Subversive Laughter: The Sayings of Courtesans in Book 13 of Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae Author(s): Laura McClure

Source: [he American Journal of Philology, Vol. 124, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 299-294 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1561664

Accessed: 29/07/2013 18:53

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support @jstor.org.

The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The American Journal of Philology.





Abstract. Although the witticisms of courtesans recorded by Athenaeus in Book 13 of the Deipnosophistae (577d—85f) comprise an important source, if not of the actual words of hetaeras, at least of the genres and verbal conventions identified with them, they have received scant attention from classical scholars. The content and context of these remarks reveal a complex verbal dynamic in which obscene punning challenges normative class and gender categories and represents the hetaera as in discursive control. By ventriloquizing these witticisms, Athenaeus’ interlocutors appropriate yet another aspect of Athenian literary heritage to articulate their own self-presentation as they vie for discursive status.

ALTHOUGH THE NUMEROUS WITTICISMS of courtesans recorded by Athenaeus in Book 13 of the Deipnosophistae (577d—85f) comprise an important source, if not of the actual words of hetaeras, at least of the genres and verbal conventions identified with them, they have received scant attention from classical scholars. Previous assessments have em- phasized the role played by these witticisms in the hetaera's subordina- tion and objectification, but they have failed to account for their discur- sive function within the context of Athenaeus. This essay will argue that the content and context of these remarks reveal a complex verbal dy- namic in which obscene punning challenges normative class and gender categories and actually depicts the hetaera in discursive control.' Whether in the symposium and its public correlative, the comic theater, or in

! As Henry 1992, 262, argues, “Besides their eloquence and bravado, the courtesans Myrtilus praises speak only as the self-defined objects of men's sexual pleasure"; cf. also Henry 2000, 504. Keuls 1985, 199, similarly describes the cultivated hetaera as “a fabrica- tion of the male mind,” whose witticisms consist of “male-generated jokes, hinging on puns and sexual innuendo." Faraone 1999, 156 and n. 90, views the hetaera's repartee as part of a generalized preference for male speech modes, exemplified in magical practice by their use of agdgé spells normally deployed by men; cf. Luc. DMeretr. 4.1; AP5.205; Theoc. Id. 2.23-32.

American Journal of Philology 124 (2003) 259-294 O 2003 by The Johns Hopkins University Press


Athenaeus' literary banquet, the hetaera's speech provokes the laughter that both seduces and ridicules? This parodic, carnivalesque discourse inserts into the conversation of respectable men a risqué jesting that comically exposes and denounces the pretensions of philosophers? By ventriloquizing these witticisms, Athenaeus' interlocutors appropriate yet another aspect of Athenian literary heritage to articulate their own ethical self-presentation in their quest for discursive status."

Composed in the late second to early third century C.E. by Athenaeus of Naucratis, the Deipnosophistae portrays a fictional banquet modeled after Plato's Symposium that occurs over a two-day period at Rome. Until recently, classical scholars have largely viewed this encyclopedic compilation as a work of little literary merit although an important source of literary quotations and social customs; indeed, it provides a staggering amount of both: the author quotes directly from Attic tragedy more than 250 times and makes reference to approximately 260 Athe- nian comic poets? The work falls squarely within the genre of sympotic literature initiated by Plato and Xenophon, one that perhaps originates in the salacious after-dinner story of the adulterous Aphrodite Odysseus tells to the Phaeacians in the Odyssey (Hom. Od. 8.266—369). As a liter- ary genre, the symposium encourages joke telling, witty anecdotes, and comic action “because such a wide variety of incidents and situations can be allowed to take place naturally and spontaneously" (Anderson 2000, 318). Thus even in Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes' jester-like hiccup (Pl. Smp. 185c-e; yeAwtonoreic, cf. 189a—b) and Alcibiades’ drunken ap- pearance with an auletris (Pl. Smp. 212d) interrupt an otherwise serious (and sober) round of speechifying. These discourses of pleasure have a subversive aspect because they interrupt the otherwise orderly progres- sion of speeches.

? Davidson 1997, 135, argues that the hetaera's literary allusions frequently disguise obscene propositions in a sort of verbal striptease that shows a “resistance to closed meaning, to definition."

3 A recent strand of criticism views these witticisms as a parodic lampooning of the philosophical tradition; see Hawley 1993, 87, and Davidson 1997, 93. For Hawley, courte- sans’ jokes undercut or parody the catalogues of maxims uttered by women in Plutarch, e.g., Apophthegmata Lakonika, and other such sources. Similarly, Kurke 2002 argues that courtesans’ jokes in Machon's Chreiae provide a subversive and democratic discourse in an era of Macedonian political rule. I am grateful to Leslie for letting me read a version of the essay before its publication.

* On the notion of performing the self as a means of articulating status in the Second Sophistic period, see Gleason 1991, and most recently, Whitmarsh 2001.

* On the number of quotations from tragedy, see Collard 1969, 168; on allusions to fifth-century comedy, see Sidwell 2000, 137.


