I had an uneasy feeling taking on the reviewing of this book that I might be in a similar position to that of Euripides’ in-law who infiltrated the women’s Thesmophoria and, disguised as a woman, made a fool of himself. And, indeed, having read through the book with considerable interest, I still have doubts whether any comments I might make will be even considered relevant by the intended audience, or the author, of this book. Although I personally consider myself the least ‘patriarchal’ of men (perhaps I am wrong in this self-perception) I nevertheless felt prompted on many occasions while reading this book to rush to the defence of Greek, particularly Athenian, men with a ‘wait a moment. What about …? Don’t forget …’ For there is no doubt that Barbara Goff is championing the cause of Greek women in this book. She wishes to restore to them a portion of their rightful place in the history of Greek society by concentrating on an area, religious ritual, where women were prominent, active and important. And this project is connected in her mind with the feminist goal of righting injustices and inequalities in the modern world (p. 20 ‘It is my view that no one can afford to be post-feminist until the historical conditions that generated feminism have been eradicated, and women are no longer disproportionately subject to poverty, illiteracy, and violence. By the same token I do not think that the work of recovery of historical women’s experiences is irrelevant until what we know about women is commensurable with what we know about men’). If the project is to learn more about women’s activities in ritual, well and good; if this quest is made too subordinate to the feminist goal of ‘getting even’ in print with men who lived over two thousand years ago, I have my doubts.
Since ‘discourse’ is the thing, some preliminary words on G’s discourse may be permitted. Although this is a book on ancient Greek culture, it contains no Greek text at all; a few single words and phrases are transliterated into Roman letters, but inadequately, as no long vowels are indicated, which makes words like aischron or hos ambiguous; I defy anyone to understand a transliteration such as en te andron agora at first glance (187). Nor is there an index locorum, which is a pity, as G. covers a great deal of ground in her source material, ranging widely in time and place. There is, inevitably, a concentration on Athens and Attica, but in chapters 1 and 2, for example, she also includes much non-Attic evidence. I was not quite sure what time limitations she was placing on her evidence. In n. 182 on p. 282 she says she will omit Isis as she entered Greek religion in the Hellenistic period; on the other hand she admits much other post-classical evidence (Pausanias, Plutarch, and inscriptions) without the guarantee that it also held true for the classical period. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of her knowledge of these sources but at the same time I regretted that she presents the material in such a pre-digested way — in translation, paraphrase or summary (without, as I said, including any texts) — that neither can one get to grips with the primary evidence oneself, nor can one see G. at work on the texts. There are exceptions to this, for example, when she discusses poetry by women poets in chapter 4, and I found these sections particularly rewarding. At some points I felt that the desire to construct theory out of disparate evidence led to a certain disregard of detail and nuance in the original texts. Examples can be found in my list of minutiae at the end. Too often, I felt, one was presented with pointers toward source material, then to be confronted immediately with a range of modern theorizing on them. The intermediate step of analysing these sources is largely omitted. The result of this is that anyone wishing to study, say, the Thesmophoria festival will learn more about modern interpretations, together with G’s own subtle but abstract theories, than what the Greeks themselves did or said. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that G. considers aspects of the important festivals in separate chapters, so that one has to piece her remarks together to get a composite picture (this process is helped by a good subject index). Here again, however, I would praise G’s knowledge of modern writing (in English; reference to authorities outside the Anglo-American circle is exceedingly sparse) and her supremely tactful way of building on others’ ideas, or gently modifying them. To sum up, the book is aimed more at those interested in the theory of ancient society and in particular the history of gender ideology than in the Greek sources themselves, whether literary, epigraphic or iconographic.
The book is arranged, after the introduction, in five long chapters (acts?). The first aims to outline the areas in which women were active in ritual; the second examines the role of ritual in women’s sexuality; the third examines the links between the rituals already discussed and the institutions of the polis; the fourth looks at areas of cultural production — poetry and pottery — either by women or specifically intended for their use. The fifth treats women’s ritual in drama.
