BMCR 2003.10.25

Geschlechter, Frauen, Fremde Ethnien in Antiker Ethnographie, Theorie und Realität

, , Geschlechter, Frauen, fremde Ethnien : in antiker Ethnographie, Theorie und Realität. Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2002. 564 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm. ISBN 3706515431 EUR 56.00.

“Geschlechter, Frauen, Fremde Ethnien” is the second volume of a forthcoming tetralogy publishing the results of a research group based in Innsbruck (Austria) since 1997. The book has, according to the introduction by the editors Ulf and Rollinger (15-31), basically two aims: to find out from which perspectives ancient authors operate, and what their respective agenda contains. Their working hypothesis — in short: author intention shapes text structure, therefore texts need to be read with the context of the author in mind, insofar as we are aware of it — may not be new. Nevertheless, pointing it out explicitly and developing the problems involved in print certainly serves as a valuable reminder and may function as an eye-opener to unsuspecting members of the student population. One of the specific ends of this volume is to read texts concerning ethnicity in their context, by indicating ancient authors who projected ideas and conceptions of their own culture on people who lived outside of the oikumene, thus exposing their own cultural code. This theme recurs in many of the essays comprising the volume in an interesting variety of manifestations.

1. P. W. Haider, Zu Herodots ägyptischen Nachrichten: Die Historisierung des Neith-Mythos (58-78).

Haider evaluates Egyptian mythical traditions concerning the goddess Neith, thus constructing an image of the deity which dates back to at least the 26th dynasty and was still flourishing in Herodotos’ day. This image of Neith combines, according to H., character traits of female and of male Egyptian fertility-deities, resulting in a striking parallel to Nitokris, whom Herodotos (2, 100) features as the only Egyptian queen in a line of kings. Haider interprets the Nitokris-episode as a Greek version of the myth of Neith, with Herodotos transforming the goddess to mortal queen, in the process shaping myth into historical report. The essay includes four illustrations.

2. B. Mauritsch-Bein: Trinkverhalten bei Fremdvölkern aus der Sicht antiker Autoren — dargestellt am Beispiel der Perser, Thraker und Skythen (79-118).

Mauritsch-Bein proposes the view that drunkenness was in antiquity considered a phenomenon connected with the process of civilization, one that is bound to corrupt people. In respect to people foreign to the Greeks, this results in the ancient theory that the Lydians and Medes were subdued by the Persians because of their drinking habits. M.-B. proceed to analyse the characterization of alcohol-consumption in relation to gender, using the Skythians and the Thracians as examples. As the culmination of her study, she cites Antiphanes in order to prove that Greek women drank wine and that the assumptions about foreign people earlier presented are merely reflexes of the habits encountered by the Greek authors in their own environment.

3. U. Scharrer: Frauen und Geschlechterrollen in der Sicht der hellenistischen Stoa (119-172).

Scharrer analyses the image of female philosophers in the school of the Stoa, pointing out that virtue was not considered related to gender, but absolute. Nevertheless, S. rejects the theory of a kind of women’s liberation in the hellenistic era paralleling the asexual theorems of the Stoics, who had, apparently, little intention of letting action follow their words. This view is reinforced by the reminder that we do not know of any female philosopher at all. S. provides an extensive, up to date bibliography.

4. E. Kistler: Theopomp und die Etruskerinnen: Etruskische Liebes- und Rauschfestkultur in der Perspektive eines griechischen Geschichtsschreibers (173-238).

Kistler analyses the Etruscan representations of couples reclining on klinai, stating that we are not confronting husband and wife, but a man and an unmarried woman. These images are, according to K., to be considered in the context of Dionysiacs and symposia, comparable to the Greek representations of hetairai and citizens, and of maenads and satyrs. Theopompos, so K., may actually have been familiar with ancient customs of Etruria but generalises. Thus he presents a partially false image of promiscuity, construing Etruria as antithesis to Plato’s Utopia. K.’s essay contains 18 illustrations and a concise bibliography.