In his introduction, Athenaeus states that he has recounted the fine sayings of educated men, those well versed in paideia (xovc Kata nacav noióetav ELMELPOTATOUG .. . TOV kaAAtotov, 1.1a). The conversation will include innumerable kinds of jokes (oxopupyuótov etón pvpia, 1.1b) as well as educated table banter (naiCovtoc, 3.108f). The plan of the discourse will reflect the banquet's menu, and the arrangement of the books will coincide with the courses of the dinner (1.1b). The narrator then sets forth a catalogue of the party's primary speakers: historical personages such as Athenaeus himself; Larensis, the Roman host; Galen, the doctor; Ulpian, resident Atticist and chief speaker; the philosopher Cynulcus, the stereotypically impoverished philosopher who despises the encyclopedic learning of his tablemates; and Myrtilus of Thessaly, a grammatikos who is given to frequent attacks against philosophers. The cast also features numerous other named guests as well as *a host of anonymous and briefly intrusive extras" (Baldwin 1976, 24). All are “sophists” in the sense that they represent the learned professions (Baldwin 1977, 38).

Like its Platonic prototype, a proper banquet consists of kañoi Kai &yo8oi Evundtar Kai tenardevpéevor, refined gentlemen who speak in an orderly fashion even when drunk (xoopiwe, 3.97b); they also significantly do not include prostitutes at their table. Athenaeus has followed this prescription since women do not appear as interlocutors in his book, although in actual practice, hetaeras and female entertainers, such as flute girls, mimes, and dancers, participated in the performance culture of the symposium (X. Smp. 3.2; Pl. Smp. 176e). In addition to providing theatrical entertainment, hetaeras probably engaged in verbal exchanges with their male clientele, which may have taken the form of poetic and rhetorical improvisation, riddle-telling, philosophical discussion, chreiae, and verbal games. Hetaeras enter Athenaeus’ discourse principally in Book 13. Introduced through quoted snippets of Middle and New Com- edy, Attic oratory, and historians such as Phylarchus and Theopompus, their presence signals a transition to the erotic discourse of the philo- sophical banquet, thereby reinforcing the notion of a metasymposium.’ Book 13 is also the only section of the Deipnosophistae designated by a special title, Peri Gunaikon, and it uncharacteristically begins with an invocation to a Muse, Erato, patron of love poetry, in which the narrator

$ Lukinovich 1990, 264, discusses the verbal features of sympotic entertainment, including riddles. See also 162b-e; Anderson 2000, 318-19.

7 Pellizer 1990, 181; on Athenaeus’ metasymposium, see Milanezi 2000, 401. In art, the appearance of hetaeras in sympotic scenes on vases used by symposiasts serves a similar function, for which see Neils 2000, 208.


asks for help in recounting his “erotic catalogue" (tov épwtiKov ... xat&Aoyov, 555b; Henry 1992, 261). This poetic invocation suggests an epic endeavor while at the same time emphasizing the itemizing aspect of Book 13, much of which concerns itself with lists of hetaeras' names and other elements borrowed from Hellenistic prosopographies of courtesans.

An opening anecdote about the comic poet Antiphanes and Alexander the Great, recorded by Lycophron in his Peri Komoidia, in- forms the reader that Book 13 will focus on low genres and their charac- ters. When the king voices his displeasure at the play Antiphanes recites for him, the comic poet responds that only a man who participates in contribution dinners (àxó ovpPoA@v) or gives and receives blows over a hetaera (555a) could fully appreciate his subject. As Myrtilus later points out, the symposium is the appropriate context for this comic and erotic discourse while syllogisms and philosophical discussion are to be avoided (nepi &«ppoOioíov &ppootóv eivai év TO otvo uvetav noiioOon, 607b). The symposium, like the comic theater—two performance venues elsewhere equated by Socrates (ig yap év ovpnooiw peyaAw tQ Ogótpo, Plut. Mor. 10c-d)—1may be viewed as sites of “actual and symbolic struggle,” a kind of carnival setting where hierarchical rank is temporarily suspended and the drinking facilitates a kind of licensed release (Stallybrass and White 1986, 13). In one account, the symposium's temporary relaxation of norms actually enabled the Thebans, with the help of a few men disguised as hetaeras, to regain political control of their city after a period of Spartan domination (X. HG. 5.4.4). The special context of the symposium or its public counterpart, the comic stage, also allowed for verbal license that both mocked and derided its participants. Its discourse produced, in the words of Mikhail Bakhtin, festive laughter, “the laughter of all the people.

. directed at all and everyone, including the carnival's participants" (Bakhtin 1984, 11-12). Viewed from this perspective, the courtesan's crude jokes and their obscene counter meanings temporarily disrupt social hierarchies, diminishing persons and discourses of high status (Bakhtin 1984, 10; Stallybrass and White 1986, 10-11). In Book 13, Myrtilus marshals this low discourse to ridicule or parody the philosophical tradi- tion of the Cynics; in fact, he uses their own genre of the chreia, the witty remark, against them by placing it in the mouths of courtesans.

The author embeds the jokes of hetaeras in the lengthy speech of the buffoonish grammatikos, Myrtilus, who is suitably named after a poet of Attic Old Comedy (566e). His speech forms part of a standard rhetori- cal debate over the virtues of loving women versus boys staged between himself and his rival, Cynulcus. Myrtilus repeatedly characterizes his own


discourse as a catalogue (590a—c; 555b; 599e), and his continual preoccu- pation with the names and nicknames of hetaeras (he mentions over 150) amply demonstrates his form of knowledge. Indeed, his strained discussion of the change in the length of the vowel *a" in the name of one courtesan, Mania, from pcvia (madness, 578b-c), shows his pedantic, and erotic, proclivities? Such empty academic exercises, however, invite the moral censure of Cynulcus, who derides Myrtilus for neglecting the Homeric tradition in favor of lowbrow genres like comedy and erotic treatises.

