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Reproducing Athens

Reproducing Athens: Menander's Comedy, Democratic Culture, and the Hellenistic City

Susan Lape
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Reproducing Athens
    Book Description:

    Reproducing Athensexamines the role of romantic comedy, particularly the plays of Menander, in defending democratic culture and transnational polis culture against various threats during the initial and most fraught period of the Hellenistic Era.

    Menander's romantic comedies--which focus on ordinary citizens who marry for love--are most often thought of as entertainments devoid of political content. Against the view, Susan Lape argues that Menander's comedies are explicitly political. His nationalistic comedies regularly conclude by performing the laws of democratic citizen marriage, thereby promising the generation of new citizens. His transnational comedies, on the other hand, defend polis life against the impinging Hellenistic kingdoms, either by transforming their representatives into proper citizen-husbands or by rendering them ridiculous, romantic losers who pose no real threat to citizen or city.

    In elaborating the political work of romantic comedy, this book also demonstrates the importance of gender, kinship, and sexuality to the making of democratic civic ideology. Paradoxically, by championing democratic culture against various Hellenistic outsiders, comedy often resists the internal status and gender boundaries on which democratic culture was based. Comedy's ability to reproduce democratic culture in scandalous fashion exposes the logic of civic inclusion produced by the contradictions in Athens's desperately politicized gender system.

    Combining careful textual analysis with an understanding of the context in which Menander wrote,Reproducing Athensprofoundly changes the way we read his plays and deepens our understanding of Athenian democratic culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2591-2
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 1 Narratives of Resistance and Romance: DEMOCRACY AND COMEDY IN THE EARLY HELLENISTIC PERIOD
    (pp. 1-39)

    Athenian history between the battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C. and the end of the Chremonidean War in 260 is punctuated by one military disaster after another. At Chaeronea, Philip of Macedon won a decisive victory over Athens and its allies, enabling him to gain effective control of Athenian foreign policy. In 322 Athens suffered a much more catastrophic defeat in the Lamian War, the Greek-led rebellion against Macedonian rule. In the ensuing peace settlement, Antipater, the de facto ruler of Macedon, installed Macedonian troops in the city, replaced the democratic government with an oligarchy, executed leading democratic politicians, and...

  5. 2 Reproducing Democracy in Oligarchic and Autocratic Athens
    (pp. 40-67)

    Although Athens suffered a major military blow at the battle of Chaeronea, the city did not passively accept the defeat or the consequent reality of Macedonian supremacy. Rather, in the years following the battle, the Athenians prepared to refight it. Under the leadership of Lycurgus, the Athenians fortified the city and navy; stockpiled weapons, armor, and gold on the acropolis; and perhaps most significantly, nationalized hoplite service. When news of Alexander the Great’s death reached Athens, the Athenians instigated a general rebellion against Macedonian power in Greece. They authorized Leosthenes to hire an experienced mercenary force and sent ambassadors to...

  6. 3 Making Citizens in Comedy and Court
    (pp. 68-109)

    Menander’s comedy is deeply and emphatically political. By casting braggart soldiers, representatives of the Hellenistic rulers and their kingdoms, as inevitable losers in romantic contests against citizens, comedy comments on and undercuts the new Hellenistic structures that were challenging the culture and traditions of the Greek cities. And, in many cases, the heterosexual unions to which the plays give rise instantiate key democratic principles, paving the way for the reproduction of the social order along new, more egalitarian terms. In addition, comedy’s valorization of the laws of civic membership constitutes a form of democratic resistance in its own contemporary context....

  7. 4 The Ethics of Democracy in Menander’s Dyskolos
    (pp. 110-136)

    Although Menander’s comedy persistently correlates male romantic passion (eros) with Athenian citizen marriage, as I discussed in chapter 3, the plays usually establish and affirm this link only retrospectively.¹ In some cases, marriages based on male erotic attraction for a female citizen come about as if by accident, as chance events made possible by the last minute discovery of the heroine’s true citizen identity. In other cases, the need to repair an act of rape leads to the formation of a citizen marriage implicitly based on male passion.² The romantic plot in Menander’sDyskolos, however, significantly deviates from these conventional patterns....

  8. 5 The Politics of Sexuality in Drama and Democratic Athens: THE CASE OF MENANDER’S SAMIA
    (pp. 137-170)

    By the end of the first act in Menander’sSamia, everything seems to be set for the marriage plot to proceed to its predestined end. In the opening monologue, Moschion, the wealthy young hero, confesses to having fathered a child with the girl next door and to desiring to marry her. The only thing standing in his way is the small matter of gaining his father’s consent. For nine months at least, Moschion’s deep shame before his adoptive father Demeas has prevented him from owning up to his behavior. Nevertheless, he resolves to confront his father about the marriage—or...

    (pp. 171-201)

    In the fifth act of theSamia, Moschion suddenly seeks to become a mercenary to repair his wounded manhood and to repay his father for his unfounded suspicions. Although he ardently desires “to act like a man,” as he puts it, his prior romantic commitment forecloses this possibility (630–31). He cannot disappear from the polis to perform his manhood as a mercenary in far-off Bactria or Caria because he is bound to the heroine by his oath, desire, time, and his relationship (623–29). To some extent, by honoring his prior relationship, Moschion is simply making a virtue of...

  10. 7 Trials of Masculinity in Democratic Discourse and Menander’s Sikyōnioi
    (pp. 202-242)

    Menander’sPerikeiromenēandMisoumenosenclose and solve the conflict between the Greek cities and the Hellenistic kingdoms in stories of romantic reconciliation. Specifically, by transforming the transient mercenary into a settled and civilized inhabitant of the polis (that is, into a husband), these plays offer a civic solution to the demographic and cultural challenges of Hellenistic mercenary service. But the rapid rise in the number of mercenaries was only one side of the military problem that the Hellenistic kingdoms presented to the Greek cities. It was accompanied by a corresponding decrease in opportunities for citizens to serve as soldiers on...

    (pp. 243-254)

    Throughout this book I have argued that comedy’s romantic narratives contributed to democratic continuity as well as to the cultural survival of the Greek polis during the transition to the Hellenistic age. The marriage plot supplied a flexible and fertile narrative pattern in which democratic principles and practices could be affirmed and sustained in the context of social relations. At the same time, comedy developed conventions in accordance with a civic conceptual system that contained and refashioned the problems posed by the rise of Hellenistic autocracies and their unprecedented use of mercenaries. In so doing, comedy performed the reproduction of...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-278)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 279-280)
  14. Index Locorum
    (pp. 281-286)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 287-294)