Weaving Truth: Essays on Language and the Female in Greek Thought

  Bergren, Ann. 2008. Weaving Truth: Essays on Language and the Female in Greek Thought. Hellenic Studies Series 19. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BergrenA.Weaving_Truth.2008.

10. Female     Fetish     Urban Form [1]

I. Introduction

What is a fetish? The psychoanalytic fetish is an architecture, a perverse construction driven by fear of what the male sees in the female genital—the existence and the possibility of castration. It manifests itself in two apparently contradictory forms—both a supplement to and a mutilation of the female genital—that employ the two basic techniques of architectural construction, joining (in the case of the supplement) and cutting (in the case of mutilation). These two forms of the fetish are like the two faces of Janus, the Roman god of doorways, for they share a single goal, to disavow, while simultaneously maintaining, the difference, as the male perceives it, between the female’s genital and his own. {304|305}

Fetish as “Pseudo-Phallic” Joint

In Freud’s theory, the fetish is created as a reaction to the boy’s vision of his mother’s penis-free genital. [5] Assuming that all human beings begin as anatomically the same, the boy interprets his mother’s penis-free condition as castration, that is, the loss of the penis she must have originally possessed. [6] In fear of such castration as the punishment he would receive from his father, were his Oedipal desire for his mother to be fulfilled, the boy creates the fetish as a supplement to the female genital, a Penisersatz “substitute penis” that serves simultaneously to affirm (yes, she is lacking and needs a penis) and to deny (no, she is not lacking, she has a penis) his sight of female lack. [7]

Fetish as “Cutting of the Female’s Hair”

In addition to supplementing it, the goal of assuaging the male’s castration anxiety can be achieved—paradoxically, it may seem—by the cutting of the hair of the female genital. Here, too, as in the case of the pseudo-phallic supplement, the starting point is the boy’s perception of the female’s lack of a penis as proof of the possibility of castration and his subsequent need both to acknowledge and to disavow this perception. This “divided attitude” can manifest itself in cuttings that re-enact, even as they deny, the 
female’s lack:

Like its apparent opposite, the augmentation of her genital by a phallic supplement, this cutting of the female’s pubic hair aims to tame terror by rendering its source ambiguous: the female may both lack and not lack a penis and thus the female may both be and not be a male. {306|307}

The Fetishized Female as “Para-Male”

As we will see her in the Ecclesiazusae, the female is just such a “para-male.” Turning away from time to time to other texts that the play calls to mind—the myth of Pandora, the first female who is also a male-molded jar and a house, in Hesiod, the training of the wife in Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, and the wife’s manipulation of that training in Lysias’ On the Murder of Eratosthenes—we will see the Classical οἶκος “house” as the female’s architectural school. There she is taught to devote her architectural capacity, her mêtis “transformative intelligence,” to the formation of herself in both modes of the fetish, both the pseudo-phallic supplementation and the “cutting of the female’s hair”—the first, by imitating male roles, a “general,” a “guardian of the laws,” a “garrison commander,” and the second, by depilating her pubic hair.

It is not by counteracting, but rather by continuing to design just as the οἶκος “house” has taught her that Praxagora will overturn its “power structure.” This is the play’s ultimate irony—that the female’s mode of deconstruction is built into her construction as fetish. In creating their new urban form, the women of Athens—now unfettered by, released from their own “formation” by the οἶκος “house”—in creating this new urban form that abolishes the father-ruled city, what is their source? what are the tools of their design? where did they learn to build in this way? Their school was the very οἶκος “house” in which we, the men, the architects of the phallocratic tradition, formed them in the image of ourselves. In designing as she does, left to “her own devices,” the female will not be exercising some new female identity, some new difference—
but she will design and build exactly as we have trained her to do. {307|308}

The female’s urban form in the Ecclesiazusae is thus an ironic reflection of the phallocracy that formed her. In “cutting off” the structures of phallic power from the city, in the institution of communistic gynocracy in place of phallocracy, Praxagora will reveal these phallic power structures as “fetishes”—
indecidable supplements, yes, but just by being supplements, subject to “decision.” She will detach each structure of phallic power from “mother earth” and by this detachment, dispel any illusion that it grows there naturally. In this revelation of the architecture of their construction, she will also destroy it. By separating phallic power structures from the city, she will reveal each as able-to-be-separated, and thus not a natural phallus, a corporeal growth, but a fetish—a “pseudo-phallic supplement” to the female body, indecidably masking and affirming that body’s phallic lack. So long as this indecidability remains intact, the fetish can work as designed: it can assuage the male’s fear of what he sees in the female genital, the cutting-off-of-the-penis, castration. But to cut off the fetish from the female body is to expose it as de-cidable, “cut-off-able”—the spell of simultaneous affirmation and denial is broken and with that breaking of indecidability is broken the efficacy of the fetish itself. Once the secret of the fetish is told, it can no longer work as designed.

II. The οἶκος “house” as the Female’s Architectural School

Invoking the Ceramic Lamp as the Female’s Sign

The Ecclesiazusae opens in the predawn as the leader of the women’s plot, Praxagora, invokes a ceramic lamp, explaining why it is the right sign by which to signal the other women to assemble. [Figure 1. Ceramic lamp from the Athenian agora.]

Ὦ λαμπρὸν ὄμμα τοῦ τροχηλάτου λύχνου
κάλλιστ᾽ ἐν εὐστόχοισιν ἐξηυρημένον
γονάς τε γὰρ σὰς καὶ τύχας δηλώσομεν·
τροχῷ γὰρ ἐλαθεὶς κεραμικῆς ῥύμης ὕπο
μυκτῆρσι λαμπρὰς ἡλίου τιμὰς ἔχεις·
ὅρμα φλογὸς σημεῖα τὰ ξυγκείμενα.
σοὶ γὰρ μόνῳ δηλοῦμεν εἰκότως, ἐπεὶ
κἀν τοῖσι δωματίοισιν Ἀφροδίτης τρόπων
πειρωμέναισι πλησίον παραστατεῖς,
λορδουμένων τε σωμάτων ἐπιστάτην
ὀφθαλμὸν οὐδεὶς τὸν σὸν ἐξείργει δόμων. {308|309}
μόνος δὲ μηρῶν εἰς ἀπορρήτους μυχοὺς
λάμπεις ἀφεύων τὴν ἐπανθοῦσαν τρίχα·
στοάς τε καρποῦ Βακχίου τε νάματος
πλήρεις ὑποιγνύσαισι συμπαραστατεῖς·
καὶ ταῦτα συνδρῶν οὐ λαλεῖς τοῖς πλησίον.
ἀνθ᾽ ὧν συνείσει καὶ τὰ νῦν βουλεύματα
ὅσα Σκίροις ἔδοξε ταῖς ἐμαῖς φίλαις.
O shining eye of the wheel-driven lamp,
among clever men a discovery most noble and fair— 
we shall disclose both your birth and your fortunes:
for driven by the wheel and born from the potter’s thrust,
you hold in your nostrils the shining honors of the sun— 
rouse up the agreed-upon signs of light.
For by you alone do we fittingly reveal our secrets, since
indeed in our bedrooms, as we make heroic trial
of the tropes of Aphrodite, you stand near beside,
and of our bodies curved with our heads thrown back
no one bars from the house your eye as superintendent.
Alone into the unspeakable recesses of our thighs
you shine as you singe off the flowering hair.
And with us as we furtively open the full storehouses
of grain and flowing wine you stand beside.
And although you do these things with us, you don’t babble to those who are near.
Because of all these things, you will be a witness of our present plans as well,
as many as were ratified by my women friends at the ritual of the Skira.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1–18

This lamp is crucial to understanding the architectural meaning of the play, for it embodies the ideal, institutionalized relation in Greek thought between architecture and the female body. [
13] In being a molded clay vessel and an instrument of depilation (“Alone into the unspeakable recesses of our thighs you shine as you singe off the flowering hair”), the lamp will show, indeed, why and how architecture in its Classical foundation is a matter, both for men and for women, of forming the female body. As a work of the potter’s wheel, the lamp evokes the fundamental analogy, figured in the myth of Pandora, between the {309|310} female body, the ceramic jar, and the οἶκος “house.” This analogy is an ideological construction, designed to mold women who will mold themselves according to the architecture of father-rule. [14] The most intimate physical instance of this self-formation is the Greek woman’s depilation of her pubic hair. As a tool of such “auto-architecture,” the lamp displays women who act as properly male-formed architects by using their form-making power first and foremost to fashion themselves, so that the man will least fear and take most pleasure from the feminine sexe. [15] By giving us this glimpse of how the architecture of the οἶκος “house” normally regulates the female, Praxagora’s apostrophe of the lamp also predicts, in effect, how the women will rebel against it: the women’s strategies for resisting male constructions are themselves built into the original structure of the household. With this prefabrication in mind, let us examine more closely the function of the lamp as ceramic jar and as instrument of depilation.

Female Body as Ceramic Jar and οἶκος “house”

Tracing the implications of the lamp as “driven by the wheel and born from the potter’s thrust” leads us outside the play to the myth of Pandora, which establishes the analogy between the female body, the ceramic jar, and the {310|311} οἶκος “house,” and from there, to Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, which details the ways in which the household works as the woman’s architectural school.

Bergren chap10 fig1

Pandora, the first woman and founding model of all the rest, is molded by the craft-god Hephaestus out of earth and water. In describing how “hope” remains within Pandora, Hesiod presents her as simultaneously a body, 
a ceramic jar, and a house, with lips as door:

μούνη δ’ αὐτόθι Ἐλπὶς ἐν ἀρρήκτοισι δόμοισιν
ἔνδον ἔμεινε πίθου ὑπὸ χείλεσιν οὐδὲ θύραζε

Hope alone there in the unbreakable halls
was remaining within under the lips of the jar nor from the door
did it fly out.