Myrtilus, in his opening parry, a quotation of Hermeias' Jambics similar to the invective choliambics of Hipponax, delivers a scathing de- nunciation of the Stoics and their love of boys: *Listen, you Styacs, mer- chants of chatter (&xoóoac', © LtbaKec, £unopot Anpov, 563e).” The phrase contains an obscene pun on the word Ltvaxec, the reading of manuscripts CE. The word may refer to the epithet oxoAaxec (pups) bestowed upon the Cynics as well as to the verb oto (swell), a state brought about in these philosopher “boy watchers” (nouóonina). This attack on the hypo- critical lifestyle and precepts of philosophers, especially their love of boys (563e-66d), assimilates their sexuality, in the manner of Attic Old Com- edy, to their profession, a strategy also adopted by Cynulcus.

The philosopher, in turn, denigrates Myrtilus as a ypaywpatikmtatoc (570b), viewing his knowledge as the vacuous product of patronizing taverns and public houses, venues associated only with the lowest social class since, in the words of Isocrates, “not even a slave would dare to eat or drink in a tavern”:

Od é, à GOMLOTh, év toig xaxnAetotg GLVAVADPT LETH évatpov GAAG LETH ETALPAV, LAOTPOMELOVOAS nepi OAVTOV ODK OALYASG EXMV xoi TEPLMEPWV aiei to1avti BiBAia "Apiotopavovs Kai “AnoAAodSM@pov Kai 'Aupovtou xoi "Avtipdcivone, čti 68 Topyiov tod 'AÓnvaitov, rávtov TOVTOV ovyyeypoqótov nepi t&v Abvo ‘Etaiptdov. à tfi; kaAfiG cov noAupotac, ic kat’ ODdSEV épifioo Oedpavdpov tov Kopnvatov, ov qnot Oedgpactos £v TH nepi Evdaipoviac nepuóvta énayyéAAco8ar SidcoKew evtvxiav, £potoOi9iokoAs.


But you, O Sophist, you associate constantly not with male friends but with courtesans, having around yourself not just a few procuresses, and always

* Hawley 1993, 86. On the character of Myrtilus in the dialogue, see Baldwin 1977, 45—46.

° This is the first use of the word nopvoypa&qoc; for a discussion of the term, see Henry 2000, 508.


carrying around the sorts of books written by Aristophanes, Apollodorus, Ammonius, Antiphanes, even Gorgias of Athens, all of whom have written treatises entitled On Athenian Courtesans. O what lovely learning you have! You do not at all resemble Theomander of Cyrene, of whom Theophrastus says in his book On Happiness that he went about profess- ing to teach about good fortune, whereas you only teach about lust!

Cynulcus here alludes to the lists of hetaeras and the anecdotal accounts of their lives and sayings that originated in the Hellenistic period.” Indeed, the literary tradition even attributes authorship of a related type of treatise to historical hetaeras such as Elephantis, a courtesan of Alex- andria, copies of whose sex manual the emperor Tiberius allegedly sup- plied at his country estate for ready reference during orgies (Suet. Tib. 43), and Philaenis, author of a licentious volume on aphrodisia men- tioned by Athenaeus in connection with the cookbook of Archestratus (335c-e; 457e)."'

With the hapax épwtod1dao0Kadoc, Cynulcus equates Myrtilus’ sta- tus as a sophist and grammarian with his depraved lifestyle; and, while the latter emphatically denies that he is an erdtomanés, he nonetheless admits his erotic sensibilities (€pwtixoc, 599e). By such methods, Cynulcus introduces the subject of prostitution that will dominate the table talk throughout the remainder of Book 13. To the invective against married women earlier voiced by the symposiasts with weyew at 559e, the phi- losopher now adds a vilification of high-priced courtesans, the megalomisthoi familiar from the pages of oratory and the comic stage and from whom many comic plays borrowed their titles (567c—d).” In so doing, he imitates his Cynic forebear, Diogenes, who once compared attractive hetaeras to “death mixed with honey" (0avaciuo peAixpata, D. L. 6.61). Nor is it a coincidence that the philosopher provides the first

0 Athenaeus alludes to several such authors in this passage and elsewhere who wrote treatises on Athenian hetaeras: Antiphanes, a poet of Middle Comedy (first play c. 358 B.C.E.; 587b), Aristophanes of Byzantium (257-180 B.c.E., 586b and 591d) who listed the names of 135 Athenian hetaeras, Apollodorus of Athens (180-120 B.c.E., 586a, 591c), Ammonius (second century B.C.E., 587b), Lynceus of Samos (583e), Gorgias of Athens (c. 44 B.C.E., 583d), and Callistratus (591f). For a list of Middle and New comedies that took their titles from the names of hetaeras, cf. 567c and Hawley 1993, 88 n. 4.

u Brendel 1970, 67 n. 70, discusses the scant evidence for Hellenistic erotic treatises and art catalogues.

