Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 326

Bodies and Boundaries in Graeco-Roman Antiquity

Bodies and Boundaries

in Graeco-Roman
Edited by
Thorsten Fögen and Mireille M. Lee

Walter de Gruyter · Berlin · New York

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Bonn)
and the Excellence Cluster “TOPOI.
The Formation and Transformation
of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations”
(Humboldt-Universität Berlin & Freie Universität Berlin)
have provided a financial subsidy
towards the production of this volume.

Printed on acid-free paper which falls within the guidelines

of the ANSI to ensure permanence and durability.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bodies and boundaries in Graeco-Roman antiquity /

edited by Thorsten Fögen and Mireille M. Lee.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-3-11-021252-5 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Human body -- Social aspects -- Greece.
2. Human body -- Social aspects -- Rome.
3. Human body in literature.
I. Fögen, Thorsten. II. Lee, Mireille M.
GT497.G8B63 2009
306.4—dc22 2009027988

ISBN 978-3-11-021252-5

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet
at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

© Copyright 2009 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin.
All rights reserved, including those of translation into foreign languages. No part of
this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, with-
out permission in writing from the publisher.

Printed in Germany
Cover design: Christopher Schneider, Laufen
Editors’ Preface
Thorsten Fögen & Mireille M. Lee

“The body poses the biggest question for me.

It’s a question itself. It’s all about needs and
desires and union and oneness and aloneness.
It’s all about the edges and boundaries of the
flesh, the needs of the flesh. I’m trying to find
out what my relationship to the body is, the
comfort and discomfort, the appropriate and
the inappropriate.”
Eric Fischl (in an interview with A. M. Homes).
In: Bomb. A Quarterly Arts & Culture Magazine
50 (1994/95), 28.

This volume examines the ways in which bodies, lived and imagined, were
implicated in issues of cosmic order and social organization in classical antiq-
uity. The papers consider bodies from various perspectives: the body in per-
formance, the erotic body, the dressed body, pagan and Christian bodies, and
animal as well as human bodies. All explore the ways in which bodies can
transgress and dissolve, shore up, or even create, boundaries and hierarchies;
and how boundaries are constantly negotiated, shifted and refigured, through
the practices of embodiment.
Six of the thirteen articles are revised and expanded versions of papers
which were presented at a conference held at Harvard’s “Center for Hellenic
Studies” (Washington, D.C.) from 28 to 30 April 2006 (Alexandridis, Fögen,
Lee, Pazdernik, Petersen and Worman). They have been supplemented with
seven commissioned contributions from scholars in the United States and
Germany (Ferrari, Hallett, Keesling, Lateiner, von Möllendorff, Perkins and
Schade), several of whom attended the conference in Washington. The articles
draw on a range of evidence and approaches, and cover a broad chronological
and geographical span.
It is a great pleasure to thank the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
(Bonn) and the Excellence Cluster “TOPOI. The Formation and Transforma-
tion of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations” (Humboldt-Universität
Berlin & Freie Universität Berlin) for a generous financial subsidy towards the
production of this volume. We are grateful to Maria Zumkowski (Thorsten
Fögen’s research assistant), Jaclyn Baker (Mireille Lee’s research assistant)
and the De Gruyter staff, especially Manfred Link, for valuable assistance with
the proofs.

Berlin & Washington, D.C.

February 2009
Table of Contents

A. Introduction
Thorsten Fögen & Mireille M. Lee
Editors’ Preface ............................................................................... V
Gloria Ferrari
Introduction ......................................................................................1
Thorsten Fögen
The Body in Antiquity: A Very Select Bibliography .....................11

B. The Body in Performance

Thorsten Fögen
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus,
vultus and vox .................................................................................15
Nancy Worman
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory ...................45
Charles Pazdernik
Paying Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain:
Disclosing and Withholding the Imperial Presence
in Justinianic Constantinople..........................................................63

C. The Erotic Body

Peter von Möllendorff
Man as Monster: Eros and Hubris in Plato’s Symposium...............87
Judith P. Hallett
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body in Ovid’s
Pygmalion Narrative (Metamorphoses 10.238-297) ....................111
VIII Table of contents

Donald Lateiner
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses ..........125

D. The Dressed Body

Mireille M. Lee
Body-Modification in Classical Greece .......................................155
Lauren Hackworth Petersen
“Clothes Make the Man”:
Dressing the Roman Freedman Body...........................................181

E. Pagan and Christian Bodies

Kathrin Schade
The Female Body in Late Antiquity:
Between Virtue, Taboo and Eroticism .........................................215
Judith Perkins
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies..............................................237

F. Animal Bodies and Human Bodies

Annetta Alexandridis
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies
in Attic Vase Painting in the 6th and 5th Centuries B.C. .............261
Catherine M. Keesling
Exemplary Animals: Greek Animal Statues
and Human Portraiture .................................................................283

Index locorum.....................................................................................311
Gloria Ferrari

The project of Bodies and Boundaries in Graeco-Roman Antiquity began with

a conference at Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.,
April 28-30, 2006. The call for papers announced its theme as follows:
“In the classical world, the cosmic order was enacted, in part, through bodies.
The evaluative divisions between, for example, humans and animals, mortals
and immortals, women and men, could all be played out across the terrain of
somatic difference, embedded as it was within wider social and cultural matri-
The idea that the body is a microcosm, so incisively stated here, has become an
operative concept in recent studies, where it marks a productive trend within
what is still a relatively new field of inquiry. The human body emerged as an
important topic in disciplines across the social sciences and the humanities
roughly thirty years ago.1 The forces that contributed to this phenomenon are
many and diverse. Among them, feminist writings in the late 1960s and 70s,
queer studies and postcolonial theory all called attention to the ways in which
dominant ideologies identify, shape and control particular bodies under spe-
cific cultural and historical circumstances. But if one were to look for a single
catalyst within the academy, most would agree it was the work of Michel Fou-
cault. Foucault challenged the notion of the body as an unproblematic fact of
nature, globally and at its very core: the body/mind dichotomy. He claimed
that the body exists in the political field and is marked and constrained by in-
stitutional powers; the soul exists insofar as it “is produced permanently
around, on, within the body by the functioning of a power that is exercised on
those punished” (Foucault 1979: 29). Reversing the Cartesian paradigm, he
famously stated: “the soul is the prison of the body” (Foucault 1979: 30). He
thus effectively extended the debate over the status of the body outside phil-
osophical discourse and made it a central concern in studies of culture and so-
ciety and the proper subject of historical inquiry.
The impact of Foucault’s formulation on the field of classical studies has
been considerable. We may recognize its imprint already in Vernant’s essay on

1 For a historiographic account, see Richlin (1997).

2 Gloria Ferrari

the way mortal bodies were imagined in relationship to the bodies of the gods
(Vernant 1991: 28):2
“Would the Greeks, in representing the gods to themselves, really have attrib-
uted to them the form of corporeal existence that is proper to all perishable
creatures here on earth? To pose the question in these terms would be to admit
from the outset that for human beings ‘the body’ is a given, a fact, something
immediately evident, a ‘reality’ inscribed in nature and, as such, beyond ques-
tion. (...) But we can also approach the problem from the opposite angle and
direct our inquiry to the body itself, no longer posited as a fact of nature, a
constant and universal reality, but rather viewed as an entirely problematic
idea, a historical category, steeped in the imagination (to use Le Goff’s ex-
pression), and one which must, in every case, be deciphered within a particu-
lar culture by defining the functions it assumes and the forms it takes within
that culture.”
Overwhelmingly, whether positive or negative, the classicists’ initial engage-
ment with Foucault focussed on issues of gender and sexuality, partly in re-
sponse to the reconstruction of sexual identities in ancient Greek and Roman
societies presented in the second and third volumes of his History of Sexuality
(Foucault 1985, 1986).3
The debate over his approach to the question of “the body” has been in-
tense and productive, bringing crucial points of his theory into sharper focus
and introducing new issues. What has come under fire is not the position that
the body is socially constructed. Rather, critical attention has been brought to
bear on the very notion of “the body” in Foucault’s text, with all its metaphors.
Feminist writers pointed to the pervasive absence of women from considera-
tion.4 Foucault’s body, when its gender is specified, is a male body or at best
an unmarked body, much in the way the unmarked pronoun “he” subsumes
and elides the feminine under the sign of the masculine. At a more fundamen-
tal level, Judith Butler questioned the ontological status of the body in his
thought, observing that recurring figures projecting it as the site that is sub-
jected to normalizing practices and regimes of power, “the inscribed surface of
events” (Foucault 1977: 148), imply that the body somehow pre-exists its con-
struction. And if one rejects this possibility, as she does, it remains to be seen
how such cultural construction proceeds, how bodies acquire their identity
(Butler 1989: 601):5
“What is it that circumscribes this site called ‘the body’? How is this delimita-
tion made, and who makes it? Which body qualifies as ‘the body’? What es-

2 On Foucault’s engagement with Vernant, see Leonard (2005: 1-95 passim).

3 For a comprehensive look at the reception of Foucault on the part of classicists, see Larmour,
Miller & Platter (1998).
4 See e.g. Richlin (1998) and, for a more favourable appraisal, DuBois (1998: 96-98).
5 See also Butler (1993: 1-16) and Butler (1999: 163-180).
Introduction 3
tablishes the ‘the’, the existential status of this body? Does the existent body
in its anonymous universality have a gender, an unspoken one?”
Central to Butler’s thesis of how subjectivity comes into being, with particular
reference to gender, is the concept of performativity, understood as the stylized,
repeated performance of normative behaviours that produces the illusion of a
stable core identity (Butler 1990). The boundary of this identity is established
and maintained by the exclusion of other identifications, of the “abject”, which
forms “the constitutive outside to the domain of the subject”.
The notions of performance and of identity as unstable and permeable
boundary, on which Butler relies, play a central role in the essays in this vol-
ume. They have a long history in anthropological theory, where the body was
always an important concern. In a far-reaching article of 1936, Marcel Mauss
introduced the concept of habitus, which was to receive significant elaboration
at the hands of Bourdieu (1977: 72-95). Far from being natural, he argued, the
arrangement, display and use of the human body – what he called “techniques
of the body” – are culturally coded and specific to a particular time and society
(Mauss 1936).6 Mauss’ study proved a starting point in the development of the
other foundational statement of a symbolic theory of the body, roughly con-
temporary with Foucault’s, namely Mary Douglas’. Moving forward from
Mauss’ position, Douglas proposed that the structure of the body as it is per-
ceived is constrained by and analogical to that of society: a bounded organism
with an internal structure (Douglas 1966: 114-128; 1970: 65-81). Just as the
margins of society are the site of potential disorder and change, the boundary
of the body through its orifices opens onto the danger of pollution and disinte-
gration. Accordingly, bodily refuse – such as spit, feces, hair clippings – be-
come ritually charged with special powers that threaten its integrity. Douglas’
trenchant question: “Why should bodily refuse be a symbol of danger and of
power?” was crucial to Kristeva’s development of a theory of “abjection”,
which has become an influential point of reference in many recent studies of
the body in classical antiquity.7 The revulsion that is experienced in the pres-
ence of what is cast out, defiled and decayed marks the line of separation be-
tween the subject and what it must reject in order to sustain its identity, ulti-
mately the boundary between man and beast, between the corpse and the living.
This post-Foucauldian perspective informs Bodies and Boundaries, which
brings together trends represented in recent work dealing with the body in

6 On Mauss’ role in the development of notions of performance, see Asad (2000: 46-49). In the
field of sociology Goffman (1956) was especially influential.
7 See Douglas (1966: 120) and Kristeva (1982). Douglas’ proposal informs Carson’s analysis
of the woman’s body in ancient Greek thought (Carson 1990); on abjection and the corpse
see e.g. Montserrat’s “Unidentified human remains” (Montserrat 1998) and Perkins (2009, in
this volume).
4 Gloria Ferrari

Greek and Roman literature and art. The notion of “the” body as a generalized,
unmarked category has largely given way to “bodies”, to acknowledge a much
more complex state of affairs. While gender remains an essential analytical
tool, interest is shifting to the diverse ways in which bodies are symbolically
constituted and apprehended in specific contexts. Gender remains the organiz-
ing principle for Wyke’s edited volumes Gender and the Body (1998a) and
Parchments of Gender (1998b), but several collections of essays now coalesce
around themes other than sexuality broadly conceived. In its sweep from an-
tiquity to the early modern period, Hopkins’ and Wyke’s Roman Bodies (2005),
although substantially Foucauldian in approach, takes as its main axis the city
of Rome, both as urban space and as an idea. Montserrat’s Changing Bodies,
Changing Meanings (1998) explores practices of body modification and their
social and ideological implications. Increasingly attention has turned to the
self-fashioning of the body through verbal and non-verbal expressions – ges-
tures, alterations, clothes and adornment. The essays on the “body language”
in the volume edited by Douglas Cairns (2005) ostensibly situate themselves
outside any theory of the body and trace their pedigree to long series of works
on the subject in classical studies. The notion of performance, however, in its
various formulations, from Bourdieu’s to Butler’s, is key to the analyses of the
orator in Gleason’s Making Men (1995) and Gunderson’s Staging Masculinity
(2000), to cite just two examples.
Bodies as performance and in performance are the subjects of the first
three essays of this book. Thorsten Fögen looks at the way Roman treatises on
oratory lay out prescriptions for the correct deployment of non-verbal signs –
the quality of the voice, gesture and garb, expression. Their arguments, he ob-
serves, often proceed by comparisons that pit the right kind of deportment
against the behaviour of groups that are marginalized or disfranchised one way
or another, such as the disabled and the uneducated, children and foreigners,
women and “effeminate” men. As these aberrant configurations outlie the par-
adigmatic male body they also constitute its boundary, one that requires con-
stant vigilance. Nancy Worman traces the figure of the body in metaphors that
cast styles of writing (and music) in terms of the disposition and movement of
bodies in space. Her analysis brings to light unexpected and significant regu-
larities in the use made of these images in Greek and Roman writers across a
span of many centuries, where it intersects with that of topographical features
that either embody or impose particular deportments. Bodily and geographical
tropes, she argues, are morally charged and serve to highlight the ethical di-
mension of particular aesthetic choices. Charles Pazdernik explores the anxiety
and resistance that accompany any shift in boundaries by focussing on a spec-
tacular case, that of innovations in the ceremony of the audience at the court of
Justinian and Theodora. Justinian’s claim to quasi-divine status imposed
Introduction 5

changes in the performance required of members of the senate, who were now
expected to prostrate themselves before the emperors, thereby characterizing
their position as one of servitude not only in words but also in the language of
ritualized gestures. The most disturbing effect of this procedure was to erase
the boundary between the elite and less worthy subjects, down to defeated bar-
The section on “The Erotic Body” opens with a classic in discussions of
ancient Greek sexuality, Plato’s Symposium. Peter von Möllendorff offers a
new reading of the fable of the primeval double-bodied humans told by Aris-
tophanes, one that reveals what is Aristophanic about this etiology of the hu-
man body. Our shape, which now seems normal, indeed beautiful, is in fact
punishment for an act of hubris that transformed what was once a complete,
fulfilled body into a monster (in the etymological meaning of the word and in
the sense of freakish) driven by the unattainable desire to recover its original
form. The speech, according to Möllendorff, has a pivotal role in the dialogue
in that it opens a discourse on the monstrous and the dangers of hubris that
serves as a parable for the philosopher’s quest for beauty. In her reading of the
Pygmalion story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Judith Hallett recovers a wealth of
allusions to the poetry attributed to Sulpicia, in which the latter describes her-
self and her desires. These intertextualities suggest that a real woman and a
poet is refashioned at Ovid’s hands much like the ivory, which Pygmalion’s
touch brings to life. Ovid’s Metamorphoses are also the terrain for Donald
Lateiner’s exploration of the permeable boundaries of gender in myths that in-
volve transsexual change or transvestism.
The two essays that follow focus on the construction of bodies through al-
teration, clothing and adornment. Mireille Lee frames her analysis of the func-
tions of body-modification in classical Greece in terms of Douglas’ and Bour-
dieu’s theories of the body. Drawing upon literary sources and paintings on
Athenian vases, she reconstructs the whole range of practices devoted to the
care and fashioning of bodies, from the daily regimen involving diet, exercise
and hygiene, to the styling of hair, the use of cosmetics and perfumes. As they
bring into existence specific social identities, these practices also create and
maintain essential differences separating men from women and Greeks from
barbarians. Lauren Petersen calls attention to a creature on the margins: the
Roman freedman. Although he has undergone a social metamorphosis, the
stigma of his past as a slave lingers and imposes limitations on his agency. But
representations of freedmen on monuments show that neither the clothes they
wear nor their stance are sufficient to distinguish then from freeborn citizens.
The caricature of Trimalchio in the Satyricon, Petersen shows, brings to the
fore the anxiety with which the elite regarded the admission of the former
6 Gloria Ferrari

slave in the citizen body and its desire to stress the precarious, paradoxical
quality of his new identity.
The fourth section of the volume concerns conceptions of the body in early
Christianity. Kathrin Schade confronts two apparently antithetical models of
femininity: on the one hand the ascetic, asexual body of pious women por-
trayed in patristic writers; on the other the depictions of imperial and aristo-
cratic women that are found on a wide range of monuments. The latter openly
appeal to pagan sources and emphasize the seductive quality of the female
body, ultimately evoking the paragon of Venus. The differences between the
two should be understood in terms of their different functions. While the as-
cetic ideal reflects Christian spirituality, the glamorous quality of the visual
representations points to the roles of women as wives and mothers. Schade
concludes by tracing the convergence of these two modes in portraits of the
empress and in the image of the Virgin Mary. The debate over the materiality
of the body of Christ and of the human body in resurrection in the late second
century A.D. is the subject of Judith Perkins’ essay. She observes that propo-
nents of the materiality of the body reverse the cultural perception of the
disintegration of the corpse as the collapse of its boundary, its descent into
ultimate abjection. Writers such as Tertullian and Athenagoras contemplate the
decay of the body without horror or disgust, in the belief that it will recover its
fundamental integrity in the Last Judgement. The emergence of this doctrine,
Perkins argues, should be set against the background of contemporary develop-
ments in the judicial system, which exempted members of the upper classes
from the increasingly harsh and even cruel corporal punishments inflicted on
the humiliores. With its insistence that human beings, body and soul, would all
be equally subjected to judgement, the Christian position challenges the
boundary separating elite bodies from the lower classes in the administration
of justice and the resulting inequity of the legal system.
The final two chapters look at ways in which individuals may be imagined
to cross the divide separating humans from beasts. Annetta Alexandridis exam-
ines the imagery of metamorphosis in Athenian vase paintings of the late ar-
chaic and classical periods focussing on three case-studies: Actaeon’s trans-
formation into a stag, the metamorphosis of Odysseus’ companions at Circe’s
hands and the multiple shapes Thetis assumes in her attempt to escape Peleus’
grip. Her analysis points to significant differences in the iconographical
schemes chosen in each case as well as to a shift that emphasizes the interpen-
etration of human and animal forms in the classical period. The reverse transi-
tion, from animal to human, after a fashion, is the focus of Catherine Kees-
ling’s essay on Greek statues of animals and their Roman viewers. She reviews
the literary and archaeological evidence attesting to the display of animal
sculpture in funerary contexts and, most of all, major sanctuaries. While there
Introduction 7

is never any indication that these statues were literally anthropomorphized,

writers of the Second Sophistic, particularly Pausanias and Aelian, envision
particular ones as honorific portraits. As in the case of the Delphian wolf, who
had led the citizens to the gold that had been stolen from the sanctuary, these
animals are endowed with a history and an identity and, although not human,
may be held as exempla of human virtues.
The present volume on Bodies and Boundaries shares with recent studies,
several which were mentioned above, an emphasis on performance and on
self-styling through body language and modifications. Among them, it is dis-
tinguished by its focus on the margins, that is, on the dynamics by which the
contour of the body as a being and as a social agent is defined, maintained,
transgressed or undone. This perspective brings to the fore what is most prob-
lematic about embodiment: its materiality. On the one hand having a body is a
property that stretches across a continuum ranging from the divine down to in-
animate objects. On the other the order of the universe depends on the observ-
ance of the hierarchy of god, man, beast, thing; that of society on the ranking
of its members by social status and gender. The very order of things, then,
hinges on the creation of difference between one category of bodies and the
next. Altogether, the essays in this volume illuminate the ancient conception of
such a set of boundaries by exploring the ways in which prescriptive behav-
iours bring them into being, while transgressions open up visions of the mon-
strous (in the etymological sense) or the world upside down, where matter
comes alive, animals have ethical sensibilities, and slaves morph into citizens.

Asad, Talal (2000): Remarks on the anthropology of the body. In: Sarah Coakley (ed.),
Religion and the Body, Cambridge, 42-52.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1977): Outline of a Theory of Practice (transl. Richard Nice), Cam-
Butler, Judith (1989): Foucault and the paradox of bodily inscriptions. In: Journal of
Philosophy 86, 601-607.
Butler, Judith (1990): Performative acts and gender constitution. An essay in phenome-
nology and feminist theory. In: Sue-Ellen Case (ed.), Performing Feminisms.
Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, Baltimore, 270-282.
Butler, Judith (1993): Bodies that Matter. On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New
York & London.
Butler, Judith (1999): Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New
York & London.
Cairns, Douglas (ed.) (2005): Body Language in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Swan-
8 Gloria Ferrari

Carson, Anne (1990): Putting her in her place. Woman, dirt, and desire. In: David M.
Halperin, John J. Winkler & Froma I. Zeitlin (eds.), Before Sexuality. The Con-
struction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, Princeton, 135-169.
Douglas, Mary (1966): Purity and Danger. An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution
and Taboo, New York & Washington.
Douglas, Mary (1970): Natural Symbols, New York.
DuBois, Page (1998): The subject in antiquity after Foucault. In: David H. J. Larmour,
Paul Allen Miller & Charles Platter (eds.), Rethinking Sexuality. Foucault and
Classical Antiquity, Princeton, 85-103.
Foucault, Michel (1977): Nietzsche, genealogy, history. In: Donald F. Bouchard (ed.),
Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Selected Essays and Interviews (transl.
Donald F. Bouchard & Sherry Simon), Ithaca, 139-164.
Foucault, Michel (1979): Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison (transl. Alan
Sheridan), New York.
Foucault, Michel (1985): The Use of Pleasure (transl. Robert Hurley), London.
Foucault, Michel (1986): The Care of the Self (transl. Robert Hurley), London.
Hopkins, Andrew & Maria Wyke (eds.) (2005): Roman Bodies. Antiquity to the Eight-
eenth Century, London.
Gleason, Maud (1995): Making Men. Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome,
Goffman, Erving (1956): The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Edinburgh.
Gunderson, Erik (2000): Staging Masculinity. The Rhetoric of Performance in the Ro-
man World, Ann Arbor.
Kristeva, Julia (1982): The Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection (transl. Leon S.
Roudiez), New York.
Larmour, David H. J., Paul Allen Miller & Charles Platter (eds.) (1998): Rethinking
Sexuality. Foucault and Classical Antiquity, Princeton.
Leonard, Miriam (2005): Athens in Paris. Ancient Greece and the Political in Post-War
French Thought, Oxford.
Mauss, Marcel (1936): Les techniques du corps. In: Journal de Psychologie 32, 271-
Montserrat, Dominic (1998): Unidentified human remains. Mummies and the erotics of
biography. In: Id. (ed.), Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings. Studies on the
Human Body in Antiquity, London & New York, 162-197.
Montserrat, Dominic (ed.) (1998): Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings. Studies on
the Human Body in Antiquity, London & New York.
Perkins, Judith (2009): Early Christian and judicial bodies. In: Thorsten Fögen &
Mireille M. Lee (eds.), Bodies and Boundaries in Graeco-Roman Antiquity,
Berlin & New York, 239-261.
Richlin, Amy (1997): Towards a history of body history. In: Mark Golden & Peter
Toohey (eds.), Inventing Ancient Culture, London, 16-35.
Introduction 9

Richlin, Amy (1998): Foucault’s History of Sexuality. A useful theory for women? In:
David H. J. Larmour, Paul Allen Miller & Charles Platter (eds.), Rethinking
Sexuality. Foucault and Classical Antiquity, Princeton, 138-170.
Vernant, Jean-Pierre (1991): Mortals and immortals. The body of the divine. In: Id.,
Mortals and Immortals. Collected Essays. Edited by Froma Zeitlin, transl. by
Anne M. Wilson, Princeton, 27-49. Originally published as: Corps obscur,
corps éclatant, in: Charles Malamoud & Jean-Pierre Vernant (eds.), Corps des
dieux (Le temps de la réflexion 7), Paris 1986, 19-45.
Wyke, Maria (ed.) (1998a): Gender and the Body in the Ancient Mediterranean, Oxford
& Malden, Mass.
Wyke, Maria (ed.) (1998b): Parchments of Gender. Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity,
The Body in Antiquity:
A Very Select Bibliography
Thorsten Fögen

For reasons of space, this list is restricted to books and monographs. Given the
vastness of the topic, which is thematically connected with a great number of
other areas (e.g. myth, cult, ritual and religion, science, philosophy etc.), this
bibliography makes no claim whatsoever to be comprehensive. It has the rather
modest aim to provide a tool for those who would like to familiarize them-
selves with research on the body in Graeco-Roman antiquity.

More recent studies:

Braund, Susanna Morton & Barbara K. Gold (eds.) (1998): Vile Bodies. Roman Satire
and Corporeal Discourse (= Arethusa, vol. 31.3), Baltimore.
Cairns, Douglas (ed.) (2005): Body Language in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Swan-
Cleland, Liza, Mary Harlow & Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (eds.) (2005): The Clothed Body
in the Ancient World, Oxford.
Fabricius, Johanna (2003): Soma / corpus. Körperbilder und Körperkonzepte in der
griechischen und römischen Kultur, Göttingen (unpublished ‘Habilitations-
Hopkins, Andrew & Maria Wyke (eds.) (2005): Roman Bodies. Antiquity to the Eight-
eenth Century, London.
Koloski-Ostrow, Ann Olga & Claire L. Lyons (eds.) (1997): Naked Truths. Women,
Sexuality, and Gender in Classical Art and Archaeology, London & New York.
Montserrat, Dominic (ed.) (1998): Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings. Studies on
the Human Body in Antiquity, London & New York.
Porter, James I. (ed.) (1999): Constructions of the Classical Body, Ann Arbor.
Prost, Francis & Jérôme Wilgaux (eds.) (2006): Penser et représenter le corps dans
l’Antiquité. Actes du colloque international de Rennes (1-4 septembre 2004),
Rousselle, Aline (1988): Porneia. On Desire and the Body in Antiquity (transl. Felicia
Pheasont), Oxford.
12 Thorsten Fögen

Stewart, Andrew (1997): Art, Desire and the Body in Ancient Greece, Cambridge.
Thommen, Lukas (2007): Antike Körpergeschichte, Zürich.
Wyke, Maria (ed.) (1998a): Gender and the Body in the Ancient Mediterranean, Oxford.
Wyke, Maria (ed.) (1998b): Parchments of Gender. Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity,

Also of interest:
Aldrete, Gregory S. (1999): Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome, Baltimore.
Alexandridis, Annetta (2004): Die Frauen des römischen Kaiserhauses. Eine Unter-
suchung ihrer bildlichen Darstellung von Livia bis Julia Domna, Mainz.
Bernsdorff, Hans (1992): Zur Rolle des Aussehens im homerischen Menschenbild, Göt-
Boegehold, Alan L. (1999): When a Gesture Was Expected. A Selection of Examples
from Archaic and Classical Greek Literature, Princeton.
Bogen, Kathrin (1969): Gesten in Begrüßungsszenen auf attischen Vasen, Bonn.
Bremmer, Jan & Herman Roodenburg (eds.) (1992): A Cultural History of Gesture,
Brilliant, Richard (1963): Gesture and Rank in Roman Art. The Use of Gestures to De-
note Status in Roman Sculpture and Coinage, New Haven.
Brown, Peter (1988): The Body and Society. Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in
Early Christianity, New York.
Bynum, Caroline Walker (1995): The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity,
200-1336, New York.
Cleland, Liza, Glenys Davies & Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (2007): Greek and Roman
Dress from A to Z, London & New York.
Croom, Alexandra T. (2000): Roman Clothing and Fashion, Stroud.
Dean-Jones, Lesley (1994): Women’s Bodies in Classical Greek Science, Oxford.
Fehr, Burkhard (1979): Bewegungsweisen und Verhaltensideale. Physiognomische
Deutungsmöglichkeiten der Bewegungsdarstellung an griechischen Statuen des
5. und 4. Jh. v. Chr., Bad Bramstedt.
Fögen, Thorsten (ed.) (2006): Tränen und Weinen in der griechisch-römischen Antike
(Special Issue of Zeitschrift für Semiotik, vol. 28), Tübingen.
Fögen, Thorsten (ed.) (2009): Tears in the Graeco-Roman World, Berlin & New York.
Garland, Robert (1995): The Eye of the Beholder. Deformity and Disability in the
Graeco-Roman World, London.
Gleason, Maud W. (1995): Making Men. Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient
Rome, Princeton.
Grajew, Felix (1934): Untersuchungen über die Bedeutung der Gebärden in der
griechischen Epik, Berlin.
Gunderson, Erik (2000): Staging Masculinity. The Rhetoric of Performance in the Ro-
man World, Ann Arbor.
The Body in Antiquity: A Very Select Bibliography 13

Hallett, Christopher (2005): The Roman Nude. Heroic Portrait Statuary 200 B.C – A.D.
300, Oxford.
Heuzé, Philippe (1985): L’image du corps dans l’œuvre de Virgile, Rome.
Imhof, Arthur E. (ed.) (1983): Der Mensch und sein Körper. Von der Antike bis heute,
Jax, Karl (1933): Die weibliche Schönheit in der griechischen Dichtung, Innsbruck.
Laqueur, Thomas W. (1990): Making Sex. Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud,
Cambridge, Mass.
Lateiner, Donald (1995): Sardonic Smile. Nonverbal Behavior in Homeric Epic, Ann
Leftwich, Gregory V. (1987): Ancient Conceptions of the Body and the Canon of Poly-
kleitos, Diss. Princeton (unpublished).
Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (2003): Aphrodite’s Tortoise. The Veiled Woman of Ancient
Greece, Swansea.
Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (ed.) (2002): Women’s Dress in the Ancient Greek World, Lon-
Maier-Eichhorn, Ursula (1989): Die Gestikulation in Quintilians Rhetorik, Frankfurt
am Main.
Mannsperger, Marion (1998): Frisurenkunst und Kunstfrisur. Die Haarmode der römi-
schen Kaiserinnen von Livia bis Sabina, Bonn.
Miller, Stephen G. (2004a): Ancient Greek Athletics, New Haven & London.
Miller, Stephen G. (22004b): Arete. Greek Sports from Ancient Sources, Berkeley.
Neumann, Gerhard (1965): Gesten und Gebärden in der griechischen Kunst, Berlin.
Popović, Mladen (2007): Reading the Human Body. Physiognomics and Astrology in
the Dead Sea Scrolls and Hellenistic-Early Roman Period Judaism, Leiden.
Richlin, Amy (ed.) (1992): Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome, New
York & Oxford.
Rose, Martha L. (2003): The Staff of Oedipus. Transforming Disability in Ancient
Greece, Ann Arbor.
Scanlon, Thomas F. (2002): Eros and Greek Athletics, Oxford.
Sebesta, Judith L. & Larissa Bonfante (eds.) (2001): The World of Roman Costume,
Madison, Wisconsin.
Setzer, Claudia (2004): Resurrection of the Body in Early Judaism and Early Christian-
ity. Doctrine, Community, and Self-Definition, Boston & Leiden.
Sittl, Carl (1890): Die Gebärden der Griechen und Römer, Leipzig.
Steininger, Rudolph (1909): Die weiblichen Haartrachten im ersten Jahrhundert der
römischen Kaiserzeit, Diss. München.
Swain, Simon (ed.) (2007): Seeing the Face, Seeing the Soul. Polemon’s Physiognomy
from Classical Antiquity to Medieval Islam, Oxford.
Symons, David J. (1987): Costume of Ancient Rome, London.
Wiedemann, Thomas & Jane Gardner (eds.) (2002): Representing the Body of the
Slave, London & Portland.
14 Thorsten Fögen

Wilfong, Terry G. & Charles E. Jones (eds.) (1999): Materials for a History of the Hu-
man Body in the Ancient Near East, Groningen.
Wilson, Lillian M. (1924): The Roman Toga, Baltimore.
Wilson, Lillian M. (1938): The Clothing of the Ancient Romans, Baltimore.
Wright, John P. & Paul Potter (eds.) (2000): Psyche and Soma. Physicians and Meta-
physicians on the Mind-Body Problem from Antiquity to Enlightenment, Oxford.
Zschietzschmann, Willy (1924): Untersuchungen zur Gebärdensprache in der älteren
griechischen Kunst, Diss. Jena.
Sermo corporis:
Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox
Thorsten Fögen

“Les paroles en disent moins que l’accent,

l’accent moins que la physionomie, et
l’inexprimable est précisément ce qu’un
sublime acteur nous fait connaître.”
Germaine de Staël: De l’Allemagne (ch. 27)1

“For that impatient and lively people [sc. the

Italians] had, as now, a language distinct
from speech – a language of signs and mo-
tions, inexpressibly significant and viva-
cious: their descendants retain it (...).”
Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of
Pompeii (London & New York 1962, 67)

This article presents an overview of some important aspects of more theoretically ori-
ented reflections on non-verbal communication and body language in ancient literature.
I shall mainly discuss authors of the first centuries B.C. and A.D., especially Cicero and
Quintilian, with particular focus on vocal non-verbal behaviour (vox) and on body lan-
guage, predominantly on gestures (gestus) and facial expressions (vultus).
Ancient reflections on non-verbal communication and body language stem from
various perspectives: hypotheses on the origin of language; considerations about the
first-language acquisition of the child; remarks on the problem of foreign languages
and, connected with this, the view of gesture and facial expressions as a universal lan-
guage of all human beings; and finally, the elaboration of rhetorical doctrines regarding
the skilful use of non-verbal elements in public speech.
At the same time, it is obvious that a number of ancient conceptions of non-verbal
communication and body language operate within a framework of oppositional pairs
and boundaries. Small children and animals make themselves understood by verbal as
well as non-verbal elements which constitute some kind of basic ‘language’, but ulti-

1 Quoted from the following edition: Germaine de Staël, De l’Allemagne. Chronologie et

préface par Simone Balayé (vol. 2), Paris 1968, 27. The twenty-seventh chapter of this work
is about declamation.
16 Thorsten Fögen

mately their voice does not have the status of fully developed speech. In rhetoric as well
as in many other areas of Greek and Roman society, the ideal of masculinity prevails in
every respect: the model-rhetorician is set apart from the use of effeminate speech as
well as from bodily behaviour allegedly typical of women. Groups that are perceived as
physically different, in particular as far as their body movements, gestures, facial ex-
pressions and voice are concerned, are often associated with a lack of sufficient educa-
tion and knowledge, a high degree of emotionality, and sometimes also with immoral-
ity. These perceptions of the ancients frequently result in a marginalization of the
groups that diverge from the norm, constituted by the prototypical adult, authoritative
male who is not only fully articulate, but also in control of his body and his expressive

1. Introduction
The study of non-verbal communication and body language, i.e. the study of
the role and function of body movements, gestures, facial expressions and
voice, has received attention in many disciplines. Apart from communication
studies in the narrow sense, it forms one of the areas of interest in psycholin-
guistics, semiotics, language acquisition research, foreign language studies and
rhetoric as well as in ethology, sociology and psychology. For classics, one
may say that, during the last ten years, research on non-verbal communication
and the body in antiquity has developed into something of a fashionable pur-
suit,2 with reference being made mainly to the connection between rhetoric and
gesture.3 This is important, as the majority of studies from the various other
disciplines that I have just mentioned usually neglect the historical dimensions
of non-verbal communication. There is, of course, no denying that occasional
reference is made to works such as John Bulwer’s Chirologia and Chironomia
(1644) or Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Ani-
mals (1872), 4 but the fact that non-verbal communication was described in
Greek and Roman antiquity from various perspectives seems to be overlooked
in most studies by non-classicists. It should also be pointed out that there exist

2 In this respect, classical philology is by no means an exception. As Ruthrof (2000: vi) puts it,
“When you look through the catalogues of the leading presses you will note that the body
now turns up everywhere. From literary theory and criticism to law and sociology, from gen-
der studies to anthropology and philosophy, the body runs through the titles like an oncoming
spring tide”. Similarly Porter (1999: 1); see also Cairns (2005a: ix, xi).
3 The most exhaustive study is still Sittl (1890); more recent monographs by Aldrete (1999),
Boegehold (1999) and Corbeill (2004). The following books are concentrated on single an-
cient authors or genres: Grajew (1934), Lateiner (1995), Maier-Eichhorn (1989) and Lobe
4 On the history of theorizing on gesture see the most recent overview in Müller (1998: 25-85);
the author includes antiquity, in particular Quintilian. On Bulwer, see the edition of the Chi-
rologia and Chironomia by James W. Cleary (Carbondale & Edwardsville 1974), and Hübler
(2001: 144-153, 350-361), with further references; see also Sonkowsky (1959: 256-257).
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 17

number of archaeological investigations into the depiction of non-verbal com-

munication on ancient vases and coins as well as in sculptures.5

Figure 1: Frontispiece of John Bulwer’s Chironomia (London 1644).

Andronicus and Demosthenes paired by Roscius and Cicero

It is the aim of my presentation to give a brief overview of the most important

aspects of more theoretically oriented reflections on non-verbal communica-
tion and body language in ancient literature. I shall mainly focus on authors of

5 See in particular Déonna (1914), Zschietzschmann (1924), Jucker (1956), Brilliant (1963),
Neumann (1965), Bogen (1969) and Fehr (1979). See also Boegehold (1999: 16-20, 22-25,
18 Thorsten Fögen

the first centuries B.C. and A.D., especially the two rhetoricians Cicero and
Quintilian, but I will also include some later writers.
However, before I proceed to the discussion of ancient texts which are of
interest for the question pursued in this paper, it seems apt to outline briefly
how non-verbal communication is understood here.6 Non-verbal behaviour in-
cludes vocal as well as non-vocal aspects. To the group of vocal non-verbal
behaviour belong suprasegmentals such as speech tempo, voice quality, speech
errors, and utterances that cannot be classified as language, like crying, groan-
ing or moaning. These phenomena belong to the area of paralinguistics (see
Crystal 1974, Bergmann 1988, Poyatos 1993). In contrast, non-vocal elements
of non-verbal behaviour are independent of the organs of speech and voice and
can be subdivided into three groups: (1) On the motoric level there are facial
expression, gesture, gaze and many types of movements of the body, including
posture. 7 (2) Non-verbal behaviour is also performed via physio-chemical
channels which can be olfactory, gustatory, tactile or thermal. (3) Then there
are ecological aspects such as territorial behaviour, interpersonal distance
(proxemics) and aspects of personal appearance such as dress, hairdo, the use
of cosmetics and the wearing of jewellery. I shall focus here, first, on vocal
non-verbal behaviour (or, to use an ancient term, on vox) and, second, on body
language, predominantly on gestures (gestus) and facial expressions (vultus). I
have already dealt with personal appearance elsewhere (Baertschi & Fögen
2005; see also Fögen 2005), but this topic will occasionally be mentioned in
this paper as well (see esp. section 3.3).

2. Elements of non-verbal communication as universal language

Non-verbal communication and body language are referred to in ancient
sources in a variety of contexts. Very often the authors in question describe
situations in which people with different mother tongues come into contact
with one another and find themselves in need of a mode of communication.
The ancient sources mention various potential outcomes of such an encounter:
communication functions unproblematically if one speaks the language of the
other or if there are competent interpreters who can assist people in making
themselves understood. But if verbal communication between the speakers of
two different languages is not possible, it is gestures and facial expressions

6 Cf. Helfrich & Wallbott (²1980: 267-268); see also Key (1992: 107-108), Scherer (1970: 3-
4), Lyons (1972: 51-55), Argyle (1975) and Hübler (2001: 12-22).
7 It can be maintained that this level is judiciously examined by Cicero in De orat. 3.216 (and
ff.), introduced by the following sentences: omnis enim motus animi suum quendam a natura
habet vultum et sonum et gestum; corpusque totum hominis et eius omnis vultus omnesque
voces, ut nervi in fidibus, ita sonant, ut motu animi quoque sunt pulsae.
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 19

which, because of their vividness and concreteness, assume the function of

some kind of universal language.
That speaking with one’s hands is sometimes the only way to make one-
self understood to foreigners was an experience which Ovid claims to have
made when he was banished to Tomis, nowadays the Romanian seaside resort
Constanţa (see Fögen 2000: 37-38). According to his own account, he commu-
nicated with the inhabitants of Tomis by gestures (Trist. 5.10.35-37):
exercent illi sociae commercia linguae:
per gestum res est significanda mihi.
barbarus hic ego sum, qui non intellegor ulli.
“They hold intercourse in the tongue they share; I must make myself under-
stood by gestures. Here it is I that am a barbarian, understood by nobody.”
These verses may be as exaggerated as Ovid’s entire description of the Black
Sea region in his Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto. In any case, it is interesting to
note that, on other occasions, he refers to his study of the Getic and Sarmatian
language and even to poetic works in Getic from his own pen.8
According to some ancient authors, gestures and facial expressions can be
employed as universal ‘language’ because all human emotions have by nature
corresponding expressions in face, voice and gesture – a hypothesis which is
much disputed in modern research.9 As Cicero (De orat. 3.223) notes:
Atque in eis omnibus, quae sunt actionis, inest quaedam vis a natura data;
qua re etiam hac imperiti, hac vulgus, hac denique barbari maxime com-
moventur: verba enim neminem movent nisi eum, qui eiusdem linguae so-
cietate coniunctus est, sententiaeque saepe acutae non acutorum hominum
sensus praetervolant: actio, quae prae se motum animi fert, omnis movet; is-
dem enim omnium animi motibus concitantur et eos isdem notis et in aliis ag-
noscunt et in se ipsi indicant.
“And all the factors of delivery contain a certain force bestowed by nature,
which, moreover, is the reason why it is delivery that has the greatest effect on
the ignorant and the mob and lastly on barbarians; for words influence nobody
but the person allied to the speaker by sharing the same language, and clever
ideas frequently outfly the understanding of people who are not clever,
whereas delivery, which gives expression to the emotion of the mind, influ-

8 Ovid, Trist. 3.14.47-50: Threïcio Scythicoque fere circumsonor ore, / et videor Geticis
scribere posse modis. / crede mihi, timeo ne Sintia mixta Latinis / inque meis scriptis Pontica
verba legas. See further Trist. 5.7.55-58: ille ego Romanus vates – ignoscite, Musae! – / Sar-
matico cogor plurima more loqui. / et pudet et fateor, iam desuetudine longa / vix subeunt
ipsi verba Latina mihi; and Trist. 5.12.57-58: ipse mihi videor iam dedidicisse Latine: / nam
didici Getice Sarmaticeque loqui. See also Ex Ponto 3.2.40 and especially 4.13.17-23.
9 An excellent summary of the different positions from universalism to relativism can be found
in Wallbott (1979) and Wallbott (1993). Supporters of a moderate universalism include Ek-
man (1979) and Ekman & Friesen (1979: 111-112, 118). The universalist hypothesis was first
and foremost rejected by Birdwhistell (1970: esp. 34).
20 Thorsten Fögen

ences everybody, for the same emotions are felt by all people and they both
recognize them in others and manifest them in themselves by the same sym-
For a linguistically ill-prepared listener or a foreigner, gestures, facial expres-
sions and voice illustrate everything which the spoken word cannot express in
a similarly clear way. These considerations lead Cicero to recommend to the
professional orator that, even if his talent for verbal expression is highly devel-
oped, he should not refrain from making skilful use of accompanying non-
verbal elements in order to convince his entire audience. There are reports
about some rhetoricians who managed to fascinate even those members of
their audience who did not understand the language in which the speech was
delivered; as Philostratus indicates in his Lives of the Sophists, the philosopher
Favorinus of Arelate, a colourful figure according to many ancient sources,
was an exemplar of this rather unusual gift. When he delivered speeches in
Rome, he greatly impressed even those without any knowledge of Greek
through his adroit body management, and in particular through the tone of his
voice, his expressive glance and the rhythm of his speech – an intriguing refer-
ence to the theatrical quality of the sophistic performance.10
In this context one should also mention the discussion of non-verbal com-
munication in Quintilian’s treatise Institutio oratoria. As in the case of Cicero,
Quintilian’s exposition transcends the boundaries of rhetorical instruction on
how to use facial expressions, gesture and voice. He emphasizes that the im-
portance of these elements for rhetoric can be recognized from their effects in
other areas. Quintilian argues that much information can be transmitted with-
out words if one lets the body speak – it is mainly the hands and the face which
also serve as instruments of communication among mute people.11 Similarly,
animals make use of body language to signal emotions such as wrath and joy.
According to Quintilian, a comparable practice is the expression of a state of
mind by dancing,12 which is the topic of a treatise on the defence of this art
(De saltatione) written more than half a century later by Lucian.13 According

10 Philostratus, Vit. Soph. 491: διαλεγομένου δὲ αὐτοῦ κατὰ τὴν Ῥώμην μεστὰ ἦν σπουδῆς
πάντα, καὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ ὅσοι τῆς Ἑλλήνων φωνῆς ἀξύνετοι ἦσαν, οὐδὲ τούτοις ἀφ’ ἡδονῆς ἡ
ἀκρόασις ἦν, ἀλλὰ κἀκείνους ἔθελγε τῇ τε ἠχῇ τοῦ φθέγματος καὶ τῷ σημαίνοντι τοῦ
βλέμματος καὶ τῷ ῥυθμῷ τῆς γλώττης. According to the same writer, Dio of Prusa was a
similar case (Vit. Soph. 488).
11 On deafness and dumbness in antiquity, see Rose (2003: 66-78) and Biville (1998: 73-76).
See also Fögen (2007: 48, with n. 28).
12 Inst. orat. 11.3.66: saltatio frequenter sine voce intelligitur. Cf. also 11.3.87 with reference to
the hands as the ‘universal language’ of man.
13 According to Robertson (1913), this work was written between 162 and 165 during Lucian’s
stay in Antiochia; the author’s motivation in doing so was to win over the emperor Verus,
who was enthusiastic about pantomimes (Script. Hist. Aug., Verus 8 and 10-11). This view is
shared by Robert (1930: esp. 120-122); by contrast, Bier (1917) suggests a date between
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 21

to Lucian, the pantomimic dance portrays different characters and emotions

(De salt. 35ff., cf. also 67), especially figures from mythology (cf. the long list
of themes in De salt. 37-61). Like the orator, the dancer must attempt to
achieve a maximum of clarity (σαφήνεια) in his performance in order to make
it comprehensible to his audience (De salt. 62). Dancing is said to unite pleas-
ure (τὸ τερπνόν) and usefulness (τὸ χρήσιμον) in a unique way because it not
only impresses the spectators by harmonious movements, but also teaches
them about the past (De salt. 71). A foreign guest of the Roman emperor Nero
admired an extremely talented pantomime dancer who lived at his court. While
this foreigner did not understand the text of the song that accompanied the
dance of the pantomime, it was the dancer’s highly illustrative performance
which permitted him to follow the entire plot without difficulties. When Nero
asked the guest what he wished for as a farewell gift, the foreigner opted for
the dancer who, by his non-verbal art, would serve him as an interpreter in ne-
gotiations with other peoples (De salt. 64). Athenaeus reports on another
dancer called Memphis who explained Pythagorean philosophy more clearly
by his dancing than others could by the use of words (Deipn. 1.20c-d).14 Some
dancers, he goes on, were even capable of conveying the plot of a tragedy
through bodily movements, as, for example, Aeschylus’ dancer Telestes did
with the Seven against Thebes.15 Later on, in the fourth century A.D., the fa-
mous orator Libanius (A.D. 314-393) dedicated one of his speeches to the
topic of dancing, including pantomimic dancing.16 It seems quite likely that
such statements on the expressive nature of dancing, as can be found in
Lucian, Athenaeus and Libanius, go back to, or are at least inspired by, the
treatment of dance in Plato’s Laws.17
Gesture and facial expressions are similarly classified as universal lan-
guage in the context of first-language acquisition. In his Confessions,
Augustine (A.D. 354-430) conveys some very informative insights concerning

Domitian and Marcus Aurelius. See now Vesterinen (1997, 2003) and the full-scale study by
Lada-Richards (2007). – Apart from Bier (1917), Rotolo (1957) is a useful book on the an-
cient pantomime dance in general, and it also contains relevant epigraphic and epigrammatic
sources; see now Hall & Wyles (2008).
14 On the Greek terminology for pantomime dancers, see Vesterinen (2005), who focusses on
the dancers Bathyllus of Alexandria and Pylades of Cilicia.
15 Athenaeus, Deipn. 1.21f-22a: καὶ Τέλεσις δὲ ἢ Τελέστης ὁ ὀρχηστοδιδάσκαλος πολλὰ
ἐξεύρηκε σχήματα, ἄκρως ταῖς χερσὶ τὰ λεγόμενα δεικνύς. (...) Τελέστης ὁ Αἰσχύλου
ὀρχηστὴς οὕτως ἦν τεχνίτης ὥστε ἐν τῷ ὀρχεῖσθαι τοὺς Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας φανερὰ ποιῆσαι τὰ
πράγματα δι’ ὀρχήσεως.
16 Libanius, Orat. 64 (Πρὸς Ἀριστείδην ὑπὲρ τῶν ὀρχηστῶν), esp. 64.62-71 (on ‘female’ ges-
tures) and 64.113-118 (on gestures). For an edition with commentary, see Molloy (1996).
17 See esp. Plato, Nomoi 2.653d9-654a3, 2.672d, 2.673c11-d5, 7.816a3-7; cf. also 7.814d10-
815d5. For a detailed discussion of the dance in Plato’s Laws, see e.g. Lonsdale (1993: 21-
43) and Vesterinen (1997: 179-180).
22 Thorsten Fögen

his own linguistic socialization (Conf. 1.6.7-1.19.30). He explains that, as a

baby (in-fans: “speechless”), he indicated his wishes and desires to his envi-
ronment by weeping, smiling, thrashing and screaming – by signs, as he adds
himself, which corresponded to his wishes. However, such signs were not suf-
ficiently unambiguous and sometimes caused misunderstandings among the
adults around him; when they disobeyed him, little Augustine took revenge by
crying (Conf. 1.6.8). The gift of the yet inarticulate infant to communicate his
emotions non-verbally in these forms is viewed by Augustine as a peculiarity
of man which has been granted by God (Conf. 1.6.10-1.7.12). Next he reports
how he acquired the verbal expressions for things (Conf. 1.8.13):18
cum ipsi appellabant rem aliquam et cum secundum eam vocem corpus ad
aliquid movebant, videbam et tenebam hoc ab eis vocari rem illam quod
sonabant cum eam vellent ostendere. hoc autem eos velle ex motu corporis
aperiebatur tamquam verbis naturalibus omnium gentium, quae fiunt vultu et
nutu oculorum ceterorumque membrorum actu et sonitu vocis indicante affec-
tionem animi in petendis, habendis, reiciendis fugiendisve rebus.
“When they named anything, and when at that name they moved their bodies
towards that thing, I observed it and gathered thereby that that word which
they then pronounced was the very name of the thing which they showed me.
And that they meant this or that thing, was discovered to me by the motion of
their bodies, even by that natural language, as it were, of all nations, which
expressed by the countenance and cast of the eye, by the action of other parts,
and the sound of the voice, discovers the affections of the mind, either to de-
sire, enjoy, refuse, or to avoid anything.”
A similar point can be found in Lucretius’ theory of the beginnings of civiliza-
tion, expounded in the fifth book of his De rerum natura.19 He is convinced
that the invention of language was not the work of an individual because for
him it is not plausible that this ability should have been given only to a single
human being. Moreover, how should such a ‘first inventor’ have taught his
repertoire of expressions to others (De rer. nat. 5.1041-1055)? Instead, one has
to assume that, in the beginning, man uttered various sounds for different im-
pressions and feelings and that, in doing so, he contrasted the things he wished
to denote (De rer. nat. 5.1056-1090). In its initial stage, human language was
comparable to the articulation of infants, who, in order to illustrate their mes-
sages, fall back upon gestures and use their fingers to point to things they are
not yet able to name (De rer. nat. 5.1028-1033, cf. 5.1021-1023).

18 This passage, together with the subsequent sentence that does not appear as part of the quota-
tion above, serves as a starting point in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.
On the role of the Augustinian picture of language in Wittgenstein, see Hans-Johann Glock,
A Wittgenstein Dictionary, Oxford 1996, 41-45.
19 On conceptions of the origin of language in Epicurus (Ep. ad Herod. 75-76) and Lucretius
(De rer. nat. 5.1028-1090), see the references to a number of in-depth studies in Fögen
(2007: 68 n. 96).
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 23

3. Gesture, facial expressions and voice in rhetoric

Theoretical aspects of non-verbal communication are most extensively dealt
with by ancient authors in rhetorical treatises.20 They contain prescriptive and
normative instructions designed to enable an orator to be as persuasive as pos-
sible over and above what is achievable by linguistic and stylistic means.
Among the orator’s five tasks, gesture, facial expressions and voice quality
form part of delivery (ὑπόκρισις resp. actio or pronuntiatio). The important
role which delivery played among the orator’s tasks (officia oratoris) can be
gathered from an anecdote about Demosthenes which has been handed down
by many Greek and Roman authors: he is said to have attributed first, second
and third rank to delivery,21 and in this he is followed by later theoreticians
(see e.g. Rhet. Her. 3.19; Cicero, De orat. 3.213). Aristotle points out that
there has been no systematic treatise on the rules of ὑπόκρισις. He admits that
it greatly influences the success of a speech and that it cannot be ignored as a
part of proper rhetorical training, although it is not regarded as an elevated
subject of inquiry (Rhet. III 1 1403b20-22, 1403b36-1404a3). In the first chap-
ter of his Rhetoric, he remarks that a person’s use of rational speech is a more
distinctively human attribute than the use of his limbs (Rhet. I 1 1355b1-3).
For Theophrastus, delivery was vital for the persuasion of the audience, as we
learn from Athanasius’ report;22 he composed a special treatise Περὶ ὑποκρί-
σεως, comprising one book (Diogenes Laertius 5.48).23 Quintilian emphasizes
at the beginning of his treatment of delivery in Book 11.3 that a stylistically
mediocre yet convincingly delivered speech may have a greater effect on the
audience than an elaborate one that neglects the performative aspect of rhetoric
(Inst. orat. 11.3.5).

20 See, for example, Sonkowsky (1959), Fantham (1982), Maier-Eichhorn (1989), Katsouris
(1989), Wöhrle (1990), Graf (1992), Wülfing (1995), Gunderson (1998, 2000), Aldrete
(1999), Hübler (2001: 121-144) and Hall (2004, 2007).
21 Cicero, Brutus 142, Orator 56, De orat. 3.213; Valerius Maximus 8.10 ext. 1; Quintilian,
Inst. orat. 11.3.6-7; Philodemus, Rhet. 1.196 Sudhaus; Longinus, Rhet. Gr. 1.2.195 Spengel
& Hammer; Plutarch, Mor. 845b. See also Dionysius Halicarnassus’ remarks on Demosthe-
nes’ intensive voice and body exercises in Dem. 53.
22 Athanasius, Prolegomena in Herm. De statibus (Rhet. Gr. XIV, p. 177.3-8 Rabe): πλὴν καὶ
Θεόφραστος ὁ φιλόσοφος ὁμοίως φησὶ μέγιστον εἶναι ῥήτορι πρὸς τὸ πεῖσαι τὴν ὑπόκρισιν,
εἰς τὰς ἀρχὰς ἀναφέρων καὶ τὰ πάθη τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ τὴν κατανόησιν τούτων, ὡς καὶ τῇ ὅλῃ
ἐπιστήμῃ σύμφωνον εἶναι τὴν κίνησιν τοῦ σώματος καὶ τὸν τόνον τῆς φωνῆς. For details, in-
cluding problems of textual transmission, see Fortenbaugh (1985: esp. 270-272; 2005: 397-
415, esp. 399-409), who also deals with Aristotle’s view of ὑπόκρισις.
23 Kayser (1910) doubted that Theophrastus’ treatise Περὶ ὑποκρίσεως was mainly concerned
with rhetoric. Based upon a comparison with Eustathius’ 12th-century work of the same title
that dealt with hypocrisy, he thought that Theophrastus had written a work similar in content
to his book on flattery (Περὶ κολακείας). Fortenbaugh (1985: 281-282) rightly expresses
strong reservations about Kayser’s position.
24 Thorsten Fögen

Most Greek writings on gesture, facial expressions and voice quality have
unfortunately been lost,24 so that in the majority of cases we have to content
ourselves with reconstructing Greek theory from Roman sources, not all of
which have survived, either.25 In the following, I shall concentrate on passages
from four Latin works: the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium (3.19-27),
Cicero’s treatise Orator (54-60) and his dialogue De oratore (esp. 3.213-227),
and Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria (esp. 11.3). All of these writers divide de-
livery into voice quality (vox) on the one hand, and gesture (gestus) and facial
expression (vultus) on the other. Accordingly, delivery was termed either pro-
nuntiatio with emphasis on the vocal aspects or actio with reference to the use
of body language.26

3.1 The voice

Let me begin this section with a definition of “voice-quality” which I borrow
from John Lyons’ instructive article on the elements of human language (1972:
“voice-quality (...) by which term is meant ‘the permanent background vocal
invariable for an individual’s speech’ (...). Unlike the vocal reflexes, voice-
quality is a necessary concomitant of speaking. Furthermore, it plays an im-
portant role in signalling the identity of the speaker, both as a particular indi-
vidual to those who know him, and more generally, as having certain charac-
teristics which may correlate with membership of particular social groups
within the community (being of a certain age, of a particular sex, of a certain
physical build and personality, etc.). Voice-quality, which may have both a
physiological and a cultural component, is very relevant to the phenomenon
known as ‘self-presentation’ (...).”
As we shall see shortly, this definition contains much that could be directly
connected with, or even derived from, remarks which are to be found in an-
cient rhetorical treatises. With the exception of Quintilian, the writers surveyed
pay much more attention to the deployment of the voice27 than to the use of
the body. Since the orator evokes certain emotions in his audience by the dif-
ferent modulations of his voice,28 he has to adjust his tone to the contents of his

24 See Maier-Eichhorn (1989: 7-14) and Katsouris (1989: 26-33); see also Hall (2004: 146-
147). On Theophrastus see Fortenbaugh (1985, 2005). The non-existence of more extensive
writings on actio is mentioned in Rhet. Her. 3.19 (cf. also 3.27 fin.).
25 See e.g. Quintilian, Inst. orat. 11.3.143, who refers to writings on gesture by Plotius Gallus
and Nigidius Figulus.
26 Rhet. Her. 3.19; Cicero, Orator 55 and De orat. 3.213-227; Quintilian, Inst. orat. 11.3.1,
27 See Gleason (1995: 103-130); Gunderson (1998: 183-185) focusses entirely on Quintilian.
28 On rhetoric and the arousal of emotions in general, see Solmsen (1938), Sonkowsky (1959),
Webb (1997) and the short overview in Hall (2007: 232-234).
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 25

Figure 2: “Arringatore” from Lake Trasimene, ca. 90-70 B.C.

(Museo Archeologico, Florence, Italy)
26 Thorsten Fögen

speech and to the reactions he wants to elicit from his listeners. This requires
the chosen pitch to be in harmony with the orator’s character (see esp. Rhet.
Her. 3.22).
Quintilian starts his own outline with the earliest level of rhetorical educa-
tion. Already in his very young years, the future orator ought to concentrate on
a proper diction in his grammatical and stylistic training: poetic texts should
not be read without a certain gracefulness, but at the same time their recitation
must sound manly and dignified.29 But this postulate is not only applied to the
reading aloud of literature, it is a maxim for all speaking in public: a feeble and
thin voice is associated with female speech and thus to be avoided by the fu-
ture orator.30 This goal is achieved by a rigorous speech training during rhe-
torical instruction. At the same time, the teacher of rhetoric guides his pupil
towards a skilful use of non-verbal elements to enhance the effectiveness of his
presentation (Quintilian, Inst. orat. 1.11.3-19).
Quintilian’s treatment of vox in Book 11 (Inst. orat. 11.3.14-65) is much
more extensive than those of the author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium and of
Cicero. As he points out, he has a good reason for dealing with the voice be-
fore he moves on to a discussion of gestures: the latter are adapted to suit the
former (Inst. orat. 11.3.14: prius est de voce dicere, cui etiam gestus accom-
modatur). He differentiates between voice quantity and quality and draws at-
tention to the fact that every human being possesses a distinctive voice of his
own (Inst. orat. 11.3.18). For his educational agenda, it is important that the
voice can be, and needs to be, trained if one is to succeed as an orator. How-
ever, he makes it clear that the rhetorician’s voice training (cura) ought to dif-
fer from that provided by the singing-master (φωνασκός), even if there are
some instances where the two overlap. Physical robustness (firmitas corporis)
is most desirable for improving the good qualities of the voice, and it can be
achieved by a healthy and simple lifestyle that consists of walking exercises,
bodily care, wholesome nutrition and sexual abstinence.31 This method is sup-

29 Inst. orat. 1.8.2: sit autem in primis lectio virilis et cum suavitate quadam gravis, et non qui-
dem prosae similis, quia et carmen est et se poetae canere testantur, non tamen in canticum
dissoluta nec plasmate, ut nunc a plerisque fit, effeminata (...).
30 Inst. orat. 1.11.1: non enim puerum, quem in hoc instituimus, aut femineae vocis exilitate
frangi volo aut seniliter tremere. More extensively 11.3.32: itemque si ipsa vox primum fue-
rit, ut sic dicam, sana, id est nullum eorum, de quibus modo retuli, patietur incommodum,
deinde non subsurda, rudis, inmanis, dura, rigida, rava, praepinguis, aut tenuis, inanis,
acerba, pusilla, mollis, effeminata (...). One feels somewhat reminded of the former British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who, after some training, successfully managed to lower
the pitch of her voice and thereby gained more acceptance among her male fellow politicians
as well as among the public (see Fögen 2004: 219 n. 34, with references).
31 See Vendries (2006: esp. 247-252), with special reference to singers, and Edwards (1993:
86): “Sexual indulgence of all kinds sapped a man’s strength and made him like a woman,
unable to take part in public life.” On incontinentia and effeminacy, see Edwards (1993: 81-
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 27

posed to prevent the voice from becoming feeble and thin and thus from re-
sembling that of eunuchs, women and invalids (Inst. orat. 11.3.19). Since
rhetoricians often need to speak in several cases in succession, their voice must
be strong and enduring (Inst. orat. 11.3.23: non enim tam molli teneraque voce
quam forti ac durabili), and in this respect, Quintilian once again sets it apart
from the singer’s voice. For a most effective voice-training, best practised on a
daily basis, he recommends selecting varied passages which make various de-
mands on the use of the voice and thus prepare the rhetorician for all exigen-
cies of his profession (Inst. orat. 11.3.25).
For the actual delivery it is vital for the orator to give preference to an “ur-
bane” pronunciation and avoid any rustic or foreign accents (Inst. orat.
11.3.30: neque rusticitas neque peregrinitas resonet); 32 he should deploy a
“sound” voice (sana vox), which avoids a whole array of negative characteris-
tics, circumscribed as “dull” (subsurda), “coarse” (rudis), “exaggerated” (im-
manis), “hard” (dura), “stiff” (rigida), “hoarse” (rava) or “thick” (praepin-
guis), or “thin” (tenuis), “hollow” (inanis), “sharp” (acerba), “feeble” (pu-
silla), “soft” (mollis) or “effeminate” (effeminata). Apart from being correct
(emendata), the pronunciation must also be clear (dilucida), ornate (ornata)
and appropriate (apta), and thus possess the same virtues as an orator’s style,
as Quintilian explains in the next thirty-five chapters (Inst. orat. 11.3.30-65).
Although he encourages the rhetorician to vary the tone of his voice, he ad-
vises him to steer a middle course between the extremes in order to achieve
“evenness” (aequalitas) in his pronunciation. The guiding principle must be
that the voice suit the nature of the various subjects on which the orator is
speaking and the moods that they demand (see esp. Inst. orat. 11.3.43-45, 61-
65). Later on, he gives some examples of appropriate delivery (Inst. orat.
Itaque laetis in rebus plena et simplex et ipsa quodammodo hilaris fluit; at in
certamine erecta totis viribus et velut omnibus nervis intenditur. Atrox in ira
et aspera ac densa et respiratione crebra; neque enim potest esse longus
spiritus, cum immoderate effunditur. (...) at in blandiendo, fatendo, satisfaci-
endo, rogando, lenis et summissa. (...) Attollitur autem concitatis adfectibus,
compositis descendit pro utriusque rei modo altius vel inferius.

84). But see also Pliny the Elder, Nat. hist. 28.58: (...) athletae tamen torpentes restituuntur
venere, vox revocatur, cum e candida declinat in fuscam.
32 On urbanitas in connection with voice and gestures, see also Quintilian, Inst. orat. 6.3.107:
Nam meo quidem iudicio illa est urbanitas, in qua nihil absonum, nihil agreste, nihil incondi-
tum, nihil peregrinum neque sensu neque verbis neque ore gestuve possit deprehendi, ut non
tam sit in singulis dictis quam in toto colore dicendi, qualis apud Graecos atticismos ille red-
dens Athenarum proprium saporem; cf. Inst. orat. 1.5.36-37 on ‘solecisms’ in the use of ges-
tures. On the meaning of sermo urbanus and linguistic norms, especially in Cicero, see Fögen
(2000: 117-141), with further references.
28 Thorsten Fögen

“Therefore when we deal with a lively theme, the flow of the voice is charac-
terized by fullness, simplicity and cheerfulness; but when it is roused to battle,
it puts forth all its strength and strains every nerve. In anger it is fierce, harsh
and intense, and calls for frequent filling of the lungs, since the breath cannot
be sustained for long when it is poured forth without restraint. (...) On the
other hand, in flattery, admission, apology or question it will be gentle and
subdued. (...) But it will be raised to express violent emotion, and sink when
our words are of calmer nature, rising and falling according to the demands of
its theme.”
Quintilian’s chapters on the voice present the future rhetorician with a number
of do’s and don’ts in terms of boundaries that he must not transgress if he
wants to succeed in appealing to his audience’s emotions. This tenet can be
subsumed under the heading of appropriate behaviour (aptum or πρέπον). Most
noteworthy are his warnings against the use of a soft and effeminate voice on
the one hand and a tone that reveals an “un-Roman” origin (rusticitas or pere-
grinitas) on the other. As we shall see in section 4 (below), his position to-
wards effeminacy reflected an attitude that he shared with many other Roman

3.2 Gestures and facial expressions

The state of mind the voice evokes in the audience ought to be reinforced by
corresponding gestures and facial expressions of the orator. As we have al-
ready seen for the voice (section 3.1), the principle of appropriateness (aptum,
decorum) is equally vital for the use of elements of non-verbal communication
as it is on the verbal level, where the choice of words, the stylistic levels and
registers must be selected in accordance with the topic of the orator’s speech,
his intentions, the make-up of his audience and other external circumstances,
but also with his own personal make-up.33 In addition to an appropriate use of
voice, elements of gesture and facial expression should also fit the orator’s in-
dividual personality and at the same time match the requirements of the ora-
torical profession as a whole, whose representatives were expected to be con-
cerned about their dignity (dignitas) and authority (gravitas). In other words:
the Roman orator ought to correspond to the ideal of the vir bonus, which was
already outlined by Cato the Elder (see Gunderson 1998: 169-171, with earlier
literature). For that reason, the orator should not behave like an actor on stage,
even though dramatic art may sometimes provide the orator with ideas for the
shaping of his speeches, especially at the non-verbal level. 34 In connection

33 Cf. Fögen (2000: 119-122). In addition, see Quintilian, Inst. orat. 11.1, 11.3.61-65, 11.3.150-
153, and further 11.3.177-184, esp. 180.
34 Rhet. Her. 3.26; Cicero, De orat. 3.220; Quintilian, Inst. orat. 1.11.3 (Ne gestus quidem om-
nis ac motus a comoedis petendus est. Quamquam enim utrumque eorum ad quendam modum
praestare debet orator, plurimum tamen aberit a scaenico, nec vultu nec manu nec excur-
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 29

with this, Quintilian recommends relying only upon gestures which accom-
pany speech in a natural way (‘illustrators’ in the terminology of Ekman and
Friesen) and suggests that gestures which substitute for the spoken word (‘em-
blems’ in Ekman’s and Friesen’s terms; cf. 1969: 63-70, 1979: 111ff., 118)
should be avoided because they belong to the domain of actors in the theatre
(Inst. orat. 11.3.88-91; cf. Cicero, De orat. 3.220). The reason for such a de-
mand is apparent, if we consider the social stratification of Roman society. Ac-
tors and pantomimes usually belonged to the lower stratum; their profession
was associated with ill repute, a lack of moral restraint and even indecency, at-
tributes which at least officially conflicted with the strict morality of respect-
able Roman citizens.35
In rhetorical writings, the importance of the use of facial expressions by
the orator is repeatedly emphasized, and in particular the effective use of the
eyes as conveyors of emotion. 36 For example, Cicero remarks (De orat.
Sed in ore sunt omnia, in eo autem ipsi dominatus est omnis oculorum; (...)
animi est enim omnis actio et imago animi vultus, indices oculi: nam haec est
una pars corporis, quae, quot animi motus sunt, tot significationes et commu-
tationes possit efficere; neque vero est quisquam, qui eadem conivens efficiat.
“But everything depends on the face, while the face itself is entirely domi-
nated by the eyes (...) For delivery is wholly the concern of the feelings, and
these are mirrored by the face and expressed by the eyes; for this is the only
part of the body capable of producing as many indications and variations as
there are emotions, and there is nobody who can produce the same effect with
his eyes shut.”
It may be added that, in texts other than rhetorical treatises, the human face
was regarded as unique and ranging above the faces of animals. Pliny the Elder
draws attention to an important terminological difference, when he says: facies
homini tantum, ceteris os aut rostra (Nat. hist. 11.138).38 He admits that ani-

sionibus nimius. Nam si qua in his ars est dicentium, ea prima est, ne ars esse videatur),
1.12.14 and 11.3.103, 123, 125, 181-184, esp. 184 on the situation in Quintilian’s era. See
esp. Fantham (2002) for details; see also Dutsch (2002) and Lada-Richards (2007: 116-120).
35 Cf. Wüst (1949: esp. 860-863) and Rotolo (1957: 49-50, 63-67). Williams (1999: 139-140)
draws attention to the fact that actors were often associated with effeminacy. See also Con-
nolly (1998: 140-143), Gunderson (2000: 111-148) and Edwards (1993: 98-136).
36 On ocular interaction in ancient Greece, see Cairns (2005b).
37 Similarly Quintilian, Inst. orat. 11.3.75-77, esp. 75: sed in ipso vultu plurimum valent oculi,
per quos maxime animus emanat, ut citra motum quoque et hilaritate enitescant et tristitiae
quoddam nubilum ducant. quin etiam lacrimas iis natura mentis indices dedit, quae aut
erumpunt dolore aut laetitia manant. motu vero intenti, remissi, superbi, torvi, mites, asperi
fiunt: quae, ut actus poposcerit, fingentur. See also Cicero, De leg. 1.27.
38 It should be added that some intriguing information on the human face is provided by the
Eleventh Book of Galen’s De usu partium (III 842-939 Kühn [p. 113.8-182.6 Helmreich]).
30 Thorsten Fögen

mals also have a forehead, but only in man does it express emotions. Human
eyebrows constitute a similar case, since they serve to convey certain feelings
and sentiments. However, the most precious part of the human body in that re-
spect, according to Pliny, are the eyes.39 Also, while in animals the shape and
colour of the eyes are rather similar within the same species, there is an enor-
mous variety among humans. When Pliny emphasizes that the diverse forms of
human eyes allow for assumptions about the character of their owners (Nat.
hist. 11.143-144), he comes close to ancient physiognomic theories.40 It goes
without saying that Pliny the Elder was not the first to make statements like
these about the face and the eyes in animals and human beings; much of what
is found in the Naturalis historia goes back to Aristotle, one of his most fre-
quently used sources (see esp. Hist. anim. I 10 492a1-13).
With respect to gestures, Quintilian believes that the hands are most es-
sential, since the orator can use them to transmit messages with a level of
sophistication almost comparable to that of verbal speech.41 In denoting places
and persons, the hands take on, as it were, the function of adverbs and pro-
nouns. Quintilian thinks that it is no exaggeration to understand gestural
communication which makes use of the hands as a language common to all
human beings (Inst. orat. 11.3.85-87). But one may wonder why he outlines at
greater length a variety of specific hand gestures, if he subscribes to the theory
that they are universally intelligible (Inst. orat. 11.3.92-124). Is his statement
in the end no more than a rhetorical phrase? Hall (2004: 150-152; similarly
Hall 2007: 226-227) sees no contradiction here. According to him, the gestures

Comparisons of the human face and its parts with those of various animals, including apes,
are made on several occasions.
39 Pliny the Elder, Nat. hist. 11.139-157, esp. 11.145-146: Neque ulla ex parte maiora animi in-
dicia cunctis animalibus, sed homine maxime, id est moderationis, clementiae, misericordiae,
odii, amoris, tristitiae, laetitiae. Contuitu quoque multiformes, truces, torvi, flagrantes, gra-
ves, transversi, limi, summissi, blandi. Profecto in oculis animus habitat. Ardent, intenduntur,
umectant, conivent. Hinc illa misericordiae lacrima, hos cum exosculamur, animum ipsum
videmur attingere, hinc fletus et rigantes ora rivi.
40 See Cairns (2005a: x): “For the physiognomist (...) the greatest emphasis is on the eyes (...):
of the seventy chapters of Polemo’s Physiognomy, the first, which is devoted to the eyes,
constitutes just over one third of the whole work.” On ancient physiognomy, see Evans
(1969) and Swain (2007).
41 For John Bulwer, the expressive power of the hands equals that of speech: “In all the declara-
tive conceits of gesture whereby the body, instructed by nature, can emphatically vent and
communicate a thought, and in the propriety of its utterance express the silent agitations of
the mind, the hand, that busy instrument, is most talkative, whose language is as easily per-
ceived and understood as if man had another mouth or fountain of discourse in his hand”
(Chirologia. Ed. by James W. Cleary, Carbondale & Edwardsville 1974, 15). In his Chi-
ronomia, he emphasizes that truly effective speech is dependent upon the simultaneous use of
the hands, but not necessarily vice versa (Chironomia. Ed. by James W. Cleary, Carbondale
& Edwardsville 1974, 156-157). See also Hübler (2001: 350-361), who supplies further quo-
tations from Bulwer that are along similar lines.
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 31

Figure 3: Chirogrammatic plate from John Bulwer’s Chironomia

(London 1644, 95. Reproduced in the edition of the Chirologia and Chironomia
by James W. Cleary, Carbondale & Edwardsville 1974, 213)
32 Thorsten Fögen

described by Quintilian are based upon a system which every Roman ac-
quired automatically during his socialization. Therefore, the future orator
merely needs to be trained how to translate his already existing knowledge into
action. As Hall (2004: 151-152) puts it: “even though these gestures were
already familiar to his students, Quintilian cannot take too much for granted.
(...) He thus gives detailed and explicit accounts of the gestures that he recom-
mends, despite the fact that most would have been familiar to his pupils”. Al-
though this may be correct, one should perhaps also bear in mind that the de-
tailed character of Quintilian’s discussion of hand gestures is owed not least to
his striving for comprehensiveness and systematicity, features typical of an an-
cient technical handbook of the size of the Institutio oratoria.
Be that as it may: Quintilian’s emphasis on the significance of the hands is
not surprising, given the fact that it had already been underscored in Greek sci-
ence. Aristotle remarks that the hand is not to be looked on as one organ but as
many, as it has the function of an “instrument for further instruments” (De
part. anim. IV 10 687a 20-21: ἡ δὲ χεὶρ ἔοικεν εἶναι οὐχ ἓν ὄργανον ἀλλὰ
πολλά· ἔστι γὰρ ὡσπερεὶ ὄργανον πρὸ ὀργάνων). He then describes how the
hand can take on various different functions; even its individual parts – fingers
and nails – are designed for different purposes (De part. anim. IV 10 687b).42
That the human hand is unique is a view expressed by Galen when he sets it
apart from the extremities of an ape: a sculptor or painter who wished to por-
tray a laughable hand should take the ape’s as his model, as this animal in gen-
eral is to be seen as a comic imitation of man.43

42 See also Xenophon, Mem. 1.4.11: ἔπειτα τοῖς μὲν ἄλλοις ἑρπετοῖς πόδας ἔδωκαν, οἳ τὸ
πορεύεσθαι μόνον παρέχουσιν, ἀνθρώπῳ δὲ καὶ χεῖρας προσέθεσαν, αἳ τὰ πλεῖστα οἷς
εὐδαιμονέστεροι ἐκείνων ἐσμὲν ἐξεργάζονται. Anaxagoras claims that human beings are
more rational than animals because they have hands and are thus able to give shape to their
ideas (VS 59 A 102 Diels & Kranz); cf. Cicero, De nat. deor. 2.150-152. Further sources (in-
cluding Diodorus 1.8.9) are discussed by Walter Spoerri, Späthellenistische Berichte über
Welt, Kultur und Götter, Basel 1959, 148-152.
43 Galen, De usu partium I 22 (III 79-81 Kühn [p. 58.13-60.5 Helmreich]), esp. the following
section (ΙΙΙ 80-81 Kühn [p. 59.6-12 Helmreich]): ὅπως μὲν οὖν αὐτῷ τὸ σύμπαν σῶμα
μίμημα γελοῖόν ἐστιν ἀνθρώπου, προϊὼν ὁ λόγος ἐπιδείξει· ὅπως δ’ αἱ χεῖρες, ἤδη σκόπει
τοσοῦτόν μοι πρότερον ἐννοήσας, ὡς, εἴ τις γραφικὸς ἢ πλαστικὸς ἀνὴρ ἀνθρώπου χεῖρας
μιμούμενος ἁμαρτάνειν ἤμελλεν ἐπὶ τὸ γελοῖον, οὐκ ἂν ἄλλως ἥμαρτεν ἢ ὡς τοῖς πιθήκοις
ἔχει. See also III 16 (III 263-265 Kühn [p. 193.23-194.22 Helmreich]), XIII 11 (IV 123-128
Kühn [p. 271.16-275.13 Helmreich]), XV 8 (IV 251-252 Kühn [p. 366.22-368.2 Helmreich])
as well as De anat. adm. IV 1 (II 415-416 Kühn). On the hand in general, De usu partium I 2-
24 (III 2-86 Kühn [p. 1.18-63.8 Helmreich]); see also III 3 (III 182 Kühn [p. 133.6-15 Helm-
reich]). – On apes, see also Heraclitus, VS 22 B82-83 Diels & Kranz (from Plato, Hipp.
Maior 289a-b), and Ennius, Sat. fr. 69 (p. 211 Vahlen): simia quam similis turpissuma bestia
nobis. On the ape as a source of humour, see William C. McDermott, The Ape in Antiquity,
Baltimore 1938, 109-146, esp. 109-118 and 141-146. See also Jocelyn M. C. Toynbee, Ani-
mals in Roman Life and Art, London 1973, 55-60, esp. 57-59.
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 33

Aristotle observes that there are certain similarities between the hands,
fingers and nails of apes and humans, but he also states that apes’ bodies are
more like those of animals (Hist. anim. II 8 502b3-4). For him, apes’ bodies lie
halfway between quadruped mammals and humans.44

3.3 Outward appearance and dress (cultus)

As part of his outline on delivery in Book 11.3, Quintilian includes a special
section on the proper outward appearance and dress of the rhetorician (Inst.
orat. 11.3.137-149), which represents a unique feature in ancient literature on
rhetoric. As a public figure, the orator should invest a certain amount of care in
his garb, as this is an essential element of his self-presentation. Here, as in
other areas, Quintilian pleads for a healthy medium between excessive care
(nimia cura) and extreme negligence (negligentia). The orator’s outfit ought to
be distinguished and manly (splendidus et virilis) and thus mirror his position
as an honourable member (honestus) of Roman society (Inst. orat. 11.3.137)
who is concerned about his high rank (dignitas). He apparently felt the need to
treat dress more extensively because it was not only a crucial component of the
rhetorician’s conscious bodily self-modification, but it also had an influence on
his use of gestures: the way in which he wore his garments and the extent to
which he covered his body would affect his ability to move his arms and hands
freely. Most intriguing in this respect is Quintilian’s remark that dress conven-
tions changed over time (Inst. orat. 11.3.137-138; cf. 11.3.143):
Est aliquid in amictu, quod ipsum aliquatenus temporum condicione mutatum
est. Nam veteribus nulli sinus, perquam breves post illos fuerunt. Itaque etiam
gestu necesse est usos esse in principiis eos alio, quorum bracchium, sicut
Graecorum, veste continebatur.
“There are also details of dress which are altered to some extent by successive
changes in fashion. The ancients, for example, wore no folds, and their suc-
cessors wore them very short. Consequently it follows that in view of the fact
that their arms were, like those of the Greeks, covered by the garment, they
must have employed a different form of gesture in the exordium from that
which is now in use.”
In order to achieve a successful performance, the orator should deliberately in-
tegrate his outfit into his body language. In the course of his pleading, the
clothing ought to resemble the spirit of each part of his speech: when it gets
more energetic, the looser portions of the fold of the toga may be placed under
the left arm (Inst. orat. 11.3.144-146). Especially towards the end of a speech,

44 Hist. anim. II 8 502a16-18: ἔνια δὲ τῶν ζῴων ἐπαμφοτερίζει τὴν φύσιν τῷ τ’ ἀνθρώπῳ καὶ
τοῖς τετράποσιν, οἷον πίθηκοι καὶ κῆβοι καὶ κυνοκέφαλοι. On the term ἐπαμφοτερίζειν, see
the remarks in A. L. Peck, Aristotle: Historia Animalium. With an English translation (vol.
1), Cambridge, Mass. 1965, lxxiii-lxxv.
34 Thorsten Fögen

Quintilian does not find it altogether inappropriate for the orator’s dress to take
on a studiedly careless look, as this matches well with his sweating and signs
of fatigue and also effectively exhibits the speaker’s commitment and emo-
tional involvement. Showing this kind of negligence at the beginning of a
speech, however, would be a huge mistake.45
Quintilian regards outward appearance and dress as vital constituents of
the orator’s self-fashioning and stylization. Here as well as in other areas that
are concerned with non-verbal communication and body language, he leaves
nothing to chance and provides the future rhetorician with extensive advice
about how to put his outfit to the most effective use. The orator will thus be
equipped with an awareness of those boundaries which he should not trans-
gress. Therefore, learning how to become a rhetorician is all about knowing
one’s status in Roman society and using one’s body accordingly.