5. N. Ehrhardt: Teuta. Eine “barbarische” Königin bei Polybios und in der späteren Überlieferung (239-250).

Ehrhardt focuses on Polybios’ representation of Teuta, queen of the Illyrians, both as rational politician and as barbarian lacking self control. In the later literary tradition, the aspect of the sober stateswoman vanishes, leaving us with a commonplace representation of Teuta as an emotional and fickle female on the one side and cruel barbarian on the other.

6. K. Ruffing: Einige Überlegungen zum Bild der indischen Frau in der antiken Literatur (253-268)

Ruffing opens his discussion of the literary representation of Indian women in antiquity with a reminder of its modern day equivalent — Jules Verne. R. points out the educating and entertaining functions of ancient ethnography: the recounting of strange and wondrous customs of foreign parts and people, juxtaposed with the author’s actual environment. R. uses ancient Indian sources, e.g. the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, in order to demonstrate some grains of truth contained even in the wildest stories circulating about India. He points out how these stories were utilised by Greek and Roman authors in order to project specific intentions.

7. S. Schmal: Geliebte oder Hinterhof? Anmerkungen zum republikanischen und augusteischen Afrikabild (269-311).

Schmal analyses the image of Africa from the Roman point of view, stating that the relatively differentiated knowledge of Africa to be encountered in Greek sources had little impact on the Roman perception of the continent. According to S., the Romans simply transferred topoi concerning the people inhabiting Asia — such as subservience and cruelty – to the Africans, observing them through the lense of assumed Roman superiority. The exception to this rule, so S., was Carthage, an opponent considered powerful and fairly civilised.

8. P. Mauritsch: Das Frauenbild als Teil der Geschlechterrollen-Konzeption bei Polybios (315-330).

Mauritsch analyses Polybios’ conception of female thinking and modes of behaviour, differentiating six categories: war, cohabitation of men and women, sexual insatiability, the “nature” of women, cruel women and foreign people. As a result to be cross-referenced with Polybios’ conception of the male of the species, M. diagnoses a theme of misogyny and plentiful use of negative stereotypes on the one hand, juxtaposed with the appreciation of individual women of exceptional character who do not fit the said pattern.

9. S. Comploi: Frauendarstellungen bei Fremdvölkern in den “Historiae Philippicae” des Pompeius Trogus/Justin (331-359).

Comploi analyses three passages of the Historiae Philippicae, treating the Skythians and the Parthians, Semiramis and the Assyrians, Elissa and the Phoenicians. She offers statistical data in order to demonstrate that women show up as personalities active in the political life of their surroundings only in distant and foreign parts, whereas they are conspicuously absent in the description of events closer to home. According to C., the treatment of women in general has a noted negative tendency, thus explaining the literary banishment of politically active women to far away regions.

10. B. Truschnegg: Das Frauenbild in der Exempla -Literatur am Beispiel des Valerius Maximus (360-397).

After a brief introduction to the works of Valerius Maximus, Truschnegg proceeds to analyse the author’s references to women quantitatively. The resulting evidence for the fact that women are a minority group is not very surprising, nevertheless it is interesting to have it in figures. Further, as opposed to authors like Trogus/Justin, Valerius Maximus actually features positive examples of active women in, relatively speaking, contemporary Rome. T. considers it possible to abstract the author’s ideas of positive and negative role models of both men and women.

11.M. Korenjak: Ekklesiazusen? Chariton und andere kaiserzeitliche Autoren über Frauen in der Volksversammlung (398-416).

Korenjak looks at texts featuring women in a public context, with the focus on Chariton. According to K., the presence of women in the ekklesia is depicted as out of the ordinary. Chariton differs in so far as he is familiar with the benefactresses of his native Asia Minor, thus to some degree accustomed to women taking an active part in public life. According to K., the presence of women in ekklesiai was a rare occurrence, but possible under certain circumstances.

12. M. H. Dettenhofer: Frauenbilder in Plutarchs Schrift Mulierum virtutes im Verhältnis zum traditionellen Frauenbild der Griechen (417-435).