7 Davidson 1997, 106, borrows this term from Athenaeus to refer to “the rich and famous ones, the ones catalogued in scholarly treatises, had plays written about them and speeches composed on their behalf, the ones whose bon mots were recorded in anecdotal collections."


references to oratory in Book 13, a genre from which he borrows the strategy of using hetaeras as a vehicle of invective against his rhetorical opponent. Myrtilus, however, puts a twist on this time-tested technique by delivering what amounts to an encomium of hetaeras, the central portion of which includes their witticisms at table. This praise speech actually serves another purpose, however: by exposing the hypocrisy of Cynulcus and his kind, it turns them into objects of sympotic and comic. ridicule.


In his opening defense of “real” hetaeras (t@v Ovtas Etaip@v), those capable of an “honest love” (@1Atav &ðodov, 571b), Myrtilus draws on a fragment of Ephippus to emphasize their value as genteel entertainers who brighten the spirits of their clientele by means of their flattering and agreeable conversation:




orep TOAEWLOV, GAA Total oxpovÜOtotc

YOVOVG’ OLoiws, Toe, TapepvOyjoato

énotnoé 8’ iAapov ev0éws T’ Kqeire nàv

QDTOD Avnobv Kanédergev tAeov. (Ephippus, Empolé fr. 6 K.-A. = 571f) And then if one of us happens to come in feeling troubled,

she greets him with pleasant flattery;

she kisses him, not squeezing her lips close together,

as if he were hateful to her, but opening her mouth as

sparrows do; she sits him down, she soothes and cheers him, and soon takes away all his trouble and makes him happy again.

Making pleasant conversation appears to have comprised a major por- tion of the hetaera’s art: Socrates also mentions cheering words (6 tt àv AEyovoa evepaivoic, X. Mem. 3.11.10) as one of the hetaera's many seductions. The Hellenistic poet Machon similarly describes the courte- san Mania as “being well equipped in speech and conversation" (qovfj ò’ òig te Kexopnynuevn, Machon 198 = 578c). In one of Lucian’s dia- logues, the successful hetaera not only keeps a smile on her face but also provides her clients with clever companionship (and of course, there is a sexual connotation here: rpocop1A0toa Segs, DMeretr. 6. 3). A lover in one of Alciphron’s letters praises the flattering blandishments and the


Siren-like conversation of his hetaera (utia, Alciphr. 4.11.7). In fact, the talk of hetaeras on the Greek comic stage is typically filled with endearments: in one fragment quoted by Athenaeus, brothel workers attract customers through their use of flattering diminutives, calling old men natpidia and young men a&nodpia (569c).? So also the Athenian courtesan Philaenium in Plautus' Asinaria is described as deploying verba blanda (525).

The hetaera's speech both contains multiple levels of signification while at the same time figuring her as masculine: in a fragment of Anaxilas quoted by Larensis at the beginning of Book 13, the prostitute's brazen self-advertisement is simultaneously riddling, flattering, and obscene:

Loiyya OnBaiav ðè n&oac £ott Tac nópvaç koAeiv, at Ao ÀoQ6 ^ andAGs u£v ov0£v, GAA’ èv aiviyLois tio, OSG EPHOL kal prodo koi ooveiciv NOEWS. eita “tetpárovg LOL YEVOLTO, qnot, okiurovg f] Bpdvoc,” eita Or] “tpinovs tic," cita, qnot, “nardioKn sinove.” (Anaxil. fr. 22.22-26 K.-A. = 558d)

It is possible to call every porne a Theban Sphinx; they chatter not in simple language, but in riddles, about how sweetly they like to love and kiss and come together. And one says, “Let me have a four-footed bed or chair"; another, “Make it a tripod”; still another, “A two-footed gal.” (Trans. adapted from Gulick)

Here the hetaera (the word is used later, and interchangeably, with porne) recasts the riddle posed by the Sphinx and solved by Oedipus. (^What walks on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon and three feet in the evening?") into an obscene advertisement of her sexual expertise. Riddles, defined by Athenaeus as “a problem put in jest" (ypipos npoBAnué toti rarotikóv, 448c), regularly accompanied drinking at the symposium and often alluded to the accoutrements or conditions of the drinking party.” At the same time, the hetaera parodies the liter-

3 According to Webster 1974, 102, hetaeras in Menander are given to using “nursery endearments” and to swearing oaths; see also Henry 1985, 57-60; Gomme and Sandbach 1973, 131.

^ [ follow Causabon's emendation here, in the place of AaBodo’ of ms. A, and AaBodoat of mss. CE.

? Martin 2001, 63; cf. Plut. Mor. 150e-f and AP 14.14 (aulos); 14.23, 36 (pickled fish); 14.26 (a linen hand-towel); and 14.52 (wine). Note that the hetaera Thais at Alciphr. 4.7.8 attributes riddle telling to the philosopher-sophist Euthydemus.


ary tradition, reducing the tragic predicament of Oedipus to a vulgar joke.

There is also a tradition of females propounding riddles: New Com- edy features a mother-daughter pair riddling about sleep in a fragment of Alexis’ Hypnos (449d-e) and Sappho's famous riddle about a letter (450e—51b). Likewise, Cleobolina, the daughter of one of the seven sages, tells a riddle about an aulos (Plut. Mor. 150e-f). In contrast, prostitutes frequently pose obscene riddles, such as the one about phallus told by three Samian girls while drinking at the Adonia (Diphilus fr. 49 K.-A. = 451b).'° Anaxilas represents courtesans as riddle tellers, who use their fawning speech—double in meaning and potentially obscene—to entice clients. Because the riddle teller manipulates “the normal borders of referential speech” and thus controls access to meaning, the hetaera through her conversation temporarily wins discursive mastery over her interlocutors." For this reason, one supposes, the mock legal contract portrayed in Plautus’ Asinaria prohibits the Greek courtesan Philaenium from speaking in double meanings (verbum . . . perplexabile, 792).

