Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.02.20

Martha Krieter-Spiro, Sklaven, Köche und Hetären: Das Dienstpersonal bei Menander. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 93.   Stuttgart and Leipzig:  B.G. Teubner, 1997.  Pp. 329.  ISBN 351907642X.  DM 124.  

Reviewed by Ariana Traill, University of Colorado at Boulder (
Word count: 3614 words

Although few scholars now agree that Menander imitates "life" quite as Aristophanes of Byzantium asserted, it is commonly accepted that studies of Menander ought to be grounded to some degree in fourth century Greek history. M. Krieter-Spiro's comprehensive book on Menander's slaves, a revised Basel dissertation, does just this: the work looks at the dramatic functions of slave characters in their historical context. Situating her study within the field of ancient slavery, Krieter-Spiro (hence K-S) offers new comedy as an understudied source for what she identifies as the five biggest questions in studies of ancient slavery: the economic, social and cultural meaning of slavery and its meaning for ancient intellectual history; the definition of a "slave"; the development and decline of ancient slavery; whether "humanity" (Humanität, no Greek term given) and slavery in the ancient world were incompatible; and the influence of modern ideologies on research on slavery. The book addresses itself to historians in particular ("Das vorrangige Ziel ist jeweils, das Material zu sammeln, um eine Basis für Forschungen der Historiker zu schaffen, d.h. z.B. auch für ein historisches Werk zu den Sklaven im hellenistischen Attika" p. 11). K-S makes equally modest claims for her book's value for Menander's literary scholars. It is "ein Versuch, die Ergebnisse der älteren und neueren Forschung unter bestimmten Aspekten darzustellen und dazu eigene Überlegungen anzufügen" (p. 3). Conceived -- reasonably enough, for a dissertation -- with a view to enabling further work, the book assembles and classifies evidence for the study of "service personnel" and offers a very thorough survey of critical issues in the scholarly literature.

This book will probably serve students of comedy more than students of history. Despite the claims of the introduction, large questions about ancient slavery are not at the center of the work, which is a study of Menander's dramatic manipulation of service personnel, both slave and free. This book is not about the development and decline of ancient slavery, nor does it trace the influence of modern ideologies on contemporary research on ancient slavery. Social, economic and other aspects of slavery tend to be addressed in discussions of individual characters, under other rubrics, and the book's frequent summaries treat literary, not historical issues. Although K-S offers Menander as a source ('Die Neue Komödie mit ihrem Interesse am Privatleben bietet uns einen unschätzbaren Einblick in das damalige Sklavenleben...'), because her purpose is rather to present than to evaluate the Menandrian evidence (p. 10), it is the corroborative material from orators, inscriptions, and other sources that carries the historical weight. Beyond this, the book shows no special interest in the problems of using Menander as a historical source. Discussion of other sources is often restricted to summary of published views (e.g. on the civic status of cooks, pp. 27-8) and secondary sources provide much of the historical context (e.g. Gomme & Sandbach are cited as support for the practice of giving a rich boy his own slave, p. 15). The assemblage of so much material is extremely useful, but it is in the sections on dramatic function and language that K-S makes most of her own arguments.

It should also be noted that the book is set up for use as a work of reference, not for cover-to-cover reading. The main text falls into three large sections, entitled "Overview", "Dramatic Functions", and "Speech". The seven-page table of contents, with a separate entry for virtually every paragraph in the book, the three indices, 21 tables, and the annotated list of service characters and their occupations, all testify to the great pains K-S has taken to make consultation easy. There is good cross-referencing throughout the book, numerous charts, and short summaries at the end of every subsection. Throughout the book the Samia, Dyskolos, Epitrepontes, Aspis ("die Grossfragmente") are treated separately from the rest of the corpus ("die Kleinfragmente"), which is used to test conclusions drawn from the four more intact plays. This imposes a rather arbitrary distinction on the material (why not consistently treat the Perikeiromene and Misoumenos as Grossfragmente, as the author does on p. 105) and results in some repetition. When the small fragments confirm an argument, it is made twice: once in the main text, and again in the reduced font passages on the Kleinfragmente. When they do not, the reader needs to go to the Kleinfragmente for the author's final word on a question. K-S is not really using the smaller fragments as a control group (although she may toy with the idea, "Ist Menander in den Grossfragmenten also anders gegenüber den Frauen als in den Kleinfragmenten? Das scheint uns aus verschiedenen Gründen nicht wahrscheinlich" p. 195). She assumes all evidence to be of equal value to her study, in the sense that no fragment is more or less typically Menandrian. The only difference between the two groups is degree of preservation. The decision, then, to divide up the Menander corpus is really a decision about how to present the material. This system will benefit readers looking for the author's comments on particular passages, but the rest will appreciate the section-end summaries all the more.