Hesiod Works and Days 96–98

As a male-molded jar, Pandora mediates between and thereby links the female as male-molded body and the female as male-molded house. This identification of body and house is embedded in the word for “own” itself, οἰκεῖος, an adjectival form of οἶκος “house.” Your “own” thing is the thing of your house, and your house is your “ownership”—your “ownness” itself—a unity that will be crucial to Praxagora’s urban form, when her operation upon the οἶκος “house” demolishes the distinction between “own” and “other’s.”

Bergren chap10 fig2

The husband’s first lesson is the coincident aetiology of marriage and architecture itself. [18] Not simply to produce children or to care for the aged, the ζεῦγος “joining” that is marriage derives from what makes humans different from animals: the need for shelter instead of living in the open air.

‘The gods, O wife,’ he said that he had said, ‘seem with great discernment to have put together this joining (ζεῦγος) which is called female and male chiefly so that it might be most beneficial to itself with regard to commonality (εἰς τὴν κοινωνίαν). For first, so that the races of living creatures may not die out, this joining is established for the making of children with one another; then for human beings at least it is given from this joining to possess supporters in old age; and then also the way of life for human beings is not as it is for cattle, in the open air, but clearly it needs roofed shelters (στεγῶν).’

Xenophon Oeconomicus 7.18–19 {312|313}

Humans need the joint that divides—or the division that joins—inside and outside, and with it, the divisive ζεῦγος of female and male. But in order to have something to bring inside the shelter, so the husband reasons, the man must go outside to work in the open air, while the woman remains within, devoting her mêtis to transforming what he brings in – sperm into children, grain into bread, and wool into woven cloth.

‘It is necessary, however, if the human beings are going to have something to bring inside the shelter, that someone work at the open air occupations. For indeed ploughing, sowing, planting, and herding—all these are works of the open air. And from these come the things that are needed. But again, when these things have been brought inside the shelter, it is necessary that someone preserve them (τοῦ σώσοντος ταῦτα) and work at the tasks that require shelters (στεγνῶν). Shelters are necessary for the rearing of newborn children, shelters are necessary for the making of bread from the fruit of the earth, and likewise for the manufacture of clothing from wool. And since both of these, the things inside and the things outside, require work and attentive care, the god from the first prepared the nature of the woman, it seems to me, for the works and the concerns of the inside and that of the man for those of 
the outside.’

Xenophon Oeconomicus 7.20–22

All physical and psychological differences between male and female were created by “the god himself” as “architect” of this marital “joint” to fit the sexes for this basic spatial division (Xenophon Oeconomicus 7.23–28).

The Female Formed as “Para-Male”

In the Oeconomicus the husband constructs the woman’s realm—from the innermost recesses of her mind and body to the organization of the οἶκος “house” itself—as a microcosm of the roles, institutions, and ideals of the {313|314} exterior, male world. In the manner of a Socratic teacher, the husband illustrates his wife’s role by an analogy, comparing it to that of ἡ τῶν μελιττῶν ἡγεμὼν “a female general of the bees.” While remaining herself strictly within the οἶκος “house,” the wife is to regulate the passage of goods and workers between inside and outside by copying the administrative authority and strategic deployments of a military leader.

‘In what way,’ she said, ‘are the works of the general of the bees (ἡ τῶν μελιττῶν ἡγεμὼν) like those it is necessary for me to do?’ ‘Because,’ I replied, ‘she remains in the hive and does not allow the bees to be idle, but those who must work outside she sends to the work and whatever each of them brings in, she both knows and receives and preserves these things until the time it is necessary to use them. And when the time comes to use them, she distributes a just portion to each.’

Lest she become such a leaking πίθος “jar,” the wife must emulate in the οἶκος “house,” in her body, and in her deepest beliefs, the consummate architectural virtue of order—expressed here by the nouns τάξις and κόσμος. Within the οἶκος “house” such order is crucial to the household’s chief purpose, maximum economic profit. For it is order that maximizes both spatial efficiency, human productivity, and the coincidence of aesthetic and moral value that constitutes beauty. “There is nothing, O wife,” says her husband, “so useful (εὔχρηστον) or so beautiful (καλὸν) for humans as order (τάξις)” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.3). If she cannot give her husband whatever he asks for instantly, the fault is his, he says, “since I handed things over to you without giving you orders (οὐ τάξας) as to where they must be placed so that you would know where to put them and from where to take them again” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.2). The design of the house is the husband’s, an architecture he must teach her continually to reconstruct.

To teach his wife the power of order, the husband again uses examples from the male world: a chorus in drama, a deployed army, and a Phoenician ship (Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.3–17). [21] While random and capricious actions of men in a chorus produce confusion and a lack of pleasure (ἀτερπές), by their ordered movement (τεταγμένως), the same men are worth seeing and hearing. While a disordered (ἄτακτος) army is similarly a source of confusion and an easy prey, an ordered (τεταγμένη) army—echoing the aesthetics of Sappho 16—is “the most beautiful thing” (κάλλιστον) for friends and “most intractable” for enemies. And the sight of a trireme is similarly fearful to enemies and welcome to friends, just because its sailors—in an anaphora echoing the crew’s concerted, repeated movements—“are seated in order (ἐν τάξει), lean forward in order (ἐν τάξει), fall back in order (ἐν τάξει), and embark and disembark in order (ἐν τάξει).” When the interior of the οἶκος “house” emulates such exterior orders, when by means of such τάξις the greatest number of objects are most easily accessible in the smallest amount of space, not only can the wife give her husband whatever he asks for instantly, but “place” itself becomes a working person, since “the place itself,” the husband explains, “will miss the thing that is not there” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.10). Such is the radical mêtis of architectural order, the power to personify place.

Climaxing this panegyric of the economic dividends and aesthetic power of Classical order, the husband claims that κόσμος can create beauty out of the most ordinarily ugly things. Again, the text simulates its message, here by the stately reiteration—as if the word were itself one of the ordered objects—of καλόν “beautiful.” {315|316}

‘How beautiful (ὡς δὲ καλὸν) is the sight of all sorts of shoes, provided they are in sequence, beautiful (καλὸν) is the sight of all sorts of clothes, when they are separated, beautiful (καλὸν) are bedcovers, beautiful (καλὸν) are bronze kettles, beautiful (καλὸν) is tableware, and beautiful (καλὸν) is also what of all things would be most laughable, not to the serious but to the comic man – namely, the fact that I say even cooking pots (χύτρας) appear with good rhythm (εὔρυθμον φαίνεσθαι) provided they are distinctly arranged (εὐκρινῶς κειμένας).’

Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.19

Countering the traditional Greek liaison of the ugly and the impure, the husband declares:

‘All the other things look more beautiful (καλλίω) when they are placed according to order (κατὰ κόσμον κείμενα). Each group appears as a chorus of implements (χορὸς σκευῶν), even the space in the middle appears beautiful (καλὸν), because each thing lies outside it—just as a circular chorus is not only a beautiful sight (καλὸν θέαμα) itself, but also the space in the middle of it appears beautiful and pure (καλὸν καὶ καθαρὸν).’

Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.20

Here articulated for the first time in Western thought is an idea at the heart not only of architecture, but also of sculptural and graphic design—that of space as a distinct aesthetic phenomenon, a relation between solid and void creatable by the deliberate placement and serial repetition of any material object.

It is as a microcosm of such exterior, male κόσμος “order” that the husband has designed the domestic world. The overall aim of his architecture is beauty in and as the form of maximum economic efficiency. Accordingly “cosmetic” adornments are subordinated to the coordination of form and function.

‘For the house has not been adorned (κεκόσμηται) with many ornaments, but the rooms have been planned (ἐσκεμμένα) and built toward this very end, that they might be the most advantageous receptacles possible for what they will contain.’

Xenophon Oeconomicus 9.2 {316|317}

Hence, a secure location for the storeroom of valuables, a dry covered place for grain, coolness for wine, good light for those jobs and implements that require it, and for human activity, a southern exposure providing cool shade in summer and warm sunshine in winter (Xenophon Oeconomicus 9.3–4). And finally, to regulate the human source of the household’s profit, sexual reproduction, the husband turns to architecture’s founding act, the building of spatial division.

To control its output of children, the husband subdivides the space of the οἶκος “house,” already contained by its exterior walls, into two subsidiary containers, the commerce between the two being controlled by the device that moves architecture from its beginnings as neutral space enclosure to political force, the lockable/unlockable door.

‘Then I showed her the women’s quarters, divided (ὡρισμένην, compare ὁρισμός “marking by boundaries, definition”) from the men’s by a bolted door, so that nothing may be taken out from there that should not be and that servants may not breed children without our knowledge.’

Xenophon Oeconomicus 9.5

Such “social engineering” pervades the house, as all its portable goods are divided “according to tribes” and each “tribe” then taken to its proper place, thereby making an analogue in miniature of political organization (Xenophon Oeconomicus 9.6–9).

This phase of his teaching is triggered when Socrates exclaims, “‘By Hera, Ischomachus,’ I said, ‘you show that the mind of your wife is indeed that of a man (ἀνδρικήν γε ἐπιδεικνύεις τὴν διάνοιαν τῆς γυναικός).’” When Ischomachus answers by offering to recount another instance of his wife’s immediate obedience, Socrates eagerly accepts.

‘Speak, for to me it is much more pleasant to learn thoroughly the virtue (ἀρετὴν) of a living woman than if Zeuxis were to display a beautiful woman by making a likeness of her in painting (καλὴν εἰκάσας γραφῆι γυναῖκα).’

Xenophon Oeconomicus 10.1

This philosophical preference for living truth over material artifice takes the form of an architectural construction, a doctrine of female “auto-architecture” that begins with a wall.