According to Myrtilus, the hetaera's ability to manipulate mean- ings and deliver witty double entendres results from paideia, a masculine familiarity with rhetoric and the literary tradition:

Kal GAAaL Se ETAIPAL LEYA £ppóvouv EM’ ALTAIC, TAIBELAG AVTEYOMEVAL xod toig uaOnuaoci xpóvov a&nropepiCovoar: S1dmep koi gUOwtoi npóc tüc ANAVINGELG NOav. (583f)

Other hetaeras also thought very highly of themselves, getting an educa- tion and devoting their time to learning. For this reason they were quick at rejoinders.

Myrtilus later identifies paideia with the tradition of erotic verse initiated by the lyric poets (601a). These educated hetaeras are represented as engaging on equal discursive footing with their male interlocutors and

16 Since many riddles revolved around aspects of the symposium, the hetaera might have served as a common subject; indeed, one solution to the riddle posed at Thgn. 861-64 is the hetaera whose feminine identity is highlighted by adjectives, aùtouátn, £onepítn, ópOpin; see Martin 2001, 60.

" Hasan-Rokem and Shulman 1996, 5. Although he does not specifically mention riddles, Davidson 1997, 135, discusses the ambiguity of the hetaera's speech, which he characterizes as “notoriously enigmatic, parodic and punning.” I am indebted to Angela Pitts for her sharing with me her wonderful discussion of riddles in her unpublished dissertation on Sappho’s literary afterlife.


even, at times, turning the tables on them through their witty repartee.' Thus Athenaeus describes the courtesan Gnathaena as *exceedingly quick in her answers” (oqó6pa 8’ hw £0Ouctoc npóc &nxokpíioetc, 583f) and “very adept and not unsophisticated in her replies" (éuueAng 8’ rjv návv h PváOova xoà ovx &vaoteros &noog0éySao0o1, 585b). Mania is similarly termed &o«eia in her responses (coteia tic &noxptvacÜ0a, 578e), while the auletris Lamia is said to be “quick and sophisticated" in her rejoin- ders (£0Outog kai GOTIKN POs tàs &rxokptosgis, 577d). The latter example is of special interest: the word wot1Kkn is actually Schweighàáuser's emen- dation for &ttixń, the reading of all three manuscripts, suggesting per- haps an affinity between this type of verbal sophistication and classical Athens. Indeed, in a fragment of Anaxilas, the designation &oceta distin- guishes the hetaera from her brothel counterpart, the porne (Anaxilas fr. 21 K.-A. = 572b), while in Theocritus’ Idyll 20, a hetaera describes her kisses as &otıxá (Theoc. Id. 20.4) as she mocks the rude manners of a country bumpkin (cypotxoc, 20.3). For Aristotle, the category of i&oteto—apophthegms, puns, and double-entendres—comprise an im- portant aspect of male rhetorical training (Arist. Rh. 1411b—13b), and, in fact, such clever remarks could earn a defendant acquittal in the Athe- nian law courts.”

On the Roman side, Philaenium in Plautus’ Asinaria utters dicta docta (525) in addition to her blandishments, while the Saturnalia of Macrobius inserts the witticisms of Augustus’ daughter Julia into a fic- tional Roman dinner party mostly concerned with a discussion of Vergil. A couple of Julia's jokes turn the table on her male interlocutors, per- haps subverting, as Richlin has argued, Augustan moral discourse.? Her obscene double entendre, ^I never take on a passenger unless the ship is full" (Macrob. Sat. 2.5.9), resembles in some respects the obscene jokes of Athenaeus' courtesans. Nonetheless, her table talk is termed eleganter

'8 Hawley 1993, 77, inexplicably insists that “the evidence . . . for [hetaeras'] alleged ‘culture’ is in fact scarce (77),” a view that is directly contradicted by 584a, 588b, and passim. Although not often described as copy by Athenaeus as in other texts, the adjectives evOixtoc and oteta suggest a degree of verbal sophistication. For the adjective cog and cognates as applied to prostitutes, cf. Axionicus fr. 1 K.—A. (a tambourinist described as cogwtate); Theophilus fr. 12.7 K.-A. (a harpist is 0095); and Alciphr. 4.7.8, coi viv paAtota pavoduar cogn). Hawley further notes that sophisma may refer to fellatio in Theopompus fr. 36.3 K.-A.; see also Henderson 1991, 183; cf. Ar. Lys. 546 and Ec. 895-96.

' Halliwell 1991, 293, and n. 55 points out that defendants in Attic oratory received acquittals through their use of ta àoceto; cf. Dem. 23.206; Lys. 24.18; Ar. V. 567.

? Richlin 1992, 73. It is possible that in attributing such joking to Julia, the tradition attempts to assimilate her to a prostitute, especially given her legendary sexual misconduct; for further discussion, see McGinn 1998, 170.


