάω also appears in Plato’s Gorgias 494c–e, when Socrates
pushes Callicles to consider the culmination of scratching freely when one
itches—becoming a kinaidos! It is likely that in Aristophanes, as in Plato, the
term indicates inappropriate sexual initiative or prodigious sexual desire.
While it seems likely that lesbiazein includes an oral component, Dover
cautions that to assume lesbiazein referred exclusively to fellatio is not clear from
the evidence: “‘Lesbian women’ could connote sexual initiative and shame-
lessness.”14 Indeed, the use of the word lesbiazein in Aristophanes’ Frogs, which
I will consider in a moment, would support a definition along the lines of
“polymorphously perverse,” but, I think, with a strong suggestion of orality. In
any case, whatever the sexual innuendo referred to exactly, it involved a sex act
shared between men and women, and was derogatory only to the person
performing the act.
But lesbiazein does have another meaning, not included in the dictionary,
which is rarely mentioned in discussions about sexuality.15 However, this usage
is not controversial for anyone who is familiar with the contexts in which
lesbiazo and lesbizo occur: it denotes making music in a Lesbian style—referring
to a fifth-century perception of voluptuous East Greek music as voluptuous,
suggesting the Aeolic style of Terpander, Alcaeus, and Sappho, or some
combination thereof.
While the original works of these poets were admired, in the second half of
the fifth century the appropriation of Eastern-style music by dramatic poets for
Athenian audiences became associated with a popular hybrid style of innova-
tive, professionalized music known as “The New Music.” The discourse
around “The New Music” was politicized, explicitly in Plato’s famous
description of the degradation of music in the Laws:

… but later on, with the progress of time, there arose as leaders of unmusical
illegality poets who, though by nature poetical, were ignorant of what was
just and lawful in music; and they, being frenzied and unduly possessed by a
spirit of pleasure, mixed dirges with hymns and paeans with dithyrambs, and
imitated flute-tunes with harp-tunes, and blended every kind of music with
every other; and thus, through their folly, they unwittingly bore false wit-
ness against music, as a thing without any standard of correctness, of which
the best criterion is the pleasure of the auditor, be he a good man or a bad.
By compositions of such a character, set to similar words, they bred in the
populace a spirit of lawlessness in regard to music, and the effrontery of
supposing themselves capable of passing judgment on it. Hence the theater-
goers became noisy instead of silent, as though they knew the difference
between good and bad music, and in place of an aristocracy in music there
sprang up a kind of base theatrocracy.
(Pl. Laws 3.700a–701a, trans. Bury)
96 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
Although it seems unlikely that innovations in dramatic music were politically
motivated, Plato’s description makes clear that these developments could be
described in political terms. Plato constructs an opposition between lawful
standardized conventional music, and a contemporary style that mingled genres
and evoked nothing but pleasure. As Eric Csapo notes regarding the elite
reception of this new wave of music: “The critical assault took a pattern
familiar to fifth century ideological debate, tainting the ‘New Music’ as
effeminate, barbarous and self-indulgent.”16 Indeed, the gendering of musical
style has been traced back to Damon of Oa, who, in the 440s BCE, classified
notes as “female” or “male” according to their effect on the listener’s ethos.17
In the Republic, Plato genders musical modes, strongly linking Lydian styles to
the feminine:

λέγε μοι: σὺ γὰρ μουσικός.

μειξολυδιστί, ἔφη, καὶ συντονολυδιστὶ καὶ τοιαῦταί τινες.οὐκοῦν αὗται,
ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ἀφαιρέται; ἄχρηστοι γὰρ καὶ γυναιξὶν ἃς δεῖ ἐπιεικεῖς εἶναι, μὴ
ὅτι ἀνδράσι.
πάνυ γε.
ἀλλὰ μὴν μέθη γε φύλαξιν ἀπρεπέστατον καὶ μαλακία καὶ ἀργία.
πῶς γὰρ οὔ;
τίνες οὖν μαλακαί τε καὶ συμποτικαὶ τῶν ἁρμονιῶν;
ἰαστί, ἦ δ᾽ ὅς, καὶ λυδιστὶ αὖ τινες χαλαραὶ καλοῦνται. ταύταις
οὖν, ὦ φίλε, ἐπὶ πολεμικῶν ἀνδρῶν ἔσθ᾽ ὅτι χρήσῃ; οὐδαμῶς, ἔφη.
“Tell me, for you are a musician.” “The mixed Lydian,” he said, “and the
tense or higher Lydian, and similar modes.” “These, then,” said I, “we
must do away with. For they are useless even to women who are to make
the best of themselves, let alone to men.” “Assuredly.” “But again, drun-
kenness is a thing most unbefitting guardians, and so is softness and sloth.”
“Yes.” “What, then, are the soft and convivial modes?” “There are certain
Ionian and also Lydian modes that are called lax.” “Will you make any use
of them for warriors?” “None at all,” he said.
(Pl. Rep. 398e–399a, trans. Paul Shorey)

Furthermore, as Mariella DeSimone has argued, a schematic opposition coalesced

around Aeolic and Doric music that served as a paradigm for making ethical
distinctions between “The New Music” and tradition.18
From this fifth-century Athenian perspective, playing Aeolic music simulta-
neously evoked a positive image of Lesbian lyric poets as well as the propensity
of Athenian dramatists like Euripides and Timotheus to incorporate complex
Eastern music into the alleged mash-up of genres that modern scholars call
“The New Music.” Furthermore, by considering lesbiazein from the vantage of
musical criticism, we can deduce that Lesbos was gendered as feminine in part
as a result of a fifth-century Athenian rhetorical strategy, following the lead of
Damon of Oa, who used gendered terms to describe the ethics of musical style.
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 97
In the two Aristophanic plays where a verb derived from Lesbos is used,
Wasps and Frogs, the primary issue at hand is clearly music, specifically the
cultural associations of “The New Music.” Wasps dramatizes the efforts of a
young sophisticate, Bdelycleon, to lure his father Philocleon away from his
addiction to judging court cases in the assembly by exposing him to the finer
things in life, especially contemporary sympotic practice. He instructs his father
in the proper way to dress, walk, sit, talk, and sing at a symposium. While
Philocleon feigns interest in his education, he mocks the pretentions of the
elite. In the course of this education, the competition of musical styles, old and
new, is elaborated in both content and meter.19
Bdelycleon tries to teach Philocleon how to sing skolia while an imaginary
auletris accompanies them:

αὐλητρὶς ἐνεφύσησεν. Οἱ δὲ συμπόται

εἰσίν Θέωρος, Αἰσχίνης, Φᾶνος, Κλέων,
ξένος τις ἕτερος πρὸς κεφαλῆς Ἀκέστορος.
τούτοις ξυνὼν τὰ σκόλι᾿ὅπως δέξει καλῶς.
The flute-girl has started playing. Your drinking companions are Theorus,
Aeschines, Phanus, Cleon, and a second foreigner placed above Acestor.
With them for company, be sure and take up the party songs well.
(Wasps 1219–1222)

The father and son then trade skolia back and forth. One commentator notes
that that these skolia (Wasps 1240ff.) are adapted from Alcaeus and Sappho.20
Bdelycleon sings a skolion adapted from Alcaeus—“you man, who desires great
power, you’ll ruin the city yet, she is close to the turn of the scale” (fr. 249
L–P). This skolion is written in Aeolic meter, and Bdelycleon ends with the
Kleitagora song, a drinking song named after a woman poet. It was famous in
antiquity, but little is now known about it. In antiquity, Kleitagora was
thought to be Thracian or Spartan, but Hesychius records that she was from
After Bdelycleon has taught his father the ways of the symposium, the two
go off to put the teaching into practice and the next scene depicts Philocleon’s
bad sympotic behavior. At the symposium, Philocleon is rude, drunk, and dis-
orderly. He then stumbles home and hits everyone he encounters, including
Bdelycleon. He is accompanied by an auletris named Dardanis, whom he has
stolen from the party.
Philocleon tells Dardanis that he has rescued her so that she will not have to
λεσβιεῖν τοὺς ξυμπότας, “lesbian the symposiasts.” Already her name, Dardanis,
which means woman from Troy, associates the aulos-player with the East.
Recalling the musical exchanges between Bdelycleon and Philocleon, and the
prominence of Aeolic music in the father’s sympotic education, there is clearly
a double entendre in this statement. Philocleon’s words have both a musical
and a sexual meaning:21
98 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
ὁρᾷς ἐγώ σ᾿ὡς δεξιῶς ὑφειλόμην
μέλλουσαν ἤδη λεσβιεῖν τοὺς ξυμπότας·
ὧν οὕνεκ᾿ἀπόδος τῷ πέει τῳδὶ χάριν.
ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἀποδώσεις οὐδ᾿ἐφιαλεῖς οἶδ᾿ ὅτι,
ἀλλ᾿ἐξαπατήσεις κἀγχανεῖ τούτῳ μέγα·
πολλοῖς γὰρ ἤδη χἀτέροις αὔτ᾿ἠργάσω.
Do you see how cleverly I snuck you out
just as you were going to lesbiein the symposiasts?
For the sake of these things then pay back gratitude to
this here penis.
But you will not pay back and you will not get busy, I
know that.
But you will deceive, and you will gape wide at this.
For you have already done these same things to many
(Wasps 1345–1350)

With this context in mind, we can see that Philocleon’s joke that Dardanis will
not have “to lesbian” the symposiasts means both that she will not have to
entertain them sexually or play accompaniment to Aeolic music.
The relationship between lesbiazein and song is most clearly marked in
Aristophanes’ Frogs when Aeschylus condemns Euripides’ musical inspiration:

A.: οὑτος δ’ἀπὸ πάντων μὲν φέρει πορνῳδίων

σκολίων Μελήτου, Καρικῶν αὐλήματων,
θρήνων, χορειῶν, τάχα δὲ δηλωθήσεται.
ἐνεγκάτω τις τὸ λύριον, καίτοι τί δεῖ
λύρας ἐπὶ τούτων; ποῦ ᾿στιν ἡ τοῖς ὀστράκοις
αὕτη κροτοῦσα; δεῦρο Μοῦσ᾿Εὐριπίδου,
πρὸς ἥνπερ ἐπιτήδεια ταῦτ ᾄδειν μέλη.
Δ.: αὕτη ποθ᾿ἡ Μοῦσ’ οὐκ ἐλεσβίαζεν; οὔ;22
Aeschylus: This one takes from everything—prostitute songs, from the
drinking songs of Meletus, from Carian flute songs, dirges and dance songs.
This will be made clear immediately—someone bring me a lyre. But why is
there need of a lyre for these? Where is the lady clacking with the castanets?
Come here muse of Euripides, to whom these songs are suitable/adapted
to sing.
Dionysus: But didn’t this use ever play the lesbian part? No?
(Frogs 1301–1308)

Clearly the primary significance of ἐλεσβίαζεν in this passage is musical, and the
sexual connotation is secondary. Aeschylus derides Euripides’ music because he
is inspired by multiple sources that are trivial, erotic, sympotic, emotional, and
pathetic. Significantly, the term introducing this list of degraded types of music
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 99
is πορνῳδίων, prostitute songs, which Meinecke suggests instead of πορνιδίων,
which the manuscripts preserve (and is metrically incorrect).23
The notion that a pastiche of styles is decadent is consonant with Plato’s
criticism of contemporary music in the Laws. The description of this musical
hodgepodge is then embodied somehow in Euripides’ muse, who arrives
onstage playing castanets, ready to sing.24 Castanets were known for their use
in orgiastic ritual and in what Dover refers to as “down-market” music in
general. It seems possible that the muse is dressed in such a way as to represent
an unappealing mélange of base Eastern musical styles, and the joke depends on
understanding the evolving connotation of Lesbian music—that it was once
highly esteemed, but in the hands of “New Musicians” had been appropriated
as part of a new style that was innovative, iconoclastic, and lacking in the cultural
prestige that previously had been attributed to the poets of Lesbos. The trans-
formation of the implications of style can be easily understood by juxtaposing
the tradition surrounding the saying “second only to the Lesbian poet,” which
Suidas records was said proverbially of people who come off second best, with
the degraded image of Lesbian musicality that seems to be represented by
Euripides’ muse.25
However, the exact nature of the decline that is supposed to be depicted
here is not clear. Because of the unusual repeated negative in the interrogative
οὐκ ἐλεσβίαζεν; οὔ; and because we have no way of knowing how Euripides’
muse appeared—both old hag and young hottie have been suggested—it is
somewhat difficult to interpret the musical meaning of the geographic slur.
Mariella de Simone has recently noted that the lines following the introduction
of the muse, which are a pastiche of quotes from Euripides’ plays followed by
dialogue, are composed in an Aeolic rhythm.26 Euripides is being ridiculed for
the way he adapts Lesbian lyric, incorporating it into his Attic drama. Perhaps
we could even understand the unusual repetition of οὐ in a question as a comic
means to evoke the oral sexuality implied by lesbiazein. The red figure vase that
pictures Alcaeus playing his barbiton with the letters “ooooo” emanating from
his mouth suggestively comes to mind.27 In combination with the Wasps passage,
the use of λεσβιάζειν suggests that the idea of Lesbian sexuality comes from
Athens and is the by-product of a critical discourse about music. This idea is
not, however, one that maps onto modern conceptions of “Lesbian” sexuality.

Courtesans, music, and geography

The Frogs passage depicts the comic embodiment of “The New Music” in the
figure of a culturally debased woman whose relationship to the musical tradition
is emblematized by the use and abuse of the Lesbian poetic tradition. As Edith
Hall characterizes the muse, she is the “personification of a qualitative aesthetic
evaluation.”28 Euripides’ muse signifies nostalgia and loss for traditional music,
and stylistic propriety, in much the same way that Mousike in Pherecrates’
Cheiron does.29 In the fragment that preserves this depiction, Justice is asking
Music how she has gotten into such bad shape. She describes her relationships
100 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
with Melanippides, a virtuoso dithyrambic poet who made changes to the lyre,
with Phrynis, a kitharode from Mytilene, a Lesbian city, and with Kinesias, an
Athenian dithyrambic poet. As in the case of Euripides’ muse, Mousike is
embodied as a sexualized and abused woman: she has been lowered, bent, and
loosened. The fragment culminates in a description of Timotheos, who sur-
passes all of her exploiters in evil:

ΜΟ. ὁ δὲ Τιμόθεός μ᾿, ὦ φιλτάτη, καταρώρυχεν

καὶ διακέκναιχ᾿ ᾂσχιστα.
ΔΙ. ποῖος οὑτοσί
ὁ Τιμόθεος;
ΜΟ. Μιλήσιός τις πυρρίας·
κακά μοι παρέσχεν οἷς ἂπαντας οὓς λέγω
παρελήλυθ᾿, ἀγαγὼν ἐκτραπέλους μυρμηκιὰς
ἐξαρμονίους, ὑπερβολαίους τ᾿ἀνοσίους
καὶ νιγλάρους, ὥσπερ τε τὰς ῥαφάνους ὅλην
καμπῶν με κατεμέστωσε ….
κἂν ἐντύχη πού μοι βαδιζούσῃ μόνῃ,
ἀπέδυσε κἀνελυσε χορδαῖς ἕνδεκα.
Music: Now Timotheos, my dear friend, has buried me
And worn me out most shamefully.
Justice: What sort is this Timotheos?
Music: A red headed Milesian: he has
done evils to me, by which he outstripped everyone
whom I mention by drawing devious anthills
all outside the modes and notes that are excessive, unhealthy, and trilling.
And has stuffed me full of wiggles like a cabbage with worms … and if he
happens upon me walking alone, he undresses me
and loosens me up with his eleven notes.
(Pherecrates 145)

Here, the sexual abuse Mousike has suffered doubles as a pejorative depiction
of musical innovation. She enumerates the names and deeds of her successive
abusers, whose violations are increasingly serious. Her list culminates with the
most serious offenders, to whom she attributes a place of origin, identifying
Kinesias as an Athenian and Timotheos as a Milesian. In this depiction, Music
has been sexually mistreated by the onslaught of Athenian and East Greek
musical innovators.
Some scholars have argued that Mousike is a courtesan,30 while others caution
that her status is more ambiguously represented. Henderson says there is
“deliberate ambiguity in the portrayal of her sexual status” and also that she
resembles a hetaira in many respects.31 As I have argued elsewhere, I think that
the contours of the hetaira could be legible to the audience in ambiguous portrayals
of women, without the need for the character to be perfectly delineated as this
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 101
type. Mousike talks about multiple sex partners in suggestive language and
being assaulted when she was out alone at night. Her presentation in this fragment
strongly evokes the image of the courtesan, despite any residual ambiguity.
Pherecrates’ fragment brings together the thematics of courtesan, music, and
geography. Pherecrates implies, as does the depiction in Frogs of Euripides’
muse, that the intersection of Athenian and East Greek music are responsible
for the degradation of music.33 We have seen that the term λεσβιάζειν was
used on the comic stage to epitomize a trend in Athenian popular musical
culture that appropriated aspects of East Greek musical style. A secondary
meaning of this comic term implies a kind of sex performed by a woman on a
man. Lesbianism as sexuality was invented on the Athenian comic stage to
describe an Athenian style of music. Lesbianism therefore comes from Athens. In
the case of the Frogs passage, the personification of musical style as sexual decline
focuses on the comic brand of lesbian sexuality, whatever it may refer to exactly,
through an individual female body suggestively marked as a courtesan type.
The association of the courtesan with lesbiazein is an important strand in the
discursive web in which we see shifting combinations of Lesbos, Sappho, the
courtesan, and muse. The link between Sappho and the muses, or the notion
of Sappho as muse, was probably derived from the prominence of the Muses in
her poetry (e.g. fr 150). Thus, the Palatine Anthology records that Antipater of
Sidon refers to her as “a mortal muse” (7.14), and Plato is credited with calling
her the tenth muse (7.17). The figure of Sappho as muse encapsulates the same
ambiguity between admiration and contempt for Aeolic music that I noted in
the case of Aristophanes’ depiction of the Lesbian muse. For Sappho as muse is
also susceptible to representation as a courtesan. Indeed, in the fragmentary
evidence for the ancient reception of Sappho, there is also a persistent associa-
tion between the courtesan and the image of Sappho.34

Metaliterary heteroerotics
I turn now to the ancient historical and literary reception of Sappho herself. In
this section I will argue that homoerotics were rarely associated with her image;
it is impossible to know whether this aspect of her poetry was ignored, over-
looked, or suppressed. Rather, she was seen through an emphatically hetero-
erotic metaliterary prism; in other words, the process through which Sappho
was integrated into masculine literary discourse persistently imagined her in a
heteroerotic context.
As a public woman, Sappho’s image is stalked by the figure of the courtesan.
Sappho first enters the historical record along with or, rather, in opposition to
the earliest attested use of the word hetaira in ancient Greek literature. The
hetaira Rhodopis is introduced by Herodotus as a fellow slave of Aesop
(described as a prose storyteller, logopoios). In his description of Rhodopis,
Herodotus mentions that she was freed in Egypt for a high price by Sappho’s
brother, Charaxos. In distinction from Aesop, Sappho is identified as a mouso-
poios. After debunking the idea that Rhodopis could afford to leave behind a
102 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
pyramid and then demonstrating the actual extent of her wealth through a
description of her dedication of spits at Delphi, he launches into a narrative
about her reputation:

For some reason, the courtesans in Naukratis are particularly beguiling.