Throughout the book it is G.’s aim to draw general conclusions about the function of women’s rituals in ancient Greece. It is very difficult to argue with her main point, which is restated frequently: ritual is the main area in which women in ancient Greece acted in public. This autonomy, however, is matched by their lack of say in the political process. Thus, gatherings of women represented an anomaly in the polis. Their scope had to be controlled, and the rites themselves had to remind women of their proper place in the oikos. Thus autonomy in the field of ritual is compensated by the practices and beliefs cultivated in these rituals, which tend to prepare women for willing acceptance of their constrained existence in a patriarchal society. Ritual rewards women with occasions to ‘go out and play’ as it were; but this pleasure is tinged by threats (in myth) of the consequences should they overstep the mark. Thus ritual both ’empowers’ women and reconciles them to the constraints of their everyday life. Her model for ritual is, throughout, functional; i.e. ritual serves a useful (if dialectical) function in the society concerned; rites help participants ‘negotiate’ (a favourite word) imbalances in their day-to-day lives. But structuralism ‘imbricates’ (another favourite word of hers which I had to look up) her discourse as well; the categories of analysis are abstracted from sources in the binary manner typical of structuralism (inside/out; overemphasis/underemphasis of x; male/female; Athenian/non-Athenian; Greek/non-Greek and so on). Now for the individual chapters.
In the introduction G. outlines her project. Her aim is to examine women’s involvement in ritual in ancient Greece in order to learn more about the normally silent and unremembered population of women. For, as she says, ritual, whether domestic or public, was an area in which ancient Greek women were prominent and important. She defines ritual (15) as those repeated or traditional actions that ‘construct for them a relation to the divine’. This leaves out secular rituals such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, but, as G. goes on to point out, women’s religious ritual was often connected with their domestic work. It includes, however, burial rites, which is questionable as these have little to do with divinity in ancient Greece. In particular G. is interested in the question of the function of ritual in women’s lives. Was it an area which enabled them to leave their everyday status behind in order to take on, for a brief time, an identity and ‘agency’ diametrically opposed to the norm? Or was it an area which only served to impress on women their subservient place in Greek society through other means?
A major thesis of G. is that the relationship of women’s ritual to Greek society at large was ‘dialectical’; to an extent it did offer women a privileged arena in which they could achieve a measure of autonomy or even dissidence from the patriarchal men’s world; but, equally, the roles women played in ritual also taught them their identity in society. The ritual actions required of them tended to relate to their prominence in the domestic sphere, their responsibility for tending the body (cooking, washing a corpse, helping with a delivery), and thus to confirm women’s segregated status with regard to the male world. On p. 14 she writes: ‘Even while ritual may confirm the constraints on women’s lives, then, it may also offer the most likely arena for the development of a dissident stance.’ In particular she declares her intention to explore the dialectic between the ideology typical of a patriarchal society (confinement of women to a subordinate place in society) and the agency (= activity) of women in such areas of ritual which ideology permits them. In a revealing metaphor — as it designates illness or malignancy — G. writes that ‘women’s agency is part of gender ideology, not in its interstices like bacteria between healthy cells, but like a virus that itself occupies the cell’ (p.11). Apart from literary and archaeological sources from ancient Greece (inevitably with a preponderance in Athens) G. says that she will draw on comparative material from pre-industrial societies and insights derived from the study of ‘sub-cultures’ in modern industrial societies.
After the introduction the first chapter aims at ‘working toward a material presence’ (sc. of women). G. sketches first the role of women in the principal ‘crises of the oikos’ of birth, marriage and death. Without much differentiation between these events, which carry diametrically opposite significance for the people involved, G. shows that women played a conspicuous part in assisting childbirth, at weddings, and especially at funerals. She argues that women had a particular association with the polluting aspects of the human body (childbirth and death) which the men were happy not to share; this close association of women with the ‘dark’ (p.35) processes of the body (emergence from dark at birth, departure into dark at death) gave them ‘uncanny’ status in the eyes of men and a propensity for contact with the ‘uncanny’ spirit world which was exploited in certain religious contexts; on p.35 she writes ‘The tasks assigned to women, care of the dead and of those giving birth, are ”polluting” both in the sense of a perilous transitional experience and in the sense of bodily disorder’. Whilst participation in rites associated with birth, marriage and death brought women out of the oikos to ‘presence’ and ‘agency’ in the community, their actions in public are still ‘elaborately circumscribed’ (35) to distinguish them from valued ‘masculine practices of war, politics, law and commerce’ (34-35). Put simply, women do the dirty work for men with regard to the bodily processes life involves; they tend the body whilst men cultivate the mind (my formulation); G.: ‘Such a connection between female identity and the materiality of bodily processes is often mobilized by patriarchal ideology to disqualify women from fuller participation in public discourses other than ritual.’ True, women are prominent in such important roles as mourning the dead but this prominence ‘not only recognizes their presence, agency, and cultural value but also rehearses the justifications for their marginal status’ (35).