K-S defines the subject of her study, Dienstpersonal as: "all people who work as dependants within a household, and whose service is clearly regulated according to a specific form, whether by a master-slave relationship, by hire, by engagement on a contractual basis, or by a manumission agreement" (p. 11). This includes cooks, wet-nurses, freedmen and anyone working on a contract, as for example Chrysis in the Samia. It excludes free hetairai, parasites, and other figures who do not work under fixed conditions, and workers not connected with a household, such as temple-slaves, potters, or farm-laborers. Although Dienstpersonal are not all slaves, as a group they are consistently opposed to Herren. It is not clear how far K-S accepts L. Casson's argument that Menander represented the millionaires of his day,1 but she does emphasize that Menander's Herren belong to the prosperous classes and his Dienstpersonal come from the upper ranks: head-servants, high-priced hetairai, and cooks who can afford their own staff (pp. 71-2).

The book's first section, an overview ("Bestandsaufnahme"), surveys the social position of Dienstpersonal. Obersklaven, slaves with some authority and trust in the household (commonly because they are former paidagogoi), stand at the top of the hierarchy, which includes: (male) household slaves, field workers, slaves χωρὶς οικοῦντες, cooks and τραπεζοποιοί; and (female) old wet-nurses, maids, personal attendants, and hetairai of various sorts. In this section K-S performs an invaluable service in bringing together the findings of over a century of scholarship. Because of the detailed nature of the arguments (few are new), it is not possible to summarize this section and I can only offer a few examples of topics treated. On property and marriage rights of slaves, K-S rejects the idea of an analogous Greek peculium (p. 20) and she likens slave marriages, which were not recognized by Attic law, to contubernium (p. 41). In a typical contextual note, she cites Photios on the duties of the trapezopoioÛw , whom she compares to a maître d'hôtel (p. 31). There is a section on slave names, categorized as they denote place of origin, servitude, or appearance. The author displays a judicious skepticism about more extensive correlations between names, masks and character traits. Given the enormous amount of material covered, the occasional questionable assertion may be unavoidable, particularly in the thorny fields of ancient economics and Attic law. One would like further bibliography for the claim that citizen hetairai (if there was such a thing) could marry (p. 49 n. 5), since the work cited, W.A. Post's "Women's Place in Menander's Athens" (TAPA 71 [1940], p. 448) only makes the claim in passing, referring the reader to Isaeus 3.17. On prostitutes' fees, K-S takes Menander at face value, accepting Habrotonon's 12 drachma per diem rate and the 10 drachmas mentioned at Sam. 392 (references are to Sandbach's OCT and Körte-Thierfelder for fragments not in Sandbach) as well as the three minae claimed by the Kolax pimp, which she calls "einen sehr hohen Betrag" in comparison with the other sums (p. 53). Whatever may be said in defense of the first two, the last is highly unlikely. Furthermore, one might argue that a Phryne or a Theodote would make a better case for the wealth free hetairai at Athens might acquire, than the fictional figures K-S cites: Terence's Bacchis (Heauton.) and Thais (Eunuchus).