Not only was there the one we have been talking about, who became so
famous (κλείνη) that all Greeks are familiar with the name of Rhodopis,
but there was also another one later, called Archidice, who became the
subject of song (ἀοιδίμος), although she is less notorious (περιλεσχήνευτος)
than Rhodopis. After he bought Rhodopis’ freedom, Charaxus returned
to Mytilene, where Sappho railed violently against him (κατεκερτόμησέ)
in her poetry (ἐν μέλει). That is all I have to say about Rhodopis.
(Hdt. 2.135, trans. Waterfield, adapted)

As many scholars have noted, this passage evokes a range of literary genres that
serve as vehicles for the courtesan’s fame, juxtaposing high and low culture.
Aesop the slave is invoked as a prose writer in contrast to Sappho the lyric poet.
Archedice was ἀοιδίμος, the subject of song, a term with an epic pedigree,
famous from a single use in Homer’s Iliad, when Helen tells Hector that Zeus
gave them an evil doom, so they would be subjects of song for people to
come, ἀοίδιμοι ἐσσομένοισι (Homer, Iliad 6.357–358). περιλεσχήνευτος only
occurs here in antiquity.35 The range of genres alluded to in this passage,
soaring from high to low in terms of level of decorum, culminates in a stylistic
clash when Herodotus notes that Sappho mocked her brother in lyric, pre-
sumably for his devotion to this beautiful hetaira.36 As Kurke points out, κατα-
κερτομεῖν, “to rail violently,” is a manner of speech appropriate to iambic
poetry, ill-suited to lyric, and characterizes Sappho as a “fishwife.”37
Herodotus’ description is important for this argument in the way that it
depicts the dynamic of the relationship between Sappho and the courtesan.
Here we see the generic range and effect of the courtesan—she is linked to slave
stories through her association with Aesop, as well as lyric poetry, but at the same
time she has a destabilizing effect on genre, provoking the mocking lyric.
Sappho is introduced in the historical record in opposition to the courtesan—
she looks down on her brother’s entanglement with Rhodopis, but at the same
time she is pulled into her orbit, for Herodotus depicts the generic havoc illu-
strated in the description of Rhodopis as contaminating the image of Sappho,
for it is in relation to Rhodopis that Sappho suffers genre confusion. By railing
like a fishwife, Sappho degrades herself and contaminates her own lyric, “and is
perhaps no better than the object of her vilification.”38
Another element of Herodotus’ narrative that will be repeated in later
reception is the way that Sappho is evoked through metaliterary play. The lit-
erary context in Herodotus is distinctively heteroerotic. It is first established
through the representation of the famous courtesan much discussed in men’s
circles. These men’s circles are given social parameters through marked literary
terms—the courtesans they talk about are described using adjectives appropriate
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 103
to epic—κλεινή and ἀοίδιμος—and Sappho’s image emerges in this context. In
Herodotus, the love evoked is Charaxos’ immoderate devotion to a courtesan.
The characterization of Sappho as a sister does nothing to perturb this vantage
point and, indeed, obliquely situates her identity in a matrix of heterosexuality.
We encounter her in the role of sister, policing her brother’s sexual relations,
with an eye to the prosperity and reputation of the οῖκος, promulgated through
heterosexual marriage.39
Sappho is absorbed into the masculine literary canon through the matrix of
masculine desire, in Herodotus as condemning her brother’s sexual exploits and
in comedy often as the embodied object of male desire. On the comic stage, I
shall argue, the combination of metapoetics and the strong association of the
feminine with the body produce representations of Sappho as an embodied,
public, fetishized object of masculine desire. In order to be included among the
ranks of other poets, to be known by many male poets, Sappho is produced as
a promiscuous heterosexual, or courtesan type. Furthermore, the incongruous
biography that results from a reading of her poetry together with the hetero-
erotic prism through which she is incorporated into literary culture produces
the need for the invention of another Sappho to explain the dissonance, one
who, because of her public exposure and devotion to love, is (surprise!) also a
Athenaeus preserves an excerpt from Hermesianax’s elegies (330 BCE) that
describe poets in love with their subjects. In these elegies, Homer’s wasting
love of Penelope is attested, and Hesiod’s passion for “Eoie” is recorded (clearly
named after his mostly lost poem Eoeae). Hermesianax mentions that Alcaeus
and Anacreon loved Sappho.41 This is the context where we find Anacreon
358 PMG preserved, a poem that depicts a game of love that mediates, I sug-
gest, between the Homeric image of Lesbian women considered above and
that projected in Aeolic lyric. Just before the poem is quoted, Athenaeus says:
Χαμαιλέων δ᾿ἐν τῷ περὶ Σαπφοῦς καὶ λέγειν τινάς φησιν εἰς αὐτὴν
πεποιῆσθαι ὑπὸ Ἀνακρέοντος τάδε / Yet Chamaileon, in his book on Sappho
also says that some say that the following verses were made by Anacreon for
her (13.599c). Generally this phrase is taken to mean that the words were
spoken to Sappho. Athenaeus brings up the issue criticizing Hermesianax for
thinking that Sappho and Anacreon lived at the same time, and Chamaileon
next records “Sappho’s” response. However, it seems odd to construe εἰς
αὐτὴν πεποιῆσθαι ὑπὸ Ἀνακρέοντος τάδε as “these verses were addressed by
Anacreon to her,” rather than made for her, in the sense of “in regard to her.”
The fragment itself echoes the conceptualization of Lesbos we saw in the
Iliad as well-built and home to beautiful women:

σφαίρῃ δηὖτε με πορφυρῇ

βάλλων χρυσοκόμης Ἔρως
νήνι ποικιλοσαμβάλῳ
συμπαίζειν προκαλεῖται·
ἡ δ᾿ἐστὶν γὰρ ἀπ᾿ εὐτίκτου
104 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
Λέσβου, τὴν μὲν ἐμὴν κόμην,
Λευκὴ γάρ, καταμέμφεται,
πρὸς δ᾿ἄλλην τινὰ χάσκει.
Once again, golden-haired Eros hits me
with a purple ball, and challenges me to
play with a girl with intricately wrought sandals.
But she, for she is from well-built Lesbos,
Finds fault with my hair, because it is white,
and she gapes at some other.
(Anacreon 358 PMG/Gentili 13)

The significant detail that the girl is from Lesbos, combined with the enigmatic
ending of this poem, has provoked a great deal of speculation. Some scholars
understand that the girl from Lesbos gapes at another woman, understanding
ἄλλην τινὰ on its own to refer to another woman. Others interpret the grammar
to mean that she gapes at some other hair, since the closest feminine singular
antecedent for ἄλλην τινὰ is κόμη. Because the girl is from Lesbos, she has
been thought by modern commentators to be homosexual, and therefore the
hair she gapes at belongs to a woman, or if the reader wants the object of her
gape to be male, the hair could be pubic. Many aspects of interpretations of this
fragment are inherently speculative or doubtful. Even if we knew that Greek
audiences recognized Sappho as homosexual, which we do not, there are other
significant conceptual leaps involved in the search for early traces of Lesbian
sexuality, most importantly that when Anacreon wrote this poem, it was
thought that everyone from Lesbos shared Sappho’s erotic proclivities.42 Those
who argue that the hair the girl gapes at is pubic suggest that the girl is hoping
for the chance to perform fellatio—an attribution to a woman of erotic agency
and desire that is unparalleled throughout the classical period.43
As some have noted, the language in the poem evokes Sappho’s diction and
imagery. While the colors of gold and purple are too pervasive to be closely
associated with anyone in particular, certainly they are part of Sappho’s palette.
Anacreon’s use of δηὖτε is shared by Sappho: “No one who reads Greek lyric
poetry can fail to be struck by the frequency with which this adverb is used.
The poets of love prefer it to any other designation of time.”44 The ποκιλο- prefix
is reminiscent of Sappho 1.1 and the Aeolic -σαμβάλῳ resonates with the lan-
guage and imagery of fancy footwear found several times in the fragments of
Sappho.45 Anacreon’s erotic triangle explicating his unrequited love echoes the
dynamics of the erotic triangle represented in Sappho 31.
Ilja Pfeijffer has explored the Homeric resonance, not only in the mention of
well-built Lesbos (ἡ δ᾿ἐστὶν γὰρ ἀπ᾿εὐτίκτου Λέσβου), which recalls Il. 9.128–130
(quoted above), but also in the conceit of playing ball, which calls to mind
Odysseus’ encounter with Nausicaa. Pfeijffer sees Anacreon’s poem as alluding
to the Homeric scene, but with the genders of the lover and beloved reversed.
In Homer, Odysseus encounters girls playing ball, but here the man, Odysseus,
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 105
refuses the woman Nausicaa in favor of another, whereas in Anacreon’s poem,
the Lesbian girl who gapes at some other (πρὸς δ᾿ἄλλην τινὰ χάσκει) rejects
the presumably male speaker.46
Through these allusions, we might see Anacreon’s poem and his lyric “I” as
mediating Homeric and Sapphic erotics. At first we encounter Homer’s Lesbos,
with beautiful and elegant women, fleshed out by the allusion to Nausicaa and
her maids. As the finely wrought poem progresses, it seems we are being
conditioned by the Lesbian reference to read the poem with Sappho in mind,
and then we are presented with the possibility that ἄλλην τινὰ, although
grammatically parallel to “hair,” is open-ended enough to suggest a female
object of the girl’s desire.
My purpose here is not to determine Anacreon’s conception of Lesbian or
Sappho’s sexuality, but rather to emphasize the heteroerotic metapoetic ele-
ments of the poem as well as the context in which it was preserved. Thus, we
note not only the desire of the (presumably male) speaker for the girl from
Lesbos, but also Chamaileon’s report that “some say” that Sappho, whatever
her own desire may have been, was conceived of as the object of the poet’s
heterosexual desire, who apparently did not reciprocate the poetic ego’s love.
Both Chamaileon and Athenaeus equate the “I” with the poet. Indeed, Athenaeus
concludes this section on Sappho and the poets who love her with the remark
that: καὶ γάρ Δίφιλος ὁ κωμῳδιοποιὸς πεποίηκεν ἐν Σαπφοῖ δράματι Σαπφοῦς
ἐραστὰς Ἀρχίλοχον καὶ Ἱππωνακτα / For in fact Diphilos the comic poet,
in his play Sappho, made Archilochus and Hipponax erastai of Sappho! (Ath.
These metaliterary depictions of Sappho, which are thought to belong
mostly to the comic stage, have contributed significantly to a facet of Sappho’s
reputation in antiquity, “the reputation of one who exemplified insatiable
heterosexual promiscuity, as instanced in her sexual relations with poets like
Archilochus, Hipponax and Anacreon.”47 This heterosexual image of Sappho is
further magnified by the narrative of her unrequited love for Phaon.48 Her
longing for this ferryman drove her to leap from the cliffs of Leucas (an Ionian
island near the western coast of the Greek mainland) to free herself from her
unrequited passion. In a passage on Leucas, Strabo quotes Menander:

οὗ δὴ λέγεται πρώτη Σαπφώ, ὥς φησιν ὁ Μενάνδρος,

τὸν ὑπέρκομπον θηρῶσα Φάων᾿
οἰστρῶτι πόθῳ ῥίψαι πέτρας
ἀπὸ τηλεφανοῦς
Where Sappho is said to have been the first, as Meander says, hunting after
the super-haughty Phaon,
in her goading desire
threw herself from the
far-seen rock…
(Strabo 10.2.9)
106 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
In apparent reference to the image of Sappho as unrequited in her love for a
man, perhaps to eliminate its incongruity with the love Sappho depicts in her
own poetry, the Suda records the history of another Sappho: a lyre player, who
leapt from the cliff of Leucates to her death, out of love for Phaon (Sud. Σ 108).
Aelian also mentions the other Sappho: ἑταίρα οὐ ποιήτρια / hetaira, not poet
(Ael. V. H. 12.19).49 The second Sappho crystallizes the tensions in the poet’s
reputation. As a woman in the public domain, associated with erotic discourse,
ancient scholars reflexively imagine her in a heterosexual matrix. Apparently, the
sexual politics of reading in the ancient world could not fully support the
representation of a female poet as a subject position.50 Because Sappho had
such a strong association with the theme of desire, the courtesan became her
surrogate. As a result, Sappho’s afterlife is haunted by the figure of the hetaira.
The most extensive depiction we have of Sappho in a comedy is Antiphanes
fragment 194, which depicts Sappho riddling:

ἔστι φύσις θήλεια βρέφη σώιζουσ᾿ὑπὸ κόλποις

αὑτῆς, ὄντα δ᾿ἄφωνα βοὴν ἵστησι γεγωνὸν
καὶ διὰ πόντιον οἶδμα καὶ ἠπείρου διὰ πάσης
οἷς ἐθέλει θνητῶν, τοῖς δ᾿οὐδὲ παροῦσιν ἀκούειν
ἔξεστιν· κωφὴν δ᾿ἀκοῆς αἴσθησιν ἔχουσιν.
There is a female nature protecting unborn children in her folds;
although voiceless, they emit a great shout,
across the swelling sea, and throughout
every land to whomever of mortals they wish;
even for those not present it is possible to hear them.
And they have a dull perception of hearing.