In teaching the wife correct self-fashioning, the Classical οἶκος “house” erects a barrier between the pure and natural beauty of male-designed κόσμος “order” and the women who imitate it, on one hand, and female “cosmetic” deception, on the other. For once, when the husband caught his wife with white lead and rouge on her face (makeup we will see figure in the conclusion to the Ecclesiazusae) and wearing high heels, he was able to correct her instantly by explaining: just as she would not like him to present counterfeit money, fake gold, or fading purple instead of the real thing, or a body smeared with vermilion and flesh color under the eyes instead of one ruddy from natural exercise, so she must present him with a pure body (σῶμα καθαρὸν), free of cosmetic deceit (ἀπάτη) (Xenophon Oeconomicus 10.2–8). And when the wife asks how she might make her body as truly—and not merely apparently—beautiful as possible, the husband recommends exercise through household duties, especially those specialties of mêtis, weaving and bread-baking, because they produce a physique more healthy and “with better color in truth (εὐχροωτέραν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ)” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 10.9–11). To neglect these domestic jobs leaves the woman, ironically, as sexually unattractive as when she employs cosmetic deceits and thereby vulnerable to sexual supplantation. For she will, says her husband, defeat the maid (her ever-present sexual rival) if she is more pure and properly dressed—and if she gratifies him willingly (in comparison with the compulsory submission of the maid). But if she were to eschew her domestic exercise and become one of those “‘women who {318|319} always sit solemnly,” she would open herself “for comparison with those who use cosmetics and deceits (τὰς κεκοσμημένας καὶ ἐξαπατώσας)’” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 10.12–13).

This doctrine of the female “auto-architecture” necessary to win the man’s sexual approval returns us to the Ecclesiazusae and to Praxagora’s invocation of the lamp as a tool of depilation.

Depilation as Female “Auto-Architecture”

In the detail of pubic depilation, the twin strategies of the fetish and 
the father-ruled house coincide. Each has the same mission: to form the 
female by cutting her sexuality—her manifest sexual difference—short. [25] 
Without such “cosmetic surgery,” female sexuality knows no natural bounds. 
For in the oppositional categories of Greek thought, the male is dry and 
limited and the female is unlimited and wet, the two categories being closely connected architecturally. As Aristotle puts it:

The wet is that which is not bounded (ἀ + όριστον, compare “horizon”) by any boundary of its own (οἰκείῳ ὅρῳ) while being easily bounded (εὐ + όριστον) and the dry is that which is easily bounded (τὸ εὐόριστον) by its own boundary (οἰκείῳ ὅρῳ), but with difficulty bounded (δυσ + όριστον).

Aristotle On Coming-to-Be and Passing Away 329b29–31 {319|321}

Because the female’s wetness—the sign, like the male’s erection, of her sexual capacity—knows no intrinsic limit, it must be bound by a formative force outside itself, the institution of father-ruled marriage and its material embodiment in the οἶκος “house.” [
26] The trimming of her pubic hair signals the woman’s willingness to draw this horizon, to conform herself to Classical κόσμος “order.” As she devotes her architectural mêtis to weaving the walls that mold the οἶκος “house” and the clothes that veil her body, so the woman trims her genital hair into a particular schema—for example, the delta, one of the two types of triangles described by Plato in the Timaeus as the elementary geometrical forms of the cosmos itself. [27]

Inverting the “Power Structure” of the Classical οἶκος “house”

In Lysias’ On the Murder of Eratosthenes, a husband defends his killing of the man he caught in adultery with his wife. In the course of his exculpation, he provides a brief, but vivid vignette of the potential for tropic manipulation within the Classical architecture of the οἶκος “house.” By adhering to the tenets of her architectural education, the wife is able to turn the “power structures” of the household, both the material constructions and the freedom of movement that goes with them, upside down. By appearing to conform completely to the correct use of her mêtis, she reverses the vectors of the husband’s design, down to its very details.

The dynamics of her plot, as they are described by the husband himself, confirm the coincidence of marriage and architecture taught in the Oeconomicus. For here violation occurs via successive breaches of that union’s containing walls. Just as the structure common to marriage and shelter in the Oeconomicus is the division of inside from outside and the containment of the wife within, so the husband’s account of the adulterer’s crime culminates in the act that was first in time, but ultimate in seriousness, mere entrance into the house.

I believe, gentlemen of the jury, I must show this: that Eratosthenes committed adultery with my wife, that he corrupted her and shamed my children and committed outrage against me myself (ἐμὲ αὐτὸν ὕβρισεν) by entering into my house (εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τὴν ἐμὴν εἰσιών).

Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 4

How was such an infraction ever possible? The husband starts at the beginning, with his wife’s own entry into the household as bride. At first, he says, I was wary and watchful, aiming neither to restrict her painfully nor allow her too much freedom to do as she pleased. But when she appeared to be devoting her mêtis solely to the augmentation of her husband’s οἶκος “house,” his policy toward her changed.

But when a child was born to me, I began to trust her and I gave over all that was mine into her hands, because I believed that this was the greatest intimacy (οἰκειότητα “being οἰκεῖος ‘own’ to one another, belonging to the same οἶκος”).

Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 6 {322|323}

And indeed his trust seems initially well-placed, as the wife fulfills her traditionally “economic” role superbly, distinguishing herself as clever, frugal, and “arranging all things in the οἶκος impeccably” (ἀκριβῶς πάντα διοικοῦσα, Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 7). At the funeral of his mother, however, one of those religious occasions when wives are permitted to leave the house, the wife is seen and thence seduced by Eratosthenes, through the go-between of the maid (Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 7–8). Once the “wall” of her mind is thus penetrated, the wife herself applies her mêtis to inverting the function of the walls in her husband-designed house.

To explain how his wife succeeded in admitting the adulterer into the house, the husband begins by describing its basic vertical hierarchy: “My dwelling is on two floors, the upper equal to the lower, with the women’s quarters above and the men’s below” (Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 9). With apparently no other exit than through the main floor, the house sets the men’s quarters as a barrier to the women’s mobility, confining them upstairs. It is the working of this “power structure” that the wife inverts. She effects a voluntary exchange of places. Devoting herself, like a good “general bee,” to the care and nurture of her husband’s offspring, she plays upon her husband’s desire for the safety of mother and child. A true mistress of mêtis, she so imitates her husband’s desire that he defeats himself.

When the child was born, the mother suckled it, and in order that she might not run a risk by having to go down the ladder, whenever the child needed to be washed, I myself began to live above, and the women below. And by then it became so customary that often my wife would go away from me downstairs to sleep beside the child, so she could give it her breast and it would not cry.

Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 9–10

Not by redesign, but by replacement—a spatial reversal, the wife has transformed the οἶκος “house.” Before on top, but subordinated, now the woman is below, but in terms of architectural power, she is “on top.” It is now the woman who controls access to her house and to her body, and in this position, she stages a scenario, one that again depends for its success upon her mêtis, “imitating the enemy to beat him at his own game.”

Again, the husband gives the details of the plot. Once he returned home unexpectedly from the country and later that night, when the child began crying (having been prodded by the maid, the wife’s co-conspirator), he urged his wife to go down and nurse him, in order to stop the noise. {323|324}

At first she was not willing, as though delighted to see me come home after a long time. And when I started to get angry and was ordering her to go away, she said, “Yes, so that you can have a try here at the little maid. Once before, you pulled her around, when you were drunk.” At that I myself began laughing, while she stood up, went out, and closed the door, pretending to be playing, and turned the key in the lock. And I, thinking nothing of these things, nor suspecting anything, went to sleep happy at having returned from the country.

Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 11–13

Like the fox who plays dead to lure his victim, the wife feigns defeat at the hands of the maid, her ever-present sexual rival (as we saw in the Oeconomicus). In her testimony to her husband’s earlier conquest is the tool of her own triumph. In her beguiling words, he relives his drunken indulgence. By her cosmetic jealousy, by her pretence of erotic play, she casts him as the object of a domestic triangle. Seduced by the pleasure of the role, he takes it to be true. He laughs and goes back to sleep. By devoting her “auto-architecture” to the impersonation of a wife correctly formed by the architecture of the οἶκος “house,” the woman inverts that architecture in its essential joint, the bolt that locks the female under male control. It is by a similar imitation of traditional female mêtis that Praxagora achieves a similar inversion of hierarchy in both city and house. And just as the husband is moved to become himself the ironic agent of his wife’s removal from her place of subordination, so Praxagora’s plot moves the men of Athens to vote in their own removal from the places of urban power.

III. Praxagora’s Plot

Praxagora’s plot has two phases, first visual and then verbal, and in both the women work as masked men. Taking the architectural imperative of the Classical οἶκος “house” to its logical extreme, the women make themselves parodic copies of male models of political action and thought. In order to infiltrate the male-only legislative Assembly and vote in a new regime, the women disguise themselves as men. Thus accoutered, Praxagora will win the votes of the male Assembly by imitating male speech about women. She will cite women’s traditional role—that is, what men traditionally say about women—as the grounds for her proposed gynocracy. {324|325}

Visual Costume: Female as Fetish

Moving inward from its exterior envelope to the “auto-architecture” of the body, the women violate the law of the οἶκος “house” by extending its basic principle—extending it to the point where it turns upon itself. By a reductio ad absurdum of the logic of the Classical οἶκος and of the psychoanalytic fetish, if it is good to form your body in the image of male desire, how much better, then, to form it in the image of the male himself. Thus does the architecture of erotically subordinated difference become the building of the same. For the women have now defied the original construction of the οἶκος “house” as a wall to confine them and their mêtis inside. As if their education has given them the ability to analyze the architectural possibilities of any given design, they have taken advantage of the definitive characteristic of the male in the Classical construction of the household, the fact that he goes outside, leaving her alone within.

Whenever my husband would go to the marketplace, I would rub oil over my whole body and throughout the day I would color my skin by standing in the sun.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 62–64

If not as irrevocable as a tattoo or scar, this tinting of the skin is still an on-going witness in the material of the body to the woman’s troping of architectural confinement. This “circular reciprocity between what is bound and what is binding” reaches to the woman’s most intimate “auto-architectural” containment, the restriction of her hair.