(2.5.6) and thus wins the admiration of her male audience (mirantibus, 2.5.2; mirarentur, 2.5.9). Although these witticisms may support the no- tion of educated hetaeras, the fact that many revolve around obscene meanings and temporary inversions of status affiliates them more fully with the subversive discourse of comedy and its function as social and literary parody.


Athenaeus and his contemporaries draw upon comic conventions that associate raillery or skOmmata with lower class characters such fishwives, innkeepers, prostitutes, and parasites.” The literary tradition frequently represents courtesans and parasites as subversive members of court and table; such figures direct their derisive humor toward their patrons, their paramours, and even each other. According to Alciphron, this type of raillery comprises one of the key components of the drinking party, together with songs, drinks, garlands, perfume, and sweetmeats (Alciphr. 4.14.3). Thus two hetaeras in another of his letters tease their lovers as they process to a pastoral symposium (tà p£v yap GAANAAS &okaentopev À tovg épaotac, Alciphr. 4.13.2). Their activity is referred to as nadia (4.13.3), a type of verbal play also associated with the sophists at Athenaeus' table and with parasites (below). A hetaera in another letter mocks (xouoóricacao &KoAdotas, 4.13) a jeering bystander in response to his obscene pun on ovKac, a metaphor for the genitals in Middle Comedy and later literature: “Lucky is that place where you are going, since it will have lots of figs!" (uaKxdpiov &keivo to xoptov ónoi PadiCete, Ooas £Gei ovKac, Alciphr. 4.13.2).? The hetaera’s mockery, represented by the par- ticiple kouoónoaco, temporarily figures the hetaera as in discursive control: instead of serving as the typical object of comic abuse, the hetaera ridicules her interlocutor. And, in fact, the structure of this ex- change typifies those found between the hetaera and her clientele in Athenaeus, especially the aggressive ridicule directed toward specific individuals (Éokcorte: Mania, Machon 245 = 579c; Gnathaena, Machon 322 = 580f).”

1 Halliwell 1991, 289 and n. 40; cf. also Hom. Z. 20. 251-52; Ar. Eq. 1400, 1403; V. 496- 469, 1388; Ra. 549, 857-58; PI. 426-28, 435-36; Pl. R. 395d 6-7; Lg. 935a1.

2 A prostitute in Axionicus fr. 1.4 K.—A. bears the name Ischas (dried fig); see Henderson 1991, 134 and n. 137.

3 On the aggressive function of laughter in ancient Greek culture, see Henderson 1991, 42-43; and Halliwell 1991, 287.


The hetaera's male sympotic counterparts include parasites, flatter- ers, and the gelotopoios or clown who paid for their dinners with jokes (614c; Xen. Sym. 1.14-15)." In Book 14, Ulpian informs us, quoting a line of Anaxandrides, that the mythical Rhadamanthys and Palamedes “in- vented the practice of the freeloader telling jokes" (tò 8’ &obuoAov epe yeAoia Aéyew ‘PaddpavOve/ xoi HoXounónc, Anaxandr. 10 K.—A. = 614c). Like the hetaera, the jester delivered mocking jests or insults, loidoria and skoóomma in classical prose, to produce laughter and also parodied tragic and comic scenes that included the imitation of various types of characters.? In Book 8 of the Deipnosophistae, the musician Stratonicus plays a similar role, and not insignificantly he also figures as the subject of nine anecdotes from Machon's Chreiae (Machon 91-167 = 348e—49f). His witticisms are embedded in Cynulcus' lengthy speech about fish (347d—52d) that begins with a well-known riddle about a fish recast as an insulting joke directed at a rival musician (347f); both of these speech genres were associated with hetaeras, as we saw above. His humor also involves puns, double meanings, sexual innuendo, and the unconven- tional use of proverbs, idioms, or quotations (351a-b; Gilula 2000, 426— 27). The musician’s verbal facility resembles that of the hetaera; he too always has a ready quip (nepi tfjg evotoxiag abdtod tÓv AnOKpIGEwV, 348d). At the same time, Stratonicus, with his sharp tongue and clever rejoinders, shares a vision similar to that of Athenaeus’ fellow diners, a penchant for humorous word play, literary quotation, and verbal compe- tition, all reflecting a cosmopolitan perspective.

The masculine character of the hetaera’s jesting is further seen in her similarity to these male figures at table, particularly the kolax, the flatterer or parasite, who makes a lengthy appearance at Athenaeus’ table in Book 6 (234d—62b). At the banquet and on the comic stage, such figures ridicule their superiors while also serving as the targets of their jokes, as a parasite in a play of Epicharmus states, “There I am elegantly witty, and I cause much laughter and I praise my host” (tnvei yaping t’ eiui Koi noia NOADV / YEAWTA Koi TOV lotiQvt' &rouvéo, 235f-36a). In Menander's Kolax, the function of the parasite at the symposium is to produce paidia, that is, to laugh loudly, to mock others, and to drink a lot (adpov yeA&cau, oK@yai tiv’, £urieiv noAvv, 258d). Alexis in his Poiétae describes one famous Athenian parasite, a certain Eucrates nicknamed

^ Milanezi 2000, 403, notes that the word gelotopoios does not appear until Xenophon; cf. X. Smp. 1.11, An. 7.3.33; Pl. R. 620c; and 613-16.