Sappho’s male interlocutor suggests that the answer to her riddle is a city, ἡ πολίς, and
the babies are orators. Sappho then replies that “the female nature” is in fact a letter:

θήλεια μέν νυν ἐστὶ φύσις ἐπιστολή

βρέφη δ᾿ἐν αὑτῆι περιφέρει τὰ γράμματα·
ἄφωνα δ᾿ὄντα <ταῦτα> τοῖς πόρρω λαλεῖ
οἷς βούλεθ᾿ἕτερος δ᾿ἂν τύχηι τις πλήσιον
ἑστὼς ἀναγιγνώσκοντος οὐκ ἀκουσεται
The female nature is a message,
and the babies she carries around on her are letters;
these have no voice, yet they speak to those far off
to whomever they wish, and if someone happens to be
standing near the one reading, he will not hear.
(Antiphanes 194.17–21(K-A))

Clearly the riddle is rooted emphatically in femininity. The gender of ἐπιστολή

is materialized as a woman’s body in its reproductive capacity—figured as a
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 107
vessel for offspring. Writing and the dissemination of language are mapped
onto the maternal female body, and authorship is figured through the image of
feminine heterosexual reproduction.
The gender dynamics of the exchange between Sappho and her male inter-
locutor, whom she addresses as pater, are complex and intriguing. The male
interlocutor’s response, solving the riddle with the polis, nurturing orators as
babies, speaking before a voiceless and deaf demos, translates the fertile female
into the emphatically masculine domain of political discourse.51 Sappho’s
response—that the interlocutor is wrong and that the body is a message—gives
her the opportunity to reconstitute literature as feminine at the same time as
she retains control of the discourse. This exchange dramatizes female “double-
consciousness,” the paradigm Winkler invoked to understand Sappho’s lyric
and its relationship to Homeric poetry.52 He suggested that Sappho constitutes
the erotic and feminine space of her poetry both as opposed to and as in dialogue
with the dominant poetic discourse that knew only the subjects of military
heroics and other masculine pursuits. Here Sappho’s riddle is susceptible to a
masculine interpretation, but the authoritative understanding insists on the
possibility of a feminine literary discourse.
There is a counter-intuitive element to this riddle, insofar as it suggests that a
mother is composed of her children rather than the other way around. Perhaps
we might see this as a literalization of the dynamics of reception that preserve
the figure of Sappho. As Yopie Prins notes, “the body of the text is made to
speak in place of the author, according to the logic by which Sappho comes to
be read as the personification of her own texts.”53 Sappho’s poetry is scruti-
nized for what it might contain of her material reality, especially her sexuality.
The existence of poetry spoken from a feminine perspective seems to demand
the production of a body.
There is another intriguing twist that we might consider in terms of this
fragment— riddling speech has a strong association with the courtesan, and
Yatromanolakis has suggested that Antiphanes’ Sappho was thus obliquely
associated with the hetaira.54 If this is the case, we can observe the representational
contortions dictated by the conventions of comedy in order for a dramatist to
represent an authoritative female speaker, the result of which is Sappho as
mother and courtesan, and poetry as body.55 All of these strands emphasize the
notion of woman as body. Significantly, all of these bodies belong distinctly to
a field of heteroerotics.

Roman Sappho
In Latin literature we encounter similar as well as newly emergent strategies for
incorporating Sappho into the literary canon. It should be noted here that
Rome would have inherited Sappho in part through Hellenistic scholars who
included her in the list of nine lyric poets. In Catullus’ lyric, Sappho is called to
mind as poetic predecessor in Catullus’ use of meter, image, and provider of
source material. At the same time, she is evoked by the very name of Catullus’
108 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
poetic love object, Lesbia, or woman from Lesbos. Through these evocations,
Catullus intimately explores the issues raised by the figuration of Sappho as
muse—poetic inspiration in a female body—but here from a Roman perspective.
In her suggestive analysis of Catullus 51, the famous translation of Sappho 31,
Elizabeth Young emphasizes the pivotal role played by the name Lesbia in the
poem, which, she argues, allows the poet to circumvent the problems of female
homosexuality and authorship: “By inserting Lesbia as the name of his version’s
beloved, Catullus usurps Sappho’s authorial position and inserts himself as the
poem’s new speaker.” He resolves the problem of “a maternal poetic inheri-
tance … by transforming its most formidable matriarch into the object of desire
rather than a producer of speech.” Here Catullus enacts the same heterosexual
erotics of reception that we have seen in the Greek context. Young also notes
that Lesbia is identified through geography and that this has a contemporary
Roman significance, for Lesbos came under Roman rule in 79 BCE. She
concludes that the jealous and unrequited love that Catullus explores between
the poetic “I” and Lesbia is an exploration of the conflicts of Roman cultural
While Lesbia may be a means for Catullus to dominate and control the
problems posed by Sappho as poetic source, the power dynamics in his rela-
tionship to Lesbia are nothing if not ambiguous. His naming of Lesbia also
acknowledges his reliance on Sappho as poetic inspiration; in other words, he
positions himself in relationship to her as both female love object and (silenced)
poet. It is as though he exposes the reconfiguration of Sappho from poet to
love object as a type of erotic dominance akin to imperialism. As a by-product
of this imperialist discourse, Sappho is identified by her geography.56 This
seamless identification of poet and place is found elsewhere in Roman poetry,
and the evocation of Lesbos for its musical reputation is also common.
In Epistles 1.19, Horace refers to Sappho in a way that completely diverges
from literary precedent, both Greek and Roman, but in a way that is illustrative.
As he ruminates on his own poetic identity, he situates himself in relationship
to his Greek predecessors, Archilochus, Alcaeus, and Sappho. He writes: temperat
Archilochi Musam pede mascula Sappho, temperat Alcaeus / manly Sappho
moderates with her foot the muse of Archilochus, Alcaeus moderates it
(1.19.28–29). Because he evokes Sappho primarily as a poetic predecessor,
Horace refers to her as manly, with the intriguing adjective mascula. As Peponi
asks, “how else could the woman poet appear in this fantasy of mutually
exchangeable roles with a Roman poet, if not as masculinized?”57 She also allows
that there may be an allusion to Sappho’s homosexuality in that she is said to
moderate not Archilochus, but rather his muse.58 The problem with Sappho
as a poet is that she is not a man. Poets are men and women are bodies that
become visible through the lens of male heterosexual desire. It seems
significant in this regard that Sappho is described through a poetic bodily
metaphor she moderates with her foot, pede. For Horace to evoke Sappho
primarily as a poet, she must become mascula. Furthermore, Horace’s unqua-
lified recognition of Sappho as poet is inextricably related to the submerged
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 109
allusion to Sappho’s homosexuality if we interpret her moderating the muse in
a sexual way. At any rate, the idea that we imagine Sappho as erotically
involved with a muse nevertheless insists on her identity as poetic.
While I think that any gesture toward Sappho’s sexuality here is subtle,
nevertheless Horace’s description of Sappho does take an important step in
terms of representing female homosexuality—for in Rome, when female
homosexuals are depicted, they are shown as masculine women linked to a
Greek past.59 By describing Sappho with the intriguing term mascula, Horace
forges a strong link between Sappho and the Roman discourse of female
Ovid’s representation of Sappho in Heroides 15 provides a narrative that
rationalizes many of the contradictions presented by a consideration of Sappho’s
poetry, wherein the poetic ego clearly desires women, and her reception,
which persistently depicts her through the lens of male heterosexual desire. He
depicts Sappho as she pines for Phaon, incidentally providing a rationale for her
homoerotic poetry:

Lesbides aequoreae, nupturaque nuptaque proles,

Lesbides Aeolia nomina dicta lyra
Lesbides, infamem quae me fecistis amatae,
Desinite ad citharas turba venire meas.
Abstulit omne Phaon, quod vobis ante placebat
Me miseram, dixi quam modo paene “meus!”
Efficite ut redeat…
Lesbian women born of the sea, women about to marry and already mar-
ried, names spoken by my Aeolian lyre. Lesbian women, you, beloved,
have made me infamous, stop coming in a crowd to my lyre. Phaon has
taken away all that pleased you before. I am miserable! How nearly I came
to calling him mine. Accomplish his return!

Ovid’s version (if this text is correctly assigned to him) acknowledges Sappho as
a lover of women at the same time that she denies it in favor of heterosexual
desire. The emphatic repetition of lesbides draws crowds of women from Lesbos
into the conceptual sphere of Sapphic homoerotic desire, although still asserting
their role in the heterosexual framework of marriage, nupturaque nuptaque. The
masses of women, indistinguishable from one another, stand in stark contrast to
her one new love, Phaon, and their importance is diminished by their
In Sappho’s letter to Phaon, “Sappho” refers to a wide array of associations
with Sappho’s poetry and reception. She refers to her lovers, Anactoria and
Atthis among others, her daughter, father and brother, recalling her criticism of
him for spending time with unsuitable women. She talks about her past sexual
encounters with Phaon and her own prowess very explicitly, in a way that
110 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
would seem more appropriate to a courtesan. She even recounts her experience
of a wet dream when she imagines herself having sex with Phaon (15.125–135)!
Most argues that Ovid narrativizes all the seemingly incoherent elements of
Sappho’s story, and this is in part responsible for its subsequent enduring appeal,
“a richly detailed literary image could be obtained not by skeptically rejecting
many of the traditional reports but by uncritically accepting as many of them as
possible.”61 In a critical feminist reading of this text, Sara Lindheim sees Ovid
reshaping Sappho through intertextual dialogue with Middle Comedy and
Sappho’s own poetry, producing a Sappho that is an exact replica of the other
abandoned heroines in the Heroides, effacing what is distinctive about Sappho’s
poetry—the multiplicity of women presented there.62 As Ovid transfigures
Sappho, it is her dying wish to be the object of male desire.
These representations and allusions to Sappho in Roman literature seem to
work within the same constrictions as the earlier Greek images of Sappho did:
there is the tendency to veer away from a straightforward depiction of woman
as poet, and both Catullus and Ovid reconfigure her as the object of male
desire. Horace’s strategy also seems to address the problem of woman as poet in
a new way by depicting Sappho as masculine.
All three of these Roman authors seem to share self-consciousness about the
use of Sappho. Catullus elicits Sappho both as poet and love object, and thus
seems to draw attention to the dynamics that transform her from poet to
beloved. Horace, in his innovative description of Sappho as masculine, reveals
the problem of Sappho as poet and the anxiety inherent in a male poet’s
identification with her. Ovid embraces her identity as homosexual even as he
denies it; he asserts its insignificance in comparison to her pathetic and
unrequited hope to be an object of male heterosexual desire. In this way, he
draws attention to the incoherence of Sappho’s image even as he normalizes it.
All three of these Roman poets expose the dynamics of reception that they
engage with in a playful way. The distance they have from Sappho’s context
and perhaps her canonization as a lyric poet give them more room for analysis
of her figure, which in turn allows new possibilities for her representation.
Now Sappho can be masculine; she can be homosexual; she can be a poet.
While all of these traits suggest interesting possibilities for Sappho as visible
subject, nevertheless she still remains an object.

The courtesan’s contribution to lesbian sexuality

Thus far, we have seen the way in which the courtesan threads her way
through the afterlife of Sappho, in later representations of her on the comic
stage, in poetry and prose, and in ancient scholarship, trying to integrate the
various strands of her story. The courtesan in Aristophanes’ Frogs embodied the
musical style and sex act that imbued Lesbos with meaning that far exceeded its
geographic coordinates. The courtesan, then, is the common denominator
between representations of Sappho and the notion of a common lesbian sexuality,
albeit one that is heterosexual.
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 111
In the realm of representation, as in the real world, the courtesan can go
where a respectable woman could not. As Henderson writes:

The legacy of the hetaira-comedy was its creation of women who, because
of their non-citizen status, could safely be portrayed as both objects and
subjects of erotic desire; who could be shown interacting with men, or
even dominating them; who could exemplify the negative “iambic” traits
of bibulousness, gluttony, masturbation, drug use (especially aphrodisiacs),
preoccupation with fine clothes and jewelry, skill at depilation and in the
use of sex-toys, greed, and disruptive effects on males.63

I want to push Henderson’s argument further, suggesting that the flexibility

accorded to representations of the hetaira were essential to the invention of
female homosexuality. As I will argue in this final section, certain attributes of
the hetaira, especially the possibility of depicting her subjective perspective and
agency with regard to sexuality, made her very appealing to writers of a much later
period, the Second Sophistic, and it is as a result of the literary concerns and
investments of that age that the courtesan together with the idea of Lesbos —with
Sappho implicitly associated —took on homosexual meaning.
The authors of the Second Sophistic had a penchant for bringing high culture
and low culture into dialogue. Because the courtesan could be both the object and
subject of erotic desire, and be shown interacting with men, in some cases, she
served to mediate between the realms of masculinity and femininity, and, as I will
argue, this is crucial to imagining the female homosexual. At home at the sympo-
sium, she also had a strong association with poetry and philosophy. From the
analysis above, we have seen how the image of Sappho resonates with many aspects
of the courtesan—as a woman trafficking in a man’s literary world, she pushed the
bounds of gender norms and she always had a strong association with erotic dis-
course. If we think of her poetry and image together, they combine subjectively
articulated sexuality with erotic objectification and strong literary identification.
The first explicit articulation of a sexual orientation associated with Lesbos is
found in Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans. These dialogues are one set among
others in a genre that Lucian claims to have invented, the comic dialogue—the
result of conjoining elements from comedy and philosophy that do not form a
harmonious union.64 As I have argued elsewhere, in the Dialogues of the Courtesans
Lucian channels the elite masculine form of philosophical dialogue through the
marginalized and eroticized female figure of the courtesan.65 This new genre
constitutes a kind of social vertigo in which topics familiar from the classical
Greek canon are channeled through unlikely subjects.66 By mining inherited
literary elements and conjoining them in this unexpected manner, Lucian inno-
vates through an interplay of familiarity and alienation.
In Dialogues of the Courtesans 5, Lucian depicts a conversation between two
hetairai: Klonarion interrogates her friend Leaina in response to rumors that she
has taken up with a rich woman from Lesbos. Leaina responds that her new
friend is δεινῶς ἀνδρική / terribly manly (DoC 5.1) and Klonarium responds:
112 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
οὐ μανθάνω ὅ τι καὶ λέγεις, εἰ μή τις ἑταιρίστρια τυγχάνει οὖσα· τοιαύτας
γάρ ἐν Λέσβῳ λέγουσι γυναικᾶς ἀρρενωπούς, ὑπ῾ ἀνδρῶν μὲν οὐκ
ἐθελούσας αὐτὸ πάσχειν, γυναίξι δὲ αὐτὰς πλησιαζούσας ὥσπερ ἄνδρας.
I do not understand what you are saying, unless she happens to be some
kind of hetairistria. For they say that on Lesbos there are man-faced
women, they don’t like to take it from men, but they get close to women
as though they are men.
(DoC 5.2)

The noun hetairistria is found elsewhere in classical Greek only in Aristophanes’

speech in Plato’s Symposium. When he is describing the origin of love, Aris-
tophanes imagines that people once were big round balls that were sundered in
punishment for their hubris against Olympus. He identifies three types of balls:
one all male, one all female, and one androgynous. He says: “As many women
as have been cut from the female [sphere], these pay no attention to men, but
rather are attracted to women and hetairistriai come from this breed” (Pl. Symp.
191e5). David Halperin has suggested that Lucian’s use of the term is a deliberate
gloss on this passage.67
Because Klonarium cannot understand how women can actually have sex
with each other, she prods Leaina for details. Leaina tells her that as she was
making out with Megilla and her friend Demonassa, Megilla took off her wig,
and identified herself as Megillos—the name of the Spartan interlocutor in
Plato’s Laws. Demonassa’s name is the feminization of Demonax, a contemporary
philosopher from Cyprus about whom Lucian wrote, calling him most similar to
Socrates (Dem. 5). Yatromanolakis notes that her name also recalls Sappho’s
Arkheanassa. Finally, at the end of the dialogue, when Leaina admits that she
let Megilla do what she wanted, she shuts down her friend’s request for specifics
with another reference to Plato’s Symposium by telling her: μή ἀνακρίνε ἀκριβῶς,
αἰσχρὰ γὰρ· ὥστε μὰ τὴν οὐρανίαν οὐκ ἂν εἴποιμι / Don’t inquire too closely,
for these things are shameful; so by heavenly [Aphrodite], I won’t say (DoC 5.3).
The reference here to Ourania recalls Pausanias’ description of Eros in Plato’s
Symposium 180e–181d.
This accumulation of clear allusions to the masculine domain of philosophy,
and the Symposium in particular, suggests that we read this dialogue in light of
the pederastic practices of Greek philosophers. For the Symposium provides the
clearest articulation of the relationship of pederasty to philosophy.68 The dialogue
also brings Sappho to mind, in the detail that Megilla is from Lesbos, along
with the Sapphic-sounding Demonassa, and the longstanding linkage of
Sappho to the hetaira. As was the vogue in the Second Sophistic, the courtesan
becomes a mouthpiece for the expression of nostalgia for the Greek cultural
past. For Lucian uses this figure in a way similar to Alkiphron and Athenaeus to
articulate a longing for and fetishization of classical Greek philosophy and
rhetoric during the Roman Empire. All of these authors enlist the lineaments
of the courtesan’s subjectivity—her ability to mediate between masculine and
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 113
feminine gender roles, her inherent inauthenticity, her eroticization—to express
the dynamics of longing for a bygone cultural moment. It is in this context of
gender transposition, poetic and philosophical allusion that Lucian animates the
hetairistria, exploring the contours of a subject position that was rarely men-
tioned in the classical period and thus advertising the absent presence of the
Greek past.69 As Sandra Boehringer has suggested and as I have argued earlier,
the “lesbian” in this text is an illusion created from Lucian’s metadiscursivity.70
In much the same way as the attribution of a corporate sexuality to Lesbos was
almost a by-product of a self-critical Athenian musical discourse, so here we see
that the hetairistria comes into view as Lucian’s subversive and playful embodiment
of the nostalgic longing for Greek culture under the Roman Empire.
Like Euripides’ Lesbian muse, like Sappho’s promiscuous heterosexuality,
like the courtesan-other who haunts the reception of Sappho, Lucian’s man-faced
women who do not like to take it from men, but prefer women, are constructed
through allusion and genre play; they are the product of literary discourse. The
last 100 years of scholarship on Sappho have demonstrated that the way in
which the poet’s sexuality informed her poetry can never be known. What I
have tried to show in this chapter is that we are asking the wrong question:
rather than trying to excavate what reality literary images of Lesbos and Sappho
may or may not refer to, we should explore the reality that representations
create. Sappho’s poetry and the evolving significance of its context and recep-
tion have shaped her sexuality. The discursive identity of Lesbos, the meaning
of this place, was created on the comic stage. The trajectory of Lesbos from
Sappho to Lucian exemplifies the way that discourse creates sexuality and not
the other way round. Lesbians do not come from Lesbos; they come from
Athens and from Rome. Lesbians come from literature.