Dettenhofer presents exempla of female virtue according to the Mulierum virtutes of Plutarch, separated into two sections, one treating the activity of groups and the other that of individuals. She points out that the author does not differentiate between myth and history. Women are considered as normally confined to the oikos, only making public appearances in desperate situations. If they save the day, they receive praise accordingly, and return to their station. D. perceives this as deviation from what she considers the traditional code of behaviour of Greek women.

13. L.-M. Günther: Geschlechterrollen im Werk des Flavius Arrianus (436-450).

The appearance of women in the works of Flavius Arrianus is rare indeed, limiting the value of the author as a source of information for the topic of this book, as Günther herself points out (436). According to G., this is due to the subject of the author: women simply have no place in military campaigns. If they do show up, they are confined to the roles of sex object or of a means of reproduction. Another reason for the marginal place of the female gender is, so G., a simple lack of interest on the part of the Flavius Arrianus.

14. W. Petermandl: Fremde Frauen bei Heliodor. Vorstellungen der späten Antike (451-463).

Petermandl analyses the Aithiopika of Heliodoros, a love story pretending to be a historical account, concentrating on three individuals: The old Egyptian woman, Arsake, sister of the Persian Great King, and Persinna, queen of Aithiopia. P. states that all three characterizations follow well worn stereotypes, presenting the reader with exactly the kind of woman and behaviour he was expecting. Nevertheless, in Heliodoros women are alloted the same importance as men. They are subordinate to men, but can be their equals in intellect.

15. M. Frass: Körperpflege als Ausdrucksmittel für Geschlechterrollen (467-484).

Frass looks at ancient descriptions of hygiene and conceptions of beautifying the body which she differentiates into male and female personal hygiene. Sets of character traits are associated with certain behaviours: women putting on make-up can be considered false, men using make-up can be characterized as unmanly and weak.

16. K. Brodersen: Frauen und Männer auf griechischen Fluchtafeln (485-494).

Brodersen focuses on oath-tablets in order to access ancient thought and behaviour, reminding the reader of the sorry state of research in respect to the frequently unpublished tablets. In the case of oaths directed against competitors in business or in lawsuits gender is not apparent. However, there are a number of tablets concerning love affairs and marriage. These tell us that both women and men utilise oath-tablets in order to make sure that a desired person falls in love with them, or, at the very least, never marries someone else.

17. R. Bichler: Zur Rolle der Frau im Frühchristentum (495-514).

Bichler’s essay, first published in 1991, treats the role of women within early Christianity. Expecting the end of the world, early Christians allowed women an unusual amount of liberty. According to B., they could, for example, take an active part in christianizing pagans. When it turned out that the world was not about to end just then, traditional role models reasserted themselves, forcing women back into subordinate positions.

18. S. M. E. Fick: Heliodors Heldin Chariklea und die Vorstellungswelt der Priesterdynastie von Emesa (515-524).

In her essay Fick deals with Chariklea, heroine of the novel Aithiopika of Heliodoros, who is being guided by an almighty deity. This god has been identified as Elagabalus, divine patron of Emesa, a syncretism of Apollo and Helios. In the context of the empresses Julia Domna, Julia Maesa, Julia Mammaea and Julia Soaemias, who identified themselves with the goddesses Selene and Isis, F. considers Chariklea a heroization and idealization of the priestesses of Elagabalus.

While some contributors deal with different aspects of the same theme, such as Ehrhardt and Mauritsch in respect to Polybios, and Petermandl and Fick considering the Aithiopika of Heliodoros, the essays combined in this volume are nevertheless self-contained, each providing endnotes and a bibliography. The introduction (24-30) contains a short and welcome survey of the contents of the individual essays according to themes. Indices of personal names as well as place names, and an ample index locorum are included at the end of the book.

Misspellings are few and far between. The absence of headings is rather to be lamented, as they would have afforded easier access to the volume.

The quality of the essays and their relevance to the topic concerned varies greatly. Nevertheless, the broad spectrum of sources employed to approach the subject, very much a focal point of recent research, grant a diverting and often innovative read.