Tur JOHNS HOPKINS
Subversive Laughter: The Sayings of Courtesans in Book 13 of Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae
Author(s): Laura McClure
Source: [he American Journal of Philology, Vol. 124, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 299-294
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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American Journal of Philology.
THE SAYINGS OF COURTESANS IN
BOOK 13 OF ATHENAEUS' DEIPNOSOPHISTAE
Abstract. Although the witticisms of courtesans recorded by Athenaeus in Book
13 of the Deipnosophistae (577d—85f) comprise an important source, if not of the
actual words of hetaeras, at least of the genres and verbal conventions identified
with them, they have received scant attention from classical scholars. The content
and context of these remarks reveal a complex verbal dynamic in which obscene
punning challenges normative class and gender categories and represents the
hetaera as in discursive control. By ventriloquizing these witticisms, Athenaeus’
interlocutors appropriate yet another aspect of Athenian literary heritage to
articulate their own self-presentation as they vie for discursive status.
ALTHOUGH THE NUMEROUS WITTICISMS of courtesans recorded by
Athenaeus in Book 13 of the Deipnosophistae (577d—85f) comprise an
important source, if not of the actual words of hetaeras, at least of the
genres and verbal conventions identified with them, they have received
scant attention from classical scholars. Previous assessments have em-
phasized the role played by these witticisms in the hetaera's subordina-
tion and objectification, but they have failed to account for their discur-
sive function within the context of Athenaeus. This essay will argue that
the content and context of these remarks reveal a complex verbal dy-
namic in which obscene punning challenges normative class and gender
categories and actually depicts the hetaera in discursive control.' Whether
in the symposium and its public correlative, the comic theater, or in
! As Henry 1992, 262, argues, “Besides their eloquence and bravado, the courtesans
Myrtilus praises speak only as the self-defined objects of men's sexual pleasure"; cf. also
Henry 2000, 504. Keuls 1985, 199, similarly describes the cultivated hetaera as “a fabrica-
tion of the male mind,” whose witticisms consist of “male-generated jokes, hinging on puns
and sexual innuendo." Faraone 1999, 156 and n. 90, views the hetaera's repartee as part of
a generalized preference for male speech modes, exemplified in magical practice by their
use of agdgé spells normally deployed by men; cf. Luc. DMeretr. 4.1; AP5.205; Theoc. Id.
American Journal of Philology 124 (2003) 259-294 O 2003 by The Johns Hopkins University Press
260 LAURA MCCLURE
Athenaeus' literary banquet, the hetaera's speech provokes the laughter
that both seduces and ridicules? This parodic, carnivalesque discourse
inserts into the conversation of respectable men a risqué jesting that
comically exposes and denounces the pretensions of philosophers? By
ventriloquizing these witticisms, Athenaeus' interlocutors appropriate
yet another aspect of Athenian literary heritage to articulate their own
ethical self-presentation in their quest for discursive status."
Composed in the late second to early third century C.E. by Athenaeus
of Naucratis, the Deipnosophistae portrays a fictional banquet modeled
after Plato's Symposium that occurs over a two-day period at Rome.
Until recently, classical scholars have largely viewed this encyclopedic
compilation as a work of little literary merit although an important
source of literary quotations and social customs; indeed, it provides a
staggering amount of both: the author quotes directly from Attic tragedy
more than 250 times and makes reference to approximately 260 Athe-
nian comic poets? The work falls squarely within the genre of sympotic
literature initiated by Plato and Xenophon, one that perhaps originates
in the salacious after-dinner story of the adulterous Aphrodite Odysseus
tells to the Phaeacians in the Odyssey (Hom. Od. 8.266—369). As a liter-
ary genre, the symposium encourages joke telling, witty anecdotes, and
comic action “because such a wide variety of incidents and situations can
be allowed to take place naturally and spontaneously" (Anderson 2000,
318). Thus even in Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes' jester-like hiccup
(Pl. Smp. 185c-e; yeAwtonoreic, cf. 189a—b) and Alcibiades’ drunken ap-
pearance with an auletris (Pl. Smp. 212d) interrupt an otherwise serious
(and sober) round of speechifying. These discourses of pleasure have a
subversive aspect because they interrupt the otherwise orderly progres-
sion of speeches.
? Davidson 1997, 135, argues that the hetaera's literary allusions frequently disguise
obscene propositions in a sort of verbal striptease that shows a “resistance to closed
meaning, to definition."
3 A recent strand of criticism views these witticisms as a parodic lampooning of the
philosophical tradition; see Hawley 1993, 87, and Davidson 1997, 93. For Hawley, courte-
sans’ jokes undercut or parody the catalogues of maxims uttered by women in Plutarch,
e.g., Apophthegmata Lakonika, and other such sources. Similarly, Kurke 2002 argues that
courtesans’ jokes in Machon's Chreiae provide a subversive and democratic discourse in an
era of Macedonian political rule. I am grateful to Leslie for letting me read a version of the
essay before its publication.
* On the notion of performing the self as a means of articulating status in the Second
Sophistic period, see Gleason 1991, and most recently, Whitmarsh 2001.
* On the number of quotations from tragedy, see Collard 1969, 168; on allusions to
fifth-century comedy, see Sidwell 2000, 137.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 261
In his introduction, Athenaeus states that he has recounted the fine
sayings of educated men, those well versed in paideia (xovc Kata nacav
noióetav ELMELPOTATOUG .. . TOV kaAAtotov, 1.1a). The conversation will
include innumerable kinds of jokes (oxopupyuótov etón pvpia, 1.1b) as well
as educated table banter (naiCovtoc, 3.108f). The plan of the discourse
will reflect the banquet's menu, and the arrangement of the books will
coincide with the courses of the dinner (1.1b). The narrator then sets
forth a catalogue of the party's primary speakers: historical personages
such as Athenaeus himself; Larensis, the Roman host; Galen, the doctor;
Ulpian, resident Atticist and chief speaker; the philosopher Cynulcus, the
stereotypically impoverished philosopher who despises the encyclopedic
learning of his tablemates; and Myrtilus of Thessaly, a grammatikos who
is given to frequent attacks against philosophers. The cast also features
numerous other named guests as well as *a host of anonymous and
briefly intrusive extras" (Baldwin 1976, 24). All are “sophists” in the
sense that they represent the learned professions (Baldwin 1977, 38).
Like its Platonic prototype, a proper banquet consists of kañoi Kai
&yo8oi Evundtar Kai tenardevpéevor, refined gentlemen who speak in an
orderly fashion even when drunk (xoopiwe, 3.97b); they also significantly
do not include prostitutes at their table. Athenaeus has followed this
prescription since women do not appear as interlocutors in his book,
although in actual practice, hetaeras and female entertainers, such as
flute girls, mimes, and dancers, participated in the performance culture of
the symposium (X. Smp. 3.2; Pl. Smp. 176e). In addition to providing
theatrical entertainment, hetaeras probably engaged in verbal exchanges
with their male clientele, which may have taken the form of poetic and
rhetorical improvisation, riddle-telling, philosophical discussion, chreiae,
and verbal games. Hetaeras enter Athenaeus’ discourse principally in
Book 13. Introduced through quoted snippets of Middle and New Com-
edy, Attic oratory, and historians such as Phylarchus and Theopompus,
their presence signals a transition to the erotic discourse of the philo-
sophical banquet, thereby reinforcing the notion of a metasymposium.’
Book 13 is also the only section of the Deipnosophistae designated by a
special title, Peri Gunaikon, and it uncharacteristically begins with an
invocation to a Muse, Erato, patron of love poetry, in which the narrator
$ Lukinovich 1990, 264, discusses the verbal features of sympotic entertainment,
including riddles. See also 162b-e; Anderson 2000, 318-19.
7 Pellizer 1990, 181; on Athenaeus’ metasymposium, see Milanezi 2000, 401. In art,
the appearance of hetaeras in sympotic scenes on vases used by symposiasts serves a
similar function, for which see Neils 2000, 208.
262 LAURA MCCLURE
asks for help in recounting his “erotic catalogue" (tov épwtiKov ...
xat&Aoyov, 555b; Henry 1992, 261). This poetic invocation suggests an
epic endeavor while at the same time emphasizing the itemizing aspect
of Book 13, much of which concerns itself with lists of hetaeras' names
and other elements borrowed from Hellenistic prosopographies of
An opening anecdote about the comic poet Antiphanes and
Alexander the Great, recorded by Lycophron in his Peri Komoidia, in-
forms the reader that Book 13 will focus on low genres and their charac-
ters. When the king voices his displeasure at the play Antiphanes recites
for him, the comic poet responds that only a man who participates in
contribution dinners (àxó ovpPoA@v) or gives and receives blows over a
hetaera (555a) could fully appreciate his subject. As Myrtilus later points
out, the symposium is the appropriate context for this comic and erotic
discourse while syllogisms and philosophical discussion are to be avoided
(nepi &«ppoOioíov &ppootóv eivai év TO otvo uvetav noiioOon, 607b). The
symposium, like the comic theater—two performance venues elsewhere
equated by Socrates (ig yap év ovpnooiw peyaAw tQ Ogótpo, Plut. Mor.
10c-d)—1may be viewed as sites of “actual and symbolic struggle,” a kind
of carnival setting where hierarchical rank is temporarily suspended and
the drinking facilitates a kind of licensed release (Stallybrass and White
1986, 13). In one account, the symposium's temporary relaxation of norms
actually enabled the Thebans, with the help of a few men disguised as
hetaeras, to regain political control of their city after a period of Spartan
domination (X. HG. 5.4.4). The special context of the symposium or its
public counterpart, the comic stage, also allowed for verbal license that
both mocked and derided its participants. Its discourse produced, in the
words of Mikhail Bakhtin, festive laughter, “the laughter of all the people.
. directed at all and everyone, including the carnival's participants"
(Bakhtin 1984, 11-12). Viewed from this perspective, the courtesan's
crude jokes and their obscene counter meanings temporarily disrupt
social hierarchies, diminishing persons and discourses of high status
(Bakhtin 1984, 10; Stallybrass and White 1986, 10-11). In Book 13, Myrtilus
marshals this low discourse to ridicule or parody the philosophical tradi-
tion of the Cynics; in fact, he uses their own genre of the chreia, the witty
remark, against them by placing it in the mouths of courtesans.