1 A version of this chapter originally appeared in: Kate Gilhuly, “Lesbians are Not
from Lesbos,” in Ruby Blondell and Kirk Ormand (eds), Ancient Sex: New Essays. ©
Ohio State University Press, 2015, pp. 143–176. It is used here with the permission
of the original publisher.
2 See Brabant (2008) for the articulation of this idea.
3 Yatromanolakis 2007: 23.
4 While Yatromanolakis (2007) considers the history of the reputation of East Greek
music, he only passingly considers “New Music” and does not explore the implications
of the comic muse as courtesan in relation to the reception of Sappho.
5 The list is repeated at 9.270–272.
6 P.741.19–24 of the text printed in Rome, 1542 (vol. 2). See also Suetonius
Περὶ Βλασφημιῶν καὶ πόθεν ἑκάστη preserved in cod. Paris. Bibl. Nat. suppl. Gr.
7 Jocelyn 1980: 32; see also Henderson 1991: 183–184.
8 Pherecrates produced comedies in Athens between the 440s and 420s BCE; 19 titles
and 300 fragments survive (K-A 7.102–220).
9 Cited in the scholium on Frogs 1308.
10 Adapted from Henderson’s translation.
11 Jocelyn 1980.
114 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
12 Yatromanolakis (2007: 187 and n.97) explains the sexual implication of lambda to
originate from the leg position that the upper-case letter suggests: “Λ” (Jocelyn
1980: 43–44).
13 Henderson 1991: 183–184.
14 Dover 1978: 182.
15 Henderson (1991) notes the musical sense of the word in Frogs, but not in Wasps.
16 Csapo 2004: 246.
17 Wallace 2004: 48–49; Csapo 2004: 230.
18 De Simone 2008: 489–490.
19 On metrical style, see Parker 1997: 214–261.
20 Van der Valk 1974.
21 Henry 2007.
22 For this punctuation, I am following de Simone (2008: 483), who interprets the line
as a question after the ancient scholiasts, who write: αὕτη ποθ’ ἡ Μοῦσα ] ἐν ἐρω-
τήσει λέγει.
23 Dover 1997: 212.
24 Dover (1997: 212) suggests that the muse’s use of castanets is a mocking reference to
Euripides’ Hypsipyle, in which Hipsipyle entertains the baby Opheltes by playing
25 Edmonds 1922, s.v. Terpandros.
26 De Simone 2008: 488.
27 Sappho and Alcaeus each with a Barbitos (a kind of lyre). Hydria, Brygos Painter,
510–500 BCE (Munich, Germany).
28 Hall 2001: 409.
29 The courtesan is a figure of nostalgia and decay in a variety of contexts—thus, she is
the figure used by Machon and others cited in Athenaeus, Lucian, and Alkiphron to
recall and emphasize the loss of the classical period. Similarly, she represents the
degradation of rhetorical style, e.g. in Lucian’s Praeceptor Rhetorum 13, Bis Accusatus
31. See also McClure (2003: 27–58) on nostalgia and courtesans.
30 Lloyd-Jones 1991: 25; Dobrov and Urios-Parisi 1995.
31 Henderson 2000: 143. He also notes that Pherekrates is credited with inventing the
hetaera-comedy (2000: 138).
32 Gilhuly 2009: 140–179.
33 The depiction of Agathon in Thesmophoriazousai also dovetails with the Pherecrates
fragment in its characterization of trilling, sharing in some of the representational
strategies and associations that the Frogs passage and Pherecrates’ fragment deploy to
mock the pretensions of Attic dramatists in their appropriation of Eastern style.
34 Yatromanolakis has extensively discussed the Athenian reception of Sappho and her
songs with their references to music playing, instruments and song, hetairai and
hetairoi, drinking vessels and other accoutrements of the symposium. He considers
the valence of these images through the rubric of fifth-century Athenian sympotic
discourse. He argues that the “receptorial dynamics” projected one image among
others of Sappho “that ranged from the hetaira schema to more pederastic and even
female homoerotic contexts” (2007: 278).
35 Its social valence is the subject of debate. See Kurke 1999: 225 versus Yatromanolakis
2007: 322–325.
36 Kurke (1999: 225) describes “mocking in lyric” as violating the terms of Greek
poetic decorum, “nearly an oxymoron.”
37 Kurke 1999: 226n.11.
38 Kurke 1999: 226.
39 See “The Brothers Poem”: Obbink 2014.
40 For a similar interpretation, see Most (1996), who also suggests a similar “splitting”
of the Sapphic tradition into multiple Sapphos in order to make sense of the dif-
ferent erotic subjects.
Lesbians are not from Lesbos 115
41 Alcaeus love for Sappho is also represented on pots. For a discussion and images, see
Yatromanolakis (2007: 73–81).
42 Bowra 1961: 284–286; Marzullo 1965: 157–158; Campbell 1967: 320–321; Gerber
1970: 229–230; West 1970: 209; Kirkwood 1974: 166–167; Easterling 1977: 318–337.
43 Gentili 1973; Giangrande 1973; Komornicka 1976. Pfeijffer (2000) notes that the
most relevant passage would be Ar. Eccl. 920, which describes, he argues, a woman
desiring to have cunnilingus performed on herself.
44 Nagy 1996: 99–102; Carson 1998; 118; Yatromanolakis 2007: 217n.238.
45 Sappho 110.2 and 39. 1–2 and 123.
46 Pfeijffer (2000) reads ἄλλην τινὰ as referring to another woman.
47 Most 1996: 14. He also notes that the biographical data that she was married to a
man named Kerkulas from the Island of Andros (“Tail of Man”) is also probably
derived from the comic stage, On Kerkulas, see also Parker (1993: 146), who
translates his name “as Dick Allcock from the isle of MAN.”
48 We know of five plays entitled Sappho written by Ameipsias, Amphis, Diphilos,
Ephippos, and Timocles. Comedies entitled Phaon may also have dealt with Sappho;
these were written by Plato Comicus and Antiphanes, as well as those called The
Leucadian, titles attributed to Menander, Diphilos, Alexis, Antiphanes, and Amphis.
Recently, however, Yatromanolakis (2007: 299) has questioned the view that
Sappho was ever depicted as promiscuous, analyzing the comic fragments available
to us and finding no compelling evidence that Sappho was depicted as lewd.
49 See Most 1996: 15.
50 The fact that we have record of a number of female poets, including Erinna, Anyte,
Nossis, Moero, and Korinna, but such scant and inconsistent depictions of their lives
and public personae, underscores my point that woman as poet was a subject position
scarcely articulated in the ancient Greek literary record. For instance, ancient sources
tell us that Korinna was born in May and that she was Pindar’s teacher. Pausanius
and Aelian say that she competed with Pindar. Pausanius explains her victory as due
to her dialect or her beauty (9.22.3). According to other writers, she lived in the
fifth or fourth century (we now think she lived around 200 BCE). Erinna was a
contemporary of Sappho who was a native of Rhodes, Telos, or Tenos. For a dis-
cussion of the idea of a “woman’s tradition,” see Bowman (2004) with an extensive
bibliography on the poetry and reception of these poets.
51 Yatromanolakis 2007: 304–305.
52 Winkler 1990: 162–187.
53 Prins 1996: 48. While this attribution is not explicitly made here, among females,
courtesans are strongly associated with riddling speech. Stehle (1997: 310–312) links
Sappho’s literary production closely with writing.
54 For a collection of courtesan’s witty sayings, see Machon’s Chreiai quoted at Athe-
naeus Deipnosophistai 13. 577d–583d. See also Kurke 2002: 20–65; McClure 2003:
79–105; Yatromanolakis 2007: 301–312.
55 As I have argued elsewhere, the contours of the courtesan can be detected else-
where in comic depictions of authoritative women, especially in Aristophanes’
Lysistrata. There is a precedent for the representation of the mother of a courtesan
(Xen. Mem. 3.11.). However, the identity of the courtesan is generally not com-
bined with maternity; see Gilhuly 2009: 1–28. On Lysistrata, see Chapter 4 above.
56 The identification between poet and place is also found in Ovid Tr 3.7.20. For the
identification of Lesbos with its poetic culture, see Horace Car. 1.32.5; 4.6.35;
1.1.34; Ovid F. 2.82 H. 15.82.
57 Peponi 2002: 41 and the bibliography. See also Barchiesi 2000: 168–70.
58 Peponi 2002: 41 n.39.
59 Hallett 1989.
60 Lindheim 2003: 157.
61 Most 1996: 18.
116 Lesbians are not from Lesbos
62 Lindheim 2003: 176.
63 Henderson 2000: 140.
64 Lucian makes various programmatic statements about his literary innovations in
Prometheus Es:

And in fact we dared to bring these elements thus disposed toward each other
together and to harmonize them, even though they were not entirely ready to
be persuaded, nor did they readily put up with the union.
(Prom. Es, 6)

65 A scholiast suggested that Lucian’s courtesans come from Menander: “One must
know that all these hetairai have been the subjects of comedy for all the comic poets,
but especially for Menander, from whom, in fact, all the material for the Lucian in
the present work is provided in abundance” (Rabe 1906: 275). For more on
Lucian’s invented genre, see Gilhuly (2004) and (2007).
66 The Dialogues of the Gods, for instance, works the other way round, where august
figures discuss mundane topics.
67 This usage is the only surviving record of this word in a non-grammatical context
(Halperin 1990: 180 n.2). See also Halperin 2002: 248–249.Yatromanolakis also
suggests that through a contamination of homophones, the word hetairistria that
Plato puts in the mouth of Aristophanes in the Symposium to describe “women who
love women” would have been metonoymically associated with the hetaira.
68 For a reading along these lines, see Gilhuly (2004).
69 Dover (1979: 173) attributes the absence of the female homosexual on the comic
stage to male anxiety. Plato alludes to female homosexuality when he articulates the
notion that homosexuality of any sort is against nature in Laws, 1.636B; Aristotle
mentions female homosexuality (as something to be avoided) in Politics 5.1311a.
70 Boehringer 2015.
6 Lesbos and the invention of
heterosexuality in Longus’
Daphnis and Chloe

Situating Daphnis and Chloe

The most famous Ancient Greek romance, Daphnis and Chloe, is set on the
island of Lesbos, in a pastoral landscape just outside of Mytilene. The manu-
script is attributed to an author named Longus, about whom we know nothing.
While his name, transliterated from the Greek Loggos, may just be a corruption
of the word logos, story, scholars have also noted that Longus was the name of a
family who lived on Lesbos during the period known as the Second Sophistic.1
The novel bears the hallmarks of the literary style of this time, a deceptively
simple surface narrative that belies a complex relationship to the Greek literary
past, with subtle allusions to specific texts, and the reconfiguration of generic
conventions to create new meanings out of old forms. Furthermore, the text
begins with a reference to a painting in a grove, of which the novel is an
ekphrastic account. The type of landscape painting described is consistent with
pictorial art styles of the time, and so on these grounds, the text is dated to the
second half of the second century CE.2
Thus, the author of Daphnis and Chloe would have been roughly a con-
temporary of Lucian, but his Lesbos could not be farther from the home of
“man-faced women,” about whom Lucian wrote, the ones who “do not like
to suffer it from men, but consort with women as though they were men”
(Dialogues of the Courtesans 5.2). Rather, Longus’ Lesbos is the site of the birth
of heterosexuality, a place where pederasty is deemed unnatural and comic,3
and where female homosexuality does not exist. As I have examined in the
previous chapter, Lesbos had attained a significant imaginary reputation by the
time Longus was writing, but he seems to select only certain facets of this
Lesbos, editing away anything unconventional or non-normative, presenting a
new Lesbos to his reader, comprised of lush landscapes, beautiful lovers, coun-
try and city people, a charming musical culture, and some minor political
In this chapter, I read Daphnis and Chloe as an intervention in the erotic
discourse of Lesbos. I consider the possibility that the novel is a response to the
urban Imperial Roman and Athenian projection of Lesbos that I outlined in the
previous chapter, an attempt to construct a new “geography of the mind,” for
118 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
Lesbos.5 Indeed, there is some evidence that the text was called Lesbiaka in
antiquity, thus announcing the close bond between the narrative and the
place.6 Longus’ Lesbos is a historical and idyllic natural landscape in which sex,
gender, and musicality serve exclusively in the construction of heterosexual
marriage and foreclose the possibility of women as singing sexual subjects, with
all the erotic trouble that entails.7

The novel as topograph

The novel opens with an anonymous narrator describing a painting in a grove
of the nymphs that he once saw when hunting on Lesbos. The unnamed ego as
narrator is a familiar tactic from antiquity, used for instance by Xenophon and
Plato in The Symposium, and by Apuleius in his Metamorphosis. While some
readers associate the narrator with the author, this identity is never explicitly
expressed.8 A little later on, the narrator brings in the detail that he sought out
an exegete to explain the details of the painting. The exegete must be a native
inhabitant, someone who knows the story of the place and the image. This
detail serves to further efface the narrator from the creation of the story at the
same time as it emphasizes the role of the narrator (and reader) as outsider
looking in. This dissociation of author and content allows the role of Lesbos in
generating the story to take on even larger proportions:

᾿Εν Λέσβῳ θηρῶν ἐν ἄλσει Νυμφῶν θέαμα εἶδον κάλλιστον ὧν εἶδον:

εἰκόνα, γραφήν, ἱστορίαν ἔρωτος. Καλὸν μὲν καὶ τὸ ἄλσος, πολύδενδρον,
ἀνθηρόν, κατάρρυτον: μία πηγὴ πάντα ἔτρεφε, καὶ τὰ ἄνθη καὶ τὰ
δένδρα: ἀλλ̓ ἡ γραφὴ τερπνοτέρα καὶ τέχνην ἔχουσα περιττὴν καὶ τύχην
ἐρωτικήν: ὥστε πολλοὶ καὶ τῶν ξένων κατὰ φήμην ᾔεσαν, τῶν μὲν
Νυμφῶν ἱκέται, τῆς δὲ εἰκόνος θεαταί. Γυναῖκες ἐπ̓ αὐτῆς τίκτουσαι καὶ
ἄλλαι σπαργάνοις κοσμοῦσαι: παιδία ἐκκείμενα, ποίμνια τρέφοντα: ποι-
μένες ἀναιρούμενοι, νέοι συντιθέμενοι: λῃστῶν καταδρομή, πολεμίων
ἐμβολή. Πολλὰ ἄλλα καὶ πάντα ἐρωτικὰ ἰδόντα με καὶ θαυμάσαντα
πόθος ἔσχεν ἀντιγράψαι τῇ γραφῇ.
While hunting on Lesbos, I saw the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in a
grove of the Nymphs. It was a painting of an image, a narrative of love. While
the grove was beautiful, full of trees, blooming, irrigated, a single spring nur-
tured everything, all the blooms and the trees, but the painting was more
delightful, made with extraordinary skill and an erotic occurrence so that many
strangers went because of its reputation both as suppliants of the Nymphs and
viewers of the image. There were women on it giving birth, and others
adorning them in swaddling clothes; children being exposed; sheep grazing,
shepherds taking up the children; young people making vows; a raid of pirates;
and an attack of enemies. Having seen and marveled at these and many other
things, all erotic, desire seized me to write in response to the painting.
(D & C pr, 1.1–2.2)
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 119
This much-discussed ekphrasis brings into dialogue the aesthetic of the real (the
grove) and the represented (the painting). As Tim Whitmarsh notes, at the end
of the narrative, Daphnis and Chloe are said to set up images (eikonas) in the
cave of the Nymphs, thus encouraging the reader to understand the romance as
“self-begetting.”9 I understand the narrative rather as being generated by
Lesbos. In this prologue the events of the narrative are radically intertwined
with their setting. Where does the story come from? It comes from the grove
and it comes from Lesbos. Standing both within and outside the representa-
tional frame of the narrative is Lesbos. It exists in the quotidian, historical
frame, the time when the narrator was hunting, and it generates the cyclical
time of Daphnis and Chloe, the never-ending mythos of Daphnis and Chloe
inventing patriarchal heterosexuality.
This passage concludes with the hendiadys: “seeing many other things, and
πάντα ἐρωτικὰ”—all of them erotic, or everything erotic. Does this mean that
what is not depicted is not erotic? Further, there is the transmission of the story
from one mode to another, from visual image to narrative text, with desire as
the motivating factor. Desire seized the author to write in response to the image.
Just as the painting is a mute echo of the events in the place, so the narrative is
produced in response to the image. The story comes from the painting, and the
painting comes from the nature of the place. Not only are the events that take
place then naturalized, they are authorized by the divine, and they are depicted
as being generated by the place itself. Daphnis and Chloe is a topographical
novel in the sense that it is a novel that is written by a place.
The way in which Lesbos is evoked in Daphnis and Chloe is as a negotiation
between place and landscape. There is a framed and objectified site that is being
viewed from an outsider perspective, as we are drawn into the novel through
the gaze of the anonymous hunter, but at the same time, there are incursions
from outside of this frame, marauders from Methymna, urbanites from Mytilene
that remind us of Lesbos as a place within which this story is situated. The
bounded view of Longus’ pastoral world insists on the same subject–object
relationship that is constructed when one looks at a painting. In cultural geo-
graphy, landscape implies a viewing subject, lays emphasis on aesthetic meaning,
and has a robust association with ideology. In the introduction to Landscape and
Power (2002), W.J.T. Mitchell says that landscape “has a double role with
respect to something like ideology: it naturalizes a cultural and social construc-
tion, representing an artificial world as if it were simply given and inevitable, and
it also makes that representation operational by interpellating its beholder in
some more or less determinate relation to its given-ness as sight and site.” This
describes what I think is radically central to Longus’ novel: to naturalize a version
of heterosexuality that is inextricably intertwined with the place where it happens.
Longus’ text/landscape is a privileged site for the formation of identity. Place,
on the other hand, is less circumscribed. As Arturo Escobar describes it, place is
“more an event than a thing, is characterized by openness rather than by a
unitary self-identity.”10 Place is the site of the real, where historical events
occur, and that is in part defined by the narrative about it.11 Thus, Longus’
120 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
landscape is subject to incursions from without, and the entrances of urbanites
from Mytilene, pirates, adulteresses, Mythemneans, etc. create for the reader
the perception of this sweet mythic landscape as actually set in the real, histor-
ical land of Lesbos, defined by the narratives it had accreted. Longus evokes
Daphnis and Chloe’s habitat as a landscape for the ideological work it can do to
re-define Lesbos as a place and to re-imagine the type of social identities it
This chapter will show how this natural landscape plays a role in dismantling
conventional notions of sexuality and imbuing the narrative with the sense of
an origin myth. Froma Zeitlin has eloquently described the text as a “natur-
alizing artifact,” “an erotic exemplar,” which constructs itself out of literary
tropes of the past to be itself “the founding paradigm” of erotic experience,
revealing the “‘natural truth’ about the conduct of eros.”12
Taking a more distant view of the hunter’s encounter with the grove and the
painting (or doing what I call a “far reading”), the narrator came upon an
image of Lesbos, part real and part representational, and he was taken over by a
desire to write a response to this image, ἀντιγράψαι τῇ γραφῇ. The prefex
“anti” of course has a range of meanings, from the bland one implied by to
write in response, to a more agonistic sense as in to write against, with a legal
overtone—to make a counter-argument or to provide an account of events
that supplants a rival version.13 This is what I think is the purpose of Daphnis
and Chloe: to reconstruct the erotic reputation of Lesbos, displacing the version
that associates it with female homosexuality with one that identifies it as the site
of the invention of heterosexuality.

Place and genre

Longus’ generic manipulation serves to emphasize the association of the narra-
tive with its Lesbian location. The other extant novels feature exotic travel and
move all over the eastern map: for example, Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe
ranges from Syracuse to Persia and back; Achiles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon
depicts a romance that starts in Tyre and ends in Byzantium; Xenophon’s
Ephesian Tale is similarly expansive, beginning and ending in Ephesus with
episodes in various places including Egypt Syria, Ethiopia, and Italy; and
Heliodorus’ novel Aethiopika traces a path from Delphi to Ethiopian Meroe.
Though Longus’ novel definitely partakes of many of this genre’s conventions,
e.g. the subject of young lovers getting married, all the action is limited to the
island of Lesbos. Longus’ romance is a hybrid, conjoining the conventions of
pastoral poetry (especially as evidenced in Theokritos’ Idylls) with the features
of the romance novel. The prologue signals the literary debt to the pastoral
world with its locus amoenus, its concern with flocks, shepherds, and love. We
are told that Daphnis is named so that his name might seem pastoral (1.3.2),
probably alluding to Theokritos 1, and 7.73.14 According to Bowie, the clear
allusions to Theokritos emphasize the fictionality of the text. Pastoral poetry
depicts an idealized country world where shepherd’s work is so easy that they
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 121
have lots of time for music and erotic fantasies. In Daphnis and Chloe, Lesbos
serves as this fantasy land, but it also partakes of the geography of the real, in
conformity with the conventions of the ancient novel. So realistic is the descrip-
tion of Lesbos that scholars can pinpoint various places that meet the geographic
specifications of the text: a place 20 stades from Mytilene that triangulates with
Methymna, where there are pastures near a long beach with an elevated forest, a
river nearby for Daphnis to bathe in, springs for Chloe’s bath, and the Nymph’s
grove, where snow is at least a possibility in the winter. All of these criteria are met
in the climate, geography, geology, and landscape of Lesbos.15
By merging the geographic conventions of pastoral with those of the novel,
Lesbos serves as the ideal place apart from the real world, at the same time as it
stages the exotic travel of the lovers, in a realistic, historical place. The ambiguity
between aesthetic object and historical account is projected in Longus’ description
of his novel as a κτῆμα τερπνὸν, a pleasant possession. As Thalia Panidiri notes, he
thus alludes to Thucydides’ Histories, famously described as a κτῆμα εἰς ἀέι (1.22),
but also associates the novel even further with its site, for Dionysophanes’ estate is
immediately referred to as a κτῆμα κάλλιστον (1.1.2).16
The space of the novel is miniaturized, and Lesbos then serves as both the
novel’s Greek home-base and the site of exotic travel. When Chloe is captured
by pirates, they ridiculously take her a mile away, and after Daphnis grieves and
falls asleep, and dreams of the Nymphs, and they tell him he has neglected Pan,
she is set free, and she and her flocks leave her captor’s boat, going ashore and
walking home the next day. Longus’ conjoining of these two genres reveals the
ambiguities of Lesbos as a place: he draws on the fact that in the Greek imaginary
Lesbos exists as a fantasy land, a place apart, but it also has a historical reality.
Set on the eastern edge of the Aegean Sea, it straddles the line between Greek
territory and foreign destination.
Longus’ Lesbos is highly wrought: it exists simultaneously in a mythical and
historical timeframe, and functions as a landscape within a place. The landscape,
moreover, is not merely an invisible force of interpellation, but rather is an actor in
the events of the novel. More than just providing a background or raw material for
the narrative and for musical instruments, the land teaches, it sings, it protects, and
more than once it receives maidens running in terror from Pan’s erotic pursuits.
Traces of these maidens live on in the landscape—Phatta as a songbird, Pitus as a
pine tree, Syrinx as the asymmetric pipes made of marsh reeds that pastoral people
play, and Echo as the mimetic music that resounds in response to the goings-on of
the pastoral scene. The remains of these maidens are only the sweetest of sounds,
but they elicit terrifying narratives each time their etiology is explained. There is a
dark side to this charming landscape, and sensitive readers perceive a growing sense
of dread that lives in the land as the novel proceeds.

The plot
Emphatically set in this Lesbian locale, the narrative describes the erotic edu-
cation of Daphnis and Chloe. The two of them fall in love, discover their elite
122 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
identities, get married, and, most importantly, finally figure out how to do it.
Their education begins as a kind of call and response with Chloe leading, but
then Daphnis has an encounter with an experienced woman, and the balance
of power and knowledge shifts in his direction. As readers sensitive to gender
construction have noticed, the text seems to consciously close down Chloe’s
subjectivity, silence her voice, and curtail her native interest in sexual exploration
as she moves toward marriage. As John J. Winkler observed:

Longus’ tentative and exploratory fiction is … more about culture than

about nature, and at times it seems to lead us in the direction of the thesis
that sex itself is in no recoverable sense a natural fact but is through and
through a social reality. Insofar as that is true, we must wonder why the
mythos of Chloe is a tale specifically of rape repeatedly escaped and yet
continually re-surfacing.17

Winkler suggests that Longus calls into question the violence of patriarchy
through the theme of rape in his depiction of the education of Chloe. Other
readers since then do not deny the depiction of this violence in the text, but
explain it differently. Goldhill emphasizes the playfulness of the text, and
interprets the violence surrounding Chloe and sex as part of the ideological
wallpaper of Greek culture.18 Montiglio differs from Winkler in thinking that
the text endorses the sexual violence against women that it depicts.19 I think
that the representation of sexual violence in the text is intentional, and didactic
for Chloe. Many of the images of rape in the novel are intertwined with the
themes of female sexual and musical agency. These are scenes in which the land
plays an active role. While there is no inherent connection between female
sexuality, musicality and landscape, Longus persistently associates the three in
this novel that makes Lesbos the site of the invention of heterosexuality.
When Daphnis and Chloe first start to desire one another, they cannot figure
out how to satisfy their erotic longing. They look to their flock animals as
exempla, but Chloe rejects the feasibility of replicating their mounted inter-
course. Their desire continues to wax and their frustration grows too, until the
helpful urban adulteress, Lykainion, or “Little She Wolf,” enters their world
and teaches Daphnis the crucial piece of information that the two needed to
learn. Significantly, this is not how to penetrate, for that is something nature
takes care of and a hard limit beyond which the text does not trespass. Rather,
this is the substance of Lykainion’s lesson:

Ἐκέλευσεν αὐτὸν καθίσαι πλησίον αὐτῆς, ὡς εἶχε, καὶ φιλήματα φιλεῖν

οἷα εἰώθει καὶ ὅσα, καὶ φιλοῦντα ἅμα περιβάλλειν καὶ κατακλίνεσθαι
χαμαί. Ὡς δὲ ἐκαθέσθη καὶ ἐφίλησε καὶ κατεκλίνη, μαθοῦσα ἐνεργεῖν
δυνάμενον καὶ σφριγῶντα, ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς ἐπὶ πλευρὰν κατακλίσεως ἀνίσ-
τησιν, αὑτὴν δὲ ὑποστορέσασα ἐντέχνως ἐς τὴν τέως ζητουμένην ὁδὸν
ἦγε. Τὸ δὲ ἐντεῦθεν οὐδὲν περιειργάζετο ξένον: αὐτὴ γὰρ ἡ φύσις λοιπὸν
ἐπαίδευσε τὸ πρακτέον.
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 123
She bid him to sit down near her, as he had, and to give her the same sort and
as many kisses as he usually did, and at the same time to embrace her and to lie
down next to her on the ground. When he had sat and kissed and lay down,
she learned that he was capable of execution and full to bursting. She raised
him up from lying on his side, she spread herself under him and skillfully led
him to the way sought for so long. From that point on she did nothing
strange, for nature itself taught him henceforth what needed to be done.

As Simon Goldhill notes, “as the narrative reaches the moment beyond which
Daphnis has been unable to progress without explicit instruction, the description
reverts to the most euphemistic expression” (1995: 26). Indeed, this reticence
puts the reader in the position of the sexually experienced voyeur, an effect
that made Rohde denounce the text as characterized by a “revolting, hypocri-
tical sophistication.” Perhaps it is prurient interest in reading about “the long
sought road,” or passage, as Goldhill suggests, that has made readers, as far as I
know all of them, pass over the crucial information that Lykainion imparts to
Daphnis, that he had been unable to discover himself, that is, that the man goes
on top.20 Sex is left to nature, but the crucial thing that Daphnis (and Chloe)
need to learn for sexual consummation is that there is a gender hierarchy, by
which women are subordinate to men.
Daphnis and Chloe had tried to imitate the methods of herd animals in their
quest to satisfy their mutual desire (3.14). Just before Lykainion’s lesson, when
Daphnis proposes that he mount Chloe, she offers some practical objections:

“Εἶτα οὐχ ὁρᾷς, ὦ Δάφνι, τὰς αἶγας καὶ τοὺς τράγους καὶ τοὺς κριοὺς καὶ
τὰς οἶς ὡς ὀρθοὶ μὲν ἐκεῖνοι δρῶσιν, ὀρθαὶ δὲ ἐκεῖναι πάσχουσιν, οἱ μὲν
ἐπιπηδήσαντες, αἱ δὲ κατανωτισάμεναι; Σὺ δέ με ἀξιοῖς συγκατακλινῆναι
καὶ ταῦτα γυμνήν; Καίτοιγε ἐκεῖναι πόσον ἐκδεδυμένης ἐμοῦ λασιώ-
τεραι;” Πείθεται Δάφνις καὶ συγκατακλινεὶς αὐτῇ πολὺν χρόνον ἔκειτο
καὶ οὐδὲν ὧν ἕνεκα ὤργα ποιεῖν ἐπιστάμενος ἀνίστησιν αὐτὴν καὶ κατό-
πιν περιεφύετο μιμούμενος τοὺς τράγους. Πολὺ δὲ μᾶλλον ἀπορηθείς,
καθίσας ἔκλαεν εἰ καὶ κριῶν ἀμαθέστερος εἰς τὰ ἔρωτος ἔργα.
Then don’t you see, Daphnis, that in the case of the she-goats and the he-
goats and the rams and the ewes, the males do it upright and the females
have it done to them. The males leap up and the females carry them on
their back. Do you think it is right that I lie down and do these things
naked? Moreover, how much more shaggy these females are than I am
even when clothed! Daphnis was persuaded and lying down for a long
time with her and knowing how to do none of the deeds he wanted to
do, he made her stand up and he clung to her from behind mimicking the
he-goats. Much more at a loss, he sat down and cried that he was more
stupid than rams in the deeds of love.
124 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
Given Chloe’s objections to being mounted as she lays naked on the ground,
Daphnis stands her up, embraces her from behind, and significantly the method
used by animals does not work, but ends in total frustration. While this position
was once part of the Greek visual vocabulary, apparently it does not prompt
nature to teach Daphnis what needed to be done.
The text ascribes patriarchy to convention, not nature, and then locates
human sexuality at the intersection of the two. But once Daphnis has learned
how to situate himself to make love from the helpful Lykainion, Chloe’s
agency and subjectivity are progressively diminished in the text.21 Winkler has
argued that the information Lykainion gives Daphnis about a girl’s experience
losing her virginity, awareness of the trauma she will undergo, and, as Goldhill
suggests, willingness to man up to the responsibility for inflicting this pain
causes an asymmetry between the pastoral pair, a gap that grows as the text
While Daphnis learns that the man goes on top, there are perhaps more
nuanced lessons for Chloe. Stories about women seem to emanate from the
environment and work to dissociate the feminine poetic voice from the female
body. While the gender and musical trajectories have been thoughtfully analyzed
by others, these interpretations have not been integrated. My argument incor-
porates the importance of place into the equation, which in turn suggests a way
of understanding how these strands work together, and imputes a purposeful
authority to Longus’ depiction of sexual violence against female musicians as
opposed to an unintentional communication of ideology. I see Daphnis and
Chloe as a systematic dismantling of the association of Lesbos with independent
female sexual and musical agency through representation of the landscape.
Lesbos is re-presented as a land that actively promotes hierarchical hetero-
sexuality as it absorbs female poetics into its landscape. In the next section, I
will explore allusions to Sappho’s poetry, where this dynamic is most clearly
operative in the way in which Longus appropriates and re-purposes her music
to his own ends. This will in turn lay the groundwork for understanding the
widespread role of sexual violence against female musicians in Daphnis and
Chloe that acts as a teacher to Chloe, and the way that it is re-purposed in the
marriage ceremony at the end of the novel.