To mask their lack of facial hair, the women apply their mêtis to the making of a classical Freudian fetish, a work of artificial maleness par excellence. As women invent weaving, according to Freud, by interlacing their pubic hair to cover their lack of the penis, so the women here sew beards to cover their smooth facial cheeks. [36] As if they are replacing the shame Freud says women feel about their deficient genitals, [37] the women here admire the beauty of their ἐρραμμένους πώγωνας “stitched beards.” One woman exclaims, “By Hecate, this one here that I have is beautiful indeed (καλόν γ’),” while another, pitting her creation against a real man’s beard, proudly insists, “Mine is much more beautiful (καλλίονα) than that of Epicrates” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 24–25, 70–71). And finally, Praxagora explicitly correlates these factitious face-extensions with the women’s “beards” below. For when one woman displays the wool she intends to card during the Assembly, a task often conducted with one foot propped up and the clothes pulled above the knees, Praxagora objects: [38]

If the women completely obscure their pubic hair below, its artificial counterpart above will effectively replace it. [Figure 4. René Magritte. The Rape. 1934. A Surrealist assimilation of pubic and facial hair.] All it takes to be taken for a man is a beautiful beard. By hair alone is sex recognized.

Verbal Rehearsal: Pseudo-Phallic Political Speech

Women, she insists, are τοὺς τρόπους βελτίονες “better in their habits” than “we” men, because they act—as in the case of dyeing wool in hot {328|329} water—κατὰ τὸν ἀρχαῖον νόμον “according to ancient custom.” They never change how they use their power to make changes. Yes, their works of mêtis “transformative intelligence” are many, but they never exceed the “wall” of women’s formation by the οἶκος “house.” Yes, women are “Pandoras,” but as jars wholly conforming to their domestic containers. To prove its predictability, Praxagora catalogues nine instances of typical female behavior – roasting corn sitting down, carrying things on their heads, keeping the Thesmophoria rituals, baking cakes, irritating their husbands, admitting adulterers into the house, buying extra food, loving strong wine, enjoying intercourse—capping each with the refrain ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ “just as also before.” Above all, she argues, it is by embodying the ideal of the Oeconomicus, the maximizing of productive and reproductive good, that women deserve to rule. For being the mothers of the soldiers, they will send them extra supplies to assure their safety, and “when it comes to providing money, a woman is the most resourceful thing” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 214–236). And in the final twist of her argument, Praxagora turns what most defines the female as an artificial creation who must be confined by the οἶκος “house,” that is, her capacity for ἀπάτη “deception,” into the ultimate reason she should rule in 
the πόλις “city.” [43]

ἄρχουσά τ’ οὐκ ἂν ἐξαπατηθείη ποτέ·
αὐταὶ γάρ εἰσιν ἐξαπατᾶν εἰθισμέναι.
Were she to rule, she would never be deceived.
For they themselves are accustomed to deceive.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 237–238

Female deception detects deception, leaving nothing but political truth. Such are the paradoxical dynamics of Praxagora’s whole plot. For having completed its dress-rehearsal, Praxagora now turns her cohort toward their performance, reiterating the elements of their male costume—short tunics, Laconian shoes, the all-important beards, the cloaks, and the staffs, and directing their exit toward the Assembly singing an old man’s song (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 268–278). But by neither dimension of the women’s political theater, neither their physical disguise nor Praxagora’s parody of an Athenian male’s political reasoning, is her audience in fact deceived. Indeed, the plan she persuades them to ratify produces precisely what her imitation-male speech has promised—women ruling a city as one big house. {329|330}

IV. Praxagora’s Urban Form

Political Power

In its political structure, Praxagora’s Athens preserves hierarchy, while Socrates advocates a near-equality. As in Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which “all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others,” Guardian women may share rule with men—except to the degree that they are physically weaker (Plato Republic 451d–e). Equal education allows these women to become as nearly like men as possible. [45] And marking a subtle, but crucial opposition to arguments like Praxagora’s that women’s essential nature makes them especially fit for political rule, Socrates proves to his interlocutor’s satisfaction ὅτι οὐδέν ἐστιν ἐπιτήδευμα ἴδιον γυναικὶ πρὸς διοίκησιν πόλεως “‘that there is no pursuit with regard to the management of the city that is particular to a woman’” (Plato Republic 455b). [46] After describing the marks of natural ability—that the mind learns quickly, discovers new things independently, and is well served by the resources of the body—Socrates asks:

Οἶσθά τι οὖν ὑπὸ ἀνθρώπων μελετώμενον, ἐν ᾧ οὐ πάντα ταῦτα τὸ τῶν ἀνδρῶν γένος διαφερόντως ἔχει ἢ τὸ τῶν γυναικῶν; ἢ μακρολογῶμεν τήν τε ὑφαντικὴν λέγοντες καὶ τὴν τῶν ποπάνων τε καὶ ἑψημάτων θεραπείαν, ἐν οἷς δή τι δοκεῖ τὸ γυναικεῖον γένος εἶναι, οὗ καὶ καταγελαστότατόν ἐστι πάντων ἡττώμενον;

‘Do you know any occupation practiced by humankind in which the race of men is not superior to that of women in all these respects? {330|331} Or should we lengthen the argument by speaking of the weaving art and the care of pancakes and vegetables, in which, to be sure, the race of women seems to be distinguished, and it is most laughable of all for it to be inferior to the race of men?’

Plato Republic 455c–d

No typical acts of female mêtis equip women for political rule. Rather, “‘woman participates in all pursuits according to nature, and man in all, but in all of them woman is weaker (ἀσθενέστερον) than man’” (Plato Republic 455d–e). In Plato’s ideal city, women are enabled to emulate the male as best they can. [

In contrast to this almost perfect, male-modeled equality, Praxagora’s plan applies at the scale of the πόλις “city” the sectional strategy of the wife in On the Murder of Eratosthenes. As the wife exchanges places with her husband, leaving him locked upstairs and herself in charge of access to the outside, so Praxagora maintains political hierarchy, but puts herself on top. Now men are to remain inside, while women alone go outside into the city to rule. Like the plot that produced it, the play presents this role reversal theatrically. If the Guardian women of the Republic are permitted, in effect, to “wear pants” like men, the men in the Ecclesiazusae are limited to a woman’s “dress.” As the double of its dress-rehearsal with women dressed as men comes the mise-en-scène of Praxagora’s legislative coup, when her husband Blepyrus and his neighbor, the drama’s first real men, emerge from their houses wearing their women’s clothes (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 317–319, 331–347, 374). Their costume is no merely temporary travesty, as the men now hear. For with “all the duties that used to be the concern of male citizens now assigned to the women,” men are now confined to the female’s role, enclosed within the household and subject to compulsory sex by force in order to be given food—“it’s the most terrible thing,” laments Blepyrus, “to do it by force” (τὸ πρὸς βίαν δεινότατον) (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 458–471). As the wife in the Oeconomicus was trained to imitate the male, so now the husband must play the parodic female, subordinated to real women’s rule.

Economic Ownership

Under Praxagora’s gynocracy, just as she promised in her rehearsal, the women will extend the economics of the οἶκος “house” and their role within it to the border of the πόλις “city.” [48] As marriage in the Oeconomicus is said to be constructed by the gods as a beneficial κοινωνία “commonality” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 7.18–19), so Praxagora’s plan now decrees the city and all of {331|332} its contents a grand “common possession,” from which women distribute resources as the “general bee” of the now city-wide household.

τὴν γῆν πρώτιστα ποιήσω
κοινὴν πάντων καὶ τἀργύριον καὶ τἄλλ’, ὁπόσ’ ἐστὶν ἑκάστῳ.
εἶτ’ ἀπὸ τούτων κοινῶν ὄντων ἡμεῖς βοσκήσομεν ὑμᾶς
ταμιευόμεναι καὶ φειδόμεναι καὶ τὴν γνώμην προσέχουσαι.
In the first place, I will make the earth
the common possession of all, and both the money and the other things, as many as each owns.
Then from these common resources we will feed you
by dispensing as manager and thriftily conserving and applying our intelligence.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 597–600

And just as in the Oeconomicus, economic order is taught by the husband to his wife, so now the new economic order is presented in a scene of spousal instruction. But since she now rules as the city’s new στρατηγός “general” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 491), Praxagora will play with Blepyrus the teacher’s role.

This pedagogical reversal is triggered by an ironic dialogue which turns Praxagora from feigning ignorance to undertaking the proof of her plan’s benefits. After defending her early-morning departure, wearing Blepyrus’ clothes, and thus forcing him to miss the Assembly, Praxagora pretends to know nothing of the new legislation. So her husband reports what he has heard from his neighbor, “They say the city has been handed over to you women!” Then ironically echoing her own earlier rationale in the Assembly for the transfer—that women would rule by performing their traditional role, Praxagora asks, τί δρᾶν; ὑφαίνειν; “To do what with? To weave?” Equally ironic is Blepyrus’ reply, οὐ μὰ Δί’ ἀλλ’ ἄρχειν “No by Zeus, but to rule,” for the women will now rule precisely by applying their weaving art on an urban scale. [49] At this declaration of gynocracy, Praxagora exclaims, νὴ τὴν Ἀφροδίτην μακαρία γ’ ἄρ’ ἡ πόλις ἔσται τὸ λοιπόν “By Aphrodite, blessed indeed then will the city be for the rest of time” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 555–559). In retrospect, this exclamation, too, is ironic, for just as the wife’s training in the Oeconomicus moves from walls to clothes to body and mind, so Praxagora’s economic law will reach finally into Aphrodite’s domain, where it will seem later, to a young Athenian male at least, not a blessing, but a phantasmagorical curse. But for {332|333} now, Praxagora takes up the challenge to “teach the benefits” (χρηστὰ διδάξω) of her plan (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 569–570, 583). [50]

Like Lysistrata, who proposes the uniting of Athens’ various constituencies by weaving a cloak for the people (τῷ δήμῳ χλαῖναν ὑφῆναι), [51] Praxagora announces an interweaving of rich and poor.