The author embeds the jokes of hetaeras in the lengthy speech of
the buffoonish grammatikos, Myrtilus, who is suitably named after a poet
of Attic Old Comedy (566e). His speech forms part of a standard rhetori-
cal debate over the virtues of loving women versus boys staged between
himself and his rival, Cynulcus. Myrtilus repeatedly characterizes his own
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 263
discourse as a catalogue (590a—c; 555b; 599e), and his continual preoccu-
pation with the names and nicknames of hetaeras (he mentions over
150) amply demonstrates his form of knowledge. Indeed, his strained
discussion of the change in the length of the vowel *a" in the name of one
courtesan, Mania, from pcvia (madness, 578b-c), shows his pedantic, and
erotic, proclivities? Such empty academic exercises, however, invite the
moral censure of Cynulcus, who derides Myrtilus for neglecting the
Homeric tradition in favor of lowbrow genres like comedy and erotic
Myrtilus, in his opening parry, a quotation of Hermeias' Jambics
similar to the invective choliambics of Hipponax, delivers a scathing de-
nunciation of the Stoics and their love of boys: *Listen, you Styacs, mer-
chants of chatter (&xoóoac', © LtbaKec, £unopot Anpov, 563e).” The phrase
contains an obscene pun on the word Ltvaxec, the reading of manuscripts
CE. The word may refer to the epithet oxoAaxec (pups) bestowed upon
the Cynics as well as to the verb oto (swell), a state brought about in
these philosopher “boy watchers” (nouóonina). This attack on the hypo-
critical lifestyle and precepts of philosophers, especially their love of boys
(563e-66d), assimilates their sexuality, in the manner of Attic Old Com-
edy, to their profession, a strategy also adopted by Cynulcus.
The philosopher, in turn, denigrates Myrtilus as a ypaywpatikmtatoc
(570b), viewing his knowledge as the vacuous product of patronizing
taverns and public houses, venues associated only with the lowest social
class since, in the words of Isocrates, “not even a slave would dare to eat
or drink in a tavern”:
Od é, à GOMLOTh, év toig xaxnAetotg GLVAVADPT où LETH évatpov GAAG
LETH ETALPAV, LAOTPOMELOVOAS nepi OAVTOV ODK OALYASG EXMV xoi TEPLMEPWV
aiei to1avti BiBAia "Apiotopavovs Kai “AnoAAodSM@pov Kai 'Aupovtou xoi
"Avtipdcivone, čti 68 Topyiov tod 'AÓnvaitov, rávtov TOVTOV ovyyeypoqótov
nepi t&v Abvo ‘Etaiptdov. à tfi; kaAfiG cov noAupotac, ic kat’ ODdSEV
épifioo Oedpavdpov tov Kopnvatov, ov qnot Oedgpactos £v TH nepi
Evdaipoviac nepuóvta énayyéAAco8ar SidcoKew evtvxiav, £potoOi9iokoAs.
But you, O Sophist, you associate constantly not with male friends but with
courtesans, having around yourself not just a few procuresses, and always
* Hawley 1993, 86. On the character of Myrtilus in the dialogue, see Baldwin 1977,
° This is the first use of the word nopvoypa&qoc; for a discussion of the term, see
Henry 2000, 508.
264 LAURA MCCLURE
carrying around the sorts of books written by Aristophanes, Apollodorus,
Ammonius, Antiphanes, even Gorgias of Athens, all of whom have written
treatises entitled On Athenian Courtesans. O what lovely learning you
have! You do not at all resemble Theomander of Cyrene, of whom
Theophrastus says in his book On Happiness that he went about profess-
ing to teach about good fortune, whereas you only teach about lust!
Cynulcus here alludes to the lists of hetaeras and the anecdotal accounts
of their lives and sayings that originated in the Hellenistic period.”
Indeed, the literary tradition even attributes authorship of a related type
of treatise to historical hetaeras such as Elephantis, a courtesan of Alex-
andria, copies of whose sex manual the emperor Tiberius allegedly sup-
plied at his country estate for ready reference during orgies (Suet. Tib.
43), and Philaenis, author of a licentious volume on aphrodisia men-
tioned by Athenaeus in connection with the cookbook of Archestratus
With the hapax épwtod1dao0Kadoc, Cynulcus equates Myrtilus’ sta-
tus as a sophist and grammarian with his depraved lifestyle; and, while
the latter emphatically denies that he is an erdtomanés, he nonetheless
admits his erotic sensibilities (€pwtixoc, 599e). By such methods, Cynulcus
introduces the subject of prostitution that will dominate the table talk
throughout the remainder of Book 13. To the invective against married
women earlier voiced by the symposiasts with weyew at 559e, the phi-
losopher now adds a vilification of high-priced courtesans, the
megalomisthoi familiar from the pages of oratory and the comic stage
and from whom many comic plays borrowed their titles (567c—d).” In so
doing, he imitates his Cynic forebear, Diogenes, who once compared
attractive hetaeras to “death mixed with honey" (0avaciuo peAixpata,
D. L. 6.61). Nor is it a coincidence that the philosopher provides the first
0 Athenaeus alludes to several such authors in this passage and elsewhere who
wrote treatises on Athenian hetaeras: Antiphanes, a poet of Middle Comedy (first play c.
358 B.C.E.; 587b), Aristophanes of Byzantium (257-180 B.c.E., 586b and 591d) who listed the
names of 135 Athenian hetaeras, Apollodorus of Athens (180-120 B.c.E., 586a, 591c),
Ammonius (second century B.C.E., 587b), Lynceus of Samos (583e), Gorgias of Athens (c.
44 B.C.E., 583d), and Callistratus (591f). For a list of Middle and New comedies that took
their titles from the names of hetaeras, cf. 567c and Hawley 1993, 88 n. 4.
u Brendel 1970, 67 n. 70, discusses the scant evidence for Hellenistic erotic treatises
and art catalogues.
7 Davidson 1997, 106, borrows this term from Athenaeus to refer to “the rich and
famous ones, the ones catalogued in scholarly treatises, had plays written about them and
speeches composed on their behalf, the ones whose bon mots were recorded in anecdotal
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 265
references to oratory in Book 13, a genre from which he borrows the
strategy of using hetaeras as a vehicle of invective against his rhetorical
opponent. Myrtilus, however, puts a twist on this time-tested technique
by delivering what amounts to an encomium of hetaeras, the central
portion of which includes their witticisms at table. This praise speech
actually serves another purpose, however: by exposing the hypocrisy of
Cynulcus and his kind, it turns them into objects of sympotic and comic.
THE SPEECH OF HETAERAS
In his opening defense of “real” hetaeras (t@v Ovtas Etaip@v), those
capable of an “honest love” (@1Atav &ðodov, 571b), Myrtilus draws on a
fragment of Ephippus to emphasize their value as genteel entertainers
who brighten the spirits of their clientele by means of their flattering and
EMEITE y’ ELOLOVT’, àv AVTODLEVOG
TOXT] TG NUOV, EKOAGKEVOEV NOES:
EMIANOEV ODYL CVUTIÉOQOQ TO OTOLA
orep TOAEWLOV, GAA Total oxpovÜOtotc
YOVOVG’ OLoiws, Toe, TapepvOyjoato
énotnoé 8’ iAapov ev0éws T’ Kqeire nàv
QDTOD tò Avnobv Kanédergev tAeov. (Ephippus, Empolé fr. 6 K.-A. = 571f)
And then if one of us happens to come in feeling troubled,
she greets him with pleasant flattery;
she kisses him, not squeezing her lips close together,
as if he were hateful to her, but opening her mouth as
sparrows do; she sits him down, she soothes and cheers him,
and soon takes away all his trouble and makes him happy again.
Making pleasant conversation appears to have comprised a major por-
tion of the hetaera’s art: Socrates also mentions cheering words (6 tt àv
AEyovoa evepaivoic, X. Mem. 3.11.10) as one of the hetaera's many
seductions. The Hellenistic poet Machon similarly describes the courte-
san Mania as “being well equipped in speech and conversation" (qovfj ò’
òig te Kexopnynuevn, Machon 198 = 578c). In one of Lucian’s dia-
logues, the successful hetaera not only keeps a smile on her face but also
provides her clients with clever companionship (and of course, there is a
sexual connotation here: rpocop1A0toa Segs, DMeretr. 6. 3). A lover in
one of Alciphron’s letters praises the flattering blandishments and the
266 LAURA MCCLURE
Siren-like conversation of his hetaera (utia, Alciphr. 4.11.7). In fact,
the talk of hetaeras on the Greek comic stage is typically filled with
endearments: in one fragment quoted by Athenaeus, brothel workers
attract customers through their use of flattering diminutives, calling old
men natpidia and young men a&nodpia (569c).? So also the Athenian
courtesan Philaenium in Plautus' Asinaria is described as deploying verba
The hetaera's speech both contains multiple levels of signification
while at the same time figuring her as masculine: in a fragment of Anaxilas
quoted by Larensis at the beginning of Book 13, the prostitute's brazen
self-advertisement is simultaneously riddling, flattering, and obscene:
Loiyya OnBaiav ðè n&oac £ott Tac nópvaç koAeiv,
at Ao ÀoQ6 ^ andAGs u£v ov0£v, GAA’ èv aiviyLois tio,
OSG EPHOL kal prodo koi ooveiciv NOEWS.
eita “tetpárovg LOL YEVOLTO, qnot, okiurovg f] Bpdvoc,”
eita Or] “tpinovs tic," cita, qnot, “nardioKn sinove.”
(Anaxil. fr. 22.22-26 K.-A. = 558d)
It is possible to call every porne a Theban Sphinx;
they chatter not in simple language, but in riddles,
about how sweetly they like to love and kiss and come together.
And one says, “Let me have a four-footed bed or chair";
another, “Make it a tripod”; still another, “A two-footed gal.”
(Trans. adapted from Gulick)
Here the hetaera (the word is used later, and interchangeably, with
porne) recasts the riddle posed by the Sphinx and solved by Oedipus.
(^What walks on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon and
three feet in the evening?") into an obscene advertisement of her sexual
expertise. Riddles, defined by Athenaeus as “a problem put in jest"
(ypipos npoBAnué toti rarotikóv, 448c), regularly accompanied drinking
at the symposium and often alluded to the accoutrements or conditions
of the drinking party.” At the same time, the hetaera parodies the liter-
3 According to Webster 1974, 102, hetaeras in Menander are given to using “nursery
endearments” and to swearing oaths; see also Henry 1985, 57-60; Gomme and Sandbach
^ [ follow Causabon's emendation here, in the place of AaBodo’ of ms. A, and
AaBodoat of mss. CE.
? Martin 2001, 63; cf. Plut. Mor. 150e-f and AP 14.14 (aulos); 14.23, 36 (pickled fish);
14.26 (a linen hand-towel); and 14.52 (wine). Note that the hetaera Thais at Alciphr. 4.7.8
attributes riddle telling to the philosopher-sophist Euthydemus.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 267
ary tradition, reducing the tragic predicament of Oedipus to a vulgar
There is also a tradition of females propounding riddles: New Com-
edy features a mother-daughter pair riddling about sleep in a fragment
of Alexis’ Hypnos (449d-e) and Sappho's famous riddle about a letter
(450e—51b). Likewise, Cleobolina, the daughter of one of the seven sages,
tells a riddle about an aulos (Plut. Mor. 150e-f). In contrast, prostitutes
frequently pose obscene riddles, such as the one about phallus told by
three Samian girls while drinking at the Adonia (Diphilus fr. 49 K.-A. =
451b).'° Anaxilas represents courtesans as riddle tellers, who use their
fawning speech—double in meaning and potentially obscene—to entice
clients. Because the riddle teller manipulates “the normal borders of
referential speech” and thus controls access to meaning, the hetaera
through her conversation temporarily wins discursive mastery over her
interlocutors." For this reason, one supposes, the mock legal contract
portrayed in Plautus’ Asinaria prohibits the Greek courtesan Philaenium
from speaking in double meanings (verbum . . . perplexabile, 792).