? Milanezi 2000, 405—6. The gelotopoios Philip in Xenophon's Symposium thus plays at likenesses (6.8-7.1).


the Lark (0 Kópvóoc), as both the joke teller and the butt of humor, “Yes indeed, I want to be laughed at and always to say funny things" (ràvv tot BoóXopoa / ootoc yeAGoOar xoi yéAou’ cei Aéyew, 241d). The fact that the Lark had a reputation for prostituting himself (óc é60xe1 nenopvedoB8at, 241e) further underscores his similarity to the courtesan; even his deri- sive nickname contributes to his objectification, as do those of the fa- mous courtesans such as Phtheiropyle (Louse-gate, 586a), Leme (Con- junctivitis, 569f), and Hys (Sow, 583a). Indeed, a joke that conflates the high cost of the Lark's sexual services with the price of a thrush (241e) plays on the parasite's sexual availability and commodity status in much the same way as jokes made about and by hetaeras.

The verbal license afforded by the context of the symposium and the temporary inversions it effects are seen in an anecdote about Philip of Macedon and his parasite: when the king made a joke at his parasite's expense, the latter responded with a role-inverting quip, “Then shall I not maintain you (instead of the other way around)?" (eit’ oox o£, Eon, Ópéyo, 248e). The subversive aspects of this humor did not always sit well with its patrons: a miscalculated joke that playfully poked fun at Arsinoé, the wife of Lysimachus, had a disastrous result. Telesphorus, a member at court, embedded a derisive jab against the queen, who was prone to vomiting, in a tragic reference to Euripides’ Antiopé:

kakv KATHPXEIG THVS’ £uobcav ELOKYOV. (fr. adesp. 395 + 184 TGF’ = 616c).

You are starting trouble by bringing in this vomiting woman.

Altering thvde Modoav (this Muse) to sound like tnvd’ euotoav (this vomiting woman), Telesphorus foolishly exposed Arsinoé’s embarrassing sickness.?? The hazards of court humor are amply illustrated by Telespho- rus’ punishment: locked in a cage like an animal, he starved to death— possibly a just penalty for a sponging dinner guest who jokes at the expense of his host. Hetaeras similarly adapted tragic verse to expose the foibles of their interlocutors, inverting social status within the context of the vignettes that feature them, although unlike the original verse, their connotations are characteristically obscene.

% This pronunciation joke recalls the actor Hegelochus’ famous mistake while deliv- ering a line from Euripides’ Orestes. His breathless delivery of yaññv instead of yaAnv’ changed the intended meaning of the sentence from “I see the calm after the storm" to “I see the weasel after the storm.” Cf. E. Or. 279; cf. Ar. Ra. 303-4; Strattis, frs. 1 and 60 K.—A.; and Sannyrion, fr. 8 K.-A.


Hetaera's jokes are frequently accompanied by derisive and aggressive laughter, denoted by the verb yeAdo, that figures them as masculine; indeed, according to Theophrastus, such laughter is characteristic of the kolax (Thphr. Char. 2.4), the flatterer or parasite described above. In Herodotus' Histories, the word conveys not happiness or pleasure but rather “scorn, arrogance or self-delusion" (Lateiner 1977 and 1989, 28, n. 48). The verb very rarely occurs in connection with women in the Deipnosophistae: all feminine examples refer to hetaeras and most occur in Book 13. Thus the courtesans Lamia and Mania mock and reject their clients’ advances with their laughter (yeAaoaoa, Machon 184 = 577f; Machon 255 = 579d). The close connection between the hetaera’s laugh- ter and her masculine insolence gains further support in an anecdote in which the sophisticated Lais laughs as she wittily insults the poet Euripides (h òè yeAdoao’ &rexpiOn, 582d). The laughter of the courtesan Nico, who quips that Sophocles’ boy favorite, Demophon, should take her vyn and give it to Sophocles 8’ eine yeA&caoo, 582f), also shows a comic mastery of the situation. Similarly, Theocritus’ Idyll 20 describes a he- taera as alternately enticing and mocking a simple herdsman, a scene that concludes with violent laughter at the rustic's expense (coBapóv p’ eyeAacev, 20.15).

The subversive and aggressively masculine aspects of the hetaera's laughter are tangible in another anecdote about a laughing hetaera. In Book 9, we find the appropriately named Gnathaena (Jaws) indulging in cooked testicles at a banquet. While the other women politely pretend not to notice this obscene feast (rkktGeto, 384f), “man-slaying” Gnathaena heartily guffaws 6' &vópogóvoc l'váOaiv' a&vayeAcoao’ ua, 384f) as she snatches up two and gulps them down. The laughter of hetaeras has a subversive effect: here it clearly induces anxiety in Gnathaena's (male) interlocutors, connected as it is with her predatory sexuality and prodigious appetite, because it potentially emasculates men even as it seduces them.

In the only other example of female laughter outside of Book 13, the courtesans Melissa and Nicion are described as laughing at the humble fare, the bowls of lentil soup, set before them at a symposium of Cynic philosophers:

YEAWTOG obv ETLPPAYEVTOG mapiiv h Oa tpotopoóvn MéA1000 xod Tj Kuváprta Níktov: atout 9 Hoav t&v ook åshuov £toipióov, &nopAéwocot obv adta eig TH NapaKkeipeva Kai Davudoacar £yéAov. Kai n Nixiov gon: “ovddeic budv, &vdp_ec yeveroovAAextadar, ixBdv obis” (157a-b).