κοινωνεῖν γὰρ πάντας φήσω χρῆναι πάντων μετέχοντας
κἀκ ταὐτοῦ ζῆν, καὶ μὴ τὸν μὲν πλουτεῖν, τὸν δ’ ἄθλιον εἶναι.
For I declare that all people must share all things in common
and live from the same store, and that no one should be rich and another wretched.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 590–591

To abolish economic disparity, she eliminates private property: ἀλλ’ ἕνα ποιῶ κοινὸν πᾶσιν βίοτον, καὶ τοῦτον ὅμοιον “I will make one means of life, common to all, and this will be equal” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 594). Erasing the difference between “own” and “other’s” is also the goal of the Guardians’ communism. Identifying the city’s good as unity based in common feelings of pleasure and pain, Socrates insists:

Ἡ δέ γε τῶν τοιούτων ἰδίωσις διαλύει, ὅταν οἱ μὲν περιαλγεῖς, οἱ δὲ περιχαρεῖς γίγνωνται ἐπὶ τοῖς αὐτοῖς παθήμασι τῆς πόλεώς τε καὶ τῶν ἐν τῇ πόλει;

‘But indeed does the individualization of such feelings dissolve the city, when some grieve exceedingly and others rejoice exceedingly at the same experiences both of the city and of those in the city?’

Plato Republic 462b–c

And regarding the cause of such disintegration, Socrates asks:

Ἆρ’ οὖν ἐκ τοῦδε τὸ τοιόνδε γίγνεται, ὅταν μὴ ἅμα φθέγγωνται ἐν τῇ πόλει τὰ τοιάδε ῥήματα, τό τε ἐμὸν καὶ τὸ οὐκ ἐμόν; καὶ περὶ τοῦ ἀλλοτρίου κατὰ ταὐτά;

‘So, then, does such a condition not derive from this condition: when they do utter such sayings as these, both “my own” and “not my own,” at the same time in the city? And in the same way, with regard to ‘somebody else’s’?”

Plato Republic 462c {333|334}

But a crucial limitation in the Platonic system preserves male privilege. It occurs at the point where economic communism comes up against the dynamics—and, indeed, becomes the basis—of the range and the freedom of erotic choice.

Sexual Selection

In Praxagora’s city, by contrast, not only women and children but men as well become common property. [55] Her goal is radical equality, and thus wholly equal access to sexual pleasure, despite all physical disparities. To create uncompromised freedom of erotic choice, Praxagora upends tradi- {334|335} tional aesthetic value: in order to enjoy someone young and beautiful, if you are young and beautiful, you must satisfy someone old and ugly first. Under this new law, erotic freedom and economic communism are mutually dependent. Indeed, the issue of sexual access emerges from a question about the continued usefulness of money. When challenged to say what a man would gain by refusing to submit all his resources, including money, to a common store, Blepyrus adduces the example of sexual commerce: “If ever he sees a young girl and desires her, and wants to dig into her, he will be able to take some of his money to give her, and have a share of things ‘communistically’ by sleeping with her in bed.” “But,” objects Praxagora, “he will be able to sleep with her gratis. And these women, too, I make common property (κοινὰς), for any man who wishes, to have sex with and make children.” To such “free love,” Blepyrus raises the obvious objection, “How then will not all men go to the most young and attractive of them and try to press them hard?” Praxagora assuages his anxiety spatially, putting a man’s choices side by side: “The cheapest (φαυλότεραι) women and the most snub-nosed (σιμότεραι) will sit beside those who are worthy of respect (σεμνὰς). And if ever he desires this one, he will give the ugly one a knock first.” And similarly, for women, “they will not be allowed to sleep with beautiful men before they please ugly and short ones” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 611–618, 629–630). Here in the sphere of sexual power, as in its political and economic dimensions, Praxagora’s plan joins vertical inversion with horizontal expansion. The space of equal erotic rights is now extended to include women and traditional erotic hierarchy is turned upside down. No phallic priority remains.

With the tenets of her gynocratic communism now delineated, Praxagora’s teaching might come to an end, leaving its overtly architectural implications implicit, as they are in Plato’s ideal city. In the Ecclesiazusae, however, the architecture of Praxagora’s revolution is explicit—indeed, the culminating topic in her instruction of her husband.

Urban Form

To support her new structure of social, economic, and political power, Praxagora reconstructs the material structure of the city. By applying her traditional training in “home-making” to both domestic and public space, she transforms the πόλις “city” into one big οἶκος “house.”

In being taught to devote their mêtis to weaving the walls of the οἶκος, women learn, like Penelope, how to unweave them, when the preservation of the household demands. In its treatment of the οἶκος “house,” Praxagora’s {335|336} urban plan is just such a constructive undoing. Near the end of their dialogue in which he probes the specifics of the new order, Blepyrus asks his wife for a description of its general character, τὴν δὲ δίαιταν τίνα ποιήσεις; “What way of life will you make?” His wife’s answer might not be expected. For to this request for a summation of a life-style, Praxagora responds with an architecture.

κοινὴν πᾶσιν. τὸ γὰρ ἄστυ
μίαν οἴκησίν φημι ποιήσειν συρρήξας᾽ εἰς ἓν ἅπαντα,
ὥστε βαδίζειν ὡς ἀλλήλους.
[A way of life] common to all. For I declare I will make the city
one household by uniting-through-breaking [sun “together” + rhêgnumi “break”] all things into one,
so that as a result everyone walks toward one another.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 673–675

All of the walls that divide the city into separate households will be unwoven, leaving only a single οἶκος “house,” surrounded by the city’s walls alone. By this (de)construction, the Classical architecture of single-family father-rule is demolished.

The result of Praxagora’s primary move of uniting-through-breaking makes room for a second architectural process, that of re-programming. Now that the city is a single house, its public spaces are large rooms. And as the wife is taught to maintain the program of indoor, domestic spaces, so Praxagora knows how to re-program outdoor spaces—now wholly domestic—so that they serve the function of the ἀνδρών, the “men’s dining room” in the οἶκος “house,” namely, the male-only symposium. [56] With this final phase of her urban form, Praxagora overturns every revered institution of phallic political and economic power, for she deprives each of its foundation, the space and place to act. [57] In answer to Blepyrus’ question of where dinner will be served, his wife explains, “I will make all the law courts and the colonnades into men’s dining rooms (ἀνδρῶνας).” And what, he asks, will be the function of the βῆμα, the “speaker’s platform”—the material pedestal without which the essential, yet non-material element of Athenian democracy, the voice of the individual citizen, is silent? Eradicating this democratic role, Praxagora answers, “To put the mixing-bowls and the water-jars on.” And what of the urns of lots used to designate judicial assignments by lot, the definitive instrument of egalitarian democracy? They will now be placed in the Agora, beside the statue of Harmodius, the tyrant-killer symbolic of democratic virtue, but from this {336|338} vessel of political equality will issue now not the chance to serve on a jury, but a letter designating a place to eat. [58] “The herald will announce that those with Beta should follow her to dine at the Basileus Colonnade, the Thetas to the one next to it, and the Kappas to the Cornmarket Colonnade” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 675–686).

With this vision of democratic spaces turned into megalo-domestic 
dining rooms, Praxagora completes her husband’s indoctrination. Now he knows the details of her communistic gynocracy, and now to the question with which we began—“What will a woman build, if left to her own devices?”—the play has provided an answer, “She will build as we have taught her.” She will turn the city into one big house with herself in power and sexually uncontained. She will expose the land as a female genital stripped of every pseudo-phallic stand-in. Female urban form means the end of the “phallus” as architect of all these oppositions—inside versus outside, own versus other’s, legitimate versus bastard—and all those hierarchies—male over female, youth over age, beauty over ugliness—upon which Classical value and meaning depend. Female urban form means the death of architecture as phallic differentiation.

Female Urban Form as Phallic Loss

In its penultimate scene, the play displays the impact of Praxagora’s law upon the body of a young man. Here the female is still assimilated, like Pandora, to the man-made containers of ceramic jar and house, but with her openings now free of phallic regulation. In dramatizing what the young man suffers from this unfettered vagina, the scene becomes, in effect, a defense of the fetish and a demand for its return. For the loss of phallic power breeds fear of incest not only in the young man, but also in the woman who fears she might be his mother. Attempting to avail herself of the new sexual order, an ugly old hag {338|339} competes with a beautiful young girl for the young man’s sexual service, each woman stationing herself in an orifice of the house, one at the window and the other at the door, to hurl abuse at the other (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 877–889). The young man, Epigenes, too, insults the hag. Loaded down, as she is, with white lead and rouge on her face, he likens her to a certain type of ceramic jar, the lêkuthos, a one-handled jug with narrow neck and deep mouth used for athlete’s oil, unguents, makeup, and as an offering for the dead. [60] He charges that her lover is that master pot-painter, Death himself, who makes such a lêkuthos of and for us all.

These insults alone do not dissuade the hag. But when threatened with the flip-side of eliminating father-ruled marriage-exchange, namely, the violation of the incest-taboo—as if all these hyphenated terms were somehow essential to her safety—the hag turns and runs. As she is about to drag the young man across her threshold, thus inverting the roles of regular marriage, she is put to flight, when the young girl warns: “You would be more like a mother to him than a wife. If you establish this law, you will fill the whole earth with Oedipuses!” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1040–1042).

The hag’s reaction might seem anomalous. Why does she care whether or not the young man is her son? While her plan provided for an inter-generational father-son recognition in order to prevent patricide, Praxagora’s conversation with Blepyrus produced no comparable questioning of how to avoid incest. To some commentators, this silence indicates that Praxagora is not concerned with preventing mothers’ recognition of their children. [62] Another conclusion is that Aristophanes has left a loop-hole in Praxagora’s plan—one which he now exploits. By leaving this gap in the overt defense of her plan—namely, the failure to address the problem of preventing incest—Aristophanes leaves Praxagora’s law vulnerable to this apparent internal contradiction. If erotic equality requires that the young have sex with the old before the young, and if “father” and “mother” now designate the whole of an older generation, how can the system avert the threat of {339|340} incest? If the system, as Aristophanes has permitted Praxagora to formulate it, is to achieve wholly communistic eros, its rationale must penetrate—as was the goal of the husband in the Oeconomicus—the body and the mind, there to eradicate fear of incestuous sex. But when the hag is confronted with the possibility of mother-son union, fear overrides the new sexual right. Ironically recalling Jocasta, who retreats into the house at the realization of her incest, {340|341} the hag runs into the house, figurally re-submitting herself to its sexual law. [63] But no sooner is this hag expelled than she proliferates—another arrives, one uglier than the first, and then a third arrives, the ugliest of all.

