Dangerous Gifts

Dangerous Gifts

DEBORAH LYONS
Copyright Date: 2012
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/729674
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  • Book Info
    Dangerous Gifts
    Book Description:

    Deianeira sends her husband Herakles a poisoned robe. Eriphyle trades the life of her husband Amphiaraos for a golden necklace. Atreus's wife Aerope gives away the token of his sovereignty, a lamb with a golden fleece, to his brother Thyestes, who has seduced her. Gifts and exchanges always involve a certain risk in any culture, but in the ancient Greek imagination, women and gifts appear to be a particularly deadly combination.

    This book explores the role of gender in exchange as represented in ancient Greek culture, including Homeric epic and tragedy, non-literary texts, and iconographic and historical evidence of various kinds. Using extensive insights from anthropological work on marriage, kinship, and exchange, as well as ethnographic parallels from other traditional societies, Deborah Lyons probes the gendered division of labor among both gods and mortals, the role of marriage (and its failure) in transforming women from objects to agents of exchange, the equivocal nature of women as exchange-partners, and the importance of the sister-brother bond in understanding the economic and social place of women in ancient Greece. Her findings not only enlarge our understanding of social attitudes and practices in Greek antiquity but also demonstrate the applicability of ethnographic techniques and anthropological theory to the study of ancient societies.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73554-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST of ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. NOTE TO THE READER
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    Deianeira sends her husband Herakles a poisoned robe. Eriphyle trades the life of her husband Amphiaraos for a golden necklace. Atreus’ wife Aerope gives the token of his sovereignty, a lamb with a golden fleece, to his brother Thyestes, who has seduced her. In all of these examples, drawn from Greek myth and its tragic elaborations, precious objects of metal or textiles enter into circulation because of women. And in each case, disaster follows. Many cultures view all exchange as potentially dangerous, but in the ancient Greek imagination women and gifts appear to be a particularly deadly combination.¹

    This book...

  7. CHAPTER ONE GENDER and EXCHANGE
    (pp. 7-21)

    In a footnote to his fundamental article on “the mythic idea of value” in ancient Greece, Louis Gernet noted “the significance of the theme of the woman’s role in the transfer of a talisman or other precious object from one person to another.”¹ Gernet, however, was less interested in the agents of these exchanges than in the objects exchanged: precious and highly wrought tripods, weapons, and jewelry that fall under the category ofagalmata. In Gernet’s view, these objects carried not only economic and social value in a premonetary economy, but also, in a line of thought owing much to...

  8. CHAPTER TWO MARRIAGE and the CIRCULATION of WOMEN
    (pp. 22-52)

    The codes governing women’s (and men’s) economic behavior form part of what may be called the “economics of gender.” By this phrase, I mean a whole range of valuations and transactions conditioned by the different statuses of men and women. Primary among these transactions is marriage and, as a consequence, the production and reproduction in which women engage as wives. In many cultures, the role of wife encompasses a woman’s identity far more than that of husband does for a man, with the result that whatever a woman produces from the time she marries is conceived of as part of...

  9. CHAPTER THREE WOMEN in HOMERIC EXCHANGE
    (pp. 53-64)

    If the extreme pessimism of the Hesiodic view of women was not shared by the Homeric tradition, it nevertheless finds its analogues there and in the larger body of myths surrounding the Trojan War.¹ Like the woman created in theTheogonyor theWorks and Daysto serve as a deceitful gift in a transaction between two gods, Helen is offered to Paris by Aphrodite as a bribe that allows the goddess to triumph over the other contestants in the divine beauty pageant.² In both cases, the gift is offered as part of a power struggle among immortals, whose price...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR WOMEN and EXCHANGE in the ODYSSEY: From GIFTS to GIVERS
    (pp. 65-76)

    As has often been observed, theOdysseyrewrites theIliad, and never more than in its treatment of women. The later poem consistently calls our attention to the ways in which the earlier poem ignores or elides the work of women. That theIliaddescribes an exclusively male world to a far greater extent than does theOdysseycannot be disputed. Even allowing for this difference, however, given the number of captive women in the Greek camp it is striking how rarely any of them is shown at work. At the same time, the value of a woman is consistently...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE TRAGIC GIFTS
    (pp. 77-90)

    As I have shown, exchange between men and women in Homeric epic is harmless as long as the gendered protocol of exchange is respected. The exchanges represented in tragedy, however, are almost always destructive.¹ In this context, even gifts of cloth can be dangerous. In fact, horrific episodes from tragic stagings of the myths of Herakles and Medea suggest that when textiles are used destructively, they can be at least as deadly in women’s hands as metal objects. Deianeira, realizing that her husband Herakles has fallen in love with another woman whom he brings into their house, sends him a...

  12. CHAPTER SIX A FAMILY ROMANCE
    (pp. 91-109)

    The previous chapters have dealt with the kinds of relationships between men and women that in Greek myth tend to be characterized by risk, hostility, and danger. These include relationships between wives and husbands as well as between mothers and sons. As I have shown, the potential for harm in relationships between men and women is frequently activated by gifts of precious objects, or is marked by their circulation. In this chapter, I examine the one exception to this rule of hostile male-female dyads and fatal exchanges. When the male-female pair are brother and sister, the relationship is usually based...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN CONCLUSION: The GENDER of RECIPROCITY
    (pp. 110-112)

    From women as gifts to women as givers, from benign to dangerous exchange, from treacherous marriages to the idealized bond between siblings, I have taken a sometimes circuitous path to end with a model of reciprocity between women and men that appears—in stark contrast to much of what came before—positive, even optimistic. My task in these final pages is to call that apparent optimism into question, and thus to bring my argument, like some endlessly circulatingagalma, back to its beginning. The endpoint of these investigations is not, after all, that sibling relations are the solution to the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 113-134)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 135-152)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 153-166)