Although Sappho has no explicit business in the landscape of Daphnis and
Chloe, her poetry haunts the language of the text. Longus appropriates Sappho’s
words, like the repetition of poikilos (2.2, 2.4, 2.12, 2.35, 4.26), the description
of the effects of love as sweet glukus and bitter, pikros (1.18.2–3), and in general
the description of the debilitating effects of desire in words reminiscent of
Sappho’s poetry (1.17.15–18). Furthermore, her poetic images literally appear
in the landscape. As Winkler puts it: “It is as if Longus’ characters, living as they
do on the island of Lesbos, now and again just happen to come across the same
scenes which Sappho saw.”23 Sappho’s poetry is part of Lesbos’s identity as a
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 125
place, and part of Longus’ project is to reconfigure the relationship of Sappho’s
poetry to Lesbos.
The most explicit of the references to Sappho is the scene of the lone apple
on the highest branch. Nestled in a description of the abundant fertility, the
fruitfulness of the Lesbian countryside, Longus turns to a description of apples:
falling on the ground, hanging from the branches, fragrant, blooming, smelling
like wine, and shining like gold. In the midst of this linguistic cornucopia, he
focuses our attention on a single apple hanging from a tree:

Μία μηλέα ἐτετρύγητο καὶ οὔτε καρπὸν εἶχεν οὔτε φύλλον: γυμνοὶ
πάντες ἦσαν οἱ κλάδοι: καὶ ἓν μῆλον ἐλέλειπτο ἐν αὐτοῖς ἄκροις ἀκρό-
τατον, μέγα καὶ καλὸν καὶ τῶν πολλῶν τὴν εὐωδίαν ἐνίκα μόνον: ἔδεισεν
ὁ τρυγῶν ἀνελθεῖν, ἠμέλησε καθελεῖν: τάχα δὲ καὶ ἐφύλαττε τὸ καλὸν
μῆλον ἐρωτικῷ ποιμένι. Τοῦτο τὸ μῆλον ὡς εἶδεν ὁ Δάφνις, ὥρμα τρυγᾶν
ἀνελθὼν καὶ Χλόης κωλυούσης ἠμέλησεν: ἡ μὲν ἀμεληθεῖσα, ὀργισθεῖσα
πρὸς τὰς ἀγέλας ἀπῆλθε: Δάφνις δὲ ἀναδραμὼν ἐφίκετο τρυγῆσαι καὶ
ἐκόμισε δῶρον Χλόῃ καὶ λόγον τοιόνδ̓ εἶπεν ὠργισμένῃ “ὦ παρθένε,
τοῦτο τὸ μῆλον ἔφυσαν Ὧραι καλαὶ καὶ φυτὸν καλὸν ἔθρεψε πεπαί-
νοντος ἡλίου, καὶ ἐτήρησε Τύχη. Καὶ οὐκ ἔμελλον αὐτὸ καταλιπεῖν
ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχων, ἵνα πέσῃ χαμαὶ καὶ ἢ ποίμνιον αὐτὸ πατήσῃ νεμόμενον
ἢ ἑρπετὸν φαρμάξῃ συρόμενον ἢ χρόνος δαπανήσῃ κείμενον. Βλεπόμε-
νον ἐπαινούμενον. Τοῦτο Ἀφροδίτη κάλλους ἔλαβεν ἆθλον: τοῦτο ἐγὼ
σοὶ δίδωμι νικητήριον. Ὁμοίως ἔχομεν τοὺς σοὺς μάρτυρας: ἐκεῖνος ἦν
ποιμήν, αἰπόλος ἐγώ.” Ταῦτα εἰπὼν ἐντίθησι τοῖς κόλποις: ἡ δὲ ἐγγὺς
γενόμενον κατεφίλησεν, ὥστε ὁ Δάφνις οὐ μετέγνω τολμήσας ἀνελθεῖν
εἰς τοσοῦτον ὕψος: ἔλαβε γὰρ κρεῖττον καὶ χρυσοῦ μήλου φίλημα.
One apple tree had been harvested and had neither fruit nor foliage. All
the branches were naked, and one apple was left, the highest on the high
branches. It was big and beautiful and the sweet fragrance alone conquered
many. The harvester was afraid to climb up, neglected to take it, or perhaps
he was saving the beautiful apple for an erotic shepherd. When Daphnis
saw this apple he rushed to pluck it climbing up, and he ignored Chloe
who was hindering him. Since she was ignored, Chloe became angry and
went off toward the flocks. But Daphnis climbed up and was able to harvest
the apple, went back and he brought it as a gift and he made the following
argument to Chloe since she was enraged: “Maiden, the beautiful seasons
grew this apple and nurtured this beautiful plant with the sun striking it,
and chance guarded it. Since I have eyes, I was not going to leave it to fall
on the ground, and either a flock animal might trample it or a creeping
thing might poison it slithering along, or time might consume it lying on
the ground, although it has been seen and praised. Aphrodite took this as a
prize of her beauty and this I give to you as the conqueror’s reward. We
have similar witnesses: that one was a shepherd, I am a goatherd.” Saying
this he put it in her bosom. And she kissed him since he was near. And
126 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
Daphnis did not regret daring to climb up, for he got a kiss better than
even a golden apple.

Of course, we know that there was no fearful harvester, nor did anyone have
an erotic shepherd in mind, but rather Sappho left the apple high on the
highest branch, in a poem that is preserved as a fragment:

οἷον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρυεθεται ἄκρῳ ἐπ᾿ὕσδῳ,

ἄκρον ἐπ᾿ἀκροτάτῳ, λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπηες,
οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ᾿, ἀλλ᾿οὐκ ἐδύναντ᾿ἐπίκεσθαι…
Like a sweet apple growing red on a high branch, high on the highest
branch, the apple pickers forgot it,
no, they did not forget it, but they were not able to reach it…24
(Sappho fr. 105A L–P, Voigt)

The fragmentary state of Sappho’s poem has provoked many varied opinions
about the significance of this passage.25 Some argue that the apple represents a
desirable wife, others a woman past her prime, and still others think it is meant
as wedding-style abuse. Winkler suggests that the unattainable apple represents
the inability to possess feminine sexuality. Anne Carson writes of the beautiful
apple just out of reach as a meditation on desire, an experience that depends on
lack. She notes a sense of constraint in the fragment: “The reaching action of
desire is attempted again and again in different ways through the different lines;
with each line it becomes clearer that the reach will not succeed.”26 In the
fragment, through the rhetorical trope of epanorthosis, Sappho gives informa-
tion and then takes it away, and replaces it with new details, a kind of teasing
seductive technique steadying the mind’s eye on the apple that grows ever
more desirable and unattainable as the poem progresses. First the apple is on a
high branch, then it is high on the highest branch. The reason it still hangs
there is first that it was forgotten and then that it was out of reach. As Carson
says: “The reach of desire is defined in action: beautiful (in its object), foiled (in
its attempt), endless (in time).”27
In Longus’ text, there is a superlative inversion—here the apple is highest,
whereas in Sappho’s fragment the branch is highest. The constraint in Sappho’s
poem is relegated to Chloe, who tries to hinder Daphnis. But Daphnis easily
plucks the apple, the symbol of unattainable desire that Sappho had first dangled,
and which had been hanging there out of reach for hundreds of years in her
poem. He attains the unattainable and then recasts it as a gift for Chloe, who
did not want him to pick it in the first place. As Winkler notes, this is one of
the last times in the novel we get insight into Chloe’s consciousness.28 In the
plucking of the apple, Longus intervenes in the Lesbian poetic landscape and
co-opts Sappho’s poetic imagery for his own narrative. Whatever Sappho had
intended, the apple is not that. It cannot be a symbol of unattainable desire or a
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 127
representation of the unknowability of feminine sexuality. Now the meaning
of the apple is clear—it provides the opportunity for Daphnis to assert his adult
male mastery over and against the protestations of Chloe. His climbing the tree,
plucking Sappho’s apple, is Daphnis’ heroic accomplishment that guarantees his
right to assume the mantle of elite masculinity. In this intertextual conversation
between Sappho and Longus, the female poetic voice, as we will see is also
the case in the story of Phatta, and Syrinx and Echo, has been returned to the
Lesbian landscape where it can naturally facilitate a social order where men are
on top, in both music and marriage.

The cleaving of the female poetic voice from the feminine body happens
through the inset myths about Phatta, Syrinx, and Echo, but as others have
noticed, these myths are carefully intertwined with the experience of Chloe. In
the following section, I trace the way in which the feminine voice is sub-
ordinated to the masculine, the female body is dominated by the male, and the
residue of this process echoes on eternally in the landscape of Lesbos. Chloe
learns from these stories, always acting differently from the hapless maidens
whose stories literally emanate from the landscape.
The first mythos in Daphnis and Chloe is about the wood dove, or Phatta.
Chloe, hearing a wood-dove, wonders what it is saying. Daphnis launches into
“the well-known story” (μυθολογῶν τὰ θρυλούμενα:

Ἦν οὕτω, παρθένε, παρθένος καλὴ καὶ ἔνεμε βοῦς πολλὰς ἐν ὕλῃ:ἦν δὲ

ἄρα καὶ ᾠδικὴ καὶ ἐτέρποντο [p. 258] αἱ βόες αὐτῆς τῇ μουσικῇ, καὶ
ἔνεμεν οὔτε καλαύροπος πληγῇ οὔτε κέντρου προσβολῇ, ἀλλὰ καθίσασα
ὑπὸ πίτυν καὶ στεφανωσαμένη πίτυϊ ᾖδε Πᾶνα καὶ τὴν Πίτυν, καὶ αἱ βόες
τῇ φωνῇ παρέμενον. Παῖς οὐ μακρὰν νέμων βοῦς, καὶ αὐτὸς καλὸς καὶ
ᾠδικὸς ὡς ἡ παρθένος, φιλονεικήσας πρὸς τὴν μελῳδίαν, μείζονα ὡς
ἀνήρ, ἡδίονα ὡς παῖς φωνὴν ἀντεπεδείξατο, καὶ τῶν βοῶν ὀκτὼ τὰς
ἀρίστας ἐς τὴν ἰδίαν ἀγέλην θέλξας ἀπεβουκόλησεν. Ἄχθεται ἡ παρθένος
τῇ βλάβῃ τῆς ἀγέλης, τῇ ἥττῃ τῆς ᾠδῆς, καὶ εὔχεται τοῖς θεοῖς ὄρνις
γενέσθαι πρὶν οἴκαδε ἀφικέσθαι. Πείθονται οἱ θεοὶ καὶ ποιοῦσι τήνδε τὴν
ὄρνιν, ὄρειον ὡς παρθένον, μουσικὴν ὡς ἐκείνην. Καὶ ἔτι νῦν ᾄδουσα
μηνύει τὴν συμφοράν, ὅτι βοῦς ζητεῖ πεπλανημένας.
There was a maiden, oh maiden, as beautiful as you. And she pastured
many cows in the wood and she was also musical and the cows enjoyed
her singing. She managed her herd without hitting them with a stick or
prodding them with a goad. Sitting under a pine and garlanded with pine,
she sang about Pan and Pitus, and her cows remained beside her voice.
There was a boy not far off pasturing cows and he himself was musical and
beautiful like the maiden. He competed with her in singing; he showed
forth a voice that was greater since he was a man and sweeter since he was
128 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
a boy, and charming them he lured eight of her best cattle astray into his
own flock. The girl was mad about the harm to her flock, and the defeat
in song, and she prayed to the gods to become a bird before she went back
home. The gods were persuaded and they made her a mountain bird, as
musical as she was, and still now singing, she reveals her disaster, that she is
looking for her wandering cattle.

Chloe is clearly associated with the girl Phatta, from the echo of παρθένε,
παρθένος, to the detail that she leads her cows with music and not force. This
vignette follows shortly before Chloe will use her musical skill to free Daphnis
and Dorcon’s cows from the Tyrian pirates marauding their land and capturing
Daphnis and his herds (1.28). Like Chloe, Phatta is garlanded with pine and has
a problematic connection to Pan. This is the only musical contest in the novel,
although the pastoral debt suggests that this motif might be more prevalent. As
Silvia Montiglio notices, in pastoral poetry (for example, Theokritos 5) we
would expect men to vie with one another for musical supremacy, but here,
significantly, the contest is mapped onto gender difference: the boy’s voice is
greater and sweeter because he is a man and a boy: μείζονα ὡς ἀνήρ, ἡδίονα
ὡς παῖς φωνὴν ἀντεπεδείξατο.29 If we assume that this chauvinism is only
Daphnis’ bravado, we will come up short in the very next chapter, when the
narrator notes that Chloe drives her herds out more slowly than Daphnis
because she is a girl: Χλόη βραδύτερον ὡς κόρη (1.28). The gendering of traits
continues throughout the text, and I will return to this theme in my discussion
of Chloe.
Phatta sings of Pitus, for whom Pan conceived an unrequited love and pursued
until she prayed to turn into a tree, and her wish was granted.30 The theme of
the separation of the feminine voice from the (human) female body is echoed
in the main frame of the story, for Phatta becomes a bird before she makes it
home. Her voice is returned to the pastoral landscape and becomes part of
Daphnis and Chloe, the story of heterosexual love in which the singing voice
does not belong to the woman, but rather is an aspect of the landscape.
Through the metamorphosis of Phatta, Longus renders the dissociation of the
female body from the musician as a living feature of the Lesbian landscape. If
Chloe felt any affinity for Phatta as a musician and herder involved with a
beautiful boy nearby, this story might inspire a sense of foreboding and she
might not find the sound of the wood dove so delightful any longer. Her
reaction is not given, but the constellation of musical maiden, erotics, and the
land is further elaborated in the Syrinx and Echo myths.

The second inset tale is the story of Syrinx (2.32–2.37). It is presented by
Lamon, Daphnis’ foster father, at the herdsmen’s festival celebrating Pan, just
after Chloe has been rescued by Pan from the Methymneans (2.20–2.28).
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 129
Lamon sings while Philetas’ son goes to get his big syrinx, after rejecting
Daphnis’ as made for a child. In the interim, Lamon tells his tale. He mentions
that he learned the song from a Sicilian shepherd, and he paid a goat and a
syrinx for the song, thus “reifying” the content of the song.31 There was a
beautiful maiden (parthenos) who sang beautifully and herded flocks. All of these
details again align her with Chloe.32 Pan loved her and when she did not
reciprocate, he pursued her. She ran into the reeds. He began slashing them
and although the text does not mention that he kills her, he realizes she is not
there and fashions an instrument out of uneven reeds to commemorate their
asymmetric relationship (2.34).
When Lamon is finished with his tale, which is received by one member of
the audience as “sweeter than song” (2.35), it is followed by Philetas’ virtuoso
display on his syrinx. As Karin Schlapbach notes, he possesses “an infinite range
of sounds” and masters the full range of possibilities. She notices the tension
between the open-ended range of signification of the syrinx in relation to the
finite nature of the story of its etiology.33
Daphnis and Chloe then perform a sanitized song and dance representing a
version of the story as sweet and naïve as only they could produce:

Ὁ Δάφνις Πᾶνα ἐμιμεῖτο, τὴν Σύριγγα Χλόη: ὁ μὲν ἱκέτευε πείθων, ἡ δὲ

ἀμελοῦσα ἐμειδία: ὁ μὲν ἐδίωκε καὶ ἐπ̓ ἄκρων τῶν ὀνύχων ἔτρεχε τὰς
χηλὰς μιμούμενος, ἡ δὲ ἐνέφαινε τὴν κάμνουσαν ἐν τῇ φυγῇ. Ἔπειτα
Χλόη μὲν εἰς τὴν ὕλην ὡς εἰς ἕλος κρύπτεται, Δάφνις δὲ λαβὼν τὴν
Φιλητᾶ σύριγγα τὴν μεγάλην ἐσύρισε γοερὸν ὡς ἐρῶν, ἐρωτικὸν ὡς
πείθων, ἀνακλητικὸν ὡς ἐπιζητῶν, ὥστε ὁ Φιλητᾶς θαυμάσας φιλεῖ τε
ἀναπηδήσας καὶ τὴν σύριγγα χαρίζεται φιλήσας καὶ εὔχεται καὶ Δάφνιν
καταλιπεῖν αὐτὴν ὁμοίῳ διαδόχῳ.
Daphnis imitated Pan and Chloe played Syrinx. He persuaded as he
beseeched her, and she disregarded him and smiled. He pursued her and
ran on his tip-toes mimicking hooves, and she appeared to be getting tired
in the flight. Then Chloe hid in the woods as though she were in the
reeds. But Daphnis took Philetas’ syrinx and played a great lamentation
like one in love, an erotic song, like one seeking, and a song to recall as
though pursuing, so that Philetas marveled at him. He leapt to his feet and
kissed him, and gave him the syrinx as a gift and prayed that Daphnis leave
it to a similar successor.

This heavily mimetic scene34 recalls, reflects, and refracts a plethora of themes
in the text. It is a musical coming of age for Daphnis, who inherits the syrinx
and takes his place in a lineage of musicians. The syrinx itself has sexual over-
tones as well. Philetas’ instrument, described as an organon, is a word that also
means body part. Daphnis’ was too small for Philetas to play, which is why his
son had to run and get his big instrument. With Daphnis taking on the role of
130 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
the lustful Pan, the text portends that Chloe will take a sexually subordinate
role to Daphnis. Through the mediation of representation, Chloe’s earlier
desire that Daphnis could blow in her like a syrinx (Εἴθε αὐτοῦ σύριγξ ἐγενό-
μην, ἵν̓ ἐμπνέῃ μο / If only I could be his syrinx, so that he may blow in me
(1.14)) is also fulfilled.
In this myth again, the musical girl is integrated into the landscape when
Syrinx disappears into the reeds of the marsh. Syrinx’s agency as a singer is
again dissociated from her body and then re-purposed, now as part of the
Lesbian landscape as well as its musical culture. She returns to nature and
becomes the very instrument of Lesbian pastoral, and metaphorically the
instrument of patriarchal heterosexuality.