Then G. considers the main Athenian festivals at which women played a prominent part; she offers a general survey without going into detail about the sources or their interpretation. G.’s aim is to paint the broad picture in order to sustain her main argument: that women did indeed enjoy a measure of autonomy and agency in the area of public ritual, but that that ritual was also a rehearsal for their allotted role in the oikos. Thus ritual groups of girls such as the Arrhephoroi, Ergastinai, Aletrides, Hydrophoroi all had ritual roles corresponding to their intended roles as women in the oikos: weaving, baking, carrying water, gardening (sc. Adonia) and so on. On p.59 G. draws together the threads of her argument that ritual stands in dialectical relationship to women’s domestic role. Ritual on the one hand represents a ‘real alternative to and respite from the daily routine of toil’ and can represent a ‘reward’ for good work at home, but it also ‘models women’s domestic tasks’ by transferring practical chores to the ritual, ideal level. Ritual offered women an escape from the confines of their homes, but escape of limited scope and clearly defined boundaries. In considering women’s role at the central rite of sacrifice G. goes further in her analysis of the subordinate status of women. Whilst the men conduct the ceremony, the women issue an inarticulate ololyge: ‘in a culture which fetishized discourse as much as did the Greek, women’s sublinguistic performance in sacrifice seems to enact and explain their status as only partial members of the human community’ (42). Similarly pessimistic is G.’s suggestion regarding the Adonia, when women place miniature gardens on rooftops, only to let them shrivel in the midsummer heat; the failure of the women’s ritual work in this instance is an inversion of the usual message: the necessity of effective household work: ‘its (sc. the Adonia) events induce women to act out and thus confirm their inadequacies, for an audience that implicitly comprises both themselves and their male-dominated polity’ (59).
Chapter one concludes with sections on priestesses and the independent economic ‘agency’ of women, whether as priestesses or private citizens. She presents a useful survey of inscriptional and textual evidence for women’s financial dealings, emphasizing the freedom women enjoyed with regard to votive offerings to gods. Here she concludes that women could dispose of household resources in a ritual sphere to express themselves. In the case of the neo-Pythagorean Phyntis who advocates modesty and restraint from women in their dedications, G. suggests that some women may have dedicated particularly lavishly ‘as a form of resistance to their subjected lives in spending money on their own projects’ (74). The material she assembles shows that women did indeed conduct financial transactions, especially as priestesses, when they were responsible for the management of cults, but that ‘women’s economic activity in the ritual sphere was thoroughly imbricated with that of men, who appear as voluntary donors, as ultimate arbiters of expenditure, and as participants in a competitive culture who could use women’s ritual activity as an occasion for their own display’ (76). I was surprised that G. nowhere systematically considers the role-models of goddesses (and gods) on whom women’s cult typically focussed: Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Meter, Hekate, for example.
Chapter two, ‘Ritual management of desire’, begins with a presentation of what G. sees as a basic ‘contradiction’ facing Greek women: on the one hand their one legitimate role in society as child-bearing wives, beginning usually at a tender age, making them ‘child-brides’; on the other, the (male) perception of women’s unbridled desire and mental weakness in withstanding it, leading to socially disastrous adultery. She takes the viewpoint that from the point of view of men in a patriarchal society, desire in women is likely to be a socially destabilizing force, one which has to be repressed. Whilst various discourses contribute to the socialization of women as repressed sexual beings — medical, figurative, legal — she pursues in this chapter the role of religion and ritual. Opening remarks, somewhat repetitive of the introduction, consider possible models for the interpretation of women’s rituals addressing her sexuality and fertility (a word shunned by G.). Rituals might be an ‘inversion’ of reality, offering temporary release from normality; or they might reinforce the ideology of subjugation; or they might ‘mediate’ the perceived contradiction in a Lévi-Straussian manner. G. rejects the last possibility at the outset as she points out that the mediation recognized by Lévi-Strauss in myths applies to the perceptions of society as a whole, whilst women constitute one side of the contradiction in Greece; men do not need rituals to mediate the tension between male and female gender identities.
