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Performance and Gender in Ancient Greece

Performance and Gender in Ancient Greece: Nondramatic Poetry in Its Setting

Eva Stehle
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Performance and Gender in Ancient Greece
    Book Description:

    "Like love, Greek poetry was not for hereafter," writes Eva Stehle, "but shared in the present mirth and laughter of festival, ceremony, and party." Describing how men and women, young and adult, sang or recited in public settings, Stehle treats poetry as an occasion for the performer's self-presentation. She discusses a wide range of pre-Hellenistic poetry, including Sappho's, compares how men and women speak about themselves, and constructs an innovative approach to performance that illuminates gender ideology. After considering the audience and the function of different modes of performance--community, bardic, and closed groups--Stehle explores this poetry as gendered speech, which interacts with performers' bodily presence to create social identities for the speakers. Texts for female choral performers reveal how women in public spoke in order to disavow the power of their speech and their sexual power. Male performers, however, could manipulate gender as an ideological system: they sometimes claimed female identity in addition to male, associated themselves with triumph over a defeated (mythical) female figure, or asserted their disconnection from women, thereby creating idealized social identities for themselves. A final chapter concentrates on the written poetry of Sappho, which borrows the communicative strategy of writing in order to create a fictional speaker distinct from the singer, a "Sappho" whom others could re-create in imagination.

    Originally published in 1996.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6429-4
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-25)

    Like love, Greek poetry was not for hereafter but shared in the present mirth and laughter of festival, ceremony, and party. Before the Hellenistic age (and often later), poetry was composed for performance. Men and women, young and adult, had their turns at singing, dancing, parading, or reciting before their neighbors. How can we restore the physicality of body and voice, the energy of interaction between performers and audience, to the nondramatic poetic texts that have survived from ancient Greece?

    We could begin with descriptions of performance. These are remarkably few because, paradoxically, performance was so common. No one needed...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Community Poetry
    (pp. 26-70)

    In the Introduction I defined community performance as collective and centered on the community, with implications that extend beyond the performance into the life of the community. Community poetry is poetry composed for the setting and function of community performance. The purpose of this chapter is to investigate the psychological efficacy of community poetry. What does it accomplish and how? The staging of the performer will not, except incidentally, be taken up in this chapter but will be the subject of the next two chapters.

    Theognis gives a sketch of a city celebrating its continued well-being as part of a...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Women in Performance in the Community
    (pp. 71-118)

    Chapter 1 looked at community performance as marking a transitional moment in the common life of a group; it analyzed texts in terms of their address to the audience, evocation of local myth and religion, and vision of the immediate future. As I argued in the Introduction, performance combines psychological efficacy for the audience with staging of the performers, and the time has come to turn our attention to the performers themselves.

    The phrase “staging the performer” can mean various things. Performers present themselves both visually and as speakers. These two dimensions of their communication about themselves necessarily interact, whether...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Male Performers in the Community
    (pp. 119-169)

    We now turn to men in community performance. Here one might expect to find that men would either announce their gender identity as a positive counterpart of women’s self-identification or would say nothing about their sexual identity because to be male was the norm. These modes are indeed common, but male use of gender goes beyond them: while men as speakers could rely on an unspoken or merely asserted gender identity, they could also adopt a metaphorical identity. I will begin with simple assertions. In Chapter 2 we examined the statement from Alkman’sLouvre partheneion,“I myself, aparthenos,screech...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Bardic Poetry
    (pp. 170-212)

    With this chapter we turn to performance of a different kind. Dactylic hexameter poetry, which I will call bardic poetry, was sung or recited solo by specialists.¹ Bardic poetry includes heroic epic, songs to and about the gods, wisdom literature, and genealogy. It had a long prehistory as “oral poetry,” for bards preserved traditional material and passed it on, not in fixed form but through recomposition-in-performance.² How and when such poetry began to be recorded in writing and to what extent performers in the archaic period recited fixed, memorized poems rather than recomposing are matters of little evidence and much...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Symposium
    (pp. 213-261)

    We now move to another well-attested location for performance, the symposium, or (eating and) drinking party. Here too men were the only performers, or better, the only performers whose discourse counted, for women (usually slave women) might be present as entertainers. Once again we must examine the setting and the function of performance before taking up the question of the gendering of the performer. Symposium groups were heterogeneous in their character and aims, so generalization is even more perilous than in talking about communal and bardic performance, but I will identify some shared characteristics. As always, my attention is on...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Sappho’s Circle
    (pp. 262-318)

    The last setting for performance to be investigated is the women’s circle. Women met together apart from men in larger or smaller groups. All the women of a community might celebrate religious festivals like the Thesmophoria, which honored Demeter. Alkaios 130BV,discussed in Chapter 5, gives us a vignette of married women (and probablyparthenoitoo) in a sanctuary on Lesbos occupied in judging beauty and celebrating a religious festival. Other festivals such as the Adonia that were not state-sponsored and communitywide (at least at Athens) brought smaller groups together, and so did the committees or boards of women...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 319-325)

    Looking back over the range of performance covered, we can see its part in the contest of voices that characterized Greek culture at all levels. It is too bad that we do not know how some of the most interesting voices were presented, those of the pre-Socratic philosophers. Some philosophers entered the lists against established views through poetry that must have been performed in public, in some milieu that challenged the audience to hear the difference between their systems and, say, Hesiod.

    As an institution for aristocratic self-presentation, choral performance was more significant in the early period. Alkman, Sappho, perhaps...

  13. APPENDIX: Chronology of Primary Sources
    (pp. 326-328)
  14. Transliterated (and Some Anglicized) Terms Used
    (pp. 329-330)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-352)
  16. Index Locorum
    (pp. 353-356)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 357-367)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 368-368)