4. The fear of mollitia

As has already become obvious from the previous sections, Roman writers on
rhetoric emphatically warn against the danger of effeminacy in an orator. In
the twelfth chapter of the fifth book of his Institutio oratoria, Quintilian com-
plains about the degeneracy of rhetoric in his own day. In his view, declama-
tions have become oriented increasingly towards superficial beauty, the goal of
which is to enhance the pleasure of the audience. In earlier times, good
speeches were characterized by brevity and vigorous style; they were compa-
rable to a male body, by nature strong, powerful and robust. However, this old
ideal has now been abandoned in favour of a castrated style, as it were, which
has lost all the natural qualities of manly speech. In particular, verbosity, con-
trived expressions and long-windedness are denigrated in this context (Inst.
orat. 5.12.17-21). The same analogy between style and the human body is
taken up by Quintilian in the preface to the eighth book. As he bases his defini-
tion of good style upon the principles of naturalness and unaffectedness, he
transposes the concept of established Roman virtues to the linguistic level.46
This does not mean that he pleads for a fully archaic style or for the complete
renunciation of rhetorical devices; rather, archaisms and embellishing elements

45 Inst. orat. 11.3.147-149: Cum vero magna pars est exhausta orationis, utique adflante for-
tuna, paene omnia decent, sudor ipse et fatigatio et negligentior amictus et soluta ac velut
labens undique toga. (...) At si incipientibus aut paulum progressis decidat toga, non repo-
nere eam prorsus negligentis aut pigri aut quomodo debeat amiciri nescientis est.
46 Inst. orat. 8 pr. 19-28, esp. 20-21: at muliebris et luxuriosus non corpus exornat, sed detegit
mentem. similiter illa translucida et versicolor quorundam elocutio res ipsas effeminat, quae
illo verborum habitu vestiantur. curam ergo verborum, rerum volo esse sollicitudinem. nam
plerumque optima rebus cohaerent et cernuntur suo lumine. Similarly Inst. orat. 8.3.6-11,
10.1.43 and 12.10.40-47.
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 35

should both be deployed moderately and with great care, not just for cheap
showmanship, but as a means of making one’s case effectively.47
Quintilian is not the first rhetorician to advocate this position. As in many
other cases, he follows certain tenets developed by the rhetorical tradition, in
particular by Cicero.48 The key to understanding the rejection of female ele-
ments in a male speech lies in the contention of Roman authors that a man’s
style indicates his morals, and that his morals will affect his style (talis oratio
qualis vita).49 This principle is discussed at greater length in Epistle 114 of Se-
neca the Younger with reference to Maecenas as an example of effeminate
style (e.g. Leeman 1963: 271-278; Graver 1998: esp. 609-614; Connolly 2007:
87)50 and, earlier on, in some passages of Seneca the Elder’s Controversiae
and Suasoriae where in particular the ‘soft’ style of the orator Arellius Fuscus
is censured (Contr. 1 pr. 7-9, 2 pr. 1, and Suas. 2.23; see Richlin 1997: 94-98).
As far as rhetoric is concerned, the excerpts discussed thus far all demon-
strate the existence of fixed concepts as to how men were expected to commu-
nicate in public discourse in the later Roman republic and early empire. Quin-
tilian’s contention that a man’s appearance as well as his style ought to differ

47 Inst. orat. 8 pr. 32-33: sit igitur cura elocutionis quam maxima, dum sciamus tamen nihil
verborum causa esse faciendum, cum verba ipsa rerum gratia sint reperta: quorum ea sunt
maxime probabilia, quae sensum animi nostri optime promunt atque in animis iudicum quod
nos volumus efficiunt. ea debent praestare sine dubio et admirabilem et iocundam orationem,
verum admirabilem non sic, quo modo prodigia miramur, et iocundam non deformi volup-
tate, sed cum laude ac dignitate coniuncta.
48 E.g. De orat. 3.41: Nolo exprimi litteras putidius, nolo obscurari neglegentius; nolo verba
exiliter exanimata exire, nolo inflata et quasi anhelata gravius. Nam de voce nondum ea
dico, quae sunt actionis, sed hoc, quod mihi cum sermone quasi coniunctum videtur: sunt
enim certa vitia, quae nemo est quin effugere cupiat; mollis vox aut muliebris aut quasi extra
modum absona atque absurda. Further De orat. 3.199: His tribus figuris insidere quidam
venustatis non fuco inlitus, sed sanguine diffusus debet color. An earlier document is Rhet.
Her. 3.22: Acuta exclamatio vocem volnerat; eadem laedit auditorem: habet enim quiddam
inliberale et ad muliebrem potius vociferationem quam ad virilem dignitatem in dicendo ad-
49 This maxim is of Greek origin. See Diogenes Laertios 1.58 (about Solon): ἔλεγε δὲ τὸν μὲν
λόγον εἴδωλον εἶναι τῶν ἔργων. Similarly Cicero, Tusc. 5.47 (referring to Socrates): qualis
cuiusque animi adfectus esset, talem esse hominem; qualis autem homo ipse esset, talem eius
esse orationem; orationi autem facta similia, factis vitam.
50 See also Seneca’s more general critique of his generation in Nat. quaest. 7.31.1-3: invenit
luxuria aliquid novi, in quod insaniat; invenit impudicitia novam contumeliam sibi; invenit
deliciarum dissolutio et tabes aliquid adhuc tenerius molliusque, quo pereat. Nondum satis
robur omne proiecimus; adhuc quicquid est boni moris extinguimus. Levitate et politura cor-
porum muliebres munditias antecessimus, colores meretricios matronis quidem non induen-
dos viri sumimus, tenero et molli ingressu suspendimus gradum – non ambulamus sed
incedimus –, exornamus anulis digitos, in omni articulo gemma disponitur. Cotidie com-
miniscimur per quae virilitati fiat iniuria, ut traducatur, quia non potest exui; alius genitalia
excidit, alius in obscenam ludi partem fugit et, locatus ad mortem, infame armaturae genus
in quo morbum suum exerceat legit.
36 Thorsten Fögen

significantly from that of a woman also appears in earlier rhetorical treatises as

a postulate of a pronounced normative character. But as it seems, the actual
rhetorical practice in the early Roman Empire diverged from these strict views.
Nonetheless, conceptions of appropriate forms of self-presentation for men
in public, as expressed by Quintilian and others, were so forcefully articulated
that they continued to have an effect on later periods. This can be seen in some
passages from Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticae. He reports that the famous orator
Demosthenes was blamed for making too much fuss about his outward appear-
ance and for not being man enough (parum vir). Another rhetorician named
Hortensius is described as having indulged in excessive bodily hygiene and an
obsession with dressing up; this, and his inclination to make an immoderate
use of gestures during his speeches, prompted the rhetorician to insult him for
being a histrio, a comedian (Noct. Att. 1.5; cf. 11.2). These excerpts thus serve
as further instances of “la crainte bien romaine de la mollitia” (Moreau 1995:
60; cf. Williams 1999: passim).51
They can be supplemented with evidence from areas other than rhetoric.
According to Gellius’ testimony in the Noctes Atticae, Plutarch mentioned that
the philosopher Arcesilaus had once offended a rich man who was craving
admiration. Arcesilaus admitted that the man seemed at first to be morally im-
peccable, but felt that his broken voice, his artistic hairdo and the lecherous
and provocative movement of his eyes indicated otherwise. Arcesilaus com-
pared the man with a cinaedus52 and insinuated that he committed unnatural
sexual acts, which were stigmatized in Graeco-Roman antiquity (Noct. Att. 3.5;
cf. 6.12).53 Perhaps even more than today, the ancients had fixed stereotypes of
how the representatives of professions firmly established in public life ought to
appear and perform their tasks. Apart from orators, one could draw together
rich evidence for politicians, philosophers, teachers, doctors, priests and sol-

51 A satirical counterpart to the figure of the ideal orator of Roman rhetoric is presented by
Lucian in his work Rhetorum praeceptor. Lucian’s rhetorician is characterized as πάνσοφόν
τινα καὶ πάγκαλον ἄνδρα, διασεσαλευμένον τὸ βάδισμα, ἐπικεκλασμένον τὸν αὐχένα,
γυναικεῖον τὸ βλέμμα, μελιχρὸν τὸ φώνημα, μύρων ἀποπνέοντα, τῷ δακτύλῳ ἄκρῳ τὴν
κεφαλὴν κνώμενον, ὀλίγας μὲν ἔτι, οὔλας δὲ καὶ ὑακινθίνας τὰς τρίχας εὐθετίζοντα (Rhet.
praec. 11); “masculinity” is equated here with rustic manners (Rhet. praec. 12 fin.: ἄγροικον
γὰρ τὸ ἀρρενωπὸν καὶ οὐ πρὸς ἁβροῦ και ἐρασμίου ῥήτορος). See Gleason (1995: 126-129)
and Gunderson (2000: 149-186).
52 On the term κίναιδος or cinaedus, see Wilhelm Kroll, s.v. “Kinaidos”, in: RE XI.1 (1921),
459-462. On the broader context, see Williams (1999) and Edwards (1993), each with further
53 Similarly Polemon, De phys. 1.160-164 Foerster (cf. Swain 2007: 376-379) on the philoso-
pher and hermaphrodite Favorinus: he was libidinous and dissolute beyond bounds. His voice
was like a woman’s, and likewise his extremities and other bodily parts were equally soft. He
paid regular attention to grooming, with the use of hair-dye, and cultivated everything that
excites desire for intercourse and lust.
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 37

diers.54 The greatest focus of public attention was perhaps directed towards
leading political figures. In particular, authors of the biographical tradition
such as Suetonius, Plutarch and the Historia Augusta rely upon the assumption
that the true character of an emperor can be recognized not only from his dip-
lomatic competence as a statesman, but furthermore from his non-verbal be-
haviour. Signs of effeminacy and effeteness in men were associated with a lack
of self-control and a tendency towards excess, and could be used by political
enemies to expose them to ridicule, as, for example, in the case of Caesar (see
Corbeill 2004: 107-139) or Otho (see Williams 1999: 152-153).55

5. Conclusion
For reasons of space, the treatment of the subject of this article has had to be
very selective. Among the ancient treatises on rhetoric, for example, the elev-
enth book of Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria in particular would merit a de-
tailed analysis (see esp. Maier-Eichhorn 1989), since it is the only extant com-
prehensive treatment of the use of gestures in speeches. On the whole, it would
be desirable to have a systematic compilation of theoretical reflections on non-
verbal communication by ancient Greek and Roman authors. Such a collection
of the literary evidence would also open up new horizons for interdisciplinary
research, in particular with regard to the archaeological material that is avail-
Nonetheless, I hope to have demonstrated that the more theoretically ori-
ented reflections on non-verbal communication and body language by ancient
authors stem from various perspectives. The bases of these reflections are,
first, hypotheses on the origin of language (Lucretius); second, considerations
about the first-language acquisition of the child (Augustine); third, remarks on
the problem of foreign languages and, connected with this, the view of gesture
and facial expressions as a universal language of all human beings (Cicero,
Lucian and others); and fourth, the elaboration of rhetorical doctrines regard-
ing the skilful use of non-verbal elements in public speech (Cicero and Quinti-
lian). It is evident that whatever perspective the different writings may take,
they also rely upon sign theory and discuss the status of signs.
The human body was read like a text; the body’s characteristics were taken
to be a reflection of the moral qualities of its owner. There was supposed to be
a direct correlation between the habitus of an individual and his social status.

54 On doctors, see Fögen (2005); cf. Corbeill (2004: 12-40) who examines participatory ges-
tures in Roman religious ritual and medicine.
55 See also the chapter on mollitia in Edwards (1993: 63-97), who rightly remarks: “Mollitia in
a man was sometimes taken to imply an inclination to submit oneself sexually to other men,
sometimes an inability to act in a forceful ‘manly’ way” (Edwards 1993: 63-64).
38 Thorsten Fögen

This conception is eloquently expressed in a passage from one of Seneca’s let-

ters (Epist. 52.12):
Omnia rerum omnium, si observentur, indicia sunt, et argumentum morum ex
minimis quoque licet capere: inpudicum et incessus ostendit et manus mota et
unum interdum responsum et relatus ad caput digitus et flexus oculorum; in-
probum risus, insanum vultus habitusque demonstrat. Illa enim in apertum per
notas exeunt (...).
“If you mark them carefully, all acts are always significant, and you can gauge
character by even the most trifling signs. The lecherous man is revealed by his
gait, by a movement of the hand, sometimes by a single answer, by his touch-
ing his head with a finger, by the shifting of his eye. The scamp is shown up
by his laugh; the madman by his face and general appearance. These qualities
become known by certain marks (...).”
A number of ancient conceptions of non-verbal communication and body lan-
guage operate within a framework of oppositional pairs and boundaries. Al-
though the idea of body language as a universally intelligible means of com-
munication pervades a variety of the documents discussed here, there is also
the pronounced concept of alterity which can be detected on different levels.
Small children and animals make themselves understood by vocal (sometimes
‘verbal’) as well as non-verbal elements which constitute some kind of basic
‘language’, but ultimately their voice does not have the status of fully devel-
oped speech (λόγος), which implies that they also lack reason (see Fögen 2007
for details). In rhetoric, and also in many other areas of Greek and Roman so-
ciety, the ideal of masculinity prevails in every respect: the model-rhetorician
is set apart from “effeminate” speech as well as from bodily behaviour alleg-
edly typical of women. Groups that are perceived as physically different, in
particular as far as their body movements, gestures, facial expressions and
voice are concerned, are often associated with political irrelevance, a lack of
sufficient education and knowledge, a high degree of emotionality as well as a
lack of restraint and sometimes also with immorality. This could be seen very
clearly in the case of pantomime dancers, who represent lower social strata or
even slaves; for them, their ‘body management’ does not really matter, as they
stand for ‘otherness’ and are thus ostracized anyway (for a useful summary,
see Lada-Richards 2007: 125). These perceptions of the ancients frequently re-
sult in a marginalization of the groups that diverge from the norm, which
seems to be constituted by the prototypical adult, authoritative male who is not
only fully articulate, but also in control of his body and his expressive func-
tions. Especially from the rhetorical documents that I have presented here, it is
evident that this norm must have exercised an enormous amount of pressure
even on those members of ancient societies who in principle met the expecta-
tions of their environment. In order to correspond to the ideal, every part at
least of public life seems to have revolved around efforts to avoid being cast as
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 39

the ‘Other’ and to abide by the normative boundaries defining the limits of
acceptable behaviour.


A. Studies from classical philology

Aldrete, Gregory S. (1999): Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome, Baltimore.

Baertschi, Annette M. & Thorsten Fögen (2005): Schönheitsbilder und Geschlechterrol-
len im antiken Rom. Zur Bedeutung von Kosmetik, Frisuren, Kleidung und
Schmuck. In: Forum Classicum 48, 213-226.
Bier, Hugo (1917): De saltatione pantomimorum, Diss. Bonn.
Biville, Frédérique (1998): Pathologie de la voix. In: Armelle Debru & Guy Sabbah
(eds.), Nommer la maladie. Recherches sur le lexique gréco-latin de la patho-
logie, Saint-Étienne, 63-81.
Boegehold, Alan L. (1999): When a Gesture Was Expected. A Selection of Examples
from Archaic and Classical Greek Literature, Princeton.
Cairns, Douglas (2005a): Introduction. In: Douglas Cairns (ed.), Body Language in the
Greek and Roman Worlds, Swansea, ix-xxii.
Cairns, Douglas (2005b): Bullish looks and sidelong glances. Social interaction and the
eyes in ancient Greek culture. In: Douglas Cairns (ed.), Body Language in the
Greek and Roman Worlds, Swansea, 123-155.
Connolly, Joy (1998): Mastering corruption. Constructions of identity in Roman ora-
tory. In: Sandra R. Joshel & Sheila Murnaghan (eds.), Women and Slaves in
Greco-Roman Culture. Differential Equations, London & New York, 130-151.
Connolly, Joy (2007): Virile tongues. Rhetoric and masculinity. In: William Dominik &
Jon Hall (eds.), A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, Oxford, 83-97.
Corbeill, Anthony (2004): Nature Embodied. Gesture in Ancient Rome, Princeton &
Dutsch, Dorota (2002): Towards a grammar of gesture. A comparison between the
types of hand movements of the orator and the actor in Quintilian’s Institutio
Oratoria 11.3.85-184. In: Gesture 2, 259-281.
Edwards, Catharine (1993): The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome, Cambridge.
Evans, Elizabeth C. (1969): Physiognomics in the ancient world. In: Transactions of the
American Philosophical Society N.S. 59.5, 3-101.
Fantham, Elaine (1982): Quintilian on performance. Traditional and personal elements
in Institutio 11.3. In: Phoenix 36, 243-263.
Fantham, Elaine (2002): Orator and/et Actor. In: Patricia Easterling & Edith Hall (eds.),
Greek and Roman Actors. Aspects of an Ancient Profession, Cambridge, 362-
40 Thorsten Fögen

Fögen, Thorsten (2000): “Patrii sermonis egestas”: Einstellungen lateinischer Autoren

zu ihrer Muttersprache. Ein Beitrag zum Sprachbewußtsein in der römischen
Antike, München & Leipzig.
Fögen, Thorsten (2004): Gender-specific communication in Graeco-Roman antiquity.
With a research bibliography. In: Historiographia Linguistica 31, 199-276.
Fögen, Thorsten (2005): The role of verbal and non-verbal communication in ancient
medical discourse. In: Sándor Kiss, Luca Mondin & Giampaolo Salvi (eds.),
Latin et langues romanes. Études de linguistique offertes à József Herman à
l’occasion de son 80ème anniversaire, Tübingen, 287-300.
Fögen, Thorsten (2006): Review of Anthony Corbeill: Nature Embodied (2004). In:
Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 16, 327-332.
Fögen, Thorsten (2007): Antike Zeugnisse zu Kommunikationsformen von Tieren. In:
Antike & Abendland 53, 39-75.
Fortenbaugh, William W. (1985): Theophrastus on delivery. In: William W. Forten-
baugh, Pamela M. Huby & Anthony A. Long (eds.), Theophrastus of Eresus.
On His Life and Work, New Brunswick, 269-288.
Fortenbaugh, William W. (2005): Theophrastus of Eresus: Sources for His Life, Writ-
ings, Thought and Influence. Commentary Vol. 8: Sources on Rhetoric and Po-
etics. Leiden & Boston.
Gleason, Maud W. (1995): Making Men. Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient
Rome, Princeton.
Graf, Fritz (1992): Gestures and conventions. The gestures of Roman actors and ora-
tors. In: Jan Bremmer & Herman Roodenburg (eds.), A Cultural History of Ges-
ture, Ithaca, 36-58.
Grajew, Felix (1934): Untersuchungen über die Bedeutung der Gebärden in der grie-
chischen Epik, Berlin.
Graver, Margaret (1998): The manhandling of Maecenas. Senecan abstractions of mas-
culinity. In: American Journal of Philology 119, 607-632.
Gunderson, Erik (1998): Discovering the body in Roman oratory. In: Maria Wyke (ed.),
Parchments of Gender. Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity, Oxford, 169-189.
Gunderson, Erik (2000): Staging Masculinity. The Rhetoric of Performance in the Ro-
man World, Ann Arbor.
Hall, Edith & Rosie Wyles (eds.) (2008): New Directions in Ancient Pantomime, Ox-
Hall, Jon (2004): Cicero and Quintilian on the oratorical use of hand gestures. In: Clas-
sical Quarterly 54, 143-160.
Hall, Jon (2007): Oratorical delivery and the emotions. Theory and practice. In: Wil-
liam Dominik & Jon Hall (eds.), A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, Oxford, 218-
Katsouris, Andreas G. (1989): Rhetorike Hypokrise, Ioannina.
Kayser, Johannes (1910): Theophrast und Eustathius περὶ ὑποκρίσεως. In: Philologus
69, 327-358.
Lada-Richards, Ismene (2007): Silent Eloquence. Lucian and Pantomime Dancing,
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 41

Lateiner, Donald (1995): Sardonic Smile. Nonverbal Behavior in Homeric Epic, Ann
Leeman, Anton D. (1963): Orationis ratio. The Stylistic Theories and Practice of the
Roman Orators, Historians and Philosophers, Amsterdam.
Lobe, Michael (2000): Die Gebärden in Vergils Aeneis. Zur Bedeutung und Funktion
von Körpersprache im römischen Epos, Frankfurt am Main.
Lonsdale, Steven H. (1993): Dance and Ritual Play in Greek Religion, Baltimore &
Maier-Eichhorn, Ursula (1989): Die Gestikulation in Quintilians Rhetorik, Frankfurt
am Main.
Molloy, Margaret E. (1996): Libanius and the Dancers, Hildesheim & New York.
Moreau, Philippe (1995): Paroles des hommes, paroles des femmes. In: Florence Du-
pont (ed.), Paroles romaines, Nancy, 53-63.
Porter, James I. (1999): Introduction. In: James I. Porter (ed.), Constructions of the
Classical Body, Ann Arbor, 1-18.
Richlin, Amy (1997): Gender and rhetoric. Producing manhood in the schools. In: Wil-
liam J. Dominik (ed.), Roman Eloquence. Rhetoric in Society and Literature,
New York, 90-110.
Robert, Louis (1930): Pantomimen im griechischen Orient. In: Hermes 65, 106-122.
Robertson, D. S. (1913): The authenticity and date of Lucian ‘De saltatione’. In: Ed-
mund C. Quiggin (ed.), Essays and Studies Presented to William Ridgeway,
Cambridge, 180-185.
Rose, Martha L. (2003): The Staff of Oedipus. Transforming Disability in Ancient
Greece, Ann Arbor.
Rotolo, Vincenzo (1957): Il pantomimo. Studi e testi, Palermo.
Sittl, Carl (1890): Die Gebärden der Griechen und Römer, Leipzig.
Solmsen, Friedrich (1938): Aristotle and Cicero on the orator’s playing upon the feel-
ings. In: Classical Philology 33, 390-404.
Sonkowsky, Robert P. (1959): An aspect of delivery in ancient rhetorical theory. In:
Transactions of the American Philological Association 90, 256-274.
Swain, Simon (ed.) (2007): Seeing the Face, Seeing the Soul. Polemon’s Physiognomy
from Classical Antiquity to Medieval Islam, Oxford.
Vendries, Christophe (2006): Abstinence sexuelle et infibulation des chanteurs dans la
Rome impériale. In: Francis Prost & Jérôme Wilgaux (eds.), Penser et repré-
senter le corps dans l’Antiquité. Actes du colloque international de Rennes (1-4
septembre 2004), Rennes, 247-261.
Vesterinen, Manna (1997): Communicative aspects of ancient Greek dance. In: Arctos
31, 175-187.
Vesterinen, Marjaana (2003): Reading Lucian’s Περὶ ὀρχήσεως. Attitudes and ap-
proaches to pantomime. In: Leena Pietilä-Castrén & Marjaana Vesterinen
(eds.), Grapta Poikila I (Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Ath-
ens 8), Helsinki, 35-51.
42 Thorsten Fögen

Vesterinen, Marjaana (2005): Some notes on the Greek terminology for pantomime
dancers and on Athenaeus 1,20d-e. In: Arctos 39, 199-206.
Webb, Ruth (1997): Imagination and the arousal of the emotions in Greco-Roman
rhetoric. In: Susanna Morton Braund & Christopher Gill (eds.), The Passions in
Roman Thought and Literature, Cambridge, 112-127.
Williams, Craig A. (1999): Roman Homosexuality. Ideologies of Masculinity in Classi-
cal Antiquity, New York & Oxford.
Wöhrle, Georg (1990): Das fünfte officium des antiken Redners. In: Gymnasium 97, 31-
Wülfing, Peter (1995): Antike und moderne Redegestik. Eine frühe Theorie der Kör-
persprache bei Quintilian. In: Gerhard Binder & Konrad Ehlich (eds.), Kommu-
nikation durch Zeichen und Wort. Stätten und Formen der Kommunikation im
Altertum IV, Trier, 71-90.
Wüst, Ernst (1949): s.v. “Pantomimus”. In: RE XVIII.3, 833-869.

B. Archaeological studies

Bogen, Kathrin (1969): Gesten in Begrüßungsszenen auf attischen Vasen, Bonn.

Brilliant, Richard (1963): Gesture and Rank in Roman Art. The Use of Gestures to De-
note Status in Roman Sculpture and Coinage, New Haven.
Déonna, Waldemar (1914): L’expression des sentiments dans l’art grec, Paris.
Fehr, Burkhard (1979): Bewegungsweisen und Verhaltensideale. Physiognomische
Deutungsmöglichkeiten der Bewegungsdarstellung an griechischen Statuen des
5. und 4. Jh. v. Chr, Bad Bramstedt.
Jucker, Ines (1956): Der Gestus des Aposkopein. Ein Beitrag zur Gebärdensprache in
der antiken Kunst, Zürich.
Neumann, Gerhard (1965): Gesten und Gebärden in der griechischen Kunst, Berlin.
Zschietzschmann, Willy (1924): Untersuchungen zur Gebärdensprache in der älteren
griechischen Kunst, Diss. Jena.

C. Communication and linguistic studies

Argyle, Michael (1975): Bodily Communication, London.

Bergmann, Günther (1988): Paralinguale Phänomene. In: Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Ditt-
mar & Klaus J. Mattheier (eds.), Soziolinguistik. Ein internationales Handbuch
zur Wissenschaft von Sprache und Gesellschaft (Handbücher zur Sprach- und
Kommunikationswissenschaft 3.2), Berlin & New York, 1216-1227.
Birdwhistell, Ray L. (1970): Kinesics and Context. Philadelphia.
Crystal, David (1974): Paralinguistics. In: Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.), Current Trends in
Linguistics. Vol. 12.1: Linguistics and Adjacent Arts and Sciences, The Hague
& Paris, 265-295.
Sermo corporis: Ancient Reflections on gestus, vultus and vox 43

Ekman, Paul (1979): Zur kulturellen Universalität des emotionalen Gesichtsausdrucks.

In: Klaus R. Scherer & Harald G. Wallbott (eds.), Nonverbale Kommunikation.
Forschungsberichte zum Interaktionsverhalten, Weinheim & Basel, 50-58.
Ekman, Paul & Wallace V. Friesen (1969): The repertoire of nonverbal behaviour.
Categories, origins, usage, and coding. In: Semiotica 1, 49-98.
Ekman, Paul & Wallace V. Friesen (1979): Handbewegungen. In: Klaus R. Scherer &
Harald G. Wallbott (eds.), Nonverbale Kommunikation. Forschungsberichte
zum Interaktionsverhalten, Weinheim & Basel, 111-118.
Helfrich, Hede & Harald G. Wallbott (²1980): Theorie der nonverbalen Kommunika-
tion. In: Hans Peter Althaus, Helmut Henne & Herbert Ernst Wiegand (eds.),
Lexikon der Germanistischen Linguistik, Tübingen, 267-275.
Hübler, Axel (2001): Das Konzept ‘Körper’ in den Sprach- und Kommunikationswis-
senschaften, Tübingen & Basel.
Key, Mary Ritchie (1992): s.v. “Nonverbal communication”. In: William Bright (ed.),
International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (vol. 3), New York & Oxford, 107-
Lyons, John (1972): Human language. In: Robert A. Hinde (ed.), Non-Verbal Commu-
nication, Cambridge, 49-85.
Müller, Cornelia (1998): Redebegleitende Gesten. Kulturgeschichte – Theorie – Sprach-
vergleich, Berlin.
Poyatos, Fernando (1993): Paralanguage. A Linguistic and Interdisciplinary Approach
to Interactive Speech and Sound, Amsterdam & Philadelphia.
Ruthrof, Horst (2000): The Body in Language, London & New York.
Scherer, Klaus R. (1970): Non-verbale Kommunikation. Ansätze zur Beobachtung und
Analyse der außersprachlichen Aspekte von Interaktionsverhalten, Hamburg.
Wallbott, Harald G. (1979): Gesichtsausdruck. In: Klaus R. Scherer & Harald G. Wall-
bott (eds.), Nonverbale Kommunikation. Forschungsberichte zum Interaktions-
verhalten, Weinheim & Basel, 35-42.
Wallbott, Harald G. (1993): Mimik und Emotion. Anmerkungen aus Sicht der neueren
nonverbalen Kommunikationsforschung. In: Geert Lotzmann (ed.), Körper-
sprache. Diagnostik und Therapie von Sprach-, Sprech- und Stimmstörungen,
München & Basel, 26-41.
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory
Nancy Worman

This paper explores the metaphors that ancient Greek and Roman writers deploy in or-
der to highlight distinctions among different styles of writing. The imagery involves the
disposition of the body in space and impressions on it, which together invigorate a
sense of speech in performance. Much of this scheme indicates, either implicitly or ex-
plicitly, ideas about rigour versus pleasure, (e.g. the rough road versus the pretty path)
and thus also tracks sensory inclinations. Further, these images fall together with those
centered more overtly on the body, so that “twisting”, for instance, can mark physical
deportment as well as the river’s meander and capture such features as circuitous peri-
ods in prose and “trills” in music. Its analysis comprises texts from the classical period
in Athens as well as much later, and attempts to demonstrate continuities among the
stylistic metaphors of writers as different in genre and sensibility as Aristophanes, De-
metrius and Cicero. This “body in space” trope serves as the nexus for these metaphors,
which are clearly situated at the intersection of ideas about civic morals on the one hand
and aesthetic choices on the other. If both Greek and Latin writers on style make use of
the body as an organizing principle, this may converge with imagery invoking geogra-
phy in part through the ways in which its postures and appetites are mapped onto the
topography of Greece and Rome.

1. Introduction
In Aristophanes’ Clouds the “Weaker”, patently sophistic Argument claims in
a sly and provocative fashion that his students will be able to indulge in any
pleasure, since they will have the education to defend themselves against any-
one seeking to prosecute them for transgressions, sexual or otherwise (Clouds
1071-1082). The atavistic “Stronger” Argument has advocated a much more
stringent program, supposedly derived from the educational practices of earlier
times. It includes striding about manfully singing martial tunes and prohibits
mincing, giggling, crossing the legs (979-983), chattering refinements in the
agora (1002) and crooning what he terms “twisted” strains (966-972: κάμψειεν
τινα κάμπην).
Aristotle’s Politics contains a warning about the dangers of training in mu-
sic (μουσική): exposure to the wrong sorts can make the young citizen effemi-
nate and even vulgar (φορτικός) (1339a-b), his soul “twisted” (παρεστραμ-
46 Nancy Worman

μέναι) like the melodies of decadent strains (1342a).1 In this logos-loving city,
however, the delights of such indulgence are not limited to the arts narrowly
construed. Aristotle makes clear in the Rhetoric (1403b) that artful (i.e. too po-
etic) oratorical styles may skew the focus and purpose of the hearer (e.g. Rhet.
1408a20: παραλογίζεταί τε γὰρ ἡ ψυχή), indulging his already corrupt instincts
and leading him further astray (cf. Rhet. 1395b1-2: φορτικότητα, 1404a8: τοῦ
ἀκροατοῦ μοχθηρίαν).
Aristotle’s generally squeamish attitude towards poetic or dramatic aspects
of speech performance echoes Plato’s concerns in the Republic that training in
mousikê alone (i.e. without gumnastikê) can render the citizen soft and deca-
dent (Rep. 410d-e). As with Aristotle’s “twisted” modes, Plato identifies
overly modulated styles as especially harmful to the hearer: eastern metres (e.g.
Ionian and Lydian) are feminine, soft, sympotic and too “relaxed” (χαλαραί)
(Rep. 398e1-10). These are the strains that flow into the ear as through a funnel
(ὥσπερ διὰ χώνης); if indulged over time they may “melt and liquefy” (τήκει
καὶ λείβει) the spirit of the listener, unstringing his soul and rendering him a
“soft spearsman” (μαλθακὸν αἰχμητήν) (Rep. 411a6-b4; quoting Homer, Il.
Later writers on rhetoric may treat such fluid modes with less consistent
animosity and make use of the vocabulary of music to illuminate stylistic dis-
tinctions with less apprehension, but they show a similar awareness of the ethi-
cal problems that can lurk in them.3 Although Cicero lauds the style of Iso-
crates as “sweet, loose and fluid” (Orator 42: dulce … solutum et fluens), Dio-
nysius of Halicarnassus compares its pleasures to a full-flowing, meandering
river and warns that it can be prolix and ornamental (Dem. 4, 18, 19; cf. Isoc.
2: ὑπτία; ποικιλήν). Demetrius, the author of the treatise Περὶ ἑρμηνείας (On
Style), finds a charming laxity in the byways of styles such as Plato’s and a
corresponding stringency in the “rough road” of Thucydides’ prose.
Let us begin by acknowledging the moral undertones and implicit zeugmas
of this imagery, which intimates an association between the body’s postures
and appetites and meaningful topographies of Greece and Rome. What, if any-

1 On the vocabulary of “twisting” in relation to trends in late fifth-century and early fourth-
century music, see Franklin (2006); on the “new music” more generally, Csapo (2004); on
music in Aristotle’s Politics, Ford (2004); on Aristotle’s literary tastes, Jones (1962) and Fer-
rari (1999).
2 Cf. Plato, Rep. 3, where Socrates compares Syracusan feasts and Sicilian delicacies, Corin-
thian girlfriends and Attic pastries to the kinds of poetry that he finds enervating. “I think”,
he concludes, “that we would be right to compare this entire diet and life-style to the lyric
odes and songs composed in all sorts of harmonies and rhythms” (Rep. 404d1-e1: Ὄλην γάρ,
οἶμαι, τὴν τοιαύτην σίτησιν καὶ δίαιταν τῇ μελοποιίᾳ τε καὶ ᾠδῇ τῇ ἐν τῷ παναρμονίῳ καὶ ἐν
πᾶσι ῥυθμοῖς πεποιημένῃ ἀπεικάζοντες ὀρθῶς ἂν ἀπεικάζομεν). For the imagery of “flow”,
cf. Plato, Theaet. 144b5.
3 For the use of musical imagery see e.g. Dionysius Halicarnassus, De comp. verb. 11.
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 47

thing, is wrong with the pliancy of certain verbal styles and their accompany-
ing deportments, not to mention the geographical features sometimes adopted
to express them?4 Is it better to swagger manfully, a stride often accompanied,
as it turns out, by shouting in the agora, braying Doric tunes like Cleon in the
Knights, or “flooding” the place with verbiage like the bibulous poet Cratinus
(Eq. 526-36; fr. 198 Kassel & Austin)? The bodily and topographical tropes
that ancient writers on style engage are clearly situated at the intersection of
ideas about civic ethics on the one hand and aesthetic choices on the other.
If Dionysius is the theorist most interested in matching the river’s flow to
stylistic inclinations that imply restraint or indulgence, Aristophanes’ imagery,
as well as that of Plato and especially Cicero, is firmly oriented towards envi-
sioning the body in performance. Aristophanes’ lampoons of sophists and
demagogues emphatically stage verbal modes as embodied and deposed in re-
lation to meaningful spaces and geographies, a mocking pattern that Plato ap-
propriates as a frame for Socrates’ confrontations with sophists. 5 Cicero is
more interested in the body’s features than in geographical metaphors, but he
opposes a strenuous, “muscular” style to the lax fluidity of rivers, perhaps in
part as a pointed adaptation of neoteric aesthetics.6 While the “slender muse”
of the Alexandrian poet invokes the narrow path and the pellucid stream,
Cicero’s manly orator masters urban space like a wrestler in the ring and
shores up his periods against the unchecked flow.7 The Alexandrian imagery
may itself have influenced such critics as Dionysius (who advocates the purity
of “Attic” style), while Cicero in his transformation of this Greek refinement
seems also to reject the stylistic implications of metaphors that elaborate its
delicate fluidity.
Like the tropes that invigorate bodily or alluvial inclinations, those center-
ing on roads or paths carry with them notions of strenuous activity and purpose
versus idleness and indulgence. If Hesiod invokes the “rough road” of virtue,
this imagery turns up in Pindar and, again, in Aristophanes, whose use of such
idioms as the “path of words” (ὁδὸς λόγων) may parallel a sense of place (on
stage, in life).8 The playing on “paths” as a metaphor for periodic style and/or
life-style is picked up by the sophist Prodicus (according to Xenophon), by
Demetrius, and then by Lucian, who satirizes both the hiker and hike so that
ethical choice is cast in terms of hairstyles and pretty walks.

4 I.e. understanding style as incorporating aspects of visible speech performance; see Worman
(2002) and cf. Bassi (1998).
5 For a discussion of this Platonic appropriation, see Worman (2008: ch. 4).
6 See Keith (1999) and further below.
7 Cf. esp. Callimachus, Aetia 26-28; H. Ap. 105-112. See Zetzel (1983: 93-94).
8 This is particularly dominant in Birds, where the action begins with a pondering over which
path will lead to a better polity underpinned by a “finer” ethical sense.
48 Nancy Worman

Scholars of rhetoric have been slow to recognize the extent to which an-
cient writers formulated ideas about verbal style around the body in perform-
ance.9 And yet what we might call the “body in space” trope turns up repeat-
edly in its various ramifications throughout ancient discussions of style, as a
set of intersecting patterns from writings that span close to 1,000 years. This
study offers a first attempt at capturing this remarkable range. It seeks to lay
the groundwork for a better understanding of how these analyses position the
body and its inclinations in order to highlight stylistic differences. Its central
contention is that these metaphors intersect precisely because ancient writers
envision a performative body – that is, a body in motion in significant spaces –
when they have recourse to figurative language in differentiating among writ-
ten styles. As one might expect, none of these stylistic distinctions are fully
sustained over the centuries. Nevertheless, consistent zeugmas can be identi-
fied in the links between style and the body’s inclinations, which are often ex-
pressed by images associating bodily senses or appetites with deportments
and/or topographical features. If the patterns that emerge are neither simple nor
elegant, they do indicate the richness of the trope in all its variations.

2. Greek bodies and topographies

2.1 Twisted and circuitous

Let us first explore the imagery of twisting in classical usage, which adapts an
earlier topography of poetic and ethical styles that also extends into later stylis-
tic theory. Although both Hesiod and Pindar employ tropes on the imagery of
paths to indicate both moral and aesthetic choices, 10 in Attic comedy this
scheme is not very prominent. It does, however, often designate geographical
direction or appetitive inclination, which itself influences later ideas about how

9 While some may note particularly striking usage, few have treated a given writer’s metaphors
as important to understanding his conception of style or oratory more generally. Indeed, with
the exception of the cataloguing of images that Van Hook undertook in 1905, no one to my
knowledge has looked at the metaphorical range of Dionysius of Halicarnassus or Demetrius
(cf. e.g. Schenkeveld 1964, Wooten 1989, Damon 1991 and Hidber 1996). With a few excep-
tions (most notably Keith 1999 and Gunderson 2000), even work on Cicero’s rhetorical writ-
ings has tended to overlook his imagery.
10 For example, Hesiod distinguishes the path that leads straight to justice (Erga 216-217: ὁδὸς
ἑτέρηφι παρελθεῖν κρείσσων ἐς τὰ δίκαια) from that of “crooked judgements” (Erga 219:
σκολιῇσι δίκῃσιν), which the didactic narrator warns his errant interlocutor to avoid. Some
lines later he offers a slightly different distinction between paths. Baseness (κακοτής), he
says, is easy to come by; the road is smooth (λείη μὲν ὁδός) and she lives nearby. Virtue
(ἀρετή), in contrast, is prefaced by exertion; the path to her is long and steep (μακρὸς δὲ καὶ
ὄρθιος οἶμος) and rough (τρηχύς) at the beginning (Erga 287-292).
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 49

to discriminate among styles.11 Although the later imagery centres more on the
twisted versus the straight path and the river’s turns or full floods, Attic com-
edy’s focus on bodily postures often encourages a linkage between these and
significant “spaces” (on stage, in the city, across Greek territories).
In the Clouds Socrates tells Strepsiades that the Cloud chorus nourishes
(βόσκουσι) many sophistic types, including “tune-twisters” (ᾀσματοκάμπτας)
and similar quacks (cf. Nub. 333: μετεωροφένακας). Strepsiades applauds the
idea that through Socrates’ training he will become both bold and smooth talk-
ing (Nub. 445: θρασύς, εὔγλωττος), as well as impressively pliant (e.g. Nub.
449-450: μάσθλης [“supple”], γλοιός [“slippery”], στρόφις [“twisting”]). The
connections that he draws between postures and oral dexterity shape a sophis-
tic body that exhibits a suspect flexibility, produces a sly and contorted linguis-
tic style, and traipses idly around civic spaces meant for vigorous action.12
Plato’s dialogues contribute a sly turn on this imagery. In the Gorgias the
haughty Callicles depicts Socrates’ penchant for philosophizing as having a
distorting effect on his soul. Whoever indulges in it does not frequent the pub-
lic spaces (τὰ μέσα τῆς πόλεως καὶ τὰς ἀγοράς) of the city but instead “cow-
ers” (κατεδεδυκότι) and “whispers” (ψιθυρίζοντα) in corners with a few young
men, never uttering anything noble and lofty and worthwhile (ἐλεύθερον δὲ
καὶ μέγα καὶ ἱκανὸν μηδέποτε φθέγξασθαι) (Gorgias 485d4-e2).13 Further, in
Callicles’ estimation, Socrates’ noble soul is “twisted” (διαστρέφεις14) by this
“boyish” style (μειρακιώδει τινί ... μορφώματι) (Gorgias 485e7-8). Socrates’

11 Cf. the “virtuous path” (e.g. Pindar, Ol. 6.72-73: τιμῶντες ἀρετάς / ἐς φανερὰν ὁδὸν
ἔρχονται; cf. Pyth. 3.103, Nem. 7.51); it usually implies a complex and varying conjunction
of superior aesthetics (i.e. the path of his song, see Ol. 1.11: ἐπίκουρον εὑρῶν ὁδὸν λόγων,
Ol. 9.47: ἐπέων ... οἶμον λιγύν) and moral fortitude. One may tread “crooked paths” (Pyth.
2.85: ὁδοῖς σκολιαῖς) as a means of being circumspect and avoiding discord (cf. Pyth. 2.96:
ὀλίσθηρος οἶμος), but the righteous path of words is one of gleaming virtue (Nem. 7.51:
φαενναῖς ἀρεταῖς ὁδὸν κυρίαν λόγων) – an image not exactly opposed to the other, but giving
the impression of a straight, open road. In Aristophanes path imagery may be invoked for
designating aggressive or highblown talk (Eq. 621, 1015, Pax 732, Av. 1374, Ran. 897).
12 Cf. again the prohibitions in Clouds 983 against “twisting” (κάμψειεν) a tune, crossing the
legs (ἴσχειν τὼ πόδ’ ἐναλλάξ) and chattering overly refined phrases in the agora (στωμύλλων
κατὰ τὴν ἀγοράν τριβολεκτράπελ’); also Aristophanes, Ran. 1069-1071 regarding Euripides’
poetry emptying the palaistras and wearing out young men’s asses with chatter (εἶτ’ αὖ
λαλιὰν ἐπιτηδεῦσαι καὶ στωμυλίαν ἐδίδαξας, / ἣ ᾿ξεκένωσεν τάς τε παλαίστρας καὶ τὰς πυγὰς
ἐνέτριψεν / τῶν μειρακίων στωμυλλομένων); and Demosthenes “pirouetting” around the
βῆμα (Aeschines 3.167: κύκλῳ περιδινῶν ... ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος) during an assembly speech on
Macedonian policy. For Aristophanes’ stylistic vocabulary, see further O’Sullivan (1992); on
the comic body and its appetites, Dover (1978), Davidson (1997) and Foley (2000).
13 The reference to the agora is a bit odd in relation to Socrates, who is notorious for hanging
out in public spaces; but Callicles uses the plural (Gorgias 485d5: ἀγοράς), which suggests
spaces related to public speaking and citizen engagement, rather than to what he considers
idle talk.
14 This is a textual crux; Dodds (1959: ad loc.) has διαπρέπεις, but this makes little sense in re-
lation to what follows.
50 Nancy Worman

suspect deportment also seems to parallel the ways in which he argues. At

Gorgias 511a4-5, for instance, when Callicles has become thoroughly exasper-
ated with his seemingly perverse arguments about how unjust acts harm the
soul, he complains that Socrates “twists the argument up and down” (στρέφεις
ἐκάστοτε τοὺς λόγους ἄνω καὶ κάτω). As comedy suggests, this image is par-
ticularly associated with sophists, and more generally with arts practitioners
whose techniques are viewed as being of questionable value and integrity.15 In
Plato Socrates himself charges it of sophistic wranglers such as the brothers in
the Euthydemus, whom he compares to Proteus, “the Egyptian sophist”
(Euthyd. 288b8: τὸν ᾈγύπτιον σοφιστήν). In the Ion Socrates directs the same
analogy at the rhapsode’s tactics, declaring that Ion is a veritable Proteus,
“twisting the argument up and down” (Ion 541e7: ὥσπερ ὁ Πρωτεὺς
παντοδαπὸς γίγνῃ στρεφόμενος ἄνω καὶ κάτω) – a very ironic attribution, in
this case, since Socrates has led Ion around by the nose.16
A moment in the Phaedo reveals the implicit conjunction of such
“twisted” tactics with the lay of the land. There Socrates declares that those
who spend their time studying contradiction (i.e. sophists) come to think that
there is no soundness or solidity (οὐδὲν ὑγιὲς οὐδὲ βέβαιον) to any argument,
but that they all simply “twist up and down like the Euripus” (Phaedo 90c3-5:
ὥσπερ ἐν Εὐρίπῳ ἄνω κάτω στρέφεται).17 The reference is to the tricky cur-
rents of the strait between Euboea and mainland Greece, an association with
geographical features that later writers on rhetoric develop into a set of tropes
for describing verbal styles.18
Like Aristophanes’ imagery on the one hand and Plato’s on the other, the
story of Heracles’ famous choice in Xenophon’s Memorabilia highlights the
connections among style, the body and moral “topography”. 19 In his young
manhood the hero retreats to an isolated spot, in order to contemplate which
path he should pursue – that of virtue or that of vice (Mem. 2.1.21: εἴτε τὴν δὲ
ἀρετῆς ὁδὸν τρέψονται ἐπὶ τὸν βίον εἴτε τὴν διὰ κακίας). Two female figures
approach him: one is adorned with moderation (κεκοσμημένην ... τὸ δὲ σχῆμα
σωφροσύνης) and dressed in white, the other is plump, made up and pliantly

15 Cf. again the imagery from the Clouds discussed above; Agathon “twisting the new ties of
words” (κάμπτει δὲ νέας ἁψῖδας ἐπῶν) at Thesm. 53; and Euripides, who in the Frogs prays
to the “hinge of his tongue” (892: γλώττης στρόφιγξ). Note as well that Euripides’ In-law lik-
ens Agathon’s trills to the formless tracks of ants (Thesm. 100: μύρμηκος ἀτραπούς, ἢ τί
16 Cf. also the end of the Euthyphro (15d2).
17 Cf. Plato, Phaedrus 278d9 and Laches 196b1; also Isocrates, Phil. 75.3.
18 In the speech On the Twelve Years, Ps.-Demades describes Demosthenes as a “bitter syco-
phant” (πικρὸς συκοφάντης) who “debases the subject by twisting it with his cleverness” (33:
διαστρέφων τὸ πρᾶγμα τῇ δεινότητι τῶν ῥημάτων διέβαλεν).
19 In Xenophon Socrates claims that he is paraphrasing Prodicus, though he explains that he
cannot imitate Prodicus’ elegant style (Mem. 2.1.21).
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 51

coquettish. She is, for instance, constantly checking her dress and looking
around (ἐπισκοπεῖν) to ascertain her effect on others (Mem. 2.1.22).20 She runs
ahead and offers Heracles the easy and short road (cf. Mem. 2.1.29: ῥᾳδίαν καὶ
βραχεῖαν ὁδόν), which she describes as full of pleasures. When asked her
name, she says that her friends call her Happiness (Mem. 2.1.26: Εὐδαιμονίαν)
but admits that others call her Κακία. The second woman hails Heracles as
well brought up and thus likely to tread the path to her house (Mem. 2.1.27: εἰ
τὴν πρὸς ἐμὲ ὁδὸν τράποιο), since she is Virtue (Ἀρετή). She acknowledges
that this path is one of exertion, but claims that the gods grant nothing without
labour and care (Mem. 2.1.28: οὐδὲν ἄνευ πόνου καὶ ἐπιμελείας).21
Ἀρετή terms what Κακία offers “preludes of pleasure” (Mem. 2.1.27:
προοιμίους ἡδονῆς), a string of participles that describe ongoing sensory de-
lights, free from challenging activity – delights that her own appearance reiter-
ates. Ἀρετή’s chaste speech, in contrast, contains a series of verbal adjectives
expressing necessity, a list of duties to city and self (e.g. Mem. 2.1.28:
εὐεργετητέον, ὠφελητέον, πειρατέον, θεραπευτέον). That is to say, one path is
“smooth” in its indulgence of appetites, including the appetite for verbal ease;
the other is rigorous in both its sense of duty and its syntax. The lofty tone of
Virtue is achieved by a painstaking accumulation of arguments carefully bol-
stered by specific examples, with the periods tightly controlled by a series of
parallel constructions (Mem. 2.1.30-33), while Κακία’s languid speech does
not even bother with the details (e.g. Mem. 2.1.24: τί ἂν κεχαρισμένον ἢ σιτίον
ἢ ποτὸν εὕροις, ἢ τί ἂν ἰδῶν ἢ τί ἀκούσας τερφθείης).
We might compare here the famous stylistic dictum of Callimachus’
Muse: “Don’t”, she warns, “drive your wagon in the steps of others nor on the
broad path; rather, stick to the narrow and untrodden” (Aetia fr. 1.26-28 Pfeif-
fer: ... ἑτέρων ἴχνια μὴ καθ’ ὁμά / δίφρον ἐλ]ᾶ̣ν μηδ’ οἷμον ἀνὰ πλατύν, ἀλλὰ
κελεύθους / ἀτρίπτο]υ̣ς, εἰ καὶ στε ι ν̣οτέρην ἐλάσεις). Writers on rhetoric pur-

sue the geographical metaphors suggested by Callimachus’ prologue. De-

metrius, whose treatise on style bears traces of Peripatetic influence (i.e. it is
probably Hellenistic), envisions the temptations of languid styles as lacking the
forceful topography of consistency, detail and concision. 22 Witness, for in-

20 Cf. Plato’s description of the two horses of the soul in Phaedrus 253d4-e5: the noble horse is
white, and has a fine form and sound judgement (εἶδος ὀρθὸς ... σωφροσύνη), while the ig-
noble horse is black, and has a crooked shape and prideful behaviour (σκολιός ... ὕβρις).
21 Note that in the Politics, Aristotle glosses the maxim πάθη μάθος with the claim that learning
only comes with pain (Pol. 1339b: μετὰ λύπης γὰρ ἡ μάθησις).
22 The best arguments for Demetrius’ dates place him in the second/first century B.C. (e.g.
Schenkeveld 1964, Lombardo 1999); and though most agree that his text shows Peripatetic
influence, Chiron (1993: xxvii-xxix) attributes his slight inclination for the rugged and plain
styles to Stoic ideas about the naturalness of language and the virtues of simple, concise ex-
52 Nancy Worman

stance, the effects of providing “inns” (καταγωγαί) along the “roads” (ὁδούς)
of long periods (κῶλα), which he argues lessen a style’s grandeur (Demetrius,
De eloc. 47: τὸ μέγαθος). In contrast, deserted stretches even on short journeys
(αἱ ἐρημίαι ἐν ταῖς μικραῖς ὁδοῖς) contribute to the impression of length and
thus elevate the tone (De eloc. 47). The path is manifestly not an easy one. In-
deed, Demetrius remarks that Thucydides always seems to be “stumbling
somehow” (τι προσκρούοντι), as do those travelling on rough roads (ὥσπερ οἱ
τὰς τραχείας ὁδοὺς πορευόμενοι) (De eloc. 48). Demetrius’ tone suggests mild
admiration at the hardiness and difficulty of his style, which includes both jag-
ged phrasing and a “ruggedness” (τραχέα) of vocabulary, as opposed to the
“smoothness and evenness” (τὸ λεῖον καὶ ὁμαλές) of what must by implication
be the easy path.

2.2 Swaggering and torrential

At the other end of the spectrum is a zeugma that joins verbal excesses (e.g.
shouting, volubility) to topographical extremes (e.g. the flood, the straddling of
territories). Water may be best for Pindar (Ol. 1.1), and humans inattentive
unless speech imitates its seamless flow (Isthm. 7.19), but later writers do not
appear to have been so sanguine about its positive properties. In the Knights,
for instance, Aristophanes depicts Cleon as “Paphlagon” (or “Splutterer”),23
whose speech flows like a torrent (Eq. 137: κυκλοβόρου φωνήν; cf. Eq. 692,
also Ach. 381, Vesp. 1034) and blows like Typhoeus (Eq. 511; cf. 696:
ψολοκομπίαις). He is a Charybdis (Eq. 248: Χάρυβδιν ἁρπαγῆς; cf. Eq. 56,
197, 205) of the courts, with a huge appetite and booming voice (Eq. 256:
βόσκω κεκραγώς; cf. Eq. 274, 863 etc.).24 Paphlagon’s bold deportment is also
mapped across the lands of Greece, so that he straddles whole “territories”, his
body stretched out from one villainy to another. He has one leg in Pylos and
the other in the Assembly; his anus is “in Chaos” (ὁ πρωκτός ἐστιν αὐτόχρημ’
ἐν Χάοσιν [Chaonia]), his hands in Extortion (τὼ χεῖρ’ ἐν Αἰτωλοῖς [Aetolia]),
and his mind in Larceny (ὁ νοῦς δ’ ἐν Κλωπιδῶν [Clopis, a deme in northern
Attica]) (Eq. 78-79). Thus he swaggers (Eq. 77: διαβεβηκότος) like an arrogant
general, his gait suggesting outsized appetites and obnoxious dominance.25

23 From παφλάζειν, cf. Eq. 919; the chorus announces that this is a stage name for Cleon at Eq.
976. Cf. Eupolis, fr. 95 Kassel & Austin. The blustering style is one that the comic poet Ti-
mocles accused Hyperides of employing (fr. 15); Eubulus says that foreigners speak in this
way (fr. 109); and Hippocrates uses παφλάζειν to characterize verbal spluttering (Epid.
24 In the parabasis of Wasps the chorus also represents Aristophanes as Heracles fighting a
hideous monster (i.e. Cleon) who has a “torrential”, ruinous voice (φωνὴν ... χαράδρας
ὄλεθρον τετοκυίας) (Vesp. 1030-1035).
25 Cf. Archilochus, fr. 114 W. for an earlier portrait of the swaggering general.
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 53

Plato may be toying with this comic scheme in the Gorgias, when he de-
picts Socrates teasing Callicles for his hedonist’s argument that the best thing
is to have “as much as possible flowing in” (Gorgias 494b2: ὡς πλεῖστον
ἐπιρρεῖν).26 This leads Socrates to suggest an analogy with the “torrent bird”
(494b6: χαραδρίου), which eats and excretes at the same time. Callicles grows
increasingly disgusted and finally calls Socrates a demagogue or “mob orator”,
when he asks Callicles whether any pleasure is worth indulging, even scratch-
ing an itch (494d1: δημηγόρος). Such comparisons strike Callicles as overly
bold and crude; at an earlier point in the argument when he also deems Socra-
tes a demagogue (482c5), he equates this identity with juvenile, swaggering
talk (482c4: νεανιεύεσθαι).27
Let us return for a moment to comedy, in order to get a better sense of the
stylistic implications of these images. In the Knights, for instance, when the
chorus steps out in the first parabasis to discuss the poet’s contributions in con-
tradistinction to his fellow poets, they lampoon first the bibulous Cratinus. He,
the chorus claims, flooded his audience with a bland profusion of images, suf-
fered a piteous, babbling (παραληροῦντ’) decline, and now ought to be “drink-
ing” in the Prytaneum (πίνειν ἐν τῷ πρυτανείῳ) (Eq. 526-536). 28 Cratinus’
Putinê (Wine Flask, produced in 423 B.C.) responds to this insult by defending
the drinking life. In fr. 198 Kassel & Austin, for instance, a character bears
witness to the fountains of words that spurt from the poet; he warns that they
will “flood the place with poetry” (ἅπαντα ταῦτα κατακλύσει ποιήμασιν), un-
less someone stops up his mouth (εἰ μὴ γὰρ ἐπιβύσει τις αὐτοῦ τὸ στόμα) as
one might an upended wine flask.29

26 See further in Worman (2008: ch. 4). Cf. Xenophon, who depicts Antisthenes as denigrating
excessive types because they are never satisfied (Symp. 4.37).
27 At the end of the dialogue, Socrates says rather melancholically that he and his interlocutors
should not “swagger” (νεανιεύεσθαι), since they have reached such an extent of ignorance (ἐς
τοσοῦτον ἀπαιδευσίας ἥκομεν) (Gorgias 527d6-e1). Cf. Nub. 362-363 for Socrates’ swagger-
ing in the streets (βρενθύει τ’ ἐν ταῖσιν ὁδοῖς), and Demosthenes, Orat. 19 for Aeschines’
strutting in the agora (19.314: καὶ διὰ τῆς ἀγορᾶς πορεύεται θοἰμάτιον καθεὶς ἄχρι τῶν
σφυρῶν, ... τὰς γνάθους φυσῶν).
28 Cf. Ameipsias’ Connus, produced the year after (423 B.C.). Sommerstein (1981: ad 535)
notes that the Prytaneum was primarily a place of communal eating rather than drinking, so
that the image underscores Cratinus’ proclivity for drink. See Sidwell (1995), Luppe (2000),
Biles (2002) and Ruffell (2002) on the rivalry between Aristophanes and Cratinus and its
metatheatrical implications. For metatheatrical elements in Aristophanes more generally, see
Slater (2002).
29 Biles (2002: 189-201) argues that this is a response to the Wasps as well, focussing especially
on the figure of Philocleon, in whose drunken behaviour at symposium he sees a lampoon of
Cratinus. See also Rosen (2000) and Ruffell (2002) on Cratinus’ style and the puzzle of
whether a “flood of words” could be a positive image.
54 Nancy Worman

With his drunken creativity and flood of words Cratinus resembles Ar-
chilochus, whose stylistic heir he was.30 Ps.-Longinus (De subl. 33.5) deprecat-
ingly compares Archilochus’ style to an unleashed flood, an image that the
careful and restrained Horace in his satires uses to denigrate his predecessor
Lucilius’ style (Serm. 1.4.21, 1.10.50).31 Further, in an unassigned fragment
that may belong to Cratinus’ play, the poet describes someone as his opposite
by comparing him to both Euripides and Aristophanes: “an overly subtle
speechifier, an idea-peddler, a Euripidaristophaniser” (Fab. inc. fr. 342: ὑπο-
λεπτολόγος, γνωμιδιώκτης, εὐριπιδαριστοφανίζων).32 It appears, then, that the
flood of words, like the rough path, may stand in contrast to polished contor-
As these passages indicate, that flood can also represent the full flux of
creativity and be valued as such. Dionysius uses Homer’s own verse to charac-
terize his poetry as the ocean, a font feeding all stylistic genius: “The source
from which all the rivers flow and the whole sea and every spring” (De comp.
verb. 24 [= Homer, Il. 21.196-197]: ἐξ οὗ περ πάντες ποταμοὶ καὶ πᾶσα
θάλασσα / καὶ πᾶσαι κρῆναι). Longinus claims that everyone is naturally
drawn to the great rivers and above all the ocean, as opposed to the little
streams (μικρὰ ῥεῖθρα), even though these are “limpid and useful” (εἰ καὶ
διαυγῆ καὶ χρήσιμα) (De subl. 35.4). For Longinus as for Dionysius, Homer is
the great natural source, while the style of artful writers like Plato is a “sea”
(πέλαγος) that “floods a great expanse” (εἰς ἀναπεπτάμενον κέχυται πολλαχῇ
μέγεθος) (De subl. 11.3). Plato’s techniques are, however, effectively a tribu-
tary of Homer’s. Longinus portrays him as channelling this giant force of na-
ture into something more smoothly gliding, so that his words “flow as noise-
lessly as oil” (De subl. 13.1: τινὶ χεύματι ἀψοφητὶ ῥέων). Others have been
similarly inspired, but Plato “drew off ten thousand runnels from the Homeric
spring” (De subl. 13.3: ἀπὸ τοῦ Ὁμηρικοῦ κείνου νάματος εἰς αὑτὸν μυρίας
ὅσας παρατροπὰς ἀποχετευσάμενος).33 Dionysius also likens Plato’s style to a
full and fertile source, deeming him a “rich fountain that bubbles out great
elaborations” (Dem. 28: νᾶμα τὸ πλούσιον καὶ τὰς μεγάλας κατασκευὰς

30 Cf. Archilochus, fr. 120 W. regarding the creative powers of wine, as well as Cratinus’ dis-
missal of the creative potential of the water drinker (fr. 203 Kassel & Austin). The testimony
17 Kassel & Austin seems to suggest that Cratinus consciously fashioned his poetic persona
and style after Archilochus.
31 This smacks of Callimachaen aesthetics, what we might perhaps recognize as a product of the
neoteric poets’ Atticism.
32 This is Ruffell’s piquant translation (2002: 160). Note that Aristophanes himself lampoons
Euripides’ style as overly subtle and delicate.
33 Cf. Euripides, Bacch. 479, where Pentheus waxes sarcastic about Dionysus’ style, which he
regards as diversionary (παρωχέτευσας εὖ κοὐδὲν λέγων).
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 55

This easy, abundant flow can be a good thing, not stringent but not twisted
or sapping either. In Dionysius’ study of Demosthenes, the critic does make a
point of praising Plato’s style when at its simplest as “limpid” (διαυγής), “like
the clearest of streams” (ὥσπερ τὰ διαφανέστατα τῶν ναμάτων) and as “giving
off a sweet breeze, like the most fragrant meadows” (ὥσπερ ἀπὸ τῶν εὐ-
ωδεστάτων λειμώνων αὖρα τις ἡδεῖα ἐξ αὐτῆς φέρεται) (Dem. 5). It appears
that the pleasure afforded by such flowing and wafting can be edifying, as long
as one does not indulge in a prolix flood or drift into an idle retreat, carried
away by agreeably undifferentiated abundance.

3. Between Greek and Roman topographies?

The contrasts between Greek and Roman treatments of these stylistic issues,
especially those between Dionysius and Cicero, complicate the picture consid-
erably. The case of Thucydides remains instructive. Like Demetrius, Dionysius
describes the effects of Thucydides’ rugged style, noting that it is not pretty
and soft and smoothly gliding into the ear (εὐεπὴς καὶ μαλακὴ καὶ λεληθότως
ὀλισθάνουσα διὰ τῆς ἀκοῆς) but rather striking and rough and harsh (τὸ
ἀντίτυπον καὶ τραχὺ καὶ στρυφνόν) (De comp. verb. 22). He points to Thucy-
dides’ explicit statement that he did not compose his work for the pleasure of
the hearer, thus connecting this lack of polish with an austerity (cf. De comp.
verb. 22: αὐστηράν) and an aesthetics that rejects the indulgence of listeners.34
This is not, for Dionysius, necessarily a point in his favour; by the late Re-
public both Greek and Roman writers on rhetoric have embraced pleasure as a
crucial goal of persuasive technique. Indeed, Cicero includes pleasure in his
trio of goals for the orator (ut delectaret / delectet; see Brutus 80 and Orator
69), and he describes Isocrates approvingly as writing for “the ears’ indul-
gence” (Orator 39: ad voluptatem aurium). Thucydides, in contrast, employs
expressions so recondite as to be almost incomprehensible (Orator 30-31: ob-
scuras abditasque sententias vix ut intellegantur). Dionysius similarly finds
fault with Thucydides’ prose as sometimes “tortuous and difficult to follow”
(Thuc. 29: σκολιὰ καὶ δυσπαρακολούθητα). Thus the rugged path may become
a perversely twisting route, not merely lofty and hard to scale but obscure and
For Greek writers such as Dionysius the polished (γλαφυρά) style pos-
sesses precisely the flowing and soft (εὔρους τις λέξις καὶ μαλακή) qualities
lacking in its opposite (De comp. verb. 23).35 An additional contrast clearly

34 For a general analysis of Dionysius’ aesthetic scheme, see Costil (1949) and Damon (1991);
for his assessment of Thucydides, see Pritchett (1975).
35 Demetrius also notes that Plato’s prose rhythm is dilatory (ἐκτεταμένῳ) though not “heavy or
long” (οὔτε ἕδραν ... οὔτε μῆκος); this drawing out of phrases Demetrius regards as often
56 Nancy Worman

subtends these distinctions. If the rough road of Thucydides’ prose manifestly

suits the manly traveller, the gentle fluidity of, say, Sappho’s poetry – and in-
terestingly, of Isocrates’ ornate prose – would seem to entice more feminine,
or perhaps we should say more refined, sorts. The limpid delicacy that Diony-
sius sometimes advocates recalls a famous moment in Callimachus’ Hymn to
Apollo, in which Apollo spurns Envy’s broad and muddy river in favour of the
purest water from the smallest stream (H. Ap. 111-112: ἥτις καθαρή τε καὶ
ἀχράαντος ἀνέρπει / πίδακος ἐξ ἱερῆς ὀλίγη λιβὰς ἄκρον ἄωτον).36 As a pro-
ponent of Atticism and therefore of lucidity and purity rather than fulsomeness
and ornament, Dionysius carefully orchestrates a compromise between polish
and grandeur.37
For instance, while he notes the artfulness of both Plato and Demosthenes,
he likens the craft of Demosthenes to a visual artist, but that of Plato to a hair-
dresser. The latter, he says, “never stopped combing and curling his dialogues
and replaiting them in every way” (De comp. verb. 25: τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ διαλόγους
κτενίζων καὶ βοστρυχίζων καὶ πάντα τρόπον ἀναπλέκων οὐ διέλειπεν; see
North 1991). Dionysius also opposes the “flowery meadow offering pleasant
rest” (ἀνθηρῷ χωρίῳ καταγωγὰς ἡδείας ἔχοντι) that marks Plato’s style to the
“rich and fertile field” (εὐκάρπῳ καὶ παμφόρῳ γῇ) of Demosthenes (Dem. 32).
The one offers a perfumed but transient entertainment (τέρψεις ἐφημέρους),
while the other provides both the true sustenance (τῶν ἀναγκαίων εἰς βίον) of
the hard-working farmer’s well-tended plot and its luxuries (τῶν περιττῶν εἰς
τέρψιν).38 Similarly, Dionysius finds the “meandering” phrases (cf. Dem. 19:
κεκολπωμένα) of Isocrates’ style to be smooth and soft (λεῖον καὶ μαλακόν) as
well as languid (ὑγρά), since they flow into the ears of the audience like oil
(Dem. 20: ὥσπερ ἔλαιον).39
Cicero’s stylistic recommendations suggest that he is considerably more
suspicious than Dionysius of this soft fluidity. His imagery centers explicitly
on the body, while carefully rejecting any imputations of effeminacy that
might attach to the ornate, Asiatic styles that he advocates. 40 In the third book
of De oratore, for example, Cicero draws contrasts between the manly orna-

what gives Plato’s style its elegance (γλαφυρός) (De eloc. 183). Weight and length are the
preserve of the elevated style, while this leisurely rhythm has a kind of limpid charm, so that
the phrases seem to glide along (ὀλίσθῳ τινὶ ἔοικε τὰ κῶλα). Cf. Ps.-Longinus, De subl. 13.1:
τινὶ χεύματι ἀψοφητὶ ῥέων (using Plato’s image, n.b.); see Innes ([1995] 2006: 305-306).
36 Catullus and Horace appropriate aspects of this distinction; see Cody (1976), Zetzel (1983)
and Keith (1999).
37 Cf. Dionysius Halicarnassus, De orat. vet. 1 and further below.
38 On Dionysius on Demosthenes’ style, see Wooten (1989).
39 N.b. the image is from Plato, Theaet. 144b5; cf. Rep. 411a5-8 (discussed above).
40 Keith (1999) has argued that Cicero’s use of bodily metaphors to talk about oratorical styles
responds to the Alexandrian promotion of slenderness and delicacy. Cf. Gunderson (2000:
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 57

mentation of an athletic style to one either overly sweet or theatrical. Ornament

must be “weighty” (gravis) and “gentlemanly” (liberalis) (De orat. 3.96) rath-
er than soft and delicate (molliores … et delicatiores), like the use of trills
(flexiones, “bending”) and falsettos in song (De orat. 3.98). As with the over-
indulgence of any of the senses, the “curls and rouge” (cincinnis ac fuco) of
the orator or poet who indulges in such charming devices lead quickly to dis-
gust in the audience (De orat. 3.100). Indeed, ornament itself must be like a
manly body rather than a fancy dessert: austere and solid (austeram et soli-
dam), not sweet and overdone (dulcem et decoctam) (De orat. 3.103).
Cicero returns more overtly to the sports metaphor later in his discussion,
arguing that the orator must colour his style not as surface make-up (fuco) but
“suffused with blood” (sanguine diffusus), so that the style is effectively
“flushed” if properly exercised; he must also practise “grace of movement”
(venustate moveantur) in his phrasing like those trained in fencing or boxing
(De orat. 3.199-200).41 Cicero’s recommendations for delivery follow this rig-
orous program: the orator should not indulge in stagy gestures (ab scena et his-
trionibus) but rather throw out his chest manfully like a parading soldier or
even a wrestler (ab armis aut etiam a palaestra) (De orat. 3.220).
In some contrast to the Greek writers on rhetoric who regard certain flow-
ing styles as polished, Cicero argues that a flux of verbiage is the opposite –
“rough and unpolished” (rudens et impolita). Without proper rhythm the ear
cannot detect a period’s parts (cf. membra et pedes) as one might individual
drops of water (De orat. 3.185-186). Most important for our purposes, in the
Orator Cicero opposes a forceful style to a fluid, unpunctuated one that is
“loose” (soluta) and lacking athletic rhythm. Speech that flows like a river
(Orator 228: infinite feratur ut flumen oratio) resembles a man untrained in the
palaestra. Unsyncopated speech is similarly slack, without forward movement
or force (Orator 229: enervetur oratio composiotione verborum, ut aliter in ea
nec impetus ullus nec vis esse possit).
Some years after Cicero’s death Dionysius characterized the Asiatic style
that Cicero advocated as exhibiting a lexical indulgence, which he equates
with the presumptuous appropriation of the “household” by a luxury-loving
and mindless whore (De orat. vet. 1: ἑταίρα δὲ τις ἄφρων; cf. Hidber 1996).
Distracting listeners with its theatricality and vulgar ornamentation (cf. 1:
θεατρικῇ, φορτική), this Asiatic style threatens the status of the “freeborn and
chaste wife” (1: ἐλευθέρα καὶ σώφρων γαμετή) who embodies Attic purity.
Thus both writers contend for the claim to stylistic restraint. For the Roman
orator opposed to Alexandrian delicacy this manifests itself in a hard-body aes-
thetic, which may offset the possibly effeminizing aspects of Asiatic indul-

41 Cf. Quintilian, Inst. orat. 8.20-21; and see Fögen (2004: 219-220) on Quintilian’s similar
concern about that the orator not indulge in a “femininized” style.
58 Nancy Worman

gence. 42 For the Greek teacher from Asia Minor it entails the chaste Attic
wife’s rejection of her luxurious, whorish counterpart.
We might recall here Xenophon’s Ἀρετή, who combines stringent deport-
ment with the straighter or rougher path, as well as the gendered posturings
from Aristophanes’ Clouds. Aristophanes’ mocking support for stylistic mus-
cularity and restraint, like Cicero’s “hard-body” oratory, exhibits striking par-
allels to the discourse of paths and rivers, in part because both sets of tropes
clearly dovetail around the same or similar issues. If Aristophanes’ scheme
lacks the topographical meander (e.g.) as a central metaphor, sophistic educa-
tion is repeatedly distinguished from its traditional counterpart by the imagery
of circuitous techniques and contorted aesthetics (cf. e.g. Nub. 443-451). Plato
likewise derides the sophist’s twisted manœuvres, while Cicero rejects the lax
and the curled.