Her discussion of rituals in this context is divided between rituals for girls, parthenoi, and married women. G. first considers girls’ choruses performed in public at religious events. Apart from the educational function of such choruses — the girls learned the community myths and traditions for their performances — G. concentrates on the aspect of ‘spectacle’; here girls were put on public show for men’s gaze. The chorus was a parading ground where men could eye the girls available for marriage. G. focuses on the term ‘male gaze’, arguing that in the chorus, girls were exposed to the gaze of males, and had to learn to cope with their role as objects of desire. Alcman’s Partheneion, which names a number of individual girls, and voices the praises of Hegesichora and Agido in particular, is said to focus on the beauty of these two as they are shortly to leave the chorus for marriage. On this view, the partheneion is a kind of ‘graduation ceremony’ performed by girls for their peers who are about to leave them. But this view involves a difficulty: if the chorus is ‘Brautschau’, then it cannot simultaneously be ‘graduation ceremony’; if Hagesichora and Agido are singled out for their beauty by way of advertising their charms, then they cannot already be engaged to marry. G. interprets the praise of girls by girls in this context as a sign that they have ‘internalized’ the male gaze; they are seeing themselves through the eyes of men. Their admiration for each other is thus not homoerotic. The poet providing the ‘script’ is also a man (in this case). Immediately the question of Sapphic poetry is raised; should we regard her blatant homoeroticism, then, as ‘internalized’ heterosexuality? No, says G., the answer lies in the ‘loose fit’ in Greek culture between gender identity and sexual practice (95); in other words, girls and women enjoying each other are practising for marriage; experience in bodily pleasure will ‘equip young women to operate within marriage with greater confidence’ (94). For G., participation in the chorus introduced girls to the ‘double discourse of both pleasure and fear’ (91); fear because marriage involved separation from home, undergoing painful bodily processes; pleasure because this was the honourable role for women. The chorus was an instance of the ‘massive ideological effort that will teach the chorus members the management of desire in the subordination of their own projects to those of others’ (97). I wonder how many Greek women would have understood that proposition. G.’s account of the Arrhephoria points to the ritualization of work (weaving Athena’s peplos) and the sexual symbolism of the nocturnal exploit of the Arrhephoroi as related by Pausanias. She argues that the combination of the Kekropides myth and the ritual points to sexual curiosity and its disciplining in the Arrhephoroi; they want to peek in the basket (at a snake?) but are shocked by what they see. Repeatedly G. emphasizes that a Greek woman’s sexuality was recognized but constrained by ritual.
Her account of the Arkteia is fuller. I found myself wondering at the outset what age-range G. assumes for the Arktoi; she mentions Sourvinou-Inwood (who argues for a girlish age of 7-11 at the oldest) but does not commit herself; in note 96 on p. 113 she assigns the Arkteia to the ‘period of adolescent transition’, but that is precisely what Sourvinou-Inwood denies. G. recognizes an aspect of ‘wild nature’ in the Arkteia, which she analyses through accounts of the ritual, the krateriskoi vases, and through the myths transmitted from Brauron, Munichia and associated with Iphigeneia and Kallisto. In sum she thinks the Arkteia encouraged the girl participants to realize their budding sexuality; their nudity or near-nudity in the run-dance featured on the krateriskoi made them aware of their bodies, as did the wearing (shedding?) of the krokotos, a garment associated with the sex-appeal of the married woman, according to G. But this awakening of sexuality was balanced by the myths of punishment of women having, or about to have, sex (Kallisto, Iphigeneia); moreover, the bear was a figure which aroused fear. It frightens girls away on one vase; and the fact that the clothes of women who died in childbirth were devoted to Artemis Tauropolos at Brauron was also a dire warning of the perils ahead. So G. sees in this ritual complex another expression of the ‘constraints on women’s sexuality’. Her language here strains my credulity: ‘These (sc. the ‘bears’) must be positioned to internalize an objectification, a version of selfhood deployed for the benefit of others rather than of the self… The young Greek girl who identified successfully with the ritual’s twofold erotic and punitive aspects would be well positioned to perform as wife and mother’ (113). This bleak assessment of the subjugation of a Greek girl’s personality to male ideology does not square at all well with the tone of the women’s chorus in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata where they boast of their performance as Arrhephoroi and Arktoi; but that is part of G’s argument. The rituals Greek girls and women participated in made them welcome the role of submissiveness and sophrosune which these rituals prepared them for.