According to Myrtilus, the hetaera's ability to manipulate mean-
ings and deliver witty double entendres results from paideia, a masculine
familiarity with rhetoric and the literary tradition:
Kal GAAaL Se ETAIPAL LEYA £ppóvouv EM’ ALTAIC, TAIBELAG AVTEYOMEVAL xod
toig uaOnuaoci xpóvov a&nropepiCovoar: S1dmep koi gUOwtoi npóc tüc
ANAVINGELG NOav. (583f)
Other hetaeras also thought very highly of themselves, getting an educa-
tion and devoting their time to learning. For this reason they were quick at
Myrtilus later identifies paideia with the tradition of erotic verse initiated
by the lyric poets (601a). These educated hetaeras are represented as
engaging on equal discursive footing with their male interlocutors and
16 Since many riddles revolved around aspects of the symposium, the hetaera might
have served as a common subject; indeed, one solution to the riddle posed at Thgn. 861-64
is the hetaera whose feminine identity is highlighted by adjectives, aùtouátn, £onepítn,
ópOpin; see Martin 2001, 60.
" Hasan-Rokem and Shulman 1996, 5. Although he does not specifically mention
riddles, Davidson 1997, 135, discusses the ambiguity of the hetaera's speech, which he
characterizes as “notoriously enigmatic, parodic and punning.” I am indebted to Angela
Pitts for her sharing with me her wonderful discussion of riddles in her unpublished
dissertation on Sappho’s literary afterlife.
268 LAURA MCCLURE
even, at times, turning the tables on them through their witty repartee.'
Thus Athenaeus describes the courtesan Gnathaena as *exceedingly quick
in her answers” (oqó6pa 8’ hw £0Ouctoc npóc tà &nxokpíioetc, 583f) and
“very adept and not unsophisticated in her replies" (éuueAng 8’ rjv návv
h PváOova xoà ovx &vaoteros &noog0éySao0o1, 585b). Mania is similarly
termed &o«eia in her responses (coteia tic &noxptvacÜ0a, 578e), while
the auletris Lamia is said to be “quick and sophisticated" in her rejoin-
ders (£0Outog kai GOTIKN POs tàs &rxokptosgis, 577d). The latter example
is of special interest: the word wot1Kkn is actually Schweighàáuser's emen-
dation for &ttixń, the reading of all three manuscripts, suggesting per-
haps an affinity between this type of verbal sophistication and classical
Athens. Indeed, in a fragment of Anaxilas, the designation &oceta distin-
guishes the hetaera from her brothel counterpart, the porne (Anaxilas fr.
21 K.-A. = 572b), while in Theocritus’ Idyll 20, a hetaera describes her
kisses as &otıxá (Theoc. Id. 20.4) as she mocks the rude manners of a
country bumpkin (cypotxoc, 20.3). For Aristotle, the category of tà
i&oteto—apophthegms, puns, and double-entendres—comprise an im-
portant aspect of male rhetorical training (Arist. Rh. 1411b—13b), and, in
fact, such clever remarks could earn a defendant acquittal in the Athe-
nian law courts.”
On the Roman side, Philaenium in Plautus’ Asinaria utters dicta
docta (525) in addition to her blandishments, while the Saturnalia of
Macrobius inserts the witticisms of Augustus’ daughter Julia into a fic-
tional Roman dinner party mostly concerned with a discussion of Vergil.
A couple of Julia's jokes turn the table on her male interlocutors, per-
haps subverting, as Richlin has argued, Augustan moral discourse.? Her
obscene double entendre, ^I never take on a passenger unless the ship is
full" (Macrob. Sat. 2.5.9), resembles in some respects the obscene jokes
of Athenaeus' courtesans. Nonetheless, her table talk is termed eleganter
'8 Hawley 1993, 77, inexplicably insists that “the evidence . . . for [hetaeras'] alleged
‘culture’ is in fact scarce (77),” a view that is directly contradicted by 584a, 588b, and
passim. Although not often described as copy by Athenaeus as in other texts, the adjectives
evOixtoc and oteta suggest a degree of verbal sophistication. For the adjective cog and
cognates as applied to prostitutes, cf. Axionicus fr. 1 K.—A. (a tambourinist described as
cogwtate); Theophilus fr. 12.7 K.-A. (a harpist is 0095); and Alciphr. 4.7.8, coi viv paAtota
pavoduar cogn). Hawley further notes that sophisma may refer to fellatio in Theopompus
fr. 36.3 K.-A.; see also Henderson 1991, 183; cf. Ar. Lys. 546 and Ec. 895-96.
' Halliwell 1991, 293, and n. 55 points out that defendants in Attic oratory received
acquittals through their use of ta àoceto; cf. Dem. 23.206; Lys. 24.18; Ar. V. 567.
? Richlin 1992, 73. It is possible that in attributing such joking to Julia, the tradition
attempts to assimilate her to a prostitute, especially given her legendary sexual misconduct;
for further discussion, see McGinn 1998, 170.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 269
(2.5.6) and thus wins the admiration of her male audience (mirantibus,
2.5.2; mirarentur, 2.5.9). Although these witticisms may support the no-
tion of educated hetaeras, the fact that many revolve around obscene
meanings and temporary inversions of status affiliates them more fully
with the subversive discourse of comedy and its function as social and
FIGURES OF SYMPOTIC RAILLERY
Athenaeus and his contemporaries draw upon comic conventions that
associate raillery or skOmmata with lower class characters such fishwives,
innkeepers, prostitutes, and parasites.” The literary tradition frequently
represents courtesans and parasites as subversive members of court and
table; such figures direct their derisive humor toward their patrons, their
paramours, and even each other. According to Alciphron, this type of
raillery comprises one of the key components of the drinking party,
together with songs, drinks, garlands, perfume, and sweetmeats (Alciphr.
4.14.3). Thus two hetaeras in another of his letters tease their lovers as
they process to a pastoral symposium (tà p£v yap GAANAAS &okaentopev À
tovg épaotac, Alciphr. 4.13.2). Their activity is referred to as nadia
(4.13.3), a type of verbal play also associated with the sophists at
Athenaeus' table and with parasites (below). A hetaera in another letter
mocks (xouoóricacao &KoAdotas, 4.13) a jeering bystander in response to
his obscene pun on ovKac, a metaphor for the genitals in Middle Comedy
and later literature: “Lucky is that place where you are going, since it will
have lots of figs!" (uaKxdpiov &keivo to xoptov ónoi PadiCete, Ooas £Gei
ovKac, Alciphr. 4.13.2).? The hetaera’s mockery, represented by the par-
ticiple kouoónoaco, temporarily figures the hetaera as in discursive
control: instead of serving as the typical object of comic abuse, the
hetaera ridicules her interlocutor. And, in fact, the structure of this ex-
change typifies those found between the hetaera and her clientele in
Athenaeus, especially the aggressive ridicule directed toward specific
individuals (Éokcorte: Mania, Machon 245 = 579c; Gnathaena, Machon
322 = 580f).”
1 Halliwell 1991, 289 and n. 40; cf. also Hom. Z. 20. 251-52; Ar. Eq. 1400, 1403; V. 496-
469, 1388; Ra. 549, 857-58; PI. 426-28, 435-36; Pl. R. 395d 6-7; Lg. 935a1.
2 A prostitute in Axionicus fr. 1.4 K.—A. bears the name Ischas (dried fig); see
Henderson 1991, 134 and n. 137.
3 On the aggressive function of laughter in ancient Greek culture, see Henderson
1991, 42-43; and Halliwell 1991, 287.
270 LAURA MCCLURE
The hetaera's male sympotic counterparts include parasites, flatter-
ers, and the gelotopoios or clown who paid for their dinners with jokes
(614c; Xen. Sym. 1.14-15)." In Book 14, Ulpian informs us, quoting a line
of Anaxandrides, that the mythical Rhadamanthys and Palamedes “in-
vented the practice of the freeloader telling jokes" (tò 8’ &obuoAov epe
yeAoia Aéyew ‘PaddpavOve/ xoi HoXounónc, Anaxandr. 10 K.—A. = 614c).
Like the hetaera, the jester delivered mocking jests or insults, loidoria
and skoóomma in classical prose, to produce laughter and also parodied
tragic and comic scenes that included the imitation of various types of
characters.? In Book 8 of the Deipnosophistae, the musician Stratonicus
plays a similar role, and not insignificantly he also figures as the subject
of nine anecdotes from Machon's Chreiae (Machon 91-167 = 348e—49f).
His witticisms are embedded in Cynulcus' lengthy speech about fish
(347d—52d) that begins with a well-known riddle about a fish recast as an
insulting joke directed at a rival musician (347f); both of these speech
genres were associated with hetaeras, as we saw above. His humor also
involves puns, double meanings, sexual innuendo, and the unconven-
tional use of proverbs, idioms, or quotations (351a-b; Gilula 2000, 426—
27). The musician’s verbal facility resembles that of the hetaera; he too
always has a ready quip (nepi tfjg evotoxiag abdtod tÓv AnOKpIGEwV,
348d). At the same time, Stratonicus, with his sharp tongue and clever
rejoinders, shares a vision similar to that of Athenaeus’ fellow diners, a
penchant for humorous word play, literary quotation, and verbal compe-
tition, all reflecting a cosmopolitan perspective.
The masculine character of the hetaera’s jesting is further seen in
her similarity to these male figures at table, particularly the kolax, the
flatterer or parasite, who makes a lengthy appearance at Athenaeus’
table in Book 6 (234d—62b). At the banquet and on the comic stage, such
figures ridicule their superiors while also serving as the targets of their
jokes, as a parasite in a play of Epicharmus states, “There I am elegantly
witty, and I cause much laughter and I praise my host” (tnvei dé yaping t’
eiui Koi noia NOADV / YEAWTA Koi TOV lotiQvt' &rouvéo, 235f-36a). In
Menander's Kolax, the function of the parasite at the symposium is to
produce paidia, that is, to laugh loudly, to mock others, and to drink a lot
(adpov yeA&cau, oK@yai tiv’, £urieiv noAvv, 258d). Alexis in his Poiétae
describes one famous Athenian parasite, a certain Eucrates nicknamed
^ Milanezi 2000, 403, notes that the word gelotopoios does not appear until Xenophon;
cf. X. Smp. 1.11, An. 7.3.33; Pl. R. 620c; and 613-16.
? Milanezi 2000, 405—6. The gelotopoios Philip in Xenophon's Symposium thus plays
at likenesses (6.8-7.1).