4. The parodic turn

Quintilian’s remark at the opening of his treatise on oratory that those who la-
bour have a better chance of reaching the summit than those who despair at the
outset43 finds its insouciant echo in Lucian’s parodic portrait of educational
routes, which clearly conjoins the nature of the path and the deportment of the
hiker. In his “dialogue” A Teacher of Orators, Lucian depicts the choice of
programs as that between decidedly different roads (Rhet. praec. 1: ὁδούς).
The one is “rough, steep and sweaty” (τραχεῖαν τινα οὐδὲ ὄρθιον καὶ ἱδρῶτος
μεστήν), laborious (καματηράν) and basically hopeless (ἀπεγνωσμένην). The
other is short and sweet (ἡδίστην τε ἅμα καὶ ἐπιτομωτάτων), a leisurely, even
luxurious jaunt along a well-shaded, sloping bridle-path through flowering
fields (ἱππήλατον καὶ κατάντη σὺν πολλῇ τῇ θυμηδίᾳ καὶ τρυφῇ διὰ λειμώνων
εὐανθῶν καὶ σκιᾶς ἀκριβοῦς σχολῇ) (Rhet. praec. 3).44
Like Aristophanes in the Clouds, Lucian highlights the visible contrasts
between those on different educational tracks. The guide on the rough road has

42 Cf. Aulus Gellius, Noct. Att. 1.5.2-3, who reports that Hortensius, the orator that Cicero
champions in the Brutus, was lampooned by his contemporaries as an actor and dancing girl
for his overly elegant and fulsome style. See Gunderson (2000: 127-132); also Douglas
(1973) and Fantham (2004) for the intellectual and historical context of Cicero’s rhetorical
43 Quintilian, Inst. orat. 1.18-20: Altius tamen ibunt qui ad summa nitentur quam qui prae-
sumpta desperatione quo velint evadendi protinus circa ima substiterint.
44 N.b. at Aristophanes, Nub. 1004-1008 the image of the soft meadow with fragrant trees is in-
voked by the Stronger Logos (who should be the more upright and tough) in his description
of the Academy. This seems to be part of Aristophanes’ paradox: the old system was gently
appealing but made one tough, while the new system is brutal but ennervating. See Cribiore
(2007: 6-7) for the significance of such contrasts for later ideas about educational tracks.
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 59

a manly stride, a hard body and a dark tan (ὑπόσκληρος, ἀνδρώδης τὸ βάδισμα,
πολὺν τὸν ἥλιον ἐπὶ τῷ σώματι). He is also a fool (μάταιος) who talks a lot of
twaddle (λήρους τινάς) (Rhet. praec. 9). The guide on the easy road is a terri-
bly clever and completely gorgeous man (πάνσοφόν τινα καὶ πάγκαλον ἄνδρα),
with a mincing gait, a slender neck, a womanly glance and a honeyed voice
(διασεσαλευμένον τὸ βάδισμα, ἐπικεκλασμένον τὸν αὐχένα, γυναικεῖον τὸ
βλέμμα, μελιχρὸν τὸ φώνημα). Though he has not much of it, he carefully ar-
ranges his curly black hair (ὀλίγας μὲν ἔτι, οὔλας δὲ καὶ ὑακινθίνας τὰς τρίχας
εὐθετίζονται). He is the speaker claims, “a perfect Agathon – that charming
writer of tragedies” (Rhet. praec. 11: αὐτὸν Ἀγάθωνα, τὸν τῆς τραγῳδίας
ἐπέραστον ἐκεῖνον ποιητήν).

5. Conclusions
What can we conclude, at least provisionally, from this imagery that runs the
gamut from bodily inclinations to topographical features? While the focus in
Aristophanes, Plato and Cicero is primarily on deportment, Demetrius and
Dionysius highlight geographical features to suggest a similarly dubious realm
of appetite and indulgence.45 Verbal habits may fall together with the geogra-
phy of paths (etc.), in part through a staging of the body in space that reiterates
comic patterns. What emerges is something like a demographics of style,
which tracks the constantly shifting characteristics and distributions of bodies
in relation to both urban and rural geography. Visible deportments are matched
with verbal habits and these are in turn often aligned with meaningful topogra-
For all the pervasiveness of this “body in space” trope, unless its features
are assembled across texts, genres and centuries, its range and impact are like-
ly to be overlooked. Because – at least for the ancient writers – there is no
aesthetics without ethics, these metaphorical patterns highlight not merely
tastes but more importantly moral concerns. And indeed, some fairly consis-
tent anxieties are sustained through images that link style to character and ap-
petitive inclination. In the lexicon of rivers and paths, the rough road risks ob-
scurity, the languid passage idle indulgence, the fulsome flood prolixity. The
tropes centering on the body reveal that the travellers themselves ought to be
rigorous and manly, neither languishing and pliant like the river’s meander nor
soft like the fragrant meadow – pleasurable spaces that elicit similarly pleasur-
ing reactions. That is to say, whether the writers are Greek or Roman, or
whether they advocate fulsome or restrained styles, they all recognize that

45 This is also somewhat true of Longinus, but his metaphorical schemes do not as often exhibit
a wariness of excess.
60 Nancy Worman

prose – like poetry, like music, like all the mimetic arts – is fundamentally se-
ductive. Some styles flow into the ear like oil, imperceptibly sensuous and lull-
ing; others are carefully primped, as evidenced by the well-combed curls of
their periods. Directness, lucidity and suitability (all Peripatetic virtues)
emerge as safer tacks, since they offset the aesthetic failings that lurk in the
curves of ornate prose styles. If, like Cicero, one wishes to foster some meas-
ure of extravagance, this must be manfully exercised, else it will grow soft and
sluggish, from indulging too many trivial pleasures along the way.


Bassi, Karen (1998): Acting Like Men. Gender, Drama, and Nostalgia in Ancient
Greece, Ann Arbor.
Biles, Zachary P. (2002): Intertextual biography in the rivalry between Cratinus and
Aristophanes. In: American Journal of Philology 123, 169-204.
Chiron, Pierre (ed.) (1993): Démétrios. Du style. Texte établi et traduit, Paris.
Cody, John V. (1976): Horace and Callimachean Aesthetics, Bruxelles.
Costil, Pierre (1949): L’esthétique littéraire de Denys d’Halicarnasse, Paris.
Cribiore, Raffaella (2007): Lucian, Libanius and the short road to rhetoric. In: Greek,
Roman, and Byzantine Studies 47, 1-16.
Csapo, Eric (2004): The politics of the new music. In: Penelope Murrary & Peter Wil-
son (eds.), Music and the Muses. The Culture of Mousikē in the Classical Athe-
nian City, Oxford, 207-248.
Damon, Cynthia (1991): Aesthetic response and technical analysis in the rhetorical
writings of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. In: Museum Helveticum 48, 33-58.
Davidson, James (1997): Courtesans and Fishcakes. The Consuming Passions of Clas-
sical Athens, New York.
Dodds, Eric R. (ed.) (1959): Plato. Gorgias. A revised text with introduction and com-
mentary, Oxford.
Douglas, Alan E. (1973): The intellectual background of Cicero’s Rhetorica. In: Auf-
stieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt I 3, 95-138.
Dover, Kenneth J. (1978): Greek Homosexuality, Cambridge, Mass.
Fantham, Elaine (2004): The Roman World of Cicero’s “De Oratore”, Oxford.
Ferrari, Giovanni R. F. (1999): Aristotle’s literary aesthetics. In: Phronesis 44, 181-198.
Fögen, Thorsten (2004): Gender-specific communication in Graeco-Roman antiquity.
With a research bibliography. In: Historiographia Linguistica 31, 199-276.
Foley, Helene P. (2000): The comic body in Greek art and drama. In: Beth Cohen (ed.),
Not the Classical Ideal. Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art,
Leiden, 275-311.
Bodies and Topographies in Ancient Stylistic Theory 61

Ford, Andrew (2004): Catharsis. The power of music in Aristotle’s Politics. In: Penel-
ope Murray & Peter Wilson (eds.), Music and the Muses. The Culture of
Mousikê in the Classical Athenian City, Oxford, 309-336.
Franklin, John C. (2006): Songbenders of circular choruses. Dithyramb and the “demise
of music”. Online posting: http://www.kingmixers.com/Franklin/Dithyramb.pdf.
Gunderson, Erik (2000): Staging Masculinity. The Rhetoric of Performance in the Ro-
man World, Ann Arbor.
Hidber, Thomas (1996): Das klassizistische Manifest des Dionys von Halikarnass,
Innes, Doreen C. (1995): Longinus. Structure and unity. In: Jelle G. J. Abbenes, Simon
R. Slings & Ineke Sluiter (eds.), Greek Literary Theory after Aristotle. A Col-
lection of Papers in Honour of D. M. Schenkeveld, Amsterdam, 111-124. Re-
printed in: Andrew Laird (ed.), Oxford Readings in Ancient Literary Criticism,
Oxford 2006, 300-312.
Jones, John (1962): On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy, London.
Keith, Alison (1999): Slender verse. Roman elegy and ancient rhetorical theory. In:
Mnemosyne 52, 41-62.
Lombardo, Giovanni (1999): Demetrio: Lo stile (transl. and comm.), Milan.
Luppe, Wolfgang (2000): The rivalry between Aristophanes and Kratinos. In: David
Harvey & John Wilkins (eds.), The Rivals of Aristophanes. Studies in Athenian
Old Comedy, London, 15-21.
North, Helen F. (1991): Combing and curling. Orator summus Plato. In: Illinois Classi-
cal Studies 16, 201-219.
O’Sullivan, Neil (1992): Alcidamas, Aristophanes, and Early Greek Stylistic Theory,
Pritchett, William K. (1975): Dionysius of Halicarnassus: “On Thucydides” (transl.
and comm.), Berkeley.
Rosen, Ralph M. (2000): Cratinus’ Pytine and the construction of the comic self. In:
David Harvey & John Wilkins (eds.), The Rivals of Aristophanes. Studies in
Athenian Old Comedy, London, 23-39.
Ruffell, Ian (2002): A total write-off. Aristophanes, Cratinus, and the rhetoric of comic
competition. In: Classical Quarterly 52, 138-163.
Schenkeveld, Dirk M. (1964): Studies in Demetrius’ “On Style”, Amsterdam.
Sidwell, Keith (1995): Poetic rivalry and the caricature of comic poets. Cratinus’ Putinê
and Aristophanes’ Wasps. In: Alan Griffiths (ed.), Stage Directions. Essays in
Ancient Drama in Honour of E. W. Handley, London, 56-80.
Slater, Niall W. (2002): Spectator Politics. Metatheatre and Performance in Aristoph-
anes, Philadelphia.
Sommerstein, Alan (1981): Aristophanes’ Knights, Warminster.
Van Hook, Larue (1905): The Metaphorical Terminology of Greek Rhetoric and Liter-
ary Criticism, Diss. University of Chicago.
Wooten, Cecil W. (1989): Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Hermogenes on the style of
Demosthenes. In: American Journal of Philology 110, 576-588.
62 Nancy Worman

Worman, Nancy (2002): The Cast of Character. Style in Greek Literature, Austin,
Worman, Nancy (2008): Abusive Mouths in Classical Athens, Cambridge.
Zetzel, James E. G. (1983): Re-creating the canon. Augustan poetry and the Alexan-
drian past. In: Critical Inquiry 10, 83-105.
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain:
Disclosing and Withholding the Imperial Presence
in Justinianic Constantinople
Charles F. Pazdernik

Observers of imperial ceremonial in Justinianic Constantinople – notably, Procopius of
Caesarea and John Lydus – call attention to changes in courtly etiquette that cumula-
tively may be described as efforts to reinscribe the boundaries defining the imperial
presence and to revise the body language governing interactions between rulers and
their subjects. Procopius sums up these changes metaphorically in his Secret History by
invoking the master-slave paradigm to characterize relationships between the imperial
couple and their subjects, implication in which by high officials and other consequential
persons is connotative of servility.
These changes point to an intensified focus upon imperial officials as the objects of
imperial mastery. Examination of the venues for interaction between rulers and ruled in
the Justinianic context and the vocabularies of gesture and modes of address that seem
to be characteristic of such venues, with reference to corroborating material from sourc-
es such as the Book of Ceremonies and Cyril of Scythopolis’ Life of Sabas, suggests
that imperial observers concur in constructing the good emperor as one who, refusing to
be constrained by ceremonial, is capable of deliberately ignoring or subverting etiquette
in instances when its observance would serve either to deprecate intrinsic merit or to
validate the unworthy. The contrast with Justinian, who either insisted upon participat-
ing in demeaning forms of courtly etiquette (according to Procopius) or merely acqui-
esced in them (according to Lydus), is striking.

We are accustomed to thinking about emperors in the ceremonial contexts of

late antiquity as waxwork figures, whom the strictures of courtly etiquette con-
strain to play the role allotted to them as objects of veneration. The protocol
for the reception of the Persian ambassador included within the sixth-century
material in the Byzantine Book of Ceremonies1 evokes the spectacle of the em-
peror enthroned behind his curtain in the consistorium with magistrates and an
honour guard assembled on either side by the magister officiorum (Constantine
VII Porph., De cerimoniis p. 406.4-13 Reiske):

1 See Bury (1907: esp. 212-213).

64 Charles F. Pazdernik

(...) καὶ τηνικαῦτα ἐξέρχεται ἔξω, καὶ ἐὰν ἴδῃ, ὅτι ἕτοιμός ἐστιν ὁ πρεσβευτὴς,
κράζει ὁ δικουρίων “LEBA.” καὶ ἐπαιρομένου τοῦ βήλου, ῥίπτει ἑαυτὸν ἔξω
ὁ πρέσβης ἐπὶ τοῦ ἐδάφους, ἔνθα τὸ πορφυροῦν μάρμαρον, καὶ προσκυνεῖ,
καὶ ἀνίσταται. καὶ μεθὸ εἰσέλθῃ τὸν πυλῶνα, πάλιν ῥίπτει ἑαυτὸν, καὶ
προσκυνεῖ ἐπὶ τοῦ ἐδάφους, καὶ ἀνίσταται. καὶ πάλιν ἐν τῷ μέσῳ τοῦ
κονσιστωρίου ὁμοίως προσκυνεῖ, καὶ τότε ἔρχεται καὶ φιλεῖ τοὺς πόδας, καὶ
ἵσταται ἐν τῷ μέσῳ, καὶ ἐπιδίδωσι τὰ γράμματα, καὶ λέγει τὸν ἀσπασμὸν τοῦ
βασιλέως αὐτοῦ.
“At that point he [the magister] goes out, and if he observes that the ambassa-
dor is ready, the decurion shouts, ‘LEVA!’ When the curtain is raised, the am-
bassador outside throws himself to the floor, where [there is] purple marble,
performs προσκύνησις, and arises. And then he enters the gate, [and] again he
throws himself [down] and performs προσκύνησις on the floor and arises.
Again in the middle of the consistorium he performs προσκύνησις likewise,
and then he comes and venerates the feet [of the emperor] and stands in the
middle; he hands over the letter and declares the greeting of his king.”
The emperor is indisputably the cynosure of this spectacle, but the effect is
magnified by the splendour of the consistorium itself, with its sumptuous car-
pets and tapestries and its gilded surfaces, and by the solemn and minutely-
regulated choreography of the court.2
Corippus’ panegyric of Justin II (imp. 565-578) describes the same cere-
mony with reference to an embassy of the Avars in 565 (In laudem Iustini Aug.
minoris 3.255-263; Kelly 2004: 22-26):
verum ut contracto patuerunt intime velo
ostia, et aurati micuerunt atria tecti,
Caesareumque caput diademate fulgere sacro
Tergazis suspexit Avar, ter poplite flexo
pronus adoravit, terraeque adfixus inhaesit.
hunc Avares alii simili terrore secuti
in facies cecidere suas, stratosque tapetas
fronte terunt, longisque inplent spatiosa capillis
atria et Augustam membris inmanibus aulam.

2 Similarly, Ammianus Marcellinus’ famous depiction of Constantius II’s adventus in Rome in

357 (16.10.2-10) emphasizes his glittering cavalry escort and the impression of gravity and
power that his rigid pose was intended to convey. See Francis (2003), Matthews (1989: 231-
235), MacCormack (1981: 39-45) and MacMullen (1964: 438-441, esp. 439): “[A]t the same
time that imperial statues were coming to resemble their subjects by being borne about in
processions, carried in chariots, wreathed and hailed and addressed as witnesses to oaths, the
emperors themselves copied their own statues. They were increasingly forced into an ideal
impersonal mold (...)”. On the relationship between personal deportment and social order, see
Brown (1988: 11-17, 22-24). At the hippodrome, in contrast, Constantius permitted himself
to react to comments from the crowd (16.10.13-14), a performance described by McCormick
(1986: 87-88) as “odd gestures of his civility, a living archaism, harkening back to the days
of the first citizen”. On the expectations governing such occasions, see Buc (1997: 67-70)
and Alan Cameron (1976: 157-183). On putative associations between a lack of ceremonial
self-restraint and civilitas, see also n. 35 below.
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 65
“But when the curtain was drawn aside and the inner part was revealed, and
when the hall of the gilded building glittered and Tergazis the Avar looked up
at the head of the emperor shining with the holy diadem, he lay down three
times in adoration and remained fixed upon the ground. The other Avars fol-
lowed him in similar fear and fell on their faces, and brushed the carpets with
their foreheads, and filled the spacious halls with their long hair and the impe-
rial palace with their huge limbs.”
This passage from Corippus suggests the reaction that these gestures and this
spectacle are intended to evoke in the venerator: a sense of absolute and un-
bridgeable distance between himself and the object of veneration and with it a
realization of the venerator’s profound inferiority.3 Imperial officials, arrayed
in order of rank with their splendid vestments and distinctive insignia, are an
essential part of that spectacle, so that Corippus can expostulate how “the im-
perial palace with its officials is like Olympus” (In laudem Iustini Aug. minoris
3.179-180: ... imitatur Olympum / officiis Augusta domus ...).
Standing in order beside the throne in the consistorium and swelling the
magnificent spectacle of an imperial audience bathed the Constantinopolitan
bureaucrat in the reflected glory of his monarch and made him, even if only in
a derivative and collective sense, an object of veneration.4 Yet this perspective
was capable of being reversed, placing the bureaucrat, in the act of offering
προσκύνησις, in the position of the venerator and not the venerated. In such

3 Bertelli (2001: 141-146) attempts to identify elements of the Byzantine legacy in the West in
rites governing the withholding and disclosing of the royal presence. A modern description of
the seclusion of the Ottoman sultan in the Topkapi palace is evocative in this context: “[T]he
sultan’s mastering gaze (...) implied a form of domination and control that accentuated the
spatial and sociopolitical distance between subject and object, ruler and ruled. (...) [T]o catch
a glimpse of the hidden monarch became the propelling force of the ceremonial narrative”
(Bertelli 2001: 142, citing Necipoğlu 1991: 244). Compare Francis (2003: 590) on spiritual
or mystical “seeing”: “The god, Christ, or the emperor is so far beyond and above the viewer
that they exist on a different plane, yet they are connected to the viewer. The viewer is sub-
ject to them, but they allow themselves to be seen. They must, since by seeing the viewer rec-
ognizes them and thus acknowledges their power. Seeing and being seen, in this instance, are
the respective roles in a power relationship that binds both viewer and viewed into one
manifestation of civil and cosmic order, parts of a transcending whole.” See also Elsner
(1995: 88-124).
4 Compare Corippus, In laudem Iustini Aug. minoris 3.182-187: aurea convexi veluti rutilantia
caeli / sidera mensura, numeris et pondere cursus / perficiunt librata suos, stabilique recessu
/ firma manent, unumque iubar super omnia fulget; / omnia subcumbunt flammis melioribus
astra, / et quo tecta latent, regis pascuntur ab igne (“Just as the golden shining stars in the
curving sky accomplish their courses poised on their own measure, number and weight, and
remain firm in fixed retreat, and one light shines over all; all the stars yield to its superior
flames and they feed on the fire of their monarch, by which they lie eclipsed”). On the rela-
tionship between imperial solar imagery and the withholding and disclosing of the imperial
presence, see Kantorowicz (1963: esp. 149-162). With Corippus compare Plotinus, Enn.
5.5.3, quoted by Matthews (2000b: 445-446).
66 Charles F. Pazdernik

circumstances courtly etiquette threatened no longer to recognize his distinc-

tive place in the political and social order.
These opposing perspectives enacted, with reference to the framework ex-
plored in this volume, in the first place a boundary between inclusion within
and exclusion from the imperial presence; correspondingly, they underscored
the ambivalent position occupied by high imperial officials and other elites in
their role as intermediaries between rulers and their subjects more generally.5
That boundary in turn demarcated relationships of power signified and sub-
stantiated by, in the second place, a body language of ritual gestures and poses
that constrained both rulers and subjects in the ceremonial contexts within
which their opposing perspectives were enacted.
It fell to such elites therefore both to enforce and to embody ceremonially
a power relationship in which they sometimes participated problematically and
which they were capable of contesting through appeals to tradition and culture.
The court of Justinian (imp. 527-565) is especially notable for stimulating such
a reaction.6 In the examples that follow, a remarkable range of sources stress
the complicity of rulers in employing body language not only to construct, but
also potentially to subvert and to collapse, boundaries demarcating relation-
ships of power, particularly in instances in which courtly etiquette threatened
either to ignore the deserving or to recognize the undeserving. To this extent
the waxwork image of imperial impassivity and self-restraint is misleading:
good rulers were those who knew, as it were, when to step away from the cur-
tain and to abandon the ceremonial script.7
The sometimes fraught relationship between venerator and venerated is
vividly exposed in the lengthy and detailed complaint about innovations in
court ceremonial introduced by Justinian and his wife Theodora that closes
Procopius of Caesarea’s Anecdota or Secret History (30.21-30). Formerly

5 On the intrinsic relationship between elite status and office-holding in the later Roman state,
see Heather (1998) and Kelly (1998b). See also Brown (2000: 331), citing Heather (1998:
196): “[T]he ‘already rich and powerful’ of the Roman world found themselves locked into a
system of politically determined status (...)”. In what follows, the expressions “(high) impe-
rial officials”, “senators”, “aristocrats” vel sim., are closely interrelated terms that refer fun-
damentally to the same group of people (i.e. clarissimi). The expression “other elites” (bear-
ing in mind Matthews 2000b: esp. 430) includes those, like the young John Lydus (De mag.
3.26), who possessed the requisite educational and social qualifications for placement in the
clerical grades of the imperial bureaucracy. See also Skinner (2000).
6 In Justinian’s case, reaction was expressed not only in literary appeals to tradition and culture
but also in the famous Nika uprising of 532, which was sparked by popular unrest but rapidly
co-opted by aristocratic malcontents. On the sources and bibliography, see Greatrex (1997).
On antagonism between Justinian and the elites, see now Kelly (2004: esp. 71-81) and Sarris
(2006: esp. 200-227).
7 Different authors were capable of disagreeing about whether a particular ritual actor was
“good” or “bad” and correspondingly about whether a particular ritual act was “good” or
“bad”. On the latter distinction see Buc (2001a: 8-10 and passim).
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 67

(πάλαι), Procopius states, it was customary for members of the senate, having
been admitted to the imperial presence, to perform an act of ritual submission
(προσκυνεῖν) in one of two ways. Senators of patrician rank would “venerate
[the emperor] on the right breast” (παρὰ μαζὸν αὐτοῦ προσεκύνει τὸν δεξιόν),
perhaps with a kiss,8 and receive a kiss on the head in return, while the others
would genuflect on the right knee and withdraw. No gestures were customarily
directed toward the empress at all (22).
Under the present regime, in contrast, all the members of the senate, re-
gardless of rank, were expected upon making their entrance to prostrate them-
selves fully upon the floor with faces averted and hands and feet extended, to
kiss the foot of each member of the imperial couple, and then to raise them-
selves up again (23). Procopius adds here that Theodora also presumed to re-
ceive deputations of foreign ambassadors and to give them money, “a thing
that had never happened since the beginning of time” (24: πρᾶγμα πώποτε οὐ
γεγονὸς ἐκ τοῦ παντὸς χρόνου).9 He continues (25-26):
καὶ πάλαι μὲν οἱ τῷ βασιλεῖ ξυγγενόμενοι αὐτόν τε βασιλέα καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα
βασιλίδα ἐκάλουν, ἀρχόντων τε τῶν λοιπῶν ἕκαστον ὅπη αὐτῷ ἀξιώματος
πέρι τὰ παρόντα ἔχοι. ἢν δέ τις τούτοιν ὁποτέρῳ ἐς λόγους ξυμμίξας βασιλέως
ἢ βασιλίδος ἐπιμνησθείη, ἀλλ’ οὐ δεσπότην τε ἀποκαλοίη καὶ δέσποιναν, ἢ
καὶ μὴ δούλους τῶν τινας ἀρχόντων ὀνομάζειν πειρῷτο, τοσοῦτος δὴ ἀμαθής
τε καὶ τὴν γλῶτταν ἀκόλαστος ἐδόκει εἶναι, καὶ ἅτε ἡμαρτηκὼς τὰ πικρότατα
καὶ ὑβρίσας ἐς οὓς ἥκιστα ἐχρῆν ἐνθένδε ἀπῄει.
“And in earlier times those who attended upon the emperor used to call him
βασιλεύς and his consort βασιλίς, and to address each of the other officials
[ἄρχοντες] in accordance with his present rank; but if anyone upon venturing
into dialogue with either [Justinian or Theodora] should mention the words
βασιλεύς or βασιλίς and fail to call them δεσπότης and δέσποινα, or should at-
tempt to refer to any of the officials as other than δοῦλοι, such a person would
be considered empty-headed and too free of tongue, and as one who had erred
most grievously and affronted those whom he certainly ought not to have af-
fronted he would withdraw from the place.”
Additional objections follow: in former times (τὰ πρότερα) very few persons
gained admittance to the palace, but nowadays officials and everyone else
(ἄρχοντες ὁμοῦ καὶ <οἱ> λοιποὶ ξύμπαντες) are no longer permitted to rely
upon their own judgement and discretion in matters of government; they have
abandoned their bureaux and tribunals and must wait upon the imperial couple
at court “in a most servile manner” (δουλοπρεπέστατα); there one witnesses

8 Many, following Avery (1940: 79), suppose that the indicated gesture is a kiss.
9 The fact that Procopius objects only to the idea of the empress receiving an embassy in her
own right, and therefore standing as the sole object of προσκύνησις, but not in this case to the
prescribed form of that προσκύνησις, suggests that he found nothing objectionable about
obliging an envoy to venerate the feet: it is the extension of this practice to senators and offi-
cials that rankles. See also n. 29 below.
68 Charles F. Pazdernik

“crowds and insolence and great tumult and unsurpassed servility in every re-
spect” (27-30: ὄχλον τε καὶ ὕβριν καὶ ὠθισμὸν μέγαν καὶ δουλοπρέπειαν ἐς ἀεὶ
The grounds of Procopius’ discontent are varied, and it would be mislead-
ing to emphasize a single one at the expense of others.10 In the first place, as
his repeated temporal markers indicate, Justinian and Theodora’s ceremonial
etiquette is objectionable because it marks a discontinuity with the past by al-
tering institutions, roles and observances sanctioned by antiquity and custom.
Second, these practices appear to be threatening because they destabilize or
overturn hierarchies of gender by granting an unprecedented prominence to the
figure of the empress and allocating to Theodora a seemingly co-equal or
equivalent role in government with her husband.11 Third, they have the effect
of flattening hierarchies of honorific and official protocol by ignoring or sup-
pressing distinctions of rank and title within the elite; at the same time, they
increase the distance between the imperial couple and all of their subjects by
imposing a uniform, and evidently more degrading, form of ritual submission
to be observed in the imperial presence. Finally, they mark a retreat from an
institutional, magisterial form of government centered upon the transaction of
business in public fora by qualified office-holders into an insular, palace-
centered world of courtiers, toadyism and intrigue.
Several elements of this complaint can be correlated iconographically with
Procopius’ description in the Buildings, a panegyrical work celebrating Justin-
ian’s achievements as a builder, of the mosaic on the ceiling of the so-called
Chalke Gate of the imperial palace. This gate was the principal ceremonial en-
trance through which senators and other dignitaries would pass on their way to
an imperial audience.12 Two compositions on either side of the central medal-
lion depicted scenes from the conquest of Vandal Africa and Ostrogothic Italy,
which Justinian is credited as winning through the agency or instrumentality of
his general Belisarius (ὑπὸ στρατηγοῦντι Βελισαρίῳ); a separate composition
depicted the return of the army together with a train of spoils and captives. The

10 See the careful discussion of this passage by Hermann-Otto (1998).

11 There are those (Rubin 1954: 297 ad loc. = RE 23.1 [1957] 572; Cameron 1985: 74-75) who
have identified as the essence of Procopius’ complaint in these passages the malign influence
that he ascribes to Theodora and his claim that Theodora received προσκύνησις together with
Justinian and received foreign delegations in her own right. We learn elsewhere in the Secret
History that Theodora also required προσκύνησις from imperial officials whom she kept
waiting upon her in the hope of obtaining a private audience (15.13-15). Yet Theodora’s ob-
jectionable behaviour as empress represents only a single facet of Procopius’ larger com-
plaint about the relationship between the imperial couple and their most prominent subjects.
12 It was rebuilt by Justinian together with much of the monumental core of the capital follow-
ing the widespread arson and destruction that accompanied the Nika rioting (see above, n. 6).
See further Mango (1959: esp. 21-35).
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 69

central composition depicted Justinian and Theodora in joint triumph over the
subjected Kings of the Vandals and the Goths (Aed. 1.10.18-19):
περιέστηκε δὲ αὐτοὺς ἡ Ῥωμαίων βουλὴ σύγκλητος, ἑορτασταὶ πάντες. τοῦτο
γὰρ αἱ ψηφῖδες δηλοῦσιν ἐπὶ τοῖς προσώποις ἱλαρὸν αὐτοῖς ἐπανθοῦσαι.
γαυροῦνται οὖν καὶ μειδιῶσι τῷ βασιλεῖ νέμοντες ἐπὶ τῷ ὄγκῳ τῶν
πεπραγμένων ἰσοθέους τιμάς (...).
“And around them stands the Roman Senate, all in festal mood. This spirit is
expressed by the cubes of the mosaic, which by their colours depict exultation
on their very countenances. So they rejoice and smile as they bestow on the
emperor honours equal to those of God [ἰσόθεοι τιμαί], because of the magni-
tude of his achievements.”
This idealized portrait of imperial victory (for no such joint triumph over the
Vandals and the Goths ever took place) situates within the ceremonial topog-
raphy of the palace an assertion of preeminence that mirrors Procopius’ com-
plaints in the Secret History with respect not only to Theodora’s incorporation
within the imperial presence but also to the flattening of internal hierarchies of
rank within the elite. One gathers from the apparently radial arrangement of
the senators around the central composition and from comparable ceiling mo-
saics from the baptisteries at Ravenna that each senatorial figure will have
been equidistant from the imperial couple and subsumed within the larger
compositional pattern.13 To the extent that the Chalke mosaic evoked associa-
tions with liturgical or sacramental scenes of Christ surrounded by saints and
apostles,14 we have some basis for imagining the manner in which the senators

13 Mango (1959: 30-34 and fig. 1 [p. 23]) reconstructs the structure as rectangular in plan with a
central dome and lateral vaults. He places the mosaics depicting the campaigns of Belisarius
in the lateral vaults and the portrait of the imperial couple with the senate in the dome. The
scene of the returning army and the subjected kings is apparently to be placed in the outer-
most register of the dome, with an inner register depicting either the senate in the company of
the imperial couple or a ring of senators surrounding the imperial couple in the central medal-
lion. The latter possibility “is, in fact, suggested by the ‘godlike honours’ ” (Mango 1959: 33).
He compares the schemes of the domes of St. George at Thessalonica and the Orthodox Bap-
tistery at Ravenna and, for the organization of triumphal imagery in multiple registers, the
base of the column of Arcadius.
14 On the decorative programs of such structures, see Wharton (1987: esp. 369-375); also
Kostof (1965: esp. 91-93). Wharton’s analysis of the iconographic significance of the pres-
ence of the Apostles seems particularly apt as an analogy for the manner in which the rela-
tionship between the imperial couple and the senators as depicted in the Chalke mosaic might
have been read: “the program’s visual assertion that Apostles function as intermediaries be-
tween Christ and the universal Church fully accorded with the Christian view of history. (...)
[T]he Apostles were intimately identified with the ordering of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Bishops insisted that they, as direct heirs of the Apostles, articulated true doctrine. The Apos-
tles in the Neonian Baptistery may then have appeared as a reaffirmation of the bishop’s au-
thority” (Wharton 1987: 374). Similarly, the program of the Chalke mosaic will have evoked
interrelated associations between the emperor’s role as divine representative and intermediary,
on one hand, and the distinctive but subordinate roles of generals and officials, respectively,
as imperial representatives and intermediaries on the other.
70 Charles F. Pazdernik

bestow ἰσόθεοι τιμαί upon Justinian, but a specific basis for reconstructing the
gestures Procopius is describing here eludes us.
This flattening or obliteration of distinctions of status observed by Pro-
copius is also apparent in his description in the Wars of the actual ceremonies
that celebrated the defeat of the Vandals in 534. These ceremonies culminated
at the hippodrome in a gesture of submission that contrived to set Justinian’s
successful general Belisarius on a par with the defeated Vandal king Gelimer,
who had been paraded through the streets of the capital clad in a garment of
royal purple (Bell. 4.9.12):15
ἀφικόμενον δὲ αὐτὸν (sc. Γελίμερα) κατὰ τὸ βασιλέως βῆμα τὴν πορφυρίδα
περιελόντες, πρηνῆ πεσόντα προσκυνεῖν Ἰουστινιανὸν βασιλέα κατηνάγκα-
σαν. τοῦτο δὲ καὶ Βελισάριος ἐποίει ἅτε ἱκέτης βασιλέως σὺν αὐτῷ γεγονώς.
“And when Gelimer arrived at the imperial box, they stripped off the purple
and compelled him to fall prone on the ground and perform προσκύνησις be-
fore the emperor Justinian. This also Belisarius did, as a fellow suppliant of
the emperor with Gelimer.”
Cumulatively these changes may be described as efforts to reinscribe the
boundaries that define the imperial presence, to prescribe a new vocabulary of
gestures and modes of address that govern interactions between rulers and their
subjects, and to relocate and to reconfigure the spaces within which such inter-
actions occur. Procopius sums up these changes metaphorically in his Secret
History by his invocations of the master-slave paradigm in describing relation-
ships between the imperial couple and their subjects, implication in which by
high officials and other consequential persons is connotative of servility.
Closely associated in his account with this embrace of servility on the part of
rulers and ruled alike, on one hand, and the temporal dislocations introduced
by Justinian and Theodora’s innovations, on the other, is Procopius’ emphasis
upon a spatial or topographical shift in the center of government away from the
seats of judicial and fiscal administration and towards the palace – away, as it
were, from places where bureaucrats rule and towards the place where bureau-
crats are ruled.
At first glance very little of Procopius’ polemic might seem to be novel or
original. To charge senators or high officials with fawning servility in front of
emperors is scarcely to improve upon Tacitus, and it is indisputable that em-
perors had embraced the titles of dominus and δεσπότης and received various
forms of adoratio or προσκύνησις since the fourth century, if not before.16 The

15 See now Pazdernik (2006).

16 Avery (1940); cf. Alföldi (1970: esp. 24-25). See also Stern (1954), Treitinger (1956: 81-90),
Wallace-Hadrill (1982), Löhken (1982: esp. 48-66), Matthews (1989: 244-249; 2000b: 445),
Hermann-Otto (1998) and Kaldellis (2004b: 128-142). References to προσκύνησις in the
middle and later Byzantine periods, particularly with reference to De cerimoniis, are com-
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 71

tension between autocracy and bureaucracy was a characteristic and structural

feature of Roman government in late antiquity, where the bureaucratic impera-
tive towards regularization and predictability threatened to marginalize or to
constrain the independent initiative of emperors (Kelly 2004: passim).
Accordingly, Procopius’ anxiety about where imperial officials stand, lit-
erally and metaphorically, along the ideological and ceremonial boundary that
distinguishes the venerator from the venerated is symptomatic of a newly ex-
plicit phenomenon in the early sixth century: an intensified focus upon impe-
rial officials and other members of the elite as the objects of imperial mastery.
For the first time one finds imperial officials identified by such expressions as
“the slave of the emperor” (ὁ δοῦλος τοῦ βασιλέως) and the performance of of-
ficial duties described by the abstract noun δουλεία in order to characterize the
loyalty of officials and to advertise their proximity to the throne.
It is clear, for example, that both Justinian and his officials were capable
of referring to the performance of their duties as a species of δουλεία. An ap-
pendix to an imperial constitution issued in April of 535 contains the text of an
oath Justinian required of newly-appointed provincial governors, which states
in part (Nov. 8 iusiur., pp. 89.45-90.8 Schöll & Kroll):
Ὄμνυμι ἐγὼ τὸν θεὸν τὸν παντοκράτορα, καὶ τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ
Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν τὸν θεὸν ἡμῶν, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα, καὶ τὴν ἁγίαν ἔνδοξον
θεοτόκον καὶ ἀειπάρθενον Μαρίαν, καὶ τὰ τέσσαρα εὐαγγέλια, ἃ ἐν ταῖς χερσί
μου κρατῶ, καὶ τοὺς ἁγίους ἀρχαγγέλους Μιχαὴλ καὶ Γαβριήλ, ὡς καθαρὸν
συνειδὸς καὶ γνησίαν δουλείαν φυλάξω τοῖς θειοτάτοις καὶ εὐσεβεστάτοις
ἡμῶν δεσπόταις Ἰουστινιανῷ καὶ Θεοδώρᾳ, τῇ ὁμοζύγῳ τοῦ αὐτοῦ κράτους,
προφάσει τῆς παραδεδομένης μοι παρὰ τῆς αὐτῶν εὐσεβείας ἀρχῆς· καὶ πάντα
πόνον καὶ κάματον μετ’ εὐνοίας ἀδόλως καὶ δίχα τέχνης τινὸς ἀναδέξομαι ἐπὶ
τῇ δοθείσῃ μοι παρ’ αὐτῶν ἀρχῇ ὑπὲρ τῆς αὐτῶν βασιλείας καὶ πολιτείας.
“I swear, on the occasion of [my entry into the] office [ἀρχή] bestowed upon
me by their piety, by almighty God, his only-begotten son our lord Jesus
Christ, and the Holy Spirit, by the holy and glorified mother of God, Mary
ever-virgin, by the four gospels which I hold in my hands, and by the holy
archangels Michael and Gabriel, that I shall preserve a pure conscience and
γνησία δουλεία towards our most consecrated and august δεσπόται Justinian
and his consort Theodora; and that I will undertake every burden and labour
with sincere goodwill and without any guile in the office entrusted to me by
them on behalf of their empire and government.”
Elements of this document that may be correlated with Procopius’ complaint in
the Secret History include a joint acknowledgement of Justinian and Theodora
as δεσπόται and an affirmation that the faithful performance of official duties
is constitutive of γνησία δουλεία.

piled by Guilland (1946/47). As Hermann-Otto (1998: 356 n. 22) observes, this work is to be
used with caution on the Procopian material.
72 Charles F. Pazdernik

We find this language strikingly echoed back to the center from the pe-
riphery in two inscriptions commemorating the role of a certain Victorinus17 in
restoring the Hexamilion fortress and in other work at the Isthmus of Corinth
(IG IV.204 = SIG3 910A / CGCI 1.1 / Corinth 8.3 no. 508 / Donderer 1996:
φῶς ἐκ φωτός, θεὸς | ἀληθινὸς ἐκ θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, | φυλάξῃ τὸν αὐτοκράτορα |
Ἰουστινιανὸν καὶ τὸν | πιστὸν αὐτοῦ δοῦλον | Βικτωρῖνον, ἅμα τοῖς | οἰκοῦ-
σ(ι)ν ἐν Ἑλ(λ)άδι τοὺς κ(α)τ(ὰ) θε(ὸ)ν | ζῶντας.
“Light from light, true God from true God, preserve the emperor Justinian and
ὁ πιστὸς αὐτοῦ δοῦλος Victorinus, together with all those dwelling in Hellas,
living according to God.”
And further IG IV.205 (= SIG3 910B / CGCI 1.2 / CIG IV.8640 / Donderer
1996: A28):
ἁγ(ία) Μαρία θεοτόκε, φύλαξον | τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ | φιλοχρίστου Ἰουστινια-
νοῦ | καὶ τὸν γνησίως | δουλεύοντα αὐτῷ | Βικτωρῖνον σὺν τοῖς | οἰκοῦσιν ἐν
Κορίνθῳ κ(ατὰ) θε(ὸ)ν | ζῶντας.
“Holy Mary, mother of God, preserve the reign of Christ-loving Justinian and
ὁ γνησίως δουλεύων αὐτῷ Victorinus together with those who dwell in Cor-
inth, living according to God.”
Additional evidence from the Justinianic legal corpus and from the sixth-
century epigraphical record might be adduced in order to substantiate this phe-
nomenon, but one is hard pressed to find comparable evidence prior to the
sixth century.18 To this extent, then, Procopius seems to be justified in calling
the identification of imperial officials as δοῦλοι an innovation.
Procopius’ claim is further corroborated by an otherwise puzzling passage
in De magistratibus by John Lydus, a close contemporary who moved in the
same circles in Constantinople in the mid-sixth century and who composed this
work as an institutional history of the Praetorian Prefecture.19 In the middle of
a historical sketch on the origins of the imperial office in the late Republic and
early principate, Lydus pauses to reflect upon the connotations of the title do-
minus (De mag. 1.6):

17 On Victorinus see Feissel (1988, 2000), with discussion of additional material from Byllis in
Nova Epirus (SEG 2.377 [= 38.533], 38.530-532) pertaining to his activities throughout the
18 For the former, see also C.J. (undated); cf. C.J. (A.D. 534). For the lat-
ter, see also SEG 11.52a (= CGCI 1.3); CIG 8740 (= Latyšev, Sbornik no. 99; PLRE 3
Eupaterius 1, 2); Meyer-Plath & Schneider, Landmauer no. 33b, 34 (PLRE 3 Narses 4); cf.
SEG 31.1282; IGLS IV.1631. This and related material is the subject of a larger study
currently in progress.
19 On affinities between the two, see Kaldellis (2004a).
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 73
καὶ δῆλον ἄντικρυς ὅτι Ῥωμαίοις ἔθος dominos τοὺς τυραννήσαντας
ἀποκαλεῖν, ὡς δὴ Σύλλαν καὶ Μάριον, καὶ δομινατίωνα τὴν τυραννίδα· ὡς
καταρρίπτουσι τὴν βασιλέων μεγαλειότητα οἱ πονηροὶ κόλακες, ἐξ ἀμαθείας
δούλων αὐτοὺς πρωτεύειν εἰσάγοντες ὅτι δὲ ἀληθές, ἔξεστι καὶ ἐκ τούτων
λαβεῖν. Αὔγουστός ποτε, ἢ τάχα Τιβέριος ὁ μετ’ αὐτόν, πρὸς ἑνὸς τῶν
κολάκων δεσπότης ὀνομασθείς, ἐξαναστὰς ἀφῆκε τὸν σύλλογον, ἀπαξιώσας,
ὡς ἔφη, δούλοις διαλέγεσθαι.
“And it is absolutely clear that it was customary for the Romans to call tyrants
domini – as, for example, Marius and Sulla – and tyranny dominatio; hence
base flatterers [κόλακες] diminish the majesty of emperors [βασιλεῖς], because
out of ignorance they introduce them as holding a position of primacy over
δοῦλοι. That this is true can be inferred also from the following incident. Au-
gustus, or perhaps Tiberius who came after him, having been once addressed
as δεσπότης by one of the flatterers, arose and left the meeting [σύλλογος],
disdaining, as he said, to converse with δοῦλοι.”
Who are the “flatterers” to whom Lydus is referring, and at what meeting or
σύλλογος does Lydus imagine the episode involving either Augustus or Ti-
berius to have taken place? In the only other instance in which the noun
σύλλογος appears in Lydus’ works (De mag. 2.9), it is clear that the context is
a meeting of the senate convened in order to receive an imperial audience. The
impression that this is also the context of Lydus’ reflections upon Augustus or
Tiberius is strengthened by an apparent reference to the same episode in Ly-
dus’ antiquarian treatise De mensibus with reference to his discussion of the
month of August (De mens. 4.112):
τῆς δὲ τῶν ὑπηκόων ἐλευθερίας τοσοῦτον ἐφρόντιζεν, ὥστε τινὸς τῶν
κολάκων ἐπὶ τῆς βουλῆς δεσπότην αὐτὸν ὥσπερ ἐν ὑπεροχῆς τρόπῳ
καλέσαντος, αὐτὸς ἐξαναστὰς· “ἐγὼ δέ”, ἔφη, “ἐλευθέροις, ἀλλ’ οὐ δούλοις
ἔμαθον διαλέγεσθαι.”
“[Augustus] was so mindful of the freedom of his subjects [ὑπήκοοι],20 that
when one of the flatterers in the senate called him δεσπότης as if by way of
paying him honour, he arose and declared: ‘But I have learned to converse
with free men, not with δοῦλοι’.”
Lydus’ emphasis upon interactions between the emperor and members of the
elite in these accounts is especially marked when we consider that the extant
sources concerning this episode, Cassius Dio and Suetonius, 21 are perfectly
clear in stating that Augustus was hailed as dominus by the people in a public
venue, not in an exclusive gathering inside the palace (Suetonius, Aug. 53.1):

20 On the emergent habit in the sixth century of characterizing free citizens as “subjects”
(ὑπήκοοι), see Pazdernik (2000: 157).
21 Lydus held a chair as professor of Latin at Constantinople (PLRE 2, s.v. Ioannes Lydus 75)
and might therefore have consulted Suetonius.
74 Charles F. Pazdernik

domini appellationem ut maledictum et obprobrium semper exhorruit. cum

spectante eo ludos pronuntiatum esset in mimo: o dominum aequum et bo-
num! et universi quasi de ipso dictum exultantes comprobassent, et statim
manu vultuque indecoras adulationes repressit et insequenti die gravissimo
corripuit edicto; dominumque se posthac appellari ne a liberis quidem aut
nepotibus suis vel serio vel ioco passus est atque eius modi blanditias etiam
inter ipsos prohibuit.
“He always shrank from the title of dominus as reproachful and insulting.
When the words ‘O just and gracious dominus!’ were uttered in a farce at
which he was a spectator and all the people sprang to their feet and applauded
as if they were said of him, he at once checked their unseemly flattery by look
and gesture, and on the following day sharply reproved them in an edict. After
that he would not suffer himself to be called dominus even by his children or
his grandchildren either in jest or earnest, and he forbade them to use such
flattering terms even among themselves.”
And further Cassius Dio, Rom. Hist. 55.12.2:
δεσπότης δέ ποτε ὁ Αὔγουστος ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου ὀνομασθεὶς οὐχ ὅπως ἀπεῖτε
μηδένα τούτῳ πρὸς ἑαυτὸν τῷ προσρήματι χρήσασθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ πάνυ διὰ
φυλακῆς αὐτὸ ἐποιήσατο.
“When Augustus was once called δεσπότης by the people, he not only forbade
that any one should use this form of address to him, but also took very good
care to enforce his command.”
Lydus’ uncertainty in De magistratibus as to whether it was Augustus or Ti-
berius who was addressed as dominus might be calculated to amalgamate the
Augustus episode as recounted by Suetonius with a comparable episode in that
author’s Life of Tiberius which seems to reflect more closely the ambience and
circumstances of Lydus’ version of events (Suetonius, Tib. 27.1; cf. Tacitus,
Ann. 2.87, Dio 57.8.2):
(...) atque etiam, si quid in sermone νel in continua oratione blandius de se
diceretur, non dubitaret interpellare ac reprehendere et commutare continuo.
dominus appellatus a quodam denuntiaνit, ne se amplius contumeliae causa
“In fact, if anyone in conversation or in a set speech spoke of him in too flat-
tering terms, he did not hesitate to interrupt him, to take him to task, and to
correct his language on the spot. Being once called dominus he warned the
speaker not to address him again in an insulting fashion.”
Lydus’ discomfort with the title dominus or δεσπότης is stark and unmistak-
able: only tyrants and flatterers welcome such expressions, whereas the earliest
holders of the imperial office set a precedent, and one presumably worth emu-
lating, in shunning them. Is Lydus therefore convicting Justinian of tyranny on
account of his participation in such exchanges? He continues (De mag. 1.6):
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 75
ἀλλ’ ἤδη πρότερον ὥσπερ ἐν τιμῇ τῆς ὕβρεως εἰσαχθείσης, ἀνέχεται ἡ τοῦ
ἡμερωτάτου βασιλέως ἡμῶν ἐπιείκεια, καίπερ ὑπὲρ πάντας τοὺς πώποτε
βεβασιλευκότας μετριάζοντος, καὶ δεσπότης, οἷον πατὴρ ἀγαθός, ὀνομά-
ζεσθαι. οὐχ ὅτι χαίρει ἀλλ’ ἐρυθριᾷ μᾶλλον τοὺς τιμᾶν οἰομένους δοκεῖν μὴ
“But, since the insolence had already been introduced in earlier times as if by
way of homage, the clemency of our most serene emperor, although he is
more humble than all who have ever yet reigned as emperors, just tolerates be-
ing called δεσπότης, that is, ‘good father’. Not only does he not delight in it,
but he is embarrassed rather that he should seem not to admit into his presence
those who think that they are honouring him.”
According to Lydus, then, Justinian’s deference towards the tradition that has
grown up around this practice and the emperor’s own delicate manners prevent
him from emulating Augustus and Tiberius in rebuffing and rebuking the blan-
dishments of flatterers, while his own correct understanding of his paternal
role within the state rescues Justinian from the charge of tyranny.22 It could
scarcely be otherwise in a work intended (unlike Procopius’ Secret History) for
public consumption while Justinian was still alive.
Yet Justinian’s body language might be more self-convicting.23 The deci-
sive and dramatic gesture, invented by Lydus and attributed to Augustus in
both De magistratibus and De mensibus, of standing up and (in De magis-
tratibus) striding purposefully away from an audience – the removal and the
denial of the imperial presence to would-be flatterers – is precisely the nega-
tion of Justinian’s placid and passive reception of senatorial blandishments.24
Just as Lydus has re-imagined the context and the circumstances of Augustus’
outburst, moreover, so too it is Lydus, and not Cassius Dio or Suetonius, who
is at pains to make explicit the implicit subtext of such an invocation of the
master-slave paradigm, namely that those who acknowledge a master thereby
figure themselves as slaves.
Lydus’ emphatic claim is that the earliest emperors rejected the title of
δεσπότης because they regarded the self-description of their subjects as δοῦλοι
to be insulting and degrading for everyone involved. In stigmatizing such
modes of interaction between rulers and subjects, Lydus might be seeking to
reform or to correct Justinian by putting forward Augustus’ conduct as a model
worthy of emulation. Or perhaps Lydus is obliquely or covertly criticizing
Justinian: would he and his readers have been aware of Suetonius’ assertion

22 See also Pazdernik (2005: esp. 192-198).

23 On reading representations of body language (and of seated figures in particular), see Davies
(2005), focussing mainly on the early and middle Roman empire.
24 See Kaldellis (2005: esp. 4-5).
76 Charles F. Pazdernik

that Julius Caesar’s failure to rise in the presence of the senate precipitated a
fatal hostility against him?25
In any event, the care that Lydus has taken in re-imagining and reworking
Augustus’ model shows that he shares with Procopius a preoccupation with the
complicity of the elite in perpetuating a ceremonial etiquette that is connotative
of servility. As Procopius emphasizes, the consequences of failing to observe
that etiquette include a loss of face and an ignominious retreat from the cere-
monial sphere. Lydus likewise situates these encounters within the ceremonial
context of imperial audiences involving members of the elite.
But were emperors as captive to courtly etiquette as diplomatic protocols
and Lydus’ rehabilitating interpretation of Justinian’s passivity in the presence
of so-called “flatterers” might suggest?26 The exemplary behaviour that Lydus
attributes to Augustus of rising and striding away in order to stigmatize the un-
deserving is complemented in the sources by instances in which emperors ig-
nore or subvert courtly etiquette in order to recognize and to validate the de-
One case in point is an incident related in the Life of Sabas by Cyril of
Scythopolis, in which the Palestinian holy man Sabas ventures to Constanti-
nople in 511 on behalf of the orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem in order to repair
relations with the emperor Anastasius (imp. 491-518), whose anti-Chalce-
donianism had become a source of tension and schism.27
Once the Palestinian delegation has reached the capital and been granted
an imperial audience, Sabas himself is singled out by the palace attendants, the
silentiarii, who refuse him admittance to the consistorium on account of his ill-
kempt and ragged appearance. His absence remains unnoticed until Anastasius
himself inquires after the saint. An uproar ensues, but at last Sabas is located
standing alone in a corner of the vestibule reciting psalms to himself (Vit. Sa-
bae p. 142.16-21 Schwartz):

25 Suetonius, Iul. 78.1: verum praecipuam et exitiabilem sibi invidiam hinc maxime movit. ad-
euntis se cum plurimis honorificentissimisque decretis universos patres conscriptos sedens
pro aede Veneris Genetricis excepit (“But it was the following action in particular that roused
deadly hatred against him. When the Senate approached him in a body with many highly
honorary decrees, he received them before the temple of Venus Genetrix without rising”).
Suetonius adds that there was a difference of opinion as to whether Caesar was prevented
from rising by Cornelius Balbus or rebuked by Gaius Trebatius for his failure to rise. See fur-
ther Davies (2005: 218).
26 Hermann-Otto (1998: 357-359) points to the special precedence awarded to Belisarius at
court following his second recall from Italy in ca. A.D. 549 (Procopius, Bell. 8.21.1-3) as
evidence of the flexibility of Justinianic ceremonial. Such assessments are relative, as
McCormick (1986: 123-124) illustrates in pointing out the rigidity of the sixth century in
comparison with “a remarkable flexibility” in official deportment in late fourth- and early
fifth-century Constantinople.
27 On the ecclesiastical issues involved, see Binns (1994: 174-182).
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 77
καὶ ἁρπάσαντες αὐτὸν εἰσήγαγον; αὐτοῦ δὲ ἔνδον τοῦ βήλου γεγονότος
θεωρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς ἀγγελικήν τινα μορφὴν προηγουμένην αὐτῶι. καὶ ἀναστὰς
καὶ μετὰ τῆς πρεπούσης τιμῆς δεξάμενος αὐτὸν ἐκέλευσεν πάντας καθίσαι. ἦν
γὰρ φιλομόναχος, εἰ καὶ ὑπό τινων μιαρῶν παρεσκευάζετο τὴν ὀρθὴν
ἐκπολεμῆσαι πίστιν.
“Seizing him, they [the silentiarii] led him in. But when he entered through
the curtain, the emperor saw an angelic form leading the way for him. Stand-
ing up and receiving him with due honour, he bade all sit down; for he was a
lover of monks, even though induced by some blackguards to make war on the
correct faith.”
In this account the obstructionism of imperial officials is overcome thanks to
the initiative and responsiveness of the emperor himself, who in spite of his
heterodoxy receives a sympathetic treatment. Although Sabas’ shabbiness is
incongruous with the refulgent splendour of the imperial court, he merits es-
cort by an angel – the sort of figure whom Christians in late antiquity experi-
enced no difficulty in identifying as a functionary of the celestial court of
heaven.28 So too the emperor himself, in pointed contrast to his terrestrial func-
tionaries, is undeceived by Sabas’ lack of superficial and worldly marks of dis-
tinction.29 In first rising to receive Sabas and then inviting the entire Palestin-
ian delegation to be seated with him, Anastasius is depicted as unintentionally
or otherwise improvising on a protocol devised by Constantine as he took his

28 Compare Jerome, In Epist. ad Eph. 5.3-4, who criticizes the sort of person who, “deceived by
the word of Isaiah (whom he has not understood [cf. Isa. 6: 1-3]), imagines the sky to be a
curved vault and thinks there is a throne in the heavens with God sitting on it, like an em-
peror and judge, with angels standing around it who obey his words of command and are sent
off with diverse duties” (PL 26.519-520: si quis coelum putet fornicis more curvatum, Isaiae,
quem non intelligit, sermone deceptus: solium quoque in coelis positum, et super eo sedere
Deum, et in ritum imperatoris et iudicis, angelos stare in circuitu, qui verbis iubentis obtem-
perent, et in diversa mittantur officia). See Kelly (1998a). Only the emperor sat at the consis-
tory, as the surviving acta attest; see Matthews (2000a: 172-173); note also Alföldi (1970:
42, 44-45).
29 When Anastasius asks Sabas about the business upon which he has come, the holy man men-
tions his hope of establishing concord among the churches, but insists, “I have come here
principally to venerate the feet of Your Piety” (προσκυνῆσαι τὰ ἴχνη τῆς ὑμετέρας εὐσεβείας,
p. 142.28-143.1 Schwartz) and asks leave to spend the winter in the capital and “to be al-
lowed to venerate Your Piety” (ἀξιοῦσθαι προσκυνεῖν τὴν ὑμετέραν εὐσέβειαν, p. 143.11-
12). Thus Sabas shows himself to be not unversed in courtly etiquette nor unprepared to pay
court to an emperor. If the practice of offering προσκύνησις to the feet (τὰ ἴχνη) of the em-
peror to which Sabas is referring is the same as the gesture that Procopius in the Secret His-
tory claims Justinian imposed upon patricians and other grandees, then it appears that Justin-
ian’s innovation, and thus the kernel of Procopius’ complaint, lies not in the introduction of
this particular gesture but rather in the imposition of that gesture upon senators and office-
holders. Compare n. 9 above. See also Kaldellis (2004b: 259 n. 53) on a reference to the kiss-
ing of the feet of Leo I (imp. 457-474) upon his accession (De cer. p. 415.17-18 Reiske) that
is to be explained as a later interpolation.
78 Charles F. Pazdernik

seat among the assembled bishops at the Council of Nicea (325), who were
likewise permitted to sit in his presence.30
A colourful variation on the same theme occurs in an anecdote about Mar-
tin of Tours related by Sulpicius Severus. Having been rebuffed in his attempts
to gain an audience with Valentinian I (imp. 364-375) at Trier, Martin passed a
week in supplication and penitential abstinence until at last he was instructed –
once again – by an angel to enter the palace. He met with no obstruction and
came into the presence of the emperor himself, who ground his teeth with frus-
tration at the saint’s appearance, until a miraculous flame burst from his throne
and singed Valentinian’s bottom, obliging the emperor to rise and to acknowl-
edge the saint’s holiness (Sulpicius Severus, Dialogus II 5.7-9, pp. 186-187
Halm [CSEL 1]):31
septimo die adsistit ei angelus: iubet eum ad palatium ire securum, regias
fores quamlibet clausas sponte reserandas, imperatoris spiritum superbum
molliendum. igitur istiusmodi praesentis angeli confirmatus adloquio et fretus
auxilio palatium petit. patent limina, nullus obsistit: postremo usque ad regem
nemine prohibente pervenit. qui cum venientem eminus videret, frendens cur
fuisset admissus, nequaquam adsurgere est dignatus adstanti, donec regiam
sellam ignis operiret ipsumque regem ea parte corporis, qua sedebat, adflaret
incendium. ite e solio suo superbus excutitur et Martino invitus adsurgit: mul-
tumque conplexus quem spernere ante decreverat, virtutem sensisse divinam
emendatior fatebatur: nec expectatis Martini precibus prius omnia praestitit
quam rogaretur.
“On the seventh day, an angel appeared to him, and tells him to go with confi-
dence to the palace, for that the royal doors, although closed against him,
would open of their own accord, and that the haughty spirit of the emperor
would be softened. Martin, therefore, being encouraged by the address of the
angel who thus appeared to him, and trusting to his assistance, went to the pal-
ace. The doors stood open, and no one opposed his entrance; so that, going in,
he came at last into the presence of the king, without any one seeking to hin-
der him. The king, however, seeing him at a distance as he approached, and
gnashing his teeth that he had been admitted, did not, by any means, conde-
scend to rise up as Martin advanced, until fire covered the royal seat, and until
the flames seized on a part of the royal person. In this way the haughty mon-
arch is driven from his throne, and, much against his will, rises up to receive
Martin. He even gave many embraces to the man whom he had formerly de-

30 Eusebius, Vit. Const. 3.10.5: ἐπεὶ δὲ παρελθὼν ἐπὶ τὴν πρώτην τῶν ταγμάτων ἀρχὴν μέσος
ἔστη, σμικροῦ τινος αὐτῷ καθίσματος ὕλης χρυσοῦ πεποιημένου προτεθέντος, οὐ πρότερον ἢ
τοὺς ἐπισκόπους ἐπινεῦσαι ἐκάθιζε. ταὐτὸν δ’ ἔπραττον οἱ πάντες μετὰ βασιλέως (“When
[Constantine] reached the upper end of the rows of seats and stood in the middle, a small
chair made of gold having been set out, only when the bishops assented did he sit down.
They all did the same after the emperor”). Being seated together “signaled participation in
authority” (Buc 2001b: 193).
31 See also Vita Martini 20 Fontaine (SC 133); cf. Stancliffe (1983: 149-159, esp. 156-157 and
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 79
termined to despise, and, coming to a better frame of mind, he confessed that
he perceived the exercise of divine power; without waiting even to listen to
the requests of Martin, he granted all he desired before being asked.”
In a similar vein, Josephus relates the sensation caused when Alexander the
Great arrived in Jerusalem and, prompted by a dream, venerated the high priest
Simeon the Just (Ant. Iud. 11.331-334).32 The panegyrist Claudius Mamertinus
lauds Julian (imp. 361-363) for rising from the throne in order to receive him
and his colleague in the consulship for 362 (Grat. act. 28.3-4; see also Amm.
22.7.1-6).33 Ammianus Marcellinus criticizes (12.7.3, see also 24.4.7; cf. Eu-
napius, Vit. soph. 476-479), and Libanius praises (Or. 18.155, cf. 1.129),34 a
comparable demonstration on Julian’s part towards the philosopher Maximus
of Ephesus.
Julian’s gestures may be interpreted as displays of civilitas representing a
calculated reaction against the ceremonial etiquette of preceding reigns.35 We
should compare in this connection Pliny’s profession of astonishment at Tra-
jan’s willingness to stand in the presence of a seated consul (Pan. 64.2). The
episodes recounted by Josephus and Cyril of Scythopolis and Martin of Tours
suggest that what is being dramatized is the confrontation and reconciliation of
worldly rulers with bearers of the sacred. Considered cumulatively, however,
the political and social significance of such gestures admits a much broader
field of reference.
It is not so much the case that monarchs as different in temperament and
ideology as Alexander, Julian, Valentinian and Anastasius are represented in
the sources to be assimilating themselves to the level of their subjects or sub-
ordinating themselves to a supernatural power, as the case may be; rather, they
are shown to be recognizing and publicly affirming (or, so far as Valentinian is
concerned, being compelled to recognize and to affirm), and therefore validat-
ing, the exceptional qualities of particular individuals. Imperial authority is
mobilized in such accounts in order to authenticate their protagonists. Indeed,
exactly this behaviour is attributed to Justinian himself in Cyril of Scythopolis’
Life of Sabas when, during an interview in the capital in 531, the emperor is
described as approaching and prostrating himself before the saint (προσδρα-
μὼν προσεκύνησεν αὐτῷ, Vit. Sabae p. 173.24 Schwartz).
Let us therefore compare these accounts of rulers standing up and – con-
trary to all etiquette – approaching exceptionally deserving subjects with the

32 I am grateful to Oded Irshai for calling my attention to this passage.

33 See Gutzwiller (1942: 218-221), Lieu (1989: 4-12) and Nixon & Rodgers (1994: 431-432 nn.
34 Compare n. 7 above.
35 Julian is congratulated for his civilis animus (Claudius Mamertinus, Grat. act. 28.1); see
Gutzwiller (1942: 221 ad loc.). See also Blockley (1972) and Matthews (1989: 235-237).
80 Charles F. Pazdernik

gesture that John Lydus attributes to Augustus, of standing up and purpose-

fully turning away from the servility of would-be flatterers. These examples
suggest that a good emperor is one who, refusing to be constrained by ceremo-
nial, is capable of deliberately ignoring or subverting etiquette in instances
when its observance would serve either to deprecate intrinsic merit or to vali-
date the unworthy. The contrast with Justinian, who either insisted upon par-
ticipating in demeaning forms of courtly etiquette (according to Procopius) or
merely acquiesced in them (according to Lydus), is striking.
It follows that Justinian and Theodora’s ceremonial innovations were of-
fensive to traditionalists because, in their eyes at least, those innovations
eliminated or elided a graduated courtly etiquette that distinguished officials
and senators on the basis of rank and position, substituting in its place an at-
mosphere receptive to the most self-abasing impulses of the elite.
At the same time, the identification of office-holding as a distinctive spe-
cies of δουλεία emphasized the role of office-holders as efficacious instru-
ments of the imperial will. Demonstrating mastery over his officials was one of
the most formidable gestures available to an emperor, and ceremonial pre-
scribed the forms and the venues in which such gestures were performed.
Courtly etiquette defined the boundary distinguishing the ruler from the ruled
and aligned and arranged the bodies of the venerator and the venerated on their
respective sides of that boundary.
It is important to stress, therefore, the extent to which that etiquette re-
mained a contestable, and a contested, one in the sixth century. The relative in-
stability or mutability of the means by which power is expressed can serve as a
useful index of the relative instability or mutability of relations of power. The
anxiety reflected in Procopius and Lydus’ complaints about cultural and politi-
cal allegiances within the elite and about the erosion or the reconfiguration of
its position relative to the emperor and to his subjects within society at large
should therefore be viewed as symptomatic of a need to reinvigorate or to re-
configure the nature of the governmental compact in the period.36

36 Since the time that this paper was originally delivered at the “Bodies and Boundaries” con-
ference at the Center for Hellenic Studies in April of 2006, it has been considerably enhanced
not only by the discussion which ensued at that time but by subsequent discussions arising in
connection with several of the papers at the Shifting Frontiers VII conference in Boulder,
Colorado, in March of 2007. A significantly revised version of this paper with its present title
was delivered at the 42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, Michi-
gan, in May of 2007, when I again received valuable feedback for which I am grateful.
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 81


Editions, commentaries and translations:

References to standard editions of classical authors and of corpora are omitted. Transla-
tions that have been consulted are acknowledged below; in some cases, they appear in
the text with modifications.

Ammianus Marcellinus
Seyfarth, Wolfgang (1978): Ammiani Marcellini Rerum gestarum libri qui supersunt,

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus: De cerimoniis

Greatrex, Geoffrey & Samuel N. C. Lieu (2002): The Roman Eastern Frontier and the
Persian Wars. Part II: AD 363-630. A Sourcebook, London & New York.
Reiske, Johann Jacob (1829-30): Constantini Porphyrogeniti Imperatoris De cerimoniis
aulae Byzantinae libri duo, Bonn.

Claudius Mamertinus:
Gratiarum actio (Claudii) Mamertini de consulatu suo Iuliano Imperatori
Gutzwiller, Hans (1942): Die Neujahrsrede des Konsuls Claudius Mamertinus vor dem
Kaiser Julian. Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar, Basel.
Lieu, Samuel N. C. (1989): The Emperor Julian. Panegyric and Polemic, Liverpool.
Mynors, Roger A. B. (1964): XII Panegyrici Latini, Oxford.
Nixon, Charles E. V. & Barbara S. Rodgers (1994): In Praise of Later Roman Emper-
ors: The Panegyrici Latini. Introduction, Translation and Historical Commen-
tary with the Latin Text of R. A. B. Mynors, Berkeley.

Corippus, Flavius Cresconius: In laudem Iustini Augusti minoris

Cameron, Averil (1976): In laudem Iustini Augusti minoris, London.

Cyril of Scythopolis: Vita Sabae

Price, Richard M. & John Binns (1991): Lives of the Monks of Palestine, Kalamazoo,
Schwartz, Eduard (1939): Kyrillos von Skythopolis, Leipzig.

Eunapius: Vitae sophistarum

Giangrande, Giuseppe (1956): Eunapii vitae sophistarum, Rome.

Eusebius: Vita Constantini

Cameron, Averil & Stuart G. Hall (1999): Eusebius: Life of Constantine. Introduction,
Translation and Commentary, Oxford.
Winkelmann, Friedhelm (1975): Eusebius: Werke. Vol. 1.1: Über das Leben des Kai-
sers Konstantin, Berlin.
82 Charles F. Pazdernik

Jerome: Commentaria in Epistolam ad Ephesios

Heine, Ronald E. (2002): The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul’s Epis-
tle to the Ephesians, Oxford.
Migne, Jacques P. (1884): Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi Stridonensis presbyteri opera om-
nia. Tomus septimus (Patrologiae cursus completus. Series Latina 26), Paris,

John Lydus: De magistratibus

Bandy, Anastasius C. (1983): Ioannes Lydus On Powers; or, The Magistracies of the
Roman State, Philadelphia.

John Lydus: De mensibus

Wünsch, Richard (1898): Ioannis Lydi liber de mensibus, Leipzig.

Justinian: Novellae
Schöll, Rudolph & Wilhelm Kroll (1954): Corpus iuris civilis. Vol. 3: Novellae, Berlin.

Libanius: Orationes
Foerster, Richard (1903-08): Libanii opera (4 vols.), Leipzig.

Procopius of Caesarea: De bellis (“Wars”), Anecdota sive Historia quae dicitur ar-
cana (“Secret History”), De aedificiis (“Buildings”)
Dewing, Henry B. (1914-40): Procopius (7 vols.), London & Cambridge, Mass.
Haury, Jakob & Gerhard Wirth (1962-63): Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia (4 vols.),

Suetonius: Divus Julius, Divus Augustus, Tiberius

Rolfe, John C. (1914): Suetonius (2 vols.), London & Cambridge, Mass.

Sulpicius Severus: Dialogi

Halm, Carolus (1866): Sulpicii Severi libri qui supersunt (CSEL 1), Wien.
Roberts, Alexander (1890-1900): The Works of Sulpitius Severus. A Select Library of
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, repr.
Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Epigraphic material
Donderer, Michael (1996): Die Architekten der späten römischen Republik und der
Kaiserzeit. Epigraphische Zeugnisse, Erlangen.

Secondary literature:

Alföldi, Andreas (1970): Die monarchische Repräsentation im römischen Kaiserreiche,

Avery, William T. (1940): The adoratio purpurae and the importance of the imperial
purple in the fourth century of the Christian era. In: Memoirs of the American
Academy in Rome 17, 66-80.
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 83

Bertelli, Sergio (2001): The King’s Body. Sacred Rituals of Power in Medieval and
Early Modern Europe, University Park, Pennsylvania.
Binns, John (1994): Ascetics and Ambassadors of Christ. The Monasteries of Palestine
314-631, Oxford.
Blockley, Roger C. (1972): The panegyric of Claudius Mamertinus on the emperor Jul-
ian. In: American Journal of Philology 93, 437-450.
Brown, Peter (1988): The Body and Society. Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in
Early Christianity, New York.
Brown, Peter (2000): The study of elites in late antiquity. In: Arethusa 33, 321-346.
Buc, Philippe (1997): Martyre et ritualité dans l’antiquité tardive. Horizons de l’écriture
médiévale des rituels. In: Annales HSS 52, 63-92.
Buc, Philippe (2001a): The Dangers of Ritual. Between Early Medieval Texts and So-
cial Scientific Theory, Princeton.
Buc, Philippe (2001b): Political rituals and political imagination in the medieval West
from the fourth century to the eleventh. In: Peter Linehan & Janet L. Nelson
(eds.), The Medieval World, London & New York, 189-213.
Bury, John B. (1907): The ceremonial book of Constantine Porphyrogennetos. In: Eng-
lish Historical Review 22, 209-227.
Cameron, Alan (1976): Circus Factions. Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium,
Cameron, Averil (1985): Procopius and the Sixth Century, Berkeley & Los Angeles.
Davies, Glenys (2005): On being seated. Gender and body language in Hellenistic and
Roman art. In: Douglas Cairns (ed.), Body Language in the Greek and Roman
Worlds, Swansea, 215-238.
Elsner, Jaś (1995): Art and the Roman Viewer. The Transformation of Art from the Pa-
gan World to Christianity, Cambridge.
Feissel, Denis (1988): L’architecte Viktôrinos et les fortifications de Justinien dans les
provinces balkaniques. In: Bulletin de la société nationales des antiquaires de
France, 136-146.
Feissel, Denis (2000): Les édifices de Justinien au témoignage de Procope et de
l’épigraphie. In: Antiquité tardive 8, 81-104.
Francis, James A. (2003): Living icons. Tracing a motif in verbal and visual representa-
tion from the second to the fourth centuries C.E. In: American Journal of Phi-
lology 124, 575-600.
Greatrex, Geoffrey (1997): The Nika riot. A reappraisal. In: Journal of Hellenic Studies
117, 60-86.
Guilland, Rodolphe (1946/47): La cérémonie de la προσκύνησις. In: Revue des Études
Grecques 59-60, 251-259. Reprinted in: Id., Recherches sur les institutions by-
zantines (vol. 1), Berlin & Amsterdam 1967, 144-150.
Heather, Peter (1998): Senates and senators. In: Averil Cameron & Peter Garnsey (eds.),
The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 13: The Late Empire, A.D. 337-425,
Cambridge, 184-210.
Hermann-Otto, Elisabeth (1998): Der Kaiser und die Gesellschaft des spätrömischen
Reiches im Spiegel des Zeremoniells. In: Peter Kneissl & Volker Losemann
84 Charles F. Pazdernik

(eds.), Imperium Romanum: Studien zu Geschichte und Rezeption. Festschrift

für Karl Christ zum 75. Geburtstag, Stuttgart, 346-369.
Kaldellis, Anthony (2004a): Identifying dissident circles in sixth-century Byzantium.
The friendship of Prokopios and Ioannes Lydos. In: Florilegium 21, 1-17.
Kaldellis, Anthony (2004b): Procopius of Caesarea. Tyranny, History, and Philosophy
at the End of Antiquity, Philadelphia.
Kaldellis, Anthony (2005): Republican theory and political dissonance in Ioannes Ly-
dos. In: Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 29, 1-16.
Kantorowicz, Ernst H. (1963): Oriens Augusti – Lever du Roi. In: Dumbarton Oaks
Papers 17, 117-177.
Kelly, Christopher (1998a): Emperors as gods, angels as bureaucrats. The representa-
tion of imperial power in late antiquity. In: Antigüedad. Religiones y sociedades
1, 301-326.
Kelly, Christopher (1998b): Emperors, government, and bureaucracy. In: Averil Cam-
eron & Peter Garnsey (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 13: The Late
Empire, A.D. 337-425, Cambridge, 138-183.
Kelly, Christopher (2004): Ruling the Later Roman Empire, Cambridge, Mass. & Lon-
Kostof, Spiro K. (1965): The Orthodox Baptistery of Ravenna, New Haven.
Löhken, Henrik (1982): Ordines Dignitatum. Untersuchungen zur formalen Konsti-
tuierung der spätantiken Führungsschicht, Köln & Wien.
MacCormack, Sabine G. (1981): Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity, Berkeley & Los
MacMullen, Ramsay (1964): Some pictures in Ammianus Marcellinus. In: Art Bulletin
46, 435-456.
Mango, Cyril (1959): The Brazen House. A Study of the Vestibule of the Imperial Pal-
ace of Constantinople, Copenhagen.
Matthews, John (1989): The Roman Empire of Ammianus, Baltimore.
Matthews, John (2000a): Laying Down the Law. A Study of the Theodosian Code. New
Haven & London.
Matthews, John (2000b): The Roman empire and the proliferation of elites. In: Are-
thusa 33, 429-446.
McCormick, Michael (1986): Eternal Victory. Triumphal Rulership in Late Antiquity,
Byzantium, and the Early Medieval West, Cambridge & Paris.
Necipoğlu, Gülru (1991): Architecture, Ceremonial, and Power. The Topkapi in the
Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Cambridge, Mass.
Pazdernik, Charles F. (2000): Procopius and Thucydides on the labors of war. Belisa-
rius and Brasidas in the field. In: Transactions of the American Philological As-
sociation 130, 149-187.
Pazdernik, Charles F. (2005): Justinianic ideology and the power of the past. In: Mi-
chael Maas (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, Cam-
bridge, 185-212.
Paying Attention to the Man behind the Curtain 85

Pazdernik, Charles F. (2006): Xenophon’s Hellenica in Procopius’ Wars. Pharnabazus

and Belisarius. In: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 46, 175-206.
Rubin, Berthold (1954): Prokopios von Kaisareia, Stuttgart (= RE 23.1 [1957] 273-
Sarris, Peter (2006): Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian, Cambridge.
Skinner, Alexander (2000): The birth of a Byzantine “senatorial” perspective. In: Are-
thusa 33, 363-377.
Stancliffe, Clare (1983): St. Martin and His Hagiographer. History and Miracle in Sul-
picius Severus, Oxford.
Stern, H. (1954): Remarks on the “adoratio” under Diocletian. In: Journal of the War-
burg and Courtauld Institutes 17, 184-189.
Treitinger, Otto (1956): Die oströmische Kaiser- und Reichsidee nach ihrer Gestaltung
im höfischen Zeremoniell, Darmstadt.
Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew (1982): Civilis princeps. Between citizen and king. In: Jour-
nal of Roman Studies 72, 32-48.
Wharton, Annabel Jane (1987): Ritual and reconstructed meaning. The Neonian Baptis-
tery in Ravenna. In: Art Bulletin 69, 358-375.
Man as Monster:
Eros and Hubris in Plato’s Symposium ∗
Peter von Möllendorff

According to Aristophanes’ account in Plato’s Symposium (189c2-193d5), humans
emerged from a race of double-bodied creatures, who are commonly misconceived by
modern readers as being spherically shaped. Through a close reading of the passage, I
demonstrate that the grotesque myth as narrated by Aristophanes serves as a simile for
the subsequent narrative of Diotima on the cognitive ascent to the idea of beauty. Just
as man is permanently searching for his lost other half and desires nothing else but to be
reunited with it, so the true philosophical eroticist desires to see the idea of beauty. By
leaving behind the beautiful bodies, beautiful souls and beautiful cognitions, the phi-
losopher desires to be with beauty (συνεῖναι), to touch it (ἐφάπτεσθαι) and to procreate
true and ultimate knowledge with it (τίκτειν).
Aristophanes’ double-bodied prehistoric men suffered their division as punishment
for their ὕβρις-driven attempt to storm Olympus. Due to the character of the myth as a
simile, it would appear that Socrates’ description of cognitively approaching the divine
world of ideas is also to be understood as a form of ὕβρις. In order to illustrate this,
Plato also uses the discourse of the monstrous. The cleft men, that is men as desiring
beings, as eroticists, are categorized as τέρατα; their existence, therefore, like the exist-
ence of the greatest eroticist of all, Socrates, points to the ὕβρις of philosophizing and
its potentially bitter consequences.