In an introduction to rites for mature women (gunaikes) G. suggests that the annual sequence of women’s festivals in Athens (Thesmophoria, Adonia, Haloa, Skira and Stenia) offer women ‘various ritual positions on the spectrum from chastity to licence’ (123), thus teaching them to ‘manage desire’ (their own and men’s). In considering the Thesmophoria G. rejects an interpretation which focuses solely on the link between women and fertility (human and vegetable); she accepts this aspect but adds others. Women exclude men from the Thesmophoria but meet to talk about women’s affairs: reproduction, sex. Their withdrawal from men’s company does not amount to rebellion, but rather a renewal of energy as preparation for resumed duties after the festival. Their aischrologia amounts to ‘speaking the body’ (131). As their ololyge at sacrifice reduces their speech to an inarticulate wail, so their ‘dirty talk’ at the Thesmophoria ‘threatens to equate their speech with their genitalia’ (cf. the Baubo narrative). But this speech may extend to useful discussion of women’s bodily functions, thus allowing exchange of knowledge between women. The chastity practised by women at the Thesmophoria is an acting out of the ‘chaste wife oxymoron’ (127) which requires the wife to be simultaneously fertile and chaste. At the same time it indicates a return to pre-marital status. The women are reminded of their service in girls’ choroi. Of particular interest is G.’s suggestion that the Demeter-Kore myth may be read in conjunction with the Thesmophoria to represent the symbolic reunion of mother and daughter in one and the same individual; a mother at the Thesmophoria may ‘meet’ her earlier self as a virginal daughter thus finding ‘a way to understand [her] own development, as well as a way to recuperate the losses inflicted on [her] by patriarchal arrangements’. This reading of the myth/ritual, whilst not excluding real reunions of mothers and daughters at the festival, supports G.’s basic view that women’s rituals worked on women’s subjectivity (how they felt about themselves) to equip them for married life.
Her third chapter ‘In and out of the city’ concerns the intersections between women’s rituals and the political processes of the city (chiefly Athens). Here, the point is to show how, although women were excluded from political institutions, in fact the organization of their public ‘presence’ was modelled to some degree on men’s political organizations; hence there was a degree of parallel between men’s and women’s institutions. G. advocates a concept of ‘citizenship’ wider than full legal and political citizen-rights (restricted to men in Athens). She uses the term ‘latent citizens’ to describe women’s position; the latency lay both in their ability to produce full (male) citizens and in their own agency in the ritual field in a latent (we might say ‘quasi-‘) political sense. First she comments on several conspicuous incidents in our sources which show how individual women did make their influence felt in the political arena (e.g. Theano’s refusal to curse Alkibiades; the priestess of Athena Polias’ confirmation of Themistokles’ advice to abandon the Acropolis in the face of the Persian invasion and take to the ships). Then she runs through the evidence, from Athens and abroad, which show how the selection of women for priestly office was influenced by the political institutions of the city concerned. She finds particular significance in the decision, in the mid-fifth c., to choose the priestess of Athena Nike ‘from all the Athenians’; although details of the text are questionable, G. maintains that ‘The salient feature of this selection process seems to be that it is arranged with an unprecedented extension of democratic practice to women’ (184).
Next, considering the ways in which women were honoured by their communities she finds a preponderance of honours for women who have held priestly office, or who are honoured by priestly office for their exemplary conduct. She discusses the interesting case of the Sixteen Women of Elis who played an important role in uniting the original sixteen townships of Elis. One might have mentioned the Boeotian Daidala festival to illustrate the ability of women (puppets in the Daidala) to consolidate communities. Then G. concentrates on the theme of ‘unlikely saviours’, virgins (sometimes children) who despite their powerlessness normally save the state in danger through self-sacrifice or penance. The issue for G. here is the contradiction between the apparent expendability of these girls (the state sees fit to sacrifice them) and their momentary centrality for the state’s welfare (‘salvific’ is the word she uses on p. 195). I always assumed that the sacrifice of prominent girls in these cases (Iphigeneia, daughters of Leos et al.) proved the magnitude of the loss in each case, not the expendability of the individual; G. records in n. 97 on p. 195 that E. Stehle says ‘the notion of ”virgin sacrifice” may also construct the virgin daughter as the city’s ”best thing”, its most precious possession’.
Finally G. considers festival communities of women (Thesmophoria, Arkteia, Adonia and Bacchic thiasoi) to consider how far these constitute alternative, or parallel, ‘cities of women’. She notes the geographic spacing of cites — Brauron, for example, on the coast of Attica — and suggests that the movements of women to these sites marked the terrain of Attica. The Thesmophoria in particular, she finds, ‘nested’ as it is between important men’s festivals and interrupting as it does the city’s business on one day, constitutes some kind of ‘anticity’ (211). The situation of the Adonia (on the rooftops) may also constitute a level apart from which women adopt critical distance to the polis (213). Bacchic oreibasia gets, I find, rather peremptory mention. Indeed G. fights shy of full consideration of Bacchae, who, I would have thought (particularly from the title) would feature large. In n. 142 on p. 214 G. says of any attempt to get to grips fully with the Bacchae ‘that way madness lies’. On p. 215 we encounter the book’s title, politides bakchai, found in a Hellenistic epitaph from Miletos for a priestess of Dionysos. I was surprised then to read on p. 217 that the Thesmophoria ‘makes women’s ”citizenship” most visible… the Bacchic festivals least of all’ (217). Does not politides bakchai tell against this? The chapter closes with an interesting section on the Pythia, who, G. argues, was capable of giving oracles in a rational manner without interpretation by male Hosioi; she must have received a thorough training in Delphic lore both by fellow Pythiai, male priests and Hosioi, before taking up office. The myth of the origin of the Pythia (Diodoros Sic. 16.26) is seen to reveal the familiar ‘equivocal’ treatment of woman: ‘Qualified by her gender, her precarious position in the city and her uncomfortable affinity with the unknown divine to mediate the risk for her community, the Pythia is promoted to a role that exploits her, with the ambivalence characteristic of the ritual sphere’ (225).