In the third book, there is another myth of feminine landscape. Just after the
Lykainion episode, when Daphnis has learned how to have sex, and has gained
knowledge beyond Chloe’s, and keeps a secret from her as well, fearing
Lykainion’s over-dramatic threat that if Daphnis takes Chloe’s virginity, she
will lay in a pool of blood, as if she had been murdered (καθάπερ πεφονευμένη
(3.19.2)), he returns to Chloe and their sweet unsophisticated behavior. A ship
goes by, with sailors singing a nautical song in a call-and-response mode. When
the ship enters the harbor, they begin to hear an echo:

κοῖλος γὰρ τῷ πεδίῳ αὐλὼν ὑποκείμενος καὶ τὸν ἦχον εἰς αὑτὸν ὡς
ὄργανον δεχόμενος πάντων τῶν φθεγγομένων μιμητὴν φωνὴν ἀπεδίδου,
ἰδίᾳ μὲν τῶν κωπῶν τὸν ἦχον, ἰδίᾳ δὲ τὴν φωνὴν τῶν ναυτῶν: καὶ ἐγίνετο
ἄκουσμα τερπνόν. Φθανούσης γὰρ τῆς ἀπὸ τῆς θαλάττης φωνῆς, ἡ ἐκ τῆς
γῆς φωνὴ τοσοῦτον ἐπαύετο βράδιον, ὅσον ἤρξατο.
For the harbor lay under the plain of the hollow, and receiving the sound
into itself, like an instrument, it gave back a sound mimicking all the
things being said (now) the echo of the oars, now the voice of the sailor,
and the sound was delightful. With the sound from the sea going first, the
voice from the land stopped as slowly as it began.

Longus’ prose gives voice to the land and sea; he creates a symphony of voices
and oars with the landscape joining in the song. Daphnis enjoys the music,
trying to preserve it so that he can play the natural and man-made song on
his syrinx. Chloe is befuddled, never having heard an echo before, and wonders
(like Menelaus in Euripides’ Helen) if there is another world the same as theirs
beyond the heights. In response, Daphnis takes on the role of teacher, offering
to explain the phenomenon for ten kisses as pay.
He launches into the story of Echo, again establishing parallels and significant
differences between the mythic girl and Chloe:
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 131
Τρέφεται μὲν ὑπὸ Νυμφῶν, παιδεύεται δὲ ὑπὸ Μουσῶν συρίττειν,
αὐλεῖν, τὰ πρὸς λύραν, τὰ πρὸς κιθάραν, πᾶσαν ᾠδήν, ὥστε καὶ
παρθενίας εἰς ἄνθος ἀκμάσασα ταῖς Νύμφαις συνεχόρευε, ταῖς Μούσαις
συνῇδεν: ἄρρενας δὲ ἔφευγε πάντας, καὶ ἀνθρώπους καὶ θεούς, φιλοῦσα
τὴν παρθενίαν.
She was raised by the Nymphs, educated by the Muses to play the syrinx,
the flute, songs for the lyre, songs for the lute, every song, so that in fact
when she grew into the bloom of maidenhood, she danced together with
the Nymphs and sang together with the Muses. But she fled all males, men
and gods, loving that which is maidenly.

Echo was raised in a purely feminine musical culture and she does not like
men. This disavowal of men is depicted as radically destructive in the case of
Echo. Indeed, it was her same-sex proclivity that ultimately doomed her to a
same-sound eternity. Pan, jealous of her musical talent and angry that she
evades his lust, throws madness on the rustic men around who destroy her:

Οἱ δὲ ὥσπερ κύνες ἢ λύκοι διασπῶσιν αὐτὴν καὶ ῥίπτουσιν εἰς πᾶσαν γῆν
ἔτι ᾄδοντα τὰ μέλη. Καὶ τὰ μέλη Γῆ χαριζομένη Νύμφαις ἔκρυψε πάντα.
Καὶ ἐτήρησε τὴν μουσικὴν καὶ γνώμῃ Μουσῶν ἀφίησι φωνὴν καὶ μιμεῖ-
ται πάντα, καθάπερ τότε ἡ κόρη, θεούς, ἀνθρώπους, ὄργανα, θηρία:
μιμεῖται καὶ αὐτὸν συρίττοντα τὸν Πᾶνα.
They like dogs or wolves tore her to pieces and they threw her limbs still
singing into all the land. And Earth as a favor to the Nymphs covered all her
limbs, and protected her music and by the plan of the Muses she sends forth
her voice and mimicks everything, just like the girl once did, the gods, men,
instruments, and beasts. She even mimicks Pan himself playing the syrinx.

This myth reaches a peak of violence against the female body, and yet the bond
between body and music is so strong that Echo’s limbs are the same as her music,
for τὰ μέλη means both songs and limbs.35 The detail that her limbs or songs are
still singing when she is thrown throughout the earth is tantalizingly Ovidian, and
associates Echo with Orpheus, who was torn to pieces for rejecting the raving
Ciconian women. In Ovid’s version, after suffering a sparagmos, his head, still
singing, floated to Lesbos.36 Significantly, as Schlapbach points out, in other ver-
sions of the story, most notably Ovid’s story of Echo and Narcissus (3.356–3.401),
Echo is not a musician. Schlapbach concludes that this detail makes it abundantly
clear that this story is meant to pertain to Chloe.37 But there are important dif-
ferences between Chloe and Echo. Chloe does not shun men and as the novel
proceeds; she becomes less and less musical and, for that matter, even vocal.38
While Echo is absorbed into the earth, naturalized as were Phatta and Syrinx,
her musical agency is obliterated. Now she is a feature of the landscape and
132 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
repeats sound indiscriminantly, even replicating the song of Pan, whose pursuit
destroyed her. Reduced to an aural quality, now Echo must repeat whatever
sound she hears. The separation of musical agency from the female body does
not merely resonate with Chloe’s trajectory toward silent wife—it is larger than
that. As Longus has it, through Echo’s metamorphosis, the radical dissolution of
poet and woman becomes part of the earth, an element of nature, so author-
itatively true that it conjoins myth and the Lesbian landscape. This landscape is
then recycled into a myth that depicts Lesbos itself as engendering

When Chloe and the flock animals were seized by the Methymnean raiders,
Daphnis cries and falls asleep, and has a dream in which the nymphs tell him
that Pan will save her (2.22–2.23). Indeed, all the harbor is thrown into a panic,
Chloe appears with a garland of pine, the animals have ivy on their horns, Pan’s
syrinx plays the sound of a war-trumpet, and the Methymneans hallucinate
scenes of battle (2.26). Their general has a dream in which Pan demands that
Chloe and the flock animals be returned to the Nymphs, since Eros wishes to
make a mythos of her (2.27.2). Book 4 lacks an aitia, and scholars have
accounted for this variously.39 My reading generally agrees with Ewen Bowie,
who notes that “in Book IV the absence of an inset myth encourages readers to
see the sexual union of Daphnis and Chloe as itself mythical, and hence to
interpret the work as a whole as outside the traditional generic categories of
myth and historiography.” Indeed, as soon as the dream of the general is
reported, the reader begins to fit Chloe’s narrative into the mythological
paradigm that Longus has developed in his inset myths. Thus, we look to see
sexual violence, the separation of musicality from the female body, and the
re-incorporation of music into the Lesbian landscape. However, Chloe’s myth
is not a succinct inset tale, but rather the surrounding story, and thus these
features are much more attenuated than in the digressive aitia.
Until her wedding night, Chloe avoids the violence by choosing to court a
role that differs from the hapless maidens in the mythological tales. After the
Phatta story, immediately the Tyrian pirates begin their marauding, capturing
Daphnis and herd animals. Chloe learns from the dying Dorkon to play a song
on the syrinx (2.29) and frees Daphnis from his captors. As opposed to com-
peting with Daphnis like Phatta and being worse because she is a girl (2.27.10),
she has learned from him and uses music to save him.
Daphnis and Chloe dance out the Syrinx story, whitewashed of the terrifying
elements that Lamon had included. Where Syrinx rejected Pan, whether he
was part goat or all man, Chloe, who had just been saved by Pan, flirtatiously
smiles carelessly at Daphnis playing Pan. The bia that motivates Pan’s pursuit is
mentioned twice in the Syrinx story (2.34.7 and 2.34.8), but it has disappeared
in the reenactment, and in its place we have the charmingly vivid image of
Daphnis walking on tiptoes, imitating goat hooves. At the end of the play,
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 133
Daphnis gets Chloe, and their kissing reunion contrasts their reciprocal attrac-
tion with Syrinx’s flight from rape to her ultimate demise. The difference
between Chloe and Syrinx is that she desires the man who pursues her, and so
she is spared the horror of unreciprocated lust.
After Daphnis and Chloe dance their version of the story, the text provides
evidence that their performance was whitewashed on purpose, not because of
their naivety, and implies that perhaps we should consider other reasons why
they interpreted the story as they did:

τοσοῦτον δὲ ἄρα τῇ Χλόῃ τὸ ἀφελὲς προσῆν ὡς κόρῃ, ὥστε ἐξιοῦσα

τοῦ ἄντρου καὶ δεύτερον ἠξίου λαβεῖν ὅρκον παῤ αὐτοῦ ‘ὦ Δάφνι’
λέγουσα “θεὸς ὁ Πὰν ἐρωτικός ἐστι καὶ ἄπιστος: ἠράσθη μὲν Πίτυος,
ἠράσθη δὲ Σύριγγος: παύεται δὲ οὐδέποτε Δρυάσιν ἐνοχλῶν καὶ Ἐπι-
μηλίσι Νύμφαις παρέχων πράγματα. Οὗτος μὲν οὖν ἀμεληθεὶς ἐν τοῖς
ὅρκοις ἀμελήσει σε κολάσαι, κἂν ἐπὶ πλείονας ἔλθῃς γυναῖκας τῶν ἐν
τῇ σύριγγι καλάμων: σὺ δέ μοι τὸ αἰπόλιον τοῦτο ὄμοσον καὶ τὴν αἶγα
ἐκείνην, ἥ σε ἀνέθρεψε, μὴ καταλιπεῖν Χλόην, ἔστ̓ ἂν πιστή σοι μένῃ:
ἄδικον δὲ εἰς σὲ καὶ τὰς Νύμφας γενομένην καὶ φεῦγε καὶ μίσει καὶ
ἀπόκτεινον ὥσπερ λύκον.”
So simple was Chloe, since she was a maiden that when she went out of
the cave, she thought it was best to get a second oath from him. Saying
“Daphnis, Pan is erotic and untrustworthy: he desired Pitus and he desired
Syrinx. He never ceases troubling the Dryads and providing hassles for the
Nymphs who protect the flocks. He is neglectful in his oaths and he
would neglect to punish you even if you approached more women than
there are reeds in a syrinx. You then swear by this herd of goats, and the
she-goat who raised you that you won’t leave Chloe as long as she remains
faithful to you; if she is unjust to you and the Nymphs, flee her and hate
her and kill her like a wolf.

Where the text says Chloe is simple, her motivation to get a second oath from
Daphnis seems perceptive. She explicitly refers to the stories of Pitus and,
implicitly, Phatta and Syrinx as well. In fact, she seems to proleptically refer to
the story of Echo when she allows that Daphnis can kill her like a wolf if she is
untrue to him. Later, in the winter, Daphnis is called smarter than Chloe,
συνετώτερος κόρης (3.4), when he devises the scheme of standing outside of
her house and hunting birds. The scheme does not work, and he is about to
give up and go home and wait until Spring to see Chloe, when Dryas happens
to come out of his house chasing his dog who has stolen his meat from the
table (3.6-7). Chloe’s simplicity makes her exact an oath before witnesses she trusts
as opposed to a violent would-be rapist, where Daphnis’ superior intelligence
enables him to devise an ineffective scheme that happens to work out despite
its inherent flaws. Maybe Chloe is not so simple after all.
134 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
Finally, in response to the Echo story, where the maiden’s rejection of the
male is amplified, fleeing both men and gods, Chloe responds with a strong
demonstration of her desire for Daphnis. As payment for the story, Chloe gives
Daphnis not only ten kisses, but many more (3.23.19). We can understand her
enthusiastic support of these dread-inspiring myths as the response of a simple
rustic girl, or as the thoughtful and prudent reaction of someone who under-
stands the point of the stories exactly. Women who reject men and excel at
music are punished. Chloe cedes her place as a musician to Daphnis, using her
skills to save him and not compete with him, and she never rejects his
As in the other myths, in the end, Chloe is separated from her music, and it
is in a sense returned to the land. After Daphnis discovers his identity, Chloe
dedicates her own syrinx in a prayer that she will discover her own lineage to
be worthy of Daphnis (4.32.10). After her dedication, Longus gives an account
of a disturbing hymeneal on Chloe’s wedding night:

τότε δὲ νυκτὸς γενομένης πάντες αὐτοὺς παρέπεμπον εἰς τὸν θάλαμον, οἱ

μὲν συρίττοντες, οἱ δὲ αὐλοῦντες, οἱ δὲ δᾷδας μεγάλας ἀνίσχοντες. Καὶ
ἐπεὶ πλησίον ἦσαν τῶν θυρῶν, ᾖδον σκληρᾷ καὶ ἀπηνεῖ τῇ φωνῇ,
καθάπερ τριαίναις γῆν ἀναρρηγνύντες, οὐχ ὑμέναιον ᾄδοντες. Δάφνις δὲ
καὶ Χλόη γυμνοὶ συγκατακλινέντες περιέβαλλον ἀλλήλους καὶ
κατεφίλουν, ἀγρυπνήσαντες τῆς νυκτὸς ὅσον οὐδὲ γλαῦκες: καὶ ἔδρασέ τι
Δάφνις ὧν αὐτὸν ἐπαίδευσε Λυκαίνιον, καὶ τότε Χλόη πρῶτον ἔμαθεν
ὅτι τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς ὕλης γενόμενα ἦν ποιμένων παίγνια.
Then when it was night, they sent them off to their bridal chamber; some
were playing the syrinx others the flute, while some held up great torches.
And when they were near the doors, they sang in a harsh and rough voice,
as though they were breaking up the earth with tridents, not singing a
wedding song. Daphnis and Chloe lay down together naked, they
embraced one another and they kissed, staying up all night like not even
owls do. And Daphnis did some of the things Lykainion taught him, and
then Chloe learned that the things that happened in the wood were
shepherds’ games.

The wedding song, described as sung in a rough and harsh voice (σκληρᾷ καὶ
ἀπηνεῖ τῇ φωνῇ), is, as Winkler notes, “mysterious and unexpected.”40
σκληρός is a poetic word used, for instance, by Sophocles to describe the
Sphinx (σκληρᾶς ἀοιδοῦ S. OT 36), while ἀπηνής is more common in prose
(LSJ sv), although the two words are used in combination by Plutarch (Phocion
1.2). This song of the wedding party may be compared to the strange music
played in response to the Methymnean raiders (2.26), which was a sign of Pan’s
displeasure that they had captured Chloe. The image that the wedding song
sounded like they were breaking up the earth with a hoe is reminiscent of
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 135
Lampis’ lashing out against the garden when he was rejected as Chloe’s suitor:
νύκτα δὴ φυλάξας καὶ ὑπερβὰς τὴν αἱμασιὰν τὰ μὲν ἀνώρυξε, τὰ δὲ κατέκ-
λασε, τὰ δὲ κατεπάτησεν ὥσπερ σῦς / Waiting for night, he went over the
wall and he dug up some plants, some he broke down, and others he trampled
underfoot like a pig (4.7.3–4). Clearly, this is a displaced image of rape, sig-
naling the association of Chloe’s body with the land, and contrasting his
boorish violence with Daphnis’ nurturing care.41
Of course, the allusion to sowing fields is conventionally associated with
marriage, as Winkler notes, and therefore is appropriate here, returning us to
the notion of woman as land. The wedding song, which represents the con-
summation of Daphnis and Chloe’s love, is the song of Lesbos. In this repre-
sentation of music, as in the stories of the other mythological women, Chloe
and her music have been assimilated into the landscape. This strange and rough
music gives voice to the most conventional image of productive Greek het-
erosexual marriage, but it also articulates the Lesbian landscape’s expression of
Chloe’s local experience.
Reading Daphnis and Chloe as a corrective to the Roman imperial discourse
of Lesbos that associated it with female homosexuality thus shows the persistent
patterning in the way in which erotics, music, and landscape interact in the
text. Chloe’s superficial simplicity conceals a more sophisticated understanding,
and it is her interpretation of the inset stories that leads her away from musical
agency toward the role of the silent wife. Chloe’s behavior corrects the errors
of Phatta, Syrinx, and Echo, and their music is re-purposed in the service of
Chloe’s mythos. Chloe is assimilated into the land in her wedding hymn, and
through this union the new song of Lesbos is the hymeneal. No longer is the
music of Lesbos Sappho singing of beautiful women—that apple has been
plucked—instead, the song that Lesbos sings is the wedding song, the sound of
elite heterosexual conjugal reproductive love.
This interpretation has shown how place can be actively deployed in the
construction of sexuality and how the two play a role in the formation of
identity. If, as I have suggested, Longus was counteracting the association of
Lesbos with female homosexuality by representing it as a place that takes an
active role in the generation of heterosexuality, then Longus knew that place
and sexuality are shaped in part by literature. This dynamic shows how ideology
has an effect on materiality or, to put it in other words, the way we imagine
the world shapes the possibilities we have for living in it.