In Plato’s Symposium, each of the participating symposiasts attempts to ana-

lyse the nature of desire (Eros). Some approaches are simpler, others more so-
phisticated. Interestingly, in contrast to the rest of the Platonic dialogues, this
text lacks a leading moderator in the sense of one participant setting the tone
and course of the conversation, nor does it display an attempt to bring together
the divergent contributions. On the contrary, the reader is left with the impres-
sion of utter heterogeneity; a feeling of having encountered a totally un-self-
contained, truly dialogical piece of work, behind which it is difficult to ascer-

∗ This article was first presented as a lecture at the conference Monster – Zur ästhetischen Ver-
fassung eines Grenzbewohners (held at Gießen University, 22-24 March 2007). A German
version (“Der Mensch, das Monstrum. Eros und Hybris in Platons Symposion”) will be pub-
lished in a volume with the conference title, edited by Christiane Holm and Günter Oesterle. I
owe special thanks to Sebastian Matzner and Glenn Patten for the translation.
88 Peter von Möllendorff

tain a uniform authorial intention. This lack of uniformity establishes the ap-
propriate ambience for the speech of Aristophanes (Symp. 189c2-193d5),
which I consider – together with Diotima’s expositions as reported by Socrates
– to be the most important of the dialogue.
The comic poet tells a myth: in ancient times the human race did not look
like it does today, but consisted of double-bodied beings that were male, fe-
male or androgynous. These primeval humans were equipped with four arms,
four legs, two sexual organs and two faces. They were immensely strong, and
hence conceived the ὕβρις of wanting to conquer Mount Olympus. For this,
they were punished with division into their two halves. Moreover, Zeus turned
the faces of these semihumans around so that they should forever see what
they had lost. The misery of the new human race, however, was so great – they
wasted away in longing for their lost other half, embracing and holding each
other tight so as to die together – that Zeus felt pity for them and moved their
sexual organs to the other side as well, so that the two halves could now have
sexual contact with each other, and could thus satisfy their desire for each
other, at least temporarily. Ever since this primal sin, man has been driven by
the desire for his other half in varying combinations of homo- and heterosexu-
ality. If someone is lucky enough to meet ‘his’ or ‘her’ other half then he
experiences a feeling of infinite security and the wish never to let the other one
go. The hope for such a reunion rests entirely on future godliness, whereas a
further case of ὕβρις would result in another division by Zeus, which would
reduce man to jumping around on one leg only.
Before thinking about the meaning of this strange narrative in itself and its
context in the entire dialogue, one must attempt to reconstruct the appearance,
the shape of the creatures which Aristophanes describes in some detail (Symp.
ἔπειτα ὅλον ἦν ἑκάστου τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τὸ εἶδος στρογγύλον, νῶτον καὶ
πλευρὰς κύκλῳ ἔχον,1 χεῖρας δὲ τέτταρας εἶχε, καὶ σκέλη τὰ ἴσα ταῖς χερσίν,
καὶ πρόσωπα δύ’ ἐπ’ αὐχένι κυκλοτερεῖ, ὅμοια πάντῃ 2 · κεφαλὴν δ’ ἐπ’
ἀμφοτέροις τοῖς προσώποις ἐναντίοις κειμένοις μίαν, καὶ ὦτα τέτταρα, καὶ
αἰδοῖα δύο, καὶ τἆλλα πάντα ὡς ἀπὸ τούτων ἄν τις εἰκάσειεν.

1 As to the periodic structure of this sentence see Morrison (1964: 46). For the English transla-
tion of the Symposium I refer to Lamb (1967).
2 The above version, usually printed in modern editions according to the unanimous textual
tradition ὅμοια πάντῃ, does not make sense. It can be related sensibly only to both faces
which is then translated by both Lamb (1946) and Rowe (1998) without further explanation
as ‘two faces perfectly alike’ or ‘two completely similar faces’ respectively. The subsequent
division of the primeval men, however, leads to the genesis of individuals and not to that of
purely twins; and how is one supposed to understand such a completely identical section of
the face in the case of the androgynous creatures? A solution would be to emend ὅμοια πάντῃ
to ὁμοίᾳ πάντῃ. What is referred to is then the neck and it is stressed that, as opposed to the
neck of contemporary humans, it is evenly round on all sides.
Man as Monster 89
“The form of each person was round all over, with back and sides encompass-
ing it every way; each had four arms, and legs to match these, and two faces
perfectly alike on a cylindrical neck. There was one head to the two faces,
which looked opposite ways; there were four ears, two privy members, and all
the other parts, as may be imagined, in proportion.”
German-speaking scholars usually call Aristophanes’ primeval men ‘Kugel-
menschen’ and Anglo-American research also frequently refers to ‘globular
shape’ or ‘globe-shaped creatures’. This, however, is illogical since ‘we’ are
the result of the division – and we are not normally hemispherical.3 The divi-
sion does not lead to the genesis of comically deformed humans,4 but to the

3 Morrison (1964: 47-49) already argued extensively for a ‘circular’ conceptualization; he has
also shown that the description of the earth in Phaedo 110b, which is often referred to as an
argument for the globular shape of primeval men, makes, if understood correctly, a circular
cross section of these creatures’ shape more likely.
4 Vase paintings displaying scenes from comedies and characters in the typical costume of
comedy – with jutting bellies and buttocks – may have been responsible for giving rise to the
assumption that Aristophanes may have thought of such spherical creatures. Another possible
reason for this wrong conclusion may be the fact that Plato names sun, moon and earth as
parents of these beings (Symp. 190a8-b5). This makes us think of spherical stars; the greatest
part of classical antiquity, however, did not think of stars in this shape, certainly not in the
age of Plato. Stars were conceived not only in the popular imagination but also in early scien-
tific thought as disks, at best as being of hemispherical shape, but not as spherical (see also
the following footnote); for textual evidence see Morrison (1964: 48-49). The subsequent
comparison of the act of division with slicing through sorb-apples and eggs (Symp. 190d7-
e2), which also may have led to the conception of an originally spherical shape, in fact refers
in its tertium comparationis to the ease of cutting through a previously formally perfect unity,
and was proverbially used for the separation of previously ‘inseparable’ lovers over a baga-
telle (see Dover 1980: 116). Furthermore, that the intended conception here is not that of a
grotesque spherical shape also becomes clear in the comparison of primeval men with the gi-
ants (Symp. 190b5-c1): the iconography of giants in the fifth and fourth century B.C. depicts
these enemies of the gods physically as heroes and, thus, as beautiful; they are not portrayed
with serpentine bodies before the third century B.C. There have been frequent attempts to de-
rive the monstrosity of the primeval men from a seemingly similar conception in Empedo-
cles’ work On Nature (31B57-62 DK) as its source, although it is rather fr. 31B63 DK which
in fact contains a terminological, although ultimately not conceptual, proximity if the terms
σύμβολον and ὅλον at Aristotle, De gen. anim. A 18, 722b10, are originally Empedoclean.
This seems quite arguable to me; however, οὐλοφυεῖς (31B62.7; vgl. 10) – pace Rowe (1998:
154) – refers to the limbless semen from which the future living beings are yet to arise. Yet
Empedocles only describes the phylogenetic consequences of his hypothesis of dualistic
cosmic dynamics – the conflict of ‘friendship’ (φιλότης) and ‘strife’ (νεῖκος): initially, indi-
vidual limbs come into being which wander around, seek combination, eventually find it and
grow together partly into hybrid creatures (e.g. combinations of bull and human), partly to
humans (and notably not to double-humans); as opposed to what is assumed in Ajootian
(1995: 99), the fragments do not mention or imply a later division of any bisexual creatures –
which Empedocles in my opinion would have regarded as deficient – which thus might have
come into being. The survival of the thus assembled creatures depends on the capacity of
their synergies, i.e. the survivability of those random combinations which in the case of hu-
man beings are ideal (see Simplicius, Phys. 371.33). Yet, from these premises a connection to
the conception of the Platonic Aristophanes is only possible if one is willing to assume that
Empedocles was thinking of a subsequent evolutionary step in the form of further combina-
90 Peter von Möllendorff

origin of καλοκἀγαθοί, humans that meet the classical ideal of beauty, or at

least of humans with ‘normal’ proportions. Nor does the quoted text give any
evidence of spherical humans. The Greek words στρογγύλον and κύκλος rather
refer to something ‘circular’, hence, beings who are characterized by a circular
‘periphery’ as it were,5 whose torso as well as their neck are to be described as
cylindrical and who only have sides and backs but not chests (so already Rowe
1998: 154).
This conception, however, leads to some problems which are not ad-
dressed by the text. After the division, Zeus moves the faces and genitals of the
halved humans around to the side of their navels: the first so that they may al-
ways remember what they have lost, the latter so that they find fulfilment of
their desire for each other. Yet, there is no mention of the arms and legs being
turned around as well, in other words, of arms and legs having originally been
directed to the front and to the back.6 If man nevertheless looks the way he
does today – face, genitals and outer extremities all facing the same direction
as does the navel – then there must be an immanent reason for this which is not
made explicit by the text. A solution can be found in my opinion if one also
takes into account how Aristophanes’ speech continues. The comic poet imag-
ines Hephaestus, god of blacksmiths, with his tools approaching two lovers
who are fulfilling their erotic desire with each other and asking them the fol-
lowing question (Symp. 192d3-e4):

tions of, in themselves, already optimally functioning humans to anthropoid dyads or that
Aristophanes has developed Empedocles’ model further in this way. This, however, could
hardly be put down as parody, and would also imply that Aristophanes here, firstly, claims a
status of ideality for his creatures and that he, secondly, develops a pre-Socratic model fur-
ther, that is, that he proposes a serious philosophical thesis; one might, at most, think of a
comic inversion which, however, usually shows a double movement (both upwards and
downwards). Orphic ideas may also have had an influence on the myth of the original unity
of mankind that is reported here; we find for example the conception of a primordial uni-
formity of heaven and earth (Uranus and Gaia), which have become separate only due to a
later row (Apollonius Rhodius, Arg. 494-498), a separation which alone made the procreation
of all terrestrial beings possible (Euripides, Melan. fr. 484 K.), and is thus arguably also the
precondition for mutual desire. This makes it a conception that is, at least, analogous to that
of the Platonic Aristophanes, albeit a step earlier in the cosmic chronology. – Most compara-
ble are perhaps the Siamese twins Aktorione-Molione mentioned in Hesiod (Eh. fr. 17a, 14-
18 Merkelbach & West) who also have four arms and legs but differ in having two heads;
like Aristophanes’ primeval men they are said to have been invincibly strong. See Dover
(1966: 46), and see LIMC (s.v. “Aktorione”) I.1.472-476 with illustration (I.2.364-365).
5 The text continues: They were περιφερῆ in their shape as in their progress, since they took af-
ter their parents (Symp. 190b3-5). περιφερῆ clearly refers to a circular form in a horizontal
perspective (cross-section of the body) as well as in the vertical perspective, namely in loco-
motion which looks similar to the turning ‘wheel’ of the sun chariot.
6 Whereas Hunter (2004: 62) wrongly describes them as “resembling perhaps two modern hu-
mans standing back-to-back ...”.
Man as Monster 91
Τί ἔσθ’ ὃ βούλεσθε, ὦ ἄνθρωποι, ὑμῖν παρ’ ἀλλήλων γενέσθαι; (...) Ἆρά γε
τοῦδε ἐπιθυμεῖτε, ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ γενέσθαι ὅτι μάλιστα ἀλλήλοις, ὥστε καὶ νύκτα
καὶ ἡμέραν μὴ ἀπολείπεσθαι ἀλλήλων; εἰ γὰρ τούτου ἐπιθυμεῖτε, θέλω ὑμᾶς
συντῆξαι καὶ συμφυσῆσαι εἰς τὸ αὐτό, ὥστε δύ’ ὄντας ἕνα γεγονέναι καὶ ἕως
τ’ ἂν ζῆτε, ὡς ἕνα ὄντα, κοινῇ ἀμφοτέρους ζῆν, καὶ ἐπειδὰν ἀποθάνητε, ἐκεῖ
αὖ ἐν Ἅιδου ἀντὶ δυοῖν ἕνα εἶναι κοινῇ τεθνεῶτε· (...)
“What is it, good mortals, that you would have of one another? (...) Do you
desire to be joined in the closest possible union, so that you shall not be di-
vided by night or by day? If that is your craving, I am ready to fuse and weld
you together in a single piece, that from being two you may be made one; that
so long as you live, the pair of you, being as one, may share a single life; and
that when you die you may also in Hades yonder be one instead of two, hav-
ing shared a single death (...).”
It seems to me significant that Hephaestus does not promise just to tie or solder
the two lovers together7 but to fuse them, to ultimately undo their duality and
separateness. Yet, if the ἀρχαῖα φύσις can be fully restored through Hephaes-
tus’ rescue act, then the previous unity of the double-men was not a combina-
tion of something double, a united duality as it were, but a unity in the sense of
an ‘identity’: a mutual pervasion and total interpenetration that is nothing other
then the sexual act grotesquely thought through to the end. 8 Aristophanes
imagines in my opinion his primeval humans as homo- and heterosexual cou-
ples who are virtually one by permanently interpenetrating each other in an
eternal kiss and in an eternal copulation; they permeate each other to such an
extent that their faces and genitals, so to say, surface again on the other side,
that is, on the outside (figs. 1 and 2).9 It is the eternity and at the same time the

7 Although this would have made perfect sense, since in the well-known myth of Ares and
Aphrodite narrated for the first time in Homer, Od. 8.266-366, the god of blacksmiths catches
the lovers in flagranti and ties them together with a forged net (Od. 8.274-275); hence, this
sort of an indissoluble connection would have been possible too.
8 Rowe (1998: ad 192e6-9) already sees a connection between sexual intercourse and the
original appearance of the human race.
9 Ovid hints at this (possibly alluding to Plato; see Anderson 1996: 453) in nuce in his account
of the emergence of Hermaphroditus as the result of the fusion of the son of Hermes and
Aphrodite with the nymph Salmacis (Met. 4.373-379): (...) nam mixta duorum / corpora iun-
guntur faciesque inducitur illis / una. Velut, si quis conducat cortice ramos, / crescendo iungi
pariterque adolescere cernit, / sic, ubi complexu coierunt membra tenaci, / nec duo sunt sed
forma duplex, nec femina dici / nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur. The act
of union, violent and forced upon the youth against his will, is here compared to the process
of grafting. The result, as Anderson (1996: ad loc.) rightly emphasizes, is not a powerful,
sexually self-sufficient hybrid but a weak freak who does not conjoin both genders in himself
but appears as a half-complete and inconsequent mixture. The fact that the result of their un-
ion is one face (as well as just one sexual organ) points to the aversion of the youth who in
the very moment of the bodily integration has apparently turned away from Salmacis so that
she faces his back. See also Lateiner (2009, in this volume). Relevant for our understanding
of the passage in Plato, however, is the analogous conception of a total fusion of two bodies;
yet, it may be more than mere coincidence that there is particular evidence of three-
92 Peter von Möllendorff

Figure 1: Aristophanes’ double-bodied humans (male)

© Katrin Pavlidis 2006
Man as Monster 93

Figure 2: Aristophanes’ double-bodied humans (androgynous)

© Katrin Pavlidis 2006
94 Peter von Möllendorff

eternal fulfilment of this bodily contact which puts an end to desire; conse-
quently, no later intercourse can ever reach again the same degree of fulfilment
in terms of mutual penetration and therefore always remains a surrogate, which
can only be a reminder of the previous perfection, the abolition of desire
through its permanent satisfaction and thus the absence of desire.
If we think this through, it follows that we cannot imagine the result of our
division other than that we are living partially with the body of our lost other
half, and the other half with ours. Everything that today seems normal and
right with our own corporeality and our erotic desire is, from a primeval per-
spective, utterly wrong and perverted. Our organs and extremities sit in the
wrong places. Humans are only fragments and, as such, refer to the loss of the
whole – Aristophanes calls us σύμβολα (Symp. 191d4). We can only under-
stand and formulate this oneness and wholeness that we are yearning for as
combination with the other. Yet, in the myth of the One there was never an
Other, nor was there the trait of referentiality which marks our current exist-
ence, since the primeval beings were, as the centeredness of the outer extremi-
ties shows, continuously facing themselves in a perfect state of total self-
containment. Because of our current condicio humana we cannot think the One
(anymore), but only desire it.10 Desire, Eros, thus means that every half longs
for the other as something intrinsically identical with itself because in the divi-
sion it has, as it were, lost a part of itself – whatever that may be. Becoming
one and whole again would then mean finding in the other one’s very own self
again.11 The division has therefore not given us our human identity, but has
taken it away from us in that it has transformed us into a grotesque dyad, and
made deficient ‘dividuals’ out of real ‘individuals’.12 We are – seen from the
point of view of these mythical ancient times – freaks, monsters.
I use the term ‘monster’ in the original etymological meaning of the word.
The Greek counterpart to the Latin monstrum, τέρας, refers firstly to a won-

dimensional cult statues of Hermaphroditus (of the anasyromenos type) at the beginning of
the 4th century, namely in Athens, and thus in a remarkable chronotopical context of the
Symposium. Regarding these sculptures, see Ajootian (1995).
10 Correspondingly Aristophanes formulates: “These are they who continue together throughout
life, though they could not even say what they would have of one another (...). Obviously the
soul of each is wishing for something else that it cannot express, only divining and darkly
hinting what it wishes” (Symp. 192c2-4, c7-d2).
11 This idea is particularly challenging if applied to the androgynous primeval humans since it
implies that every heterosexual male comprises a female, every heterosexual woman a male.
Maybe this idea draws on scenes of androgyny in various rituals during wedding ceremonies;
for numerous evidence of such rituals see Jessen, s.v. “Hermaphroditos”, in: RE 15 (1912),
714-721, esp. 714-715.
12 It is because of this that the occasionally expressed criticism of the Aristophanic conception,
most recently stated in Hunter (2004: 69), that erotic fulfilment results here in giving up
one’s individuality, is inadequate. What is at stake from Aristophanes’ perspective is pre-
cisely salvation from a form of pseudo-individuality.
Man as Monster 95

drous and therefore terrifying omen of a future event, sent by the gods (in
Homer preferably by Zeus) and needing interpretation.13 Of these three pri-
mary criteria of monstrosity – (a) being wondrous and terrifying, (b) being sent
by a divinity, (c) ominous significance in need of interpretation – the first two
are connected insofar as the presumed divine origin of a τέρας reveals itself
precisely in its extraordinariness, its unexpected deviance from normality. The
semiotic aspect is of particular importance14 because it gives meaning to the
existence of the monster, which disrupts perception, refers to disarray in the
world order, and directs attention to a future threat. The notion of (d) ‘counter-
natural monstrosity’, however, is derived from criterion (a);15 the same is true
for (e) the aspect of deformity, of ugliness.16 But these two notions are already
prevalent in Plato’s age and seem to have increasingly dominated the semiotic
history of this term.17
The halved creatures which remain after the division of the primeval dou-
ble-humans in Aristophanes’ speech meet all of the five listed criteria of mon-
strosity and would therefore also have been perceived as τέρατα by contempo-
rary recipients. Their mutilated appearance is (a) from the perspective of their
predecessors something new and terrifying, and the divided men are so agi-
tated that even Zeus feels pity for them and provides them with some relief by
rearranging their faces and sexual organs. Criterion (b) – being sent by a god –
is met by Zeus’ function as punishing divinity. As σύμβολα (c) the halved men
point not only to their other half, but also to their previous ὕβρις against the
gods, as well as to potential future events; since Zeus threatens (Symp. 190d4-
ἐὰν δ’ ἔτι δοκῶσιν ἀσελγαίνειν καὶ μὴ ’θέλωσιν ἡσυχίαν ἄγειν, πάλιν αὖ (...)
τεμῶ δίχα, ὥστ’ ἐφ’ ἑνὸς πορεύσονται σκέλους ἀσκωλιάζοντες.

13 Regarding the history of the terms monstrum and τέρας as well as their semantic equiva-
lences and differences see Moussy (1977). On the general problems of possibilities and com-
parabilities of categorizations see Atherton (1998: vii-xxxiv, esp. xxiv-xxxiv); note, however,
that here as in the entire volume monstrosity is reduced to awfulness, counter-naturalness
and, consequently, insufficient classifiability. As to different possibilities of classification see
Lada-Richards (1998: esp. 41-49).
14 It is etymologically and hence causally rooted in the relevant terms monstrum and τέρας and
must therefore in my opinion not be disregarded in favour of focussing only on terrifying
counter-naturalness, abnormality and ugliness, as in the contributions to the essay collection
edited by Atherton (1998).
15 See Moussy (1977: 361-362). Hybrid corporeality in particular is strictly speaking not char-
acteristic for the term monstrum but can be easily subsumed under ‘counter-naturalness’ and
is then often perceived as the actual monstrosity: see e.g. van Keuren Stern (1978), with re-
gards to Hydra, Centaurs, Minotaurus, Medusa, Chimaira.
16 See LSJ s. v. II.2.
17 So for example already in Aristotle’s Poetics and in his biological writings; as to the latter
see Louis (1975). Excellent on the taxonomical importance of monsters as well as on sym-
bolical and classificatory ways of dealing with them is Sperber (1975).
96 Peter von Möllendorff

“If they continue turbulent and do not choose to keep quiet, I will do it again
(...) I will slice every person in two, and then they must go their ways on one
leg, hopping.”18
The aspects of counter-naturalness and dysfunctional deformity (d) are clear in
that the halved men not only lose their strength and dangerousness, but are also
deprived of their sexual self-sufficiency. Moreover, they have lost their physi-
cal functionality: previously they had been able to move with the greatest
speed in any direction without the need to turn around, namely by doing a
cartwheel or a backflip (Symp. 190a4-8); now this is possible only to a limited
extent. Ultimately, we present-day humans are considered ugly (e). For a cru-
cial aspect of Greek aesthetics, not least for Plato, was συμμετρία in the sense
of commensurability, proportion, as a precondition of beauty (κάλλος).19 Yet
this perfection of symmetry of the human body was taken away from the pri-
meval men by their division. If we consider ourselves as beautiful because we
are symmetrical, we overlook the loss of that former higher beauty. Further-
more, if we were to be cut into halves a second time, according to Zeus’ threat,
even these pathetic remains of our original symmetry would be lost.
A characteristic feature of Aristophanic humour is the frequent usage of
the unexpected, the ἀπροσδόκητον, on all levels of the text.20 Plato has imi-
tated this feature in his literary impersonation of the comic poet perfectly, as
can be seen clearly in the theme of monstrosity. Myth, of course, knew numer-
ous counter-natural creatures (that is, ‘monsters’ in a reductionist sense of the
term), amongst which the reader would have been inclined to count the hybrid
men Aristophanes describes ad hoc.21 However, a sudden and unpredictable
‘cut’, typical of comedy, reverses the line of vision and turns the world upside
down: what seemed to be normal is deficient, whereas that what was initially
passed off as a monstrosity turns out to be the more perfect order. Normal man

18 Aristophanes picks up this threat again at the end of his speech in the role of the interpreter
and exhorter: “We may well be afraid that if we are disorderly towards Heaven we may once
more be cloven asunder and may go about in the shape of those outline-carvings on the
tombs, with our noses sawn down the middle, and may thus become like tokens of split dice
(...). Love is the god who brings this about; he fully deserves our hymns (...). He also supplies
this excellent hope for the future, that if we will supply the gods with reverent duty he will
restore us to our ancient life and heal and help us into the happiness of the blest” (Symp.
193a3-7, c8-d5).
19 This agrees with the definition of beauty as it was put down in its classical form in Poly-
cletus’ Κανών (in both his writings and his sculptures) half a century before the Symposium
but maybe only twenty years before its fictitious date; see Pollitt (1974: 14-22, 256-258 and
passim). συμμετρία remained in the centre of aesthetic theorizing until the third century B.C.
(Xenocrates of Athens).
20 Fundamental for this matter is Landfester (1977).
21 Hermaphrodite children were sometimes perceived as monstra / τέρατα and were therefore
forcibly exposed; see Diodorus Siculus, Hist. 4.6.5-7 and Ajootian (1995: 101-103).
Man as Monster 97

is in truth a freak, and he is suffering from it. However only a god, not mere
desiring, nor even finding that which is lost, could heal the loss. Our path in
love and piety towards the gods can only lead us near to the ἀρχαῖα φύσις; in
order to finally reach it, it takes (as corresponds to the preceding punishment) a
divine act of grace. That is the only way to retrieve that unity which was at the
same time a duality, to become again that perfect monster we used to be.
It is probably because of the paradoxality and ineffability of this idea22 that
Plato has put this speech into Aristophanes’ mouth in the first place. Aristo-
phanes’ speech corresponds to the famous Diotima-speech of Socrates in a
mimetic-parabolic way, but also undermines the seemingly noble image of
Socrates as a superior philosopher. I will begin with some reflections on the
nature of their parabolic relationship, for which some remarks on the disposi-
tion of the Symposium are necessary. The long introduction which develops the
setting (Symp. 172a1-178a5) is followed by three cycles of speeches – ‘Praise
of Eros’ (Symp. 176a1-212c3); ‘Praise of Socrates’ (Symp. 215a4-222b7); ‘Trag-
edy and comedy’ (Symp. 223c6-d8)23 – of which only the first cycle is com-
pleted. The cycle in itself would be structured paratactically according to the
symposiasts’ order on the couches. But, firstly, neither the reporter of the first
level, Aristodemus, nor that of the second level, Apollodorus, remember all the
speeches that were given (Symp. 178a1-3. 223b8-9), so that a controlled selec-
tion has to be assumed. Secondly, Aristophanes does not give his speech at the
point which is dictated by the ‘coincidence’ of his position in the symposiastic
lying order, but gives precedence to the doctor Eryximachus because of hic-
cups (Symp. 185c4-e5, 188e2-189a6).24 Because of this, Aristophanes’ speech

22 See above. The ineffability (and, hence, unthinkability) shows itself for example in the fact
that language needs the aid of predicate usage (‘at the same time’, ‘that was ...’) but is neither
syntactically nor semantically in a position to express the duality of unity or the unity of dual-
ity properly. Both intellectually and linguistically only an approximation of that perfection is
23 They are linked with each other by intermezzi which – like the introduction – expose the
respectively changed setting.
24 Friedländer (1960: 15) has already pointed out that according to the initially intended se-
quence of speakers Aristophanes would have given his speech as the third of five pre-
Socratic speakers (Phaedrus, Pausanias, Aristophanes, Eryximachus, Agathon). The hiccups
motif thus makes clear that Plato takes him out of this centre – he is not meant to be com-
pared to them – and that he gives him a new, even more strongly emphasized role. Yet even
among these five speakers he holds a unique position, if only because he has come on his
own while the others have arrived in pederastic couples (Phaedrus and Eryximachus,
Pausanias and Agathon). Moreover, his choice of a mythical narrative instead of an argument
distinguishes him from the others. Furthermore Friedländer (1960: ad loc.) has demonstrated
that the speeches of Phaedrus and Agathon (Eros as the oldest and the youngest god respec-
tively) as well as those of Pausanias and Eryximachus (Eros as twofold god) form pairs in
terms of their content. By means of all this a net of relationships is woven between the four
other speakers in which Aristophanes is initially caught, but from which he manages to es-
cape through his hiccups which by means typical of comedy turn things upside down and al-
98 Peter von Möllendorff

moves into the centre of the cycle (fig. 3) and thus into a position clearly
marked by Plato, from which it can claim the same attention as the longest and
concluding speech of the cycle, that of the predictable protagonist Socrates.
Such a correspondence is made likely by the fact that Aristophanes is, apart
from Socrates, the only participant of the dialogue who gives a true definition
of ἔρως – the search for wholeness.25

subject I: praise of Eros 176a1-178a5

speech of Phaedrus 178a6-180b8

speech of Pausanias 180c3-185c3
disruption: Aristophanes’ hiccup 185c4-e5
speech of Eryximachus 185e6-188e4
Intermezzo: Aristophanes and Eryximachus argue humorously 189a1-c1
speech of Aristophanes 189c2-193e2
Intermezzo: Phaedrus, Agathon and Socrates argue humorously 193e3-194e3
speech of Agathon 194e4-197e8
disruption: Socrates rejects the current form of discussion 198a1-199c2
speech of Socrates I: refutation of Agathon 199c3-201c9
speech of Socrates II: Diotima on Eros 201d1-212c3
disruption: unexpected entrance of the ákletos Alcibiades 212c4-214b8

Figure 3: The structure of the speeches in Plato’s Symposium

Diotima’s description of the ascending course of desire forms the centre of

Socrates’ speech. The ‘Platonic lover’ initially loves the beautiful body of a
beloved one, but then frees himself from it so as to eventually love all beautiful
bodies. He then raises his desire from beautiful bodies to the beautiful activi-
ties of the soul, and from there to beautiful knowledge. Finally, he achieves
the ultimate knowledge of pure, uniform and true beauty (the ‘idea’ of beauty)
from which all individual beautiful things draw their partial beauty through
participation. The encounter of the desiring mind with this ultimate object of
knowledge is described by Diotima with verbs which are also used for sexual
contact: συνεῖναι (“to have [sexual] intercourse”), ἐφάπτεσθαι (“touch”) and

low the protagonists to escape all contextual constraints. Apart from this, Aristophanes is the
only speaker who tries to speak up again after Socrates’ speech (Symp. 212c4-6), and it is
only to his speech that Diotima refers explicitly (Symp. 205d10-206a1). On the two sets of
speeches produced by the hiccups motif see also Lowenstam (1986), which includes an over-
view of previous research.
25 See most recently Hunter (2004: 67).
Man as Monster 99

τίκτειν (“procreate”).26 In addition to this, and in analogy to earthly love, he

who desires philosophically also desires procreation. In the same way in which
beautiful children can be created with a beautiful body, the philosophical lover
can create beautiful thoughts, virtues and attitudes in a beautiful soul; and
eventually political communities, in which relationships based on such love
take place, become better. Further in the ascent, he reaches great and new
thoughts in the area of beautiful knowledge – for Plato that is first of all
mathematics and philosophy – in order to ultimately reach the one great
knowledge which is the aim and end of all desire. In possession of this knowl-
edge, he gains immortality.
If one compares these explanations with those of Aristophanes’, the para-
bolic nature of the comic poet’s speech becomes immediately obvious.27 The
desiring ascent to the last One, via the intermediate stages of love for beautiful
bodies, souls and knowledge, is replaced here by the desiring search for the
one belonging body, the lost half, via the intermediate stages of love for vari-
ous different loved ones, the love for the beloved one with whom one is in
harmony in all regards, and ultimately – as the last aim – the union with him as
the true and only lover, who has always belonged to oneself (just as the idea of
beauty as immortality has always been there). As is typical for his parables,
Plato has staged the abstract line of thought in concrete action. Accordingly,
philosophical love is portrayed in the parable as physical love, and the non-
individual one idea of the ‘idea of beauty’ is individualized in the sought-after
one Other; in both cases achieving the aim puts an end to desire. This narrative
transformation entails the establishment of a temporal dimension, of events
happening in time; the timelessness of an immortal idea, and consequently the
detachedness of philosophical desire from time, is depicted in the paradox of
the restitution of a past ideal state as the project of a distant future. Boldest of
all is probably the following hypothesis: Diotima describes the ascent to the
idea of beauty as a process which begins with physical Eros, and in the course
of which the erotic interest moves to always new and, at the same time, always
less spatially and temporally limited objects. Hence, what changes is the object
relation of Eros, while neither the erotic intensity nor the nature of Eros as
such change. It should therefore be legitimate to understand the intellectual un-
ion with the idea of beauty as a sexual act, albeit a disembodied and sublimat-
ed sexual act.28 Seeing it then has to be understood – completely in accordance

26 Symp. 212a2: συνόντος, 212a3: τίκτειν, 212a5: ἐφαπτομένῳ. See Sier (1997: 109-112) and
Tornau (2005: 277).
27 One does not have to go as far as Reale (2001), who has seen Aristophanes’ speech as a
coded version of Plato’s unwritten teachings, to acknowledge that both conceptions relate to
each other in many ways and obviously have a parallel design.
28 In Phaedrus 253e6-256a6 Plato gives a striking description of both the necessity and the dif-
ficulties of rejecting the desire for the physical sexual act and of replacing it with intellectual
100 Peter von Möllendorff

with the classical concept of seeing (see Rakoczy 1996: 19-37) – as a kind of
tactile contact, or indeed rather as an immersion in Being itself, since a percep-
tion that relies on distance cannot be thought capable of perceiving an infinite
Being.29 From this point of view it makes immediate sense for Diotima to use
sexual terminology alongside epistemological terminology. However, this ul-
timate erotic act is paradoxical because it can only be understood as a love in
love with itself, since it is directed at the idea of beauty which does not belong
to the level of reality of the lover (cf. Tornau 2005: 277-281). This intellectu-
ally becoming one with the One is then depicted in Aristophanes’ parable as a
union with the belonging other half, with – as outlined above – ‘one’s own
The meaning of Aristophanes’ speech, however, cannot be reduced to its
parabolic nature, in particular because this parable is put not into Socrates’ but
into another character’s mouth who – if one assumed a purely parabolic nature
– would be reduced to a mere mouthpiece which is not suggested by the text.31
As a matter of fact, Aristophanes’ myth provides two motifs which do not
really go beyond Diotima’s conception of the erotic path, but which character-
ize and assess it anew from a different perspective. These are, on the one hand,
the motif of the primeval human’s ὕβρις – their wanting to storm Mount
Olympus, supplemented by Aristophanes’ final warning against future trans-
gressions – and, on the other hand, the motif of the monstrosity of the halved
men, which is manifested not only in their appearance but most of all in the
fact of their erotic desire. In what follows I wish to demonstrate that, by intro-
ducing these motifs, Plato establishes a very unusual perspective on his phil-
osophical discourse and shows us the radicality, inacceptability and the dis-

συνουσία. What is depicted in the Symposium, however, is a union, because if the One is Be-
ing as such then it cannot be understood as distinguished from others; see Symp. 211a7-b1:
(...) οὐδέ τις λόγος οὐδέ τις ἐπιστήμη, οὐδέ που ὂν ἐν ἑτέρῳ τινι, οἷον ἐν ζώῳ ἢ ἐν γῇ ἢ ἐν
οὐρανῷ ἢ ἔν τῳ ἄλλῳ (“[Nor again will our initiate find the beautiful] as a particular descrip-
tion or piece of knowledge, nor as existing somewhere in another substance, such as an ani-
mal or the earth or sky or any other thing”).
29 The Symposium here, in my opinion, in many ways goes beyond comparable descriptions of
the ascent of the intellect in the Phaedrus. There the charioteer of the soul chariot manages
for a shorter or longer time to catch sight of the realm of ideas. But Socrates argues there that
the ideas are located at a ὑπερουράνιος τόπος above the sky (Phaedrus 247b6-e6) where they
present themselves to the sight of the gods and of him who is capable of following them.
Tactile contact is not mentioned.
30 One may ask to what extent the aspect of belonging which is crucial for Aristophanes depicts
the relation of the One to the world (see Diotima’s critique in Symp. 205d10-206a1). Tenta-
tively I would refer here to the theorem of ‘participation’ (μέθεξις) which also propagates a
connection of the One and the many which is indissoluble but not realized in a knowing or
conscious way in every day life and actions.
31 A proof to the contrary lies particularly in the fact that Diotima explicitly contradicts Aristo-
phanes’ position (see above n. 24).
Man as Monster 101

turbing nature of such thinking which not only irritates men in the daily appli-
cation of their value systems, but also questions the relationship between men
and gods. I will first demonstrate to what extent Diotima’s metaphysical phi-
losophizing and the behaviour of her disciple Socrates can be seen as ὕβρις.
After that I will ask if Socrates in his state of philosophical desire shows as-
pects of monstrosity, and if the events unfolding around him fit into the
scheme of action which is characteristic for the classical discourse of the mon-
Can the way of philosophizing propagated by Diotima and practised by
Socrates be seen as a ‘transgression’? The answer must be “yes” if Diotima’s
thinking is assessed from the perspective of traditional religiosity. Myth con-
firms that even the attempt of humans to see gods in their true appearance is
punished most heavily (e.g. Actaeon, Semele); this is all the more true for at-
tempts at sexual assault (e.g. Ixion).32 With this in mind, the desire not only to
see, but also to seek union with ‘divine beauty’ as articulated by Diotima and
Socrates (Symp. 211e3) is far from unproblematic. If the space of true being is
a divine space33 then the taboo of inviolability must a priori be valid for it,34
and thinking, in particular if it is understood as an erotic activity, could not
claim an exception from the law. The way in which Socrates talks about these
issues during the banquet also can be criticized from a religious point of view:
Diotima has explained her revelations to Socrates, especially the last part that
covers the vision of the One, as an initiation into the mysteries, as her termi-
nology clearly shows (esp. Symp. 209e5-210a2). Yet one had to remain silent
about what one experienced in the course of initiations, such as that which
took place every five years at the Great Mysteries at Eleusis. How seriously
this religious law was taken is shown by the trial for profanation of the Myster-
ies in 415, one year after the fictitious date of the Symposium, where Alci-
biades amongst others was accused of having profaned the Mysteries by re-
enacting them in his private house. Divulging secrets of the mysteries during a
banquet could well be understood as a form of ὕβρις.
Apart from these transgressions, Socrates is explicitly described as full of
ὕβρις in his relationships with others more frequently than in any other of

32 This is even true for sexual approaches towards the statue of a god: see (Ps.-)Lucian, Am. 15
(Aphrodite’s statue of Praxiteles at Knidos).
33 This is not precluded by the fact that Diotima refuses to see Ἔρως as a god and rather identi-
fies him as δαίμων (Symp. 202b10-e1). Similarly, the differentiation between the heaven of
the gods and the ὑπερουράνιος τόπος (see above n. 29) of ideas even further above it, under-
taken in the Phaedrus, only constitutes a relocation of the problem.
34 The giants which Aristophanes introduces in the beginning for the purpose of comparison are
likewise punished for their attempt to conquer Mount Olympus (Symp. 190b5-c1).
102 Peter von Möllendorff

Plato’s texts.35 Eros is already always in danger of violating others (Hunter

2004: 17), and in the case of Socrates, as the remarks of the other participants
of the conversation clearly show, it is mostly emotional violations, namely the
sneering rejection of all those who feel erotically attracted to him and seek his
attention and instruction. Exponent of these ‘victims’ of Socrates in the Sym-
posium is Alcibiades. He reports in his speech how as a young man, confident
in his own good looks, he tried to seduce Socrates and was rejected, despite his
intention to become as good as possible with Socrates’ help as a teacher (Symp.
218d2). Offended by such coolness, he apparently gave up on his philosophical
efforts. And yet Socrates himself emphasizes in the Phaedrus that not every-
body is given the opportunity to accomplish in this life the ascent into the
realm of ideas, but that apart from this there are also second and third best
ways of life and philosophizing (Phaedrus 253b7-e2). Which path one takes
depends on which of the twelve gods the soul had affiliated itself to in its pre-
vious disembodied wanderings. Alcibiades’ self-perception pretentiously aims
at an affiliation with Zeus (see below, p. 107) due to which he would have
been potentially predestined for the highest level of philosophizing (Phdr.
252e2-253c2, 248c5-e3). But this was not necessarily ‘the truth’, and Socrates
shows after Alcibiades’ narration very little empathy, as opposed to his behav-
iour towards young Phaedrus in the dialogue named after him. This is all the
more remarkable insofar as Socrates, at least according to his representation in
the texts of Plato and Xenophon, seems to have understood the acquisition of
knowledge as an individual cognitive achievement guided by a teacher, rather
than as instruction in a sophistic manner. It may therefore be appropriate to
speak here of a didactic failure of Socrates when he possibly overestimated his
student’s capabilities to make further philosophical progress.36 Similarly, Soc-
rates’ partners in dialogue have again and again perceived his pretended igno-
rance as εἰρωνεία, a word which does not carry positive connotations in Greek
but denotes a dissimulation for bad purposes. It is thus not surprising that Soc-

35 Right at the beginning of the banquet the host Agathon criticizes Socrates for having ridi-
culed him already in the first words after his arrival with his infamous irony (Symp. 175e7).
The speeches of Pausanias and Eryximachus later on make it clear that Eros in conjunction
with ὕβρις can cause a lot of harm; see Symp. 181c (Pausanias) and 188a (Eryximachus).
Then Alcibiades uses such a reproach even four times explicitly in the course of his speech
(Symp. 215b7, 219c5, 221e3, 222a8); and in addition to that he twice (Symp. 222b3 and 5)
raises the reproach that Socrates tricks (ἐξαπατᾶν) those who place their trust in him for
which Alcibiades lists further names.
36 See in general with regard to criticism of Socrates’ didactic aptitude Nussbaum (1980) as
well as Möllendorff (2002: 135-137). In the depiction of Socrates’ instruction in Aristo-
phanes’ Clouds he also does not take into consideration the (rather underdeveloped) intellec-
tual capacities of his student Strepsiades.
Man as Monster 103

rates in the Symposium is, with Aristophanes as the sole exception, 37 sur-
rounded only by men who themselves qualify in one way or other as guilty of
ὕβρις, a fact which became particularly obvious in the historical context of the
year 416.38 If, however, Socrates gathers these kinds of people around himself,
then the accusation of corrupting the youth as documented in the Apology may
have found some approval in the general public. In any case, Plato has obvi-
ously very advisedly chosen the year 416 as the dialogue’s fictitious date.
The second question is whether Socrates is also monstrous beyond his
ὕβρις. Is Aristophanes’ classification of the erotic human being as monstrum,
and Socrates is according to all symposiasts the most eminent eroticist, real-
ized in the portrayal of the philosopher and his actions? Let us initially enquire
into how far the five criteria of monstrosity – awfulness through exceptionality,
being sent by a god, ominous significance, counter-naturalness and ugliness –
can be applied to him and his philosophizing. Looking at Socrates’ own speech
does not bring us any further here, but the way Alcibiades, who appears unex-

37 But the old Attic comedy, which Aristophanes represents, is by definition known to use a hy-
perbolic discourse of polemic attacks against everything and everyone (if sanctioned by the
performative context of the Dionysian festivals).
38 One year after the fictitious date of the Symposium Phaedrus is, like Eryximachus, involved
in the Hermocopid scandal. Eryximachus, about whom we know very little in general, be-
longed like Phaedrus (Andocides, Myst. 15) to those who were denounced in this context
(Andocides, Myst. 35): they were tried and condemned to exile. Agathon, his perennial friend
Pausanias and Alcibiades – as whose ἐραστής Socrates is seen – were socially conspicuous.
Agathon was already at the fictitious date of Plato’s Protagoras, around 432/431, a charming
ἐρώμενος, and he still is now – but 16 years later he is definitely beyond the age in which the
role of a beloved one in a pederastic relationship could be deemed acceptable by society: it is
not without reason that his fellow symposiast Aristophanes in his Thesmophoriazusae aims
his remarks at him during the Lenaia of the year 411, portraying him as an effeminate, even
downright transsexual, tragic poet. This mockery also touches, of course, the no less grown
up Pausanias about whom we only know that he later on accompanied Agathon to Achelous
in Pella. Alcibiades is likewise significantly involved in the Hermocopid and mystery scan-
dals, deserts to Sparta and leads Athens in the following years into most serious military ca-
lamities. In 414, he is put on stage again by Aristophanes, this time in the Birds, if one agrees
with the allegorical interpretation, which a substantial part of scholarship suggests for this
comedy’s protagonist, Peisetarius, a ὕβρις-driven and violent character who even dethrones
the gods. As is generally known, Socrates also became a victim of Aristophanes’ art of
mockery, namely seven years prior to the Symposium in the Clouds, which was performed for
the first time in 423; in its second version, however, which has come down to us and on
which Aristophanes worked during 420 and 415 (and, hence, again in the chronological con-
text of the fictitious date of the Symposium), he is not given the role of the protagonist but
that of an antagonist who, in the end, is brutally destroyed, although his teaching bears bale-
ful fruits which outlive the end of his own existence: The protagonist Strepsiades sets the
house of Socrates, his son’s teacher, on fire because his son has turned the teachings of the
‘philosophist’ against his own father, but the sophistically corrupted son survives of course.
Again, there is doubtlessly an accusation of ὕβρις against Socrates in the background. As to
the ὕβρις-ridden character of the dialogue partners in the Symposium see Vlastos (1971) and
Gagarin (1977); see also Blanckenhagen (1992).
104 Peter von Möllendorff

pectedly, portrays him in his speech is instructive. If we understand Aristo-

phanes’ speech as a parable, then it is striking that Alcibiades opens his state-
ment about Socrates with a parable too, namely one in which Socrates appears
as a hybrid creature (Symp. 215b3-6):
καὶ φημὶ αὖ ἐοικέναι αὐτὸν τῷ σατύρῳ τῷ Μαρσύᾳ. ὅτι μὲν οὖν τό γε εἶδος
ὅμοιος εἶ τούτοις, ὦ Σώκρατες, οὐδ’ αὐτὸς ἄν που ἀμφισβητήσαις· ὡς δὲ καὶ
τἆλλα ἔοικας, μετὰ τοῦτο ἄκουε.
“I further suggest that he resembles the satyr Marsyas. Now, as to your like-
ness, Socrates, to these in figure, I do not suppose even you yourself will dis-
pute it; but I have next to tell you that you are like them in every other re-
Like a silenus – a hybrid creature, part man, part horse – Socrates is heedless
and violent in love affairs, a ὑβριστής; like Marsyas, he is someone who
knows how to enchant people. But these are all superficialities, as is the case
with the folding Silenus sculptures (Symp. 216d6-217a2):
ἔνδοθεν δὲ ἀνοιχθεὶς πόσης οἴεσθε γέμει, ὦ ἄνδρες συμπόται, σωφροσύνης;
ἴστε ὅτι οὔτε εἴ τις καλός ἐστι μέλει αὐτῷ οὐδέν, ἀλλὰ καταφρονεῖ τοσοῦτον
ὅσον οὐδ’ ἂν εἷς οἰηθείη, οὔτ’ εἴ τις πλούσιος, οὔτ’ εἰ ἄλλην τινὰ τιμὴν ἔχων
τῶν ὑπὸ πλήθους μακαριζομένων· ἡγεῖται δὲ πάντα ταῦτα τὰ κτήματα
οὐδενὸς ἄξια καὶ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν εἶναι – λέγω ὑμῖν – εἰρωνευόμενος δὲ καὶ
παίζων πάντα τὸν βίον πρὸς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους διατελεῖ. σπουδάσαντος δὲ
αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀνοιχθέντος οὐκ οἶδα εἴ τις ἑώρακεν τὰ ἐντὸς ἀγάλματα· ἀλλ’ ἐγὼ
ἤδη ποτ’ εἶδον, καί μοι ἔδοξεν οὕτω θεῖα καὶ χρυσᾶ εἶναι καὶ πάγκαλα καὶ
θαυμαστά, ὥστε ποιητέον εἶναι ἔμβραχυ ὅτι κελεύοι Σωκράτης.
“(...) If you opened his inside, you cannot imagine how full he is, good cup-
companions, of sobriety. I tell you, all the beauty a man may have is nothing
to him; he despises it more than any of you can believe; nor does wealth at-
tract him, nor any sort of honour that is the envied prize of the crowd. All
these possessions he counts as nothing worth, and all of us as nothing, I assure
you; he spends his whole life in chaffing and making game of his fellow-men.
Whether anyone else has caught him in a serious moment and opened him,
and seen the images inside, I know not; but I saw them one day, and thought
them so divine and golden, so perfectly fair and wondrous, that I simply had
to do as Socrates bade me.”
That Socrates’ impact on his audience is of a wondrous and terrifying nature is
stated by Alcibiades with reference to his power to enchant people (Symp.
ἐπειδὰν δὲ σοῦ τις ἀκούῃ ἢ τῶν σῶν λόγων ἄλλου λέγοντος, κἂν πάνυ φαῦλος
ᾖ ὁ λέγων, ἐάντε γυνὴ ἀκούῃ ἐάντε ἀνὴρ ἐάντε μειράκιον, ἐκπεπληγμένοι
ἐσμὲν καὶ κατεχόμεθα.
“But so soon as we hear you, or your discourses in the mouth of another, –
though such person be ever so poor a speaker, and whether the hearer be a
woman or a man or a youngster – we are all astounded and entranced.”
Man as Monster 105

The aspect of ominous significance is closely linked with this since the outer
form functions, due to its analogy to the openable silenus statuette, as a signal
that there are images of golden divinity hidden within him. At the same time
this can count as evidence for the criterion of being godsent. The comparison
to Marsyas also fulfils the criteria of counter-naturalness and ugliness by evok-
ing the Silenus’ hybridity.

Figure 4: Monstrosity as sign of disruption between man and god

If Socrates can therefore, categorically speaking, be seen as a monstrum then
finally we have to ask how far the plot follows the rules of the monster dis-
course. Let us bring to mind for this purpose the agents and vectors of the dis-
course version typical for classical thought, the one in which the monstrous is
understood as a sign of the existence of a disruption whose divine punishment
it heralds (fig. 4). This rather symmetrical model reveals a blank position be-
cause the monstrum itself is usually purely an object; it is provoked by a dis-
ruption, created by a god, and interpreted by man, but it does not have an ac-
tivity of its own, in particular none that is directed towards the future, that is
towards the time when, according to the system, the catastrophe, punishment,
is to be expected; it is, however, usually man’s task to relate the ominous sig-
106 Peter von Möllendorff

nificance of the monstrum to past and future and to try to prevent the predicted
consequences. Yet it is exactly here that Aristophanes interferes with the tradi-
tional model and turns it on its head: by portraying man himself as monstrous
he projects his structural position onto that of the monster, and by means of
this projection he can also equip the monster with human activity. For the
halved humans in their mostrosity are particularly characterized by a vehement
activity, their erotic pursuit, and this pursuit aims in perfect conformity with
the system on the one hand at preventing the threatening catastrophe of another
division in the future by exercising the greatest piety possible, and on the other
hand at restituting the original human nature from before the first division.
These archaic creatures, however, were characterized by their outrageous ὕβρις
and not by piety. The desire for the restitution of the ἀρχαῖα φύσις includes
therefore at the same time the old desire for the destruction of the current and
god-given order39 by means of establishing a new one based on the hyperboli-
cal συμμετρία of man, which is yet to be regained. The monster, man, hence
suffers from his current deformed nature and thus also from the current order,
and would, circumstances permitting, work towards its overthrow. However, is
not the transcendental philosophizing that Socrates and Diotima propagate also
suspected of attempting to overthrow the current worldview, namely the tradi-
tional conservative religious order that is stipulated by the cult of the polis and
its supporting myths, of attempting, as it were, to ‘intellectually storm’ Mount
Olympus? After all, Socrates’ prosecutors, as we learn from the Apology,
claim in 399 that Socrates is guilty of not worshipping the gods worshipped by
the polis. Thus not only as lover but also as philosophical eroticist, as a thinker
who strived with all his power to obtain the object of his thought and who is
thereby prepared even to transgress the borders set to humans, Socrates is
guilty of ὕβρις par excellence.
It seems to me that Plato indeed intended to make his recipients think
along these lines, and that he consequently drastically staged the potential con-
sequences of such intellectual behaviour with the punishment of a further divi-
sion, as expressed in Aristophanes’ speech. I come to this conclusion in par-
ticular because immediately after Socrates’ ὕβρις-laden revelations Alcibiades
suddenly appears, almost like a divine epiphany. Alcibiades’ quasi-divine am-
bitions were not only mocked by Aristophanes in his Birds in 414,40 two years
after the fictitious date of the Symposium, in which he lets him take the place

39 This, in my opinion, can be well related to a corresponding European controversy in the sec-
ond half of the 17th century (Daston & Park 2002: 248): “Viele Theologen, gewarnt durch
das Wissen, daß Menschen Brüche der natürlichen Ordnung als Einladung zum Brechen der
staatlichen Ordnung nutzten, gingen mit Vorzeichen und Wundern genauso sparsam um wie
die Naturphilosophen”.
40 See esp. Vickers (1995). The discussion of the question whether or not the protagonist of the
Birds, Peisetarius, alludes to Alcibiades is presented in Möllendorff (2002: 108-113).
Man as Monster 107

of abdicating Zeus, but were also made obvious by the historical Alcibiades
himself in his choice of crest which depicted the god Eros with Zeus’ thunder-
bolt in his hand.41 This would-be Zeus Alcibiades now lies down on the couch
on which Agathon and Socrates, whom Alcibiades does not recognize immedi-
ately, are lying together, and he lies down between them.
This separation of the two eroticists is interpreted by Agathon, after Alci-
biades’ speech accused Socrates of erotic ὕβρις, as jealousy aiming at separat-
ing them (Symp. 222e1-2):
τεκμαίρομαι δὲ καὶ ὡς κατεκλίνη ἐν μέσῳ ἐμοῦ τε καὶ σοῦ, ἵνα χωρὶς ἡμᾶς
“I take his sitting down between us two as an obvious attempt to draw us
This cumbersome formulation for the process of ‘separation’ already makes
one prick up one’s ears: until now the whole dramatic action seems like a stag-
ing of Aristophanes’ division myth reduced to earthly-realistic conditions: the
separation of the united lovers (on the couch) by Zeus and, thus, the dramatiza-
tion of the narrative about the origin of the monsters.
Immediately after this, however, Alcibiades’ divine pose suddenly col-
lapses as he turns his head and recognizes Socrates who lies behind him (Symp.
καὶ ἅμα μεταστρεφόμενον αὐτὸν ὁρᾶν τὸν Σωκράτη, ἰδόντα δὲ ἀναπηδῆσαι
καὶ εἰπεῖν Ὦ Ἡράκλεις, τουτὶ τί ἦν;
“With that he turned about and saw Socrates, and the same moment leapt up
and cried, ‘Save us, what a surprise!’ ”
Is this fright – again criterion (a) – not caused by Alcibiades’ recognizing in
Socrates his true and profound love – or should we not say with Aristophanes:
his (from Alcibiades’ point of view) own other half – and consequently, is not
what he reports in his speech the story of a (for him) tragic loss? If that were to
be the case then the details of the staging of this moment would be rather sig-
nificant because Plato makes Alcibiades adopt in the moment of frightful rec-
ognition the very position that Zeus had initially forced upon man after the di-
vision: the face directed towards the lost half (Socrates), the sexual organ
turned towards the other side (Agathon).
Is that yet another monstrous sign that through Socrates the order of the
world is being disrupted? In any case, by its reference to the discourse of the
monstrous, Aristophanes’ parable makes not only the bliss of transcendental
cognition comprehensible, but it moreover names (notably from a radically
conservative perspective) the price that has to be paid for metaphysical ambi-

41 See Plutarch, Alc. 16.1-2, and Athenaeus, Deipn. 12 534e.

108 Peter von Möllendorff

tions, namely in the case of their fulfilment: the danger of an overthrow of

world order; in the case of their failure: existential isolation. If Socrates’ sub-
sequent death can not only be historically linked with the social and political
failure of his friends and students, but also represents the death which Socrates
predicts in the seventh book of the Republic for the philosopher that returns
into the cave (Rep. 7, 516e8-517a7), then the Symposium illustrates what could
be the deeper reason for such a tragic ending, for such a far-reaching loss of
social and interpersonal integration: namely that philosophical thinking trans-
gresses respectable boundaries, that it is capable of hurting even those with
whom one is close and intimate, that philosophizing rigorously also means
becoming oblivious to the fact that for many the desire to know arises only on
the foundations of fulfilled bodily desires, and that this oblivion can entail
severe inter-personal damage. A look at our monstrous counterpart in the mir-
ror should be a warning to us.


Ajootian, Aileene (1995): Monstrum or daimon. Hermaphrodites in ancient art and cul-
ture. In: Brit Berggreen & Nanno Marinatos (eds.), Greece and Gender, Bergen,
Anderson, William S. (1996): Ovid’s Metamorphoses I-V, London.
Atherton, Catherine (ed.) (1998): Monsters and Monstrosity in Greek and Roman Cul-
ture, Bari.
Blanckenhagen, Peter H. von (1992): Stage and actors in Plato’s Symposion. In: Greek,
Roman, and Byzantine Studies 33, 51-68.
Daston, Lorraine & Katharine Park (2002): Wunder und die Ordnung der Natur 1150-
1750, Berlin.
Dover, Kenneth (1966): Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposion. In: Journal of Hel-
lenic Studies 86, 41-50.
Dover, Kenneth (1980): Plato. Symposium, Cambridge.
Friedländer, Paul (21960): Platon. Vol. 3: Die Platonischen Schriften. Zweite und dritte
Periode, Berlin.
Gagarin, Michael (1977): Socrates’ hybris and Alcibiades’ failure. In: Phoenix 31, 22-
Hunter, Richard (2004): Plato’s Symposium, Oxford.
Keuren Stern, Frances van (1978): Heroes and monsters in Greek art. In: Archaeologi-
cal News 7, 1-23.
Lada-Richards, Ismene (1998): ‘Foul monster or good savior’? Reflections on ritual
monsters. In: Catherine Atherton (ed.), Monsters and Monstrosity in Greek and
Roman Culture, Bari, 41-82.
Man as Monster 109

Lamb, Walter R. M. (1967): Plato. With an English Translation (vol. 5), Cambridge,
Landfester, Manfred (1977): Handlungsverlauf und Komik in den frühen Komödien des
Aristophanes, Berlin & New York.
Lateiner, Donald (2009): Transsexuals and transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In:
Thorsten Fögen & Mireille M. Lee (eds.), Bodies and Boundaries in Graeco-
Roman Antiquity, Berlin & New York, 125-154.
Louis, Pierre (1975): Monstres et monstruosité dans la biologie d’Aristote. In: Jean
Bingen & al. (eds.), Le monde grec: Pensée, littérature, histoire, documents.
Hommages à Claire Préaux, Bruxelles, 277-284.
Lowenstam, Steven (1986): Aristophanes’ hiccups. In: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine
Studies 27, 43-56.
Möllendorff, Peter von (2002): Aristophanes, Hildesheim.
Morrison, John Sinclair (1964): Four notes on Plato’s Symposium. In: Classical Quar-
terly 14, 42-55.
Moussy, Claude (1977): Esquisse de l’histoire de monstrum. In: Revue des Études La-
tines 55, 345-369.
Nussbaum, Martha (1980): Aristophanes and Socrates on learning practical wisdom. In:
Yale Classical Studies 26, 43-97.
Pollitt, Jerome Jordan (1974): The Ancient View of Greek Art. Criticism, History, and
Terminology, New Haven & London.
Rakoczy, Thomas (1996): Böser Blick, Macht des Auges und Neid der Götter. Eine Un-
tersuchung zur Kraft des Blickes in der griechischen Literatur, Tübingen.
Reale, Giovanni (2001): Alles, was tief ist, liebt die Maske. Aristophanes’ Rede im
Symposion als sinnbildliche Verhüllung der ungeschriebenen Lehren Platons:
einige Vorbemerkungen. In: Thomas A. Szlezák (ed.), Platonisches Philoso-
phieren, Hildesheim, 87-108.
Rowe, Christopher J. (1998): Plato: Symposion, Warminster.
Sier, Kurt (1997): Die Rede der Diotima. Untersuchungen zum Platonischen Sympo-
sion, Stuttgart & Leipzig.
Sperber, Dan (1975): Pourquoi les animaux parfaits, les hybrides et les monstres sont-
ils bons à penser symboliquement? In: L’homme 15, 5-34.
Tornau, Christian (2005): Eros versus Agape? Von Plotins Eros zum Liebesbegriff Au-
gustins. In: Philosophisches Jahrbuch 112, 271-291.
Vickers, Michael (1995): Alcibiades at Sparta. Aristophanes’ Birds. In: Classical Quar-
terly 45, 339-354.
Vlastos, Gregory (1971): The Philosophy of Socrates, Garden City.
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body
in Ovid’s Pygmalion Narrative (Met. 10.238-297)
Judith P. Hallett

This essay builds upon and complicates Alison Sharrock’s 1991 argument that Ovid’s
portrayal of the artist Pygmalion and his statue at Metamorphoses 10.238-297 “reflects
the eroto-artistic relationship between the poet and his puella explored in Latin love el-
egy”, one in which “Woman” is controlled as an art object. On the basis of intertextual
evidence, it maintains that Ovid’s narrative also evokes and responds to the erotic ele-
giac poetry of a particular historical woman, his contemporary Sulpicia. In so doing,
Ovid identifies Sulpicia more with the art object than with the artist in this story, and at-
tempts to control her image as poet and lover much as Pygmalion does his statue, im-
posing literary and physical boundaries that Sulpicia herself seeks to transcend.

In a 1991 essay, provocatively titled “Womanufacture”, Alison Sharrock ana-

lyses Ovid’s account of the Pygmalion-myth at Metamorphoses 10.238-297,
viewing it as paradigmatic of the phenomenon that “Woman perceived is
woman as art-object”. Sharrock contends that in this story Ovid “reflects on
the eroto-artistic relationship between the poet and his puella explored in Latin
love elegy”, noting that the Metamorphoses in general and this story in particu-
lar are “thick with elegiac resonances”. Ovid’s narrative, she maintains, spe-
cifically “reflects and exposes the self-absorption of elegy, the heroization of
the lover” and the way in which “the woman presented in eroto-elegiac texts”
is to be seen as an art object (Sharrock 1991: 36).
My discussion builds upon, and complicates, Sharrock’s interpretation of
how Ovid engages with earlier Latin love elegy, and its constructions of fe-
male gender identity, in relating this tale of the “artist who loved his own crea-
tion”, this transformational “myth of the art-object which becomes a love ob-
ject”. By employing the generalizing term “Woman”, Sharrock assumes that
Ovid depicts the nameless ivory female statue, made and adored by the artist
Pygmalion, as representing all women, and hence all of the female love objects
presented in eroto-elegiac texts (Sharrock 1991: 36-37). I will argue, however,
that Ovid’s narrative at the same time specifically evokes and responds to
112 Judith P. Hallett

eroto-elegiac poetry about and by an individual historical woman: his contem-

porary Sulpicia.
While Sulpicia represents herself in her erotic poems – elegies 8 to 18 of
Tibullus’ Book 3 – as the acting and loving subject rather than the passive and
beloved object, she strongly emphasizes her own physical appearance and ac-
tivities in several of these elegies.1 It is my contention that by recalling these
physical details about Sulpicia in his description of the statue in the Pygmalion
narrative, Ovid identifies Sulpicia more closely with the statue, an artifact,
than with Pygmalion the artist – and that Ovid thereby, in his own capacity as
the artist who has created and controlled the details of this narrative about
Pygmalion, asserts control over Sulpicia and her erotic art in shaping her im-
age and reputation among his readers.2
But I will maintain as well that Ovid’s efforts at re-imagining Sulpicia as a
controlled art object subsume the corpus of her elegiac amatory writing as well
as her amorously written body. Here again I will be relying on the evidence of
various “intertextualities” that link the Pygmalion narrative not only with Sul-
picia’s poetry, but also with Ovid’s own.3 These imaginative efforts climax in
the description of how Pygmalion’s statue is transformed from ivory sculpture
to bodily flesh, a description which itself culminates, at the beginning of line
289, with the two words corpus erat (“it was a body”).
With these words, Ovid redefines the boundaries between artist, art-object
and the female body by representing Pygmalion’s art as affecting human

1 This essay assumes that Sulpicia is the author of all eleven of the elegies about her in Tibul-
lus 3.8-18. For arguments in support of the view that Sulpicia wrote all eleven, see Hallett
(2002: 47-55). For the genesis of the view that she wrote merely the final six (or five), see,
inter alios, Skoie (2002: 162-212). For the assertion that she wrote Tibullus 3.9, 3.11 and
3.13-18, along with L’Année Epigraphique 1928.73 (the elegiac epitaph of the lectrix Petale
Sulpicia), see Stevenson (2005: 41-44). For a critique of the arguments that Sulpicia did not
write 3.8-12, or any of the Sulpicia-elegies, see Keith (2006: 3-10) and Parker (2006: 17-29).
– Only one of the eleven Sulpicia-elegies contains the Latin word ars: 3.10, in reference to
the healing arts of the god Phoebus at line 26. The epitaph for Petale Sulpicia, however, ex-
tols the dead woman for her art, beauty, and literary talent (5-6: arte, forma, ingenio), sug-
gesting Sulpicia’s own esteem for the active production of art by “literary women”.
2 For Sulpicia’s later Latin literary image, or fama, see Hallett (2006: 37-40), which discusses
several evocations of Sulpicia’s poetry by Ovid in the later Ars amatoria. Ovid also echoes
Sulpicia in the earlier Amores 3.14.
3 For intertextuality in Latin poetry, see, for example, Thomas (1986), Conte & Barchiesi
(1989), Fowler (1997), Hinds (1998) and Edmunds (2001). For a critique of Edmunds’ argu-
ments, and an “intentionalist” interpretation of [Latin literary] intertextuality, see Heath
(2002: 73). He contends that “the author is the immediate producer of the text. If the author
is, in turn, a product of (for example) language, society or ideology, then the text is also a
product of those things. But that does not make reference to the author superfluous, since the
production is mediated by the author.” As this essay indicates, I view intertextuality as, inter
alia, a useful analytical tool in Latin literary studies, illuminating how texts (and the authors
who write these texts) can signal their reactions to assumptions voiced by earlier texts, and
shape readers’ reactions to these earlier texts in the process.
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body 113

physical reality as well as his own creative imagination. In the course of this
description, he also crosses boundaries of another kind. For he likens Pygma-
lion’s artistic medium of ivory, associated with the idealized female body ow-
ing to its smoothness and whiteness, to wax, the surface covering of Roman
writing tablets, the medium of poets like Sulpicia and Ovid himself. Unlike
ivory, however, wax has the capacity to grow warm, in the manner of human
What is more, Ovid’s phrase corpus erat recalls two earlier lines in the
Pygmalion narrative, 252 and 255, both of which associate the statue that Pyg-
malion has imaginatively created with a human female physical form that he
desires to possess. In 252 Ovid refers to Pygmalion’s “fiery passion for the
pretended body” (simulati corporis ignes). In 255 he states that Pygmalion “of-
ten moves his hands to his work, trying to ascertain if it is a body or ivory”
(temptantes … an sit / corpus an illud ebur).
Various affinities between these depictions of Pygmalion’s artifact, and of
its eventual transformation into a female corpus, and passages from both
Ovid’s and Sulpicia’s poetry link Pygmalion’s relationship to his art with the
writing of love elegy.4 The Ovidian intertextualities, moreover, involve Tristia
4.10, an autobiographical elegy that post-dates Metamorphoses 10, as well as
earlier Ovidian writing, allowing the inference that Ovid may also be recalling
the Pygmalion narrative in this later poem.5 First of all, Ovid again uses the
verb temptare (“to try”) later, and repeatedly, during the Pygmalion narrative:
initially in lines 282 and 283, and then in 289 itself, as part of a climactic de-
scription of how the ivory statue metamorphoses into a living woman under
the touch of Pygmalion’s testing hands:
Admovet os iterum; manibus quoque pectora temptat;
temptatum mollescit ebur (...).
corpus erat: saliunt temptatae pollice venae.
“Again he brings his face close; he also tries her breast with his hands. The
ivory, having been tried, becomes soft (...). It was a body. The veins, having
been tried, pulsated.”6
In all four of these places where he employs forms of temptare, Ovid – through
his narrator at this point in Book 10, the embittered poet Orpheus – portrays
Pygmalion’s physical handling of this artifact as a process of experimentation,
of trial and error. Yet the last three attempts occur after his prayer to Venus in
lines 274-276 that he may have a wife like his ivory statue, and Venus’ favour-

4 See also Sharrock (1991: 39-49). Her extensive discussion of the elegiac resonances in the
Pygmalion episode does not mention Tristia 4.10, or the Sulpicia elegies.
5 For the dates of Ovid’s Amores, Ars amatoria, Metamorphoses and Tristia, see Hinds (2006).
6 All translations from the Latin are my own.
114 Judith P. Hallett

able response to his prayers in 277-279. These attempts at transforming inani-

mate ivory into a woman’s physical corpus are, therefore, divinely sanctioned.
Hence it would seem significant that Ovid also repeats this same verb,
temptare, within the space of a few lines while portraying his own youthful ef-
forts at writing elegiac poetry in the later, autobiographical, Tristia 4.10. The
verb appears in three successive couplets, immediately after he relates, in lines
19-20, how the “heavenly holy things” (caelestia sacra) of poetry delighted
him as a boy, and the Muse secretly dragged him off into her work, opus (Trist.
Saepe pater dixit “studium quid inutile temptas?
Maeonides nullas ipse reliquit opes.”
Motus eram dictis, totoque Helicone relicto
scribere temptabam verba soluta modis.
Sponte sua carmen numeros veniebat ad aptos.
Et quod temptabam scribere versus erat.
“Often my father said ‘why do you try a useless pursuit? Homer himself left
no riches.’ I had been stirred by his words, and after all of Helicon had been
abandoned I was trying to write words released from metres. But by its own
accord poetry was emerging to suitable metres and what I was trying to write
was verse.”
Although Ovid initially connects the verb temptare with his father’s disap-
proval of his poetry writing, and indeed his own attempts to stop writing po-
etry, he ultimately uses temptare to refer to his artistic production of a sponta-
neous, divinely compelled kind, much like Pygmalion’s transformation of the
statue into a female corpus.
To be sure, Ovid does not specifically identify his youthful poetry writing
as in the elegiac metre. But references to his iuvenalia carmina as featuring
Corinna in lines 57-60 implicitly link his earliest poetic attempts with the ele-
giac verses of the Amores. He also identifies himself as following in the liter-
ary succession of three earlier elegiac poets at lines 53-54, after noting that the
“greedy fates did not give Tibullus time for friendship” with him (Trist.
(successor fuit hic, tibi, Galle, Propertius illi;
quartus ab his serie temporis ipse fui)
“[Tibullus] was the successor to you, Gallus, and Propertius to Tibullus; I my-
self was the fourth of this line in order of time.”
So, too, the word ignes, “fires”, employed for the passions that Pygmalion
feels for the simulati corporis at Metamorphoses 10.253, is here used to de-
scribe Propertius’ passionate love elegies, figuratively, in line 45. Furthermore,
Ovid’s claim at Tristia 4.10.122 that livor has not bitten his own opus, poetic
work, recalls his use of livor at Metamorphoses 10.258. There Pygmalion is
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body 115

said to fear that livor may appear on the limbs of the statue that he has pressed.
While Ovid employs livor figuratively, as “envy”, in the passage from the
Tristia, and literally, as “bruising”, in the Pygmalion narrative, he associates
the word with potential harm to works of art in both; he also uses opus for
Pygmalion’s statue at Metamorphoses 10.249, with operisque sui concepit
amorem, “he conceives a passion for his own work.”
But Ovid forges an even closer connection between Pygmalion’s art and
the writing of elegiac poetry through the simile at Metamorphoses 10.283-286
that immediately precedes his description of how the ivory of Pygmalion’s
statue changed to a human body. In it he likens the way in which the ivory soft-
ens under Pygmalion’s caressing fingers to the melting of wax, cera, shaped
into new forms by a thumb. (Met. 10.283-286):
temptatum mollescit ebur, posito rigore
subsidit digitis ceditque, ut Hymettia sole
cera remollescit et tractataque pollice multas
flectitur in facies ipsoque fit utilis usu.
“The ivory, having been tried, becomes soft, and with its stiffness having been
put aside, yields to his fingers, and gives way, just as wax from Mount Hy-
mettus in Athens becomes soft from the sun, and, having been stroked by a
thumb is bent into many shapes, and becomes workable through being worked.”
Earlier in the Metamorphoses Ovid associates the softening and melting of
cera, wax, with the ultimately unsuccessful endeavours of another artist, Dae-
dalus, who literally depends on wax to hold together the wings he designs for
himself and his son Icarus, so that they may escape from Crete by air. Ovid
first mentions cera at 8.193, when depicting Daedalus as fastening the lowest
of the feathers with waxes (ceris alligat imas). It is noteworthy that in the pre-
vious two lines Ovid connects Daedalus’ craft with poetry: first by likening the
structure of the combined feathers to that of a shepherd’s pipe (Met. 8.191-
192: sic rustica quondam / fistula disparibus paulatim surgit avenis), thereby
evoking pastoral poetry; then by referring to the feathers themselves as compo-
sitas, employing the perfect passive participle of a verb often used for poetic
composition.7 Yet at 8.198-200 Ovid observes that Icarus
(…) flavam modo pollice ceram
mollibat, lusuque suo mirabile patris
impediebat opus.
“He kept softening the wax with his thumb, and with his playfulness got in the
way of his father’s remarkable work.”