Caught in a physical tug-of-war between these two new hags, each trying to drag him into the door of her house, Epigenes must now submit to sex with a woman who might be his mother. His vision of the union contains every dimension of castration anxiety, every fear that motivates the creation of the fetish. He bewails his fate in and as a synesthesia of intercourse, castration, and death, and he caps it with a chimera of compensatory revenge:

In this phantasmagorical vision, entities bear multiple, simultaneous meanings. Intercourse with the female-as-ceramic-embodiment-of-death means imprisonment in her body-as-a-house and being devoured there by the “wild beasts” of her castrating vagina dentata. This diabolical confinement of the man inverts Zeus’ swallowing of Metis and the household’s containment of the wife. And just as the wife before tried to emulate a “ship-shape” κόσμος “order,” so the female is now the pilot of the male, himself a ship, sailing into the harbor of her voracious genital mouth, upon which he will be buried—but not without his revenge. For in his final words, Epigenes envisions a return of the female fetish—that “monument” (Denkmal), in Freud’s terms, “to the horror of castration” feared as punishment for incest—and with the fetish, a return of the “phallus” as architectural support. Tarred alive and welded to his {341|342} tomb by her feet, those perennial objects of the fetishist’s sadistic adoration, female mêtis stands now wholly immobilized, a reduction of the constricting drive of the οἶκος “house” to its ultimate logical absurdity. The female as ceramic Pandora is now the parodic lêkuthos, a pseudo-phallic memorial upon the grave of male glory.

Female Urban Form as Baubo

In its final scene, the Ecclesiazusae aims at the tropic power of Baubo’s display. Rather than a system of sterile intercourse with women too old to bear children, rather than requiring a young man’s rape, it offers Praxagora’s city as a source of sexual luxury and gargantuan nourishment for all. It hopes to turn horror into happiness and fear into laughter, thereby to win the comic prize. On the heels of Epigenes’ sexual damnation, a maidservant enters proclaiming this compound benediction:

O blessed is the people, and happy am I myself,
and my mistress herself is most blessed,
and all of you women, as many as stand beside here upon the doors,
and all our neighbors and all the fellow-demesmen,
and I, in addition to these, the maidservant.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1112–1116

The source of her bliss is a profusion of “good perfumes” on her head – perfume being a powerful tool of sexual attraction, [
69] and of Thasian wine, whose effect within her head lasts a whole night long (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1116– {342|343}1124). She has come not just to extol her pleasure, however, but rather to share it, as she asks the chorus where her master, that is, the husband of her mistress, is. Here he comes on his way to dinner, answers the chorus leader, as a man enters with a couple of μείρακας “young girls.” Whether or not he is to be identified as Blepyrus, the new “first husband,” he is “blessed and three-times happy,” being assured of sexual pleasure in the persons of the “chicks” on his arm and of a sumptuous feast. [70] For his wife has sent the maidservant to bring him and his girlfriends to dinner, where, although he is the last of the 30,000 male citizens, there is still Chian wine and other “good things” left for him (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1125–1140).

Indeed, in Praxagora’s grand provision of sex and food, there is enough left for all men, as the invitation to dinner expands to dissolve the “fourth wall” and solicit the audience’s favor. Turning from her master to the audience, the maidservant says:

And of the spectators, if anyone happens to be well-disposed,
and of the judges, if anyone is not looking in the other direction,
come with us. For we will provide all things.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1141–1143

In return for your approbation, you may cross the theatrical threshold and come with us to the feast. But then, urges her master, why not “speak nobly” and “freely invite the old man, the young man, and the boy?” For such is the extent of the gynocratic largess that “there is a dinner prepared for each and every one of them, too, if they return home” (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1144–1148)—not a disinterested offer, of course, since the Ecclesiazusae is the first play in the day’s competition and departure at this point would mean missing the others (Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1158–1159). [
71] Rather, the point of the extended invitation is that Praxagora’s new city transcends the space of the theater to encompass the totality of households in Athens itself. All citizens may share its wealth of unlimited pleasure, if only they, like this morning’s Assembly, vote for it. For, as the maidservant and her master then leave for dinner, the chorus-leader appeals to the judges:

τοῖς σοφοῖς μὲν τῶν σοφῶν μεμνημένοις κρίνειν ἐμέ,
τοῖς γελῶσι δ᾽ ἡδέως διὰ τὸν γέλων κρίνειν ἐμέ:
σχεδὸν ἅπαντας οὖν κελεύω δηλαδὴ κρίνειν ἐμέ.

to those who are clever, remember the clever things and vote for me; {343|344}
to those who laugh with pleasure, on account of laughter, vote for me:
virtually all men, therefore, I clearly order to vote for me.

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1155–1157

Does the manifold σοφία of Praxagora’s plot and plan resonate with your own? When you gaze at her urban form, do you see Baubo and laugh?

But maybe here it is the goddess Metis herself who has the final word. Maybe the tropology of mêtis exceeds the mastery even of him who created this play’s ingenious play. For if we vote in favor of Praxagora’s gynocratic communism, we have not escaped the effects of the Freudian fetish. If we see ourselves as one of the men treated by the new system to endless sex and food, we have not excluded from our society the young man who sees the unadorned female genital as the site of castration. If we take his fears for fantasy, if we assure ourselves that within the walls of the Hag’s “house,” he will find nothing ultimately more lethal than intercourse—if we, indeed, find ourselves laughing a bit at the groundlessness of his panic and more than a bit indignant at the extremity of his hoped-for revenge, we have not thereby excluded from our society all that continues to result from the force of his fear. {344|}


[ back ] 1. An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Sex of Architecture, edited by 
D. Agrest, P. Conway, and L. Weisman, New York, 1996:73–92. It is a pleasure to thank Bruce Rosenstock and Giulia Sissa for critical reading of this current version.

[ back ] 2. For editions of and commentaries on the Ecclesiazusae, see Ussher 1973 and Sommerstein 1998. For the historical context and a comprehensive interpretation of the play from the perspective of political philosophy, see Ober 1998. For a penetrating reading of the play’s critical force, see Saïd 1979 and 1996.

[ back ] 3. The architectural term “detail” is derived from the French verb détailler “to cut in pieces.”

[ back ] 4. For the “reign of the phallus” in Classical Athens, see Kuels 1985.

[ back ] 5. For the Freudian account of the fetish, see Freud 1905, 1910 (esp. 96–97), 1927, 1940 [1938]a (esp. 202–204), 1940 [1938]b. The fetish enters Freudian theory in 1905 in the first of the “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,” namely, “The Sexual Aberrations,” as a “perversion,” one among the “deviations in respect of the sexual aim.” As that “aim” is limited to heterosexual, genital intercourse, “perversion” from this point of view includes such common practices as the “overvaluation of the sexual object,” the “sexual use of the mucous membrane of the lips and mouth,” the “sexual use of the anal orifice,” and the “significance of other regions of the body” (Freud 1905:150–153; see also Freud 1917 [1916–1917]:305–306). In the concluding section of that essay, Freud reflects upon the relation between perversion and what is to be considered normal: “the extraordinarily wide dissemination of the perversions forces us to suppose that the disposition to perversions is itself of no great rarity but must form a part of what passes as the normal constitution. . . . The conclusion now presents itself to us that there is indeed something innate lying behind the perversions but that it is something innate in everyone, though as a disposition it may vary in its intensity and may be increased by influences of actual life” (Freud 1905:171).

[ back ] 6. On the assumed universality of the penis as the foundation for the construction of the fetish, see Bernheimer 1991:2: “The purpose of the fetish is to preserve the fantasy that all humans have a penis—the childhood theory of anatomical sameness—and simultaneously to represent a recognition that women lack this organ.”

[ back ] 7. Freud 1927:155: “An investigation of fetishism is strongly recommended to anyone who still doubts the existence of the castration complex or who can still believe that fright at the sight of the female genital has some other ground.”

[ back ] 8. Freud 1927:154 = “Fetishismus,” 313.

[ back ] 9. Freud 1927:155. As “the last impression before the uncanny and traumatic one,” the fetish functions as what Freud calls a “screen memory.” For the detailed parallels in Freud’s texts between the fetish and the screen memory, see Bergren 1992:138–139.

[ back ] 10. Freud 1927:157. See also Freud 1910:96: “The erotic attraction that comes from his mother soon culminates in a longing for her genital organ, which he takes to be a penis. With the discovery, which is not made till later, that women do not have a penis, this longing often turns into its opposite and gives place to a feeling of disgust which in the years of puberty can become the cause of psychical impotence, misogyny, and permanent homosexuality. But fixation on the object that was once strongly desired, the woman’s penis, leaves indelible traces on the mental life of the child, who has pursued that portion of his infantile sexual researches with particular thoroughness. Fetishistic reverence for a woman’s foot and shoe appears to take the foot merely as a substitutive symbol for the woman’s penis which was once revered and later missed; without knowing it, ‘coupeurs de nattes’ [cutters of hair] play the part of people who carry out an act of castration on the female genital organ.”

[ back ] 11. Apter 1991:13.

[ back ] 12. While obvious differences obtain—those of gender and race, in particular—it may be instructive to compare the fetishized female as “para-male” with Homi Bhahba’s description of the “mimicry” imposed upon the colonized male (Bhahba 1994).

[ back ] 13. For this lamp as symbolic of the play’s didactic aim— μόνος δὲ μηρῶν εἰς ἀπορρήτους μυχοὺς λάμπεις “alone into the unspeakable recesses of our thighs you shine,” see Ober 1998:126n10 and for its illumination of the traditional features of women’s life within the οἶκος “house,” see Saïd 1979:40.