The book's central section, on dramatic functions, charts dramatic uses of Dienstpersonal under the general categories of structural and comic functions. Structural functions comprise: tying and loosening the "knot" (the central problem of a play) or administering poetic justice; "less important" functions, such as providing information or covering an entrance or exit; functions relating to content, such as providing a different point of view or serving as a foil; functions performed by extras; and "uncertain" functions relating to poetic justice or the providing of information. Making no claims to offer an exhaustive classification, K-S introduces each function with both a master and a slave example. Discussion of comic functions covers four general topics: (i) the source of humor; (ii) the purposes for which it is used; (iii) "traditional comedy", i.e. types, masking, obscenity; and (iv) sympathetic vs. unsympathetic comedy. Here I can only offer a brief summary of the topics treated and the main differences K-S finds between masters and slaves. Under (i) source-of-comedy, K-S adds to the categories, derived from Aristotle Rhet. I 11, 1371b35, of plot, situation and words, the categories of awareness ("Bewusste - Unbewusste Komik") and object ("Gegen welche Personen richtet sich die Komik?"). Her examples suggest that "situation" means dramatic irony, and "words" covers parody of genre conventions as well as wordplay. In this section she argues that comic functions, unlike structural functions, do not follow class lines. No source-of-humor category is exclusive to either slaves or masters (p. 144), although slaves tend to have the tragic quotations and can only make fun of masters (i.e. oblige masters to fill the object-of-humor function) under severe restrictions. Of the two main purposes (ii) of comedy in Menander, comic relief ("Auflockerung") is largely the function of cooks, the only characters who perform this and no other function when they appear on stage. "Poetic justice" is enacted by slaves, usually head-slaves and former paidagogoi, since age and status affords these slaves both the protection and credibility to make tactful corrections of their social betters without giving offense to a citizen audience (p. 151). Here follows a digression on Menander and the philosophers, in which K-S argues for reading Onesimos' speech (Epitr. 1084-1109) as a parodic hodgepodge of ideas (p. 154).

Both masks and types come under traditional comedy (iii). A table of characters, masks from Pollux, and the scholarly references for each identification introduces K-S's treatment of the notorious problems of correlating masks, characters, physiognomic traits and character traits. K-S adds little that is new, but she does offer a good summary of the scholarly debate and concludes with a warning against relying too much on Pollux and the pseudo-Aristotelian Physiognomika for fine distinctions among Menandrian characters (p. 183). K-S presents a similarly thorough overview of the scholarship on types. Treatment of each type is necessarily brief (this will not replace Legrand, although the up-to-date bibliography is very welcome), and some of K-S's own findings may be questioned, e.g. that Menander's women are not only physically, but also psychologically weak (" Typisch für die Frauen ist ihre physische und emotionale Schwäche" p. 159). Examples include Knemon's timid daughter, women who cry in the Samia and Aspis, and a joke about how women like to drink (Dysk. 857b-858a) (ibid.). But not all remarks on women can be taken at face value, as the author herself notes when she looks for greed, deception and badness in hetairai in the Kleinfragmente ("Die Hetären werden aber ... immer zu Unrecht verdächtigt" p. 167), and Menander's types do not all match a template. For figures who do not obviously conform to the traits of their sex/age/status group, K-S argues for individualization within the type (e.g. "[Habrotonon] ist ein Individuum, kein Typ, liebenswürdig und mitleidig" p. 173). "Individualization" here covers several distinct phenomena and produces some rather subjective and not wholly consistent arguments. Slaves are sometimes described as developed characters ("Sie treten als Individuen auf und verraten uns ihre eigenen Sorgen und Gefühle ... Sie erscheinen uns als Menschen, nicht als blosse Werkzeuge" p. 75), but not always ("Das Seelenleben des Dienstpersonals interessiert im allgemeinen nur so weit, als es für die Angelegenheiten der Herren von Belang ist" p. 125). This section of the book needs a clearer conception of what makes an individual or type. There is some vagueness as well about the criteria for classification as a sympathetic or an unsympathetic character ((iv) "liebevolle/nicht-liebevolle Komik"), which seems to be a matter of audience response.