1 Whitmarsh 2011: 75.
2 Mittelstadt 1967; Hunter 1983: 1–15.
3 See Pandiri 1985: 129.
4 Mason 2006: 186–194.
5 Mason 2006: 187.
6 Philippides 1978; 1980: 193.
136 Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality
7 Contrary to what we might expect, there is no explicit depiction of female homo-
eroticism in the text; rather, there is just a consistent suppression, destruction, or
reconfiguring of all its associations. Even the representation of pederasty in this
novel is notably negative. The parasite Gnathon, a comic character who enters in
the fourth book to threaten Daphnis with rape, is introduced as the epitome of
Ὁ δὲ Γνάθων, οἷα μαθὼν ἐσθίειν ἄνθρωπος καὶ πίνειν εἰς μέθην καὶ λαγνεύειν
μετὰ τὴν μέθην καὶ οὐδὲν ἄλλο ὢν ἢ γνάθος καὶ γαστὴρ καὶ τὰ ὑπὸ γαστέρα …
ἀλλὰ καὶ φύσει παιδεραστὴς ὢν / This Gnathon inasmuch as he was a man who
had learned how to eat and to drink until drunk and to have sex after he was drunk,
and he was nothing other than a jaw and a belly and the things under the belly …
But being a pederast by nature (4.11.4–7). Gnathon is presented as merely a schema
of desiring body parts and a pederast by nature. Gnathon desires Daphnis, butters
him up with praise of his goats and music, and then asks him “to present his back-
side as the she-goats do to he-goats” / εἶτα ὄπισθεν παρασχεῖν τοιοῦτον οἷον αἱ
αἶγες τοῖς τράγοις (4.12.1). Daphnis responds that no one has ever seen rams
mounting rams or he-goats mounting he-goats, suggesting that in Daphnis’ eyes,
pederasty is against nature. While there is a tradition in Greek literature of making
arguments against homosexuality from nature (Plato Laws 836c; male–male relations
called para phusin (636c)), the depiction of Gnathon goes beyond that to evoke
disgust in addition. When Gnathon tries to mount Daphnis, he is too drunk to
stand. Daphnis easily knocks him over and then “scampers off like a puppy”
(4.12.8–12). Previous scholars have dismissed the homophobic elements here.
Goldhill cautions that this depiction is ironic and humorous, and cannot simply be
mined as evidence for the history of sexuality, but rather needs to be seen in con-
text. Winkler argues against imputing homophobia to this characterization, making
the depiction of Gnathon conform to a Foucauldian model of pederasty—claiming
that the problem is about Gnathon’s lack of self-control and the social disparity
between the two actors: “Presumably, if Daphnis had really been a simple slave and
goatherd, no one of his elders would have seen any unfitness in Gnathon’s design”
(Goldhill 1995: 47–111). But Daphnis, the nature boy, deriving evidence from the
Lesbian nature in (and by) which he was reared, is not thinking about social norms,
but rather rejects male penetration of male as unnatural and, though he is small and
pretty, is easily able to overwhelm the drunken would-be rapist. Whether it reflects
any attitude or not outside of the text, this is an extremely negative portrayal of
pederasty. Gnathon later redeems himself by saving Chloe from her rapist, Lampis,
returning her to Daphnis to marry, ultimately serving the interests of reproductive
marriage (4.29).
8 For a discussion of the open-endedness of the prologue, see Herrmann (2007: 211
9 Whitmarsh 2011: 94, quoting Kellman 1980.
10 Escobar 2001: 143; cf. de Certeau 1984: 117, who claims this event status for space.
11 Mitchell [1994] 2002: x–xi.
12 Zeitlin 1990: 422.
13 Whitmarsh (2011: 94) notes the play of identification and difference between the
painting and the narrative signified by the prefix.
14 Although not the homoerotic Daphnis of Theokritos 6, notes Bowie (2013: 181).
15 Mason 2006; Green 1982.
16 Pandiri 1985: 118.
17 Winkler 1990: 103.
18 Goldhill 1990: 30–43.
19 Montiglio 2012: 152; Schlapbach 2015: 81.
20 This feature of the text was brought to my attention by Shaina Lu, a Wellesley
College student.
Lesbos and the invention of heterosexuality 137
21 Winkler 1990: 123.
22 Winkler 1990: 122; Goldhill 1995: 42–45.
23 Winkler 1990: 105.
24 The fragment is preserved by Syrianus on Hermogenes Id. 1.1 (Rhetores Graeci 6.219
Rabe), and Himerius Orationes 9.16 notes that Sappho likened the bride to an apple
in her epithalamia. Bowie (2003) describes Longus’ complicated intertextual
25 Griffith (1989) summarizes various interpretations and offers a positive account of
the bride. Hague (1983: 105) discusses natural imagery in epithalamia.
26 Carson 1996: 28.
27 Carson 1996: 29.
28 In justifying his feat, he (oddly) likens Chloe to Aphrodite, himself to Paris, and the
apple to the prize for the divine beauty contest that started the Trojan War. On this
passage, see also Winkler (1990: 123).
29 Montiglio 2012: 141.
30 These associations have been noticed by many scholars: Chalk 1960: 40; McCulloh
1970: 66; Hunter 1983: 54; MacQueen 1990: 32; Wouters 1989–1990: 152; Bowie
2003: 336; Lalanne 2006: 142; Montiglio 2012: 140. For differences, see also Bowie
(2003: 367).
31 Montiglio 2012: 132.
32 Pandiri 1985: 131; Bowie 2003: 369; Lalanne 2006: 141–142; Montiglio 2012:
142–143; Schlapbach 2015: 88.
33 Schlapbach 2015: 88. Philetas begins with a forceful song (βίας ἀφαιρῶν 2.35.11)
and then his music is described as τερπνός, μεγάς, and ὀξύς (2.35.14–15).
34 Schlapbach 2015: 90.
35 Schlapbach 2015: 86.
36 Ovid Met. 11.1–84; Kossaifi 2012: 573; Schlapbach 2015: 86.
37 Schlapbach 2015: 85.
38 Winkler 1990: 105.
39 Schlapbach 2015: 96 n.48.
40 Winkler 1990: 124.
41 Montiglio 2012: 133.

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Aegeus, 7, 13, 32–7, 40 Athenaeus Deip. 4.137d, 26; 8.351c-d,

Aelian VH 3.10.12, 61; 12.19, 106 18; 13.570 c-d, 26–28; 13.577d, 39;
Aelius Aristides Orationes 44.22, 13 13.582c-d, 40; 13.585d, 40; 13.587e,
Agido, 77–80, 87 26; 13.588e, 15, 25; 13.590, 26;
Agis II, 76–7 13.599, 105; 14. 632f, 77
Alcaeus, 8, 95, 97, 108 atopos, 15–16
Alcman Partheneia, 76, 78–9, 87–8; Aulus Gellius 1.8.3, 27–28
PMG 1, 77; 1.39–49, 78
anal sex, 44–7, 70, 73–4, 75; and banausia, 19–20, 48
contemporary male homosexuality. 44; Beauvoir, S. de, 5
invention of, 81–2, 88; symbolism of Bersani, L., 44
84–5; with women, 77 Butler, J., 5
Anacreon, 103; PMG 358, 104–5
Anderson, B., 12 Carson, A., 51, 126
Aristagoras’ map, 59 Cartledge, P., 52, 63–5
Aristophanes courtesans, 1, 7, 11–19, 44; Corinthian
Birds 1010–2, 57 21–28, 30, 33, 48; and lesbian
Eccl. 382–8, 20 sexuality, 110–13; and magic, 34, 36, 38;
Frogs 1011, 31; 1301–1308, 98 and music, 99–101; and Medea, 31–34,
Fr. 338, 43; 907, 43 36, 39–41; and Sappho, 92, 99, 103; and
Lys. 76–91, 14; 79–81, 79; 155, 80; space, 20–1; subjectivity of, 37–9
191–3, 80; 273–80, 74; 620–5, 75; Corinth (and Corinthians), and hospitality,
982, 76; 991, 76; 1076–7, 76; 1148, 6, 7, 12–3, 15, 30; and tourism, 7, 12,
17, 83; 1157–8, 83; 1162–74, 84; 15–16; see also banausia and courtesans
1255, 18; 1291–4, 86; 1295, 86; Creswell, T., 4
1297–1321, 87 Crane, G., 50
Peace 623–4, 58
Pl. 6, 36, 44; 148–152, 17; 173, Davidson, J., 2, 5, 81; and Spartan
18; 179, 18; 303–315, 18; pederasty, 62–66
1024, 18 [Demosthenes], 59, 13
Wasps 1219–22, 97; 1240ff, 97; Demosthenes 20.52–55, 24
1345–50, 98–9 Diallage, 82–4
Thesmo. 647–8, 14 Dillon, M., 82–5
Aristotle, 13, 16, 43 Dover, K.J., 5, 7, 17, 43, 60, 81, 82, 95, 99
HA 7.6585b22–24, 52
Poet. 1461b20, 7, 41n7 Eupolis, 18
Pol. 1269b, 44; 1269b20, 67; fr. 251, 45; 351, 45
1270a32–4, 58; 1278a8, 19 Euripides
Phys. 208a, 6 And. 80; 435–7, 68; 595–604, 69
Index 149
Ba 1062 landscape, 9, 119–20, 122, 124, 126–8,
Hel. 76, 130; 1353–67, 88; 130–32
1465–70, 87 Leaina, 1, 39, 40, 42n.34, 111, 112
Fr. 19, 41 Lesbiazein, 2, 8, 94–6; and musical style
Medea, 7, 13; 10, 31; 68–70, 33; 232–3, 96–9
33; 446–626, 34; 467–72, 34; Lesbos (and Lesbians) and erotics and
526–27, 34; 569–73, 35; 609–615, gender, 93–9; and fellation, 94; and
35–6; 728, 36; 1317–49, 32; female musicians, 127–32; and female
1339–43, 39; 1359–61, 39; sexuality, 90–93, 132–5; and musical
1384–5, 32 agency, 122, 124; musical culture,
Tro. 896–991, 68 96–9, 101, 108, 110, 117–8; and sexual
Euripides’ muse, 98–9 orientation 111–12
Eusthathius, 1, 93–4 Longus Daphnis and Chloe 9 pr. 1.1–2.2,
118; 1.17124; 1.18124; 1.27, 127–8;
female homosexuality, 1, 8–9, 91–2, 1.28, 128; 2.2, 124; 2.4, 124; 2.12,
108–9, 111, 117, 120, 135 124; 2.22–3, 132; 2.26, 132, 134;
femininity, 6, 8, 106–7, 126–7; 2.27.2, 132; 2.27.10; 132; 2.32–7 128;
Corinthian, 16–21, 48, 70; Lesbian, 93, 2.34, 129, 132; 2.35, 124; 2.37, 129;
96, 103; Medea’s, 33; and music, 2.39, 133; 3.4, 133; 3.6–7, 133; 3.14,
101–110, 124–132; Spartan, 47, 64, 123; 3.18, 123; 3.19.2, 130; 3.21, 130;
66, 69 3.23, 131 134; 3.33–4 125–6; 4.7, 135
Figueira, T., 57–8 4.26, 124; 4.32, 134; 4.40, 137
Foley, H., 32–3 Lucian
Foucault, M., 2, 5, 81–2 Dem. 5, 112
Dialogues of the Courtesans 5: 1, 93, 111;
Hagesichora, 78–80 5.2: 112, 117
Halperin, D., 5, 112 Prae Rhet. 114n.29
Hartog, F., 3, 69 Prom. Es 116n.64
Harvey, D., 3, 91 Salt. 5: 75
Helen, 43, 68–9, 78–81, 87–8, 102
hetaira see prostitution Machon, 39–41
Herodotus 1.61.1–2 44, 84–85; 2.135, magic, 7, 32, 35–9
102–3; 2.165, 19; 2.167, 19; 3.46, 58; masculinity, 6, 127; Athenian, 20, 23; the
5.49–55, 59; 5.51, 59; 5.92, 22; 6.61.3, courtesan’s, 38–9; Medea’s, 32–6, 39;
80; 6.84, 56; 7.104, 51; 7.175, 52; Spartan, 8, 48–9, 69–70, 73, 74–7
7.176, 52; 7.223–4, 54; 9.82, 55 Mastronarde, D.J., 33
Hindley, C., 46–7 Mitchell, W.J.T., 119
Homer Il. 6.357–8, 102; 9.128–130, Millender, E., 51, 69
93–4, 102, 104 Mousike, 99–101
Horace Epist. 1.9, 108–110; 1.17.36,
23–4 Nagy, G., 78–80
nostalgia, 14–16, 28, 99, 112, 114n 29
iunx, 3–5
Ollier, F., 47–8
Jocelyn, H.D., 43, 93–4 Ovid
Heroides 15.199–205, 109–10
Klonarion, 1, 38, 111 Met. 3.356–401, 131
korinthiazesthai, 2, 7, 11, 31, 93
Pausanius 3.16.1, 78
Lais, 15–16, 18, 25–8 Pausanias (Spartan), 55–6
Lamia, 39–40 pederasty, 5–6; Athenian, 64; in Longus,
Lampito, 14, 74–82 117, 136n7; and philosophy, 112;
lakonizein, 2, 7; and pederasty, 43–7, 60; Spartan, 1, 3, 7–8, 43, 47, 59–64,
sex with women, 69–70, 81, 88 69–70, 74–5
150 Index
penetration 5–6, 47, 62–3, 81–2 metaliterary heteroerotics, 101–7;
Peponi, A., 79–80, 108 Roman Sappho, 107–10; see also
Philemon Fr. 351, 23; 145, 99–100 courtesan
Pherecrates Fr. 149, 94, 99–101 Sedgwick, E., 6
Phryne, 25–7 Simonides Fr. 531, 53
Pindar, 31 Sparta (and Spartan) agoge, 60–65;
O. 13.1–5, 13 Athenian image of 47–51, 57–8;
P. 4. 213–9, 35; 4.233, 35 impenetrability, 48–50, 52; maternity
place 2–6, 9, 87 119–20; and identity, 64–7; and sophrosune, 50–51; song
4–5, 12, 28, 31, 91–2; and gender and 77–82, 86–9; at Thermopylae, 51–4;
sexuality, 5–6; and genre, 120–24; and women and excess, 67–70; see also
Lesbos, 119–20 pederasty
Plato, 1, 16, 60 Strabo, 8.6.20–21, 1, 12, 14, 21;
Gorgias 494c-e, 95 10.2.9, 105
Laws, 112; 1.636b, 63; 3.700a-701a,
95–6; 8.836b-c, 63; 8.836e, 63 Theodote 21, 33, 37–9, 61
Rep. 19; 398e-399a, 96; 404d, 17 Theokritos Idylls 119; 1.3.2, 120; 5, 128;
Symp, 7, 61, 62, 118; 180e-181d, 112; 7.73, 120; 18, 76, 78
182b, 64; 191e5, 112 Thucydides 1.22, 121; 1.84.3, 50; 1.130,
Plato Comicus Epig. 15, 26 56; 1.132.2, 55; 2.39.1, 57–8; 7.28.3,
Plutarch 83; 8.96.5, 48
Lyc. 15.3–4, 65; 15.7, 66; 15.11–118, “The New Music” 8, 92, 95, 96–9
66; 18.4, 66; 24.1, 49 Tuan, Y., 4
Moralia 220a3, 59; 221, 55; 241c4, 67;
porne see prostitution Winkler, J.J., 107, 122, 124–6,
proktos, 17 134–5
prostitution, and Corinth 1, 3, 6, 11–18,
22, 28; hetaira and the porne 21–4, 33, xenelasia, 57–8
37; and Lesbos, 93, 97–101; and Xenophon Hell. 4.8.18, 46, 4.8.22, 47;
Medea, 33–41; sacred prostitution 12 6.5.24, 49; 6.5.43, 53
Oik. 4.2–3, 103
Redfield, J., 2 Lak. Pol. 2.13–4, 61; 6.1–2. 61;
14.1, 62
Sappho (author) Fr 1.1, 104; 31, 104, Mem. 3.11.2, 37; 3.11.4, 37–8; 3.11,
108; 105a, 126–37; 150, 101 61; 3.11.12, 38; 3.11.17, 38
Sappho (character) and Lesbos, 1, 8–9, 92,
97; in Longus, 124–37; and Zeitlin, F., 3, 120