[ back ] 14. In light of this analogy, the Vitruvian ideal of the building as male body appears to be less an original principle than a secondary compensation for the primary Classical correlation between architecture and the body, namely, that between the female and the house.

[ back ] 15. Arguing against the claim that Greek males assuaged a fear of the female genital by requiring its complete depilation, Kilmer 1982 shows that the evidence in comedy and vase painting indicates (1) that depilation was partial and not complete, the aim being a particular shape—for example, a halo of hair surrounding an exposed vulva (plate Ib)—and (2) that the goal of the depilation was to enhance erotic attractiveness. From the psychoanalytic point of view, however, requiring women to cut their pubic hair into particular forms is not inconsistent with male fear of the female genital.

[ back ] 16. Compare this complex circulation of likeness and hierarchy with the depiction of Pandora in Figure 2 as a “mermaid”-like combination of female on the top and pithos on the bottom.

[ back ] 17. For mêtis as the female’s architectural power, see “The (Re)Marriage of Penelope and Odysseus” and “Architecture Gender Philosophy” in this collection.

[ back ] 18. Xenophon Oeconomicus 7.18–36.

[ back ] 19. Note the subtle distinction in how the text rates violations by women and men of their proper spatial assignment: “for a woman it is more praiseworthy (κάλλιον) to remain inside than to go outside, but for a man it is more blameworthy (αἴσχιον) to remain inside than to concern himself with things outside” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 7.30).

[ back ] 20. For the analogy of οἶκος “house” and πόλις “city,” see also Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.22, where the husband compares the house with the agora, where anything may be found because it is in a fixed place.

[ back ] 21. Compare Saïd 1979:47–48.

[ back ] 22. Note that the wife’s authority remains subordinate to the husband’s orders: “‘In addition,’ he said, ‘I taught her that she would not be justly angry, if I gave her more orders with regard to our possessions than to the servants’” (Xenophon Oeconomicus 9.16).

[ back ] 23. For the object in Figure 3 as a lamp for depilation, see Hauser 1909.

[ back ] 24. For women’s invention of weaving, see Freud 1933 [1932]:132: “The effect of penis-envy has a share, further, in the physical vanity of women, since they are bound to value their charms more highly as a late compensation for their original sexual inferiority. Shame, which is considered to be a feminine characteristic par excellence but is far more a matter of convention than might be supposed, has as its purpose, we believe, concealment [verdecken: Decke “cover, ceiling, roof, skin, envelope, coat, pretense, screen”] of genital deficiency. We are not forgetting that at a later time, shame takes on other functions. It seems that women have made few contributions to the discoveries [Entdeckungen] and inventions in the history of civilization; there is, however, one technique which they may have invented—that of plaiting and weaving. If that is so, we should be tempted to guess the unconscious motive for the achievement. Nature herself would seem to have given the model which this achievement imitates by causing the growth at maturity of the pubic hair that conceals their genitals. The step that remained to be taken lay in making the threads adhere to one another while on the body they stick into the skin and are only matted together. If you reject this idea as fantastic and regard my belief in the influence of a lack of a penis on the configuration of femininity as an idée fixe, I am of course defenseless” [Emphasis added]. For weaving as the origin of architecture, see Semper 1989, “The Textile Art,” 254–255: “The beginning of building coincides with the beginning of textiles. The wall is that architectural element that formally represents and makes visible the enclosed space as such, absolutely, as it were, without reference to secondary concepts. We might recognize the pen, bound together from sticks and branches, and the interwoven fence as the earliest vertical spatial enclosure that man invented. . . . Whether these inventions gradually developed in this order or another matters little to us here, for it remains certain that the use of crude weaving that started with the pen—as a means to make the “home,” the inner life separated from the outer life, and as the formal creation of the idea of space—undoubtedly preceded the wall, even the most primitive one constructed out of stone or any other material. The structure that served to support, to secure, to carry this spatial enclosure was a requirement that had nothing directly to do with space and the division of space. . . . In this connection, it is of the greatest importance to note that wherever these secondary motives are not present, woven fabrics almost everywhere and especially in the southern and warm countries carry out their ancient, original function as conspicuous spatial dividers; even where solid walls become necessary they remain only the inner and unseen structure for the true and legitimate representatives of the spatial idea: namely, the more or less artificially woven and seamed-together, textile walls. . . . In all Germanic languages the word Wand (of the same root and same basic meaning as Gewand) directly recalls the old origin and type of the visible spatial enclosure. Likewise, Decke, Bekleidung, Schranke, Zaun (similar to Saum), and many other technical expressions are not somewhat late linguistic symbols applied to the building trade, but reliable indications of the textile origin of these building parts” [Emphasis added]. See also Semper, “The Four Elements of Architecture,” 102–103, and compare “Structural Elements of Assyrian-Chaldean Architecture” in Herrmann 1984:205–206: “It is well known that any wild tribe is familiar with the fence or a primitive hurdle as a means of enclosing space. Weaving the fence led to weaving movable walls of bast, reed, or willow twigs and later to weaving carpets of thinner animal or vegetable fiber. . . . Using wickerwork for setting apart one’s property and for floor mats and protection against heat and cold far preceded making even the roughest masonry. Wickerwork was the original motif of the wall. It retained this primary significance, actually or ideally, when the light hurdles and mattings were later transformed into brick or stone walls. The essence of the wall was wickerwork. Hanging carpets remained the true walls; they were the visible boundaries of a room. The often solid walls behind them were necessary for reasons that had nothing to do with the creation of space; they were needed for protection, for supporting a load, for their permanence, etc. Wherever the need for these secondary functions did not arise, carpets remained the only means for separating space. Even where solid walls became necessary, they were only the invisible structure hidden behind the true representatives of the wall, the colorful carpets that the walls served to hold and support. It was therefore the covering of the wall that was primarily and essentially of spatial and architectural significance; the wall itself was secondary.” For the role of women’s weaving in the architectural theory of the Odyssey, see 
“The (Re)Marriage of Penelope and Odysseus” in this collection.

[ back ] 25. Charles Platter “Depilation in Old Comedy,” typescript, 3–4: “The matrix of depilation described by our sources is fundamentally associated with . . . the attempt to control the women of the household whose extravagant sexuality, symbolized by tangled hair, represents a threat to the solid edifice of the family and the social status of the man.”

[ back ] 26. Compare Carson 1990 and Platter “Depilation,” 9: “Thus, the male gender, by virtue of its dryness, lends itself to definition and self-ordering. The female, by contrast, has no mechanism for self-limitation, and like water, spreads out until exhausted—like the sleeping Bacchae of Euripides and the sexually voracious women who appear in Old Comedy, or until stopped by some limit imposed from the outside.”

[ back ] 27. For δέλτα παρατετιλμέναι “plucked in the form of a delta” at Aristophanes Lysistrata 151 as a pubic hair style, see Kilmer 1982:106n10 and compare the “pubic triangle” of his plate Id. For equilateral triangles as cosmic building-blocks, see Plato Timaeus 53c–55c and Cornford 1937:210–219.

[ back ] 28. On the role of extension in Praxagora’s plan, see Ober 1998:127: “the humor of the plot derives from a comic extension (albeit extreme) of the democratic-egalitarian ethos” and “the means by which Aristophanes’ characters effect this comic extension of the democratic ethos is the institutional machinery of the democratic state and its associated ideologies.” For gynocracy as an extension of democratic logic, see also Saïd 1979:35–36, 51–52.

[ back ] 29. Ober (1998) argues that Praxagora’s “proposals for communalization of property and equalized sexual relations stretched the existing reality, without inverting it” (149–150) and that theirs is “the egalitarian logic of the democratic polis taken to extremes, not set on its head” (153). Yet Ober also notes that “[t]his ‘private world of men versus public world of women’ inverts the Athenians’ ordinary assumption that the private realm is the appropriate domain of women, while the public realm is for men only” (132). Ober’s point seems to be that while Praxagora’s plan inverts gender roles, it extends the egalitarianism of democracy without overturning it. What Ober terms the play’s “hyperegalitarianism” (129 n16, 134) is, of course, limited by the fact that it is not women and men together, but women only who rule. Men and women citizens share goods, sex, and children equally, but not political power. On the reduction of the males under Praxagora’s plan to the condition of wholly passive consumers of food and sex—veritable “stomachs”—see Saïd 1979:54.

[ back ] 30. For Praxagora’s plan as turning the πόλις “city” into a single οἶκος “house” with the distinction between inside and outside abolished, see Saïd 1979:46–47.

[ back ] 31. Bly (1982) shows how the phases of Praxagora’s plot manifest the semantic field of mêtis, the mode of intelligence that permits the women to defeat their husbands despite their relative physical weakness.

[ back ] 32. See Detienne and Vernant 1978:305.

[ back ] 33. See Detienne and Vernant 1978, esp. 34 and 37.

[ back ] 34. Because all parts in Greek drama are played by men, we have here males playing females playing males. Taaffe (1993:9–10, 112, 116, 130 and 1991:96–97) shows that among comic actors depicted on vase paintings, the “illusion of gender disguise” was often imperfect: they wear female dresses or masks, but with their beards intact or with the ithyphallic appendages worn by comic actors showing underneath their gowns. Taaffe observes: “There is no way to determine the actual nature of the costumes for Ecclesiazusae, but if the actors wore pads and the phallos protruded from these supposedly feminine bodies once in a while, the comic and metatheatrical effects would be hilarious” (1991:99, see also 1993:104–105, 113). In this context, however, of supposed females decked out in actual male attire, the question might arise: which is the artificial male accoutrement? Such ambiguity is precisely that of the fetish—and indeed, is embodied by the actors, whether or not their prosthetic phalloi were evident. For the “illusion of gender disguise” here is manifestly imperfect, as the supposed females repeatedly reveal their underlying female nature both visually and verbally. For example, despite tanning, their skin remains relatively light, so that Chremes describes the man who persuaded the Assembly to vote in the new order as a “good-looking, white-faced young man” (427–428); the women’s beards are clearly artificial, carried by the women as they arrive (24–25, 68–72) and put on in front of the audience (118–127, 272–274); and during the rehearsal of their impersonation of male speech, one woman slips and swears by the “Two Goddesses” (155–156), another addresses the Assembly as “ladies” (165–166), and they refer to themselves using female gender forms (μεμνημένας, ἡμᾶς) when reminding themselves to call each other “men” (285–287); on these and other examples, see Taaffe 1993:112–114, 116–119. It is this ambiguity that qualifies the women’s disguise as a fetish: their accoutrements both affirm and deny their male identity. Their transvestitism is detectable, but also sufficient to persuade the rest of the male Assembly—possibly, as Saïd (1979:35–36) maintains, because popular male political orators were already held to be effeminate (101–104). The women’s costume is pseudo-phallic, a “phallos that is not one.”