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 271
the Lark (0 Kópvóoc), as both the joke teller and the butt of humor, “Yes
indeed, I want to be laughed at and always to say funny things" (ràvv tot
BoóXopoa / ootoc yeAGoOar xoi yéAou’ cei Aéyew, 241d). The fact that the
Lark had a reputation for prostituting himself (óc é60xe1 nenopvedoB8at,
241e) further underscores his similarity to the courtesan; even his deri-
sive nickname contributes to his objectification, as do those of the fa-
mous courtesans such as Phtheiropyle (Louse-gate, 586a), Leme (Con-
junctivitis, 569f), and Hys (Sow, 583a). Indeed, a joke that conflates the
high cost of the Lark's sexual services with the price of a thrush (241e)
plays on the parasite's sexual availability and commodity status in much
the same way as jokes made about and by hetaeras.
The verbal license afforded by the context of the symposium and
the temporary inversions it effects are seen in an anecdote about Philip
of Macedon and his parasite: when the king made a joke at his parasite's
expense, the latter responded with a role-inverting quip, “Then shall I
not maintain you (instead of the other way around)?" (eit’ oox yò o£,
Eon, Ópéyo, 248e). The subversive aspects of this humor did not always sit
well with its patrons: a miscalculated joke that playfully poked fun at
Arsinoé, the wife of Lysimachus, had a disastrous result. Telesphorus, a
member at court, embedded a derisive jab against the queen, who was
prone to vomiting, in a tragic reference to Euripides’ Antiopé:
kakv KATHPXEIG THVS’ £uobcav ELOKYOV.
(fr. adesp. 395 + 184 TGF’ = 616c).
You are starting trouble by bringing in this vomiting woman.
Altering thvde Modoav (this Muse) to sound like tnvd’ euotoav (this
vomiting woman), Telesphorus foolishly exposed Arsinoé’s embarrassing
sickness.?? The hazards of court humor are amply illustrated by Telespho-
rus’ punishment: locked in a cage like an animal, he starved to death—
possibly a just penalty for a sponging dinner guest who jokes at the
expense of his host. Hetaeras similarly adapted tragic verse to expose the
foibles of their interlocutors, inverting social status within the context of
the vignettes that feature them, although unlike the original verse, their
connotations are characteristically obscene.
% This pronunciation joke recalls the actor Hegelochus’ famous mistake while deliv-
ering a line from Euripides’ Orestes. His breathless delivery of yaññv instead of yaAnv’
changed the intended meaning of the sentence from “I see the calm after the storm" to “I
see the weasel after the storm.” Cf. E. Or. 279; cf. Ar. Ra. 303-4; Strattis, frs. 1 and 60 K.—A.;
and Sannyrion, fr. 8 K.-A.
272 LAURA MCCLURE
THE LAUGHTER OF HETAERAS
Hetaera's jokes are frequently accompanied by derisive and aggressive
laughter, denoted by the verb yeAdo, that figures them as masculine;
indeed, according to Theophrastus, such laughter is characteristic of the
kolax (Thphr. Char. 2.4), the flatterer or parasite described above. In
Herodotus' Histories, the word conveys not happiness or pleasure but
rather “scorn, arrogance or self-delusion" (Lateiner 1977 and 1989, 28,
n. 48). The verb very rarely occurs in connection with women in the
Deipnosophistae: all feminine examples refer to hetaeras and most occur
in Book 13. Thus the courtesans Lamia and Mania mock and reject their
clients’ advances with their laughter (yeAaoaoa, Machon 184 = 577f;
Machon 255 = 579d). The close connection between the hetaera’s laugh-
ter and her masculine insolence gains further support in an anecdote in
which the sophisticated Lais laughs as she wittily insults the poet Euripides
(h òè yeAdoao’ &rexpiOn, 582d). The laughter of the courtesan Nico, who
quips that Sophocles’ boy favorite, Demophon, should take her vyn and
give it to Sophocles (ñ 8’ eine yeA&caoo, 582f), also shows a comic
mastery of the situation. Similarly, Theocritus’ Idyll 20 describes a he-
taera as alternately enticing and mocking a simple herdsman, a scene
that concludes with violent laughter at the rustic's expense (coBapóv p’
The subversive and aggressively masculine aspects of the hetaera's
laughter are tangible in another anecdote about a laughing hetaera. In
Book 9, we find the appropriately named Gnathaena (Jaws) indulging in
cooked testicles at a banquet. While the other women politely pretend
not to notice this obscene feast (rkktGeto, 384f), “man-slaying” Gnathaena
heartily guffaws (ñ 6' &vópogóvoc l'váOaiv' a&vayeAcoao’ ua, 384f) as
she snatches up two and gulps them down. The laughter of hetaeras has
a subversive effect: here it clearly induces anxiety in Gnathaena's (male)
interlocutors, connected as it is with her predatory sexuality and prodigious
appetite, because it potentially emasculates men even as it seduces them.
In the only other example of female laughter outside of Book 13,
the courtesans Melissa and Nicion are described as laughing at the humble
fare, the bowls of lentil soup, set before them at a symposium of Cynic
YEAWTOG obv ETLPPAYEVTOG mapiiv h Oa tpotopoóvn MéA1000 xod Tj Kuváprta
Níktov: atout 9 Hoav t&v ook åshuov £toipióov, &nopAéwocot obv adta
eig TH NapaKkeipeva Kai Davudoacar £yéAov. Kai n Nixiov gon: “ovddeic
budv, &vdp_ec yeveroovAAextadar, ixBdv obis” (157a-b).
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 273
After a burst of laughter, the stage-pounder Melissa and that dog-fly
Nicion entered; for these were very well known courtesans. Glancing with
wonder at the things placed before them, they laughed. And Nicion said,
“Don’t any of you beard-gatherers eat fish?”
The scornful hetaera sounds a lot like one of Athenaeus' banqueters: not
only does she parody Aristophanes with the word yevevoovAA.ektóOoa (cf.
otmUvALOovAAEKtTaON [gossip-gatherers], Ar. Ra. 841), she goes on to
quote the epigrammatist Meleager and the philosopher Antisthenes, a
pupil of Socrates, advising the Cynics to "take themselves from life"
(eEcyew avtovg tod Biov) for tolerating such food. The laughter of these
hetaeras, like those of Book 13, thus parodies the practices and doctrines
of the Cynic philosophers, namely their frugal symposia, and their discur-
sive presence at table indirectly ridicules its primary proponent, the
Cynic Cynulcus. For the philosopher has just delivered a lengthy account
of the ascetic practices of the Cynics, an account that provokes the
derisive laughter of everyone at the banquet (yeAacavtwv ðè nàvtav,
159f). As I will show in the remainder of this paper, Myrtilus deploys the
discourse of hetaeras in Book 13 to much the same end.
GENRES OF COURTESANS: ATHENAEUS' SOURCES
The witticisms of hetaeras, along with those of parasites, formed a familiar
literary sub-genre in classical antiquity. An anecdote recorded by Strabo
exemplifies the genre: reproached for refusing to work in wool, a courte-
san responds with a phallic pun, “Yet I, such as I am, have taken down
three webs / masts in this short length of time" (£yà uévtoi m totxbtn tpelc
ton xoOsciAov iotovs év Bpoxei xpóvo tovto, Strabo 8.6.20). The joke
hinges on an inversion of normative social roles: instead of weaving, the
work of a respectable wife, the hetaera plies her trade in the bedroom,
subduing men in an almost martial fashion. Such jokes were deemed
worthy of writing down and made the rounds either through personal
collections—Philip of Macedon apparently maintained a joke book filled
with the amusing sayings of contemporary comedians (614d)—or in more
formal tracts such as the Chreiae of the Hellenistic poet Machon.^' The
7 A native of Corinth or Sicyon, Machon spent most of his life at Alexandria where
his comedies were produced. The subject matter and style of the Chreiae suggest the
influence of both Attic Old and New Comedy, although the vocabulary is prosaic and
colloquial; even the meter approximates prose rather than poetry; for a fuller account of
Machon and his oeuvre, see Gow 1965, 3-24, and Kurke 2002.
274 LAURA MCCLURE
parasite, Eucleides, nicknamed the Beet, occasionally uttered witty
apophthegms “worthy of publication" (oox &váGi? BipAtov, 242b), but,
according to Athenaeus, the unevenness of his humor ultimately ren-
dered him obscure.
Although it is unclear how the witticisms of hetaeras became trans-
mitted to Athenaeus, it is likely that he consulted many of the same
sources as Aelian, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, and Pollux (Hawley 1993,
76). These works included several collections of jokes told by hetaeras, as
well as those by parasites, predominantly the Chreiae of Machon (577d-
83d), but also the Apomnémoneumata of Lynceus (probably 583f, 584b-
85f) as well as the Geloia Apomnemoneumata of Aristodemus (possibly
585a). Indeed, Athenaeus uses the terms chreiae, apophthegmata, and
apomnemoneumata more or less interchangeably throughout his work
(cf. 348e; 579d, 588a). Moreover, because some chreiae are attributed to
multiple authors—for example, Machon assigns one anecdote to the
courtesan Mania (263 = 578e) that Lynceus elsewhere attributes to
Gnathaena (584c)—it is likely that there was a well-established oral
tradition in circulation. In chreiae, in contrast to maxims or proverbs,
stock figures such as kings, soldiers, parasites, and courtesans engage in
dialogue in a familiar narrative setting.” The form is quite flexible, allow-
ing for alteration, improvisation and last minute changes of venue and
character (Gilula 2000, 429). By the late second century C.E., the term
had a specific, technical meaning and became a regular feature of the
progymnasmata of the imperial rhetors.? The extreme obscenity found
in most of Machon’s Chreiae has led to the speculation, correct in my
view, that they are meant as a parody of this philosophical and rhetorical
^ I follow Casaubon’s emendation here.
? Hawley 1993, 76, observes that the chreia involves “a brief narrative setting,
introducing at least one person, an attribution of at least one proper name as protagonist
(often a famous individual), a question, and then a final capping answer, often in direct
speech." He further argues that the apophthegm or anecdote, because brief, represented an
appropriate speech genre for women. He does not, however, account for the anecdotal
traditions surrounding women who are seen as violating or subverting in some way norma-
tive gender roles, such as the Apophthegmata Lakonika of Plutarch or the hetaeras of
Machon, not to mention the fact that many such apothegms are also attributed to powerful
men. Hock and O’Neil 1986, 22-25, delineate the four characteristic features of the chreia
as follows: it contains a saying or action; it is concise, often only one sentence in length; it
is spoken in character and is applicable to everyday life. Gilula 2000, 429, identifies the
basic structure of the chreia as an either-or question “to which the witty saying is an answer
which completely ignores the alternatives offered in the question and surprisingly comes
up with a third possibility."
* On progymnasmata, see Hock and O'Neil 1986.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 275
tradition; indeed, Gow himself struggles to understand their pedagogical
purpose (“highly unsuitable for the schoolroom,” he remarks)?!
As a genre, the chreia apparently originated in classical Athens
among philosophers, sophists, and other literary figures (Hock and O’Neil
1986, 4—5); Plato even attributes a chreia to Sophocles (Pl. R. 1.329b-c).