K-S offers her taxonomy as a basis for broader conclusions about Menander's dramatic technique, and for distinctions in his use of master- vs. slave-characters in particular. One problem with this method needs to be noted. For each function, K-S deliberately offers examples of both masters and slaves in order to permit comparison, but because these examples must also define the category, there is an inevitable emphasis on similarities and an implied premise that both groups can and do fill all functions. This is not always the case. For example, for the function "Hilfe bei einer bestimmten Handlung", K-S offers no Herr character ("Ein Beispiel eines Herrn mit einer solchen Funktion entfällt natürlich" p. 90). Where it is true, her discovery of "keine scharfe Trennung zwischen den strukturellen Funktionen des Dienstpersonals und denen der Herren" (p. 93 ) is a circular argument. Clearer definition of key terms and some discussion of the principles used to generate the categories used here would make the argument much easier to follow. As introduced, the book's classification system actually masks important distinctions the author wants to make. As a consequence, she is sometimes obliged to modify the original category. The function "problem solution", for example, is eventually split between a slaves' function (solution through intrigue, pp. 96-102) and a masters' function (solution through inner peripeteia, pp. 103-6). Nor are smaller questions better served. For instance, among the functions filled by extras is "information [provided] in an address to an extra" (pp. 88-9). The character Plangon, told by Sostratos' mother to "hurry up" at Dysk. 430a, has been variously identified as Sostratos' sister (Sandbach, Commentary p. 203) or a slave (Handley, Dyskolos p. 209). Siding with Sandbach, K-S offers a new argument: slaves usually serve a definite function, even as extras. This Plangon would be a superfluous slave, since the audience already knows everything Dysk. 430a could tell them, but as a Herrin, namely the sister who will marry Gorgias at the play's end, her introduction would serve an obvious purpose. This argument would be more persuasive if the author had either presented her list of functions as exhaustive, or had defined functions such as "characterization of another person by contrast" (p. 88) rigidly enough to exclude a slave Plangon. As it is, a sluggish slave might well serve as a foil to Sostratos' over-eager mother. The book's classification system is simply not set up to make this kind of cut decisively.

The book's last section, on speech, may prove the most useful. K-S is well aware of the methodological problems of studies in this field and she generally refuses to force the data, even at the cost of reaching inconclusive results. Eleven tables present data the author compiled herself with the aid of the TLG and published indices for individual plays. Focusing on koine usages, colloquialisms, affective language and individualized language, K-S defends Menander's ancient reputation for linguistic homogeneity. She finds no obvious differences between masters and slaves, but argues rather that distinctive habits characterize individuals, not classes. To take an example: although demonstrative pronouns + deictic -I are used more by slaves, a handful of characters account for most instances. In this section there are many very thorough discussions of the speech of individual characters. K-S sees Onesimos' philosophical pretensions reflected in his unusually frequent use of abstract nouns ending in -μός [four instances] and she interprets these, together with his -ικός adjectives [five instances], as attempts to sound educated. Her long list of the distinctive features of Onesimos' speech (p. 239), which include tragic language and quotations, nouns in -μα and -σις, a high number of resolutions (6 lines with three in each), and more adverbs than any other character in the play, makes a convincing case for linguistic differentiation at the level of the individual character. There are a few incautious conclusions (not everyone will see in Habrotonon's interjections, optatives, clever figures and frequent use of οἶδα evidence of "eine kluge, aber nicht kaltberechnende Hetäre" p. 241), but the larger argument is persuasive. K-S finds no class distinctions at the linguistic level, apart from a few restrictions concerning the expression by slaves of requests, orders and admonitions to masters (p. 233).