[ back ] 35. For the women’s suspension of underarm depilation and suntanning of their skin as evidence that femininity is not “a simple fact of nature,” but “an artifact of voluntary human action,” see Ober 1998:136 with bibliography. As another instance of the construction of sexual appearance in Greek literature, Ober cites the report of Plutarch (Life of Theseus 23) that Theseus disguised two young men as women by having them take warm baths, stay out of the sun, smooth their skin with unguents, adopt women’s hairdos, and imitate women’s speech, clothes, and walk, and then successfully substituted these pseudo-females in the group of maidens he took to Crete—a ruse commemorated in the festival of the Oschophoria, named for the vine-branches the men carried when they returned to Athens. Thus the women’s imitation of the opposite sex in order to infiltrate its exclusive group is itself an emulation of a male exemplar. For the relation between the Oschophoria and the women-only festival of the Skira, where Praxagora and her cohorts hatched their plot, see Vidal-Naquet 1986a:114–117, 1986c:211, 217–218 and Saïd 1976:37.

[ back ] 36. See above, n. 23.

[ back ] 37. See above, n. 23.

[ back ] 38. See Sommerstein 1998:147 on 90.

[ back ] 39. For the explanation of the “Phormision” here, see Sommerstein 1998:147 on 97. See also Ober 1998:136 and Taaffe 1993:110.

[ back ] 40. Ober 1998:138–139 shows how Praxagora’s “felicitous performance[s] of a speech act in the Assembly”—both in rehearsal and as recounted later by Chremes—are “models of sophisticated rhetoric.”

[ back ] 41. See Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 455–457: 


Blepyrus: So what was finally decided?

Chremes: To hand the city over to these women. For it seemed that this only had not been done before in the city.


Compare Saïd 1979:35.

[ back ] 42. On the relation between Praxagora’s plan and what women are taught in the Oeconomicus, see Foley 1982:3–6, 16–17. On her speech as reflecting a “traditional male point of view,” see Taaffe 1993:120.

[ back ] 43. Compare Saïd 1979:41.

[ back ] 44. For other differences between Praxagora’s plan and the Platonic utopia, see Saïd 1979:61.

[ back ] 45. Compare “Architecture Gender Philosophy” in this collection and Rosenstock 1994:370, 372.

[ back ] 46. Compare Saïd 1979:45.

[ back ] 47. Compare Rosenstock 1994:381: “When Plato insists that women be trained as guardians, he hopes to undo the ‘beautiful evil’ ([Hesiod Theogony] 585) that enters the world with Pandora. He is recreating Woman, this time with as close a resemblance to Man as possible, a masculinized woman.” See also Saïd (1979:36), who describes the nature of female power in Plato’s city as a “virilization of women” in contrast with the “feminization of power” under Praxagora’s regime.

[ back ] 48. On Praxagora’s plan as “domestic utopia” and a “symbolic extension of the household,” see Foley 1982:15n33.

[ back ] 49. In addition to the metaphorical weaving of rich and poor and beautiful and ugly, Praxagora’s gynocracy provides that women continue their literal weaving of men’s cloaks. See Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 653–654.

[ back ] 50. See Slater 1997:108–109.

[ back ] 51. Aristophanes Lysistrata 586.

[ back ] 52. Compare Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 614–615:


καὶ ταύτας γὰρ κοινὰς ποιῶ τοῖς ἀνδράσι συγκατακεῖσθαι

καὶ παιδοποιεῖν τῷ βουλομένῳ.


For I make these women too common property for men to sleep with

and for the man who wishes to, to make children.


with the law regarding the Guardians (Plato Republic 457c–d):


τὰς γυναῖκας ταύτας τῶν ἀνδρῶν τούτων πάντων πάσας εἶναι κοινάς, ἰδίᾳ δὲ μηδενὶ μηδεμίαν συνοικεῖν· καὶ τοὺς παῖδας αὖ κοινούς, καὶ μήτε γονέα ἔκγονον εἰδέναι τὸν αὑτοῦ μήτε παῖδα γονέα.


‘that these women are to be common to all men, and no one of them is to live privately with any man, and the children, moreover, are common, and no parent is to know his own offspring and no child, his parent.’

[ back ] 53. Compare Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 635–637:


How, then, if we live in this way, will each man be able to distinguish his own children?

Why is this necessary? For they will regard as fathers all men who are older than they are in time.


with Plato Republic 461c–d: “How are they to recognize their fathers and daughters and the other relationships you mention?’ ‘They will have no way,’ I said, ‘except that all offspring born in the tenth and in the seventh month after he became a bridegroom a man will call his sons, if they are male, and daughters, if they are female.’” See also Rosenstock 1994:371 on how Plato’s transformation of the terms “father” and “mother” from signifying kinship to defining a generational group promotes the model of mono-gendered autochthony by “effacing his culture’s most significant factor in gender role differentiation, namely, reproduction.” Saïd (1979:58) calls attention to the difference between the Ecclesiazusae and the Republic with regard to the origin of the parent-child bond: under Praxagora’s system, the children create the bond by regarding the men of the older generation as “fathers,” while in the Platonic system, it is the citizens old enough to be fathers who create the bond by means of naming the children as “sons” and “daughters.” She notes that this second mode is the same as that employed in Athens, where it is the father who “creates” his son by giving him his name on the tenth day after birth, by attaching him to his οἶκος “house” via the ritual of the Amphidromia and to the πόλις “city” by enrolling him in the registry of his phratry. This parallel with Athenian practice reflects the maintenance of the rule of the phallus in the Platonic city.

[ back ] 54. Compare Rosenstock 1994:381: “The possibility that a woman might exercise sexual power over a male is unthinkable, whereas a man’s sexual power over women and, in some instances, over other men, seems utterly natural to Plato.”

[ back ] 55. See Saïd 1979:33.

[ back ] 56. For the plan and program of the Classical οἶκος “house,” see Walker 1983.

[ back ] 57. On Praxagora’s abolition of Athenian political and judicial institutions through the re-programming of the πόλις “city” as domestic space, see Saïd 1979:47–48.

[ back ] 58. For the assignment of jury duty by letter, see Sommerstein 1998:199 on 683.

[ back ] 59. These two responses to the unadorned female genital parallel the two poles of interpretation the Ecclesiazusae has evoked: for the play as critical satire, see Saïd 1979 and Strauss 1966:263–282; for the play as a testimony to the transformative power of the comic spirit, see Slater 1997:119–123 with bibliography. Acknowledging both positions, Foley (1982) analyzes the criticism of the Athenian males as a potentially constructive call to renewed commitment to the public good, and Reckford (1987:353) concludes that the “final revelry, I think, conveys a spirit of vitality that goes beyond weariness, and hope that goes beyond disillusionment.” See also Ober 1998:134 with n28.

[ back ] 60. For her makeup, see Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 878–879, 929. On the question of whether the lêkuthos was used for cosmetic paint, see Quincey 1949:38.

[ back ] 61. Slater (1989) sees this passage as a play upon the fact that both funerary lêkuthoi and the hag’s mask were colored white. Funerary lêkuthoi were placed around the bier at the prothesis of the dead body and used to carry unguent to the tomb; see Oakley 2004:4–5, 86, 234n43, n44, n45.

[ back ] 62. See Sommerstein 1998:228 on 1042.

[ back ] 63. Ussher 1973:219–220 on 1041–1042 makes the comparison with Jocasta.

[ back ] 64. On the scholiast’s interpretation of Greek phrunê “toad” as the nickname of prostitutes, see Ussher 1973:225–226 on 1098–1101.

[ back ] 65. On this expression as a euphemism for “to die,” and on κασαλβάδοιν “whores” to be taken “as pilots” with ἐσπλέων, see Ussher 1973:226 on 1105–1106.

[ back ] 66. Slater (1989:50–51) argues that the lêkuthos referred to here is no longer a white ground ceramic vase, but a white marble vessel of the sort customarily placed as a grave monument: the greater size of the marble vase would motivate the reference to the molten lead poured around the “ankles” to affix this lêkuthos to a stone base.

[ back ] 67. For Northrop Frye’s concept of the “festive conclusion” in comedy, see Frye 1965:75-76, 103–104, 115, 128–130.

[ back ] 68. On the figure of Baubo, see Olender 1990, Gsell 2001:31–47, and Freud 1916.

[ back ] 69. For perfume as an aphrodisiac that is necessary to attract marriage partners to one another, but also potentially threatening to the ongoing stability of the union, see Detienne 1972a:ix–x = 1977b: vi–vii.

[ back ] 70. The appearance of Blepyrus here, not having eaten and not having come from the Agora, has appeared to be inconsistent with 727, when he followed Praxagora to the Agora, where the communal dinners were to be provided. For discussion of the various attempts to solve the difficulty, see Sommerstein (1998:233 on 1113), who concludes that the inconsistency is unavoidable. See also Ussher 1973:xxxii–xxxiv.

[ back ] 71. See Slater 1997:98. See also Saïd 1979:55

[ back ] 72. Sommerstein 1998:238 on 1169–1175. See also Saïd (1979:55), who notes that the audience is here given literally a word to eat.