The literary genre, however, dates at least to the fourth century B.C.E.,
according to Diogenes Laertius, who mentions several works entitled
Chreiae by philosophical authors of this period.” Indeed, he tells us that
Diogenes the Cynic himself composed a Chreiae (D.L. 6.80). If we are to
believe Diogenes Laertius, this philosopher had a reputation for witty
quips that heaped scorn on his interlocutors (katacopapevoac8a1, D.L.
6.24 and passim), as in the following:
id@v “OAvuTLovikny eig £tatpav nuKvoteEpov ateviCovta, “ide,” EON, “KPLOV
"APELUGVLOV WG VIO TOD tuxÓvtoc Kopaotou TpayNAICETtaL.” (D.L. 6.61)
Upon seeing an Olympian victor glance repeatedly at a hetaera, he said,
“See how the ram, frenzied for battle, has had his neck rung by a common
Such witticisms may have served as the model for those attributed to
hetaeras since they feature the same stock characters and similar kinds
of role inversion. Lynceus’ account of one of Phryne’s witticisms beauti-
fully illustrates the technique of philosophical parody at work in the
hetaera’s version of this genre: when someone poses a question
(Cntovpevov) as to why wreaths are hung at the symposium, Phryne
responds, “to guide the soul” (611 yoyaywyotov, 585e), a quip that pos-
sibly plays on the zétémata of the Stoics (cf. 553e—54b, 670a—e). Certainly,
Myrtilus' lengthy quotation of Machon's Chreiae functions similarly at
Athenaeus' banquet, parodying philosophers, specifically the Stoics and
their pretentious discourses.
While it is clear that Machon provides the bulk of the witticisms
attributed to hetaeras in the Deipnosophistae, the relation of Machon to
his predecessor Lynceus remains unclear (Gow 1965, 19-21; Ogden 1999,
n. 65—66). Certainly the difference between the two versions of the “stone”
3! Gow 1965,14. On Machon's Chreiae as a philosophical parody, see Davidson 1997,
93 and 104, and Kurke 2002.
? Gow 1965, 12-14; the authors mentioned by Diogenes include Aristippus (D.L.
2.85, 4.40); Demetrius of Phalerum (5.81); Hecaton the Rhodian, a follower of Panaetius
(6.32); Metrocles (6.33); Diogenes (6.80); Zeno of Citium (6.91); Persaeus (7.36); and
Ariston of Chios (7.163).
276 LAURA MCCLURE
joke—Machon attributes it to Gnathaena (578e), Lynceus to Phryne
(584c)—1militates against the view that Machon borrowed it from Lynceus.
In any case, Lynceus’ anecdotes (583d-85e) appear less fully developed
than those of Machon; they provide little in the way of dramatic setting
and characterization and mostly involve quotidian puns without the graphic
obscenity of Machon, as seen in the philosophical witticism of Phryne
above. The subject matter of Aristodemus’ Geloia Apomnemoneumata, if
we are to judge by Gnathaena’s joke about a cistern (Aókkoc), appears to
have been much cruder than that of Lynceus. His account features some
of the same courtesans as Machon, including Gnathaena (583f, 584b-e,
585a-b), Phryne (584d, 585e-f), Nico (584f), Callistion (585c), and Lais
(585d); but to these he adds Metanira (584f), Glycera (585c-d), and Thais
SAYINGS OF HETAERAS
Let us turn now to the actual witticisms of hetaeras as quoted by Myrtilus.
Most hinge on an obscene pun that deflects a demeaning sexual request
and thus puts the interlocutor in his place.? Through her witticisms, the
hetaera gains the upper hand over her male interlocutors; she literally
“wins” in the discursive exchanges of the symposium, playing the part of
the joke teller rather than serving as the target of the humor. My larger
point, however, concerns the function of these jokes at Athenaeus' table.
By placing the speech of courtesans in Myrtilus' mouth, the author
portrays him as deploying an erotic and comic discourse that disrupts the
orderly progression of sympotic conversation. Just like the courtesans he
ventriloquizes, he ultimately triumphs, reducing his competitor to a mere
The late fourth-century courtesan Gnathaena had the widest repu-
tation for her humor; she also reputedly composed a literary treatise,
Nomos Sussistikos (“Table Manners"), that outlined, probably parodically,
sympotic protocol for her lovers.” Other examples of her wit occur in the
33 Hawley 1993, 77, divides their quips into the following groups: witty puns (578e,
584d, 580d-e, 582 a, 584b—85f); literary or political allusions (579e—80a, 582c-d; 584); sexual
double entendres (579d, 580b, 581f); and blatant obscenity (580f).
34 Gow 1965, 107. According to Aristodemus (= 585b), Gnathaena wrote a treatise
on dinner parties (vépov ovooitikov ovveypayev, kað’ öv det tovc £paotàg Ws HDTV xad TNV
Ovyatépa cioiévar, Kata CfAov tov tà tota ovvtačauévæv quUAocógov). It apparently
amounted to 323 lines, according to Callimachus in his Nomoi (fr. 433 = 585b) and began
60€ o VOLO tooc Eypaon Kai ópoioc. Hawley 1993, 77 argues, as does Davidson 1997, 104, that
Athenaeus by referring to Gnathaena's treatise parodies such works. See also Kurke 2002.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 277
Apomnemoneumata of the Samian Lynceus (584b) and in the Geloia
Apomnemoneumata of Aristodemus (585a). Her special gift perhaps
reflects her status as a crone, a character type frequently associated with
scurrilous joking in Attic Old Comedy; indeed, at one point she is re-
ferred to as “almost a coffin” (óuoAoyouuévn copóc, 580c).? Such verbal
talents apparently ran in the family, as her granddaughter or daughter,
Gnathaenion (little Gnathaena), is also quoted numerous times in Book
13.5 Lastly, many of the rejoinders are attributed to the quick-witted
Lamia, a well-known auletris (577d) associated with Demetrius Poliorcetes,
the Macedonian king famous for his numerous liaisons with courtesans.
The many witticisms that involve tragic allusions not only reinforce the
association of paideia with the Greek hetaera, they also perversely convert
the hetaera, an outsider and normally a foreigner, into the purveyor of
classical Athenian literary culture. The parodic send-up of Oedipus' riddle
in the fragment of Anaxilas discussed above exemplifies the genre in
which a hetaera obscenely burlesques a tragic idea or even parodies tragic
language. For example, Gnathaena, asked to pay the expenses for a drink-
ing party in advance, replies to the slave messenger of her lover Andronicus,
the tragic actor, “Cursed slave, what word hast thou spoken!" (òñóueve
TALOWV, EON, roiov ElpnKac Aóyov, 584d), a line from an unattributed tragic
play (fr. 837 TGF’). Here pure Attic speech is put in the mouth of the
person least likely to speak it—a foreigner and outsider. The gesture is
doubly ironic as every speaker at Athenaeus’ table serves to negotiate his
or her own identity in relation to this same cultural past, with Ulpian the
Atticist serving as the guardian of the pure, classical Greek language.
3 For a Roman parallel, consider that Julia apparently told her jokes when she was
38, which was on the verge of old age in classical antiquity; see Richlin 1992, 70.
% Prostitution appears to have been an intergenerational practice transmitted from
mother to daughter as Athenaeus and his sources regularly refer to the matrilineal descent
of courtesans (and there is some inscriptional evidence to support this; for which see
Ogden 1996, 94-95). Thus we hear of Damasandra/Timandra, mother of Lais the Younger
and of Theodote (535c; 574e); Nannion, mother of Corone 2 (587b); and Corone 1, the
mother of Callistion (583a); the Epicurean Leontion, the mother of Danae (593b-d);
Gnathaena, mother or grandmother of Gnathaenion (585a); and Thalassis, mother of
Glycera (586c). Nannion’s daughter, Corone 2, earned the sobriquet “Grandma” because
of her inherited profession: *Now there was a daughter of Nannion named Corone who
acquired the name Tethe (Grandmother) because of her triple prostitution" (èx tpinopveiag,
587b). In Plautus' Cistellaria, the procuress Syra speaks of bearing a daughter from a
transient union and training her in the arts of prostitution (Pl. Cist. 39-41).
278 LAURA MCCLURE
Most of the hetaera's tragic rejoinders revolve around an obscene
double meaning and borrow much from the comic technique of tragic
parody. The first chreia quoted by Myrtilus depicts the auletris Lamia
delivering a ribald riposte to the infamous Macedonian king, Demetrius
bneppoAt Se tfjg Acaivyns oyna tı
TEPALVOÉVNG ed TAP te tH Anuntpio
evNMEpovoTs, paci kal thv Adprav
tov Baolré’ ebueA Gg xeAnticat noté
énoweOfivat 8’: 7 è todt &krxekptOn
*npóc tata. kal A€atvav, et BovAet, Kpatet.” (Machon 168-73 = 577d)
When Leaena had executed a certain position
extremely well and had found favor with Demetrius,
they say Lamia also once rode gracefully atop the king,
and thus won his praise. And she retorted as follows,
“In view of that, take on Leaena too if you like!”
The joke plays on two different sexual schémata associated with each
prostitute and also with specific animals. The double meaning inheres in
the pun on Leaena, another famous courtesan associated with Demetrius,
and Aéaiva, the Greek word for lion and for the lioness schema, a posi-
tion in which the woman crouched with her posterior raised.*’ The spe-
cialty of her rival, Lamia, is the antithesis of this pose: she rides atop the
man equestrian-style, a schema considered demeaning even for prosti-
tutes. On another level, the line itself alludes to a climactic scene in
Euripides’ Medea, in which Medea says to Jason, “In view of that, call me
a lion, if you wish" (npóg tadta koi A€aivav, ei BooAn, KaAe, E. Med.
1358). But here the hetaera has modified the word at line end from kàer
to kpáteı. Moreover, the dramatic context of the line reinforces the idea
of female discursive dominance: raised aloft in the position of dea ex
machina, Medea utters these lines over her emasculated husband just
before departing in her dragon chariot.”
37 On the lion position, cf. Ar. Lys. 231, ob otjoopo A€aww’ èni tupoxviottibos, and the
scholion, oxfipua aKoAaotov kai Etaipikov; it frequently appears on vases and hand mirrors,
for which see Stewart 1997, 177-81. For a visual representation of a crouching lion, see
38 For another link between Lamia and Leaena, cf. 253a, where according to
Demochares, the Athenians supposedly built temples to Aphrodite Leaena and Aphrodite
Lamia as a compliment to Demetrius. On keAnzí(Go, see Heath 1986; Henry 1992, 264; on its
use in this anecdote, see Davidson 1997, 196—97, and Kurke 2002.
? For the discursive dominance of Medea in Euripides’ play, see McClure 1999a; for
its application to Machon, see Kurke 2002, who sees it as a political declaration of “the
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 279
In another vignette that features Demetrius, the courtesan Mania
makes similar use of tragic allusion when she consents to Demetrius'
request for her ass: |
aitovuévrv A£yovot THY TLYNV NOTE
vno TOD BaciAéoc Mavtav Anuntpiov
à&vta&ubcoat Swpeav KAÙTÓV TIVO.
ddvtos Ò’ ériotpéyaoco LETH uikpóv A£yel
"'Ayagéuvovog nai, vov ketv’ £Geot( oor...” — (Machon 226-30 = 579a).
