Abstract – Social Responses to Female Agricultural Ritual and “Aischrologia”

In a scholion to Lucian’s Dial. Meretr. 2.1 (Rabe 276.26-28), the note refers to Demeter when it says that she has established ancient laws according to which men must work to get their food. Scholarship has identified these laws to be the pragmatics of agriculture and the rituals that ensure a good harvest. A better-known scholion refers to women at a festival being able to say “whatever they want without fear” and that these women “uttered shameful (αἰσχρά) things”(Rabe 1971.280). The first scholion establishes the rituals of the goddess as essential to the harvest, which would be unable to prosper without events like the Thesmophoria. Yet both the second scholion and older sources show a tension in the male community about their wives participating in this ritual. This tension manifested as either resentment that women were so essential to their crop yield, or suspicion that their wives were whispering “shameful” things without reproach. This paper examines how men’s recognition of women’s “shameful” speech and their dependence on women’s ritual affected social attitudes toward women in Classical Greece. For the paradigm of “shameful” speech and action, I explore the folklore of Iambe, noting her eccentric nature as well as Apollodorus’ association of her with an old woman. For social perceptions, I draw from plays such as Euripides’ Andromache and Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae, Lysistrata, and Thesmophoriazusae along with Aristotle’s Ath. Pol. and Plato’s Republic. These feelings of resentment and suspicion showed themselves through both strengthened female suppression and a quiet fear of female power.

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