Chapter 4 ‘Representing women’ concentrates on media in which women expressed themselves (poetry) or were depicted (vase-painting, including a section on maenadism). G. focuses on the concepts of ‘women’s culture’ and ‘sub-culture’ to investigate how much these sources reveal of women’s culture in ancient Greece, that is, a sub-culture existing in its own right in contradistinction, and perhaps in opposition, to the dominant male culture. She has good remarks about Sappho’s poetry, concentrating on mentions of ritual and ritual forms in her poetry. In particular a reading of the two major fragments of ‘cletic invocation’ to Aphrodite shows how Sappho uses ‘ritual figures’ (i.e. religious invocation of the goddess) to give authority to her poetry. Fr. 2 for example, does not so much describe an actual meeting at a temple of Aphrodite, as it employs the figure of such a gathering of women to achieve its own poetic goal. I was also intrigued by her remarks on Nossis’ epigrams, new to me. They describe dedicatory plaques (real or fictional) portraying women. Equally stimulating is G’s treatment of some aspects of vase scenes showing women. She recognizes in fifth-century Athenian vase-painting a ‘fixation on the feminine’ as motif, and seriously considers the proposition that depictions of women, particularly on women’s vases such as the pelike or lekythos, may reflect women’s preferred images of themselves, rather than male wishful thinking (260). Although women probably did not buy the pots, they were the main users of some (if not most) of them, so the male potters may have respected their wishes for their decoration. Considering images of women with mirrors she returns to her theme of the ‘internalized male gaze’; here, though, she holds that the woman looking at an image of a woman looking at herself in a mirror would identify with the woman on the vase. The remarks here illustrate G’s subtle and fertile analytic imagination, which nevertheless leads into a hall of mirrors. The thrust of the whole section is to see in vase-painting a reflection of ‘women’s culture’ rather than ‘traditional gender ideology’ (260). Scenes of mourning (prothesis rather than ekphora) continue to show women in prominent roles throughout the classical period despite restrictive legislation on women mourners and state funerals for the war dead from 480 BC, both moves which curtailed women’s involvement in mourning. Considering the case of maenads or bacchants in vase painting G. steers a middle course between skeptics who doubt whether there were ever any real human maenads (as depicted in the Bacchae), and those who think Euripides was depicting a real phenomenon. In particular she contests the view that seeks to eliminate heightened psychic states (Bacchic ecstasy, or madness) from ritual. In scenes of satyrs accosting maenads she thinks, correctly in my view, that the male beholder ‘is presented with a caricature of his own reaction to the gift of Dionysos — drunkenness and lust’ whereas the maenad reflects a woman worshipper’s Dionysiac ‘transport’ (‘whose intoxication is of quite another order’ p. 270). G.’s discussion of maenadism at the close of this chapter illustrates what I found frustrating in her approach. On the one hand she refuses to comment on Euripides’ Bakchai (n. 142 on p. 214) but on the other this text nevertheless provides the starting point for her discussion of maenadism. She says that the historical validity of maenadism has been doubted, but she fails to justify her position (midway between skeptics and believers) by presenting the ancient evidence (here Hellenistic evidence does some duty). She includes an interesting discussion of what others have concluded about women’s possession and cultic trance in other cultures but leaves it open how far these conclusions are applicable to ancient Greece. To my mind, she makes the mistake of equating the ‘possession’ of the Pythia with maenadism (280-82); surely these were very different phenomena. Whilst I can believe her contention that women have to train for, and be versed in the techniques of, possession to benefit from it, I sensed a contradiction between her view that maenadism may have been a privilege of well-situated Greek women (273) and that possession as a phenomenon relates to the underprivileged position of women in patriarchal societies (275). I had expected maenadism to be G.’s crown witness for women’s autonomy and aggression, but one is left with the feeling that the Bakchai may have been a figment of Euripides’ imagination.