7 For Ovid’s own use of componere to describe poetic composition, see, for example, Amores
3.15.3, referring specifically to elegiac verses. The use of disparibus for the hollow stalks of
the shepherd’s pipe might also allude to elegy: Ovid characterizes elegiac couplets as condita
disparibus numeris … verba at Ex Ponto 2.5.1.
116 Judith P. Hallett

Not only cera, but also such words as pollice, mollibat, mirabile and opus in
these three lines are recalled by Ovid’s language in the Pygmalion narrative
two books later. Indeed, the Pygmalion narrative includes two words from the
same root as mirabile: mira (with arte) at 247 and miratur at 252. These de-
tails suggest that Ovid has fashioned Pygmalion as a more artistically success-
ful version of Daedalus.8 Similarly, the words (re)mollescit and sole at Meta-
morphoses 10.284-285, in the simile that likens the ivory pressed by Pygma-
lion to melting wax, evoke 8.226-227, which contain the final two appearances
of the word cera in the story of Daedalus and Icarus:
Rapidi vicinia solis
mollit odoratas, pennarum vincula, ceras.
Tabuerant cerae (...).
“The proximity of the scorching sun softens the waxes, chains of feathers. The
waxes had melted away.”9
Yet wax (cera) also figures prominently in Ovid’s own love elegies, in the
specific context of eroto-elegiac communications on wax-coated wooden tab-
lets (tabellae) sent to his female beloved. In Amores 1.11, he importunes Nape,
the slave woman of his beloved Corinna, to bring her mistress wax-coated tab-
lets proclaiming his desire for a rendezvous. At line 14 he states
Si quaeret quid agam, spe noctis vivere dices;
cetera fert blanda cera notata manu.
“If she will seek to find out what I am doing, you will say I live for the hope
of night; wax, marked by a coaxing hand, conveys other information.”
And at line 20, he complains that he hates “when brilliant wax (splendida
cera) is empty over a large area”. Amores 1.12, a companion piece to 1.11, re-
presents Ovid’s unhappy reaction after the tablets have returned with sad news
(tristes rediere tabellae).10 He mentions the wax of the tablets three times, al-
ways dismissively. At line 8 he addresses the wax with tuque, negaturis cera
referta notis (“and you, wax packed with marks intending to say no to me”); at
23 he insultingly claims that “these waxes would more fittingly hold wordy
court guarantees” (aptius hae capiant vadimonia garrula cerae); and at 30 he

8 Lateiner (1984: 18-19) in fact maintains that Pygmalion is “the perfect artist” in Ovid’s
Metamorphoses, who “succeeds where Orpheus fails”. For the Metamorphoses as “unified by
its central concern with art and artists” (so Liveley 1999: 201) and featuring internal narrators
who represent variations in Ovid’s own voice, see, for example, Solodow (1988).
9 It merits attention that Ovid also narrates the Daedalus and Icarus tale in elegiac couplets, at
Ars Amatoria 2.21-95. Here he likens his lack of control over the winged god Cupid to Mi-
nos’ experience with the winged Daedalus. Yet Ovid also appears to liken himself, in his role
as praeceptor amoris, to Daedalus in his role as his son’s aviation instructor.
10 On Amores 1.12, especially on its humoristic tone, see Fögen (2009: 190-191).
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body 117

voices the angry prayer that “the wax may grow white with foul neglect” (im-
mundo cera sit alba situ), and decaying old age eat away the tablets. Here, as
in the preceding elegy, Ovid identifies cera with his – and Corinna’s – erotic
communications, the medium of his art and her negation of the erotic activity
his art celebrates, evidently (at least in his case) composed in the elegiac metre.
Most important, wax and the writing tablets it coats play a key role in
Sulpicia’s own elegies about her erotic communications. As David Roessel has
influentially argued, Sulpicia derives the pseudonym that she employs six
times for her male lover, Cerinthus, from cera, thereby linking her love object
with her poetic pursuits (Roessel 1990: 245-250). At 3.13.7-8, announcing the
physical consummation of their passion, she refuses to entrust her writings to
sealed tablets (tabellae), so that no one may have the opportunity to read what
she feels before her lover does:
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
ne legat id nemo quam meus ante velim.
“Nor would I wish to entrust anything to sealed tables, may no one get to read
what I feel before the man that I love.”
It warrants attention, therefore, that various passages in Ovid’s Pygmalion nar-
rative, among them the simile likening the yielding ivory of the statue to melt-
ing wax, recall Sulpicia’s love elegies in multiple details. Again, I would main-
tain that by so doing they associate the statue with Sulpicia, thereby diminish-
ing Sulpicia’s art and agency as an elegist. At 3.13.1-2 Sulpicia proclaims that
it would cause her more pudor (“shame”) to have bared than to have covered
her love affair, figuratively representing her erotic passion as if it were her
physical body: qualem texisse pudori / quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama
magis. Lines 263-269 of Ovid’s Pygmalion narrative present this same contrast
between nudity and bodily covering, but literally (Met. 10.263-269):
ornat quoque vestibus artus,
dat digitis gemmas, dat longa monilia collo;
aure leves bacae, redimicula pectore pendent –
cuncta decent. Nec nuda minus formosa videtur.
Collocat hanc stratis concha Sidonide tinctis,
appellat tori sociam, acclinataque colla
mollibus in plumis tamquam sensura reponit.
“He also adorns her limbs with garments, he gives jewels to her fingers, he
gives long collars to her neck; smooth pearls hang from the ear, decorative
garlands from the breast. All things become her. Nor does the statue seem less
lovely nude. He places it on bedclothes dyed with Sidonian purple, he calls it
the partner of his couch, he places its neck, laid down to rest, on soft feathers
as if it was about to feel them.”
118 Judith P. Hallett

Nevertheless, only after detailing the finery with which the artist covers his
statue does Ovid refer, briefly, to the beauty of the statue’s “bare body”. He
devotes much more space – three lines – in this context to this finery, the stat-
ue’s covering, than he does to the statue’s unadorned form. He also devotes
more space – another three lines – to the bed covers on which he places the
statue. Both finery and bed covers, moreover, have much in common with that
in which Sulpicia claims to clothe herself.
For at 3.8, one of three elegies in which Sulpicia describes herself in the
third person, it is said of Sulpicia at 11-20:
Urit, seu Tyria voluit procedere palla;
urit, seu nivea candida veste venit.
Talis in aeterno felix Vertumnus Olympo
mille habet ornatus, mille decenter habet.
Sola puellarum digna est cui mollia caris,
vellera det sucis bis madefacta Tyros,
possideatque, metit quidquid bene olentibus arvis
cultor odoratae dives Arabs segetis.
Et quascumque niger rubro de litore gemmas
proximus Eois colligit Indus aquis.
“She sets hearts aflame, if she has wished to go out in a gown hued with Tyr-
ian dye, she sets hearts aflame, if she comes out gleaming in a snowy white
robe. In this way, on eternal Olympus, the bountiful god Vertumnus wears a
thousand modes of dress, and wears a thousand becomingly. She is unique
among girls in being worthy to receive from Tyre soft wools twice dipped in
expensive dyes. Let her possess whatever the wealthy Arab, who tills the
scented crop, reaps from his nicely smelling fields, and whatever jewels the
black Indian, close to the waters of Dawn, gathers from the Red Sea.”
Ovid’s description of how Pygmalion dresses and positions the statue contains
several words also used to describe how Sulpicia adorns herself, and several
items of her adornment, in 3.8. Her references to the purple Phoenician dye
colouring both the garments she might wear and those she richly deserves –
with Tyria in 11, and Tyros in 16 – are recalled in Ovid’s depiction of the bed-
clothes on which Pygmalion places the statue, as dyed with purple from Sidon
in Phoenicia. Veste, the word for Sulpicia’s garments, echoes vestibus at 263.
Prior to his description of Pygmalion’s adornment of the statue, at line 247,
Ovid employs the adjective niveus, snowy white, here used for Sulpicia’s gar-
ments of a contrasting colour to purple, for the hue of Pygmalion’s statue it-
self; subsequently, at line 272, he applies it to the neck of the cows sacrificed
to Venus at her festival, when Pygmalion utters his answered prayers.
So, too, Ovid’s verb ornat at 263 recalls Sulpicia’s ornatus at 3.8.14; his
mention of gemmas at 264 the gemmas she deserves to receive from India at
line 19. Mollia, the adjective for Sulpicia’s Tyrian fabrics, is also used for the
feathers cushioning Pygmalion’s statue at 269. At 3.8.15 (and again at line 24)
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body 119

Sulpicia is referred to with the noun puella (sexually desirable young woman)
at 259. Before enumerating the expensive items which Pygmalion bestows
upon the statue, Ovid describes the simpler things he gives it – seashells and
pebbles, birds and flowers, balls and amber drops – as grata puellis (“pleasing
to girls”). Felix is the adjective used for the wardrobe-changing god Vertum-
nus, to whom Sulpicia is compared at 3.8.13; its adverbial form feliciter modi-
fies the phrase mira arte at Metamorphoses 10.247, characterizing Pygmalion
as having created the statue with “fortunately wondrous skill”.
Both mira here and miratur at 10.252, moreover, call to mind Sulpicia’s
portrayal at 3.8.4 of the god Mars, whose festival day is the setting of this po-
em, as “admiring” (miranti) her beauty and her garb. Strikingly, when Ovid
notes at 266 that all adornments “are becoming to” the statue (cuncta decent),
he thereby recalls lines 7 and 8 of 3.8. There Sulpicia describes herself as se-
cretly followed by decor (“what is becoming”), wherever she moves. Ovid also
evokes 3.8.11, where it is said that it becomes her (decet) to have flowing
tresses, and 3.8.14, where she is said to wear a thousand garments becomingly
As has been noted, Ovid depicts Pygmalion as bestowing simple gifts
(munera) upon his statue in line 260, and, with the repeated verb form dat in
line 264, as including more costly jewels and necklaces among these gifts as
well. In 3.8 Sulpicia represents the adornment that she deserves as gifts too.
The subjunctive form det in line 16, which describes the twice-dyed wools that
she alone is worthy to receive, has Tyre as its subject. At 18 another subjunc-
tive verb, possideat (“let her possess”), implies that Sulpicia is entitled to gifts
of a more generous sort: “whatever the Arab reaps” and “whatever jewels the
Indian gathers”. But inasmuch as these are expensive gifts from regions of the
fabled east, such details characterize her as a politically powerful figure, like
the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, or even the emperor Augustus himself, exacting
tribute. Pygmalion’s statue only receives gifts from Pygmalion.
More significant, Ovid’s narrator Orpheus indicates to his reader at line
251 that “you would believe that Pygmalion’s statue wants to be moved, if
modesty would not stop you” (si non obstet reverentia, velle moveri). But the
statue is immobile until it becomes a female corpus in line 289, at which point
her veins throb. Even then, only a small part of her body, her face, responds
physically to her lover, blushing and raising its eyes (with erubuit and lumen
attollens in lines 293-294).11 3.8, by way of contrast, emphasizes Sulpicia’s ki-

11 Liveley (1999: 207) interprets these details as attributing the power of vision to the statue,
and thus extending “the female perspective and agency” assigned to the figure of Venus to
“Pygmalion’s statue-woman whose power to see and to interpret what she sees bears particu-
lar significance for the resisting reader.” That Ovid says nothing about the rest of her body,
120 Judith P. Hallett

netic physical movements with vestigia movit (“has moved her footsteps”) in
line 7, a movement in which illam (...) subsequiturque decor (“what is becom-
ing follows her”) and with procedere (“go out”) and venit (“comes out”) in 11-
12.12 It also underscores her control of her own actions, with quidquid agit
(“whatever she does”) in line 7, solvit and compsit (“loosens” and “arranges”
her hair) in 9-10, and voluit (“wishes”) in 11.13
Other poems besides the programmatic 3.8 and 3.13 echo in Ovid’s Pyg-
malion narrative, too: poems in which Sulpicia depicts her memorable physical
features and movements, and exercises her own agency. Consider, for example,
lines 3-10 of 3.10, another of the elegies in which Sulpicia describes herself in
the third (as well as in the first) person:
Crede mihi, propera: nec te iam, Phoebe, pigebit
formosae medicas applicuisse manus.
Effice ne macies pallentes occupet artus,
neu notet informis languida membra color,
et quodcumque mali est et quidquid triste timemus,
in pelagus rapidis evehat amnis aquis.
Sancte, veni, tecumque feras, quicumque sapores,
quicumque et cantus corpora fessa levant.
“Believe me, make haste: nor will it now cause you disgust, Phoebus, to have
laid your healing hands on a lovely woman. See to it that wasting disease does
not take control of her limbs that grow pale, and that no hideous colour deface
her legs that are limp and weak, and whatever of evil there is and whatever
gloomy thing we fear, a river with whirling waters drives into the sea. Holy
one, come, and may you bring whatever fragrances and whatever charms re-
lieve weary bodies.”
Here the physically ailing Sulpicia asks the god Apollo to touch her with his
healing hands. She refers to herself with the word formosa (“beautiful”), an ad-
jective which we have seen Ovid also apply to the statue at Metamorphoses
To be sure, the elegies of Sulpicia, an artist, also represent her as, in cer-
tain regards, resembling the artist Pygmalion. In 3.11 and 3.12 as well as in

however, would seem significant, supporting Sharrock’s assertion that there is little change in
the metamorphosis of statue to woman.
12 Salzman-Mitchell (2005: 70) remarks that at Metamorphoses 10.247-249 Ovid “uses verbs
… to show a succession of actions that suggest narrative progression and performance and
place the male as central, active and mobile character”, and that Pygmalion “through the
‘diachronicity’ expressed by the perfect [tense] embodies the masculine action and the ‘per-
formativity’ of the creator.” Much the same could be said about the descriptions of Sulpicia
in 3.8.
13 Two of the verbs used to characterize Sulpicia’s actions, voluit and venit in 3.8.11-12, are
also used for the actions of gods earlier in the poem: vult, from the same verb that gives us
voluit, is applied to the god Amor at 3.8.5; veni, from the same verb that gives us venit, to
Mars at 3.8.2.
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body 121

3.10 she portrays herself – as Ovid portrays Pygmalion – as making vows to

various divinities. Indeed, she pays homage to Venus at 3.11.13-18, much as
Ovid has Pygmalion do at Metamorphoses 10.274-276. At 3.13.3-5, moreover,
Sulpicia proclaims that through her poems she has obtained what she prayed
Venus to grant her:
Exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
attulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.
Exsolvit promissa Venus.
“Won over by the poems that my Roman Muses inspired, Venus of Cythera
brought him to me and dropped him in my embrace. Venus has fulfilled her
Like Pygmalion, Sulpicia has prayed to consummate, physically, her passion
for her beloved. But his prayer, to all the gods (although Venus alone re-
sponds) merely asks for the gift of a wife like his female ivory object (Met.
constitit et timide, ‘Si, di, dare cuncta potestis,
sit coniunx, opto’ (non ausus ‘eburnea virgo’
dicere), Pygmalion, ‘similis mea,’ dixit, ‘eburnae.’
“Pygmalion stood and shyly said, ‘If, gods, you are able to give all things, I
wish that my wife may be (since he did not dare to say ‘ivory maiden’) similar
to my female ivory object.’”14
Sulpicia’s prayer to Venus, at 3.11.13-18 seeks a good deal more from the
Nec tu sis iniusta, Venus: vel serviat aeque
vinctus uterque tibi vel mea vincla leva.
Sed potius valida teneamur uterque catena,
nulla queat posthac quam soluisse dies.
Optat idem iuvenis quod nos, sed tectius optat;
nam pudet haec illum dicere verba palam.
“And may you not be unfair, Venus; either let each of us submit equally in
bondage to love’s slavery, or remove my own bonds. But rather let us both be
held in a powerful chain, which no day to come may be able to loosen. The
young man wishes for the same thing that I do, but he wishes more secretly;
for it causes him shame to utter these words openly.”
Sulpicia wishes for the “justice of Venus”, equality and permanence in her
love affair, if she is to experience love at all. In explaining why her beloved
Cerinthus is not, in the name of equality, making the same request, she asserts
that he – like Ovid’s Pygmalion – is unable to express his wishes openly, as-

14 Sharrock (1991: 42) refers to the “female ivory object” as “Eburna” to convey the statue’s
properties in one single word.
122 Judith P. Hallett

cribing his reticence to shame (pudet).15 By way of contrast, when she cele-
brates the consummation of their love affair in 3.13.1-2, she maintains that it is
more shameful (pudori … magis) to keep silent than to speak out about it.
Nevertheless, by evoking Sulpicia’s words that emphasize her beautiful
and adorned physical presence, and by stressing that she shares features and
traits with Pygmalion’s statue, Ovid minimizes these similarities between her,
an elegist like himself, and Pygmalion, whom he fashions in the image of him-
self and other male elegists. Rather, in calling, and asking his readers to call,
her writing to mind, he associates her with the statue. Sulpicia may also be re-
called by Ovid’s description at 238-242 of the Propoetides. They are changed
to stone as a result of their failure to recognize Venus’ divinity and their ensu-
ing sexual promiscuity; their conduct so disgusts Pygmalion that he attributes
their vices to the entire female sex, and rejects marriage.
These women “are said to have been the first to have made their bodies
along with their beauty available to all” (Met. 10.240: corpora cum forma pri-
mae vulgasse feruntur). Similarly, at 3.13.5-6 Sulpicia proclaims that she
wishes to make her love affair, if not her physical body, widely available and
vicariously experienced through her poetry:
(…) mea gaudia narret,
dicetur si quis non habuisse sua.
“Let anyone tell of my joys if they will be said to have been without joys of
their own.”
Her assertion earlier in this poem, that her sense of shame (pudori) requires her
to un-clothe rather than cover up her love affair is also significant in view of
Metamorphoses 10.241. There Ovid states that the pudor of the Propoetides
came to a halt, with their indiscriminating sexual conduct. It is possible, too,
that the very name of these women, which contains the verbal element “poet”
– Latin (and Greek) for poet – implies that they, like Sulpicia, engaged in liter-
ary activity.
Through these intertextual resonances in the Pygmalion narrative, Ovid
not only minimizes Sulpicia’s agency as a literary creator, and the power of
her literary efforts to control the course of her own love affair. Ovid also con-
trasts her unfavourably with Pygmalion himself. She dismisses pudor (“sexual
shamefulness”) at 3.13.1; Pygmalion is disgusted with all women because of
the Propoetides, whose pudor has ended. Whereas Sulpicia never mentions the
prospect of marriage with her lover, and at 3.13.9 voices her delight in past,
sinful behaviour (peccasse iuvat), Ovid portrays Pygmalion as eager, almost
desperate to have a wife like his ivory statue.

15 On the erasure of Cerinthus’ voice here, and in 13 and 14, see Pearcy (2006: 34-35).
Corpus erat: Sulpicia’s Elegiac Text and Body 123

At Tristia 4.10.53-54, as we have seen, Ovid does not mention Sulpicia

among the elegists he knew and succeeded “in order of time”. He never cele-
brates her in the way that he does the deceased Tibullus in Amores 3.9. Never-
theless, Ovid’s echoes in Amores 3.9 of lines by Tibullus, in whose third book
of elegies the eleven-Sulpicia poems appear, and who – like Ovid and Sulpicia
– enjoyed the literary patronage of Sulpicia’s maternal uncle Marcus Valerius
Messala, render it plausible and likely that Ovid similarly calls Sulpicia and
her poetic corpus to mind in the Pygmalion narrative.16
Yes, the many affinities between Sulpicia’s themes and vocabulary, and
those informing Ovid’s Pygmalion narrative, may be coincidental. But Ovid’s
poetic practices suggest otherwise. And if he is evoking the elegiac corpus of
Sulpicia to refashion her in the image of Pygmalion’s statue he is sending his
readers the message that she is to be viewed as a female body and as a work,
not a worker, of art. While she seeks to transcend boundaries in her poetic cor-
pus by representing herself as both a creative literary artist and erotically de-
sirable female body, Ovid insists that she cannot be the former if she is to be
the latter, thereby imposing boundaries of his own.


Conte, Gian Biagio & Alessandro Barchiesi (1989): Imitazione e arte allusiva. Modi e
funzioni dell’intertestualità. In: Guglielmo Cavallo, Paolo Fedeli & Andrea
Giardiana (eds.), Lo spazio letterario di Roma antica. Vol. 1: La produzione del
testo, Rome, 81-114.
Edmunds, Lowell (2001): Intertextuality and the Reading of Roman Poetry, Baltimore
& London.
Fögen, Thorsten (2009): Tears in Propertius, Ovid and Greek epistolographers. In:
Thorsten Fögen (ed.), Tears in the Graeco-Roman World, Berlin & New York,
Fowler, Don (1997): Intertextuality and classical studies. In: Materiali e discussioni 29,
Hallett, Judith P. (2002): The eleven elegies of the Augustan poet Sulpicia. In: Laurie J.
Churchill, Phyllis R. Brown & Jane E. Jeffrey (eds.), Women Writing Latin.
From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe (= Women Writing Latin in

16 Echoes of Tibullus’ poetry in Ovid, Amores 3.9 include lines 31-32, recalling Tibullus’ de-
scription of Delia’s Egyptian ritual practices at Tibullus 1.3.23-24, and lines 47-51, recalling
Tibullus’ depiction, at 1.3.3-10, of his illness while travelling in Phaeacia, and his unhappi-
ness that his mother and sister will not be on hand to perform his death rites. For Messalla,
and his patronage of Tibullus, Sulpicia and Ovid, see Hallett (2002: 45-46) and Hallett (2006:
38, 41-42).
124 Judith P. Hallett

Roman Antiquity, Late Antiquity, and the Early Christian Era, vol. 1), New
York & London, 45-65.
Hallett, Judith P. (2006): Sulpicia and her Fama. An intertextual approach to recovering
her Latin literary image. In: Classical World 100, 37-42.
Heath, Malcolm (2002): Interpreting Classical Texts, London.
Hinds, Stephen (1998): Allusion and Intertext, Cambridge.
Hinds, Stephen (2006): Ovid. In: Simon Hornblower & Antony Spawforth (eds.), Ox-
ford Classical Dictionary, Oxford, 1084-1086.
Keith, Alison (2006): Critical trends in interpreting Sulpicia. In: Classical World 100,
Lateiner, Donald (1984). Mythic and non-mythic artists in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In:
Ramus 13, 1-30.
Liveley, Genevieve (1999): Reading resistance in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In: Philip
Hardie, Alessandro Barchiesi & Stephen Hinds (eds.), Ovidian Transforma-
tions. Essays on the Metamorphoses and Its Reception, Cambridge, 197-213.
Parker, Holt N. (2006): Catullus and the Amicus Catulli. The text of a learned talk. In:
Classical World 100, 17-29.
Pearcy, Lee T. (2006): Erasing Cerinthus. Sulpicia and her audience. In: Classical
World 100, 31-36.
Roessel, David (1990): The significance of the name Cerinthus in the poems of Sulpi-
cia. In: Transactions of the American Philological Association 120, 245-250.
Salzman-Mitchell, Patricia B. (2005): A Web of Phantasies. Gaze, Image, and Gender
in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Columbus.
Sharrock, Alison (1991): Womanufacture. In: Journal of Roman Studies 81, 36-49.
Skoie, Mathilde (2002): Reading Sulpicia. Commentaries 1475-1990, Oxford.
Solodow, Joseph B. (1988): The World of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Chapel Hill.
Stevenson, Jane (2005): Women Latin Poets. Language, Gender and Authority from An-
tiquity to the Eighteenth Century, Oxford.
Thomas, Richard F. (1986): Virgil’s Georgics and the art of reference. In: Harvard
Studies in Classical Philology 90, 171-198.
Transsexuals and Transvestites
in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Donald Lateiner

Somatic signals affect all social interactions. Clothes and accessories also communicate
non-verbally with interactants. Clothes make the man or woman (sex) into a man or
woman (gender). The revelation and concealment of primary and secondary sexual
characteristics busy clothiers, artists and authors. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, gods tem-
porarily and humans permanently change sex. Gods and humans assume transgendering
male or female clothes.
Transsexualism, a generally one-way human transformation, crosses gender
boundaries. Women elect to change into men to gain status and various advantages in
the highly male-privileged ancient world. Men find themselves changed against their
will into women. They thereby lose status and suffer debilitation of strength and privi-
lege. The cases of Tiresias, Sithon, Hermaphroditus, Mestra, Iphis, Caenis and the Cor-
onids, as outlined in the Metamorphoses, are discussed.
Then, the paper looks at instances of transvestism in Ovid. Dress, part of cultus, is
a variable and reversible expression of gender, class etc. To clarify sexual identity,
clothes complement audible features (voice timbre) and visible body features such as
skin texture, musculature, size, hair and facial cosmetics. Garb, however, can hide or
deceive others about one’s sex. Cross-dressing provides a second-class cross-gendering
and is always eventually unmasked. Gods briefly become crones to approach attractive
young maids. With the gods, it is hard to determine how deep the transgendering ex-
tends. As for humans, the cases of Cephalus, Atalanta and Achilles are analysed here.
Biological sex and civilized forms of gender, constructed and/or concealed by self
and others, provided Ovid with variations on humanity’s usual “courtship” scenarios,
challenges and transgressions of the binomial sexual system, and comedies of sexual
surprise. The early myths and rituals furnished new material to think about perennial
human needs and customs.

1. Introduction
This essay examines two intriguing aspects of sexual morphing, transsexuality
– change of sex – and transvestism – change of clothes into the other sex’s in
126 Donald Lateiner

order to ‘pass for’ a member of the other sex.1 The transsexual will certainly
change her (usually this is the direction) garb to suit her new identity as a “he”.
Cross-dressing or transvestism features in Dionysiac festivals, 2 Hellenic
myths,3 initiatory rituals,4 partying Attic gentlemen and, therefore, the iconog-
raphy of Attic vases.5 Transvestism and sex change are not common features
of Greek myth.6 When either of these phenomena appears, the mythical narra-
tive may serve to “explain” the age-old origins of some puzzling but still sur-
viving ritual of male initiation (failed or successful)7 with a simulated sex- or
actual clothing-change. The myths of youthful Pentheus, Achilles, Heracles
and Theseus (Pausanias 1.19.1) provide better known – if still puzzling – ex-
amples, although not validating paradigms for crossing these heavily policed

1 The Greeks and Romans did not perceive their need for words for settled changes of sex or
clothes. This unpredicted absence reflects something about their perception of homosexual-
ity, transsexuality and bisexuality (as Euro-Americans understand those essential terms).
English uses the Latin-derived terms ‘transsexuality’ and ‘transvestism’. Menander wrote a
comedy named Androgynos or The Cretan, although one can discover very little about the
play of that name. He uses the word as an insult meaning “womanly, cowardly, sissy” at
Samia 69 and Aspis 242. Plato (Symp. 189e2-4) exemplifies a pseudo-biological use; see also
von Möllendorff (2009, in this volume). Plutarch (Mor. 219e) provides another reproof of
2 See Miller (1999: 242-243) on transvestic festivals and Miller (1999: 245-246) on Dionysiac
3 An effeminate and besotted Heracles’ transvestism and bondage to the fickle Lydian Queen
Omphale became a favourite topic in Hellenistic burlesque, complete with her wearing his
clothes and carrying his attributes such as the club. Suhr’s study (1953: 261) examines the
exiguous evidence for a prehistoric ἱερὸς γάμος ritual (cf. Plutarch, Quaest. Gr. 58 = Mor.
304c-e). Exchange of garments between the sexes characterized both ἱερὸς γάμος ceremonies
and human rites of passage. Ovid does not include this incident in any Hercules segments in
the Met., but cf. Her. 9.57-128 and Fast. 2.305-359. There Heracles in ‘drag’ spins and
weaves and so deceives Faunus in bed. Leitao (1995: 136-142) discusses recent interpreta-
tions of transvestic ekdysiasm.
4 Dowden’s book on female initiation (1989: 53-55) discusses initiatory transvestism in the
specific context of Achilles’ stay on Dolopian Scyros (cf. Apollodorus, Bibl. 3.13.8; Statius,
Ach. 1.259-381); see also Dowden (1989: 176). Leitao (1995: 142-146) canvasses Hellenic
gender-coding and male initiation in Dorian Crete.
5 E.g. Miller (1999: passim, esp. 236, 247, 252-253) and Keuls (21993: 357, with ill. 296,
painted by Duris).
6 Forbes Irving (1990: 149); his ch. 7 examines sex changes in Greek myths.
7 Sharrock (2002a: 96) refers to “arrested development”. Her article on “gender and sexuality”
offers little on the two topics of this article.
8 The men’s sanctioned man-dressed-as-woman cross-dressing at unofficial (and non-religious)
social events found on some Attic vases (500-450 B.C.) stresses, for both ideological and ar-
tistic reasons, “their absolute failure, as transvestites, to hide their masculinity” (Miller 1999:
247). Miller therefore argues (252-253) that these Athenians are never trying to pass as
women at all but they engage in male sympotic play, a distinctive form of élite-defining mas-
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 127

These delicate subjects charged with sexual taboos have aroused deep
anxieties and therefore now attract considerable theoretical attention from vari-
ous methodologies.9 This paper focusses on divinities and humans gaining the
organs and/or donning the garb of the “opposite sex” in Ovid’s poem about
metamorphosis. One meets planned and extemporaneous changes of bodily
form and less drastic changes of clothing to mask gender.10 My essay on these
relevant and related lesser changes of Ovidian characters’ crossing their cloth-
ing- and sex-boundaries may illuminate the greater changes. We will examine
bodies and gender in his epic poem that often changes both.
Ovid starts from bodies. Many of his bodies shift shapes, voluntarily and
more often not. Bodies furnish fixed and normative features in animal experi-
ence of mothers, fathers, lovers and children. They grow, mature and age, but
retain their essential recognizable features, not only a small nose and a big toe,
but, with greater social consequence, primary and secondary sexual character-
istics. Somatic and adaptor signals, as small as a haircut, gait, colour (pink or
blue) or self-touching, as variable as a moustache, bracelet or hair-arrangement,
affect all social encounters and set the agenda for most of them. Instability in-
fects, however, gods and humans, ultimately permeating even the assumed
permanent ground of animate bodies and inanimate flowers, trees, rocks and
planets. Past experience is no guide to future identity. Dependable social iden-
tity disappears once inside a different body.11

9 Those interested will find help in the following, more theoretically oriented, examples of
scholarship in the bibliography, esp. Janan (1991), Nugent (1990) and Morgan (2003). One
recent turn examines hybridity, persons and works of art that try, like Ovid’s Salmacis, to
find sexual answers in new races that avoid both the ordinary and the stigma of ‘bi-’ and
‘trans-’ labels.
10 The alleged historical and comic escapade of the opportunistic Publius Clodius “Pulcher” in-
sures that Roman transvestism extends beyond the realm of symbolic myth and comedic
theatre. That is, the story was deemed credible, whether the events occurred or not. His cross-
dressing as a female harp-player created a crisis that long remained notorious (see e.g.
Cicero, Att. 1.13.3; Balsdon 1966). – Propertius’ aetiological elegy 4.9 describes a desper-
ately thirsty, Cacus-killing Hercules report his former slave-girl duties and clothes (including
brassiere) to justify his manly interruption of Bona Dea rites seeking a cup of water. The
priestess in charge threatens the ex-transvestite with Tiresias’ punishment of transsexuality.
He retaliates by smashing the original doorway of the women’s shrine and forbidding
women’s presence near his future ara maxima. Ovid’s Hercules, when dressed as a woman,
deceives and easily discomfits Faunus the god seeking to rape his/her mistress, Queen Om-
phale (Fast. 2.305-359). – Among later emperors, Caligula appeared as Venus, Nero pre-
sented his backside after marrying his new “husband” (the successor of the abused, castrated
Sporus), and Elagabalus liked to dress in soft, women’s clothes; see Suetonius, Cal. 36, Nero
29 (also playing the lead role in Canace in Childbirth; see Nero 21) as well as Herodian
5.5.3-5 and 5.8.1-2.
11 Ovid maintains the former mind – human consciousness and inclination, however limited – in
transformed bodies (Actaeon in Met. 3.203: mens tantum pristina mansit; cf. Callisto, nymph
transformed to bear, in Met. 2.485).
128 Donald Lateiner

The poet Ovid “speaks” as a woman (transvocalism?) in the lonely Hero-

ides and often again in the Metamorphoses. He takes transgendered pro-
sopopoeia (Enterline 2000: 21) further, when he thinks himself into the bodies
of vulnerable women in the Metamorphoses. His women recognize that they
do not own themselves or their bodies – unless a she becomes a he, by change
of dress and/or sex. Caenis/eus, we shall see, clearly articulates that solution
and outcome. Ovid’s violated women, especially artists like “foolish” Arachne
and clever Philomel, often restage his own predicaments. Arachne’s woven
artistry made and unmade her, as poetry made and unmade Magister Naso. If
one equates other heroines’ often exceptionally good looks and the attention it
draws with his exceptionally good poetry (cf. Enterline 2000: 235 n. 54; Forbis
1997), Ovid’s interest in their victimization seems no coincidence. The “god”
Augustus burned the body of his erotic works, drove him bodily overseas, and
made this poet self-censor himself and his words. Augustus “disappeared” him
to Romania in order to alter his Roman identity. Ovid equates his poetry, spe-
cifically the Metamorphoses, with himself, his body’s innards (Trist. 1.7.19-
20; cf. 1.1.114: his children):
(...) mecum peritura libellos
imposui rapidis viscera nostra rogis.
“I placed my books of poetry – about to perish along with myself –
my own guts, on the fast-burning funeral pyre.”
Human bodies are fragile, composed of members that more powerful beings
can chop up, dismember.12 Ovidian bodies suffer sexual and other violence and
dissolution. The many rapes do no victim a benefit. Bodies deceive, as when
Leucothoë and Pomona admit pseudo-crones to their private rooms or enclo-
sures, convinced by fraudulent presentations that their visitors are post-sexual
females. Cross-dressing (if not cross-sexing) as women offered the gods a
throwaway tool for rape. Bodies can be beautiful, and “the rhetoric of the
body” (Enterline 2000) produces powerful persuasion. Bodily beauty over-
comes good sense for, e.g., the females Europa, Salmacis and Echo, and the
males Narcissus, Iphis II and Apollo. Divine bodies have no fixed boundaries
and remain invulnerable or quickly restore themselves.
All humans have vulnerable bodies and women more so. As genitals de-
termine gender, so speech organs define functional humanity. After the tongue

12 Actaeon’s hounds, Pentheus’ relatives and Orpheus’ admirers dismember them; Apollo flays
Marsyas; Tereus cuts out Philomela’s tongue; Procne daydreams of gouging Tereus’ eyes,
cutting out his tongue and cutting off his penis (Met. 6.616, 6.644-646) before she and her
sister butcher and joint her son. Collecting the re-membered body is part of Euripides’ trag-
edy but not Ovid’s comedy. Some who retain their tongues after metamorphosis still lose
their speech, such as the bestialized Lycaon, Io, Actaeon or the partly disabled, fully disem-
bodied spirit of Echo.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 129

fails or fades, many Ovidian bodies continue speaking in a tongueless lan-

guage, body language, often to beg for love or pity from someone who feels
and provides neither. This ugly disconnect produces sympathy in the reader.
Bodies, in biological reality, exhibit one sex or the other.13 Changing one’s
birth sex by arranging a change in one’s sex organs has always been a rare but
possible outcome produced by nature through hormonal abnormalities, usually
at puberty.14 Change of sex, however, by surgical intervention was almost im-
possible in antiquity. Only recently have physicians become able or willing to
offer this ethically fraught surgical choice of defining somatic features.15 The
decision to cross the binary sexual divide obviously perplexes and often angers
the transsexual’s family and earlier acquaintances. Shifting identities, return to
old ones, and/or existence in between as a hermaphrodite, neither fish nor fowl
(to mix metaphors), cause even more discomfort.16
Clothes and accessories modify and adapt our bodies to circumstances, in-
ternal and external. Pants or earrings, neckties or high-heeled shoes, also send
significant messages to audiences about whether and when we are serious and
what sort of business we mean.17 Clothes protect the body, but they also con-
ceal and enhance it. Clothes, by their gendered attributes and associations,
make the man or woman (sex) a man or woman (gender). The revelation and
concealment of precisely the primary and secondary sexual characteristics
have focussed the energies of clothiers and couturiers and drawn the attention
of artists and authors. For them as well as for casual interlocutors, universal

13 Nature, in one of every 300,000 births, produces an hermaphroditic baby (Miller 1999: 224 n.
3) and so violates this cultural dichotomy. Many such births undergo rapid surgical interven-
tion, with families and medical establishments in agreement. This unadvertised fact distorts
current perceptions of the frequency of hermaphroditism.
14 Pliny the Elder reports cases of androgynes or hermaphrodites (Nat. hist. 11.262) and sex-
changes (Nat. hist. 7.36). Diodorus (22.11.1-4, 32.10.2-9) provides further examples. Phlegon
of Tralles’ Book of Marvels (4-10; see Hansen 1996) reports on largely pubescent changes of
sex. Galen discusses female genitalia as inverted or “outside in” male genitalia (De usu part.
XIV.6 [II 296-297 Helmreich, IV 158-160 Kühn]). Foucault pondered the analogous case of
extrusion of male genitalia in his 1980 introduction, dossier and published memoir of Ade-
laide Herculine Barbin. Her parents registered her as a girl at birth (1838), but s/he died a
man at 30. Barbin was disturbed when he read Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Foucault 1980: 18).
15 Bullough & Bullough (1993: 203-225) provide a convenient history of the medicalization of
sexual transformations. Christine Jorgensen and Jan (James) Morris composed two famous
twentieth-century autobiographies, from the inside out, of surgical “sex reassignment”.
16 Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex (2002) imaginatively pictures the mental, emotional and
physical problems of a hermaphrodite from inside, from a first-person point of view. Ovid’s
story unexpectedly appears as the protagonist Calliope’s memoir of her stint in a San Fran-
cisco sex-shop’s peephole production in a pool (490-491). Griggs (1998) provides a non-
fiction account of herself and others who have changed clothes and sex.
17 Ekman and Friesen’s (1969) term “adaptors”, with three sub-categories of self-, alter- and ob-
ject-, has seemed awkward to many, but for this essay it usefully covers self-grooming,
touching (haptics) and clothing.
130 Donald Lateiner

sex and sartorial differences provide apparently essential information.18 There

is general discomfort in the presence of a person of indeterminate gender. The
long-standing fuss over cross-dressing may indicate “an ideal site for the study
of cultural discourses about gender and sexuality” (Garber 1992: 5). Crossing
attributed sex and gender boundaries violates near universal taboos. Gender-
coding exceptions exist for carefully demarcated and structured rituals and for
certain social roles such as Asiatic shamans, Indian hijras and Omani xaniths
(cf. Bullough & Bullough 1993: 8-13). In vestments known to belong to the
‘other’ sex or with physically altered genitalia, an individual disturbs social hi-
erarchies and transgresses political and religious commandments. Seemingly
non-negotiable “facts” are contradicted – often with unfortunate consequences
for the deceivers and/or the deceived.
Ovid deployed somatic and sartorial transmogrifications in his extended
trigonometric exploration of sex, gender and power. In the Metamorphoses,
gods take on the clothes and bodily features of humans (male or female), birds
and animals, occasionally an aspect of the atmosphere such as shower or cloud
(Met. 1.599-600, 4.611), usually for sexual ends.19 When gods change sex or
clothes or leave their default (?) anthropoid forms entirely, amatory pursuit al-
ways motivates their deceptions (ludo is the thematic verb). The artist Arach-
ne’s crowded exposé (Met. 6.103-126) amply attests this mythic fact of Ovid’s
Ovid, here as often, drinks from the font of anthropomorphic epiphanies,
namely Homer, and his many imitators, including Vergil (Aen. 1.314-320: Ve-
nus, 5.647-649: Iris, etc.). The disguises of the gods already enrich Homer’s
epics, revealing and concealing themselves to meddle the better in the amusing
human realm. Sometimes they come to human playgrounds expecting sex, sol-
ace or for testing their toys’ behaviour.20 Other times they appear briefly on
earth to yank hair, duel, tussle or gently advise their human protégés. Athena
interacts with many characters in the Odyssey in the (dis-)guise of a man, in-
deed of many different men and several women, and once of a prepubescent

18 See Garber (1992) and Hoberman (1997) for literary interest in the nineteenth and twentieth
century, in particular, for the subject of transvestism. Bullough & Bullough’s (1993) chapters
1-8 provide a longer durée.
19 Jupiter creates a cloud to rape Io and to hide his escapade from his justly suspicious wife.
Arachne in her catalogue of divine disguisings reprises Danaë and adds Aegina fooled by a
flame in the same line (Met. 6.113: Ovid’s flame is elsewhere unknown).
20 E.g. the Homeric Hymns to Aphrodite (sex with Anchises; and cf. Il. 2.820), Demeter (solace
for Persephone’s rape by Hades), the Odyssey (e.g. 17.484-487: testing by entertaining angels
unawares). Theological comprehensiveness requires mention that such transformations also
can come as a punishment for behaviour irritating to Zeus, the case with Aphrodite’s forced
sexual venture, what looks like the date rape of Anchises. Other reasons for gods’ earthly so-
journs include inflicted service to mortals, wandering exile from Olympus and quests.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 131

girl (Homer, Od. 7.19-38). Humans can penetrate divine disguises, as both
Ajax and H. J. Rose (1956) noted: gods’ gait, smell, complexion and clothing
identify them, especially (oddly) when seen from behind.21 The goddess also
works her plastic will and skills on her favourite mortal hero, Odysseus. She
alters into advanced decrepitude, for his protection, his skin, eyes and hair, and
also his clothing and accessories – rag, hide, staff, wallet with rope (Homer,
Od. 13.429-438, 16.173-175, 16.430-433: body-adaptors). She reverses these
at opportune moments with her wand. She can also hyper-beautify him after a
bath, when the time is ripe (e.g. Od. 6.229-237 and 23.153-163), or hide him in
a localized “divine” fog (Od. 7.41-42). Homeric precedent validated further ae-
tiological experiments by Ovid’s predecessors and Ovid himself.

2. Transsexuals
This generally one-way transformation22 consists in Ovid’s narratives of hu-
man bodies crossing the sharp gender boundary in extreme mythic circum-
stances.23 Women elect to change into men to gain status and various advan-
tages in the highly male-privileged ancient classical myths. Men find them-
selves occasionally changed against their will into women. They thereby lose
status and suffer gender-dimorphic degradation of strength and privilege (Os-
mun 1978: 75; Bullough & Bullough 1993: 24). In the fluid world of Ovid’s
Metamorphoses, this sexual change process occurs, in varied forms, arguably
seven times (Tiresias, Sithon, Hermaphroditus, Mestra, Iphis, Caenis and the
Coronids). The change of genus and species, into bird, animal, or river or tree
is a thousand-fold more common. While literary critics must focus on the texts

21 Ajax (Il. 13.71-72) perceives a god, Achilles does not (Il. 21.600). Goddess Athene mystifies
Diomedes by means of mist (Il. 5.127-128).
22 Gods and goddesses masque themselves by sex, age and status but can and do revert
(anamorphosis) to their divine gender defaults instantly and at will. The Latin words imago,
figura and forma do not clarify whether a male god has assumed the outward disguise
(clothes, jewelry, cosmetics) of a woman while keeping his male body, or changed into the
body of a woman. When Jupiter becomes, e.g., a bull “for” Europa (Met. 3.1, 6.103, 8.122),
the metamorphosis of the body is clearly conveyed, and so I assume for the merely transsex-
ual divine imagines. Vertumnus was the imago of a real reaper, and devised many other for-
mae to gain entry to Pomona’s presence, including the devious anus, but in iuvenum rediit
(“reverted to a male youth”), when his elaborate disguises failed of their lubricious purpose. I
believe Ovid had in mind a complete bodily transformation, since a god has no reason to
hesitate and can later re-form himself with his proper genital equipment.
23 Perhaps the myths of sex change grew out of surviving, incomprehensible rituals of dress
change, although Forbes Irving (1990: 150), in a salubrious review of unprovable hypotheses,
expresses skepticism. The aetiologies present in such stories matter nothing for Ovid’s expo-
sitions, except as one notes his parody of Hellenistic learned antiquarianism. Transsexuals of
social necessity change their garb to match their altered sex, so the more severe – less re-
versible – change often entails the lesser change of clothes.
132 Donald Lateiner

as given, this disproportion seems significant of Ovid’s perception of sex-

change as more difficult for readers to accept.
The important exceptions to the Ovidian one-way change rule consist of
one man, Tiresias, and several gods who briefly become crones to penetrate
women’s quarters and worm their way into the graces of attractive young
maids. Proxemic protocols inhibited, and generally prohibited, virile males
(not boys or geezers) from approaching young women. Sol deceives and forces
Leucothoë thus, as old lady. Apollo rapes Chione after donning such a role
(Met. 11.310: Phoebus anum simulat). Vertumnus does the same with and to
Pomona.24 Let us examine in detail Ovid’s seven examples of sex-change.
1. Tiresias changes sex (Met. 3.316-338: deque viro factus (mirabile!) femina)
after having seen and struck the forbidden, here a pair of copulating snakes.
Transformed from male to female for his violation, he is temporarily un-
manned, in all senses. Later, he learned how to transform herself (sic) back
again to male and did so. His desired and enacted anamorphosis signals the
preferability (to this Theban male, at least) of being male. Juno and Jove, sub-
sequently, engaged in a pleasant marital dispute (de lite iocosa). On a whim,
they consulted him on the issue of which sex enjoys greater voluptas in acts of
sex. His response, informed by unique experience, was that women find more
pleasure in sexual intercourse (Met. 3.323: Venus huic erat utraque nota). His
answer led to unpleasant ocular consequences (eye gouging = Freudian castra-
tion?) for him. Tiresias now became both blind as a result of Juno’s anger and
prophetic from Jove’s desire to compensate him for his loss and pains.
2. Alcithoë, the last of the anti-Bacchic Minyeides sisters to tell stories, prefers
novelty and refuses to relate the sex change of a certain Sithon (Met. 4.279; a
cipher in mythology, as far as modern editors know). This praeterition intro-
duces her extended story of a different, permanent sex change for Hermaphro-
ditus. Sithon conveniently starts with a gender-ambivalent name but a male-
gendered epithet (4.280): ambiguus fuerit modo vir, modo femina Sithon. Per-
haps he switches sex once, or he becomes someone of uncertain sex. More
likely, in view of the meaning of modo ... modo,25 he repeatedly varied his sex,
“now a man, then a woman”, in a uniquely disturbing change of the laws of na-

24 Ovid closely models the nymph Salmacis’ cautious approach and seductive speech to Her-
maphroditus on the prototype of Odysseus and Nausicaa, but he inverts the aggressive gender
(Od. 6.149-161, Met. 4.320-328). Odysseus’ total lack of clothing (except a branch) com-
pounded his hungry, shipwrecked dilemma in approaching the nubile Nausicaa at the beach.
Pomona/Pomus her/himself was of indeterminate gender (Pomonus appears in the Iguvine
tablets), although not in Ovid.
25 OLD s.v. 6, citing also the similar Met. 2.189, 13.922 etc. Better: Met. 2.206, 2.414, 2.866-
867, 4.722, 5.483, 6.123, 7.781 and 8.873 (nunc ... nunc ... modo ... modo). There are eight
other examples later in the Metamorphoses.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 133

ture: naturae iure novato (4.279). Readers never learn from the internal narra-
tor Alcithoë’s self-conscious, laconic praeterition (her word) any details of
Sithon’s story, such as when s/he went in which direction. After the praeambu-
lum, Alcithoë delivers her main narrative, boasting of a precious novelty in
Hermaphroditus’ history. The honorific Alexandrian narratrix Alcithoë cher-
ishes this infamis story because she will not repeat “your well known loves of
a shepherd” (4.276: vulgatos taceo ... pastoris amores). She holds her sisters’
attention with a story unknown (4.284: dulcique animos novitate tenebo). 26
Since sources for Hermaphroditus are much richer than for Sithon’s obscure
tale,27 Ovid plays a joke on readers, recasting the tale of the more familiar fig-
ure without narrating the less familiar.
3. Hermaphroditus (Met. 4.285-388) alters from a presexual fifteen-year-old
male (nescit enim, quid amor) to an asexual rejecter of Salmacis’ unwelcome
amor (4.336: ‘desinis an fugio tecumque’ ait ‘ista relinquo?’) to finally a bi-
sexual amphibian, the originating hermaphrodite and the cause of the pool’s
damaging qualities.28 His telltale name, like so many (e.g. Lycaon, Pentheus,
Iphis), foreshadows his unintended, inflicted endgame. Unfamiliar with amor,
he becomes Salmacis’ luscious, unwilling prey in her inescapable, violent oc-
topus embrace (4.366: ut ... polypus). The constricting nympho-maniac seeks
union at any price.29
The story initially describes the lovely puella at her toilette, heightening
by hair-do and cosmetics her already considerable sexual allure. Salmacis is an
anti-Daphne or Callisto – a nymph in Diana’s service but uniquely only inter-
ested in varying styles of couture and in arranging her hair for beaux. She
scorns hunting and killing animals (4.302-316: nec venatibus apta). Thus, she
avoids her chaste and oft chiding, anti-sexual sisters. Diaphanous clothing suits
her interests and beauty (4.313). She plucks flowers, like Persephone before

26 This Book Four began with one of the Minyeides, Callimachean composers before the fact,
telling the unfamiliar tale of Pyramus and Thisbe because hoc placet; haec quoniam vulgaris
fabula non est (Met. 4.53).
27 Aside from the later sources mentioned below, see Delcourt’s monograph (1961: 53-55 dis-
cuss Ovid’s treatment) and the puzzlingly rich, gamy visual records of hermaphrodites. Cer-
tainly, Alcithoë’s other examples, aside from Daphnis – Celmis, Smilax, Crocos – are obscu-
28 All previous versions of the myth present Hermaphroditus as bisexual from birth, not the re-
sult of a metamorphosis (Delcourt 1961: 54), a fact leading scholars to posit considerable
Ovidian invention here.
29 Most Ovidian nymphs shun sex, although Echo and the catalogue of all the woodland
nymphs who panted for fifteen year-old Picus (Met. 14.326-332) are obvious exceptions.
134 Donald Lateiner

her rape, but this time, more logically, the plucker is the rapist and not the vic-
Before approaching her wandering lover at first sight, she considers the
state of her amictus and vultus: she must be formosa videri, an attractive object
for him (4.318-319). Her seductive lines do not then amuse or engage the less
worldly, male virgin Hermaphroditus. Yet, after threatening his own departure,
her apparent departure tricks him into enjoying and diving naked into her, that
is, her warm and lovely pool. Although he then thrashes manfully in the water,
the white-skinned lad cannot escape and becomes both the sexual victim of her
groping and a new creature. More vulnerable without the protection of land
and the self-esteem of sex-identified clothes, Hermaphroditus’ story ends with
his entwinement and capture. He loses his virility and gains (not necessarily
his view) a new sexual genus, a being endowed with both male and female
sexual organs (4.286): Salmacis enervet tactosque remolliat artus (“She un-
strung [desexed]31 him, and by touch she tenderized his limbs”). His voice too
was unmanned (4.382: non voce virili – a paralinguistic observation; cf. 12.204,
Caeneus). The unmanned male grafted to the embracing female becomes half
of a biform. He thus dissolves the Roman and still dominant binary sexual sys-
tem in a barely translatable pair of lines (Met. 4.378-379):
nec duo sunt sed forma duplex, nec femina dici
nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur.
“They are not two but have a dual appearance, not describable as woman
or boy, they appear neither – and both.”
His paradoxical, clearly unwelcome bisexuality (semimas, semivir, mixta duo-
rum) leads to linguistic bivalency, singular subject/plural verb, pronominal
paradox, category crisis – who does what to whom? (cf. Nugent 1990: 174-
Ovid’s Hermaphroditus and his malicious spring perhaps “explained” for
some the origin of passive [mollis] homosexuality, the necessary aspect of
same-sex coupling (penetrated vs. penetrator) with which the Romans, at least,
were uncomfortable. Previously, the learned narratrix claims, this aetiology (of
the spring) was unknown (causa latet). Hermaphroditus/Salmacis is/are the
only creature(s) in the poem to enjoy or suffer simultaneous bisexuality, not
successive, as Tiresias and Caenis/Caeneus did. The name, itself a copulative

30 Nugent (1990: 168-169) remarks how Ovid has here attributed to Salmacis, a female, the
gaze, force and speed of male desire.
31 This pun on an elegiac euphemism for penis well illustrates the intergeneric interests of the
longtime elegist (e.g. Am. 2.10.24, 3.7.35). The OLD does not notice the elegists under ner-
vus, 1b. Salmacis’ total body immersion of him in her [waters] demasculates him both sexu-
ally and in terms of gender.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 135

compound honouring two gods of “opposite sex” often jointly venerated (e.g.
at Halicarnassus, Samos, Argos, Athens, Kato Syme), takes a masculine gen-
der in grammar, but denotes an individual of effeminated gender in the story
(Brisson 2002: 169 n. 34). Salmacis’ excessive and unwanted embrace evokes
Ouranos’ embraces of Gaia (in Hesiod’s Theogony). The primeval divine sex-
ual attacks paradoxically blocked any further generation. The uncomfortably
eternal copulative union of Sky and Earth, like that of Salmacis and Hermaph-
roditus, reverses a steady trend towards increasing cosmic differentiation. So,
it produced sterility (Brisson 2002: 58). 32 Two individuals become one, or
fewer, in union. Two potentially fertile beings become only one, semi-
something and a non-productive monster by standards of nearly all eras
(4.378-381, 4.386). Pythagoras too condemns the resulting “obscene” waters
(Met. 15.319). The sterile Hermaphroditus with outstretched hands and a
woman’s voice ironically invokes his parents’ philoprogenitive pietas in libe-
ros (Met. 4.380-388).
Salmacis – already ultra-feminine in dress, self-absorption, and form –
seizes Hermaphroditus, a male who is not yet fully masculine, still only an
adolescent puer of fifteen years (Met. 4.288, 292, 316, 320). Elements of nar-
cissism, penis envy and castration anxiety, to use modern Freudian terms,
emerge. The boy’s “disturbing indistinction” and Salmacis’ extreme femininity
produce a combined being that can be only half-male, diminished at best.33
Ovid’s contemporaries, the Roman Vitruvius (De arch. 2.8.11-12) and the
Greek geographer Strabo (14.2.16) wrote extant accounts of the spring. Ovid
writes: vis est notissima fontis (Met. 4.287). No known previous version, how-
ever, of this aetiological myth exists. Strabo and Vitruvius react negatively to
the unscientific ascription of demasculinizing power to the waters of the spring.
Hermaphroditus is a deprived and maleficent being, not an enriched and be-
neficent one. Ovid uses the spring’s unsavoury contemporary reputation to ex-
plain something more important to him: how the passive role in homosexual
love came to be. At Met. 10.79-85 and 152-154, his narrator Orpheus turns to
paederastic homosexuality and tales of explicitly illicit sexualities after the loss
of his heterosexual love and wife Eurydice.
The “aesthetics of ambiguity” attracted Ovid. Betwixt and between liminal
states attract his wonder and narratorial intrusions (e.g. Met. 4.661). Although
the world is happier, more relaxed, when genus and gender stay fixed, or com-
plete a change, Ovid often emphasizes the becoming more than the before and
after, the cause and effects. His Pythagoras ponders transmutation of bodies as

32 One might argue that Ovid’s new creature is asexual in fact and intends harm to all who visit
his/her waters.
33 This paragraph is indebted to Delcourt (1961), Nugent (1990) and Brisson (2002: esp. 42, 45,
136 Donald Lateiner

well as transmigration of souls (Met. 15.317-321, 15.408-410). Ovid’s mouth-

piece of sorts, the Crotoniate sage and narrator, says that the hyena34 alternates
between male and female stages (Met. 15.409-410):
alternare vices et, quae modo femina tergo
passa marem est, nunc esse marem miremur hyaenam.
“The alternation of [sex] roles: the female [hyena] that just before
allowed a male to mount her, but now we marvel to find [her] a male hyena.”
Hermaphroditus presents a new sight in one of Ovid’s dangerous poolscapes
(cf. Actaeon, Narcissus). Object of Salmacis’ desire, he enters the pool as a
handsome boy with womanish features (blush, skin colour or hue, slender
limbs) and deportment. He remains stuck there forever as a watery half-man.
Like an ivory figure encased in glass (4.354-355), he has become a novelty,
objectified, immobilized and aestheticized (Hinds 2002: 138). Ovid’s story
does not celebrate this middlesexed person; both parties seem neurotically self-
4. King Erysichthon sold his daughter, Princess Mestra, into sexual slavery,
prostitution (Met. 8.847-874), once the sacrilegious ax-man had consumed his
other marketable goods and riches. After her father counted his price, she had
the power of shifting shape/sex to males (such as a fisherman, or other animals
– at any time and repeatedly). Neptune granted such magical power to this
beautiful woman as (some) recompense for raping her. Thereafter, whenever
her father hungered condignly because of his hybristic sin against the food-
goddess Ceres, he sold his daughter. After the sale, in a trice, she would shift
shape (8.871: transformia corpora). When human, she (as a he) would inform
any recent purchaser of her concupiscible flesh that she had not seen that day
any one (man) or any woman but ‘himself’, i.e. herself (8.867-868: nemo iam-
dudum … me tamen excepto nec femina constitit ulla). Her clothes and badges
of identity (object adaptors), when posing as a fisherman, fit her assumed male
identity – including a phallic fishing rod (cf. Cephalus’ or Caeneus’ phallic
5. Isis transsexes Iphis, female to male (Met. 9.668: Iphide mutata) in the nick
of time (unusque dies restabat) on his/her wedding day. The indigent father-to-
be, Ligdus, had insisted that the mother dispose of the child, if it arrived a girl.

34 Aristotle already denied the bisexuality of the hyena (Hist. anim. 579b), but Pliny the Elder
reproduced it in Latin pseudo-science. Pliny’s Naturalis historia shows interest in sexual as
well as other abnormalities (Nat. hist. 8.44: bisexual, transsexual in alternate years and capa-
ble of virgin births). Cf. Viarre (1985: 243).
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 137

He unhappily demands infanticide (‘si femina partu /… necetur’). 35 Her/his

mother Telethusa (of ominous name: “Sacrifice for Rituals”), before the birth
and again before the marriage, offers fervent pleas to the goddess in hopes of
her miraculous intervention and solution. At the behest of Counsel Isis, mother
had kept and raised her child (9.699: tollere quidquid erit), somehow success-
fully concealing her sex and reversing her announced gender. Telethusa de-
ceives her husband who in ignorance coincidentally (not providently) selected
for the child his/her grandfather’s name, the bisexual appellation Iphis. Father
Ligdus’ choice of Iphis’ name is unintentionally ambivalent and so not decep-
tive, to the anxious mother’s delight (9.710): quod commune foret nec quem-
quam falleret illo.
While still a little girl, she presents as a boy (pia mendacia), first, so that
her mother can keep her father in the dark. Second, the mother stays faithful to
Isis’ promise of a good outcome, if the child be raised (9.678-679, 697-701).
Mother and daughter keep the girl’s sex hidden from both father’s private and
Phaestian public knowledge. The child grew up beautiful to the marriageable
age of thirteen still wearing boys’ clothes and of indiscernable sex in her at-
tractive physical appearance (9.712-713):
cultus erat pueri; facies, quam sive puellae
sive dares puero, fieret formosus uterque.36
“The clothes and grooming were a boy’s; the face, whether to a girl
you gave it or to a boy, would be good looking on either.”
Her father the patriarch, the ever-absent presence (9.715, 9.766-770), in his ig-
norance forces the issue by marrying off his “son”. The choice of Ianthe is
welcome, but the problem persists. The beautiful bride-to-be Ianthe’s teenaged
reciprocal passion for charming Iphis, a girl still but ‘passing’ as a ‘boy’, en-
ables Ovid to craft sly tropes and jokes about Iphis’ parlous situation. She
knows what she is. Ovid provides polyptotic clauses in Met. 9.725 (ardetque in
virgine virgo) and 9.734 (femina femineo), and the ambiguities of common
gender noun and adjective at the transformational climax (e.g. 9.786-789:
comes, acrior). Iphis soliloquizes a hexameter diatribe against her own same-
sex love, based on a common, if incorrect, view of an entirely and uninterrupt-
edly heterosexual animal kingdom. 37 The conclusion of her self-suasoria

35 The preference for male progeny, never surprising in patriarchal societies, appears in the
papyrological record, e.g. P. Oxy. 744.
36 Ovid emphasizes more than once this bisexual character of pubescent good looks.
37 Met. 9.734: femina femineo correpta cupidine nulla est. Aside from zoology, innocent Iphis
seems unaware of other Sapphic romances in Greek mythology. In the same book (9.468-
519), indeed the immediately previous story, Byblis in her clever soliloquy constructs a case
for violating another norm, the incest taboo. Ovid may contrast the wicked sister’s erotic pas-
sion and catastrophe and the pious, innocent lover’s erotic passion and reward.
138 Donald Lateiner

against violating the same-sex taboo arrives: vellem nulla forem (“I wish I
were not a girl at all”). 38 In her gender dysphoria, she idly daydreams that
some clever Daedalus could change her sex, or her fiancée Ianthe’s, by his
magic arts (9.743-744). Rather, she faces an impossible situation where “we
two girls marry” (nubimus ambae) – the institutional verb of marriage not at all
suiting a female marrying another woman.39
Only after Iphis’ mother’s frantic but necessary delays of the problematic,
paternally arranged wedding and many prayers does Isis fulfil her original
promise. Telethusa, the observant devotee of Isis, takes her “daughter” to the
goddess’s temple, removes their hair bands, and after letting down their hair,
she embraces the altar (9.770-772) – gestural signs of extreme neediness. The
loosened hair is also Bacchic and oriental, perhaps Isiac (Hill 1999: ad loc., re-
ferring to Aen. 7.401-403 and Met. 4.6-7, 4.521, 7.257). The mother’s renewed
prayers for a miracle contain the standard kletic elements: invocation, four di-
vine Egyptian “addresses”, past dealings and petition.
The goddess moves the nearby unmovable objects, providing propitious
omens. Now, Iphis leaves the Cretan temple, a differently sexed person, identi-
fied by non-verbal cues. Her features, self-presentation and gestures “natur-
ally” change when her sex does. She leaves the precinct with longer strides,
darker skin, greater muscles, shorter hair; she greets a new day as a genitally
endowed male. She now is the male she had heretofore pretended to be. One
presumes that she keeps her already male clothes, in conformity with her suc-
cessful passage into marriageable gender (and age).40 In an ecstatic apostrophe,
the anonymous Ovidian narrator states: femina nuper eras, puer es. date mu-
nera templis. The consequent epigraphic titulus reads (9.794): DONA PUER
SOLVIT QUAE FEMINA VOVERAT IPHIS (“Iphis the boy fulfilled the
vows which [Iphis the girl] had vowed”). Isis successfully erased the unwanted
gender of girl and granted Iphis’ protreptic dream-wish of becoming a boy
(9.666-797). Venus, Juno and Hymenaeus all bless the win-win marital union

38 Or “I wish I were nothing/dead”, an interpretation preferred in the commentaries of Bömer

(1977: 495) and Hill (1999: 163).
39 The verb for a male entering into marriage (ducat) appears in the same verse (Met. 9.763).
40 Relevant here are Spartan customs in which a woman on her wedding night shaves her hair
from her head and waits in men’s clothes for her new husband. At Argos, newly married
women wore a false beard; at Cos, on the wedding-night, men put on women’s clothes to
await their bride (Plutarch, Lyc. 15.5; Mor. 245e-f; also summarized in Bullough & Bullough
1993: 26). Greek marriage occasioned dramatic tableaux of gender differentiation. This
transvestism marked/forced the end of childish uncertainty (Leitao 1995: 162).
41 Miller (1999: 243) notes that weddings provide “the best attested type of rite de passage
cross-dressing in the Greek world.” This double-switch of clothes and sex has a happier end-
ing than our other tales.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 139

Of the thirteen tales of transsexuality and transvestism that Ovid relates

and we discuss, only Iphis’ comedy involves and specifies both one gender’s
cross-dressing as the other and that person’s permanent change (not a brief
disguise) of sex. That unique combination and the happy wedding tale’s
placement at the end of a book, Nine – immediately prior to the catastrophe of
Orpheus and Eurydice’s wedding that begins Book Ten and continues with all
sorts of illicit passions (Met. 10.153-154: inconcessae ignes; cf. 9.639) – marks
the story as one of particular significance in Ovid’s heterogeneous collection.
Aperture and closure are two secrets of Ovid’s workshop not yet fully revealed.
6. Caenis/eus (Met. 12.169-209) changes from fair maid to impenetrable male
warrior. 42 Neptune raped Caenis, Thessaly’s loveliest female and one disin-
clined to marriage – despite the usual hordes of suitors (12.190, 192, 195-196).
The transformation delivers limited recompense for rape; not the first such un-
equal commercial transaction between gods and women that Ovid develops.
Her rape is the cost of her biological “progress” into impenetrability, sexual
and military (corpore non laeso). Her beauty was her downfall. Her boon is a
wish for a change of sex that the sea god instantly fulfils, as her deepened
voice declares before she is finished wishing (12.203-207). She laconically
wishes to become a non-female (ergo, male), so that she not be subject to fur-
ther sexual manhandling or rape: da femina ne sim. She changes sex and
clothes. Now she can exercise with the men (studiis virilibus), become a hy-
per-aggressive warrior, long before his final heroic battle with the centaurs.
Caeneus proceeds from less than a man to something more than a man (Forbes
Irving 1990: 162).
Nestor relates Caeneus’ sequential sexual history, introducing the (first)
metamorphosis with (12.174-175): (...) quoque id mirum magis esset in illo, /
femina natus est. Later, in the parody of epic symposiastic mayhem and weap-
onry,43 Nestor provides the epic catalogue of Caeneus’ kills and “Barker” La-
treus’ sexist insults (12.459-476). Latreus himself is a biform (bimembris)
Centaur freak, betwixt and between even in his polysyndetic and homoio-
teleutic age: inter iuvenemque senemque. In good epic style, he vaunts and
taunts his final opponent, Caeneus (12.470-476: tu mihi femina semper) for his
birth, his having suffered rape, and his false exterior (viri falsam speciem). He
urges him to return to women’s work, distaff and wool baskets (Ovid is think-
ing of Andromache and Hector in Il. 6.490-492). In sum: bella relinque viris.
For his repeated and pointedly fruitless pains in wielding his sword on Cae-

42 Caenis’ equation between sexual and battle vulnerability ratifies the Roman penetrator-
penetrated conceptual dichotomy.
43 See Homer, Od. 21.295-298 for the incautious suitor Antinous’ cautionary tale, the ironic
mythological paradigm of the Lapiths and the Centaurs’ drunken brawling.
140 Donald Lateiner

neus, in striking the invulnerable, impenetrable (imperfossus) transsexual,

Caeneus kills him, polyptotically ripping his guts out (12.493: vulnusque in
vulnere fecit). Monychus the ‘One Hoofed’, also of duplex natura, complains
that Caeneus, although vixque vir and semimas (12.500, 12.506), shows him-
self more a man than he and his fellow Centaurs (12.500-501): nos segnibus
actis / quod fuit ille [a woman!], sumus. The irony that centaurs are males but
not men is evidently lost on him. Eventually the monsters bury under tree
trunks him/her whom they cannot kill by the usual penetrative wounding. So
perished maxime vir quondam (12.530), Nestor’s heartfelt, if ironic, tribute to
Caeneus’ bent or second, assumed gender. Whether he suffocated under the
logs or escaped the pile as a tawny bird, as only Nestor and Mopsus opined,
exitus in dubio est.44
7. A great artist has engraved the Theban daughters of Orion, eventually called
the Coronids (“Garlands”?, Met. 13.692-699; cf. Lafaye’s list [1904: 248]), on
a large drinking bowl. Orion’s virgin daughters sacrifice themselves to save
their seven-gated city. Their self-sacrifice goes beyond expectations of the
‘weaker sex’ (13.693: non femineum iugulo dare vulnus aperto). It won them,
or at least their ashes, the reward of rebirth as young men (13.697-698: de vir-
ginea geminos exire favilla / … iuvenes). Their reward confirms the comfort-
able, sexist Roman term of ultimate approbation, vir-tus. Anius the king cere-
moniously presents the long ecphrasis as a heroic guest-gift for Aeneas when
he leaves Delos.45
These seven human changes of sex provide both rewards and punishments.
The narrator Priest, Delian Anius, makes a discomfiting remark just before
telling the Coronid story to Aeneas. Ending the tale of Bacchus transforming
the King’s own daughters into white doves for their protection and security, he
wonders and worries “if to lose one’s proper [human] form can be called [a
god’s real] help” (13.670-671: si miro perdere more / ferre vocatur opem).
That is, does a total change of identity provide a desirable benefit? – an im-
portant issue in this poem. Tiresias and Hermaphroditus found no good or
pleasure in their demasculation. Mestra, Iphis and Caeneus certainly benefitted

44 Both the issue and the two final words are elided. Nestor’s dramatic apostrophe italicizes the
escape (Met. 12.522, 12.531): “avis nunc unica, Caeneu.” Livy 1.16 already discussed vari-
ant versions of the end of Romulus, snatched by a whirlwind or disembodied in an effigy ris-
ing from his proleptically imperial pyre. The “variant version” alternatives (frequent in He-
rodotus) are a pseudo-historical method of having your cake and eating it. Here some say that
Caeneus was crushed and suffocated and others say that some part of him escaped and
morphed into a tawny bird. We find great men’s ominous airborne spirits rising from later
pyres also in, for example, Suetonius, Aug. 100.4 (imago), Dio 56.42.3, 56.46.2, and the
winged Genius figure (?) on the base of the column of Antoninus Pius.
45 Cf. Met. 2.1-18 for the Sun’s doors engraved by Vulcan. Ovid’s engraved wine cup also re-
flects the heroic prize of Iliad 23.740-745, Theocritus 1.27-56 and Vergil, Ecl. 3.35-48.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 141

from their defeminization – liberation from slavery, enjoying a desired mar-

riage and the end of justified sexual terrorization. The Thebans regard the re-
birth of the female Coronids as males to be a divine reward. (Sithon evades
classification, as explained above.) Ovid’s erotic teratologies have no clear di-
rection, 46 despite any evolutionary trend found in his early creation stories.
Even that brief positive spin produced by a melior natura (Met. 1.21) soon
leads to the inverse allegory of the ages. In this unsettling regression, things
become only worse and worse (Met. 1.89-162). For the pessimistic Ovid, He-
siod’s degeneration trumps Protagoras’ evolution. We turn to the less drastic
transformation, adopting the clothes of the “opposite” sex.

3. Transvestites
Dress, a significant, well nigh universal division of non-verbal behaviours
(body-alteration, adaptation), is a variable and reversible expression of gender,
class, ethnicity, age and race. Persians wore trousers, for instance, slaves wore
chitons, women wore peploi, and Roman citizens wore togas. While Greek and
Roman clothing was not as patently class- and gender-specific as European
and American garb of the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries (think
of blue jeans vs. business attire, or neckties vs. dresses and high heels, or rest-
room symbols), ancient texts generally do not express any doubt as to the gen-
der of an interactant. Clothes have usually complemented audible features
(voice timbre) and other visible body features such as skin hue, musculature,
torso size, hair treatment, facial hair and cosmetics that clarify one’s sexual
identity as male or female. Garb, however, can hide or deceive others about
one’s sex. Not surprisingly, in history as well as literature, clothing has served
such purposes, as Garber (1992) demonstrates. One can describe cross-
dressing as a form of second-class cross-gendering (for those who have no me-
tamorphic powers). Without worrying about scalpels or second thoughts – with
no permanent side effects – some few people can change their gender at any
moment for social situations by merely changing their clothes. Ovid’s epic
notices both kinds of changes. The catalogue of six Ovidian transvestic in-
stances (three gods, three humans: Jupiter, Pentheus, Sol, Procris [?], Achilles
and Vertumnus) may be fewer than expected. These transvestite additions,

46 Viarre (1985: 241-242) claims there is a positive progression (ascending epic movement) in
the sequential ensemble of Tiresias punished, Hermaphroditus as checked or neutral, Iphis
advancing to mortal adulthood and Caeneus becoming immortal. This analysis (“du châti-
ment à l’ascension”) seems forced, since Hermaphroditus bitterly laments his sexual status
before seeking and getting revenge (4.388: incesto fontem medicamine tinxit). Caeneus’ al-
leged immortality (really he experiences only transformation into a bird) arises only from the
contested view of two eye-witnesses (12.522): exitus in dubio est.
142 Donald Lateiner

however, complement, complete and certainly differ from Ovid’s transsexual

narratives of physically altered identities.47
Ovid stresses appearances – attractiveness, deportment and clothing – in
the Ars amatoria especially (e.g. 1.505-524, 3.101-125). The presentation of
self promotes or prevents amatory success. The Ars and the Amores provide
prolegomena to the many seduction sequences in the Metamorphoses. Human
and divine failures in wooing recall the “surefire” but somehow ignored eroto-
didaxis of the earlier works.48 The transvestites employ extreme cultus to ob-
tain their “off-limits” wishes. We next consider the six valid examples and two
near misses (nos. 2 and 6).
1. Callisto exhibits a lovely girl’s lack of interest in men or marriage often no-
ticed, regretted (e.g. Chione in Met. 11.302: mille procos habuit; Atalanta II in
Met. 10.568: turbam procorum), and targeted by Ovid. She similarly disdains
attention to hairstyles, clothes or weaving (Met. 2.410-416). She joined the in-
violate virgin goddess Diana’s Arcadian girl-pack with spear and bow for the
hunt. The forest hunt and the domestic hearth are one of the frequent polarities
in Ovid’s structured poem (Davis 1971: passim). Jupiter, having espied the
“loveliest” nymph, deceived Callisto by a transgendered disguise, taking
Diana’s form, face and dress (2.425: faciem cultumque). After successfully in-
gratiating him/herself as the goddess Diana herself, he raped and impregnated
her. Nine months later, this story jumps to a hot day’s swim-time period of re-
laxation and ends in the exposure of the distended pretender. In the presumed
safety of a secluded forest poolscape, the virgin goddess’ familiars undress
themselves to swim. They strip recalcitrant Callisto, already the victim of rape
and now, with her belly bulging, the victim of shaming. Then, they expel the
false virgin. She is de-initiated and ostracized from the eternally virgin “girls”.
The source of Ovid’s account underlined the necessity of virginity for the nu-
bile (menarchal?) female wishing to serve and accompany the initiatory god-
dess of teenaged girls. Ovid’s account emphasizes the unwary maiden’s na-
iveté, divine indifference to human consequences, and human (or nymphal)
lack of charity.

47 One could add Iphis here, since we saw that this tale features both transsexuality and trans-
vestism. Iphis’ mother had to cross-dress her girl-child to save its life. In addition, the brief
account of Apollo’s deception of Chione (dotatissima forma) features an apparent change of
sex and/or dress and rape in one verse (Met. 11.310). Below we mention, although Ovid
omits that element, two more traditional tales (Daphne’s duplicitous swain, Calydonian Ata-
lanta) that include cross-dressing.
48 Sharrock (2002b: 161) notes similar intratextuality between Ars 3.33-40 and Rem. 47-72: if
Medea, Pasiphaë, Dido, Ariadne and Paris (even Tereus!) had read one or the other text, their
tragic stories would have ended differently or been aborted for literature.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 143

[2.] Ovid probably knew but did not narrate another sex-driven Arcadian
transvestic story. This one reports a known male transvestite trespassing in the
myths of the arch-nymph Daphne. Daphne too, like Callisto and Atalanta, had
no interest in men or marriage (Met. 1.474-490). Parthenius (Path. 15.2) and
Pausanias (Perieg. 8.20.4) preserve a curious Arcadian version of Daphne’s
story. In this account, an Elian prince, another Leucippus,49 cross-dressed him-
self as a young virgin. The successful ploy brought him “up close and per-
sonal” with Daphne. One day, after they became friends, she and her female
companions decided to cool down and relax by swimming in the river Ladon.
They forcibly undressed the necessarily bashful deceiver, saw his sex and
killed the phoney female. They expose another pretender, this time a male,
passing as a phoney virginal female among the teenaged initiates of Diana.
Ovid preferred to develop the story in which an innocent victim was punished.
This Leucippus’ story, a cautionary tale for voyeurs and transvestites, poorly
suited his satires of powerful and divine libido.
3. Perhaps the most famous cross-dresser in the Classical tradition is Eurip-
ides’ adolescent King Pentheus of Thebes. Therefore, Ovid, ever eager as a
student of both Euripides and Callimachus not to tread the wide and familiar
path, assumes his audience pictures the tragedian’s successive confrontations
with Dionysus. He repeats nothing of the highly visual Euripidean cross-
dressing scene. This element, prominent in Pentheus’ impious plot to view the
crazed Bacchae (Euripides, Bacch. 821-861, 914-944), obviously suited the
mimetic stage. Ovid describes Pentheus’ scopophilia and σπαραγμός. While
Ovid eschews mention of Pentheus’ attempts to disguise his looks or clothing
(Met. 3.701-718), he expects his audience to fill in this familiar part of the sto-
4. Sol lusts after Leucothoë. Unable to reach her in her protected domestic
space, he takes on the disguise – presumably the sex and garb – of her once
most fair mother, Eurynome. Entering her private quarters, the thalamus, he
dismisses her handmaids because, he avers, s/he has a mother’s secrets to share
(Met. 4.218-224). When the servant women leave, his mother’s tender kisses
transform into a rapist’s threats of forced sex. In her fear, Leucothoë submits to
the bright Sun. Comparisons to the Sun’s radiance in this poem mark erotic vi-
More fiery yet is Jupiter’s incineration of his quondam love in a lightning
epiphany, after the overly curious Semele demanded to see him as he appeared

49 Dowden (1989: 59-68) catalogues nine mythical men of this name that Greek fabulists con-
jured with.
50 Gentilcore (1995: 119 n. 22) provides further references to heated approaches: Met. 3.183-
185, 4.228-233, 5.388-389.
144 Donald Lateiner

for sex to Juno (Met. 3.298-312). The temporary sexual metamorphoses and
other more drastic and fantastic disguises of the gods Jupiter, Apollo and Ver-
tumnus (below) differ from permanent human sex change, but the catalogues
overlap in intentions and outcomes. For example, recall Ovid’s description
elsewhere of Achilles’ cross-dressing on Scyros (Ars 1.681-704). Here his
hero-lover’s girlish outfit serves not as a draft-dodging ruse but an explanation
for how he gained proximity to Princess Deidamia’s body – the “girls” shared
a room that enabled easy access, intimacy and, finally, rape.51
Heroes suffer for their transgressions, such as Hercules and Cephalus.
Gods get away scot-free after they have taken their sexual pleasures. They thus
cannot seem tragic to us, but they have comic potential, at least for male audi-
ences, as they rape their way across the Ovidian beaches and landscapes. Ovid
exploits this male fascination with fantasies of gender and species masquerade
followed by successful sexual escapade. No goddess dresses as a man in this
poem, unlike (for a not so common instance) Athena in the Odyssey.
In the more successfully gender-segregated world of myth, any male in-
tending to approach a maiden profits by being a woman (difficult to achieve)
or appearing to be one (significantly easier). Elderly women had an even
greater freedom of female mobility than those still subject to pregnancy.52 Iris
briefly became the Trojan crone Beroë in order to visit more easily the Trojan
women in the Aeneid (5.605-620), and Ovid’s Juno intertextually plagiarizes
her name to approach her sexual rival Semele. She pretends to be – Beroë, Se-
meles Epidauria nutrix.53
5. Cephalus, in order to test his wife Procris’ marital fidelity, left home and
created a disguise as another man. Under his assumed new identity, he offered
Procris rich gifts in return for sex. Eventually she capitulated to his seductive
offers for copulation. Once exposed, she ran away in shame. Cephalus, who
here is Ovid’s tearful but self-protective narrator, chose not to tell another, less
savoury part of the story (he alleges that pudor restrains him).54 Ovid, never-

51 The praeceptor amoris insists that the girl was entirely willing. Even if one is not adopting a
false sexual identity, Ovid insists any friendship can develop into sexual relations (Ars
1.720): intret amicitiae nomine tectus amor.
52 Thus, Pratt (2000) explains the wisdom of Demeter’s disguise as a homeless old woman in
the Homeric Hymn.
53 Met. 3.275-279; cf. Athena’s epiphany as a crone to caution Arachne (6.26-27: falsosque in
tempora canos and a cane). Apollo selected an epiphany as crone to gain access to Chione
54 Met. 7.687-688 seems corrupt and no solution popular. Anderson’s Teubner edition cau-
tiously prints a text of the locus desperatus while Tarrant’s OCT rejects all transmitted ver-
sions (seclusi, finxi). Ovid’s sly intertextual reference to the transvestite travesty should
somehow be preserved. The equipotent marital ‘double-cross’ version appears most fully in
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 145

theless, clearly hints at it by pivoting the tale on Cephalus’ unusual “spear”.