They say that when king Demetrius once asked
for Mania's ass, she demanded a gift in return from him.
After he had given it, she turned around and after a little while said,
“Child of Agamemnon, now it is possible for you to... ."
Her retort alludes to a passage in Sophocles' Electra where the Paedagogus
says to Orestes, “Child, now it is possible for you to see those things for
which you were always eager" ('Ayauéuvovog nai, vov éxeiv’ £Geott oot /
napóvti Aebooew, Óv npóOvpuoc No’ cet, S. El. 2). The joke, however,
resides in the omission of the infinitive Aevooew of the original text:
Demetrius does not ask merely to see her ass but rather alludes to anal
intercourse.? The anecdote receives additional frisson if one considers
that Mania may be quoting the parodic lines of the wife of the tragic
actor Theodorus who refused to allow him into her bed until he returned
victorious from a tragic competition (Gow 1965, 103; cf. Plut. Mor. 737b).
Play on tragic phrases similarly occurs in the Gnathaenion's retort
to Gnathaena when the latter pressures her to reconcile with a lover:
h 9' eine, "ufivep, n&c, Éon, UEAAW QuAEiv
TO unóev WHEANLA, TOV DIO TAG GTEYAC
tò KoiÀov "Apyoc Swpecv O£Aovt' Exe.” (Machon 384-86 = 582a)
Mother, she said, how can I kiss
that good-for-nothing, one who wants to possess
under one roof all hollow Argos as a gift.
The phrase “hollow Argos” comes from a passage in Sophocles’ Oedipus
at Colonus in which Oedipus curses his son Polyneices (S. OC 1387; cf.
378) but here it euphemistically refers to her own body. The phrase to
undev @peAnua may also be taken from a tragedy while oteéyn puns on
superiority of a quintessentially Athenian poetic genre to the crude physical demands of
Athens’ boorish conqueror.”
4 Thanks are owed to Peter White for his trenchant clarification of this joke.
280 LAURA MCCLURE
house and brothel." By taking a tragic phrase or statement out of con-
text and imbuing it with obscene meaning, the speaker parodies the
tragic genre in a manner familiar from comedy while at the same time
deflecting the demeaning requests of her clients.
Elsewhere the courtesan pokes fun at the literary pretensions of
dramatic poets and actors, again turning the tables on her male interlocu-
tors. In a joke that apparently made the rounds, Gnathaena bests her
lover, the comic poet Diphilus:
napa l'vatiaiv AiqUioc nivav MOTE
“woypov Y’, Eon, THYYELOV, à l'váfouv EXELG.”
"tv COV yap, eimev, énuieAGc, à Aihe,
eis AVTO y’ &ei Spanatov euPaAAouev.” (Machon 258-61 = 579e).
Drinking once at Gnathaena’s house, Diphilus remarked,
“That vessel you have is cold, Gnathaena.”
“That’s because we always deliberately put in
some of your plays,” she said.
As a term of literary criticism, ywoypoc denotes something tedious and
devoid of humor, so we hear of the “frigid” witticisms of the parasite
Eucleides (242b). * Although there is no evidence for any obscene usage
of &yyetov, it is nonetheless tempting to interpret both quips as profes-
Indeed, Machon's subsequent retelling of the anecdote implies as
much; here the poet represents the rejoinder as an attempt to conceal a
different lover's inferior gifts of snow and cheap fish:
cioxvvopgévn tà Apa u) Tis xocoquóOm
QvÀattou£vr TE TOAD WGALOTA AigiAov
un 66 Otknv peta tadta KMOUMdODLEVN ... . (Machon 271-73 = 579f)
Ashamed that someone might learn about the gifts,
and being especially worried about Diphilus,
in case he should pay her back by putting her in a comedy...
4 For this view, see Gow 1965, 124, who relates tò undév ogéànpa to A. Pr. 613, à
KOIWOV OVEANLA Bnvtoiow gaveic; cf. E. Tr. 703. He also notes that oteyéc commonly refers
to a brothel.
*? On wvypóg as a feature of dramatic poetry, cf. Ar. Th. 170, 6 ò’ aù Oéoyvic yoxpòç
Ov woxpHs noii; the frigidity of his tragedies apparently earned him the nickname X1ov; cf.
Ar. Ach. 138-40 and the scholion to v. 11. For the “frigid” jokes of parasites generally, see
Thphr. Char. 2.4.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 281
In this exchange, as in the previous version, the two speakers vie for
discursive control: Diphilus, through his comedies and his public humili-
ation of the hetaera, and Gnathaena through her witticisms at table.*
After a long setup, we finally get the punchline: overjoyed at his large
serving, Diphilus remarks,
“vii thy’ AOnv&v koi Ogoóc, yoxpóv y’, gon,
I vóOouw', £xew tov A&xkov ópoAoyovpév oc."
f| Ò’ eine “tdv cóv Spapctov yàp énueAGc
eis AVTOV aiel tovc TPOAOYOUS EUBOAAOLEV.” (Machon 281-84 = 580a)
“By Athena and the gods,” he said,
“your cistern sure is cold!”
And she replied, “That’s because we always
deliberately put in some of your prologues!”
The use of Aáxxoc here, a word frequently paired with mpwxtoc in Attic
Old Comedy, clearly shows the obscene intent of Diphilus’ remark. And
yet, Machon gives the hetaera the last word by having her counter the
poet’s implied obscenity with an insult about his work. Moreover, the
put-downs that temporarily place the hetaera in the dominant discursive
position also cast the male in a sexually, and grammatically, passive role:
Diphilus is said to be loved by her (ox' aotfig . . . cyanm@pevoc, Machon
265 = 579e) and is even designated her most esteemed erómenos
(TILMPEVOSG diota TOV £pouévov, Machon 264 = 579e).^
Diphilus appears to have been a frequent target of prostitutes’
ridicule: in an anecdote ascribed to Lynceus, Gnathaena berates the poet
for his failure in another dramatic competition:
£v &yâvı oov note AdTOV &oynuovificavra opóðpa &oOfvo Ex to Beátpov
ovvéeBn Kai oddév Httov eAVEiv mpdc thv TváOoiwav. keAeóovtog oov tod
AwpiAov droviyat tovs nóðac adTOdD thv PvdBawav, f| 62 “ti yap, eizev, ook
NIPLEVOG f|ketc;" (583f)
It once happened that Diphilus, disgracefully defeated in a dramatic com-
petition, was “raised” out of the theater but he went to Gnathaena’s house
5 The comic poet Philippides also pilloried Gnathaena for her gluttony in one of his
plays (fr. 5 K.-A.); see Gow 1965, 8-9. Similarly, at Alciphr. 4.2.5 the hetaera Glycera fears
that she will have to endure Menander’s Aoióopta on the comic stage.
“ Trying to solve this difficulty, Gow 1965, 107 suggests that &popuévov has a middle
rather than passive meaning; on p. 108, he remarks that the verb à&àyanáo in these contexts
normally has an active meaning and thus applies to the male, not to the hetaera, as in
Anaxil. fr. 22 K.-A., dot1¢ &vOpanwv Etaipav Tyy&nnos.
282 LAURA MCCLURE
nonetheless. When Diphilus enjoined her to wash his feet, she replied,
“Why should I, when you come to me not being raised up?"
(Trans. adapted from Gulick)
The poet's public humiliation in the theater effects a status reversal,
rendering him unworthy of the servile attention that courtesans typically
lavish upon their lovers, a displacement further compounded by the
hetaera's witticism. The joke, which was probably a standard one, plays
on the idea of the poet's literary creation, the hetaera, a stock figure in
comedy, “talking back" to her creator. Menander, returning home “down
on his luck," perhaps after a similar professional failure, endures the
obscene ridicule of Glycera, also one of his own characters. After he
rejects the hot milk she offers, the hetaera quips, “Get rid of the upper
part and use what's below” (àxoq0oa, eine, Kai t k&to x90, 585c). The
joke plays on the double sense of ypatc as old woman and the wrinkled
scum that forms on the surface of boiled milk.
One last anecdote represents an encounter between the fifth-cen-
tury hetaera Lais and the poet Euripides in which she mocks him with a
line from his own play in much the same manner as the god Dionysus in
Aristophanes’ Frogs when he awards the prize to Aeschylus (Ar. Ran.
1471). Upon seeing the poet in a garden with his writing tablet and stylus,
the hetaera engages in the following exchange:
“GROKPIVAL, Qnotv, à rout LOL,
tt BovAóuevog Eypayas Ev Tpaywdia
‘Epp’, aioxpono1ié; " KatanAayeis 0. Edpinidns
tijv tóAuav avtc “Lb yap, Eon, Tic et, yva;
odK aicyponotds;” h 68 yeAcoauo’ &nexkpiOn-
“Ti dS’ aioxpov, ei UN totor ypMpevots SoKei;” (Machon 405-10 = 582d)
“Tell me, my poet,
why did write in your tragedy
‘Away shameful doer?’” Whereupon Euripides, amazed
at her audacity, said, “What are you, woman?
Not a shameful doer?” And she, laughing, retorted,
“What is shameful, if it does not seem so to the doer?”
The hetaera here asks the poet why he used aioxponoióc of Medea in
Jason's elaborate denunciation of her (E. Med. 1346), although implying
an obscene usage. With anoxpivai, Lais invites the poet to deliver his
own witticism in this conventional game of ripostes; he responds by
turning the tables on the hetaera, but she (literally) has the last laugh.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 283
Lais brilliantly responds with a famous line from his play, Aeolus (fr. 19
TGF’), that probably referred to the incest of Macareus with his sister
Canace and in any case expressed his penchant for moral relativism.”
We see again the same comic procedure at work: the hetaera uses laugh-
ter and witticisms to put a powerful and derisive male interlocutor in his
place by using his own inclinations and doctrines against him. And as we
saw in the earlier parody of Euripides’ Medea, the verse comes from the
final scene of the tragedy when Jason's and Medea's positions are re-
versed.* The ability to quote Euripides in the post-classical era served as
the consummate mark of paideia. Plutarch in his account of the Sicilian
expedition states that the Sicilians consigned to the quarries all Athe-
nians captured in war except those who could recite Euripides (Plu. Nic.
19.2)." The close association between classical Greek paideia and the
poetry of Euripides during the second century C.E. reinforces the idea of
the educated Athenian hetaera as the purveyor of classical Attic culture.
RIDICULE OF THE LOWER CLASSES
Beyond tragic poets, the targets of the hetaeras' abuse tended to be
stock, lower-class characters such as soldiers, rogues (uaottyiac, 585f),
parasites, actors, athletes, and craftsmen. In one such story, a deserter, the
AvtóuoAoc, holds a drinking party for his friends—one assumes that
these are the free-loaders, the asymboloi that so frequently populate the
dinner parties of the rich and famous:
eivai orv aotóuoAoc &vOpconoc E€voc
Kal rapeniðnuhoac 'AO0fvnotv note
thv Mavíav peteréuyad’, ócov tnos dovc.
gic tóv nótov 8’ HV cupa peUAmoác tiva
èk tG NOAEWS TOV énrvyeAav eifuyuévov
&navta toig TPEQOVOL aiel TPOG xàptv -
^ On this passage, see Gow 1965, 128; on the line from Euripides’ Aeolus, cf. Ar. Ra.