Some obvious assumptions about Greek slavery run through this study. K-S is clearly committed to the idea of a slave hierarchy with rewards of trust and domestic authority at the top, and she would like to see support for this in Menander's role distribution. High status slaves should have bigger parts. The evidence, however, (as she admits, p. 17) is limited, since status cannot be determined for many slave characters, and not all high-status slaves have large roles (e.g. Pyrrhias, Dysk.). From this point of view, Menander tells us little about the "social meaning of slavery" (one of the questions K-S set out in her introduction). The problem is compounded by issues of artistic distortion, on which K-S does not always maintain the cautious note of her introduction (pp. 12-3). A rosy view of Greek slavery emerges from this study. Arguing that the worst abuses of the system were rare, and that social pressures on owners could work to the slaves' advantage (e.g. the stigma of having a slave seek asylum would discourage excessive ill-treatment p. 63 n.5), K-S maintains that the position of Menander's slaves is comparatively good, despite the legal and social incapacities of slavery, because so many have harmonious relationships with their masters (p. 77). She concludes: Menander idealizes not slavery itself, but the humane treatment of slaves (p. 76). The author's approval of Menander on this score is very clear, and this is presumably the book's answer to its own question about the compatibility of slavery with notions of "humanity". This rather subjective, sometimes anachronistic, perspective on Menander (the author occasionally slips into the language of domestic service, e.g. "Magd" for "Sklavin") is a weakness of the book. K-S clearly wants a Menander who opposes prejudice and racism, who defends the humane treatment of slaves, and who depicts slaves as sympathetic individuals. Whether these really are the biases of the playwright is reasonable question, and it ought to have been the question posed in the introduction.

Written for specialists and organized for easy consultation, this book is essentially a series of self-contained discussions on points of philological and literary interest, clearly much influenced by Gomme and Sandbach (with whom the author rarely disagrees). The book delivers a balanced, sensible judgment on many small points and is cautious about offering solutions where the evidence is limited. K-S has a tremendous respect for the work of her predecessors. The research that went into the 31-page bibliography (which includes works in Dutch, Polish and modern Greek) is so thorough that virtually no problem is presented without comprehensive citations of published views. The author has done a valuable service in drawing attention to some infrequently cited works that deserve notice and in testing, and confirming, the findings of a number of quantitative studies.2 Granted, the enormous research that supports this work has also imposed some limitations, notably in restricting it to well-established questions, not all of which may still be felt to require solutions or even to deserve further discussion. (That there was some Greek prototype for the servus currens, for example, is perhaps not seriously enough in dispute to require an entire page of references (p. 84), and it is time to move past subjective evaluations of Habrotonon's altruism vs. selfishness.) Nonetheless, the book will be of value as a thoroughly researched and meticulously organized reference on the domestic slaves of Menander.

I found few errata. There is a page of text missing between pp. 79-80 (sections 2.1.2,, from the TOC), no page numbers for the Indices Rerum and Locorum in the TOC, misprints on p. 158 ( for and p. 79 n. 8 (page numbers missing), and a few omissions from the bibliography (=Fantham, Women, should appear under E. Fantham, "Sex, Status and Survival"; Preisendanz, cited p. 134 n. 3 is not in the bibliography; Blake, mentioned as available only in summary, p. 96 n. 7, p. 142 n. 3 should appear in the "nicht zugänglich" list). A title might have been supplied for a L. Koenen lecture at Basel in Nov. 1995 (cited p. 129 n. 2). Subdivision of bibliography can make items difficult for non-specialists to find. For example, to find the reference on p. 47 n. 3 to "Turner, Epitrepontes", a reader needs to know that this is an Ox. Pap. publication and hence under "Neufunde" rather than "Texte, Kommentare, Übersetzungen". The contributors to C. Prato et al., Ricerche sul trimetro di Menandro have separate entries under "Sekundärliteratur", all referring the reader "in: Prato" (including the entry for C. Prato). The full citation is actually under "Sammelbände". This bibliography is not for the neophyte.


1.   L. Casson, "The Athenian Upper Class and New Comedy" TAPA 106 (1976), 26-59.
2.   For example: A. Aloni's argument ("Il ruolo dello schiavo come personaggio nella commedia di Menandro", CRDAC 8 (1976-7) pp. 25-41) that trñfime dᄀspota indicate the relative age of the speaker to the addressee. E. Dickey makes a similar point (Greek Forms of Address, Oxford (1996), pp. 77 and 211), although Aloni is not in her bibliography. I have not seen this point commonly in Menander studies. Gomme and Sandbach take trñfimow as denoting the age of the addressee only [p. 320]. Among the studies that K-S confirms with her own data (and from a larger Menandrian corpus): F.W. Wright's conclusion that there are no class differences in the use of profanity in Menander (Studies in Menander, Diss., Princeton 1911, Baltimore 1911).

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