The fifth and last chapter discusses the role and depiction of women’s ritual in Attic tragedy. She begins with a sketch of critical positions on the striking paradox that women feature strongly in tragedy but were secluded in real life; she seems to favour the view that tragedy treated the social tensions in fifth-century Athens and that tension between men and women in the emerging democracy — which excluded women from the political process — must have been a major one. She recognizes an historical development in the thematization of gender conflict by tragedy, claiming that the 420s and 410s of the century saw a change from conflict to a ‘model of cooperation… [which] is itself then replaced by renewed conflict in the difficult closing years of the century’ (295). Beginning with Aeschylus she examines Seven, Suppliants and the Oresteia and comes to the general conclusion that women’s autonomy in the ritual field, if taken to extremes against the interests of the polis, is a threat to the community’s welfare which must be controlled and redressed. Klytaimestra’s murder of Agamemnon is seen as the perversion of ritual kat’ exochen, a crime which is ‘righted’ in Eumenides by ‘building a new Athens’ with the Eumenides safely tamed and worshipped by the womenfolk of Attica. Interestingly she suggests that the ‘correction’ of previous excess by the Danaids in Suppliants may have been righted by the introduction of the Thesmophoria rite in the lost finale of the trilogy.
There follows something of a pot pourri of plays and theories, with a to-my-mind not very convincing section on the Thebes/Athens dichotomy in tragedy (I believe Zeitlin’s theory of Thebes as a kind of anti-city). G. seems to me more at home with Euripides than Aeschylus and Sophocles and I found two of her longer discussions, on Euripides’ Suppliant Women and Ion very stimulating. G. argues that the context of the Eleusinian Proerosia festival is anything but marginal to the former play; as background it gives complex symbolic support and resonance to the figure of Aithra in this play. One might question whether the Argive mothers’ desire to recover the bodies of their sons is not fundamentally different from Demeter’s desire to restore Kore to the light, but, still, I think her discussion opens up a new dimension to the play. Similarly her discussion of Ion in the light of the Arrhephoria is very good. Once again, I found G’s fertile critical imagination and skill in teasing out implications of literary texts more congenial than her aim elsewhere to draw sweeping ‘ideological’ conclusions from usually very disparate and fragmentary evidence. But the chapter is, perhaps, overambitious. One’s mind begins to spin with all the different nuances of gender conflict G. detects in women’s ritual and priestly activity in tragedy.
Her main preliminary conclusion, however, (p. 349) shows her working towards an historical reading of tragedy; the lack of such conflict in some Euripidean plays of the ‘teens’ of the fifth century she seems to relate to the historical situation in Athens (patriotism, Peace of Nikias), whereas in the later plays (Bakchai, IA, and Sophocles’ OC) ‘the drama begins to undo this comforting narrative and… for us, the last of Athenian tragedy seem to mark a complete reversal.’ She links this change to the aftermath of the ‘oligarchic coup in 411 and the sufferings of the last years of the war’. For a writer given to such complexity and subtlety of interpretation, this position seems to posit a direct equation between the ‘mood’ in Athens in a given period and the tragedian’s response to it — hardly a likely thesis, in my opinion, particularly in the case of Euripides. These ‘three last plays’ are interpreted in the light of conflict between women’s ritual and the polis; Bakchai is, of course, found to represent utter breakdown between women’s rites and the community; in IA ‘the central character’s sacrifice represents an equivocal attempt to restore the community to health, and in the OC the city attains a measure of success at the price of women’s pain’ (sc. Oedipus’ daughters, who cannot bury him and return to their fates in Thebes). I liked her remarks on IA regarding illusionary alternatives to the Trojan War which the play postulates at various points. The comment that the transmitted ending — ambiguous as it is — ought to be Euripidean, as it leaves it up to the spectator/reader to decide Iphigeneia’s fate (like modern ‘interactive’ fiction), is apposite. In passing I might mention that ‘irony’ is not in G.’s critical toolbox. I would take Iphigeneia’s reference to herself as heleptolin, picking up an Aeschylean pun (Helen is there heleptolis), as ironical (p. 355): Iphigeneia says, ironically, that she is now ‘city-taking’ by her sacrifice, which reminds the alert listener that Helen, who makes this sacrifice now necessary, was called Helen-city-taker. This makes the sacrifice more poignant, in my opinion, whereas G. says ‘In order successfully to manoeuver herself into the sacrificial victim’s position, the pure virgin who makes the expedition possible has to identify with the adulteress who makes it necessary’. Again, note the functional tendency.