1475, ti ©’ aioxpóv, Tv pn totg Oecpiévoig 6oxfi, and Plut. Mor. 33c.
^ Following a scholion, Gow 1965, 128, believes this episode may have actually
taken place. But the fact that such dialogues appear to have been popular during the
Second Sophistic period—Musonius, for instance, similarly engages in a conversation with
Euripides about slavery—militates against the idea that they ever actually took place; see
Whitmarsh 2001, 278.
?' [ am grateful to C. A. Faraone for drawing my attention to this passage.
48 Gow 1965, 104, takes the phrase adtowodAos &vOpmnos Gévoc to refer to “the typical
boorish soldier of New Comedy.” In any case, the term &vOponoc denotes contempt.
284 LAURA MCCLURE
BovAdpevoc civar yAo«upóc &otetóg 0' Guo,
ts Mavias &piota raiGovons oqóópo
&viota[iévmo TE TOAARKIG, cic 60001000
adtiy érikxpoooot PovAdpevos *npóc tàv Bewv
LELPAKLA, Ti Óokei TOV GYPlwv DELIV NOTE
év toic Ópeot t&y1ota Onpiov tp£xew;"
h Mavía 8’ “adtopodoc, à BéAtiote,” gon.
uetà tata 5’ wo cioHAVe TAAL n Mavi,
TOV AVTOLOAOV EOKMNTE Piyaoriv T’ ÉN
abtòv yeyovévat TpOGPoAfic odoNs noté. (Machon 231-46 = 579a-b).
A foreign man, who seemed to be a deserter,
was staying in Athens once, and sent for Mania,
paying her whatever she asked.
To his drinking party, he had invited some others,
those from the city always accustomed to laugh
with their hosts at everything out of gratitude.
He wished to show himself both subtle and witty,
while Mania bandied about her wittiest remarks,
even though she often left the room. Wishing to jeer at her
as a scurrying hare, the deserter said, “By the gods,
boys, which of the wild beasts in the mountains
seems to you to run the fastest?"
And Mania answered, “Why the deserter, my good man."
When Mania had entered the room once more after this,
she mocked the deserter and said that once
he had been a shield-caster during an attack.
The adjective aotetoc links the table banter of the parasitic deserter to
that of the hetaera and thus sets up a game of competitive ripostes
between the two. With her verbal play at its best—and note its affinities
with the table banter of Athenaeus’ sophists (&piota noarķovons, Machon
238 = 579b)—the hetaera Mania wins the contest with her witty solution
to the riddle; in Gow’s words, she “catches the man’s jest, turns it against
him, and embroiders her suggestion” (Gow 1965, 245). Her joke unmans
the deserter by unmasking his martial cowardice and deflates his own
attempts at witticisms.
Another chreia depicts the hetaera Mania as the lover of two rival
pancratiasts. Taking up with one pancratiast while serving as the com-
mon-law wife (youetfjg tpómov yuvoukóc) of the other, she incurs the
abuse of her cuckolded “husband” (uovyevouévnv). To his complaints,
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 285
“unBév, qnot, oot,
woyn, ueàéto: wabeiv yàp oio06o0o1 0’ ua
'OXouniovikàv vuxtóc àOAntàv ðveiv
KANYHV Tapa nÀnynv ti Sdvatai mot’ 0gAov." = (Machon 222-25 = 578f)
Darling, don’t be concerned. For I just wanted to learn and ascertain what
two athletes, victors at Olympia, could do, stroke for stroke, in a single
night. (Trans. adapted from Gulick.)
Here the double entendre resides in the play on nAnyn, a word that can
refer both to athletic and sexual activity in Attic Old Comedy. At the
same time, the sports metaphor effectively turns the hetaera into the
athletic victor able to take on two opponents at once. Gnathaenion also
deploys a similar equation between sexual and athletic conquest in her
response to a passing wrestler (no Àoutotüc) in another anecdote. When
he attempted to pass her retinue as she processed to the Peiraeus and
threatened to throw her down if her party did not get out of his way, she
replied, “You poor fool, not you sir! For that is something you have not
yet done!" (à téAav, ph St’ &vep: / oddénote yàp Todt’ oti coi
nenpayuévov, Machon 400-401 = 582c). By mocking his failure in the
public arena, the hetaera's repartee denigrates and even emasculates her
In an act of betrayal that involves multiple status inversions, the
aging Gnathaena, who has now taken up residence with the tragic actor
Andronicus, comes out of retirement to offer her services to a bronzesmith
for a large amount of gold. The low status of this character is indicated by
the phrase ava&ywyoc av ð: xoi Ba&vavcos navteA Gc (“Being ill-bred and
one who works with his hands," Machon 358 - 581d) and by the fact that
he sits around gossiping in a cobbler's shop. When the rumor gets back to
Andronicus that the hetaera had engaged in the "horse" position with
the bronzesmith, a schema she had refused to perform with him
(ka8inndoBa1, Machon 362 = 581d; cf. «eAnttcot Machon 171 = 577d), he
reviles her (Ao.vdopovuevoc, 581e). In the eyes of the actor, the hetaera's
willingness to perform this position with just anyone constitutes an act of
subversion since it elevates socially marginal figures, such as smiths and
rogues, to the level of aristocracy (e€vtpveav, 581e).” The hetaera in effect
aids and abets this process of disrupting status boundaries by renting out
her body and allowing equal access to all. Nonetheless, her quip to the
? Kurke 2002 finds an allusion to political disenfranchisement: in parting the
bronzesmith from his gold, the hetaera symbolically “casts him out of the citizen body” and
thus restores normative social hierarchies.
286 LAURA MCCLURE
cuckolded Andronicus restores those boundaries by insulting the smith
and reasserting her physical and discursive control over this degrading
act: “I cleverly contrived to touch the part of his person which projects
farthest and is smallest" (éqiAooóqno& 0', iv’ &kpov óc uota. Kat /
EAGXLOTOV ato0 nepiAGDo tod oouotoc, Machon 374-75 = 581f). The
verb giAocogew injects an element of bathos: the lofty thoughts of the
hetaera contrast with her degrading sexual activities. The use of repartee
to deflect a client’s demeaning sexual demand while also exposing his
baseness is also found in another of Mania's rejoinders: when a scoundrel
(rovnpóv tic), upon taking her in his turn, asks, “Do you wish to come
together from on top or behind?" (nótep' &vo 0£Aei / EABODG’ pa PoAeiv
1| kato . . .), she laughingly responds, “On top ... that you not steal my
hair ornament while I am prone" (yeAcoao’ “ava /.... d€d0iKa os / UN
uov TPOTEGOVONS TODUTAOKLOV LrEKTpayNc, Machon 255-57 = 579d).
Another anecdote, condemned as “grossly corrupt and the point
hardly intelligible” by Gow (1965, 112), seems to contain an obscene pun
that functions as a put-down of another marginal character. Upon learn-
ing that her partner, a uaotvytac, allegedly received the scars on his back
after falling into a funeral pyre, Gnathaena quips, “Yes, by the dear
Demeter, and rightly did you flail yourself, since you are over-sexed”
(“vai thy gidAnv Anuntpa, diKkaiws toi dépoc / &vOpone, qnotv, £&eóopng
à&xóAaotog àv, Machon 293-94 = 580b).? Although Gow rightly points
out that the term àxóAactoc normally refers to sexual incontinence, he
misses the sense of éxóépo; not only does it mean to flay or skin, but it
possibly refers to masturbation or even homosexual rape, as it does in
Attic Old Comedy?! Through her jest, the hetaera exposes not only the
rogue's lack of masculine self-control, but also his lower-class status as a
criminal worthy of whipping.
The puns and rejoinders of older hetaeras like Gnathaena may
convey their predatory sexuality in a gesture that renders men as the
objects of erotic appraisal. Old women are typically depicted as lecher-
ous and prone to obscenity in Greek literature, from Iambe in the Homeric
Hymn to Demeter to the three crones at the end of Aristophanes’
Ecclesiazusae (976ff.) who embed obscene double entendres in legal
language as they quarrel over sexual access to the Youth. The elderly
* I have followed Gulick in keeping the emendation of Capps, tot 6époc, instead of
the totyap of manuscript A.
51 In Aristophanes’ Wasps, the verb refers to anal rape (npocayayòv npòç thv £Aóav
&E£Oeip' eb xàvÓpik&c, Ar. V. 450), while elsewhere it denotes male arousal; cf. Ar. Lys. 158,
739 and 953; Av. 365; Nu. 442; on the verb generally, see Henderson 1991, 167.
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 287
Gnathaena delivers some of the coarsest humor in the book in her
exchange with another lower class character, a young butcher's boy:
eit’ iodoa KATH THYNV
1OTOVTA KPEONWANV TV’ GOTELOV NAVY
th 9 fto: opóðpa véov “© npóc tàv Dedv,
LELPAKLOV, © KOÀÓG, qnot, THs totnc; PPaoov.”
ò 6€ peiót&cac, “KdBS’, Zon, tpwopóAov."
“tic Ò’ OVNITPEY@V oti GOL, ONOLV, TAAQY,
övta y’ èv’ AOnvaic Kapixois xpfjo0ot otaBpoic;”
(Machon 304-10 = 580c-d)
Upon seeing by chance
a butcher boy standing at the scales, very pretty
and young in age, Gnathaena said, “By the gods,
boy, the good looking one, tell me, how do you do your weighing?”
The boy smiled and said, “From behind, for three obols.”
“But who will allow you, poor fool,
to use Carian measures in Athens?”
In this exchange, the crone’s attempt to turn the boy into an object of
erotic appraisal is met by a counter proposition that states a price of
three obols. As in all of Machon’s Chreiae, however, the hetaera has the
last word as she “measures” the butcher boy against Athenian social and
sexual standards in a complex pun that alludes to the sexual licentious-
ness of the Carians. In a similar act of objectification, Gnathaena else-
where ridicules a homely boy, described as skinny and dark (ioyvov
r&v / Kai peAava Aentóv 8’, Machon 319-20 = 580e), by comparing him
to Adonis (£oxontev cic “Adwviv), a witticism that may allude to the
types of jokes uttered by the hetaeras celebrating the Adonia (McClure
1999b, 216, 223, 254 and n. 165, 264).
HETAERAS AT ATHENAEUS' TABLE
The masculinized hetaeras of Machon and Lynceus bear little resem-
blance to the companions who flatter their clients with sweet nothings
depicted by Ephippus; their laughter is raucous, their jokes, while at
times sophisticated, are basically crude. They belong instead to a subver-
sive and parodic comic discourse that exposes the objects of their ridi-
cule as depraved and unmanly, lacking in the self-control necessary for
participation in the classical Athenian polis. And although these hetaeras
inhabit a shadowy demi-monde of cobbler shops, marketplaces, private
288 LAURA MCCLURE
symposia, and gardens, they nonetheless threaten to breach the status
boundaries of gender and class. In this regard they resemble other lower
class comic characters such as parasites and jesters, figures with whom
kings and poets rubbed elbows, and exchanged jokes, at court and table.