This suppressed, complementary but uncomplimentary, tale involves his wife’s
own later disguise, in which she cross-dressed. The mythographers preserve
version(s) of this incident in which plucky Procris, after being deceived by
Cephalus (or not really deceived, in some versions), cross-dressed as yet an-
other man. Then she seduced Cephalus, her husband, with her/his own homo-
erotic offers and advances based on the offer of special toys.55 She thus shows
that her spousal deceiver was no better, and arguably worse (as homosexual),
than she was at withstanding the allures of material and sexual seduction.
Behind Cephalus’ self-serving revision of his homicidal marriage “lies a
lurid saga of adultery, corruption, bribery, transvestism, possible sodomy, and
(in … one early version …) deliberate murder.” 56 Disguise for purposes of
sexual deception is central to nearly all the cross-dressing tales (Tiresias is ex-
ceptional). Ovid in both versions of the Cephalus and Procris tale (also, Ars
3.685-746) presents a story that is “unsavoury and scandalous”, further, an in-
congruous choice of exemplar for its present didactic point in the Ars amato-
ria: “girls, don’t jump to conclusions”. In the Metamorphoses (7.665-865), the
self-exculpatory survivor Cephalus narrates the story of the spear – the gift
(merx) his wife gave him in suspicious circumstances and the very spear by
which he killed his wife. The story presents no celebration of true conjugal
love to those readers who come to Ovid with knowledge of the weapon’s pre-
Cephalus sexually betrays Procris at least five times in the myth’s tradition.
Arriving in disguise to test his spouse, he bribes her to have sex with another
man in Cephalus’ “absence”. He enjoys sex with the goddess Aurora (as early
as Hesiod, Theog. 986-987). Procris, responding to his fraud by disguising her-
self as a man, successfully seduces him with fabulous gifts (unerring spear,
never failing hunting dog) granted in return for his submitting to pathic sex
with him/her. They somehow reconcile. He continues his solitary hunting. One
hot day, as often, he calls on Aur[or]a in unmistakably erotic language to come
to him now to cool his overheated body. A busybody overhears and misunder-
stands him, at least as he tells the story. Procris, told of his erotic-seeming pre-
orgasmic blanditiae then follows him to the hills on the chase (game and sex)
to test her aroused suspicions. He calls for relief again, and she groans (gemi-

the late mythographers, but Pherecydes’ account shows how early it arose. Cephalus’ explicit
praeteritio is Ovid’s common intertextual signal, a wink to the cognoscenti.
55 Pherecydes, FGrHist 3 fr. 34 (= Schol. Od. 11.321). Met. 7.687-688; cf. Antoninus Liberalis,
Met. 41.6, Hyginus, Fab. 189.7-8.
56 Green (1979: 17-18) points out how irrelevant, even contradictory, such spousal fidelity is to
the Ars amatoria. He appreciates Ovid’s respect for, and expectation of, readers’ awareness
of the squalid erotic elements.
146 Donald Lateiner

tus) to have her suspicions apparently confirmed. Cephalus thinks her sounds
come from a lurking animal and lethally spears Procris’ body (mistaken or not
as his legitimate hunting quarry). The gift of the spear brings them both to
grief. Both learn their truths too late. Cephalus holds his wife’s moribund body
suffering her death throes, non-orgasmic cries and murmurs.
If one dwells longer on this tawdry series of deceptions, in the myth of
Cephalus and Procris, as we recover it from earlier sources, both distrustful
parties deceive their mates and provide a paradigm of infidelity, unromantic
testing, justified mistrust and tit-for-tat payback to the spouse.57 Procris em-
ploys her husband’s homosexual lust or sheer greed for hunting tools to dou-
ble-cross him, to persuade him to agree to submit to the boy’s pathic role in
sex (anal or intercrural intercourse). After “an uneasy reconciliation” of the
couple, Cephalus utters his sexy appeals to “Breeze”, Aura, by vocibus ambi-
guis (expressing anxieties relevant to both erotic and atmospheric needs). Ask-
ing any female being to come to cool his overheated person, to pleasure him in
a place of his former adulterous trysting with the similarly named goddess
Aurora, was unwise, to say the least. Having used language of innuendo ap-
propriate for meeting a paelex (Servius in Aen. 6.445),58 Cephalus flushed out
and killed his reasonably suspicious wife with his (and her) own spear. The
female hunter became the hoisted hunted.
In sum, Cephalus first deceived to seduce and expose his faithful wife.
Later, he was ready to cheat on her, basely to serve her, a putative male lover,
as a boy/woman. Procris cross-dressed, bribed and deceived to seduce and ex-
pose her husband as equally unfaithful. The master of Topsy-Turvy, Ovid
twice turned to this couple’s squalid marriage: for a paradigm for women (!) to
trust their male partners while they are engaged in their extra-marital affairs
(Ars amatoria), and for a long answer to an idle question about Cephalus’
handsome, phallic weapon – his spear (Met.). Disingenuous Cephalus’ weepy
apologia pro vita sua (Green’s witty phrase) explains the gift as both granted
by his wife (occasion left unspecified) and lethal for his wife. Killing her was a
result of his own foolish haste, he says, not his intention in a rage at her “tail-
ing” him (as Pherecydes implies).

57 Green (1979: 20-21) catalogues Procris’ dubious activities and sex-life while staying with
randy Minos in Crete during her marriage’s period of unpleasant separation, before their un-
easy reconciliation. Pasiphaë is a competitor.
58 See Green (1979: 22-23). In the verse Servius elucidates, Vergil has placed Procris in the
Fields of Grief between Phaedra and Eriphyle, two wives not celebrated for their marital
fidelity. Either Vergil is not aware of what he is doing (a bad hypothesis), or his Procris too is
no model of wifely behaviour. Homer (Od. 11.321) mentions Procris between Phaedra and
Ariadne, a slight improvement for the women’s team but hardly a happy pair of precedents.
Davis’ 1971 monograph unravels many complexities of Ovid’s anti-romance of Procris.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 147

[6.] Atalanta, unmistakably female in Ovid’s poem,59 wears the dress (cultus)
of a doughty huntress and ties her (long) hair in a knot. Ovid, however, has his
grammar appropriately cross cases in the description of the male-identified
hunter female. He describes her sexually ambiguous face with a sexual chias-
mus (“crossing”) of noun and adjective (Met. 8.322-323): dicere vere / virgi-
neam in puero, puerilem in virgine possis.60
7. Ulysses briefly recounts young Achilles’ early, unheroic battle- and death-
dodging transvestism (Met. 13.162-169). His mother had deceived everyone by
dressing her son in girls’ clothing (13.163-164: dissimulat cultu natum; sump-
tae fallacia vestis). Disguised as a merchant, Ulysses purposefully hid some
weapons appealing to virile tastes among women’s gewgaws (femineis … mer-
cibus). Wily Ulysses’ ruse snared Achilles, still accoutered in his young
woman’s wardrobe (virgineos habitus). He grabbed men’s gear including spear
and shield, and went off to the Trojan War.
8. Vertumnus’ extended story (Met. 14.609-771),61 whether truly transsexual
or merely transvestite, provides a major rape or deception narrative, again fan-
cifully misunderstood by some recent critics as a positive presentation of het-
erosexual love with a satisfactorily amorous ending.62 The twisty and twisted
oafish suitor, equipped with clumsy versions of suitable elegiac topoi (cf.
Polyphemus in Met. 13.755-884), deceives and sexually subjects the fecund
farmer girl Pomona. Ovid’s narrative exposes both the excesses of erotic pas-

59 Plato’s Atalanta (Rep. 10.620b) became a male athlete in her next life, clarifying her trans-
sexual inclinations.
60 Pasiphaë (Met. 8.131-137) poses a troubling eccentricity for the usually wholly anthropoid
transsexual and transvestite categories. A woman and wife, she ‘dressed up’ in an animal dis-
guise for bestial sex. Climbing into a hollow, roomy wooden statue of a cow (Met. 9.739),
she had arranged for the image to sport an opening in the proper place to attract the sexual at-
tentions of a bull. Their “adulterous” sexual union begot the Minotaur, a hybrid or crossbreed
(discordemque utero fetum tulit). Pasiphaë’s creative innovation (with Daedalus as artifex;
see Met. 8.159) is not the cross-dressing between genders that we see elsewhere in Ovid but
sodomy between genera. She has not attracted the sympathy that readers of Ovid’s other sex-
ual experimenters and deviants have, although Euripides in his Cretans allowed her to defend
her bestial, agalmatophilic conduct.
61 Romulus’ following story has only half the verses – so much for Ovid’s desire to feed Augus-
tus’ fervour for religious antiquarianism (Myers 1994: 246).
62 The list of so-called romances of successful love usually includes Pyramus and Thisbe,
Cephalus and Procris, Baucis and Philemon, Ceyx and Alcyone as well. Deception, violence,
objectification, or hysterical attachments pollute each of these tales, despite the optimistic ar-
guments of Brooks Otis (21970: 263-277) and others promoting conjugal ideals in Ovid.
Davis’ study (1971) of Cephalus and Procris and the problematics of passions and marriage
in the Metamorphoses can be applied to these other tales of apparent marital bliss.
148 Donald Lateiner

sion and the failures of rational amatory strategies.63 After many other dis-
guises (without bodily transformation) gain him entry (much, but no more) in-
to the walled garden of Pomona, nubile but reluctant to marry,64 Vertumnus’
final rustic figure is that of a crone with a bonnet and cane (14.652-660: in-
strumenta, useful object-adaptors), either a disguised transvestite or a trans-
sexed divinity. He, as an elderly she, penetrates the walled, beautifully culti-
vated garden, a familiar symbol or double of the female sexual organs in Near-
Eastern and Hellenic poetry. Gentilcore (1995: 114) states: “The crossing of
the border which demarcates her pomaria metaphorically [already] represents
Pomona’s rape.” S/He (Vertumnus) kisses her passionately (other-adaptors),
signs of affection inappropriate and in contradiction to his deviously assumed
age, accoutrements (self-adaptors) and gender (14.658-659): dedit oscula,
qualia numquam / vera dedisset anus.
Vertumnus (“Turner”) tells her an ironic truth, that s/he loves her more
than any ardent (human) suitor does.65 The randy god tells an appropriate and
pathetic story of the unsuccessful and Cypriot lover, Iphis II, and his indiffer-
ent object of desire, Anaxarete. Anaxarete had suffered an appropriately petri-
fying condign punishment for failure to appreciate, much less reciprocate, hu-
man affection. The vengeful gods (ultores deos) turn this hardhearted elegiac
mistress into the unfeeling stone that her behaviour imitates. Metamorphosis
actualizes the poetic metaphor. She will become what she already metaphori-
cally is. The wonderful ‘old lady’s’ Cypriot story, however, completely fails to
achieve its intended cautionary effect on the still unaroused and virginal
Pomona. Vertumnus, having no profit from his tools of deceit, logic and story-
telling, quits his anile pretense and transvestite tricks. He resumes his original
male appearance and puts off his cross-clothing (14.765-767):
haec ubi nequiquam formae deus apta senili
edidit, in iuvenem rediit et anilia demit
“When the god in vain spoke these words suited to an older-looking person,
he returned to a young [man] and removed his crone’s equipment.”
In his glory, the scorned bully threatens to force the object of his desire.
Pomona, for reasons that remain unclear, gives up her body (14.770-771). Ver-
tumnus has manipulated gender, gender-indicators, race (divine), age and

63 Gentilcore (1995) analyses the story and refutes optimistic readings of the double-cross and
64 She has rebuffed mille viri (...) et semideique deique (Met. 14.674) and yet other numina.
65 Met. 14.675-678, verses full of deceptive irony and elegiac innuendo: sed tu si sapies, si te
bene iungere anumque / hanc audire voles, quae te plus omnibus illis, / plus quam credis
amo, vulgares reice taedas / Vertumnumque tori socium tibi selige (...).
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 149

marital status to insinuate himself into Pomona’s graces – nequiquam! Force,

however, gains his end.
Dowden (1989: 176) sagely states that “a friendship based on [deceptive,
unannounced] transvestism calls for a dénouement.” Males in disguise as fe-
males penetrate hidden spaces such as Pomona’s fruited garden. The frauds
promote a misperception of peaceful surfaces, engendering both conversational
and interaction-ritual (non-verbal) ironies concerning dangerous sub-surface
intentions known to the readers. The male pleasure of the text arises from in-
sufficiently guarded Pomona’s (or Dornröschen’s or Rotkäppchen’s) misrecog-
nition of a terrible frenzy of sexual violence about to be unleashed at her ex-
pense. The audience enjoys a very vicarious peril. The male gaze imperils and
unveils hidden female personality and person (body).

4. Conclusions
Ovid deconstructs our confidence in identity; for him selfhood is more fluid,
and many, like Niobe, Hermaphroditus and Marsyas, become fluids. Amidst
many disguises and catastrophes, however, Ovid presents gender as generally
constant, even when a human turns into a stag or a god turns into a human
male. It seems that Ovid and his sources shied away from any celebration of
transvestites. His characters’ masquerades do not proceed from a desire to be-
long to the other sex but, at most, to profit from a brief misapprehension. Male
gods never abandon their birth assignment of a penis. These divine men-
dressed-as-women (MTFs) cross-code gendered clothing and adopt feminine
grooming for sexual advantage, but their male inclinations quickly reveal
themselves. The transsexual woman-dressed-as-man (FTM) humans (Tiresias,
Mestra, Iphis, Caeneus, the Coronids) gain the superior status and privileges of
males. Tiresias never wanted to be female, and Caenis welcomes her
miraculous macho impenetrability. The rare cases of MTFs (Tiresias, Sithon
and Mestra) suffer unwished for changes. The self-sacrificing but magically
anamorphic Mestra uniquely prefers her original, female assignment, but she
maintains her options. Hermaphroditus obviously regards his new situation as
a repugnant humiliation and wants revenge.66
Few Ovidian characters, like few contemporary MTF and FTM transsexu-
als, ever choose to oscillate between sexual identities in their sexist worlds.67 It
is too confusing for life or literature. Even once to switch the clear signals of

66 Cantarella (1992: 212-213) clearly phrases the male point of reference in historical and liter-
ary records. Time of life, place, persons and positions severely limited perceptible ancient
toleration of homosexual “impulses”.
67 Griggs (1998: 102-105) describes “intermittent gender cross-coding”.
150 Donald Lateiner

one’s own gender assignment is difficult. These signals determine the social
reactions of others that in shock can turn violent or even lethal. Sharrock
(2002a: 96) describes Pentheus, Hermaphroditus and Narcissus as adolescents
exhibiting arrested gender identity formation, incomplete passage to adult gen-
der acquisition rather than reversal. Recalcitrant virgin females, such as
Daphne, Atalanta II and Pomona, desire perpetual virginity and reject throngs
of suitors and the very idea of marriage. Their refusal of adult gender roles
produces their eventual downfalls. Their stories show inadequate acquaintance
with adult sex roles, expectations and duties. The boys and girls suffer in a
sexual universe for their failed or asexual responses.
Ovid enjoys destabilizing static images of conventional morals, Olympian
gods and heroic epics. His inclinations ran counter to the sticky lies of Augus-
tan pseudo-culture that eventually censored, trapped and destroyed him. His
“heroes” experience emasculation (Ancaeus), demasculation (Hermaphroditus)
and occasional remasculation (Tiresias, gods). His victims occasionally gain
masculation (Iphis, Caenis, the Coronids). Morgan (2003: 69-74) has justified
the “boyisms” (Dryden’s term) of his (seemingly) flippant epic as suited to the
poet’s tickling “oppositional relationship” to the binary sexual obsessions of
Roman patriarchy, and his two recent authority figures – Augustus and Vergil.
The grand ideology of the Aeneid requires its virile vir Aeneas to train his
motherless, virtuous (although nearly voiceless) son, Ascanius, to be a killer
kid, debellare superbos (enemies like Remulus Numanus, Aen. 9.592-637), not
to be a Trojan “girlie boy” (Aen. 9.614-620, 641-642). Ovid, however, inverts
the defining masculine pretensions or orthodox Roman power structures and
expectations of traditional Latin epic. While Vergil’s Apollo confirms As-
canius’ aggressive way up to the stars, Ovid’s regal or privileged pueri subver-
sively crash down from the heavens (Phaethon, Icarus) – without dignity. Oth-
ers lose their fragile human male bodies and identities (Actaeon, Narcissus,
Pentheus, Hermaphroditus). Ovid transgressively turns Vergil’s classical male
body into the grotesque. What was static, elevated and transcendant becomes
vulnerable, split, a decomposing object in process.68 Blustery, paternal instruc-
tion and boyish, insubordinate aspirations become futile perspiration, puerile
rebellion, and leave ashes, ripped flesh and flotsam. The ignorant characters
and their ludic poet are mischievous, often deficient in their attention to admo-
nitions (Met. 8.199-204): Icarus lusuque suo mirabile patris / impediebat opus.
He wears feathers not his own (failed transformation), and he can only ape and
forget his father’s skills. No amount of expert instruction saves the child. His
waywardness kills him, as had Phaethon’s. They are out of place, decentered,
in error, pushed to the edge and over.

68 Cf. Stallybrass & White (1986: 21-22), an approach based on Bakhtinian inversion.
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 151

Ovid, like many of his characters, liked to break the rules and elude paren-
tal career expectations (Trist. 4.10.15-40). Deficient in respect for religious au-
thority, for hypocritical Augustus’ sexual statutes and pseudo-republican ide-
ology, not to mention for generic literary expectations and epic decorum for
sexual episodes, Ovid violated hoary traditions, imposed pseudo-traditions and
unconstitutional authority. He found the brittle humour in the laws of force,
rules imposed by the brutal Triumviral proscriptions, murders carried out by
indifferent legionaries. He possessed both summum ingenium and iudicium, but
his unique poetics (animus) chose to celebrate, not suppress, licentiam carmi-
num suorum (Seneca, Contr. 2.2.12). His transsexualities and transvestisms
likewise consciously and intentionally transgress “natural” and cultural (gen-
der) limits in pursuit of disrespectable, even supposedly degenerate (cinaedi!)
desires and whims. One character when flayed (disvestism) emits disembodied
screams of the poet’s pure pain and wound. Marsyas has a very short story
(Met. 6.386-388):
“a! piget, a! non est” clamabat “tibia tanti”
clamanti cutis est summos direpta per artus,
nec quidquam nisi vulnus erat.
“ ‘Oh, I am sorry. But, oh’, he screamed, ‘the flute is not so important.’
The skin is torn from the surface of the screamer’s limbs
and nothing but wound was he.”
Ovid’s treatment of transsexualities and transvestisms, with one possible ex-
ception, dwells on the instrumental and social consequences of their transits.
Mestra, Jupiter, Sol, Apollo and Vertumnus transit sexes briefly to avoid sex-
ual slavery or to gain a sexual end. Caenis’ wished-for reward, malehood, frees
her from rape; Achilles’ femalehood frees him from military service at Troy.
Tiresias’ two changes provide punishment and reward (reward likewise for the
Coronids). In the semi-suppressed transvestic accounts, Pentheus wants to see
the gender-forbidden, Procris wants to pay back in kind (quid pro quo) her de-
ceitful spouse. The exception, if such s/he be, is Iphis who wants to be male-
equipped to marry her/his beloved Ianthe and avoid the wrath of his father.
Only s/he is given a proper Ovidian monologue, this poet’s equivalent of mod-
ern narrators’ psychological analysis (Met. 9.726-763). She expresses feelings
of forsakenness on account of her “unnatural” love. If she must suffer, she
wants a naturale malum saltem et de more. Even Pasiphaë had a hope for het-
erosexual sex with her bull, not suffering such stultos ignes as she does. For
her, res (biological reality) cancels all spes (hope of fulfilment).
Adolescents yearn for the ratification of their passions. When their star-
crossed beloved is someone of their own sex, they have but two choices, at
best: to accept their homosexuality or, more drastically, change sexes. The lat-
ter solution required Isis, before the day of plastic reconstructive surgery.
152 Donald Lateiner

Seeking acceptance for their feelings, such youngsters experience the wretched
confusions of literary and actual pre-transsexuals. They too may perceive
themselves as minds in the wrong bodies, males in female bodies or vice-versa.
Normal binarity is a cultural ideal, not everyone’s lot, as Herculine Barbin re-
alized or Calliope Stephanides discovers in Eugenides’ unusual neither-nor
novel.69 Ovid’s often sexual epic explores “abnormal” inclinations such as in-
cest, pedophilia, scopophilia, bestiality, homosexuality and transsexuality. His
stories disrupt “common sense” categories of normality, including binary sex,
as too “cut” and dried. Garber (1992: 12-13) recognizes that any third, new
category creates a crisis for the community, since it questions recognized iden-
tities and stability. Iphis’ tidy, happy change-of-sex ending fits the dominant
view of Ovid as the celebrant of heteronormativity and marriage (e.g. Otis
1970: 266, 270). Hermaphroditus’ most unhappy half-and-half ending as a
marginal man-woman, however, invites readers’ anxieties, their further
thoughts concerning acquaintances’ typical and limited expectations of sex and
Identity poses problems and creates opportunities for nearly all characters
in Ovid’s epic. Gender, race and class supply one current academic trinity of
investigation, but sex, marital status, life-style, ethnicity (Roman, Cretan,
Egyptian etc.) and age are other important markers by which associates judge
us. Ovid has interesting things to say about all these categories, especially sex
and gender and their permeable boundaries. Both self and others can recon-
struct, misrepresent or conceal biological sex and socially constructed gender.
Ovid collected and concocted violent variations on humanity’s primal romantic
scenarios of binarity – boy meets girl. He dramatizes sexual violation, contests
the “natural”, binomial gender system, tests the expectations of “normal” soci-
ety and gladly disrupts his culture’s staged reality and normality.


Balsdon, John P. V. D. (1966): Fabula Clodiana. In: Historia 15, 65-73.

Bömer, Franz (1977): P. Ovidius Naso. Metamorphosen (Vol. 8-9), Heidelberg.
Brisson, Luc (2002): Sexual Ambivalence. Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-
Roman Antiquity (transl. Janet Lloyd), Berkeley.
Bullough, Vern L. & Bonnie Bullough (1993): Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender,

69 Ordinary and élite people take pleasure in briefly “playing the other”, and the more other, the
merrier. Carnival costumes, masked balls, Hallowe’en disguises and male club theatricals
provide opportunities; for several theories, see Garber (1992: passim) and Miller (1999: 251-
252, with further references).
Transsexuals and Transvestites in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 153

Cantarella, Eva (1992): Bisexuality in the Ancient World (transl. Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin),
New Haven.
Davis, Gregson (1971): The Death of Procris. “Amor” and the Hunt in Ovid’s Meta-
morphoses, Rome.
Delcourt, Marie (1961): Hermaphrodite. Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in
Classical Antiquity (transl. Jennifer Nicholson), London.
Dowden, Ken (1989): Death and the Maiden. Girls’ Initiation Rites in Greek Mythol-
ogy, London & New York.
Ekman, Paul & Wallace V. Friesen (1969): The repertoire of nonverbal behavior. Cate-
gories, origins, usage and coding. In: Semiotica 1.1, 49-98.
Enterline, Lynn (2000): The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare, Cam-
Eugenides, Jeffrey (2002): Middlesex, New York.
Forbes Irving, Paul M. (1990): Metamorphosis in Greek Myths, Oxford.
Forbis, Elizabeth P. (1997): Voice and voicelessness in Ovid’s exile poetry. In: Studies
in Latin Literature and Roman History 8, 247-267.
Foucault, Michel (ed.) (1980): Herculine Barbin. Being the Recently Discovered Mem-
oirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite (transl. Richard McDou-
gall), New York.
Garber, Marjorie (1992): Vested Interests. Cross-Dressing & Cultural Anxiety, New
Gentilcore, Roxanne (1995): The landscape of desire. The tale of Pomona and Vertum-
nus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In: Phoenix 49, 110-120.
Green, Peter (1979): The innocence of Procris. In: Classical Journal 75, 15-24.
Griggs, Claudine (1998): S/HE. Changing Sex and Changing Clothes, Oxford.
Hansen, William (ed.) (1996): Phlegon of Tralles’ Book of Marvels, Exeter.
Hill, Donald E. (ed.) (1999): Ovid Metamorphoses IX-XII, Warminster.
Hinds, Stephen (2002): Landscape with figures. Aesthetics of place in the Metamor-
phoses and its tradition. In: Philip Hardie (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Ovid,
Cambridge, 122-149.
Hoberman, Ruth (1997): Gendering Classicism. The Ancient World in Twentieth-
Century Women’s Historical Fiction, Albany.
Janan, Michaela (1991): The labyrinth and the mirror. Incest and influence in Meta-
morphoses 9. In: Arethusa 24, 239-256.
Keuls, Eva (21993): The Reign of the Phallus. Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens, Berke-
Lafaye, Georges (1904): Les métamorphoses d’Ovide et leurs modèles grecs, Paris.
Leitao, David (1995): The perils of Leukippos. Initiatory transvestism and male gender
ideology in the Ekdusia at Phaistos. In: Classical Antiquity 14, 130-163.
Miller, Margaret C. (1999): Reexamining transvestism in archaic and classical Athens.
The Zewaldski stamnos. In: American Journal of Archaeology 103, 223-253.
154 Donald Lateiner

Möllendorff, Peter von (2009): Man as monster. Eros and hubris in Plato’s Symposium.
In: Thorsten Fögen & Mireille M. Lee (eds.), Bodies and Boundaries in
Graeco-Roman Antiquity, Berlin & New York, 87-109.
Morgan, Llewellyn (2003): Child’s play. Ovid and his critics. In: Journal of Roman
Studies 93, 66-91.
Myers, K. Sara (1994): Ultimus Ardor. Pomona and Vertumnus in Ovid’s Metamor-
phoses 14.623-771. In: Classical Journal 89, 225-250.
Nugent, S. Georgia (1990): This sex which is not one. Deconstructing Ovid’s Hermaph-
rodite. In: Differences 2.1, 160-185.
Osmun, George F. (1978): Changes of sex in Greek and Roman mythology. In: Classi-
cal Bulletin 54, 75-79.
Otis, Brooks (21970): Ovid as an Epic Poet, Cambridge.
Pratt, Louise H. (2000): The old women of ancient Greece and the Homeric Hymn to
Demeter. In: Transactions of the American Philological Association 130, 41-65.
Rose, Herbert J. (1956): Divine disguisings. In: Harvard Theological Review 49, 63-72.
Sharrock, Alison (2002a): Gender and sexuality. In: Philip Hardie (ed.), Cambridge
Companion to Ovid, Cambridge, 95-107.
Sharrock, Alison (2002b): Ovid and the discourses of love. In: Philip Hardie (ed.),
Cambridge Companion to Ovid, Cambridge, 150-162.
Suhr, Elmer G. (1953): Herakles and Omphale. In: American Journal of Archaeology
57, 251-263.
Stallybrass, Peter & Allon White (1986): The Politics and Poetics of Transgression,
Viarre, Simone (1985): L’androgynie dans les Métamorphoses d’Ovide. À la recherche
d’une méthode de lecture. In: Jean Marc Frécaut & Danielle Porte (eds.), Jour-
nées ovidiennes de Parménie, Bruxelles, 229-243.
Body-Modification in Classical Greece
Mireille M. Lee

Body-modification may seem at first glance to be a superficial aspect of Greek culture;
but modifications to the body reflect Greek ideology in a profound way. This chapter
considers the textual, visual and archaeological evidence for Greek practices of body-
modification, and shows how such behaviours constructed gender, status, and ethnicity.
The nude male body was presented as the ideal in classical Greece. But this body
was not natural; it was achieved by means of body-modification. The diaita, a regimen
of diet, exercise and bathing, ideally resulted in a lean, muscular, tanned body. In gen-
eral, men’s body-modification took place in the public arenas, such as the palaestra and
the barbershop, which underscores the importance of personal display and the homo-
erotic gaze.
In contrast, women’s practices were private and domestic. Feminine body-
modification, which included bathing, the removal of body-hair, arrangement of the
coiffure, and the application of perfume and cosmetics, is a more intimate process, in-
volving at most an attendant or two. The self-referential nature of feminine body-
modification is underscored by the prevalence of mirrors in scenes of feminine adorn-
ment: women regularly gaze at their own appearance in mirrors, whereas men, as a rule,
do not.
What both genders share in terms of practices of body-modification is that they are
all temporary: they require repeated performance, allowing multiple opportunities for
display and conspicuous consumption. The aristocratic elite used temporary body-
modification as a means of maintaining their identity vis-à-vis non-elites and especially
non-Greeks. Permanent body-modification, especially tattooing and circumcision, was
reserved for barbarians. Such permanent forms of body-modification ensure that non-
Greeks have no opportunity for transgressing ethnic boundaries by means of perform-

1. Introduction
The boundaries of bodies are not so clearly defined as we might imagine.1
Where does the body begin? Where does it end? Is the body bounded by the
skin? What about the hair and nails? What is the relationship of hair- and nail-

1 I wish to thank all the participants of the very stimulating “Bodies” conference at the Center
for Hellenic Studies, and in particular Thorsten Fögen for his insightful comments on an ear-
lier draft of this paper. All translations are from the Loeb, unless otherwise specified.
156 Mireille M. Lee

clippings, or other bodily products such as excreta, breast milk or saliva, to the
body? Mary Douglas argued that the body serves as a metaphor for society,
and that the boundaries of the body reflect the boundaries of society (Douglas
2002). Michel Foucault understood the boundaries of the body as the site at
which societal structures of power are inscribed upon the individual (Foucault
1977). But the boundaries of the body do not simply reflect or reinforce a static
social structure. Rather, bodily boundaries comprise an essential means by
which social boundaries are constituted. As formulated by Pierre Bourdieu, the
boundaries of the body are not fixed, but negotiated by individuals on a daily
basis in the habitual construction of social identities (Bourdieu 1977).
Modifications to the body, which mark the boundary between self and so-
ciety, are fundamental to the construction of identities. Hence, body-
modifications are strictly policed (Entwistle 2001: 37). Body-modifications
may include transformations of the hair, skin, nails, muscular/skeletal system,
teeth and breath; they may be temporary or permanent (Eicher & Roach-
Higgins 1992: 18). Although we tend to think of body-modification in terms of
such extreme practices as tattooing, piercing or cosmetic surgery, the mundane
habits of diet, exercise, bathing, the application of perfume and cosmetics, and
the maintenance of body- and cephalic-hair are also significant. All cultures
engage in body-modification in some form; it is one of few human universals.
This chapter considers the social functions of body-modification in classi-
cal Greece.2 Although individual practices of body-modification have been re-
constructed from the textual, visual and archaeological evidence, they have not
been considered as part of a coherent system by which the Greeks negotiated
the social constructs of gender, status and ethnicity. As has been well estab-
lished, the elite male comprised the norm in Greek society. Greek practices of
body-modification were essential to the construction of the normative status of
the elite male; “other” bodies, that is, the bodies of women and barbarians,
were marked as deviant by means of body-modification.

2. Diaita and difference

The δίαιτα, a daily regimen of diet, exercise and bathing, were fundamental to
the construction of elite identity, and especially elite masculinity. 3 Each of
these behaviours of bodily modification worked in concert with the others to
maintain a proper balance of hot and cold, wet and dry. Men’s bodies were

2 Archaic and Classical practices are discussed in greater detail in my forthcoming book Kalos
Kosmos. The Βody, Dress and Gender in Early Greece. For Roman practices, see Baertschi
& Fögen (2005), with further references.
3 An excellent overview of the δίαιτα is Craik (1995: 343-350). Ancient “dietetics” are dis-
cussed by Foucault (1990: 95-116); for a corrective, see Detel (1998: 93-117).
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 157

thought to be naturally hot and dry compared to the bodies of women. Hence
their δίαιτα, as prescribed by the Hippocratics, included vigorous exercise and
“drying” foods such as wheat bread and roasted meats, whereas the women’s
regimen specified the opposite. Diet also depended on the season and climate.
Certainly the consumption of food is a primary means of body-modification, as
evidenced by the modern diet industry. In classical Athens, overindulgence in
food, resulting in obesity, was frequently satirized in comedy; abstinence from
eating, leading to emaciation, was linked with philosophers (who reject bodily
needs in favour of intellectual pursuit), the elderly and the dead (Wilkins 2000:
27). Despite the attention paid to food and its effects on the body in the textual
sources, overweight or excessively thin persons are conspicuously absent from
Greek art of the Classical period, and images of dining practices are rare.4
Conversely, scenes of exercise and bathing are common in vase-painting start-
ing in the late archaic period, and in sculpture beginning in the early classical.
Robin Osborne has argued that the palaestra was the primary context for
the performance of elite masculinity (Osborne 1998: 29). The extensive ar-
chaeological, visual and literary sources pertaining to Greek athletics under-
score their central importance for ancient society. The activities of the pa-
laestra are depicted on numerous Attic vases, such as the red-figured dinos in
the manner of the Dinos Painter in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (fig. 1).
As is invariably the case in Greek art, the athletes are depicted nude, in con-
trast to their trainers, who are clothed. The literary sources confirm the practice
of athletic nudity: Herodotus (1.10.3) and Plato (Rep. 5.452c) identify exercise
in the nude as a uniquely Greek institution that distinguished Greeks from
barbarians. Given that only the aristocracy could afford the luxury of leisure
time in the palaestra, athletic nudity also marked elite social status (Osborne
1998: 29).
Athletic nudity is important for our investigation of body-modification,
because it underscores the significance of bodily display within the context of
the palaestra. The performance of Greek athletics was not limited to the actual
workout, but included a kind of ritual preparation before and restoration fol-
lowing exercise. These activities would have been witnessed by others within
the palaestra, and are recorded in detail on the vases. Prior to exercise, the ath-
lete would anoint himself with oil from an aryballos, as shown in the tondo of
a red-figure cup by the Antiphon Painter in Berlin (fig. 2). The Greeks be-
lieved that anointing the body with oil gave the athlete greater strength (Ulf
1979). It also would have enhanced the tanning effects of the sun, softened the
skin and made it shine. Some late literary sources also mention the practice of
sprinkling the oiled body with a fine powder. Philostratus (On Gymnastics 56)

4 For images of both emaciated and obese persons in later Greek and Roman art, see Grmek &
Gourevitch (1998: 145-182).
158 Mireille M. Lee

notes that “yellow dust also adds glisten and is a delight to see on a nice body
which is in good shape”,5 but we cannot be sure that this was a classical prac-

Figure 1: Red-figured dinos, manner of the Dinos Painter, c. 430-420 B.C.,

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, no. 96.720. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The custom of infibulation is likewise absent from classical literary sources,

though it is represented on several vases. In the tondo of a red-figured cup by
Onesimos in the Hermitage, an athlete is in the process of tying up his foreskin
(fig. 3). The purpose of infibulation has been debated: some have suggested
that it served as a kind of proto-jock-strap, or to control sexual impulses

5 Translation from Miller (²2004b: 22).

Body-Modification in Classical Greece 159

(Sweet 1985). 6 But the appearance of infibulated komasts in symposium

scenes suggests that it was not exclusively an athletic practice. Rather, it
served as a means of preventing accidental exposure of the glans during any
vigorous movement, which would have been considered unseemly (Hodges
2001: 382-383).
Athletic activity was itself an important means of body-modification. Vig-
orous exercise outdoors in the nude would have created a deep, dark tan and
well-defined muscles. Indeed, these features were emphasized in the many
bronze sculptures made to commemorate Greek athletes, such as the so-called
Antikythera bronze (fig. 4). As was noted even in antiquity, the original ap-
pearance of the polished bronze approximated the tanned, oiled, skin of ath-
letes (Mattusch 1996: 24-25, 88-89). Western viewers have internalized such
monuments as representing a generic Greek type, but it is important to under-
stand them within the context of the palaestra. These sculptures represent the
ideal body to which all aspired. Such images may have contributed to athletes’
anxieties in the same way that idealized images in the media today create
standards that are generally unattainable.
Cleansing of the body following exercise was likewise an opportunity
for bodily display. A red-figure kylix by the Codrus Painter in the British Mu-
seum (fig. 5a) depicts several youths in process of scraping the accumulated
sweat and oil from the body using a strigil, of which many examples have been
preserved archaeologically, primarily as offerings in graves. The particular sig-
nificance of this process of body-modification may be suggested by the fact
that the scrapings, called γλοιός, were preserved and sold for medicinal pur-
poses, though we have no secure literary testimony for this practice prior to
Pliny the Elder (Nat. hist. 28.50-52; see Miller 2004a: 16; Miller ³2004b: 213).
The opposite side of the kylix (fig. 5b) depicts the next stage of the cleansing
process, the cold-water bath: three young men stand around a louterion; the
man on the right holds out a sponge for washing. To the right of this group, a
man has dipped water from a well to pour over the head of a kneeling com-
rade. The overall significance of the body-modifications performed by the
Greek athlete is underscored by the iconic appearance in vase-painting of the
athlete’s kit, which contained the necessary tools: the aryballos and strigil, and
sometimes also a sponge (e.g. fig. 3).
It is clear from both the literary sources and the visual representations that
the palaestra was an erotically charged homo-social environment (Scanlon
2002: 199-273). Some of the vases are more explicit than others: καλός names
are frequent; trainers often gaze at the genitals of the athletes, or gesticulate

6 Late lexicographers refer to the cords as κυνοδέσμαι (‘dog leashes’); see Miller (2004a: 12-
160 Mireille M. Lee

Figure 2: Red-figure kylix, Antiphon Painter, c. 500-450 B.C.,

lost, formerly Staatliche Museen, Antikensammlung, Berlin, no. 2314.
Photograph: Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, NY

Figure 3: Red-figure kylix, Onesimos, c. 500-450 B.C.,

State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, no. B1534.
Photograph: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 161

Figure 4: Bronze statue of an athlete, found off the island of Antikythera, c. 340 B.C.,
National Archaeological Museum, Athens, no. 13396.
© Hellenic Ministry of Culture/Archaeological Receipts Fund
162 Mireille M. Lee

Side A

Side B
Figures 5a and 5b: Red-figure kylix, Codrus Painter, c. 450-400 B.C.,
British Museum, London, no. E83. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 163

towards them with their switches. In this arena of bodily display, individuals
perform their social identities in part by means of body-modification. The ha-
bitual repetition of exercise and bathing reinforces individual identities; the
erotic gaze of other men assures identification with the group of masculine
Women are conspicuously absent from the palaestra. In general, elite
women did not engage in vigorous exercise outdoors, but ideally remained in-
doors overseeing the operation of the oikos. In Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, the
performance of household chores is adequate exercise for the young wife (Oec.
10.11).7 Whether or not the texts mirror reality, the visual record (especially
classical grave reliefs, but also vase-painting) emphasizes the ideal image of an
elite woman seated on a high-backed chair, feet elevated on a footrest, suggest-
ing an interior, static, existence. As with other aspects of the δίαιτα, women’s
practices are the opposite of men’s.
But although women are excluded from the palaestra, they do engage in
elaborate bathing practices, often in the company of other women. Here we are
somewhat hampered by the evidence: although Greek vases provide extensive
evidence of feminine bathing and grooming practices, it is difficult to discern
in many cases whether the women represented are proper women or hetairai.8
And if they do represent courtesans, as is likely on symposium vessels, to what
degree were bathing practices shared by women of all social classes? The liter-
ary sources are likewise ambiguous in most cases, which is not surprising
given that feminine adornment took place primarily in private contexts. Of
course, both the vases and the texts were created primarily by men for an in-
tended male audience, and we cannot be sure that either reflects actual femi-
nine practices.
The Hippocratic Diseases of Women (II 71.60) prescribes warm water
bathing for women, as part of a “moist” regimen. But images of women bath-
ing in vase-painting are in some ways indistinguishable from representations
of men’s cold water bathing. The red-figure amphora in Munich by the Group
of Polygnotos (fig. 6) depicts three naked women standing around a louterion
not unlike that in the palaestra scenes. Other features of men’s bathing, how-
ever, are absent, namely the strigil and aryballos (the figure in the center holds

7 According to Athenian (and Roman) literary sources, Spartan women exercised in order that
they might give birth to healthy baby boys. Whether or not they actually did so cannot be es-
tablished with certainty. It is quite likely that the textual evidence reflects construction of
Spartan “otherness” vis-à-vis Classical Athenian practices. For a recent discussion of
women’s athletics at Sparta, see Scanlon (2002: 121-138). Other examples of women’s ath-
letics are restricted to ritual, especially girls’ rites of passage, e.g. the Arkteia at Brauron and
the Heraia at Olympia (see most recently Scanlon 2002: 98-120, 139-174). These events oc-
curred only sporadically, and would not have resulted in any appreciable bodily modifica-
8 The literature on hetairai is extensive. See most recently, Faraone & McClure (2006).
164 Mireille M. Lee

a woman’s alabastron, not an aryballos). It seems likely, then, that this is a

domestic space as opposed to the public realm of the palaestra.9 The social
status of the women represented on the vases is debatable: the conventions of
female nudity in this period would argue for their identification as hetairai, es-
pecially the frontal figure in the center, whose direct gaze would not have been
appropriate for proper women. On the other hand, similar scenes of washing,
especially hair-washing, are common in bridal scenes (Pfisterer-Haas 2002:
40-47; Sabetai 1997: 320-321), which suggests that bathing practices were
shared by proper women and hetairai alike.

Figure 6: Red-figure amphora, Group of Polygnotos, c. 475-426 B.C.,

Staatliche Museen, Antikensammlungen, Munich, no. J349.
Photograph: Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek München

9 A very few images depict women with strigils in apparently public settings (e.g. red-figure
column krater by the Göttingen Painter, Bari, Museo Archeologico Provinciale 4979; red-
figure column krater by the Painter of Tarquinia 707, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
2166). It seems quite likely that these vases do not represent actual bathing practices (Bérard
1986), but a kind of erotic male fantasy (Kotera-Feyer 1998: 111-112).
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 165

The diaita comprised the primary means of body-modification for both men
and women in classical Greece, and also an essential means for the construc-
tion of elite identity. Both men and women were prescribed certain foods ac-
cording to their sex, in order to maintain the proper balance of warm and dry,
cool and moist. Such recommendations were intended for those with the lux-
ury of dietary choice. Certainly those of lesser means would not have access to
such a range of foodstuffs; they were not the intended audience of such pre-
scriptive works. Exercise was likewise a means of distinguishing male from
female, elite from non-elite. Only the wealthy could afford leisure time in the
palaestra. The distinctively Greek practice of athletic nudity underscored eth-
nic identity as well as the essentially male character of the palaestra. Nudity
further emphasized the practices of bodily modification that took place in that
public context. Both athletics and bathing in the nude allowed multiple oppor-
tunities for bodily display and the voyeuristic gaze. The repeated performance
of these elements of the δίαιτα was essential to the construction of elite mascu-
linity. Conversely, women were excluded from the palaestra, and therefore re-
mained outside the ideal. But, they did perform their feminine, elite status in
other ways, by abstaining from physical activity and bathing in an interior,
domestic space. On the other hand, the social status of some female bathers is
somewhat ambiguous. Bathing, like some other aspects of body-modification,
may have served more as an indicator of gender rather than status.

3. Care of the hair

Hairstyles and the maintenance of body-hair were important for the construc-
tion of both gender and ethnicity in classical Greece. Hair has special signifi-
cance in many cultures. It is part of the body, but not itself alive; it is painless-
ly and easily transformed by means of cutting, shaving, plucking, colouring,
curling, binding or covering; it is highly visible, especially that on the head and
face. This visibility, combined with the ease with which it may be transformed,
makes it especially effective as a marker of changes in social status, especially
age (Synnott 1987, with earlier references). In classical Greece, maintenance
of cephalic hair was an essential component of an individual’s kosmos.10 Di-
shevelled hair was a sign that one was outside the proper order of things, for
example the disaffected, philosophers, women in mourning and old people.
Properly arranged hair reflected proper social order.

10 The term κόσμος originally meant ‘combing’, ‘hairdo’, and later acquired the more general
meanings of ‘arrangement, ordering’ on the one hand, and ‘adornment, beautification’ on the
other (Puhvel 1976: 159).
166 Mireille M. Lee

Figure 7: Red figure bell krater, Dinos Painter, c. 450-400 B.C.,

Sackler Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, L9.1988.
Photograph: Michael A. Nedzweski. © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Most men visited barbers for the maintenance of the hair and beard. 11 We
know from several literary sources that barbershops were popular gathering
places for Athenian men, and a source of gossip and news (Lewis 1995). Al-
though barbers are not represented in vase-painting, several Boeotian terracot-
tas represent barbers with their customers. 12 In contrast to men’s practice,
women attended to their own coiffures in the privacy of their own homes. The
red-figure amphora by Polygnotos (fig. 6) depicts a woman perfuming her hair
with a wand, perhaps with a sponge attached. Other vases depict women wash-
ing, combing and arranging their hair (e.g. fig. 8), often with the aid of per-
sonal attendants. As with bathing, women’s practices take place in the private
context of the oikos, whereas men’s practices take place in a public venue.13 In

11 According to Artemidorus, admittedly a late source, to dream of having one’s hair cut by a
barber is a good sign, because no-one ever cut his own hair unless he is poor or in difficult
circumstances (On Dreams 1.22).
12 E.g. Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Antiken-Sammlung 6683b.
13 Women’s hair-care was also a domestic activity in the Roman period (Baertschi & Fögen
2005: 218).
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 167

this way, the performance of bodily modifications is nearly as important as the

net result. Habitual visitors to the barbershop performed their identities pub-
licly on a repeated basis.
The social significance of hairstyles is as yet poorly understood, in part on
account of the complexity of the evidence. As a rule, in the classical period,
men’s hair is cut short, while women’s hair is long, but bound up in a fillet,
sakkos or mitra. These gendered distinctions seem to over-ride social status, as
proper women and hetairai engage in similar practices. As noted by Molly Le-
vine in her essay on the social meanings of hair, the tradition of binding and
covering women’s hair reflects societal concern for control over women’s
sexuality (Levine 1995).
Hair also plays an important role in the construction of age. Children of
both sexes generally wore their hair long. Upon maturity, boys and girls cut
their hair in a coming of age ritual, dedicating the locks to Artemis and other
protective divinities. The visual sources display a clear progression in feminine
hairstyles, with young girls displaying loose locks with a simple topknot,
παρθένοι wearing bound ponytails, and γυναῖκες with their hair bound up
completely in a sakkos or mitra.14 The lack of similar categories for boys and
men suggests a special concern with feminine sexuality and social control.
On the other hand, facial hair played an important role in the construction
of age-grades for boys, and especially in the strict rules governing sexual rela-
tionships between older and younger men and boys. Older men are generally
identified by their thick, full beards, while younger men and boys are beard-
less. The ideal ἐρώμενος was an adolescent on the cusp of manhood, as indi-
cated by the presence of “peach-fuzz” of the boxers in fig. 1 (compare also the
bearded trainer). Gloria Ferrari has eloquently explained the transitional period
between παῖς and ἀνήρ, delineated by the first appearance of facial hair and the
development of a full beard (Ferrari 2002: 135-137).15 Although contemporary
literary sources are silent on the subject, this liminal period might have been
extended artificially by means of plucking or shaving (Dover 1989: 244).16
The removal of body-hair was especially associated with women in classi-
cal Athens, as indicated by the humorous passage in Aristophanes’ Ecclesia-
zusae in which the women of Athens disguise themselves as men in order to
infiltrate the assembly. One woman claims to have “armpits bushier than un-
derbrush” (Eccl. 60-61); her companion chimes in: “Me too. I threw my razor

14 This pattern is especially discernible in vase-painting. See Lewis (2002: 27-28).

15 That beards were considered markers of adult masculinity is demonstrated in Aristophanes’
Ecclesiazusae, in which Praxagora and her co-conspirators don false beards in order to pass
as men in the assembly (24-25, 68-72, 126-127).
16 The erotic construction of adolescent facial hair continues well into the Hellenistic period
(Tarán 1985).
168 Mireille M. Lee

out of the house right away, so that I’d get hairy all over and not look female at
all” (65-67). Although body-hair is clearly gendered male in the texts, the vis-
ual evidence is less emphatic. A few examples of chest-hair on mature men are
discernible in vase-painting, though no obvious patterns emerge; armpit hair is
likewise generally absent.
Pubic depilation was a decidedly feminine practice. Aristophanes makes
several references to women removing their pubic hair by means of singeing
and plucking, in order to make themselves sexually attractive.17 In the Ecclesi-
azusae, Praxagora, the leader of the women’s movement to take over the as-
sembly, sings the praises of her lamp: “You alone illuminate the ineffable
nooks between our thighs, when you singe away the hair that spouts there”
(Eccl. 12-13). The effectiveness of the sex-strike in the Lysistrata is guaran-
teed by the woman teasing their husbands by wearing diaphanous garments
with their “pubes plucked in a neat triangle” (Lys. 151). Given the dramatic
context of these passages, it is difficult to ascertain whether depilation was
practised by proper Athenian wives, or whether it is mentioned for comic ef-
The visual sources are likewise ambiguous as to the social status of depi-
lated women. Two (perhaps three) vases depict the actual process of depilation
by singeing with a lamp. The tondo of an archaic red-figure cup in the manner
of Onesimos in Oxford, Mississippi depicts a nude woman squatting over a ba-
sin. This figure is generally identified as a hetaira on the basis of her nudity
and her bold frontal pose (and possibly the amulet on her thigh). On the other
hand, a classical red-figure bell krater by the Dinos Painter in the Sackler Mu-
seum (fig. 6) depicts a seated woman performing her own depilation, while a
standing woman is depilated by Eros. The presence of Eros suggests a parallel
with wedding scenes, making the identification of these women as hetairai
problematic.18 Whether practised by proper women or hetairai, depilation had
connotations of eroticism and femininity.19
Hair that grows on the body is often particularly meaningful, on account of
its borderline relationship with the flesh and with clothing (Barcan 2004: 25-30,
144-150). For the ancient Greeks, body-hair functions on a fundamental level
as an indicator of the division between male and female, child and adult, hu-
man and animal. Vivid testimony to the dynamic relationship between humans
and animals is found in the Pseudo-Aristotelian Physiognomics (812b14-19):

17 The literary sources are collected in Bain (1982a: 7-10) and Bain (1982b: 111).
18 On the identification of hetairai, see Paul (1993: 330).
19 A few passages in Aristophanes refer to the punishment of male adulterers by means of depi-
lation, but these should be read as jokes: because they lacked control of their sexual impulses
like women, they would be plucked like women (Roy 1991: 73-76; Cohen 1985: 385-387).
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 169
Οἱ δασείας ἔχοντες τὰς κνήμας λάγνοι· ἀναφέρεται ἐπὶ τοὺς τράγους. οἱ δὲ
περὶ τὰ στήθη καὶ τὴν κοιλίαν ἄγαν δασέως ἔχοντες οὐδέποτε πρὸς τοῖς
αὐτοῖς διατελοῦσιν· ἀναφέρεται ἐπὶ τοὺς ὄρνιθας, ὅτι ταῦτα τὰ στήθη καὶ τὴν
κοιλίαν δασυτάτην ἔχουσιν. Οἱ τὰ στήθη φιλὰ ἄγαν ἔχοντες ἀναιδεῖς·
ἀναφέρεται ἐπι τὰς γυναῖκας. ἐπειδὴ οὖν οὔτε ἄγαν δασέα δεῖ εἶναι οὔτε φιλά,
ἡ μέση ἕξις κρατίστη.
“Hairy legs mean lasciviousness, as in goats. Too much hair on the breast and
belly mean lack of persistence, as argued from birds, in which this bodily
characteristic is most developed; but breasts too devoid of hair indicate
impudence, as in women. So both extremes are bad, and an intermediate
condition must be best.”20

4. Cosmetics
The locus classicus for the use of cosmetics in classical Greece is Xenophon’s
Oeconomicus (6.10), in which Ischomachus chastises his wife for making up
her face “with a great deal of white face powder (ψιμύθιον) so that she might
appear paler than she was, and with plenty of rouge (ἔγχουσα) so that she
might seem to have a more rosy complexion than she truly had” (10.2).21 Some
have cited this passage as proof that proper Athenian women wore cosmetics;
others have argued it proves that make-up was used primarily by hetairai.22
The archaeological evidence suggests that the use of cosmetics was wide-
spread among women of varying social classes. Pyxides containing tablets of
ψιμύθιον (white lead carbonate) and ἔγχουσα (red alkanet) are common finds
in women’s graves throughout Greece, as are cosmetic spoons and applicators
in ivory and bronze. Perhaps Ischomachus’ real concern was the over-zealous
application of cosmetics. As far as I know, we have no images in classical
vase-painting of women applying cosmetics, nor images of obviously made-up
women. Some have argued that make-up was painted on marble sculpture, but
studies of the remaining polychromy have not confirmed this.
An interesting detail of the Oeconomicus that has escaped comment until
recently is a reference to men using a type of skin-colouring. Ischomachus asks

20 Translation from T. Loveday and E. S. Forster (in Barnes 1984: 1248).

21 Translation from Pomeroy (1994: 161). This is followed by the passage extolling the virtues
of housework as a form of exercise (discussed above, p. 163). Certainly the primary aim of
the text is to emphasize the high moral value attached to feminine beauty achieved without
the artifice of cosmetics. Cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.1.22, in which the personification of
Vice is identified as a highly made-up woman.
22 The association between cosmetics and inappropriate sex is evident in several passages in
Aristophanes in which an older woman tries to attract a younger lover by plastering her face
with make-up (Eccl. 878, 928, 1072; Wealth 1064). In Lysias’ speech On the Murder of Era-
tosthenes (1.14), the defendant Euphiletus suspects his wife’s affair because she left the
house wearing face powder.
170 Mireille M. Lee

his wife how she would respond if he approached her for sex having smeared
his body with miltos, a type of red ochre. It has been argued that men did em-
ploy miltos to enhance the colour of the skin, either in the form of a coloured
unguent, or as a dry powder – perhaps that with which athletes powdered
themselves at the palaestra (Hannah 2004). Elsewhere in Greek literature, the
only men who employ cosmetics are barbarians: Herodotus names several Af-
rican tribes who smeared their bodies with miltos (4.191, 4.194, 7.69); Xeno-
phon claims that Cyrus encouraged the use of eye-make-up and cosmetics for
the skin (Cyr. 8.1.41), and that Astyages wore eye-liner, colourful make-up,
and hairpieces, according to the custom of the Medes (Cyr. 1.3.2). The barbar-
ian (and also feminine) connotations of cosmetics suggest that the masculine
elite did not view them positively.

5. Perfumes and body-odours

Exotic perfumes likewise carried barbarian connotations. According to He-
rodotus (1.195) Babylonian men perfumed their entire bodies, and Xenophon
(Oec. 4.23) remarks that the Persian king Cyrus smelled of perfume.23 Several
passages in tragedy underscore the negative value attached to barbarian fra-
grances: in the Orestes of Euripides, the wanton Helen returns from Troy ac-
companied by slaves to hold her mirror and perfumes (1110-1113); in Eurip-
ides’ Bacchae, the “Lydian foreigner” (the god Dionysos in disguise) is identi-
fied by his blond, perfumed locks (235).
Given the barbarian connotations of perfumes, it is no surprise that per-
fumes are most often associated with women, especially in erotic contexts. A
fragment of Antiphanes’ play The Men of Thorikos or The Miner (fr. 106) de-
scribes an entire wardrobe of perfumes employed in a young woman’s toilette:
Egyptian perfume for the feet and legs, palm oil for the cheeks and breast, ber-
gamot for one arm and melilot for the other, marjoram for the hair and eye-
brows, and thyme for the neck and knees (fr. 106). The explicitly erotic func-
tion of perfumes is demonstrated in the charming passage of Aristophanes’ Ly-
sistrata, in which Myrrhina teases her husband with the promise of sex, pre-
tending to fumble over the appropriate scent (938-947). In Aristophanes’ Ec-
clesiazusae, when Blepyrus suspects Praxagora of infidelity, her defense is:
“See if you can smell perfume on my head”, to which he replies: “What? Can’t
a woman get fucked even without perfume?” (523-525; cf. 1117-1118).24

23 Pliny claims that perfume was invented by the Persians to conceal their foul stench, and that
it was not adopted by the Greeks until the campaigns of Alexander (Nat. hist. 13.3).
24 For the anointing of hair with perfume, see Lilja (1972: 82-83). Perfume could also be ap-
plied to the beard, moustache and eyebrows (as described in the passage of Antiphanes,
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 171

The use of perfumes by Greek men is met with some ambivalence by the
ancient authors. Men certainly used perfumes in the context of the symposium,
on account of its luxurious and erotic qualities (e.g. Aristophanes, Eccl. 841-
842). Whether men wore perfume on a daily basis, or specifically in the con-
text of the gymnasion, is an open question. In Xenophon’s Symposium, Socra-
tes claims that just as men and women wear different clothes “the smells that
suit men and women are different. (...) the smell of oil in the gymnasia gives
more pleasure by its presence than perfume gives to women, and excites more
longing by its absence” (2.3-4).25 Theophrastus displays no negative attitudes
towards men’s use of perfumes, but like Socrates, specifies that they are dif-
ferent than women’s scents: “The lightest [perfumes] are rose-perfume and
kypros, which seem to be the best suited to men, as also is lily perfume” (Con-
cerning Odours 42). For women he recommends “myrrh oil, μεγαλεῖον,26 the
Egyptian, sweet marjoram and spikenard: for these owing to their strength and
substantial character are not easily made to disperse, and a lasting perfume is
what women require” (Concerning Odours 42). On the other hand, he later de-
scribes perfume powders for sprinkling on bedding, in order to give men’s
bodies a long-lasting scent (Concerning Odours 57-60). It seems likely that the
use of perfume in itself was not an indicator of gender; rather, the quality of
the scent, and its strength, may have been most significant.
Naturally occurring body-odours were likewise gendered. In Xenophon’s
Symposium, Socrates claims that “women, especially if they are young, do not
need any additional perfumes, because they are fragrant themselves” (2.3).27
The gendered determination of body-odours is underscored in Aristophanes’
Lysistrata, when the men, and later the women, remove their clothing in order
to release their respective scents (662-663, 686). Body-odour was also deter-
mined by social class, as in Aristophanes’ Clouds when the rustic Strepsiades
describes his marriage to a wealthy city girl: “When I married her I climbed
into bed smelling of new wine, figs, fleeces and abundance; and she of per-
fume, saffron, tongue kisses, extravagance, gluttony (...)” (46-52). Foul body-
odours were likened to the smell of animals, especially goats (Aristophanes,
Acharnians 852; Peace 813; Aristotle, Probl. 13.9). The negative connotations
of animal and human body-odours underscore the ideological distinctions be-
tween human and animal bodies.

25 Translation from Tredennick & Waterfield (1990). This passage is generally taken to mean
that the olive oil used by athletes was unscented (see above, p. 157).
26 μεγαλεῖον, invented by the Athenian perfumer Megallos, was a popular scent composed of
myrrh, burnt resin (probably pine), cassia and cinnamon, and was tinted pink with the addi-
tion of alkanet (also used for rouge; see above, p. 169). For a modern recipe for μεγαλεῖον,
see Pointer (2005: 212-213).
27 Translation from Tredennick & Waterfield (1990).
172 Mireille M. Lee

Perfumes and body-odours are closely associated with bathing practices

(see above, pp. 159, 163-165). The application of scented oils to the skin and
hair was a regular feature of the bath, especially for women. Conversely, infre-
quent bathing would have resulted in increased body-odour. Given that regular
bathing was a privilege of the elite, it follows that artificial scent in the form of
perfume was reserved for those of high status, while naturally occurring body-
odour was associated with low status, as reflected in the literary sources. Per-
fume was certainly a luxury product, especially exotic formulations of im-
ported flowers and spices. The barbarian associations of perfume made it espe-
cially appropriate for women’s use, though it is clear that men used certain
types of perfumes in particular contexts, especially the ritual context of the
symposium. The erotic connotations of perfume likewise suggest that it was
gendered feminine.28
Despite the fact that the nude male body was presented as the ideal in clas-
sical Greece, this body was not natural,29 but was achieved by means of body-
modification: exercise, bathing, grooming, and other manipulations such as in-
fibulation. Many of these practices took place in public arenas, such as the pa-
laestra and the barbershop, which underscores the importance of personal dis-
play. But it should be noted that such modifications to the body were only
temporary; they required repeated performance in order to maintain the ideal
of the masculine elite.
Whereas masculine body-modification took place primarily in the public
contexts of the palaestra and barbershop, feminine body-modification was pri-
vate and domestic. And whereas masculine body-modification is characterized
by personal display and the homoerotic gaze, feminine body-modification is a
more intimate process, often performed alone or with only an attendant or two.
The self-referential nature of feminine body-modification is underscored by
the prevalence of mirrors in scenes of feminine adornment, as on a red-figure
amphoriskos by the Eretria Painter in the Ashmolean (fig. 8) depicting a seated
woman arranging her hair. (Note also the alabastron hanging on the wall be-
hind her, another symbol of feminine beauty.) Women regularly gaze at their
own appearance in mirrors, whereas men, as a rule, do not (Frontisi-Ducroux

28 For the relationship between feminine sexuality and perfumes in modern culture, see Cohen
(1992: 48-78).
29 Social theorist Pasi Falk notes: “The Western body-image is dominated by a deep rooted idea
of ‘the natural’. This may be traced back to Greco-Roman body-aesthetics on the one hand,
and the Judeo-Christian tradition on the other. The Greco-Roman cult of natural, bodily
beauty of both men and women, so richly expressed in the pictorial art of antiquity, was part
of a whole ‘aesthetic of existence’ (Foucault 1987), but it allowed decoration and painting of
the body only as far as it served the ideal of ‘natural’ beauty. Other kinds of body-moulding,
or permanent marking of the body were disapproved of, irreversible markings were restricted
to stigmatizing uses” (Falk 1995: 100).
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 173

1996). The essential equivalence between mirrors and femininity is indicated

by the fact that mirrors function as a kind of icon for feminine beauty just as
the athlete’s kit represents the masculine ideal.30
What both genders share in terms of practices of body-modification is that
they are all temporary: they require repeated performance, allowing multiple
opportunities for display and conspicuous consumption, especially of luxury
goods such as perfume, and the services of barbers and slaves. The aristocratic
elite used temporary body-modification as a means of maintaining their iden-
tity vis-à-vis non-elites and especially non-Greeks.

6. Bodies of barbarians
Barbarians were marked as “other” in Greek society by body-modifications
that were the opposite of Greeks. Whereas Greek men and women ideally ad-
hered to the prescriptions of the δίαιτα, no provisions are made in the texts for
the diet, exercise, or bathing practices of non-Greeks. Whereas Greek men and
women attended carefully to their hairstyles, beards and body-hair, barbarians
are repeatedly represented with wild, dishevelled hair, as seen on the Thracian
woman depicted on the red-figure column krater by the Pan Painter in Munich
(fig. 9); or with bald, shaved heads and faces, as on the red-figure pelike in
Athens, also by the Pan Painter, depicting the Egyptian priests of Bousiris (fig.
10). As described above, cosmetics and perfumes had strong barbarian conno-
But certainly the most distinctive feature of barbarian body-modification is
that they engaged in permanent practices, whereas the Greeks, as a rule, did
not. As seen in fig. 9, Thracian women are regularly identified in vase-painting
by elaborate tattoos on their arms, legs, neck and face. That the designs were
permanent and not simply painted on is indicated by descriptions of stigmata
in various (mostly late) medical sources.31
Another decidedly non-Greek practice is circumcision. 32 Herodotus
(2.104) identifies circumcision with various ethnic groups of the Eastern Medi-
terranean but especially with Egyptian priests, who “value cleanliness more
than comeliness” (2.37). And, indeed, the red-figure pelike in Athens by the
Pan Painter depicts the Egyptian priests of Bousiris with large, circumcised
genitals in contrast to the petite, uncircumcised genitals of Heracles.

30 For example, in fig. 6, a mirror hangs on the wall as a general symbol of feminine adornment.
31 Jones (1987: 142); see also Jones (2000).
32 The earliest evidence for female circumcision (also known as female genital mutilation or
FGM) is a second-century B.C. papyrus from Memphis, Egypt (Cohen 2005: 56-57; Knight
2001). Strabo reports that the Egyptians “circumcise the males and excise the females” (Ge-
ography 17.2.5).
174 Mireille M. Lee

Figure 8: Red-figure amphoriskos, Eretria Painter, c. 450-400 B.C.,

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, no. G303. Photograph: Ashmolean Museum
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 175

Figure 9: Red-figure column-krater, Pan Painter, c. 470 B.C.,

Staatliche Museen, Antikensammlungen, Munich, no. J777.
Photograph: Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek München
176 Mireille M. Lee

Figure 10: Red-figure pelike, Pan Painter, c. 470 B.C.,

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, no. 9683.
© Hellenic Ministry of Culture/Archaeological Receipts Fund
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 177

Perhaps the most dramatic example of permanent body-modification is the

head-binding practised by the tribe of Makrokephaloi (‘Longheads’), as de-
scribed in the Hippocratic Airs, Waters, Places: “As soon as a child is born
they remodel its head with their hands, while it is still soft and the body tender,
and force it to increase in length by applying bandages and suitable appliances,
which spoil the roundness of the head and increase its length” (Airs, Waters,
Places 14). Aside from ear-piercing for women, which may have had foreign
connotations given the tradition of ear-piercing in the Near East, Greeks never
engage in permanent body-modification. 33 Such permanent forms of body-
modification ensure that non-Greeks have no opportunity for transgressing
ethnic boundaries by means of performance. As Pasi Falk notes in reference to
modern body-modification: “The irreversible reshaping of the body and its
permanent marking manifest the stable and static character of relations in soci-
ety” (Falk 1995: 99).

7. Summary
Although body-modification may seem, at first glance, a superficial aspect of
Greek culture, it reflects Greek ideology in a profound way. The elite male is
the ideal in Greek society; hence, his body is the ideal. This body is habitually
constructed by means of body-modifications; other bodies are marked as devi-
ating from the normative male body. Whereas men exercise outdoors in the
nude, acquiring deep, dark tans and defined musculature, women remain in-
doors, retaining pale white skin. Whereas men oil and scrape their bodies, and
bathe in the public arena of the palaestra, women bathe in a private, domestic,
context. Whereas men cut their hair short, women grow their hair long and
bind it with fillets and hairnets. Of course some dress practices are biologically
impossible for women to achieve, for example infibulation, or the growing of
chest-hair or beards, which underscores the “natural-ness” of the normative
Greek male. On the other hand, some practices of body-modification are
shared by men and women: the process of bathing, for example, is not so dif-
ferent for both genders, and both use perfumed oil and, perhaps, skin-
cosmetics, though in different ways. These points of convergence may there-
fore indicate other aspects of identity, elite vs. non-elite status, for example,
which is most effectively achieved by the consumption of luxury products such
as perfume. On the other hand, it seems that elite women and hetairai shared
certain dress practices, not only bathing and the use of perfume and cosmetics,
but also the treatment of head- and body-hair, which function as strong indica-

33 Men do wear earrings in the so-called Anacreontic vases, but it is unclear whether men actu-
ally pierced their ears for this purpose.
178 Mireille M. Lee

tors of status among men. Again, it would seem that the primary social distinc-
tion conveyed by these practices was gender as opposed to status. On the other
hand, it may suggest that the dichotomy between wife and courtesan was not
so strict as we might think; the potential for being mistaken for a prostitute it-
self functions as a means of social control for proper women. But some “oth-
ers” will never be able to manipulate their identities by means of body-
modification: tattooing and circumcision mark barbarians as permanently
other-than-Greek. It may seem counter-intuitive that the masculine Greek elite,
who presumably would never wish to relinquish their elite status, should not
choose permanent body-modification for themselves. But it is in the repeated
performance of body-modification that the subtleties of social identity are con-
structed and maintained. It is in the negotiation of the boundaries of bodies that
Classical Greek society defined itself.


Baertschi, Annette M. & Thorsten Fögen (2005): Schönheitsbilder und Geschlechterrol-

len im antiken Rom. Zur Bedeutung von Kosmetik, Frisuren, Kleidung und
Schmuck. In: Forum Classicum 48, 213-226.
Bain, David M. (1982a): Κατωνάκην τὸν χοῖρον ἀποτετιλμένας (Aristophanes, Ekkle-
siazousai 724). In: Liverpool Classical Monthly 7, 7-10.
Bain, David M. (1982b): Addenda, corrigenda, retractanda. In: Liverpool Classical
Monthly 7, 111.
Barcan, Ruth (2004): Nudity. A Cultural Anatomy, Oxford & New York.
Barnes, Jonathan (1984): The Complete Works of Aristotle, Princeton.
Bérard, Claude (1986): L’impossible femme athlète. In: Annali dell’Istituto universi-
tario orientali di Napoli 8, 195-202.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1977): Outline of a Theory of Practice (transl. Richard Nice), Cam-
Cohen, Colleen B. (1992): Olfactory constitution of the postmodern body. Nature chal-
lenged, nature adorned. In: Frances E. Mascia-Lees & Patricia Sharpe (eds.),
Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment, Albany, 48-78.
Cohen, David (1985): A note on Aristophanes and the punishment of adultery in Athe-
nian law. In: Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte 102, 385-
Cohen, Shaye J. D. (2005): Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised? Gender and
Covenant in Judaism, Berkeley.
Craik, Elizabeth (1995): Hippocratic Diaita. In: John Wilkins, David Harvey & Mike
Dobson (eds.), Food in Antiquity, Exeter, 343-350.
Detel, Wolfgang (1998): Foucault and Classical Antiquity. Power, Ethics and Knowl-
edge (transl. David Wigg-Wolf), Cambridge.
Body-Modification in Classical Greece 179

Douglas, Mary (2002): Purity and Danger. An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution
and Taboo, London & New York.
Dover, Kenneth J. (1989): Greek Homosexuality, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Eicher, Joanne B. & Mary-Ellen Roach-Higgins (1992): Definition and classification of
dress. Implication for analysis of gender roles. In: Ruth Barnes & Joanne B. Ei-
cher (eds.), Dress and Gender. Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts, Ox-
ford, 8-28.
Entwistle, Joanne (2001): The dressed body. In: Joanne Entwistle & Elizabeth Wilson
(eds.), Body Dressing, Oxford, 33-58.
Falk, Pasi (1995): Written in the flesh. In: Body and Society 1.1, 95-105.
Faraone, Christopher A. & Laura McClure (eds.) (2006): Prostitutes and Courtesans in
the Ancient World, Madison, Wisconsin.
Ferrari, Gloria (2002): Figures of Speech. Men and Maidens in Ancient Greece, Chi-
cago & London.
Foucault, Michel (1977): Discipline and Punish, New York.
Foucault, Michel (1990): The History of Sexuality. Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure (transl.
Robert Hurley), New York.
Frontisi-Ducroux, Françoise (1996): Eros, desire, and the gaze. In: Natalie Boymel
Kampen (ed.), Sexuality in Ancient Art, Cambridge, 81-100.
Grmek, Mirko D. & Danielle Gourevitch (1998): Les maladies dans l’art antique, Paris.
Hannah, Patricia A. (2004): The cosmetic use of red ochre (miltos). In: Liza Cleland,
Karen Stears & Glenys Davies (eds.), Colour in the Ancient Mediterranean
World, Oxford, 100-105.
Hodges, Frederick M. (2001): The ideal prepuce in ancient Greece and Rome. Male
genital aesthetics and their relation to lipodermos, circumcision, foreskin resto-
ration, and the kynodesmé. In: Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75, 375-405.
Jones, Christopher P. (1987): Stigma. Tattooing and branding in Graeco-Roman antiq-
uity. In: Journal of Roman Studies 77, 139-155.
Jones, Christopher P. (2000): Stigma and tattoo. In: Jane Caplan (ed.), Written on the
Body. The Tattoo in European and American History, Princeton, 1-16.
Knight, Mary (2001): Curing cut or ritual mutilation? Some remarks on the practice of
female and male circumcision in Graeco-Roman Egypt. In: Isis 92.2, 317-338.
Kotera-Feyer, Ellen (1998): Die Strigilis in der attisch-rotfigurigen Vasenmalerei. Bild-
formeln und ihre Deutung. In: Nikephoros 11, 107-136.
Levine, Molly Myerowitz (1995): The gendered grammar of ancient Mediterranean
hair. In: Howard Eilberg-Schwarz & Wendy Doniger (eds.), Off with Her Head!
The Denial of Women’s Identity in Myth, Religion, and Culture, Berkeley, 76-
Lewis, Sian (1995): Barbers’ shops and perfume shops. ‘Symposia without wine’. In:
Anton Powell (ed.), The Greek World, London & New York, 432-441.
Lewis, Sian (2002): The Athenian Woman. An Iconographic Handbook, London & New
Lilja, Saara (1972): The Treatment of Odours in the Poetry of Antiquity, Helsinki.
180 Mireille M. Lee

Mattusch, Carol C. (1996): Classical Bronzes. The Art and Craft of Greek and Roman
Statuary, Ithaca.
Miller, Stephen G. (2004a): Ancient Greek Athletics, New Haven & London.
Miller, Stephen G. (³2004b): Arete. Greek Sports from Ancient Sources, Berkeley.
Osborne, Robin (1998): Sculpted men of Athens. Masculinity and power in the field of
vision. In: Lin Foxhall & John Salmon (eds.), Thinking Men. Masculinity and
Its Self-Representation in the Classical Tradition, London & New York, 23-42.
Paul, Aaron J. (1993): Eros and a depilation scene by the Dinos Painter. In: American
Journal of Archaeology 97, 330.
Pfisterer-Haas, Susanne (2002): Mädchen und Frauen am Wasser. Brunnenhaus und
Louterion als Orte der Frauengemeinschaft und der möglichen Begegnung mit
einem Mann. In: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 117, 1-79.
Pointer, Sally (2005): The Artifice of Beauty. A History and Practical Guide to Per-
fumes and Cosmetics, Stroud.
Pomeroy, Sarah (1994): Xenophon: Oeconomicus. A Social and Historical Commentary,
Oxford & New York.
Puhvel, Jaan (1976): The origins of Greek kosmos and Latin mundus. In: American
Journal of Philology 97, 154-167.
Roy, James (1991): Traditional jokes about the punishment of adulterers in ancient
Greek literature. In: Liverpool Classical Monthly 16, 73-76.
Sabetai, Victoria (1997): Aspects of nuptial and genre imagery in fifth-century Athens.
Issues of interpretation and methodology. In: John H. Oakley, William D. E.
Coulsen & Olga Palagia (eds.), Athenian Potters and Painters, Oxford, 319-335.
Scanlon, Thomas F. (2002): Eros and Greek Athletics, Oxford.
Sweet, Waldo E. (1985): Protection of the genitals in Greek athletics. In: Ancient World
11, 43-52.
Synnott, Anthony (1987): Shame and glory. A sociology of hair. In: British Journal of
Sociology 38, 381-413.
Tarán, Sonya Lida (1985): ΕΙΣΙ ΤΡΙΧΕΣ. An erotic motif in the Greek Anthology. In:
Journal of Hellenic Studies 105, 90-107.
Tredennick, Hugh & Robin Waterfield (transl.) (1990): Xenophon: Conversations of
Socrates, London.
Ulf, Christoph (1979): Die Einreibung der griechischen Athleten mit Öl. Zweck und
Ursprung. In: Stadion 5.2, 220-238.
Wilkins, John (2000): The Boastful Chef. The Discourse of Food in Ancient Greek
Comedy, Oxford.
“Clothes Make the Man”:
Dressing the Roman Freedman Body
Lauren Hackworth Petersen

This paper examines how social identity can be inscribed on Roman bodies by means of
clothing (or lack thereof) and other adornments, paying particular attention to the bod-
ies of individuals outside the elite inner circle. Although the study of freed slaves or
freedmen has been in vogue lately, this essay focusses on a hitherto understudied aspect
of former slaves, namely their appearances as depicted in both Roman art and literature.
Invoking literary sources and visual testimony, this paper shows how dress and the
presentation of the ex-slave body prove far more ambiguous than has been suggested.
Throughout I show where visual representations taken from the funerary realm and
frescoes seeming to depict everyday realities do not always reflect ideals as articulated
by the elite. I suggest that ancient rhetoric about how one should appear to others, along
with jabs at ex-slaves’ inappropriate dress, may offer insights more generally about the
elite’s desires and struggles for self-definition. To this extent, ex-slave bodies were
constructed to embody the limitations of a system so heavily dependent on dress and
outward appearances. The paper concludes that, neither slave nor freeborn, the freed-
man body was cultivated rhetorically by the elite as a site of paradoxes, and hence
source of anxieties, blurring as it did what were intended to be visible and defined so-
cial boundaries.