As coda, G. casts on eye on the three ‘women’s comedies’ of Aristophanes. Here she finds the message, despite the apparently radical plots — forms of gynaecocracy — basically conservative, as the plays end with a restoration of the status quo or demonstration that the women could not do better than the men after all (Eccl.). But the treatments here are rather summary; one wonders whether G. should not devote her next book to them. On the other hand she ends on the scathing note that she hopes her book, if nothing else, has shown that ‘women’s ritual practice in ancient Greece dramatized for historical women a far richer array of concerns, and proffered a much more engrossing range of subject positions, than the men in the theater could imagine’ (370). A humourless conclusion, indeed, although I did detect two glimmers of humour in the course of the book: on p. 344 where she says of the letter in Eur. IT which permits Orestes to recognize Iphigeneia that it was ‘dictated by her (sc. Iphigeneia) to a friendly Greek who was then sacrificed, leaving the letter, like herself, in need of transportation to Greece’; and on p. 329 she quotes from Housman’s Fragment of a Greek tragedy to good effect.
Minor points and errata:
38 and 39 middle: third day of Anthesteria was Chytrai, not Chytroi nor Chytriai.
43 middle: ‘biannual’ ?
44 middle: Raubitschek and Jeffery, not ‘Raubischek and Jeffrey’.
46 middle: ‘no a fortiori reason’; surely ‘no a priori reason’.
58 n. 102: ‘Adonis kepon’ should be ‘Adonidos kepon.
93 bottom: ‘presumably female’: certainly female by the forms.
107 top (again on p. 112): Iphigeneia was priestess of Artemis at Tauri, not Brauron; her grave was shown at Brauron.
110 top: ‘attack women’.
111 middle: katachousa, not katechousa.
134 middle: Menander did not write a play Arbitrators.
138 middle: I suppose it has to be Chalkidikon or Chalcidicon but not Chalcidikon.
142 top (and n. 91 on p. 256): is ‘Adonic gardens’ intentional?
167 middle: Thucydides also says it was the Panathenaia at which Harmodios and Aristogeiton attacked, not only [Aristotle] Const.Ath.
174 middle: ‘hai sophronestatai’ and ‘orgisthesontai’ (not ‘orgisthestontai’) should be in italics, I expect.
176 middle: ‘ritual calendar from Halai’ should be ‘from Erchia’.
191 bottom: ‘Iokaste’ or ‘Jocasta’, I suppose, not ‘Jokasta’.
212 I was sorry my article ‘Die Adonien in Athen im Jahr 415: zu Aristophanes, Lysistrata 387-398’, Ktema 13, 1992, S. 13-19 (cf. Andokides and the Herms 1965, 140-44) had been overlooked.
214 bottom: ‘Ion’ should be ‘Ino’.
217 bottom: ‘previoius’.
222 middle: ‘Contra Celsus’: read ‘Celsum’.
231 middle (again on p. 348): the women in Epitrepontes did not ‘hire the flute-girl Habrotonon to play for them’; she was a psaltria ‘guitar-player’ not an auletris, and Charisios hired her; she played with the women at the Tauropolia as one of them, a virgin (she claims).
235 middle: I don’t think ‘amoebic’ is the correct adjective from amoibaion.
237 Discussing Sappho fr. 2 she quotes Snyder’s translation which gives ‘comes down / from rustling leaves’, then proceeds to cite the Greek word for ‘comes down’ as katairion (237); now the suspect reading in the text is katagrion, which is usually corrected to katairei or katarrei; this is what Snyder, presumably, translates.
241 top: the first letter of geroia should be a digamma, not g.
241 top: are women from Tanagra ‘Tanagrean’?
259 top: ‘in order to pour’ not ‘into order to pour’.
261 fig.6: are all the details in the caption supposed to be there?
273 middle: ‘pratice’.
274 top: space between ‘Lambek.Although’
275 bottom: ‘De Primo Frigido’; other titles are translated into English.
284 middle: ‘Although Dionysiac cult itself is known to the Homeric texts and is probably of even greater antiquity… ‘. Dionysiac cult is conspicuously absent from Homer (his name occurs a few times); on the other hand his name is found in Linear B tablets!
286 middle: ‘of performing telete’: ‘teletai’ perhaps?
287 middle: if Metrodora is a ‘speaking name’ at all, then it probably connects with Meter (= Kybele), not with human ‘mother’.
323 top: ‘… has meant that is difficult’
335 middle: ‘Her salvific action comparable…’ ?
347 bottom: Halai is on the eschata of Attica by being on the coast, not in ‘border territory’.
399 Price, Simon: ‘103-61’; that can’t be right.