But in the hands of the comic poets, to say nothing of historians with a
flair for the theatrical, association with such marginal figures, female or
male, called into question the status and manhood of the men who were
their subjects. A similar dynamic obtains at Athenaeus' table: as ventrilo-
quized by Myrtilus, the hetaera's witticisms form the heart of a parodic
discourse intended to put Cynulcus, and philosophers generally, in their
place. This tactic is encapsulated in a fictionalized exchange between the
hetaera Glycera and the Hellenistic philosopher, Stilpo, that follows
Myrtilus' discussion of courtesans and paideia:
KATHYOPODVTOS yov note LtiAnwvos F'Àuxépag napà nótov ws ðragherpovong
TOVG véouc, WS qnoi Latupos ev toig Biois, vnotuxotooca t| TAvKEpa “thv
aùthv, gon, Éxouev aitiav, à LtiAnwv. o£ te yàp Aéyovow SiagVeipetv tods
EVTDYYAVOVTAS GOL AVMGEAT xoi épiotixà copiouata ót0&o0kovta, ELE TE
woavtwcs épotiká. unO£v oov Siagéper exitpiPopevotc xod KAKAS náoyouotv
1| età QUA0009ov Civ fj Etaipas.” (Satyrus FGrH 3.164 = 584a)
To Stilpo's accusation at a drinking party that she corrupted young men, as
Satyrus says in his Lives, Glycera responded, “We incur the same blame,
Stilpo. For they say that you corrupt all that meet you by teaching them
worthless, eristic sophistries, while I likewise teach them erotic ones. It
makes no difference, therefore, to people who are utterly destroyed and
down on their luck, whether they live in the company of a philosopher or
a courtesan." (Trans. adapted from Gulick.)
Glycera, in a manner similar to the jokes discussed above, deflates the
criticism of the philosopher by equating her art with his; indeed, the verb
O1xqOetpo is thematic in descriptions of the harmful effects of encoun-
ters with prostitutes (cf. 567c). So, too, Myrtilus informs us that the
Romans expelled their sophists, a term used interchangeably with phi-
losopher in Book 13, on the grounds that they corrupted the youth
(O1apOetpovtag tovc véouc, 610f). Given Stilpo's associations with Socratic
and Cynic philosophy, Myrtilus here deploys the discourse of the prosti-
tute as a direct invective against Cynulcus.
Moreover, Myrtilus uses the element of paideia exhibited by the
witticisms of hetaeras, especially those examples that deploy tragic verse,
to parody Cynulcus' affected scorn for the literary tradition. Thus in an
early exchange, the grammatikos chides the philosopher for his lack of
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 289
erudition: *How gauche you are, and boorish, and given to foul language
. whom the Muses have taught left-handed letters" (c okoibg ei
KO ypoiKoc aioxpoexQv. ... £OtóaGav &plotepa ypåuuata Modoat, 571a-
b). Myrtilus even goes so far as to accuse the Cynic of hating literature in
his final diatribe: “Then am I not right in hating all of you philosophers,
you who hate literature?" (eit’ od« ¿yò Sikaiws návtag bug toUG
PIADGOHOVS moô uioogQiAoAóyovc Ovtac, 610d). His account of Epicurus
similarly uses the courtesan Leontion to expose the philosopher's lack of
education.” Epicurus, himself “uninitiated in paideia” (naideias àqbntoc,
588a) and given to praise philosophers “cleansed of all paideia” (kxa8apoc
rong nadetac, 588a), consorts with the notorious hetaera and “philoso-
ovtos oov ò 'Enikoupog oo Aeóvtiov eiyev é£pouévnv thv èni ETALPELa
diaPontov yevopévnv; n 6 008’ öte PIAOGOGETV NPFATO énavoato £tapoboa,
TOI OE toig 'Exikovpetotg ovvfiv £v toig kroi, Exixovpw dé kal àvagavõóv.
Didn't this same Epicurus keep Leontion as his mistress, the woman who
had become famous for being a hetaera? Not even when she began to
study philosophy, did she cease being a hetaera, but consorted with all the
Epicureans in the Gardens, and even in full view of Epicurus.
As the ultimate symbol of pleasure, the hetaera pokes fun at the prin-
ciples behind Epicurean doctrine and uncovers the foolishness of the
philosopher himself (588a-b). At the same time, Leontion's presence in
the garden parodies their practice of including women in their circle.
Thus she turns the precepts of the Epicureans against them, in much the
same way as Lais' fictive encounter with Euripides. Myrtilus' encomium
of hetaeras, it appears, actually functions as a diatribe against philosophers.
In his final words, Cynulcus attempts to confute this discourse of
erotic paideia by denouncing the erudition of the grammatikos:
“noAvpabnpoovvngs, tc o0 keveotepov oddév,” “Innwv gon 6 Geos. GAAG
xoi 'Hpé&xAeitog ó Oeióg onor: “noAvuaBin vóov éxew od b1dd0xKel.” koi ó
Tipwv dé gon:
£v ÖÈ NÀATVOUÒG
roAvuaOnuoc)vnc, tfjg oo keveótepov &AAo.
? Apparently a famous anecdote in antiquity, for which see Brendel 1970, 33 and n.
36; cf. D.L. 10.4; Alciphr. 4.17 and Pliny 35.9.
290 LAURA MCCLURE
ti yàp OPEAOS TOV TOGOVTWV ÓvouGtov, © YPauuaATIKÉ, TAVTWV EXLTPIWAL
uA Àov fj ooopovicat SLVALEVOV tovc AKODOVTAC; (610b-c)
“Erudition—there is nothing more empty than this,” said Hippon the
atheist. But even the godlike Heracleitus says, ^Erudition does not teach
common sense.” And Timon also said, “There is nothing more empty than
boasting of erudition.” For what is the use of all these names, you gram-
marian, more to wear down than to make moderate your listeners?
Since the diners have already endured the ridiculous polymathia of
Cynulcus on the subject of lentils earlier in the evening (156b-58d), one
assumes that the philosopher finds fault not so much with Myrtilus'
pedantry as with his subject matter. An account of names, he suggests,
should more properly consist of those of the Greek heroes shut up in the
Trojan horse or the companions of Odysseus devoured by the Cyclops or
the Laistrygonians, rather than those of hetaeras. Instead, he argues,
Myrtilus continually quotes the historian Phylarchus: *that in the towns
of Ceos one will find neither hetaeras nor flute girls" (ót1 £v toig Keiov
NOAEGW OVTE ETAIPAG OVTE ADANTPIOAs ideiv ~ot1, 610d).
At the conclusion of his speech, Myrtilus returns in ring form to the
aberrant passions of philosophers just as he had earlier indicted the
Stoics for their homoerotic proclivities in his opening salvo (565a):
'Op&te oov Kai opeic, © PLAdGOGOL, oi TAPE qoot TH 'Appoðitn ypapevor
xoi dGoePodvtes eic thv Bedv, uh tov ocotóv OwaqÜOapfite tpónov. tóte yàp koi
Ol ta ióéc Ell kadol, ec TAvképa £oaoxev T] ETAIPA, OGOV EOLKAGL YOVAIKL
xpóvov, kaðárep iotopei KA€apyoc. (605d)
You philosophers, you who enjoy a love contrary to nature and sin against
the goddess of love, see that you are not ruined in the same manner. For
even boys are beautiful, as long as they still resemble women, as the
hetaera Glycera, in the account given by Clearchus, used to say.
The technique at work in this passage is by now familiar: Myrtilus mar-
shals the voice of the hetaera, here figured as a masculine appraiser of
beauty, to deride the habits of philosophers. But the hetaera does double
duty here: in addition to corroborating the depravity of philosophers, she
is made to convert the homoerotic proclivities of philosophers into the
compulsory heterosexuality of the grammarian.
For Myrtilus, then, the discourse of the hetaera unmasks the hypoc-
risy Of philosophers, whether Socratic, Cynic, Stoic, or Epicurean, and
exposes their inability to regulate properly the pleasures of the body. The
story of a symposium held by Antigonus Gonatas, the father of Demetrius
SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER 291
Poliorcetes, that concludes Myrtilus’ speech not only uses courtesans to
critique the depravities of the Macedonian court, a technique familiar
from Machon’s Chreiae, it also exposes the sexual hypocrisy of philoso-
phers at table. When a chorus of semi-nude Thessalian dancing girls
disturbs the otherwise orderly and moderate round of drinking
(£6 oxnuóvoc, 607c) at Antigonus’ party, causing a riotous clamor among
the men, the lone philosopher sits apart, refusing even the company of an
auletris. But he eventually comes to blows over her during a bidding war
for her services (607d-e); still another is said to enjoy wearing a flute-
girl's clothing (607f). Courtesans, and discourse about them, have a way
of lowering even the most elevated of men, as a vignette about Antiphanes
and Alexander suggests at the outset of Book 13. So, too, Myrtilus'
account of the obscene sayings of courtesans introduces into Athenaeus'
symposium a scurrilous discourse that reduces the Cynic philosopher to
a status lower than that of the eponymous dog (611c).
In a book preoccupied with names and naming, Myrtilus lives up to
his comic name: his risqué and scurrilous discourse challenges that of the
philosophers and gives the grammatikos, like the hetaera, the last word:
yÒ ÕE KATH TOV’ Apiotapxov TOV TPAYIKÒV ZOINTHV
TÖ’ OLY VIAPYOV, GAAG TULWPODLEVOG,
l * * * * SN », L4 , ^ I4
KOTANAVGM TOV TPOG GE Kod tovc KAAOUS kovac £vxa0a. Adyov. (612f)
And now I will end my speech against you and the other Cynic dogs
with a line from the tragic poet Aristarchus:
“Not as an instigator in these matters, but as the avenger.”
With this quotation, Myrtilus affiliates himself with tragic authority and
leaves off his erotic discourse; the hetaeras disappear from the table, and
Cynulcus retreats into silence.
This essay has attempted to show that the parodic and obscene discourse
of hetaeras must be placed in the larger context of Athenaeus’ banquet
and the sophists and philosophers it features. The speakers of the
Deipnosophistae do not tell their own jokes or improvise their own
speeches; rather they quote the words of others in a continual struggle
for discursive dominance. As we have seen, the witticisms of hetaeras
play a central role in the game of verbal and rhetorical gamesmanship
played by Athenaeus’ sophists and philosophers. Their erudite displays
202 LAURA MCCLURE
reflect, in part, the rhetorical environment of the late second/early third
century C.E. in which individuals competed for status through verbal
performance.” This sophistic self-fashioning appropriates the sayings of
Athenian hetaeras and converts them into "the fine sayings of educated
men" in order to articulate the complex relationship of Second Sophistic
writers to the classical Greek past. Yet in both literary contexts, hetaeras
serve a similar function: through them, male identity is constructed and
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