Mark Twain is often credited with having declared: “Clothes make the man.
Naked people have little or no influence on society”. Whether this unsourced
quote can be linked to Twain so precisely, we can be fairly certain that modern
society was the target of the observation.1 In any case, the statement acutely

1 There is, however, the Latin proverb vestis virum reddit or, in a slightly different form, vestis
virum facit (Erasmus, Adagia 3.1.60). In the passage from the Adagia, Erasmus quotes Quin-
tilian (Inst. orat. 8 pr. 20: et cultus concessus atque magnificus addit hominibus, ut Graeco
versu testatum est, auctoritatem) and supposes that this line goes back to Homer (Od. 6).
However, the phrase vestis virum facit does not occur in any ancient Roman text. See Otto
(1890: 100) on the Quintilian passage: “Das griechische Original ist nicht erhalten, die For-
mel εἵματ’ ἀνήρ rührt von Scaliger her, kann aber die richtige nicht sein, weil sie der Über-
lieferung bei Quintilian nicht entspricht”, and Walther (1967 [vol. 5]: 696, no. 33265a) for
further references. For modern times, one certainly thinks of Gottfried Keller’s novel Kleider
machen Leute (1874), which is part of his cycle Die Leute von Seldwyla. I owe these refer-
ences to Thorsten Fögen.
182 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

achieves two goals. On one hand, it reveals a preoccupation with dress in pre-
senting oneself to society. Clothing could define an individual with regard to
gender, class, profession, among other status indicators. On the other hand, the
observation’s effectiveness is accomplished lightheartedly by presenting an ex-
treme – naked people have no influence. Kings and political leaders are typi-
cally shrouded in symbols of wealth and power, while bare bodies wield no
symbols of authority, are exposed, and are thus rendered powerless, if not un-
human. What authority-figure, after all, conducts business utterly naked in
western, industrialized society?2 This paper takes the modern quip as a point of
departure and explores how the body in ancient Roman society could also
serve as a locus of self-definition, or objectification by others, by examining
how clothing, or lack thereof, did indeed “make the man”, if not always in a
straightforward way. Looking at visual and literary evidence, this essay pro-
poses that the Roman body – and its adornment – was often a highly charged
and nuanced site for expressing social status, particularly for individuals out-
side the elite inner circle.
To begin, I reiterate a point made eloquently by Jaś Elsner: “In several
significant ways, the Roman world was a visual culture” (Elsner 1998: 11).
Romans were accustomed to and highly attuned to visual modes of communi-
cation so that visual literacy reigned supreme over verbal literacy; pictures and
visual clues often took priority over words. For instance, the finely carved,
second-century funerary stele of Caius Julius Helius prominently displays a
portrait bust of the deceased. Depicted in the pediment above the portrait, two
shoe lasts (with one filling a sandal) announce visually that the individual
shown was a shoemaker (fig. 1). Below, in somewhat small letters, the first
line of the epitaph reads: C(aius) Iulius Helius sutor (“Caius Julius Helius,
shoemaker”) and plays only a supporting role in the projection of this individ-
ual’s identity for those relatively few who could read. 3 The importance of
Rome’s visual culture should also be set into perspective by coupling it with a
rather obvious statement about the structure of Roman society, namely, that it
was hierarchical. Although the social orders were rigidly defined – the imperial
family, senators, equestrians, local council men, ordinary folks, freed slaves,
slaves etc. – some groups could experience social mobility not known, for ex-
ample, in the Greek world. Moreover, much was at stake in articulating one’s

2 Apart from the figure of the king in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale Keiserens Nye
Klæder (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”), which seems to go back to a Moorish tale.
3 CIL 6.33914: C(aius) Iulius Helius sutor a / Porta Fontinale fecit sibi et / Iuliae Flaccillae
fil(iae) et C(aio) Iulio / Onesimo liberto libertabusque / posterisque eorum v(ivo) f(ecit)
(“Caius Julius Helius, shoemaker at the Porta Fontinalis, built this monument, while living,
for himself, Julia Flaccilla, daughter, Caius Julius Onesimus, freedman, and his freed slaves
and theirs”). On Roman literacy rates, see Harris (1989: 147-322) and the essays in Beard &
al. (1991).
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 183

Figure 1: Stele of C. Julius Helius, Rome, A.D. 120-130.

Photograph: Rossa, Neg. D-DAI-Rom 1977.1705
184 Lauren Hackworth Petersen
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 185

Figure 3: Column of Trajan, Rome, A.D. 113.

Photograph: Alinari / Art Resource, NY, ART27440
186 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

role in Roman society, marked as it was by external appearances and, by ex-

tension, by the legibility of those appearances. As Barbara Kellum has stated, a
Roman was, for all intents and purposes, what he appeared to be, so that “the
self was literally a projection of exterior signs” (Kellum 1999: 288). As we
shall see, to under- or overstate visually one’s social standing could invite un-
welcome consequences.
I should also specify at the outset that by external appearances I mean
monumental and personal appearances, with the latter being bodily expressions
as represented in art and literature. This is not to suggest two mutually exclu-
sive categories. That monumental and personal appearances could intersect in
the formation of social identity is nicely illustrated, for instance, with the well-
known Column of Trajan (figs. 2 and 3). The frieze adorning the column cele-
brates the military achievements of the emperor, who is shown repeatedly,
usually larger in scale than others, elevated on a platform, in military garb,
gesturing and commanding the gazes of his army or the barbarians. His body is
the dominating presence, and not coincidentally, the column functioned as a
pedestal for a monumental statue of Trajan, placing him, in no uncertain terms,
above the citizen body. The column, an honorific art form, and its figural im-
ages worked together to define and legitimize the authority of the emperor.
The same monumental and pictorial conventions could also hold true for
citizens more generally. For example, on the Tomb of the Baker in Rome, the
baker, Eurysaces, declares in two inscriptions his profession as a baker and
contractor of bread (fig. 4).4 Moreover, the sheer scale of the monument sug-
gests that he was a rather wealthy owner of a baking enterprise. Three pictorial
friezes survive from the top of the monument, each showing an aspect of
bread-making, and within each the workers, probably slaves, are clearly distin-
guished from citizens or state officials through vigorous work activity. Al-
though we cannot be certain if Eurysaces is present in any of the friezes, he
may have defined himself vis-à-vis the bodies of others. For example, one re-
lief depicts the weighing of loaves of bread before magistrates (fig. 5). The dif-
ferences between the bodies of workers and magistrates are encoded visually
in the following ways. The workers themselves are shown busily attending to
their tasks; their dynamic poses separate them from the vertical, and hence,
relatively statuesque figures of the magistrates at right. Costume reinforces the
degree of movement each person is capable of undertaking. The short tunic,

4 CIL 1.2.1204: Est hoc monimentum Margei [sic] Vergilei Eurysacis / pistoris redemptoris
apparet (“This is the monument of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, baker, contractor, public
servant [?]”). CIL 1.2.1203: [Est hoc monimentu]m Marcei Vergilei Eurysacis pistoris red-
emptoris apparet (“[This is the monument] of Marcus Vegilius Eurysaces, baker, contractor,
public servant [?]”). On the interpretations of the inscriptions and for a discussion of the tomb
itself, see Petersen (2003: 230, 249, 252 n. 2).
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 187

belted at the waist, exposes the legs and arms to allow for significant move-
ment as the workers lift heavy items onto the scales. In contrast, the long toga
severely limited, if not physically prevented, such movements. Indeed, as is
well known, the toga was the garment that signified Roman citizen status
(slaves and other non-citizens were prohibited from wearing the toga alto-
gether). The togate figures therefore telegraph both citizenhood and, equally
important, a status far removed from that of the manual workers, whether
slaves or otherwise. Ancient viewers must have understood the proprietor of
this large and noticeable monument, Eurysaces, not as one of the workers but
as the owner of the labour, and a bridge between it and the magistrates. His
body, it would seem, is rendered metonymically (as well as possibly being de-
picted in one or more relief).

Figure 4: Tomb of M. Vergilius Eurysaces, Rome, late first century B.C.

Photograph: Stephen Petersen

The distinction between the enslaved and the free, as we tend to see it articu-
lated on the baker’s tomb, was perhaps the starkest division that could be
drawn in Roman society.5 Among those who were free, it seems that individu-
als often donned clothing, whether of wool, linen, or silk, and accessories to
the extent that their wealth and social standing permitted. Given the low social
standing of slaves, one would expect that slave dress be kept to a minimum so
as to facilitate work and establish the humble social standing of its bearer. Yet,

5 On representing slave bodies in the ancient world and beyond, see Wiedemann & Gardner
188 Lauren Hackworth Petersen
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 189

Figure 6: Couple in bed and a cubicularius, House of the Caecilii, Pompeii, A.D. 62-79.
Photograph: Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici delle province di Napoli e Caserta,
neg. 5556

there is no single dress or uniform of Roman slaves. In fact, slave bodies, par-
ticularly domestic slaves in wealthier households, could be easily modelled ac-
cording to a master’s whims, as displays of conspicuous consumption (Bradley
1994: 87-106; George 2002: 41-54). Clothing of fine materials and even jew-
elry could put some slaves at material advantage over working poor citizens.6
For example, at the House of the Caecilii in Pompeii, a fresco showed, at the
time of excavation, a cubicularius (bedchamber servant) dressed in elegant at-
tire, including a gold hairnet and armlet, both depicted in applied gold (Clarke

6 On jewelry worn by slaves, see Seneca, De tranqu. an. 1.8.

190 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

1998: 156) (fig. 6). Whether this image projects a reality – the masters at this
house adorned their esteemed slaves in finery – or a projection of an ideal –
made tangible through the application of actual gold – remains unknown. But
the very idea that domestic slaves could be represented in attire that far sur-
passed that of the working poor suggests that dress codes and social bounda-
ries were by no means fixed, but were made permeable according to a master’s
desires for self-promotion. Slave bodies, as extensions of a master’s property,
could thus be used, in effect, to inscribe the social standing of the master.

Figure 7: Bronze slave collar, fourth century (?)

Photograph: Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, no. 24173-2.
© Patrick Pierrain / Petit Palais / Roger Voillet

Likewise, slave collars and bullae adorned slaves, but with brutal effect (fig.
7). Slave collars and bullae were meant to discourage escape or to assist in re-
capture if a slave had escaped. About thirty-six collars (including those with
bullae attached) have been recovered from the late-Roman world. These were
individually inscribed, but a formulaic message predominates and can be dis-
tilled as follows: ‘Catch me. I have run away. Take me back to my master’.7
Clearly the metal collar was a stark signifier, as it effectively announces, both
visually and verbally, the status of its bearer – a slave, no longer a body but an
object in someone else’s possession. As if such indignities were not enough,
Romans, as with the Greeks, practised penal tattooing among criminals and
slaves. This form of corporeal punishment was permanent and highly visible,
marking the face or head with either well-known inscriptions of runaway
slaves (fugitivorum epigramma) that were reminiscent of those on slave col-
lars, or, more likely with a simple ‘F’ on the forehead (for fugi: “I have run

7 See Thompson (2003: 238-240). The inscription on the collar as illustrated (CIL 15.7182):
Tene me et reboca me Aproniano Palatino ad mappa(m) aurea(m) in Abentino, quia fugi
(“Catch me and return me to Apronianus Palatinus, on the Aventine, near the golden map,
from which I fled”).
8 On fugitivorum epigramma, see Petronius, Sat. 103. On tattoos, see Jones (1987) and Thomp-
son (2003: 241-242).
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 191

Figure 8: Funerary relief of the Furius family, Rome, 13 B.C. – A.D. 5.

Museo Lateranense, Vatican Museums, Vatican State.
Photograph: Alinari / Art Resource, NY, ART369971

That slave bodies endured humiliation and degradation is a given. On the other
hand, to have been enfranchised as a citizen, a Roman freedman or freed-
woman lived in a world that must have seemed filled with opportunities. Those
opportunities included, but were not limited to, the right to marry legally, to
produce a legitimate Roman family and to acquire wealth. Yet behind every
new advantage, a reminiscence of one’s servile past could potentially dim that
new opportunity, a circumstance that distinguished Roman ex-slaves (libertini)
from freeborn citizens. Although they were permitted to participate in the po-
litical process by voting, libertini could not stand for prestigious elected of-
fice.9 Although able to accumulate property, a freed slave might have had to
hand over a portion of his estate upon death to the former master. And even as
they were slave owners themselves, many freed people remained tied by bonds
of obligations to their own former owners (Duff 1928: 36-49; Fabre 1981;
Treggiari 1969: 68-81). As the very designation “libertinus” makes explicit, an
ex-slave’s past clung to his or her social identity at least as much as did the
newly acquired citizen status. For instance, a funerary relief (CIL 6.18795) de-

9 Duff (1928: 129-142) and Treggiari (1969: 162-193). For a succinct and insightful account of
the Roman freedman, see Andreau (1993).
192 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

picting five individuals repeatedly calls attention to citizen and former-slave

status via the inscribed ‘L’ (standing for libertus / liberta) here integral to the
five ex-slaves’ nomenclature (fig. 8). It would seem that these individuals, for
reasons that may not be entirely clear, are insisting on declaring their freed
status epigraphically, even though the bodies of the commemorated are de-
picted in no uncertain terms in citizen attire: the toga for men and the stola and
palla (mantle) drawn up to veil the head for matrons.10 Although the study of
Roman freed slaves has been in vogue lately,11 I wish to delve into a hitherto
understudied aspect of freedmen, namely the bodies of libertini as depicted in
both Roman art and literature. To do so, it will be important to consider the
adornment of both slave and citizen bodies; ex-slaves knew both realities.
I take as a point of departure a funerary stele that has received relatively
little scholarly notice (fig. 9). The monument, dated to the late Republic or
early Empire, was commissioned by Marcus Publilius Satyr from Capua and
firmly belongs in the tradition of Roman funerary art.12 It features portraits of
the deceased, in the form of two full-length figures, wrapped in Republican-era
togas, who command our attention as they gaze steadily at us. The bodies, as
defined by the toga, signify Roman citizenship, individually and collectively.
The relief below depicts a scene taken from everyday life, the sale of a slave
who stands upon a raised platform (catasta) with his feet in shackles. Although
a platform in Roman art typically serves to elevate the status of those repre-
sented on it (as with the Column of Trajan), the relative nakedness of the indi-
vidual, shown only in a loincloth and shackles, combined with his stiff and
awkwardly placed arms utterly reverses that reading. Representations of slave
markets are few, but ancient observers make clear how this image is to be
read.13 The younger Seneca writes (Epist. 80.9):
(...) detrahis vestimenta venalibus ne qua vitia corporis lateant.
“You pull off the garments from slaves that are advertised for sale, so that no
bodily flaws may escape your notice.”14

10 Ex-slaves were not obliged by law to declare their status on funerary reliefs, and indeed such
declarations fall out of favour by the second century (see Taylor 1961). On civilian attire for
Roman men and women, see Stone (2001) and Sebesta (2001). Also see Croom (2000).
11 For example, see the essays in D’Ambra & Métraux (2006), Hughes (2001) and Petersen
12 For the most recent assessment of this image and relevant bibliography, see Hughes (2001:
168-170, 221-222).
13 On slave markets and their representations, see most recently Bodel (2005), Fentress (2005)
and Pucci (2005). Also see Harris (1980).
14 As translated in the Loeb edition (Seneca: Ad Lucilium Epistulae morales, vol. 2. With an
English translation by Richard M. Gummere, Cambridge, Mass. & London 1970, 217). Dis-
cussed in Hallett (2005: 67-68).
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 193

Figure 9: Stele of M. Publilius Satyr, Capua, late Republican or early Imperial period.
Photograph: Eisner, Neg. D-DAI-Rom 1964.1859
194 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Figure 10: Portrait of a man, Ostra (province of Ancona), Trajanic.

Photograph: René Steffen, Musée d’art et d’histoire, Geneva, inv. no. 8938(1)
© Musée d’art et d’histoire, Ville de Genève
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 195

Plainly, slaves were not people but commodities and subject to inspection be-
fore purchase. Their bodies were exposed and treated simply as objects, hence
the seeming “unnaturalness” of the body’s pose.
To be sure, Christopher Hallett has recently demonstrated that Romans,
unlike the Greeks, had a strong and persistent taboo against being seen naked
in public (Hallett 2005). When Romans adopted the male nude portrait of the
Greeks, it was adapted as a kind of “costume” to signify heroism, so that the
portrait features of a mature man are juxtaposed with a youthful, classically in-
spired body (fig. 10). Importantly, such figures were typically adorned, albeit
barely, with the military cloak (chlamys), sandals and a sword held in a parade
grip. Hallett shows how this type of image, although often startling to modern
eyes, effectively transported the individual out of the realm of contemporary
life and into the mythical world of heroic action and was thus regarded as an
appropriate honorific portrait for an individual who enjoyed a successful mili-
tary career. In contrast, slaves could be shown as stripped bare (nudi), save the
undergarment (subligaculum) – so strong was the taboo against total nudity.
Indeed, skimpy clothing often symbolized a degraded condition and was thus
worn by actors, workers, slaves, athletes and the like (Olson 2003: 205-208). A
fragment of a second-century mosaic from Tunisia shows the vicious execu-
tion of a prisoner in the arena (fig. 11). Despite his undergarment, his body is
to be read as naked, vulnerable and defiled and thus entirely un-Roman.
Just as the condemned criminal was on display in the arena, so is the slave
displayed on the funerary stele of Marcus Publilius Satyr (fig. 9). The slave’s
body has been subject to the penetrating gaze of the prospective buyer at right,
who faces the viewer as he points to the slave body, inviting our inspection as
well, thereby affirming power relations between slave and potential master,
and between slave and viewer. For the Romans, the gaze is always male in that
it is active. To be the object of the gaze risks assimilation of the self with the
penetrated body of the female.15 The slave, stripped naked, is therefore de-
picted as feminized and passive. He has lost control over his own body and is
rendered as Other as he is possessed by another and his gaze. At left is an ad-
vancing figure, dressed, according to one scholar, in Greek garb.16 He might
just as likely be wearing a Roman-style knee-length tunic and a cloak that flut-
ters with his movement, however. The figure’s relatively wide stance com-
bined with his gesture signal motion; he is the energetic seller. In contrast, the
togate figure at right retains a quiet dignity and, importantly, control. Together
all three bodies – from the slave to the slave seller to the slave buyer – visually
reinforce social boundaries through matrices of dress, undress, action and inaction.

15 On the rhetoric of active and passive and its links to masculine and feminine realms in the
Roman world, see Richlin (1992). On the power of the gaze, see Parker (1999).
16 Frederiksen (1959: 115). Also see Pucci (2005: 237).
196 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Figure 11: Floor mosaic of a condemned prisoner being executed by a leopard,

El Djem, Tunisia, second century A.D. Photograph: Neg. D-DAI-Rom 1964.0542

The pictures become even more complex when the accompanying inscriptions
are taken into account (CIL 10.8222). Above we are informed that M. Publilius
Satyr, a freedman, commissioned this stele for himself and for a fellow liber-
tinus, Stepanus:
[M.] Publilius M. l. Satur de suo
sibi et liberto M. Publilio Stepano
“M. Publilius Satyr, freedman of Marcus, made this monument with his own
money for himself and for the freedman M. Publilius Stepanus.”
We can fairly assume that both are represented as the statuesque togate figures,
so that although the inscriptions clearly articulate their former-slave status,
their portraits telegraph first and foremost Roman citizenship via the toga. A
smaller inscription appears between the two relief fields and provides the
names of two more libertini:
Arbitratu M. Publili M. l. Cadiae
praeconis et M. Publili M. l. Timotis
“By the free will of M. Publilius Cadia, freedman of Marcus, public crier, and
M. Publilius Timotes, freedman of Marcus.”
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 197

That one of the ex-slaves is identified as a praeco, means that he could be a

slave seller at auction and thus the individual shown at left below. Worlds col-
lide as a former slave transforms to slave seller. In an attempt to explain the
inclusion of the scene below, it has been hypothesized that Publilius Satyr
wanted to record his origins in slavery.17 More likely, however, Publilius Satyr
himself might have been engaged in the slave trade, in which case the image
would make reference to his profession as an associate of the praeco
(Frederiksen 1959: 115). Although we cannot be entirely certain of the relief’s
meaning, what is remarkable about this image is that it really does double duty.
While it shows the sale of a slave and seems to affirm simple social hierarchies
through the adornment of the bodies, it also suggests the complex status of
Roman society’s newest citizens shown above − by displaying a slave on the
auction block, a subtle, if inadvertent, reminder of the past each had left behind
(somewhat analogous to the ‘L’ as part of the nomenclature). Functioning as a
referent, the naked slave body potentially tarnishes the social identity of the
togate citizens shown above, thus visually encroaching on the boundary be-
tween slave and citizen for these libertini.
Such an effect was perhaps unintentional, but in a society where external
appearances mattered a great deal, it brings to the fore potential tensions in
self-definition: nothing could be absolute and certain. These tensions became
more acute when more was at stake. Ancient writers, as keen observers of con-
temporary life, often disparaged, from an emphatically elite perspective, those
who had come from the lower orders. Some individuals, despite their relatively
undistinguished family standing, had become wealthy and hence increasingly
visible in Roman society. That is, by affecting the elites in appearance, they
could begin to obfuscate social distinctions. Freed slaves were frequently the
source of the elite’s jabs, being that they were upwardly mobile individuals,
exemplified by Horace’s father, a freedman himself, who knew all too well the
importance of self-presentation, even when sending his son off to school.
Horace writes (Sat. 1.6.78-80):
vestem servosque sequentis,
in magno ut populo, si qui vidisset, avita
ex re praeberi sumptus mihi crederet illos.
“Anyone who saw my clothes and attendant slaves – as is the way in a great
city – would have thought that such expense was met from ancestral

17 See Pucci (2005: 237) for bibliography.

18 As translated in the Loeb edition (Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars poetica. With an English
translation by H. Rushton Fairclough, Cambridge, Mass. & London 1970, 83).
198 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Figure 12: Altar of the vicomagistri of the Vicus Aesculeti, Rome, A.D. 2.
Photograph: Koppermann, Neg. D-DAI-Rom 1960.1472
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 199

The archaeological record, too, reveals traces of freed slaves who achieved
some distinction, if only at a local level. For example, the Altar of the Vicus
Aesculeti, dedicated in Rome in A.D. 2, features four togate vicomagistri, mi-
nor officials of a neighbourhood, performing a sacrifice at an altar in honour of
the emperor (fig. 12). Also in attendance are a flute player, a lictor and two at-
tendants who bring forth a bull and pig for sacrifice. Although the inscriptions
are in a fragmentary state, two give the names of two of the vicomagistri, both
of whom are identified as libertini.19 With their heads covered (capite velato)
and adorned with laurel crowns, these freed slaves-turned-local-officials evoke
the world of the emperor and his retinue. It was precisely this potential for
status dissonance that elite authors disdained.
Perhaps the sharpest critic of contemporary Roman life is none other than
Petronius, the presumed author of the Satyrica working in Nero’s imperial cir-
cle. In one famous chapter of this satire, the Cena Trimalchionis, the protago-
nist Trimalchio, an unforgettable, fabulously rich and ostentatious freed slave,
exposes elite stereotypes about the freedman’s place within the Roman citizen
body. I would like to propose that the fictional character Trimalchio, along
with his ex-slave companions, also exposes Rome’s social fluidity and thus
some elite anxieties, as expressed through the freedman body. More specifi-
cally, his character might reveal the difficulties – and perhaps even the delight
– Romans could experience as they sought to articulate their perceived place in
Before delving into Petronius’ depiction of Trimalchio, it might be worth
further considering the significance of the toga, which, as we know, functioned
as a national dress of sorts. In an oft-cited passage, Vergil identifies the Ro-
mans as the gens togata, with the toga signifying, as noted, Roman citizenship
(Aen. 1.282).20 And yet, I hasten to add that this picture is not so straightforward.
Although boys and girls could wear the toga (toga praetexta) before coming of
age and a woman could wear a toga during the Republic, a woman who wore
the toga during the early empire and beyond was considered a pros titute or
adulteress, the very antithesis of the ideals of matronly Romanitas.21 Context
mattered when wearing a toga. But by the time of Augustus, the toga was, ide-
ally, the dress of adult male Romans. Indeed, Augustus required that all citi-
zens conducting business in the forum wear the toga and thus be distinguished
from non-citizens, including foreigners and slaves (Suetonius, Aug. 40). A
similar dress code prevailed in the theatre, and it is not without coincidence

19 CIL 6.30957. For a description of this altar and relevant bibliography, see Lott (2004: 142-
144, 199-200).
20 The standard works on the toga are Goette (1990) and Wilson (1924). On ancient references
to the significance of the toga, see Goette (1990: 10-19).
21 See Davies (2005), Sebesta (2005) and Sebesta (2001: 46-48, 50-51).
200 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

that this dress code appeared alongside Augustus’ rigid seating regulations in
the theatre, so that individuals were seated according to social rank (Suetonius,
Aug. 44). The body not only encoded social status through dress but also en-
acted it.22 The toga, in combination with the tunic (an undergarment), could
signal much more beyond “citizenship”, however. Purple stripes of varying
widths were intended to announce the precise social standing of the wearer.
The wider the stripe, the higher the standing, so that senators wore tunics
adorned with wide purple stripes (latus clavus), the equestrian order wore tu-
nics with narrow stripes (angustus clavus), and magistrates and high priests
wore the toga praetexta with its purple stripe along the border in addition to
the striped tunic. The toga of the ordinary Roman citizen (toga pura), made of
wool, simply retained its natural, off-white / grey hue.23
Ancient paintings have often been invoked as a means of bringing to life the
importance of dress and its colour in defining oneself in Roman society (any
colour that adorned Roman statuary is long gone). For instance, in what ap-
pears to be a Pompeian shop sign, the garment maker Verecundus stands dis-
playing a cloth decorated with narrow, purple stripes (Fröhlich 1991: 333-335;
Sampaolo 1999) (fig. 13). Directly above him stands a genius, the family’s
protective spirit, appropriately dressed in a double-striped tunic and veiled in the
toga praetexta as he extends a patera in a ritualistic gesture. In sharp contrast,
next to Verecundus stand four robust felt workers who manipulate wool at tables
and a furnace. They wear only dark loincloths, leaving their chests, backs, arms
and legs exposed as they perform manual labour. For all intents and purposes,
these individuals are naked. Relative social hierarchies are thus expressed and
maintained through bodily actions and through the very garments themselves.
But what does it mean that Verecundus advertises the purple-striped cloth in a
colony of Rome, where there were no senators and probably few equestrians, but
only a local elite that may have been relatively limited in terms of numbers? It
would seem that rigid ideals in dress codes could be far from more fluid reali-
ties. A series of frescoes from a tavern in Pompeii shows a slice of daily-life:
gambling, drinking and eating (fig. 14).24 As to be expected in this particular
context, individuals don the less formal outerwear, the tunic. The tunics of both
guests and servers, however, are adorned with magisterial stripes. The imagery
suggests that stripes, no matter how narrow, were worn by almost anyone,
even in the absence of a toga.25 While it must be borne in mind that what we are

22 See Parker (1999) for an excellent discussion of how the theatre could also be a space for
contesting social identities.
23 See Stone (2001: 15). Also see Sebesta (2005).
24 For a discussion of the tavern paintings and bibliography, see Bragantini (1993) and Fröhlich
(1991: 214-222).
25 An observation already made by Wilson (1938: 61).
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 201

Figure 13: Shop of Verecundus, Pompeii, first century A.D.

Photograph: SAP / AFS 80887 (su concessione del Ministero
per i Beni e le Attività Culturali − Soprintendenza
Archeologica di Pompei)
202 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Figure 14: Tavern scene with guest and server, Caupona on the Street of Mercury,
Pompeii, first century A.D. Photograph: Sandra Joshel

looking at is a representation, not necessarily a depiction of reality, literary tes-

timony seems to support the visual record. Pliny the Elder observed that sena-
tors were no longer distinguished by their tunics, as public criers wore the
wide purple. 26 Priorities may have shifted so that other factors, in place of
status alone, determined who could wear the purple stripe. Verecundus may
just as well display his goods to those, whether freeborn or freed slave, who
could afford the expense of added purple to their garments, and the elite took
notice of this slippage of status markers.
I return now to Petronius’ literary depiction of Trimalchio’s dinner party,
which I argue, brings to the fore fissures in Roman codes of appearances.
When one of the guests, the narrator Encolpius, arrives at Trimalchio’s home,
he becomes absorbed in a monumental series of biographical frescoes recount-

26 Pliny, Nat. hist. 33.29; discussed in Wilson (1938: 61). Also see Maguire (1999: esp. 10-13)
for an assessment of the striped tunic as a framing device for an individual, thus transforming
the body into a “monumental presence”.
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 203

ing the early life of the host, from the slave market with Trimalchio for sale as
a young man, his hair in slave fashion, to the various stages of his career and
his manumission (Petronius, Sat. 30). Once the guests have seated themselves
in one of Trimalchio’s many dining rooms, they anxiously await the arrival of
their host. When Trimalchio finally does appear, he does so with great fanfare.
Encolpius describes Trimalchio’s jaw-dropping entrance as follows (Petronius,
Sat. 32.1-33.1; ed. Müller & Ehlers):
In his eramus lautitiis, cum ipse Trimalchio ad symphoniam allatus est posi-
tusque inter cervicalia minutissima expressit imprudentibus risum. Pallio
enim coccineo adrasum excluserat caput circaque oneratas veste cervices
laticlaviam immiserat mappam fimbriis hinc atque illinc pendentibus. (...) Ut
deinde pinna argentea dentes perfodit, (...) inquit (...).
“We were nibbling at these splendid appetizers when suddenly the trumpets
blared a fanfare and Trimalchio was carried in, propped up on piles of minia-
ture pillows in such a comic way that some of us couldn’t resist impolitely
smiling. His head cropped close in a recognizable slave cut, protruded from a
cloak of blazing scarlet; his neck, heavily swathed already in bundles of cloth-
ing, was wrapped in a large napkin bounded by an incongruous senatorial
purple stripe with little tassels dangling down here and there (...). He was
picking his teeth with a silver toothpick when he first addressed us (...).”27
Here Petronius presents an ex-slave who strives to define himself through his
dress, with the result that his appearance is one of jarring incongruity. No-
where is this incongruity more notable than in the “confused” juxtaposition of
Trimalchio’s closely cropped hair in the fashion of a slave cut and the napkin,
of all things, that bears the senatorial purple stripe and is wrapped around his
neck.28 Neither the slave cut nor the displaced senatorial stripe truly reflects
Trimalchio’s legal status and identity, namely, as a former slave, now a Roman
citizen, who could never attain the elite rank of senator. On one hand, the
freedman struggles with his self-image as his face is literally framed by refer-
ences to both his servile past and, despite his fabulous wealth, his impossible
aspirations. On the other hand, the ex-slave seems to take pleasure, if naively,
in transgressing social boundaries. Trimalchio’s body humorously under- and
overstates his social position.
Petronius’ portrayal of Trimalchio’s failed attempt in dress makes an acute
point. The freedman body was not fixed, but in a continual process of change
and modification; the slave body has become a citizen body. What makes Tri-
malchio’s appearance so jarring, however, is that he has inscribed his extreme
change in status in an accumulative fashion so that his past is made just as

27 As translated by William Arrowsmith (New York 1959).

28 See Walsh (1970: 138) for the correspondence between Petronius’ depiction of Trimalchio
wearing a napkin and Suetonius’ account of Nero appearing in public with a napkin around
his neck (Suetonius, Nero 51).
204 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

visible as his present circumstance. It could be argued that Petronius calls at-
tention to the fact that relatively little made an ex-slave visually identifiable as
one, save for (or hence) the absurdity of his character’s dress. Granted, some
freed slaves may have borne permanently the bodily markings of slavery, such
as scars from whippings and tattoos (stigma) on the forehead, and may have at-
tempted to conceal such markings.29 Because these slave bodies had been vio-
lated in no uncertain terms, Augustus “ruled that no slave who had ever been
in irons or subjugated to torture could become a citizen, even after the most
honourable form of manumission” (Suetonius, Aug. 40.4),30 thereby adding in-
sult to injury. Needless to say, without citizen status, such marked libertini
were prohibited from wearing the toga altogether. There was, however, one
item of clothing that could identify an individual as a freed slave – the conical
cap of freedom (pilleus), worn infrequently. Ex-slaves were only required to
wear the pilleus at the funeral of their patrons and at times when they called on
their former masters. Representations of the pilleus are few, but a relief from
the Tomb of the Haterii in Rome depicts four freed slaves wearing these caps
as they mourn.31 Meanwhile, during more usual circumstances, freed slaves-
turned-citizens were required to wear the toga at the theatre and in the forum,
potentially making ex-slave bodies difficult to distinguish from a mass of free-
born individuals, at least in these locales. And, if we can trust our visual and
literary records, which suggest that by the first century purple stripes were
rather commonplace, then some freed slaves might have acquired the trappings
that once signified office but were now nearly empty, if contested, signs of
prestige, at least from the elite perspective.
It would seem that the ancient authors cited thus far express a pointed con-
cern that they, namely the elite bodies, remain distinguishable from the ordi-
nary citizen body and the ex-slave body, not to mention the slave body, and
that these bodies, to a degree, remain identifiable as such. But to attempt to
distinguish oneself was often in vain, and Trimalchio’s dress just might under-
handedly expose the futility of dress in defining oneself. In a further twist,
Seneca notes that the senate, acutely aware of the visual potency of dress, re-
jected a proposal to have slaves wear distinctive dress as a means to distin-
guish slaves from the free. The reasoning was sound. Lurking was the threat of
danger (or revolt) once slaves saw how many others were enslaved in compari-
son to those who were not.32 Indeed, more often than not it was difficult to dis-

29 See Martial 2.29.9-10 for a quip about an ex-slave, dressed in fine trappings, such as a purple
mantle, glistening white toga, and jewelry, who attempts to cover the tattoo on his forehead.
30 (...) hoc quoque adiecit, ne vinctus umquam tortusve quis ullo libertatis genere civitatem
adipisceretur. As translated by Robert Graves (London 1957).
31 For an image and discussion, see Kleiner (1992: 196-199).
32 Seneca, Clem. 1.24.1; discussed in Bradley (2001: 476).
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 205

tinguish slaves from the free based on dress alone, an observation recently
highlighted by Michele George (2002: esp. 43-45). An Augustan-era grave
stele from Classis (modern day Ravenna) illustrates the extent to which cloth-
ing could blur social boundaries. The stele belongs to a shipbuilder, Longidi-
enus, and his wife, both of whom are shown in the top niche in proper citizen
attire (fig. 15). The inscription beneath the couple informs us that Longidienus
was freeborn – it gives his filiation – and that he freed his wife (CIL 11.139):
P. Longidienus P. f. Cam(ilia tribu)
faber navalis se vivo constit
uit et Longidienae P. l. Stactini[ae]
“Publius Longidienus, son of Publius, of the Camilia tribe, shipbuilder, built
this monument, while living, for himself and for Longidiena Stactinia, freed-
woman of Publius.”33
The picture below shows a man at work building a ship; he wears a tunic
belted at the waist and could easily be taken for a slave working for Longidi-
enus’ ship-building business. The rectangular plaque, however, identifies the
scene precisely:
P. Longidienus P. f.
ad onus
“Publius Longidienus, son of Publius, busy at work.”
Again the inclusion of his filiation declares that Longidienus was a freeborn
individual – no slave, no former slave, but a Roman to the core. He is among
the hundreds of thousands of Romans who worked for a living. Because man-
ual labour often necessitated a garment that facilitated movement, the tunic
was the garment of choice among the myriad working Romans. The tunic is
thus highly problematic in articulating differences between the enslaved and
the free. Confounding matters further, in the centre of the stele are two funer-
ary portraits of togate individuals who can be securely identified as citizens.
Yet, as the inscription below makes clear, each is a freedman of Longidienus,
both of whom contributed to the cost of the stele:
P. Longidienus P. l. Rufio
P. Longidienus P. l. Piladespou
impensam patrono dederunt
“Publius Longidienus Rufus, freedman of Publius, and Publius Longidienus
Piladespotus, freedman of Publius, paid the cost to their patronus.”

33 For a discussion of the relief and bibliography, see Clarke (2003: 118-121) and Hughes
(2001: 125-127, 199-201).
206 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Figure 15: Stele of P. Longidienus, Ravenna, 27 B.C. – A.D. 14.

Photograph: Koppermann, Neg. D-DAI-Rom 1962.2149
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 207

Tunic and toga here do little in marking precise status distinctions. It would
seem that pictorial conventions sometimes have difficulty in marking the bod-
ies of slaves as necessarily distinct from citizens, freeborn and freed slave
As has been well documented, the toga in the imperial period increasingly
came to signal not only citizenship but also the political man, that is, the dress
of elite persons who did not use their bodies to work for a living but who used
their oratory skills (fig. 16). 34 The imperial toga was, after all, a large and
heavy garment (its width measuring 15-18 ft.), and therefore expensive, nearly
impossible to don without the aid of trained servants, and easily susceptible to
dishevelment with the slightest touch or movement; any such dishevelment of
the toga could signal its bearer’s lack of ability to control his own body.35 De-
spite its potential to bear prestige upon its wearer, the toga was cumbersome
and hot as it literally wrapped the body of the citizen, rendering him nearly
immobile, like Trimalchio as he is brought to his own dinner party. Paradoxi-
cally, the citizen body has become passive on account of its over-adornment.
Perhaps, it should come as no surprise that the tunic had quickly become the
garment of choice among ordinary Romans, a circumstance that prompted Au-
gustus, as noted, to require thereafter that citizens wear the toga in the civic,
religious and political centres of Roman life. Ideally then, boundaries between
citizens and non-citizens could be maintained, although in reality the toga and
tunic, as we saw, whether plain or striped, hardly distinguished the freeborn
from the freed slave within the citizen body. Outside the forum and theatre,
ambiguity prevailed for the largest segment of the population – those outside
ultra-elite circles – owing to the fact that the simple, easy-to-wear tunic was
worn by freeborn, freed slave and slave alike. In fact, Juvenal remarked: “there
are many parts of Italy, to tell the truth, in which no man puts on the toga until
he is dead”36 – an observation that just may as well make reference to pictorial
conventions in funerary art, in which togate figures predominate, in addition to
everyday realities. So, when one of Trimalchio’s guests exclaims, annis qua-
draginta servivi; nemo tamen sciit, utrum servus essem an liber (Petronius,
Sat. 57.9),37 he may indeed be uttering a kernel of truth. In a society seemingly

34 For an important and insightful analysis of the toga in Roman rhetoric, representations and
daily life, see Vout (1996) and the brief outline in Baertschi & Fögen (2005: 220-221).
35 See Davies (2005) and Stone (2001: 17). On the importance of wearing a toga well, see Ma-
crobius, Sat. 3.13.4 (discussed in Wilson 1924: 73-74); see also Quintilian, Inst. orat.
11.3.140-147 (discussed in Baertschi & Fögen 2005: 220).
36 Juvenal, Sat. 3.171-172: pars magna Italiae est, si verum admittimus, in qua / nemo togam
sumit nisi mortuus. As translated in the Loeb edition (Juvenal and Persius. With an English
translation by George G. Ramsay, Cambridge, Mass. & London 1979, 45). The passage is
discussed in Croom (2000: 40).
37 “Forty years I spent as a slave, but no one could tell now whether I was slave or free”, fol-
lowing the translation by William Arrowsmith (New York 1959).
208 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Figure 16: Togate statue with portrait head of Titus, Rome.

Braccio Nuovo, Museo Chiaramonti, Vatican Museums, Vatican State.
Photograph: Alinari / Art Resource, NY, ART88092
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 209

so preoccupied with external appearances in defining oneself, the fact that

boundaries between social strata could become undone by the very ideals that
were intended to define those boundaries must have been destabilizing, at least
from the elite perspective. Although a slave could never wear a toga, a citizen
was not always required to wear his badge of Roman citizenship in everyday
life. On a daily basis, indeterminacies in bodily appearances must have pre-
vailed more often than not.
I conclude with two funerary monuments belonging to ex-slaves (figs. 17
and 18). Although a servile past marred a freedman’s newly acquired citizen
status and potentially reinforced his marginal position in society, both of these
individuals, Lusius Storax and P. Vesonius Phileros, had gained some rather
significant social standing within their respective communities. Their epitaphs
declare that each had achieved the highest office available to freedmen, that of
Augustalis, which signalled both prestige, as significant contributors to their
cities, and probable ineligibility for higher office on account of their former-
slave status. The tomb of P. Vesonius Phileros prominently displays three in-
dividuals, presumably those named in the epitaph below – Phileros himself, his
former master Vesonia and Marcus Orfellius Faustus, his friend. The group is
presented, for all intents and purposes, as if it were a family. Indeed, if the in-
scription did not survive, we could easily mistake the figures for husband, wife
and offspring or relative. Vesonius Phileros, whichever of the two togate fig-
ures he may be, engages Roman funerary pictorial conventions by appearing in
citizen attire. How he dressed in daily life must remain unknown, but the toga,
as a cultural symbol, securely identifies him as a Roman body within the citi-
zen body.38 Dress and social standing are thus inextricably linked in this me-
morial. The relief of Lusius Storax makes this clear to an even greater degree.
He is but one of many togate citizens, visible as a citizen but virtually indistin-
guishable as a freed slave, save for the epitaph.39
Writers such as Petronius do reveal, exaggeration aside, how a libertinus
occupied a somewhat problematic position within society. By this I mean that
a freedman visibly belonged to, but was also separated socially and politically
from, the freeborn citizen body. Although freed slaves in the funerary record
seem to insist on declaring their former-slave status via their nomenclature,
they also seem to take pleasure in donning the newly won citizen attire. The
passage about Trimalchio’s identity crisis within his home can function as a
frame of reference, but not, to be sure, as a simple revelation of ex-slave atti-
tudes and behaviours. Rather, it may offer insights more generally about the

38 On the toga as a cultural symbol, see Vout (1996). On the tomb of P. Vesonius Phileros, see
Petersen (2006: 77-80).
39 For a recent discussion of the tomb of Lusius Storax and bibliography, see Clarke (2003:
210 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Figure 17: Tomb of P. Vesonius Phileros, Pompeii, first century A.D.

Photograph: Stephen Petersen
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 211
212 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

elite’s desires and struggles for self-definition in a society that was hierarchi-
cal, but whose status indicators could shift in varying contexts. The freed
slave, at once fairly anonymous and perceived as overreaching, was also con-
structed to embody the limitations of a system so heavily dependent on dress
and outward appearances. The freedman body, no matter how successfully in-
tegrated visually, needed to fail ideologically so that the more elite citizen
body could preserve its stature. To return to the quote cited at the beginning of
this paper, we can see its application in the Roman world, albeit limited.
Clothes could make the freedman. Effectively erasing a servile past, bodily
adornment had the potential to symbolize membership in Roman society. Nei-
ther slave nor freeborn, however, the freedman body was cultivated rhetori-
cally by the elite as a site of paradoxes, blurring as it did what were intended to
be visible social boundaries. In this way, the body of the freedman functioned
precariously as a locus of self-definition, not only for the individual but also
for society at large.


Andreau, Jean (1993): The freedman. In: Andrea Giardina (ed.), The Romans (transl. by
Lydia G. Cochrane), Chicago, 178-198.
Baertschi, Annette M. & Thorsten Fögen (2005): Schönheitsbilder und Geschlechterrol-
len im antiken Rom. Zur Bedeutung von Kosmetik, Frisuren, Kleidung und
Schmuck. In: Forum Classicum 48, 213-226.
Beard, Mary & al. (1991): Literacy in the Roman World, Ann Arbor.
Bergmann, Bettina & Christine Kondoleon (eds.) (1999): The Art of Ancient Spectacle,
New Haven.
Bodel, John (2005): Caveat emptor. Towards a study of Roman slave-traders. In: Jour-
nal of Roman Archaeology 18, 181-195.
Bradley, Keith (1994): Slavery and Society at Rome, Cambridge.
Bradley, Keith (2001): Imagining slavery. The limits of the plausible (book review). In:
Journal of Roman Archaeology 14, 473-477.
Bragantini, Irene (1993): VI.10.1: Caupona della Via di Mercurio. In: Pompei, pitture e
mosaici (vol. 4), Rome, 1005-1028.
Clarke, John R. (1998): Looking at Lovemaking. Constructions of Sexuality in Roman
Art, 100 B.C. – A.D. 250, Berkeley.
Clarke, John R. (2003): Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans. Visual Representation
and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy, 100 B.C. – A.D. 315, Berkeley.
Cleland, Liza, Mary Harlow & Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (eds.) (2005): The Clothed Body
in the Ancient World, Oxford.
Croom, A. T. (2000): Roman Clothing and Fashion, Gloucestershire.
“Clothes Make the Man”: Dressing the Roman Freedman Body 213

D’Ambra, Eve & Guy P. R. Métraux (eds.) (2006): The Art of Citizens, Soldiers, and
Freedmen in the Roman World, London.
Davies, Glenys (2005): What made the Roman toga virilis? In: Liza Cleland, Mary Har-
low & Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (eds.), The Clothed Body in the Ancient World,
Oxford, 121-130.
Duff, Arnold M. (1928): Freedmen in the Early Roman Empire, Oxford.
Elsner, Jaś (1998): Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph, Oxford.
Fabre, Georges (1981): “Libertus”. Recherches sur les rapports patron-affranchi à la
fin de la république romaine, Rome.
Fentress, Elizabeth (2005): On the block. Catastae, chalcidica and cryptae in early im-
perial Italy. In: Journal of Roman Archaeology 18, 220-234.
Frederiksen, Martin W. (1959): Republican Capua. A social and economic study. In:
Papers of the British School at Rome 27, 80-130.
Fröhlich, Thomas (1991): Lararien- und Fassadenbilder in den Vesuvstädten. Unter-
suchungen zur “volkstümlichen” pompejanischen Malerei, Mainz.
George, Michele (2002): Slave disguise in ancient Rome. In: Slavery and Abolition
23.2, 41-54.
Goette, Hans R. (1990): Studien zu römischen Togadarstellungen, Mainz.
Hallett, Christopher (2005): The Roman Nude. Heroic Portrait Statuary 200 B.C – A.D.
300, Oxford.
Harris, William V. (1980): Towards a study of the Roman slave trade. In: Memoirs of
the American Academy in Rome 36, 117-140.
Harris, William V. (1989): Ancient Literacy, Cambridge, Mass.
Hughes, Lisa (2001): Remembering the Dead. The “Liberti” of Late Republican Mu-
nicipalities and Colonies of Italy, Ph.D. dissertation Indiana University.
Jones, Christopher P. (1987): Stigma. Tattooing and branding in Graeco-Roman antiq-
uity. In: Journal of Roman Studies 77, 139-155.
Kellum, Barbara (1999): The spectacle of the street. In: Bettina Bergmann & Christine
Kondoleon (eds.), The Art of Ancient Spectacle, New Haven, 283-299.
Kleiner, Diana E. E. (1992): Roman Sculpture, New Haven.
Lott, J. Bert (2004): The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome, Cambridge.
Maguire, Eunice Dauterman (1999): Weavings from Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic
Egypt. The Rich Life and the Dance, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.
Olson, Kelly (2003): Roman underwear revisited. In: Classical World 92, 201-210.
Otto, August (1890): Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Römer,
Parker, Holt N. (1999): The observed of all observers. Spectacle, applause and cultural
poetics in the Roman theater audience. In: Bettina Bergmann & Christine Kon-
doleon (eds.), The Art of Ancient Spectacle, New Haven, 163-179.
Petersen, Lauren Hackworth (2003): The baker, his tomb, his wife, and her breadbas-
ket. The monument of Eurysaces in Rome. In: The Art Bulletin 85, 230-257.
Petersen, Lauren Hackworth (2006): The Freedman in Roman Art and Art History,
214 Lauren Hackworth Petersen

Pucci, Giuseppe (2005): Detrahis vestimenta venalibus. Iconografia della vendita di

schiavi nell’antichità e oltre. In: Journal of Roman Archaeology 18, 235-240.
Richlin, Amy (1992): The Garden of Priapus. Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Hu-
mor, New York (revised ed.).
Sampaolo, Valeria (1999): IX.7.7: Officina coactiliaria di Verecundus. In: Pompei, pit-
ture e mosaici (vol. 9), Rome, 774-778.
Sebesta, Judith Lynn (2001): Symbolism and costume of the Roman woman. In: Judith
Lynn Sebesta & Larissa Bonfante (eds.), The World of Roman Costume,
Madison, Wisconsin, 46-53.
Sebesta, Judith (2005): The toga praetexta of Roman children and praetextate gar-
ments. In: Liza Cleland, Mary Harlow & Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (eds.), The
Clothed Body in the Ancient World, Oxford, 113-120.
Sebesta, Judith Lynn & Larissa Bonfante (eds.) (2001): The World of Roman Costume,
Madison, Wisconsin.
Stone, Shelley (2001): The toga. From national to ceremonial costume. In: Judith Lynn
Sebesta & Larissa Bonfante (eds.), The World of Roman Costume, Madison,
Wisconsin, 13-45.
Taylor, Lily Ross (1961): Freedmen and freeborn in the epitaphs of imperial Rome. In:
American Journal of Philology 82, 113-133.
Thompson, F. Hugh (2003): The Archaeology of Greek and Roman Slavery, London.
Treggiari, Susan (1969): Roman Freedmen during the Late Republic, Oxford.
Vout, Caroline (1996): The myth of the toga. Understanding the history of Roman
dress. In: Greece & Rome 43, 204-220.
Walsh, Peter G. (1970): The Roman Novel. The “Satyricon” of Petronius and the
“Metamorphoses” of Apuleius, Cambridge.
Walther, Hans (ed.) (1967): Lateinische Sprichwörter und Sentenzen des Mittelalters in
alphabetischer Anordnung (vol. 5: Sim – Z), Göttingen.
Wiedemann, Thomas & Jane Gardner (eds.) (2002): Representing the Body of the
Slave, London & Portland.
Wilson, Lillian M. (1924): The Roman Toga, Baltimore.
Wilson, Lillian M. (1938): The Clothing of the Ancient Romans, Baltimore.
The Female Body in Late Antiquity:
Between Virtue, Taboo and Eroticism
Kathrin Schade

Women in late antiquity are well-known through the Christian patristic literature and
medieval texts. Most prominently, these sources concern wealthy clarissimae feminae,
pious members of the aristocratic elite, who sold their property, devoted themselves to
an ascetic ideal of poverty and founded monasteries in the Holy Land. According to St.
Jerome, the ideal image of a Christian ascetic woman was characterized by a thin body
and a pale face (Epist. 45.5). But remarkably, the actual portraiture of the time does not
show any of these features. The statues as well as the representations in mosaics or on
vessels and ivories do not negate the female body – on the contrary: most of them em-
phasize its characteristics of gender.
This contribution intends to demonstrate that the social relationships and bounda-
ries ‘embodied’ in the late antique female portraits ultimately derive from the pagan
Roman tradition, which associated the emphasis on the female body with typical female
virtues like conjugal fidelity, motherhood and beauty. On the other hand, it will be ar-
gued that the boundaries between ‘virtue, taboo and eroticism’ become permeable in
certain groups of late antique portraits, especially in the images of the empresses, which
combine traditional features of female identity with new asexual elements. However, it
is not an ascetic ideal, but a new concept of imperial mastery which is responsible for
this innovative representation – the idea of “Kaiser von Gottes Gnaden”. The study
concludes with a glance at the most important and successful creation of late antique
female portraiture – the image of the Virgin Mary. It incorporates all the elements that
had previously been designed for the clarissimae feminae and the empress: matronality
and virginity, beauty, and finally also spirituality. In this process the image of the en-
throned Virgin with Child is established as the new female ideal portrait.

1. Introduction
‘Women in late antiquity’ have been given prominent attention by the disci-
plines of historical text-research, especially by feminist theology and classics,
during the last thirty years.1 One of the reasons for this certainly is the favour-

1 The number of secondary literature about this subject is so extensive that it is impossible to
give a representative bibliography. Instead, see Antti Arjava, A Bibliography on Women and
the Family in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages (2nd to 7th century AD) (http://www.
nipissingu.ca/department/history/muhlberger/orb/arjava3.htm) (last update: 17 January 2005),
216 Kathrin Schade

able source material. The late antique literary texts of the fourth and fifth cen-
turies A.D. are especially rich in information on women – who never before
had received so much appreciation in these sources. The texts, mainly Chris-
tian patristic literature, spiritual texts and medieval legends, picture the life of
wealthy clarissimae feminae, pious members of the aristocratic elite, as posi-
tive examples of true Christian pietas. The noble ladies were prominent repre-
sentatives and patrons of a new movement of asceticism in this period. Jerome,
Rufinus and John Chrysostom were acquainted with clarissimae feminae as
Paula, Melania the Elder and Olympias, who sold their property, devoted
themselves to an ascetic ideal of poverty, accomplished pious deeds and
founded monasteries in the Holy Land.2 Essential to this ascetic attitude to-
wards life was a strict sexual renunciation, based on a radical concept of body-
spirit-dualism. Typical expressions of such “ascetic militancy”3 were aversions
to personal hygiene, shame at one’s own nudity or even corporal self-punish-
ment. The spiritual image of the ascetic Christian woman diminished the char-
acteristics of the female sex in favour of physical neutrality. It was character-
ized, as Jerome states, by a thin body and a pale face (Jerome, Epist. 45.5).
According to Mary Douglas, bodies are media of social significance; their
shapes represent codes of cultural coherence in their social context (Douglas
1974: 99-123). The image of the female body in the spiritual patristic texts was
claimed only for a very exclusive circle in late Roman society – that of Chris-
tian asceticism. Of course, this cannot be representative of the comprehension
of female bodies in late antiquity generally. In order to gain a more complete
picture of representations of women in late antiquity, it is necessary to consider
also further embodiments of this discourse. The present contribution focusses
on the portraiture of Roman women in different visual media: statues, mosaics,
ivories etc. The discussed examples stem from the same period as the spiritual
literature, i.e. the fourth and early fifth centuries A.D., and they portray – as far
as we are able to tell – clarissimae feminae, female members of the late Roman
In late antiquity, portraits in three-dimensional sculpture, as a rule, result
from the re-use of older statues, on which only the face and the hairstyle were
altered. A prominent example for this is a sculpture in the Museo Capitolino in

and Thalia Gouma-Peterson & al., Bibliography on Women in Byzantium 2007 (http://www.
doaks.org/WomeninByzantium.html). See also Thraede (1972: 197-269), Jensen (1992: esp.
11-27), Clark (1993) and the following notes.
2 On Paula, see Jones, Martindale & Morris (1971: 674-675); on Melania the Elder, see Jones,
Martindale & Morris (1971: 592-593); on Olympias, see Jones, Martindale & Morris (1971:
642-643). In general, see Krumeich (1993), Petersen-Szemerédy (1993), Wittern (1994),
Feichtinger (1995), Laurence (1997), Steininger (1997), Lake (2006) and Clark (2006).
3 Brown (1988: 411). See also Müller (2000: 185-203).
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 217

Figure 1: Statue of the empress Helena. Rome, Museo Capitolino.

D-DAI-Rom 77.1718 (Rossa)

Rome, probably depicting Helen, the mother of Constantine (fig. 1). 4 The
statue represents a sculptural prototype that was developed during the classical
Greek period and is commonly known as the Aphrodite-Olympias-type. Stylis-
tic and technical details suggest that the statue was sculpted in the second cen-
tury A.D. In the Constantinian era the head was recarved with the features of
Helen and her fashionable hairstyle.5 Another example is a portrait in the Ny

4 Rome, Museo Capitolino, Stanza degli Imperatori 59, Inv. 496; see Fittschen & Zanker
(1983: 36, no. 38 pls. 47 & 48).
5 Blanck (1969: 56-57 n. 35, pl. 25), Arata (1993: 185-200) and Schade (2003: 173-175, no. I 9
pl. 28). Compare the statue (probably a replica) in Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Inv.
1914.171; see Schade (2003: 175-176, no. I 10 pl. 29.1-3).
218 Kathrin Schade

Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen depicting an unknown Roman lady (fig.

2).6 The statue itself, representing the Hellenistic Ceres-type, again is a product
of the second century. An inscription at its plinth indicates that it portrays a
“ΠΙΝΥΤΗ ΕΚΥΡΗ”, an intelligent mother-in-law. Both the inscription and the
facial portrait were executed in the fourth century A.D.7
The Aphrodite-Olympias- as well as the Ceres-type were employed for
female portraits during the Principate in order to associate women with the
typical virtues of a Roman matron (Alexandridis 2004: 58-61, 222-223, 229-
231). According to the two examples above, also viewers of the fourth century
continued to perceive these types as exempla for motherhood, beauty and intel-
ligence. The conservative values of late antiquity were obviously linked to an
affirmation of traditional female body shapes. In other words, older sculptures,
which represented matronly body types, were ‘recycled’ in order to appreciate
contemporary noble women (Schade 2003: 92-94, 141-144).
Other typical media of late antique female portraits are mosaics, vessels
and ivories. A mosaic from the thermal baths of Sidi Ghrib (Tunisia), suppos-
edly made in early Theodosian time, depicts a woman at her toilet.8 Flanked by
her two maids, she occupies the centre of the composition, which is sur-
rounded by several articles of beauty care (fig. 3). The hips, upper arms and
neck of the domina have soft rounded shapes, emphasizing her sensual femi-
ninity. The silver-casket of the so-called Seuso treasure, probably from the
early fifth century, shows a lady in a similar scene.9 Although the volume of
her body is somewhat reduced, the female curves of breast, abdomen and hips
are still visible. The famous silver casket of the early Theodosian Esquiline
treasure, today in the British Museum in London (fig. 4),10 and the well-known
ivory diptych in Monza (fig. 5),11 both from the second half of the fourth cen-
tury, portray married couples: the casket Proiecta and Secundus, the diptych
probably the imperial niece Serena, her husband, the magister militum Stilicho,
and her son.12 The female shapes of both Proiecta and the so-called Serena are

6 Kopenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek 552, Inv. 710; see Johansen (1995: 196-199, no. 87).
7 Blanck (1969: 58-61, no. A 37 pls. 28 & 29) and Schade (2003: 181-182, no. I 19 pls. 34 &
8 Tunis, Musée du Bardo; see Ennabli (1986: panneau 5 pl. 14, bottom of page) and Schade
(2003: 245-246, no. III 11, frontispiece).
9 Marquess of Northampton 1989 Settlement; see Mundell Mango & Bennett (1994: 444, figs.
14.1-32) and Schade (2003: 247, no. III 17).
10 London, British Museum, Inv. 66.12-29.1; see Shelton (1981: 72-75, no. 1 fig. 6 & 12 pls. 1-
6 & 8-11) and Schade (2003: 246-247, no. III 16 pl. 15.1).
11 Monza, Treasury of the Duomo S. Giovanni Battista; see Delbrueck (1929: 242-244, no. 63
pl. 63) and Schade (2003: 244, no. III 3 pl. 15.2).
12 See, among others, Kiilerich & Torp (1989: 319-371).
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 219

Figure 2: Statue of a woman.

Kopenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (photograph Selsing)
220 Kathrin Schade

Figure 3: Mosaic from the baths of Sidi Ghrib. Tunis, Musée du Bardo.
From: Wulf Raeck, Modernisierte Mythen. Zum Umgang der Spätantike
mit klassischen Bildthemen, Stuttgart 1992, fig. 17

Figure 4: Silver casket from the Esquiline Treasure (lid).

London, British Museum. © Trustees of the British Museum, PS 019903
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 221

not primarily defined through anatomical details; rather they are indicated by
the volume of their clothes, belts and lines of the drapery.

Figure 5: Ivory diptych. Monza, Treasury of the Duomo S. Giovanni Battista.

Fratelli Alinari 46950

All these examples demonstrate that late antique portraiture did not negate the
female body: on the contrary, the statues as well as representations in mosaics,
on vessels and ivories emphasized a physical presence. Unlike the ascetic lit-
erature, the portraits retained traditional characteristics of gender. It may be as-
sumed that the textual sources and the visual testimonies are opposing pairs,
arising from a common social reality. They reflect two polarized sides of one
discourse, fulfilling different medial functions – on the one hand the transpor-
tation of an ascetic-theological ideology, on the other hand the distinctive rep-
resentation of the Roman elite. Both patrons and artists aimed at characterizing
the depicted person in the most exemplary manner. Roman portraits provided
222 Kathrin Schade

the possibility for personal or collective identification but also for distinguish-
able dissociation. As media of visual communication, they had a strong norma-
tive function. The depicted values and virtues were transmitted in specific aes-
thetic codes, visualized as patterns of iconography, gestures and style.13 The
prerequisite for understanding the visual message was a social consensus based
upon these codes. The habitual body shape includes this semantic dimension,
too. The following considerations attempt to clarify which contemporary social
conditions were responsible for the positive connotation of the female body
still to be found in late antique imagery.

2. Matrimony and motherhood

The toilet scene of the domina with her two maids (fig. 3) is only one part of
the pavement in the thermal baths of Sidi Ghrib. The other part of the mosaic
depicts the husband of the lady who is off to go hunting.14 On the Monza ivory
diptych, wife and husband are placed each on one panel: the husband alone,
the wife together with their son (fig. 5). She wears rich jewellery and makes an
elegant gesture with the flower in her right hand, whereas her husband is
equipped with insignia and the official costume. The couple on the lid of the
Esquiline silver casket is set into a medallion, in traditional Roman poses (fig.
4). The accompanying inscription describes both as Christians: A XP Ω
In the period in question, i.e. the fourth and early fifth centuries A.D., the
depiction of married couples and families is not limited to mosaics, ivories and
vessels. They also occur on sarcophagi and objects of applied arts, such as gold
glasses and wedding rings. Many sarcophagi portray the couples in medallions,
in close physical contact.15 Commonly the wife embraces the shoulders of her
husband with her left arm, touching his right upper arm. Emotional expressions
are thus allocated to the portraits’ female half. Another traditional motif on sar-
cophagi, gold glasses, coins etc. is the dextrarum iunctio, the gesture of joining
the right hands (fig. 6).16 In the imagery of the Principate this gesture was used
as a symbol for successful personal, political or military alliances. On grave
reliefs of the first century B.C. it demonstrated the closeness of married
couples or other members of the family; starting in the second century A.D. it

13 See Douglas (1974: 104, 110-111) and Schneider, Fehr & Meyer (1979: 7-40).
14 Ennabli (1986: 44-46, panneau 6 pl. 14, top of page).
15 E.g. Deichmann, Bovini & Brandenburg (1967: 33-34, no. 39 pl. 12; 35-36 no. 40 pl. 13; 72
no. 87 pl. 26; 80-81 no. 112 pl. 29; 138-139 no. 239 pl. 53; 141-142 no. 244 pl. 55) and
Schade (2003: 15, pl. 16.1-2).
16 For examples, see Schade (2003: 125-128, pls. 4.7-8, 16.6, 17.1-3).
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 223

Figure 6: Sarcophagus in Tolentino, Duomo (detail).

D-DAI-Rom 60.1407 (J. Boehringer)

became a sign of the virtue of conjugal concord, even of the imperial couple.17
Almost 300 years later a solidus was emitted on the occasion of the wedding of
the imperial couple Licinia Eudoxia and Valentinian III in Constantinople in
the year 437.18 Bride and bridegroom join their right hands; the emperor Theo-
dosius II, the father of the bride, stands in the centre of the composition, em-
bracing the couple. Both his position and his gesture refer to the personifica-
tion of conjugal concord, established in traditional Roman iconography. At the
end of the Theodosian era, in A.D. 450, a similar solidus was emitted to mark

17 On the dextrarum iunctio in general, see Kantorowicz (1960: 4-16), Reinsberg (1983: 312-
317), Davies (1985: 627-240) and Alexandridis (2004: 23-24, 95-98 pl. 63.2, 63.6).
18 Kent (1994: 260, no. 267 pl. 10) and Schade (2003: 50-51, 126 pl. 4.7); see also Kantorowicz
(1960: figs. 21 & 22) and Reinsberg (1983: fig. 131).
224 Kathrin Schade

the wedding of Pulcheria and Marcian.19 Now is it Christ who, substituting

Concord or the father of the bride, embraces the imperial couple.
Throughout all periods of the Roman culture, matrimony was the main in-
stitution to guarantee legitimate heirs. According to the Stoics, it was to be a
community of concord, love and equal responsibilities. During the Principate,
the conjugal status strengthened the social position and the public reputation of
the Roman woman.20 This concept was also reproduced in visual representa-
tions. The great number of images of the fourth and fifth centuries proves that
the high esteem granted to women in the role of wife and mother continued on
into late antiquity. Pictures of pagan as well as Christian couples represented
the stoical virtues of affection, conjugal concord and fidelity, symbolized in
the gesture of embracing or the dextrarum iuntio, which only gradually re-
ceived an interpretatio christiana (see Schade 2003: 120-132). Domestic
scenes with aristocratic women formed gender-specific counterparts to their
husbands’ images, each with the typical symbols of status. These representa-
tions provided possibilities for aristocratic as well as female identification.
The literary genre of the panegyrics, which has essential structural analo-
gies to the visual representations in its medial function, appreciates the quali-
ties of matrimony and motherhood in a similar way. In rich vocabulary,
Claudian describes the female virtues of Anicia Faltonia Proba, the wife of the
Christian consul of the year 371, Sextus Petronius Probus, in the panegyric to
Olybrius and Probinus (Claudian, Panegyric on Probinus and Olybrius 192-
204; translated by Platnauer 1990: 16-17):
Sic Proba praecipuo natos exornat amictu:
quae decorat mundum, cuius Romana potestas
fetibus augetur. credas ex aethere lapsam
stare Pudicitiam vel sacro ture vocatam
Iunonem Inachiis oculos advertere templis.
talem nulla refert antiquis pagina libris
nec Latiae cecinere tubae nec Graeca vetustas.
coniuge digna Probo; nam tantum coetibus extat
femineis, quantum supereminet ille maritos.
ceu sibi certantes, sexus quid possit uterque,
hunc legere torum. taceat Nereida nuptam
Pelion. o duplici fecundam consule matrem
felicemque uterum, qui nomina parturit annis!
“So Proba adorns her children with vestment rare, Proba, the world’s glory, by
whose increase the power of Rome, too, is increased. You would have thought
her Modesty’s self fallen from heaven or Juno, summoned by sacred incense,
turning her eyes on the shrines of Argos. No page in ancient story tells of such

19 Kent (1994: 278-279, no. 502 pl. 19) and Schade (2003: 126-127, pl. 4.8); see also Kan-
torowicz (1960: fig. 23a).
20 Relevant here are Veyne (1978: 81-123) and Foucault (1997: 98-109, 193-240).
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 225
a mother, no Latin Muse nor old Grecian tale. Worthy is she of Probus for a
husband, for he surpassed all husbands as she all wives. ’Twas as though in
rivalry either sex had done its uttermost and so brought about this marriage.
Let Pelion vaunt no more that Nereid bride. Happy thou that art the mother of
consuls twain, blessed thy womb whose offspring have given their name for
its own.”

3. Beauty and eroticism

In the divine sphere, beauty and eroticism belong to the goddess Venus. A
mortal woman of the Roman society was associated or even identified with
this goddess in order to emphasize these qualities.21 The same also went for the
late antique period: Upon the silver casket from the Esquiline treasure,
Proiecta sits in her chamber, adorning herself (fig. 7). She looks in the mirror
while inserting a hairpin. Directly above this scene, on the lid of the casket,
Venus is depicted sitting in a shell with almost the same gestures and toilet ar-
ticles. The flanking Centaurotritons and Cupids turn towards the goddess in a
similar way as the maids towards the domina Proiecta in the lower scene
(Schneider 1983: 28-29, 31-33). The representation of Venus at her toilet is
reminiscent of her characterization in the epithalamium for the emperor Hon-
orius and his wife Mary, again by Claudian. The poet describes Venus en-
throned in her chamber, adorning herself with the help of the Graces. Her son
Cupid arrives and reports to her that he was victorious with his arrows against
Honorius. Afterwards, Venus goes in triumph across the sea to the imperial
bridal couple (Claudian, Epit. de nupt. Hon. Aug. 99-106, 122-201).
On the Esquiline casket, Venus and Proiecta refer to each other. The recip-
rocal association of the goddess and the mortal woman was an intentional part
of its iconological concept: Venus, decorated with attributes of status and fash-
ionable hairstyle, paraphrased the lifestyle, prestige and ceremonial self-
representation of the domina; the portrait of the latter took up elements of the
traditional iconography of the goddess – being as beautiful as Venus. But in
spite of the various allusions, any direct reference to the actual character of the
goddess of love was strictly avoided. Eroticism was transferred from everyday
life to the mythological sphere of Venus, Cupid, the Graces and the Nereids. In
other words, with the help of mythical allegories, it was possible to allude to
the erotic qualities of the portrayed woman behind the normative representa-
tion of her virtues and status.22

21 Wrede (1981: 306-323, no. 292-338 pls. 37-39), D’Ambra (1996: 219-232) and Alexandridis
(2004: 84-88, pls. 2, 13, 44.3, 47.3, 47.4).
22 See Muth (1998: 197-248 and passim) and Schade (2003: 133-135).
226 Kathrin Schade

Figure 7: Silver casket from the Esquiline Treasure (front view).

London, British Museum. © Trustees of the British Museum, PS 019915

A remarkable exception to this principle is the decoration of the silver casket

from the Seuso treasure. On its back a woman is depicted undressing, assisted
by her maid (see above, n. 9). The woman probably is identical with the
domina in the toilet scene at the front of the container, discussed above. Bucket,
basin and spout localize the scene in the baths. Beside the lady’s maid there are
two other women, completely naked. Their elegant postures associate them
with the Graces. Thus, it may be assumed that the domina in this context is
portrayed as Venus or the third Grace. In either case her nudity is a mythical
idealization, but nevertheless the erotic directness of baring her abdomen is
quite unusual. Voyeuristic glances at female nudity were here legitimized on
the one hand through mythical allusion, and on the other hand through the
seemingly innocent character of personal hygiene evoked by the setting of the
In addition to the erotic connotation, nudity also had a social dimension.
The moral judgement on nudity and sexual shame depended on social status
and the related social context. As John Chrysostom notes, in one of the public
baths of Antioch a well-to-do lady exposed her body in front of her servants
without any shame; her white skin was covered only with splendid jewellery
(John Chrysostom, Hom. 28 in Hebr. 6; see Brown 1988: 316). The social dif-
ference between the lady in the baths and her retinue was unmistakably dem-
onstrated through her wealth and luxury lifestyle. In contrast, poor girls, who
worked as prostitutes or actresses, and exposed their bodies in front of a great
audience, “had no right to sexual shame” (Brown 1988: 316).
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 227

4. New tendencies: the body of the empress

To sum up, both the social roles of mother and wife as well as the conventional
female virtue of beauty – which could to a certain degree include erotic allu-
sions – were still central themes in the social concepts of late antique Roman
society. As the discussed examples show, the visualization of these norms was
linked to gender characteristics deriving from pagan Roman culture. In other
words, the emphasis on the female body in late antique portraits was associated
with typical female virtues as conjugal fidelity, motherhood and beauty. Af-
firming these norms and virtues, the physical shapes and boundaries of bodies
were maintained.
However, there were new tendencies as well. The famous small marble
statue of a woman of the Theodosian period, about A.D. 400, today in the
Cabinet des Médailles in Paris,23 wears a splendid diagonally draped dalmatica,
the imperial diadem and – according to the carved traces on the marble – a
jewelled collar (fig. 8). Undoubtedly the statue portrays a Theodosian empress,
most likely Aelia Eudoxia or Aelia Flaccila. Remarkably, instead of reproduc-
ing a traditional sculptural type, the body of the statue represents an entirely
new creation. Although the classical pose of contrapost was adopted, the
physical conception of the figure generally differs from the past: there are no
female curves showing through the clothes, the chest is flat and the hips are
slim. Also the face of the empress takes up this androgynous style. the physi-
ognomy is idealized to an extent that it is hard to decide whether it represents a
young male or a female. Only the hairdo, the garment and the jewellery un-
equivocally indicate the sex of the person. Body and face, in contrast, are neu-
tral to a degree that radically reduces the semantic spectrum of physiology and
What was the reason for these physical eliminations in the image of the
empress? The beginning of the present contribution touched upon the Christian
ascetic literature. Indeed, Christian eschatology, in the texts by Paulus, Origen
and the Gnostics as well as in the later opposing patristic theories, included the
idea of sexual neutrality: in Christo nec masculus nec femina sumus, as
Augustine notes (Ver. rel. 78.21).25 Furthermore, the ascetic movement of the
fourth century created the spiritual idea ἀνδρειοτέρων τῆς φύσεως γυναικῶν
(Palladius, Hist. Laus. praef.; ed. Butler 1967: 4): a woman would be able to

23 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles, Inv. 13; see Delbrueck
(1933: 163-165, fig. 58 pl. 62-64).
24 Schade (2003: 136, 147, 204-206, no. I 46 pl. 54.1, 54.2).
25 For a general introduction to this subject, see Brown (1988); see also Aspegren (1990: 99-
165), Ebner (2000: 159-178), Müller (2000: 197-198) and Lund Jacobsen (2006: 67-94). In
general see Wittern (1994), Feichtinger (1995) and Stahlmann (1997).
228 Kathrin Schade

Figure 8: Statue of an empress.