After a burst of laughter, the stage-pounder Melissa and that dog-fly Nicion entered; for these were very well known courtesans. Glancing with wonder at the things placed before them, they laughed. And Nicion said, “Don’t any of you beard-gatherers eat fish?”

The scornful hetaera sounds a lot like one of Athenaeus' banqueters: not only does she parody Aristophanes with the word yevevoovAA.ektóOoa (cf. otmUvALOovAAEKtTaON [gossip-gatherers], Ar. Ra. 841), she goes on to quote the epigrammatist Meleager and the philosopher Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates, advising the Cynics to "take themselves from life" (eEcyew avtovg tod Biov) for tolerating such food. The laughter of these hetaeras, like those of Book 13, thus parodies the practices and doctrines of the Cynic philosophers, namely their frugal symposia, and their discur- sive presence at table indirectly ridicules its primary proponent, the Cynic Cynulcus. For the philosopher has just delivered a lengthy account of the ascetic practices of the Cynics, an account that provokes the derisive laughter of everyone at the banquet (yeAacavtwv ðè nàvtav, 159f). As I will show in the remainder of this paper, Myrtilus deploys the discourse of hetaeras in Book 13 to much the same end.


The witticisms of hetaeras, along with those of parasites, formed a familiar literary sub-genre in classical antiquity. An anecdote recorded by Strabo exemplifies the genre: reproached for refusing to work in wool, a courte- san responds with a phallic pun, “Yet I, such as I am, have taken down three webs / masts in this short length of time" (£yà uévtoi m totxbtn tpelc ton xoOsciAov iotovs év Bpoxei xpóvo tovto, Strabo 8.6.20). The joke hinges on an inversion of normative social roles: instead of weaving, the work of a respectable wife, the hetaera plies her trade in the bedroom, subduing men in an almost martial fashion. Such jokes were deemed worthy of writing down and made the rounds either through personal collections—Philip of Macedon apparently maintained a joke book filled with the amusing sayings of contemporary comedians (614d)—or in more formal tracts such as the Chreiae of the Hellenistic poet Machon.^' The

7 A native of Corinth or Sicyon, Machon spent most of his life at Alexandria where his comedies were produced. The subject matter and style of the Chreiae suggest the influence of both Attic Old and New Comedy, although the vocabulary is prosaic and colloquial; even the meter approximates prose rather than poetry; for a fuller account of Machon and his oeuvre, see Gow 1965, 3-24, and Kurke 2002.


parasite, Eucleides, nicknamed the Beet, occasionally uttered witty apophthegms “worthy of publication" (oox &váGi? BipAtov, 242b), but, according to Athenaeus, the unevenness of his humor ultimately ren- dered him obscure.

Although it is unclear how the witticisms of hetaeras became trans- mitted to Athenaeus, it is likely that he consulted many of the same sources as Aelian, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, and Pollux (Hawley 1993, 76). These works included several collections of jokes told by hetaeras, as well as those by parasites, predominantly the Chreiae of Machon (577d- 83d), but also the Apomnémoneumata of Lynceus (probably 583f, 584b- 85f) as well as the Geloia Apomnemoneumata of Aristodemus (possibly 585a). Indeed, Athenaeus uses the terms chreiae, apophthegmata, and apomnemoneumata more or less interchangeably throughout his work (cf. 348e; 579d, 588a). Moreover, because some chreiae are attributed to multiple authors—for example, Machon assigns one anecdote to the courtesan Mania (263 = 578e) that Lynceus elsewhere attributes to Gnathaena (584c)—it is likely that there was a well-established oral tradition in circulation. In chreiae, in contrast to maxims or proverbs, stock figures such as kings, soldiers, parasites, and courtesans engage in dialogue in a familiar narrative setting.” The form is quite flexible, allow- ing for alteration, improvisation and last minute changes of venue and character (Gilula 2000, 429). By the late second century C.E., the term had a specific, technical meaning and became a regular feature of the progymnasmata of the imperial rhetors.? The extreme obscenity found in most of Machon’s Chreiae has led to the speculation, correct in my view, that they are meant as a parody of this philosophical and rhetorical

^ I follow Casaubon’s emendation here.

? Hawley 1993, 76, observes that the chreia involves “a brief narrative setting, introducing at least one person, an attribution of at least one proper name as protagonist (often a famous individual), a question, and then a final capping answer, often in direct speech." He further argues that the apophthegm or anecdote, because brief, represented an appropriate speech genre for women. He does not, however, account for the anecdotal traditions surrounding women who are seen as violating or subverting in some way norma- tive gender roles, such as the Apophthegmata Lakonika of Plutarch or the hetaeras of Machon, not to mention the fact that many such apothegms are also attributed to powerful men. Hock and O’Neil 1986, 22-25, delineate the four characteristic features of the chreia as follows: it contains a saying or action; it is concise, often only one sentence in length; it is spoken in character and is applicable to everyday life. Gilula 2000, 429, identifies the basic structure of the chreia as an either-or question “to which the witty saying is an answer which completely ignores the alternatives offered in the question and surprisingly comes up with a third possibility."

* On progymnasmata, see Hock and O'Neil 1986.


tradition; indeed, Gow himself struggles to understand their pedagogical purpose (“highly unsuitable for the schoolroom,” he remarks)?!

As a genre, the chreia apparently originated in classical Athens among philosophers, sophists, and