Paris, Musée du Cabinet des Médailles de la
Bibliothèque Nationale de France (photograph C 80466)
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 229

escape the constraints of ‘this life’ when she denied her sex and appropriated
male virtues. The pious ladies around Jerome, for example, avoided jewellery
(Epist. 130.3), veiled their head and wore rough black garments (Epist. 43.3).
They never had a bath without clothes; and according to Jerome, the virgin
Eustochium should blush if she would see her own naked body (Epist. 107.11).
These simultaneous tendencies in the field of asceticism seem to be analogous
in negating femininity – but nevertheless they have nothing to do with the new
concept of the imperial image. As mentioned previously, ascetic literature and
portraits fulfilled different medial functions: the transportation of theological
ideologies on the one hand and the social representation on the other. Ascetic
militancy and hostility to the female body can hardly explain the official repre-
sentation of the empress. On the contrary, she gained highest prestige with the
ability to give birth to heirs in order to guarantee the imperial dynasty. Ulti-
mately, her portrait denies female forms; however, it is neither male nor – as
the traditional female attributes ensure – completely asexual.
A better way to explain the innovative representation of the empress is the
new concept of imperial mastery – the idea of “Kaiser von Gottes Gnaden”,26
the emperor by the grace of God. The emperor was considered as the deputy of
Christ on earth by God-given grace, and the imperial body became a reflection
of the two-natured Christ. For this reason the emperor had a natural as well as
an immortal body (Kantorowicz 1957: 47-50). This idea also had conse-
quences for imperial representations. Whereas in the earlier Graeco-Roman
culture “the body had its rightful place in a great chain of being that linked
man both to the gods and to the beasts”, Christian “emperors no longer showed
their unchallenged power by posing in the nude, thereby recapturing the heroic
ease and readiness associated with the deathless gods”, as Peter Brown (1988:
27, 438; for examples, see Hallett 2005) stated. The new concept did not re-
quire the presentation of physical reality; moreover, it was enough to reduce
the bodily presence to the front view of the portrait. Instead of physical quali-
ties, inner values became important. They were visualized with abstract codes
at the surface of the neutral body.27 But while the physical form was neglected,
the body was covered with splendid jewellery and heavy imperial robes.
The image of the empress expresses this concept. Her body was general-
ized to give a picture of eternal beauty. It displays the supernatural quality of
the Christian imperial mastery, with the human female component being ex-
pressed by hairstyle, jewellery, specific attributes, distinguished gestures, and
only in certain times by physiognomical features (Schade 2003: 147-148, 156-
157). Combining traditional characteristics of female identity with new asexual

26 Enßlin (1942) and Fears (1981: 1103-1159).

27 In general Lindemann (1996: 146-175, esp. 152-153 and 168-169) and Lipp (2000: 22-24).
230 Kathrin Schade

elements, the gender boundaries in the image of the empress became perme-
able. Emperor and empress together represent the late antique imperial institu-
tion, the empress embodying the female part of its abstract and ornate ceremo-

5. The image of the Virgin Mary

In A.D. 431, at the ecclesiastical council in Ephesus, the dogma of the two-
natured Christ was affirmed, and his mother Mary was raised to the status
‘Theotokos’, the birth-giver to God (Klauser 1981: 1084-1095). On this basis
she herself became a subject of worship. However, there was no evidence of
authenticity, which was necessary for the ritual practice: no grave, no biogra-
phy and no material testimonies. Furthermore, Mary’s actual appearance was
unknown: neque enim novimus faciem virginis Mariae, as Augustine notes (De
trin. 8.5.13-15; ed. Mountain 1968: 277). In other words, it was necessary to
construct an authenticity in legends, to make relics available, and to create an
ideal portrait of the Holy Virgin.28 For this, the complete spectrum of late an-
tique female portraiture was appropriated. The image of the Virgin incorpo-
rates all the elements that had previously been created for the clarissimae femi-
nae and the empress (Schade 2003: 163-165). She wears the garment of the
Roman matron of the fifth century – tunic, palla and bonnet. As a sign of her
royal superiority, her tunic is mainly crimson and decorated with golden
stripes. Some pictures in Rome show her with the ornate diagonal dalmatica
and the imperial regalia.29 Over time, the most important and successful crea-
tion was the image of the enthroned Virgin with Child, in which motherhood is
put on display in a conspicuous manner.30 The throne with suppedaneum and
the baldachin with curtain were also taken over from the iconography of the
empress. In blue, purple and golden robes the Theotokos represents the heav-
enly dominion and the divine motherhood.
The artificial portrait of the Mother of God had to incorporate, in its
physiognomy, the opposites of divine and human being, of virginity and ‘ma-
tronality’. Therefore in many images Mary’s ideal face was brought to life with
soft and subtle features. A well-known example is the ivory diptych in the Mu-
seum für Byzantinische Kunst in Berlin from the 6th century A.D. with Christ

28 On the genesis of autonomous images of the Holy Virgin, see Lange (1969), Freytag (1985),
Belting (1990: 60-91, 131-153) and Andaloro (2000: 416-424).
29 E.g. in S. Maria Maggiore, S. Maria in Trastevere, S. Peter (today in Florence), S. Clemente;
see Lange (1969: 18, 42, fig. p. 41), Belting (1990: 146-147, pl. II fig. 76) and Andaloro
(2000: figs. 5 & 6).
30 For examples, see Schade (2003: 163, with ns. 1082 & 1083 pl. 20.2 and 21.3).
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 231

Figure 9: Ivory diptych (right panel).

Berlin, SMB SPK, Skulpturensammlung und
Museum für Byzantinische Kunst (photograph 565a)
232 Kathrin Schade

on the left and the enthroned Virgin with Child on the right panel (fig. 9).31
Her face combines youthful smoothness and matronly portliness; she has a
double chin as well as so-called Venus’ rings. Obviously her physiognomy is
stylized in a pattern that had been designed for the iconography of contempo-
rary female portraits: features of beauty and motherliness in the portraits of the
clarissimae feminae, a mixture of superiority and femininity in the image of
the empress. All these elements were adopted for the face of the Holy Virgin.
However, in contrast to the portraits of mortal women, they were actually as-
sociated with an imposing spiritual idea: ‘virgomatronality’ (Schade 2003:
164), i.e. to be virgin- and mother-like at the same time.
It is interesting to note that the double chin, lap and bosom of the Virgin in
the Berlin ivory diptych are emphasized in such a manner. At first glance, this
phenomenon seems to contradict the spiritual nature of the Holy Virgin. In fact,
however, the emphasis on the sexual characteristics gives the reason for the
latter: it was the female body of Mary that had served the fulfilment of the di-
vine destiny. Mary had carried out all natural tasks of a mother – she had re-
ceived a son, been pregnant, given birth and breast-fed. Her body, however,
had remained unscathed; neither sexual intercourse nor ‘natural’ childbirth had
strained it. In other words, the Virgin’s body was free from the polluted side of
earthly existence; therefore it was worthy to be visualized in the image – the
new ideal female portrait: “Soft as a fleece to receive the Word of God into
herself, she had remained solid and unfissured as unalloyed gold” (Brown
1988: 444).32

31 Berlin, Staatliche Museen / Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für

Byzantinische Kunst, Inv. 565. See Effenberger & Severin (1992: 140-141, no. 53 and fron-
32 I thank Thorsten Fögen and Mireille M. Lee for the possibility to publish this contribution in
the present volume. This article summarizes one hypothesis of my book Frauen in der
Spätantike: Status und Repräsentation. Eine Untersuchung zur römischen und frühbyzan-
tinischen Bildniskunst, published in 2003. My thanks also go to Justin Theiss and Claudia
Näser for reading the first and the second draft of this paper.
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 233


Editions and translations:

Butler, Cuthbert (ed.) (1967): The Lausiac History of Palladius (vol. 2), Hildesheim
Mountain, William J. (ed.) (1968): Sancti Aurelii Augustini De trinitate libri XV (Cor-
pus Christianorum. Series Latina 16.1), Turnholt.
Platnauer, Maurice (ed.) (1990): Claudian (vol. 1), Cambridge, Mass. & London.

Secondary literature:

Alexandridis, Annetta (2004): Die Frauen des römischen Kaiserhauses. Eine Unter-
suchung ihrer bildlichen Darstellung von Livia bis Iulia Domna, Mainz.
Andaloro, Maria (2000): L’icona cristiana e gli artisti. In: Serena Ensoli & Eugenio La
Rocca (eds.), Aurea Roma. Dalla città pagana alla città cristiana, Rome, 416-
Arata, Francesco Paolo (1993): La statua seduta dell’imperatrice Elena nel Museo Capi-
tolino. In: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Römische Ab-
teilung 100, 185-200.
Aspegren, Kerstin (1990): The Male Woman. A Feminine Ideal in the Early Church,
Belting, Hans (1990): Bild und Kult. Eine Geschichte des Bildes vor dem Zeitalter der
Kunst, München.
Blanck, Horst (1969): Wiederverwendung alter Statuen als Ehrendenkmäler bei Grie-
chen und Römern, Rome.
Brown, Peter (1988): The Body and Society. Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in
Early Christianity, New York.
Clark, Elizabeth A. (2006): Genesis 1-3 and gender dilemmas. The case of John Chry-
sostom. In: Barbara Feichtinger & Helmut Seng (eds.), Die Christen und der
Körper, München & Leipzig, 159-180.
Clark, Gillian (1993): Woman in Late Antiquity. Pagan and Christian Lifestyles, New
D’Ambra, Eve (1996): The calculus of Venus. Nude portraits of Roman matrons. In:
Nathalie Boymel Kampen (ed.), Sexuality in Ancient Art, Cambridge & New
York, 219-232.
Davies, Glenys (1985): The significance of the handshake motif in classical funerary art.
In: American Journal of Archaeology 89, 627-240.
Deichmann, Friedrich W., Giuseppe Bovini & Hugo Brandenburg (1967): Repertorium
der christlich-antiken Sarkophage. Vol. 1: Ostia und Rom, Wiesbaden.
Delbrueck, Richard (1929): Die Consulardiptychen und verwandte Denkmäler, Berlin
& Leipzig.
234 Kathrin Schade

Delbrueck, Richard (1933): Spätantike Kaiserporträts. Von Constantinus Magnus bis

zum Ende des Westreichs, Berlin & Leipzig.
Douglas, Mary (1974): Ritual, Tabu und Körpersymbolik. Sozialanthropologische Stu-
dien in Industriegesellschaft und Stammeskultur (transl. Eberhard Bubser),
Frankfurt am Main.
Ebner, Martin (2000): Wenn alle „ein einziger“ sein sollen ... Von schönen theologi-
schen Konzepten und ihren praktischen Problemen: Gal. 3.28 und 1 Kor. 11.2-
16. In: Elmar Klinger, Stephanie Böhm & Theodor Seidl (eds.), Der Körper
und die Religion, Würzburg, 159-178.
Effenberger, Arne & Hans Georg Severin (1992): Das Museum für Spätantike und by-
zantinische Kunst. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Mainz.
Ennabli, Abdelmagid (1986): Les thermes du thiase marin de Sidi Ghrib (Tunisie). In:
Monuments et mémoires. Fondation Eugène Piot 68, 1-59.
Enßlin, Wilhelm (1943): Gottkaiser und Kaiser von Gottes Gnaden, München.
Fears, Jesse Rufus (1981): s.v. “Gottesgnadentum”. In: Reallexikon für Antike und
Christentum (vol. 11), Stuttgart, 1103-1159.
Feichtinger, Barbara (1995): Apostolae apostolorum. Frauenaskese als Befreiung und
Zwang bei Hieronymus, Frankfurt am Main.
Fittschen, Klaus & Paul Zanker (1983): Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capito-
linischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom.
Vol. 3: Kaiserinnen- und Prinzessinnenbildnisse, Frauenporträts, Mainz.
Foucault, Michel (51997): Sexualität und Wahrheit. Vol. 3: Die Sorge um sich (transl.
Ulrich Raulff & Walter Seitter), Frankfurt am Main.
Freytag, Richard L. (1985): Die autonome Theotokosdarstellung der frühen Jahrhun-
derte, Augsburg.
Hallett, Christopher H. (2005): The Roman Nude. Heroic Portrait Statuary 200 BC –
AD 300, Oxford.
Jensen, Anne (1992): Gottes selbstbewußte Töchter. Frauenemanzipation im frühen
Christentum?, Freiburg im Breisgau.
Johansen, Flemming (1995): Roman Portraits III. Catalogue Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek,
Jones, Arnold H. M., John R. Martindale & John Morris (1971): The Prosopography of
the Later Roman Empire. Vol. 1: AD 260-395, Cambridge.
Kantorowicz, Ernst H. (1957): The King’s Two Bodies. A Study in Mediaeval Political
Theology, Princeton, New Jersey.
Kantorowicz, Ernst H. (1960): On the golden marriage belt and the marriage rings of
the Dumbarton Oaks Collection. In: Dumbarton Oaks Papers 14, 1-16.
Kent, John P. C. (1994): Roman Imperial Coinage. Vol. 10: The Divided Empire and
the Fall of the Western Parts (AD 395-491), London.
Kiilerich, Bente & Hjalmar Torp (1989): Hic est: hic Stilicho. The date and interpreta-
tion of a notable Diptych. In: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Insti-
tuts 104, 319-371.
The Female Body in Late Antiquity 235

Klauser, Theodor (1981): s.v. “Gottesgebärerin”. In: Reallexikon für Antike und Chri-
stentum (vol. 11), Stuttgart, 1071-1103.
Krumeich, Christa (1993): Hieronymus und die christlichen feminae clarissimae, Bonn.
Lake, Stephen (2006): Fabiola and the sick. Jerome, epistula 77. In: Barbara Feich-
tinger & Helmut Seng (eds.), Die Christen und der Körper, München & Leipzig,
Lange, Reinhold (1969): Das Marienbild der frühen Jahrhunderte, Recklinghausen.
Laurence, Patrick (1997): Jérôme et le nouveau modèle féminin. La conversion à la ‘vie
parfaite’, Paris.
Lindemann, Gesa (1996): Zeichentheoretische Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von Kör-
per und Leib. In: Annette Barkhaus, Matthias Mayer, Neil Roughley & Danatus
Thürnau (eds.), Identität, Leiblichkeit, Normativität. Neue Horizonte anthropo-
logischen Denkens, Frankfurt am Main, 146-175.
Lipp, Wolfgang (2000): Körper, Körpersymbolik und Gesellschaft. In: Elmar Klinger,
Stephanie Böhm & Theodor Seidl (eds.), Der Körper und die Religion, Würz-
burg, 9-26.
Lund Jacobsen, Anders-Christian (2006): The constitution of man according to Irenaeus
and Origen. In: Barbara Feichtinger & Helmut Seng (eds.), Die Christen und
der Körper, München & Leipzig, 67-94.
Müller, Daniela (2000): Askese und Ekstase. Im Körper Gott erfahren. In: Elmar Klin-
ger, Stephanie Böhm & Theodor Seidl (eds.), Der Körper und die Religion,
Würzburg, 185-203.
Mundell Mango, Marlia & Anna Bennett (1994): The Sevso Treasure (= Journal of
Roman Archaeology Supplement 12.1), Ann Arbor.
Muth, Susanne (1998): Erleben von Raum – Leben im Raum. Zur Funktion mytholo-
gischer Mosaikbilder in der römisch-kaiserzeitlichen Wohnarchitektur, Heidel-
Petersen-Szemerédy, Griet (1993): Zwischen Weltstadt und Wüste: Römische Asketin-
nen in der Spätantike. Eine Studie zu Motivation und Gestaltung der Askese
christlicher Frauen Roms auf dem Hintergrund ihrer Zeit, Göttingen.
Reinsberg, Carola (1983): Concordia. Die Darstellung von Hochzeit und ehelicher Ein-
tracht in der Spätantike. In: Herbert Beck & Peter C. Bol (eds.), Spätantike und
frühes Christentum. Ausstellung im Liebieghaus, Museum alter Plastik, Frank-
furt am Main, 312-317.
Schade, Kathrin (2003): Frauen in der Spätantike: Status und Repräsentation. Eine Un-
tersuchung zur römischen und frühbyzantinischen Bildniskunst, Mainz.
Schneider, Lambert (1983): Die Domäne als Weltbild. Wirkungsstrukturen der spätan-
tiken Bildsprache, Wiesbaden.
Schneider, Lambert, Burkhard Fehr & Klaus-Heinrich Meyer (1979): Zeichen – Kom-
munikation – Interaktion. Zur Bedeutung von Zeichen-, Kommunikations- und
Interaktionstheorie für die Klassische Archäologie. In: Hephaistos 1, 7-41.
Shelton, Kathleen J. (1981): The Esquiline Treasure, London.
Stahlmann, Ines (1997): Der gefesselte Sexus. Weibliche Keuschheit und Askese im
Westen des Römischen Reiches, Berlin.
236 Kathrin Schade

Steininger, Christine (1997): Die ideale christliche Frau. Eine Studie zum Bild der
idealen christlichen Frau bei Hieromymus und Pelagius, St. Ottilien.
Thraede, Klaus (1972): s.v. “Frau”. In: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (vol. 8),
Stuttgart, 197-269.
Veyne, Paul (1995): Die Familie und die Liebe in der frühen Kaiserzeit (1978). In: Id.,
Die römische Gesellschaft (transl. by Heinz Jatho), München, 81-123.
Wittern, Susanne (1994): Frauen, Heiligkeit und Macht. Lateinische Frauenviten aus
dem 4. bis 7. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart & Weimar.
Wrede, Henning (1981): Consecratio in Formam Deorum. Vergöttlichte Privatperso-
nen in der römischen Kaiserzeit, Mainz.
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies
Judith Perkins

In the second century A.D. Christian discourse took a decidedly material turn. The na-
ture of Jesus’ body and of the resurrected human body became a major focus for debate
and dissention. These topics polarized Christian communities, creating boundaries be-
tween Christians and “heretics”. What prompted this turn towards the material body?
This paper argues that Christian resurrection discourse with its focus on material, abject
bodies and a future court intervenes in a larger social dialogue around courts and bodies
taking place in the period. In the early imperial centuries, the Roman criminal justice
system was being restructured to the detriment of many free subjects. A boundary be-
tween the elite and the others in their society was in the process of being fixed in the
Roman legal code through the judicial dichotomy between the humiliores and honestio-
res, resulting in differential punishments according to status. The bodies of the elite
were generally spared harsh physical punishments. Christian resurrection texts refigure
this contemporary paradigm. They insist that the body of every human person must be
raised so that it, body and soul, may be judged. Christian texts stress that there are no
exceptions. By resisting the social practices that exempted some bodies from punish-
ment, Christian resurrection discourse challenges the juridical fictions and symbolic
networks that position the upper stratum, the educated and cultured people, as superior
and too refined for the humiliation and brutality of the contemporary penalty system.

The human body, Mary Douglas writes, “is a model which can stand for any
bounded system” (1966: 115).1 As her comment reflects, a society’s percep-
tions of bodily space play a key role in its spatial perceptions generally and in
the social constructions metaphorically erected upon such perceptions. The
human body has traditionally functioned as a paradigmatic metaphor for soci-
ety, for the body social. This usage is problematic, however, because the hu-
man body in reality is not a body; it is not securely contained or sealed off; its
boundaries do not hold. Julia Kristeva’s study of the horror associated with
“the abject” – all that issues, leaks and flows out from the body – focusses on
this reality and its subversion for symbolic uses of the body to denote bounded

1 For resurrection in the early imperial centuries, see Bynum (1995) and Setzer (2004). Setzer
(2004: 3 n. 6) provides a survey of the pertinent literature on the topic. Bynum’s work has
been fundamental to this examination and to my papers on resurrection (Perkins 2005, 2006,
2007) that I draw from in this study. See Daley (2003) for a survey of patristic eschatology.
238 Judith Perkins

systems (Kristeva 1982: 102). Working from Mary Douglas’ premise that dis-
gust is caused by “matter out of context” (Douglas 1966: 36), Kristeva offers
that nothing about the body is intrinsically dirty or defiling. What causes hu-
mans to react with horror at the abject is not its inherent filth, “but what dis-
turbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules”
(Kristeva 1982: 4). As Douglas suggests, we are disgusted by food caught in a
moustache or shoes on a table, but food and shoes are innocuous in their
proper place, in a dish or on the floor. Disgust is a reaction to disrupted bound-
What is horrifying about the abject is the evidence that ultimately no
amount of surveillance or policing can secure the boundaries of a “clean and
proper body”, personally or socially. The boundaries of bodies are porous, as
Kristeva (1982: 3) points out:
“These bodily fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly
and with difficulty, on the part of death. There I am at the border of my condi-
tion as a living person. My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that
border. Such wastes drop so that I might live, until from loss to loss, nothing
remains in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit – cadere, cadaver.” 2
For Kristeva, the excremental leaking from the body rehearses the corpse with
its final liquefaction into rot, and both prefigure the ultimate fragility of any
symbolic system (Kristeva 1982: 70). For if the body is not solid, if it is, in fact,
oozing steadily away into the fluidity of the “cesspool” that Kristeva calls the
corpse, this inherent fluidity, this leakage challenges the very notion of a
“body” as solid, self-identical, whole, bounded, as this and not that, as here
and not there. The excremental and the putrefying corpse unsettle any notion
of a securely bounded body, a clean and proper body, and the loss of this pro-
totypic body confounds and infracts the basis for the exclusions and sorting
that go into shaping the social body. If margins do not hold, if boundaries do
not seal off and separate, if in every system there is always a residue, then the
artificiality and vulnerability of any ordered entity, of all our self-represen-
tations and understanding of a body, individual and social, are exposed (Grosz
1994: 195). The corpse with its slimy indeterminacy offers the original decon-
structive marker. It is, as Kristeva recognizes, an inherent affront to meta-
physical notions of being as presence or essence.
The material body’s impermanence, its susceptibility to change, also pro-
vided an “ontological” affront to Greek philosophers (Bynum 1995: 56). Par-

2 Bodel (1986: 34-35) adduces a passage from Papinian’s monograph on the care of cities di-
recting city managers to prohibit the dumping of dung or corpses in city streets (Dig.
43.10.5). The ancients had more experience than we in seeing the overlap in these signs of
human “waste”. See Kyle (1998: 128-154) for problems with disposal of corpses from the
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 239

menides, for example, forecloses the reality of change by defining Being as

“what is”. This “what is” is ungenerated, indestructible and unchangeable and
allows for no coming into being or passing away (fr. B8 Diels & Kranz). Mor-
tals believe change occurs, because they are misled by their faulty sense per-
ceptions. Plato’s Socrates similarly dismisses the mutable. If all things were in
flux, he maintains, there could be no knowledge (Plato, Crat. 439-440). For
just as someone made an attempt to know or speak about a mutable object, it
could change into something else. As Socrates asks rhetorically: “How then
can that which is never in the same state be anything?” (Crat. 439c). Knowl-
edge and real being are possible only in the ideal realm of the changeless and
the immutable – in the realm of the Forms, for example, where absolute
Beauty is “always such as it is” (Crat. 439d: τοιoῦτον ἀεί ἐστιν οἷόν ἐστιν).
The body caught up in the flagrant changes of its natural processes provides
the inverse of such stability. Marked by the natural flux and inherent change of
the material world, the body is relegated to being an incidental appendage to
the self/soul destined to decay and drop away at death. The body functions as
the paradigmatic example for something “which is never in the same state”, for
the not “anything”. This stance toward the body and its flux had a long life in
philosophic thinking. In the second century A.D., Numenius of Apamea dis-
misses the body on the basis of its mutability: “And if body (σῶμα) flows and
is carried along by immediate change, it flees and does not exist” (fr. 8 Des
Places).3 In this cultural thought world, the body with its constantly changing,
mutable materiality was understood to be a hindrance to the attainment of the
The degradation of the material body holds implications for the body so-
cial. The body traditionally has provided an essential symbolic domain for
mapping social hierarchies. Societies regularly associate the upper body with
the upper social stratum and the lower body with the underclass (Pile 1996:
175). 4 Through this symbolic move, societies code lower social groups as
“dirty”, “soiled” and “contaminated” and invest them with the same disgust as
the abject. This type of social coding can be seen to operate in Greek and Ro-
man culture. Both societies held that certain kinds of work were debasing in
themselves and prevented people from living a virtuous life. Cicero and Sen-
eca, following Greek models, provide lists of occupations that mark people as
either respectable (liberales) or base (sordidi). Hired labourers, retailers and
artisans (opifices) fall into in the sordid category (Cicero, De off. 1.150-152;

3 See Dillon (1977: 361-379) for Numenius’ Platonism.

4 Pile (1996) draws for his discussion from Stallybrass & White (1986). For this kind of social
coding, see Plato, Tim. 69e-70a, 90a.
240 Judith Perkins

Seneca, Epist. 88.21).5 Such language metaphorically fashions labourers, wage

earners and tradespeople as tainted and even soiled by their work (Joshel 1992:
68-69). Using derogatory and filth-related language for the non-elite was not
uncommon. Cicero, for example, refers to the Roman plebs as “the filth and
dregs of the city” (Cicero, Att. 1.16.11: sordem urbis et faecem); sordidus and
related terms recur in references to the under stratum.6 Through such language,
the elite project onto the lower stratum the disgusting and shame-laden aspects
of the material body and position themselves as different and better than these
others associated with their animal body (Nussbaum 2004: 97).
In the second century A.D., some strands of Christian discourse began to
challenge this cultural inscription of the body as base by insisting that Jesus’
assumption of a material fleshly body erased the shame associated with the
body and that his resurrection in a flesh-and-blood body guaranteed the resur-
rection of the human material body and its immortality. This period experi-
enced a major shift in Christian discourse on the resurrection. The nature of Je-
sus’ body and the precedent it offered for the resurrected human body became
a central focus and a source of debate among Christian groups during the early
imperial centuries. Christian treatises began to argue for the resurrection of the
very same body of flesh (sarx or caro) and blood that was worn during life
(Bynum 1995: 26). Central to these Christian arguments on the resurrection of
the flesh was the contention that the essential human person was not the soul
alone, but a composite of both body and soul. Justin,7 in his treatise On the
Resurrection, emphasizes that the resurrection pertains to both material body
and soul (Res. fr. 107.8):
Ἀλλὰ μὴν καὶ κέκληκεν αὐτὴν ἐπὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν καὶ ἐπαγγέλλεται τὴν
αἰωνίαν ζωήν. Ἔνθα γὰρ τὸν ἄνθρωπον εὐαγγελίζεται σῶσαι, καὶ τῇ σαρκὶ
εὐαγγελίζεται. Τί γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ἀλλ’ ἢ τὸ ἐκ ψυχῆς καὶ σώματος
συνεστὸς ζῷον λογικόν;
“He has even called the flesh to the resurrection and promises to it everlasting
life. For where he promises to save man, there he gives the promise to the
flesh. For what is the human but the reasonable animal composed of body and
Tertullian similarly emphasizes the novelty of an immortal material body; no
philosophy ever offered a resurrection of the flesh (Tertullian, Marc. 5.19.7).

5 Cicero refers to Panaetius and Seneca to Posidonius as sources; see Treggiari (1980: 48-51).
Meijer & van Nijf (1992) review attitudes towards trade and traders.
6 See Yavetz (1969: Appendix 1) for a listing of adjectives for the under stratum and
MacMullen (1974: 138-141) for a “lexicon of prejudice”.
7 Justin’s authorship for this treatise on resurrection is not established. Prigent (1964: 50-61),
Bynum (1995: 28-29) and van Eijk (1971) favour his authorship. I follow Setzer (2004: 78)
in referring to the author as Justin without taking a stand on the issue. The text is that of Mar-
covich, included as an appendix to his Athenagoras edition (2004).
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 241

In the second and early third centuries A.D., Christian writers began to in-
sist on a conception of bodily resurrection based on the immortality of a com-
posite self, both body and soul or spirit. And it will be this composite self that
will be raised. This “raising” is necessary because, as Christians recognized,
the flesh, as anyone might observe, does change, dissolve and melt away. Jus-
tin, rather than being horrified by the abject, reads the dissolution of the flesh
as evidence that the promise of the resurrection could only have been made to
the material body: “The resurrection concerns the flesh that has fallen (τοῦ
πεπτωκότος σαρκίου), for the spirit (πνεῦμα) does not fall” (Justin, Res. fr.
109.10). Kristeva (1982) holds that the body falling away into the cadaver of-
fers a horrifying spectacle. But Justin and other Christians were using the ooz-
ing demise of the body as proof that this material body is precisely what the
Lord promises to raise up, since the soul needs no raising. Tertullian echoes
this argument: “Nothing will expect to rise again, except that which has previ-
ously fallen” (Res. 18.5: succiderit).8 The dead body must be raised, Tertullian
continues, for only it has fallen, as its very name testifies (Res. 18.8: a cadendo
In their advocacy of a material resurrection, Christians write with dispas-
sion about the most ignoble aspects of bodily dissolution. Tertullian, unlike
Kristeva, shows no horror at an etymology promising the decomposition and
dissolution of every human body. And Athenagoras calmly reviews the most
macabre details of the human body’s disintegration as he proves that it would
be no more difficult for God to reconstitute bodies at their resurrection than it
was to create them. Athenagoras describes the process of reuniting the parts of
the body (Res. 3.3):
τὸ διατεθρυμμένον <εἰς> πλήθη ζῴων παντοδαπῶν ὁπόσα τοῖς τοιούτοις
σώμασιν ἐπιτρέχειν εἴωθεν καὶ τὸν ἐκ τούτων ἀγείρειν κόρον, διακρῖναι μὲν
ἐκεῖθεν, ἑνῶσαι δὲ πάλιν τοῖς οἰκείοις μέρεσι καὶ μορίοις, κἂν εἰς ἓν ἐξ
ἐκείνων χωρήσῃ ζῷον, κἂν εἰς πολλά, κἂν ἐντεῦθεν εἰς ἕτερα, κἂν αὐτοῖς
ἐκείνοις συνδιαλυθὲν ἐπὶ τὰς πρώτας ἀρχὰς ἐνεχθῇ κατὰ τὴν φυσικὴν εἰς
ταύτας ἀνάλυσιν.
“To separate out that which has been torn apart and devoured by numerous
animals of every kind which are accustomed to attack bodies like our own and
satisfy their wants with them; and he can reunite the fragments with their own
parts and members whether they have gone into one such animal or into many,
or whether they have passed in turn from them into others and after decompo-
sition been resolved along with their destroyers into their principal constitu-
ents and so followed the natural course of dissolution back into them.”
(transl. Schoedel)

8 Van Eijk (1971) discusses the Christian formula that may underlie the similarity in these pas-
242 Judith Perkins

Any sense of ignominy associated with this devoured, digested and dissolved
human body, or any revulsion at donning it again, is missing from Athena-
goras’ account. He offers this abject body as completely worthy of reconstitu-
tion and immortality.
Christian proponents of the resurrection of the flesh founded their belief
on Jesus’ assumption of a fully human material body. His material resurrection
supplies the template for the risen human body. The incarnation sanctions the
resurrection of the flesh; Irenaeus explains (Adv. haer. 5.14.1):
εἰ γάρ μὴ ἔμελλεν ἡ σὰρξ σῴζεσθαι, οὐκ ἂν ὁ Λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ σὰρξ ἐγένετο.
“For if the flesh were not in a position to be saved, the Word of God would in
no way have become flesh.”
And Tertullian argues that the nature of Christ’s body will “lay down the law
for our own resurrection” (Carn. Chr. 1.2). This insistence that both Christ and
the resurrected human had fully material bodies polarized the Christian com-
munity. Strict boundaries began to be drawn. On one side of this boundary
were those who believed Jesus’ body was fully material and that the resur-
rected body was precisely the same body as that worn in life, and on the other
side were those who denied a fully material body for Jesus and for resurrected
humans. Justin articulates this orthodoxy in his Dialogue with Trypho; he
warns against people who are called Christians but “say there is no resurrec-
tion of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken up to heaven; do
not imagine that they are Christians” (Dial. 80.3).
Second- and early-third-century Christians who believed in a resurrection
of the flesh solidified their position by rejecting those who held a different po-
sition as heretics. Anything less than total support for Jesus’ fully material hu-
man body, a body vulnerable to suffering and experiencing natural bodily
processes, was rejected. Irenaeus, for example, indicts the teaching of
Basilides, who denies that Jesus suffered and that the corruptible body would
experience salvation (Adv. haer. 1.24.5). Irenaeus similarly criticizes the
Valentinians for denying the materiality of Jesus’ body. They hold, he says,
that Christ was the son of the Demiurge and “passed through Mary as water
passes through a tube” (Adv. haer. 1.7.2).9 In the second century A.D., belief in
the full humanity and materiality of Jesus’ body and its mandate for a material
human resurrection was becoming a determinate in establishing Christian iden-

9 Since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents there has been considerable discussion
of how fairly the Christian heresiologists reflect their opponents’ views. See Le Boulluec
(1985) for a review of this topic. On individual “heretics”, see Marjanen & Luomanen
(2005). My interest is not in the reality of the Christians’ charges, but in how they use the
“heretics” to construct their own position.
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 243

Caroline Bynum poses the crucial question about this turn towards an em-
phasis on materiality: “Why not Docetism? Why did powerful voices among
Christians of the later second century reject more spiritual or Gnostic interpre-
tations of the resurrection body?” (Bynum 1995: 27). Bynum reminds that in
the early centuries, the materiality of Jesus and of the resurrected body were
still open questions. In the early centuries, Christians did not appear to find it
difficult to entertain divergence and ambiguity around the nature of Jesus’ res-
urrected body and the resurrected human body. Bynum’s question “Why not
Docetism?” is a real one. What changed that made a spiritual understanding
untenable? What transpired in the latter second century A.D. that prompted
some Christians to polarize their community with their vigorous rejection of
anything less than a fully material understanding of Jesus’ body and the human
resurrected body? Bynum (1995: 43) suggests that a concern for the mauled
and unburied bodies of martyrs was an important factor. And she is surely
right. Even so, the doctrine of material resurrection must be recognized as
more than a simple reaction to martyrs. It would also encourage martyrdom
and contribute to creating a culture of martyrdom.10 Christian proponents of
material resurrection criticize Christian opponents for their paucity of martyrs
(Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 4.33.9; Tertullian, Scorp. 1.5).11 Believing one will rise
again forever in the very same body makes the fear and terror of violent death
more bearable. Another version of Bynum’s question “Why not Docetism?”
might read “Why martyrs?” Why in the second century did some Christians
begin to insist on a particular understanding of resurrection – one that would
encourage martyrdom?12
I suggest that the critique of the contemporary justice system inherent in
both the martyr acts and in the discourse around material resurrection points
towards an answer to this question. Christian texts that feature courageous
Christians rebuffing the demands of Roman judicial officials and projecting a
future court righting earthly wrongs register a discontent with contemporary
legal arrangements. Basic to both sets of Christian texts is the premise that the
justice system and its courts and procedures are flawed and unjust. By staking
out this position, these Christian texts intervene in a larger social discourse
around courts and justice that was going on in the period. In the early imperial

10 Ignatius of Antioch reflects the importance of Christ’s material body for martyrdom: “For if
these things were accomplished by our Lord only in appearance (...). But why have I handed
myself over to death, to fire, to the sword, to wild beasts?” (Syrm. 4.2).
11 Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 4.17.1), however, notes the number of martyrs from those
“not really of our number but sharing the name”. Eusebius (5.16.21) writes that the Marcio-
nites are attested to have many martyrs.
12 Setzer (2004: 144) connects resurrection discourse to martyrdom in Jewish texts: “Belief in
the body being raised up appears explicitly as a response to its destruction in 2 Maccabees 7
and 12.”
244 Judith Perkins

centuries, the Roman criminal justice system experienced major restructuring

to the detriment of many free subjects, with the exception of the imperial elite.
A Christian discourse challenging the courts and justice system might have had
particular resonance during a period when many imperial subjects were seeing
an erosion of judicial rights.
This contemporary judicial environment helps to contextualize the empha-
sis on the resurrection of the fleshly body in Christian texts. The nexus con-
necting material resurrection to judgement deserves attention. The author of 2
Clement conveys the importance of the flesh to the judgement by repeating the
word (sarx), as Claudia Setzer notes, seven times in five lines in a passage that
begins “And none of you should say that the flesh is neither judged nor raised”
(2 Clement 9.1-5; see Setzer 2004: 72)13: By repetition Clement stresses the
novelty that it is the flesh that is raised, judged and rewarded or punished.14
The connection of resurrection with judgement is so fundamental that Athenag-
oras feels he must rebut the many (πολλοί) who hold that judgement is the
whole cause (πᾶσαν αἰτίαν) for resurrection.15 Athenagoras argues that what
demands the resurrection is not the judgement alone, but the nature of the hu-
man person, a being composed of a body and soul that must live forever (Res.
15.6). Rather, the judgement is necessary so that humans can experience equi-
table justice. Athenagoras recognizes that earthly justice is intrinsically unfair:
“For neither do the good in this life obtain the rewards of virtue nor the bad the
wages of their wrongs” (Res. 19.5). The fleshly body must be raised up, Athen-
agoras holds, because the laws were given to the complete human person
(ἄνθρωπος) and not only to the soul. It is this complete person, body and soul,
who must pay the recompense for faults (Res. 23.1-2).16 This concept that the
whole person, body and soul, must be present for judgement, for reward and
punishment is the foundation of the second century’s emphasis on a material
resurrection. As Athenagoras summarizes (Res. 18.5):
ἵνα ζῳοποιηθέντων ἐξ ἀναστάσεως τῶν νεκρωθέντων καὶ πάλιν ἑνωθέντων
τῶν κεχωρισμένων ἢ καὶ πάντῃ διαλελυμένων, ἕκαστος κομίσηται δικαίως ἃ
διὰ τοῦ σώματος ἔπραξεν εἴτε ἀγαθὰ εἴτε κακά.

13 Setzer (2004: 72) refers to Pheme Perkins’ statement that the period saw “a general shift to
the incarnation as the central image of salvation” (Perkins 1984: 337).
14 Justin (1 Apol. 8) emphasizes this difference between Christ’s judgement and the one that
Plato describes being delivered by Rhadamanthus and Minos (Plato, Gorg. 523e-524a). In the
Christian judgement, punishment will be given “to the same bodies, united with their souls”,
not as in the Platonic paradigm to souls alone, and not just for a thousand years, but for eter-
15 Athenagoras (Res. 14.6) holds that the resurrection of infants proves resurrection could not be
for judgement alone.
16 See Hällström (1988: 61-62) on this passage.
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 245
“So that when the dead are revivified through the resurrection, and what has
been separated or entirely dissolved is reunited, each one may receive his just
recompense for what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” (transl.
At the last judgement, the human body and not only the soul must be produced
for judgement. This same premise supports Tertullian’s arguments. He writes
that the reason (ratio) for the restitution of the dead body is judgement. The
body with the soul must stand in judgement (Apol. 48). Minucius Felix sug-
gests that some persons might even wish that their bodies would be annihilated
after death, so they could avoid giving an account of themselves. But Christian
proponents of the material body denied the body’s annihilation at death. In-
stead, as Gunnar af Hällström writes, they held “that resurrection is necessary
in order to make possible divine recompensation to the body. Evil deeds must
be punished and good ones rewarded” (Hällström 1988: 93).17 And the body
will share in this recompense.
This intense focus in Christian texts on the necessity that the body be
physically present in court is of interest because it can be read as an indictment
of judicial procedures that exempt certain bodies from judicial punishment. In
the early imperial centuries, numbers of imperial subjects were finding their
bodies newly liable to physical punishment. A boundary between the elite and
the others in their society was in the process of being fixed in the Roman legal
code through the juridical dichotomy between the humiliores and honestiores,
the “more humble” and the “more honourable”. The latter designation encom-
passed Roman senators, knights and municipal decurions, as well as military
veterans. Thus, with the possible exception of veterans, it was reserved for
wealthy and prominent individuals. Walter Scheidel (2006: 42) suggests that
the honestiores composed only about one percent of the population. The term
humiliores was used to designate all those free persons not included among the
In A.D. 212, Caracalla extended Roman citizenship across the empire
through the Constitutio Antoniniana, thereby increasing the numbers of people
falling within these categories. But long before this change, Roman legal pro-
cedures had been influencing provincial legal practices (Carrié 2005: 274-
275).18 The effect of drawing these new boundaries separating the humiliores

17 Hällström makes this comment about Athenagoras, Justin and Tertullian specifically, but it
applies to other proponents of the material resurrection as well.
18 In his discussion of Roman law in provincial cities before Caracalla’s grant of citizenship in
A.D. 212, Carrié (2005) offers that as long as the local laws did not contradict Roman laws,
they had their place. He rejects the thesis that provincial cities lost their laws and constitution
as a consequence of the Constitutio Antoniniana. Rather these laws and constitutions had
been lost at the time of the Roman conquest, “which ended the juridical independence of Hel-
lenic cities and subjected what remained of their legislative activity to the approval of the
246 Judith Perkins

from the honestiores was to erode the free non-elites’ judicial equality. By the
beginning of the third century A.D., Roman law regularly allotted different
punishments for the same crime to individuals according to their status. The
initial phases of this system probably occurred during the first century A.D., as
it already shows considerable development by the Hadrianic period (Garnsey
1970: 170).19
As is the case for so many imperial initiatives, Augustus likely launched
the process that eventually inscribed a systemic inequality into Roman crimi-
nal law, when he revived the office of urban prefect. Tacitus writes that Au-
gustus said he appointed the prefect “to coerce the slaves and that part of the
free population (civium) whose boldness makes it unruly, unless it fears force
(nisi vim metuat)” (Tacitus, Ann. 6.11.3; see Garnsey 1970: 91-92).20 Two as-
sumptions appearing in this account prove decisive for the direction of crimi-
nal law over the next centuries: first, that free low-status citizens and slaves
form a single social aggregate, and second, that this group must be controlled
through fear. By assimilating slaves and citizen have-nots, Augustus depreci-
ates the legal differences between these groups. In the Roman Republic, citi-
zens, in contrast to slaves, were not liable to violent treatment. Augustus di-
vides the civic community along a new boundary line based on status rather
than the possession or lack of possession of civil privileges. In this opening
move, Augustus already forecasts the shape of the legal system that by the
early third century A.D. would be firmly in place, status based and permitting
violence against free persons.21 Richard Bauman describes the import of Au-
gustus’ action as follows: “Roman society was always elitist (...) but Augustus
took the first step in institutionalizing elitism” (Bauman 1996: 199 n. 43).

provincial governor” (Carrié 2005: 274). It was Roman dominance that reduced local laws
“from nomoi (laws) to ethê (customs) – customs kept in force by the force of good will of the
Roman authority” (Carrié 2005: 275).
19 Rilinger (1988) in his thorough study of the honestiores / humiliores division has argued on
the basis of his dating of the Pauli Sententiae that the honestiores / humiliores system was
not in place until the fourth century. Others suggest an earlier date for the Pauli Sententiae
(Robinson 1997: 113). Pölönen (2004: 218 n. 3) suggests that “the principle of status differ-
entiation in punishment is pre-Severan, although it was not systematically expressed in terms
of the humiliores-honestiores dichotomy”. Rilinger (1988: 274-279) offers his social inter-
pretation for the legal alterations.
20 In 26 B.C., Augustus appointed Valerius Messala Corvinus urban prefect, but he resigned
almost immediately. Leaving Rome in 16 B.C., Augustus appointed Titus Statilius Taurus to
this same office. Some time after this, Augustus appointed Lucius Calpurnius Piso, and the
position then became standard. See Tacitus, Ann. 6.11.
21 That is not to say that slaves did not still experience harsher treatments than free persons
(Aubert 2002: 129-130). As the laws demonstrate, the so-called dual-penalty system was in
actuality a tri-penalty system with different penalties for slaves, humiliores and honestiores.
On the supposed equalization of slave and free penalties, Bauman (1996: 135) concludes:
“The evidence for equalization (...) does not come anywhere near a general assimilation of
the slave and the humilior”.
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 247

In this first step, as Tacitus’ report demonstrates, Augustus utilizes a con-

ventional manoeuvre for instituting hierarchy: he conflates the urban crowd
with an unruly animal, both controllable only by fear and force. In ancient so-
cieties, slaves were regularly assimilated to the animal, and like animals, they
were vulnerable to beatings and violent treatment (Bradley 1990: 110). By de-
stabilizing the boundary line between slaves and other non-elites, Augustus
opened new categories of people to the same social disregard as animals. Au-
gustus’ imagery comparing the urban population to an uncontrollable beast in-
vokes the elite’s traditional perception of the urban mass as the sordid, unruly
“other”, tainted by association with the lower body.
Augustus’ innovations enabled the institution of more fearsome judicial
punishments. By empowering the judicial hearing (cognitio) system, where a
single delegate of the state, the emperor himself, the urban prefect, the praeto-
rian prefect or the provincial governor heard and decided cases, Augustus un-
coupled these courts from the standing juries (quaestiones perpetuae) of the
republic and their statutes (leges) prescribing specific crimes and punishments.
In the cognitio system, judges had the autonomy to recognize and define
crimes and set punishments for them (Robinson 1995: 10). The system con-
tributed to the proliferation of the new crimes (crimina extraordinaria) and
savage punishments appearing in the early empire. It also played an essential
role in establishing the differential punishment system based on status (Garn-
sey 1970: 171).
The criminal laws of the early empire make terrifying reading, with their
prescriptions of horrific punishments – the convicted being crucified, burned
alive, thrown to the beasts.22 What strikes a modern reader about these extreme
penalties is that not all offenders are equally liable to them. The laws clearly
articulate a differential standard. Law after law exhibits the same discrimina-
tory stance. They exempt the elite from the most terrible penalties. Poisoners,
for example, must suffer a capital punishment, unless exempted by status, as
“regard must be given their rank” (dignitatis respectum); if exempt from capi-
tal punishment, they will be deported (Dig. Those who cause sedi-
tion and disturbance are sentenced “according to their social standing” (pro
qualitate dignitatis); accordingly, they are “either hanged from the furca,
thrown to the beasts or deported to an island” (Dig. For those who
intentionally and maliciously forge a will, the penalties are for more elite
criminals (honestiores) to be deported to an island, and for the non-elite (hu-
miliores) to be sent to the mines or crucified (Sententiae Pauli 5.25.1). All

22 The XII tables (8.10) permitted persons to be bound, beaten and burned alive for treachery or
arson (Kyle 1998: 73 n. 129). Nippel (1995: 25-26) locates the use of extreme punishments
of the free lower stratum to deter crime in the empire and not the republic. For the severity of
these punishments, see MacMullen (1990), Millar (1984) and Grodzynski (1984).
248 Judith Perkins

these examples are from the writings of Severan jurists, but testimony places
the initial stages of the differential penalty system earlier (Bauman 1996: 125).
The laws are notoriously difficult to date confidently, but the advice the
younger Pliny gives to a friend on administering provincial justice shows that
the principles underlying differential punishment were already present in his
period: “You should maintain the distinctions between ranks and degrees of
dignity” (Epist. 9.5; see Garnsey 1970: 78). A rescript attributed to Hadrian on
moving boundary stones also reveals the operation of the differential perspec-
tive (Bauman 1996: 126-128). The rescript directs the judge to take into con-
sideration “the status (condicione) of the offender and his intention (mente)”. It
then sets out different penalties for the high-status perpetrators (splendidiores),
as opposed to “the others” (Dig. 47.21.2). This passage lacks only the stable
vocabulary (honestiores vs. humiliores) of the developed differential system.
By the early second century A.D., it would seem free imperial subjects were
experiencing a differential penalty system calibrated to their status.
Richard Bauman notes that exemption from the harsher bodily penalties
“virtually acted as a certificate of status”, especially for decurions and veterans
(Bauman 1996: 129). Bauman cites Callistratus’ pronouncement (Dig.
Et ut generaliter dixerim, omnes, qui fustibus caedi prohibentur, eandem
habere honoris reverentiam debent, quam decuriones habent. est enim incon-
stans dicere eum, quem principales constitutiones fustibus subici prohibuerunt,
in metallum dari posse.
“Generally speaking all those whom it is not permissible to beat with rods
should be shown the same respect for their rank as decurions are shown. It is
inconsistent to say that anyone exempted from the rods by imperial rescripts
can be sent to the mines.”
This passage testifies to the establishment of a legal hierarchy linking people’s
social position to their body’s liability to, or exemption from, physical pun-
ishment. This same situation had held in Republican Rome, but then the parti-
tion separated free from slave. In the early imperial period, a process began to
shift this boundary. Callistratus observes that imperial rescripts had specified
Non omnes fustibus caedi solent, sed hi dumtaxat qui liberi sunt et quidem te-
nuiores homines: honestiores vero fustibus non subiciuntur.
“It is not the custom for all people to be beaten with rods, but only freemen of
less substance (tenuiores homines); men of higher rank (honestiores) are not
to be beaten with rods.”

Not only slaves, but all persons who were not honestiores were becoming eli-
gible for beatings. And this eligibility, this legal vulnerability to bodily hu-
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 249

miliation, provides the warrant for every other degrading legal penalty. Callis-
tratus’ pronouncement articulates this logic. If persons could not be struck,
then they could not be sentenced to hard labour in the mines; no beating, then
no crucifixion, no burning alive, no beasts. In the early empire, numbers of
free people were newly being taught their lack of social position and worth by
their body’s vulnerability to the legal imposition of pain. 23
In her thorough examination of the social message inscribed on beaten
bodies in the first century A.D., Jennifer Glancy submits that the beaten body
invariably acts as a “token (...) of dishonor, abasement, and servility” (Glancy
2004: 134). In the Roman context, she argues, the circumstances of the beating
matter very little; every beating degrades, humiliates and marks the body as
servile: “Citizen or not, free or slave, a beaten body was a dishonored body”
(Glancy 2004: 124). And the subjects of a beating were rendered “morally de-
graded” and tainted by their subjection and submission to violent treatment
(Glancy 2004: 111).24 That persons were legally vulnerable to beatings and
violence already contributed to their social debasement.
Across the empire in the imperial period, a judicial perspective was evolv-
ing that branded all the people without sufficient status, wealth or position to
belong to honestiores as dishonoured and debased on the basis of their body’s
potential for humiliating treatment, animal treatment. The honestiores, the
more honourable, the elite and their agents, were identified by their bodies’
freedom from degrading punishments. As the trans-empire alliance of elite
administering the empire solidified its power, the elite initiated judicial
changes that resulted in rendering new groups of persons contemptible and
disgusting. As Kristeva (1982) outlines, disgust is intrinsically about defining
and identifying boundaries; in the early imperial period, the elite were drawing
stricter boundaries between themselves and the others in their society.
In his book on disgust, William Miller (1997: 195) describes the close cor-
relation between disgust and cruelty. Disgust leaves little room for sympathy
or fellow feeling; it engenders cruelty. As Miller describes: “Disgust is less
benign for the lower in the pecking order. It works to prevent concern, care,
pity and love” (Miller 1997: 251). Disgusting persons repulse, so they deserve
elimination, even eradication. Miller (1997: 251) maintains: “Hierarchies

23 The significance of the numbers actually suffering these supreme punishments is unclear, but
the very institution of these measures seems to have provoked anxiety. Brent Shaw (2003:
533-563) has illustrated the centrality of judicial proceedings to Christian collective memory
in the early centuries. Artemidorus testifies to the frequency of nightmares involving dying a
painful judicial death. In the Onirocritica, he offers interpretations for dreams “resulting from
a judge’s verdict” (2.49), those dealing with “beheading” (1.35), “being burned alive” (2.52),
“being crucified” (2.53) and “fighting with wild beasts” (2.54; see Shaw 2003: 537).
24 Glancy (2004: 111) adduces Matthew Roller’s statement: “Physical and legal degradation
corresponded in Roman society to moral degradation” (Roller 2001: 226).
250 Judith Perkins

maintained by disgust cannot be benign”. The proliferation of savage and bru-

tal judicial penalties during the first three centuries seems to attest to the opera-
tion of disgust. By losing their immunity from violent treatment, free subjects
were debased by their assimilation to the slave and the animal and became ob-
jects of disgust to the elite. This context points to an increasing lack of reci-
procity between the elite and the others in their communities during the impe-
rial period.25 Bound to each by ties of education and privilege, the imperial
elite were forming themselves into a trans-empire community with connections
to the imperial center.
The legal system, with its differential punishment setting off the elite from
others in their community, facilitated the construction and the display of this
new trans-empire imperial identity. Across the empire, numbers of people
were learning their place by being made newly liable to brutal treatment and
horrific deaths, and their “betters” were largely unaffected by the changed le-
gal system. One can imagine that the free lower stratum resented the assault on
their persons and their judicial position that these legal changes effected. In the
ancient Mediterranean, non-elite people were not unused to being treated badly
by their social superiors; but traditionally in Rome and other cities incorpo-
rated into the empire, there had been a semblance of shared civic rights across
status lines. The legal system evolving in the early empire destabilized this
equilibrium. Its savagery directed at citizens and free people were innovations.
Its grievances therefore were new and lacked the camouflage of traditional
wrongs. It is reasonable to think the humiliores must have felt resentment.
Forty years ago, Ramsay MacMullen (1966) referred to the resentment
that the poor ‘must have’ felt in the early empire as a result of the alliance
forged between Rome and provincial elites. He observed: “The poor then must
have looked on Romans as accomplices to the rich, and must at times have
cursed them both in the same breath – must have, according to speculation,
nothing more” (1966: 189). MacMullen relied on speculation because he found
little testimony to this resentment in the historical record. The situation may be
different for the differential justice system; testimony may survive. It is my
contention that resentment of the evolving differential penalty system and the
status realignments it tokens contributes to the thematic emphases of second-
century Christian resurrection discourse and to their appeal.
Two motifs prominent in Christian writings on the resurrections – the em-
phasis on the Last Judgement and the refusal of any disgust for the material

25 Brent Shaw summarizes the effect of the new imperial arrangements as “a more stable and
efficient structure for the exploitation of inferiors” (2000: 372). De Ste. Croix (1981: 465)
notes that, during the early imperial period, “the propertied classes tightened their grip on
those below them and placed themselves in even a more commanding position than they had
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 251

body, no matter how abject – seem to challenge the social perspective support-
ing the contemporary legal restructuring. This perspective enables the social
hierarchy by first fashioning some persons in the society as more associated
with the body and its disgusting aspects than others on the basis of their work,
status or gender, and then denigrating these people as tainted, disgusting and
unworthy of regard or respect and available for animal-like treatment. Chris-
tian texts contest this perspective. Their contestation carries, I suggest, social
as well as religious ramifications.
The insistence of the Christian judgement discourse that every person is
equally a body and a soul, and that body and soul alike must be judged after
death, seems to have particular resonance. Brent Shaw has pointed out that the
theme of an individual judgement at a final court is a Christian innovation:
“the conception of a ‘last’ or ‘final’ court (...) is singularly absent from the
central Jewish inheritance [of resurrection discourse]” (Shaw 2003: 555 with
notes). In their representations of this last court, I suggest, Christians voiced
their dissent from the contemporary legal system, where some people were not
being required to bring their bodies to court to the same extent that others were.
As we have seen, elite bodies might appear in court, but they were not pre-
sented for physical punishment. As the laws demonstrate, the elite’s dignity
and status regularly exempt their bodies from the brutal physical punishment
of the under stratum. On the basis of their status, their bodies are excused from
any humiliating treatment.
Christian writings on the resurrection, in contrast, emphasize that every-
one’s body must appear in court for punishment or reward. This necessity to
produce the material body for judgement, as previously noted, provides a ma-
jor motivation for raising the flesh. Christian texts stipulate that the same bod-
ies worn during life must pay the penalty or reap the reward for their earthly
activities. They insist that there are no exceptions. All persons will present
their bodies for judgement and physical punishment, regardless of rank or po-
sition. Justin, for example, warns the emperor Antoninus Pius that he “will not
escape the coming judgement of God” (1 Apol. 68). Martyrs remind their Ro-
man judges that their day of judgement will come. In the Passion of Perpetua,
male martyrs convey to the governor Hilarianus: “You have condemned us,
but God will condemn you” (Passio Perp. 18.8, ed. Bastiaensen & al.). When
the proconsul threatens to burn Polycarp, he dismisses the threat of a fire that
“burns for an hour” and warns the proconsul of the eternal fire of the coming
judgement (Polycarp, Mart. 11.2). Tertullian envisions emperors, magistrates
and philosophers all suffering grievous penalties after their judgement (Spect.
While the martyrs’ focus on future punishments suggests a certain desire
for revenge, the overall emphasis in the resurrection discourse seems to be on
252 Judith Perkins

equitable justice more than payback. This equity will occur only when every
person is present, body and soul, to be judged. This repeated refrain that eve-
ryone’s body must be produced for judgement would seem in this historical
moment, when only some bodies were experiencing harsh physical punishment,
to have social as well as religious relevance. Christian resurrection discourse
seems to challenge the juridical fictions and symbolic networks that position
the upper stratum, those identified with the soul/mind, as superior and too re-
fined for harsh physical punishment. Christian texts stress that there are no ex-
ceptions; everyone’s body must be presented at court and, if guilty, endure
harsh punishment. By resisting contemporary practices that exempted some
bodies from punishment, the Christian texts refigure this contemporary para-
digm and undermine its social implications. No group is allowed to deny its
members’ embodiment or to foist the body onto an “other”. To achieve this
end, Christians refigured prevailing notions of the human person and the un-
worthiness of the material body. Every human person is held to be equally an
amalgam of body and soul. The body is a full partner in human being. And
every person as an immortal body and soul will experience equitable judge-
Christian refusal to find the material body disgusting was the key to the
challenge of the operating hierarchical social paradigm supporting differential
legal penalties. If bodies are not disgusting, then there is little basis to dispar-
age those associated with bodies. The dispassionate acceptance given in resur-
rection texts to the most abject scattered, devoured and dissolved bodies sub-
verts their repulsiveness. Christians reinscribe the material body; Jesus’ incar-
nation has trans-valued it. Irenaeus emphasizes Jesus’ fully physical and emo-
tional humanity in his rebuttal to the charge that Jesus simply passed through
Mary like water through a pipe. If that were the case, Irenaeus argues, Jesus
would not have eaten, hungered, wept over Lazarus, sweated blood, or poured
out blood and water when he was stabbed, as he has been described. These ac-
tions testify to Christ’s real flesh-and-blood humanity (Adv. haer. 3.22.2).
Irenaeus’ description emphasizes the body’s fluid boundaries – eating, weep-
ing, sweating and bleeding. By accepting a human fleshly body, Irenaeus
teaches, Christ reconciled the flesh that had been alienated from God since
Adam’s disobedience and perfected and saved it. This process of salvation will
be complete in the resurrected body and its eternal life (Unger 1992: 185 n.
11).27 By destabilizing the premises for debasing the body, its mutability and

26 Stroumsa (1990: 42) offers that the conception of the human identity as a composite of body
and soul is a Christian innovation.
27 See Osborn (2001: 97-140) for the centrality of recapitulation (ἀνακεφαλαίωσις), the idea
that Jesus “sums up” everything in Irenaeus’ thought. On this particular passage, see Osborn
(2001: 97-107).
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 253

mortality, Christians destabilized the grounds for the hierarchical configura-

tions symbolically erected upon that body that demeaned those associated with
the body.
In his Contra Celsum, Origen preserves the horrified reaction of a philo-
sophically inclined contemporary to these Christian teachings on the resurrec-
tion and the incarnation.28 In his True Doctrine, likely written near the end of
the second century A.D., Celsus offers a critique of Christianity, portions of
which have been preserved in Origen’s response. In one passage, Celsus calls
the Christian hope in a material resurrection “the hope of worms” and asks:
“What sort of human soul would have any desire for a body that is rotted?”
The soul might expect everlasting life, but Celsus quotes Heraclitus on the
body’s worth: “Corpses ought to be thrown away as worse than dung”. And he
describes the “flesh as full of things not even nice to mention” (Origen, Contra
Cels. 5.14). Celsus cites the intra-Christian disagreement on material resurrec-
tion to support his perspective. He argues that the fact that some Christians
cannot accept the flesh’s resurrection “shows its utter repulsiveness, and that it
is both revolting and impossible” (5.14). What Celsus finds disgusting is the
body’s abject nature, its propensity to rot and seep away. How could such a
body merit resurrection?29
The idea that a god, a divine being, would take on a mutable body also re-
pulses Celsus. He writes: “A god would not have a body such as yours”, nor
would a god be born or eat the foods that Jesus is described as eating (Origen,
Contra Cels. 1.69). Celsus’ revulsion at the conjoining of divine and material
emerges in his rejection of the virgin birth (Origen, Contra Cels. 6.73):
τί ἐδεῖτο εἰς γυναικὸς γαστέρα ἐμπνεῖν; Ἐδύνατο γὰρ ἤδη πλάσσειν
ἀνθρώπους εἰδὼς καὶ τούτῳ περιπλάσαι σῶμα καὶ μὴ τὸ ἴδιον πνεῦμα εἰς
τοσοῦτον μίασμα ἐμβαλεῖν.
“Why did he [God] have to breathe into the womb of a woman? He already
knew how to make men. He could have formed a body for this one also with-
out having to thrust his own spirit into such pollution.”
Celsus sees the human body as miasmatic, contaminating, disgusting and un-
worthy of a god. Celsus sums up his time-honoured perspective (Origen, Con-
tra Cels. 4.14)30:
῾Ο θεὸς ἀγαθός ἐστι καὶ καλὸς καὶ εὐδαίμων καὶ ἐν τῷ καλλίστῳ καὶ ἀρίστῳ·
εἰ δὴ ἐς ἀνθρώπους κάτεισι, μεταβολῆς αὐτῷ δεῖ, μεταβολῆς δὲ ἐξ ἀγαθοῦ εἰς
κακὸν καὶ ἐκ καλοῦ εἰς αἰσχρὸν. (...) Καὶ μὲν δὴ τῷ θνητῷ μὲν ἀλλάττεσθαι

28 The translations in this section are from Chadwick (1965).

29 See Frede (1994: 5208) for Celsus’ metaphysics and theology. Celsus holds that only immor-
tal beings are made by God, and that eliminates the body (Origen, Contra Cels. 4.52).
30 Chadwick (1965: 192) offers that Celsus draws on Plato’s Republic (381b-c) and Phaedrus
254 Judith Perkins

καὶ μεταπλάττεσθαι φύσις, τῷ δ’ ἀθανάτῳ κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ καὶ ὡσαύτως ἔχειν.

Οὐκ ἂν οὖν οὐδὲ ταύτην τὴν μεταβολὴν θεὸς δέχοιτο.
“God is good and beautiful and happy, and exists in the most beautiful state. If
then he comes down to men, He must undergo change, a change from good to
bad, from beautiful to shameful (...) it is the nature only of a mortal being to
undergo change and remoulding, whereas it is the nature of the immortal be-
ing to remain the same without alteration. God could not be capable of this
Celsus affirms the traditional conception that change is negative and detrimen-
tal and abhorrent to true being and that the material body is the very epitome of
change and its inherent shame. In terms similar to those of Irenaeus, Origen
defends the incarnation. Jesus assumed a human soul and body and combined
this with his divine characteristics to bring salvation to human beings (Origen,
Contra Cels. 3.28). By becoming human, by assuming a material body, Jesus
transformed that body and erased the shame associated with it.
Like Celsus, Christian opponents of the material resurrection were unable
to accept a blatantly material body for the divine. Tertullian reports that Mar-
cion also rejected the flesh “as full of dung” (Marc. 3.10: stercoribus infersam).
And he accuses Apelles and Valentinus of devising something other than hu-
man flesh for Jesus (Res. 5.2, Carn. Chr. 15.1). These reactions demonstrate
how, in the early imperial centuries, some persons held the material body in so
much contempt that it was simply impossible to imagine its connection with
the divine. This contempt for the body then spilled over onto the people cultur-
ally associated with their bodies and rendered them contemptible. And this
contempt justified the social and legal structures that discriminated against the
under stratum. Christian resurrection discourse interrupted the basis for bodily
contempt. Jesus’ human body had refigured the human material body. It was
no more the “servant and the handmaid” to the soul; it was the soul’s “consort
and coheir”, a full partner in human being (Tertullian, Res. 7.13), to be ac-
cepted, rather than dismissed as repulsive. And the body’s rehabilitation had
relevance for the people associated with it.
The abject body was paradigmatic, not abhorrent, for Christians. Tertullian
offers Lazarus’ body, which had lain in the tomb for three days, as the very
model for the resurrected body (praecipuo exemplo). To emphasize the abject
condition of this body, Tertullian uses repetition (Res. 53.3):
caro iacuit in infirmitate, caro paene computruit in dedecorationem, caro in-
terim putuit in corruptionem, et tamen <E>L<e>azarus caro resurrexit, cum
anima quidem, sed incorrupta.
“The flesh lay prostrate in weakness, the flesh was almost putrid in its dishon-
our, the flesh stank in corruption, and yet it was as flesh that Lazarus rose
again – with his soul no doubt. But that soul was incorrupt.”
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 255

Tertullian dismisses the survival of Lazarus’ soul as incidental – it is immortal

and has no need to be raised – and directs attention instead to that other half of
the human person: its putrid, stinking, rotting flesh. Lazarus’ body is precisely
the sort of abject body with its rotted, oozing, indistinct margins that horrified
both Kristeva and Platonic thinkers. Tertullian’s representation of Lazarus’
body challenges any notion of the human body as solid and bounded; he offers,
rather, a viscous body, mutable, in the process of becoming other.
Embedded in this description is a social message. The dominant philo-
sophic thinking of the period was premised upon an ideology that defines
stability, fixity and immutability as the only “real” and as the ultimate good.
This perspective denigrates the material for its constant change and flux. Such
a perspective, disallowing change could collude in maintaining the social posi-
tion of the elite especially in a society as hierarchical as that of the early em-
pire. Christianity, with its concept that change – even the utterly devastating
change of bodily dissolution – does not destroy, opens conceptual space for
societal change. And if the cultural body has implications for the social body,
Christian resurrection discourse projects a social body with porous boundaries,
a paradigmatic open body that contests the increasing importance of hierarchy
in imperial society.31 Christianity with its concept that change does not de-
stroy, even the utterly devastating change of bodily dissolution, opens concep-
tual space for societal change. And if the cultural body has implications for the
body social, Christian resurrection discourse projects a social body with porous
boundaries. And with this paradigmatic open body, it can be seen to contest the
increasing hierarchization of imperial society reflected in the evolving bounda-
ries between honestiores and humiliores.32

31 That Athenagoras and Minucius Felix emphasize material resurrection but never mention Je-
sus suggests the importance of resurrection in the promulgation of the Christian message in
the period. Lieu (2004: 89) notes that Theophilus and Tatian also do not mention Jesus and
comments that “the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists are striking for their relative lack of in-
terest in the life of Jesus”. The message of the Final Court and Judgement may have been
recognized as having more appeal in contemporary circumstances.
32 A version of this paper appears as chapter six in Perkins (2009).
256 Judith Perkins

Editions, commentaries and translations:

Bastiaensen, Antoon A. R. & al. (eds.) (1987): Atti e passioni dei martiri. Introduzione,
testo critico e commento, traduzioni, Rome.
Chadwick, Henry (ed.) (1953): Origenes: Contra Celsum. Translated with an introduc-
tion and notes, Cambridge (repr. 1965).
Clarke, Graeme W. (ed.) (1974): The Octavius of Marcus Minucius Felix. Translated
and annotated (Ancient Christian Writers 39), New York.
Colson, Francis H., George H. Whitaker & Ralph Marcus (eds.) (1929-62): Philo. With
an English translation (12 vols.), Cambridge, Mass. & London.
Dekkers, Eligius & al. (eds.) (1954): Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani Opera (Cor-
pus Christianorum. Series Latina 1 & 2), Turnhout.
Des Places, Édouard (ed.) (1973): Numénius: Fragments. Texte établi et traduit, Paris.
Diels, Hermann & Walther Kranz (eds.) (1954): Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker.
Griechisch und deutsch, Berlin.
Ehrman, Bart D. (ed.) (2003): The Apostolic Fathers. Edited and translated (2 vols.),
Cambridge, Mass. & London.
Evans, Ernest (ed.) (1956): Q. Septimi Florentis Tertulliani De carne Christi liber: Ter-
tullian’s Treatise on the Incarnation. The text edited with an introduction,
translation and commentary, London.
Evans, Ernest (ed.) (1960): Q. Septimi Florentis Tertulliani De resurrectione carnis
liber: Tertullian’s Treatise on the Resurrection. The text edited with an intro-
duction, translation and commentary, London.
Evans, Ernest (ed.) (1972): Tertullian: Adversus Marcionem. Edited and translated, Ox-
Fisher, Charles D. (ed.) (1906): Cornelii Taciti Annalium ab excessu divi Augusti libri,
Huschke, Philipp Eduard, Emil Seckel & Bernhard Kübler (eds.) (1908-11): Iurispru-
dentiae anteiustinianae reliquias in usum maxime academicum compositas (2
vols.), Leipzig.
Marcovich, Miroslav (ed.) (2000): Athenagorae qui fertur De resurrectione mortuorum
(Vigiliae Christianae Supplementa 53), Leiden, Boston & Köln.
Marcovich, Miroslav (ed.) (2001): Origenes: Contra Celsum libri VIII (Vigiliae Chris-
tianae Supplementa 54), Leiden, Boston & Köln.
Mommsen, Theodor, Paul Krueger & Alan Watson (eds.) (1985): The Digest of Justin-
ian. Latin text edited by Theodor Mommsen with the aid of Paul Krueger. Eng-
lish translation by Alan Watson (4 vols.), Philadelphia.
Musurillo, Herbert A. (ed.) (1972): The Acts of the Christian Martyrs. Introduction,
texts and translations, Oxford.
Radice, Betty (ed.) (1969): Pliny: Letters and Panegyricus. With an English translation
(2 vols.), Cambridge, Mass. & London.
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 257

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson & A. Cleveland Coxe (eds.) (1885-96): The An-
te-Nicene Fathers. Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D.
325 (10 vols.), Buffalo (repr. Grand Rapids 1978).
Rousseau, Adelin & Louis Doutreleau (eds.) (1952-82): Irénée de Lyon: Contre les
hérésies. Édition critique: Introduction, notes, text et traduction (5 vol.), Paris.
Schoedel, William R. (ed.) (1972): Athenagoras: Legatio and De Resurrectione. Edited
and translated, Oxford.
Unger, Dominic J. (ed.) (1992): St. Irenaeus of Lyons against the Heresies. Translated
and annotated. With further revisions by John J. Dillon (Ancient Christian
Writers 55), New York.

Secondary literature:

Aubert, Jean-Jacques (2002): A double standard in Roman criminal law? In: Jean-
Jacques Aubert & Boudewijn Sirks (eds.), Speculum Iuris. Roman Law as a Re-
flection of Social and Economic Life in Antiquity, Ann Arbor, 94-133.
Bauman, Richard A. (1996): Crime and Punishment in Ancient Rome, London & New
Bodel, John (1986): Graveyards and groves. A study of the Lex Lucerina. In: American
Journal of Ancient History 11, 1-133.
Bradley, Keith R. (1990): Animalizing the slave. In: Journal of Roman Studies 80, 110-
Bynum, Caroline Walker (1995): The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity,
200-1336, New York.
Carrié, Jean Michel (2005): Developments in provincial and local administration. In:
Alan K. Bowman, Averil Cameron & Peter Garnsey (eds.), The Cambridge An-
cient History. Vol. 12: The Crisis of Empire, A.D. 193-337, Cambridge, 269-
Daley, Brian (2003): The Hope of the Early Church. A Handbook of Patristic Eschatol-
ogy, Peabody, Mass.
De Ste. Croix, Geoffrey E. M. (1981): The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World.
From the Archaic Age to the Arab Conquests, London.
Dillon, John M. (1977): The Middle Platonists. A Study of Platonism, 80 B.C. to A.D.
220, London.
Douglas, Mary (1966): Purity and Danger. An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and
Taboo, New York.
Eijk, A. H. C. van (1971): Only that can rise which has previously fallen. In: Journal of
Theological Studies n.s. 22, 517-529.
Frede, Michael (1994): Celsus philosophus Platonicus. In: Aufstieg und Niedergang der
römischen Welt II 36.7, 5183-5213.
Garnsey, Peter (1970): Social Status and Legal Privilege in the Roman Empire, Oxford.
Glancy, Jennifer A. (2004): Boastings of beatings (2 Corinthians 11, 23-25). In: Journal
of Biblical Literature 123, 99-135.
258 Judith Perkins

Grodzynski, Denise (1984): Tortures mortelles et catégories sociales. Les summa sup-
plicia dans le droit romain aux IIIe et IVe siècles. In: Du châtiment dans la cité.
Supplices corporels et peine de mort dans le monde antique (Table ronde,
Rome, 9-11 novembre 1982), Rome & Paris, 361-403.
Grosz, Elizabeth (1994): Volatile Bodies. Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington.
Hällström, Gunnar af (1988): Carnis Resurrectio. The Interpretation of a Credal For-
mula, Helsinki.
Joshel, Sandra R. (1992): Work, Identity, and Legal Status at Rome. A Study of the Oc-
cupational Inscriptions, Norman.
Kristeva, Julia (1982): Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection, New York.
Kyle, Donald G. (1998): Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome, London & New York.
Le Boulluec, Alain (1985): La notion d’hérésie dans la littérature grecque, IIe-IIIe siè-
cles, Paris.
Lieu, Judith (2004): Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World, Oxford
& New York.
MacMullen, Ramsay (1966): Enemies of the Roman Order, Cambridge.
MacMullen, Ramsay (1974): Roman Social Relations, 50 B.C. to A.D. 284, New Haven.
MacMullen, Ramsay (1990): Judicial savagery in the Roman Empire. In: Ramsay
MacMullen (ed.), Changes in the Roman Empire. Essays in the Ordinary,
Princeton, 205-217.
Marjanen, Antti & Petri Luomanen (eds.) (2005): A Companion to Second Century
“Heretics”, Leiden.
Meijer, Fik & Onno van Nijf (eds.) (1992): Trade, Transport, and Society in the An-
cient World. A Sourcebook, London & New York.
Millar, Fergus (1984): Condemned to hard labour in the Roman Empire. In: Papers of
the British School at Rome 52, 124-147.
Miller, William Ian (1997): The Anatomy of Disgust, Cambridge, Mass.
Nippel, Wilfried (1995): Public Order in Ancient Rome, Cambridge.
Nussbaum, Martha C. (2004): Hiding from Humanity. Disgust, Shame, and the Law,
Osborn, Eric Francis (2001): Irenaeus of Lyons, Cambridge.
Perkins, Judith (2005): Resurrection in the Acts of John and the Acts of Peter. In: Jo-
Ann Brant, Christine Shea & Charles Hedrick (eds.), Ancient Fiction. The Ma-
trix of Jewish and Christian Fiction, Leiden, 217-238.
Perkins, Judith (2006): Fictive ‘Scheintod’ and Christian resurrection. In: Religion and
Theology 13, 396-418.
Perkins, Judith (2007): The rhetoric of the maternal body in the Passion of Perpetua. In:
Todd Penner & Caroline Vander Stichele (eds.), Mapping Gender in Ancient
Religious Discourse, Leiden, 313-332.
Perkins, Judith (2009): Roman Imperial Identities in the Early Christian Era, London &
New York.
Perkins, Pheme (1984): Resurrection. New Testament Witness and Contemporary Re-
flection, Garden City, N.Y.
Early Christian and Judicial Bodies 259

Pile, Steve (1996): The Body and the City. Psychoanalysis, Space, and Subjectivity,
London & New York.
Pölönen, Janne (2004): Plebeians and repression of crime in the Roman Empire. From
torture of convicts to torture of suspects. In: Revue Internationale des droits de
l’Antiquité 51, 217-259.
Prigent, Pierre (1964): Justin et l’Ancien Testament. L’argumentation scripturaire du
‘Traité’ de Justin contre toutes les hérésies comme source principale du ‘Dia-
logue avec Tryphon’ et de la ‘Première Apologie’, Paris.
Rilinger, Rolf (1988): Humiliores – Honestiores. Zu einer sozialen Dichotomie im Straf-
recht der römischen Kaiserzeit, München.
Robinson, Olivia F. (1995): The Criminal Law of Ancient Rome, London.
Robinson, Olivia F. (1997): The Sources of Roman Law. Problems and Methods for
Ancient Historians, London & New York.
Roller, Matthew B. (2001): Constructing Autocracy. Aristocrats and Emperors in Julio-
Claudian Rome, Princeton.
Scheidel, Walter (2006): Stratification, deprivation and the quality of life. In: Margaret
Atkins & Robin Osborne (eds.), Poverty in the Roman World, Cambridge, 40-
Setzer, Claudia (2004): Resurrection of the Body in Early Judaism and Early Christian-
ity. Doctrine, Community, and Self-Definition, Boston & Leiden.
Shaw, Brent D. (2000): Rebels and outsiders. In: Alan K. Bowman, Peter Garnsey &
Dominic Rathbone (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 11: The High
Empire, A.D. 70-192, Cambridge, 361-403.
Shaw, Brent D. (2003): Judicial nightmares and Christian memory. In: Journal of Early
Christian Studies 11, 533-563.
Stallybrass, Peter & Allon White (1986): Politics and Poetics of Transgression, Ithaca.
Stroumsa, Gedaliahu G. (1990): Caro salutis cardo. Shaping the person in early Chris-
tian thought. In: History of Religions 30, 25-50.
Treggiari, Susan M. (1980): Urban labour in Rome. Mercenarii and tabernarii. In: Pe-
ter Garnsey (ed.), Non-Slave Labour in the Graceo-Roman World, Cambridge,
Yavetz, Zvi (1969): Plebs and Princeps, London.
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies
in Attic Vase Painting
of the 6th and 5th Centuries B.C.
Annetta Alexandridis

The paper analyses the iconography of three myths of metamorphosis in Attic imagery
of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.: (1) Actaeon, (2) Circe casting a spell on Odysseus’
companions, and (3) Peleus and Thetis. All three myths represent different types of
metamorphosis according to the function the act of transformation assumes in the story
and according to the human, animal and divine actors involved in it. The myths thus
explore varying degrees of hybridity. The images make a corresponding distinction in
the way the metamorphosed bodies are rendered. The bodies of transformed humans are
shown either wrapped into animal skin (the outside of an animal) or as a mixture of
animal and human body parts, thus suggesting an internal merging of both natures. In
contrast, the anthropomorphic body of the divine shape-shifter is never affected by
metamorphosis; animals are attached to the outside of the body. On the other hand, the
iconography of all three myths undergoes similar changes about the middle of the 5th
century B.C. that can be related to each other. This suggests that the images rely upon
general concepts of human, animal and divine bodies that interact. In the archaic and
early classical world the images (mainly of human metamorphosis) belong to a Dionys-
iac context. Drunkenness, enchantment and masquerade provide the frame for the
transgression of boundaries of species. By the middle of the 5th century transformation
is visualized as a more ambivalent status of being. Human and animal natures merge
ever closely. Whereas in the earlier images both parts remain clearly distinguishable,
even in hybrid figures, it now seems that the boundary has shifted into human nature it-

1. Introduction
The polarization of kinds to mark differences, be it gender, ethnic or species, is
a specific feature of Greek culture (DuBois 1982). Work on the various faces
of the Other (the woman, the barbarian, the slave, the animal), that are consti-
tuted this way, abounds. But what about cases in which both poles cross over,
more specifically in which the corporeality of a being changes from one pole
to the other? How was this transgression or blurring of boundaries imagined,
and visually rendered? In which contexts do these images appear and what do
262 Annetta Alexandridis

they tell us about concepts of the human body? I will explore three cases of
metamorphosis in which a human or divine being is transformed into an ani-
mal: Actaeon, Circe casting a spell on Odysseus’ companions, and Peleus and
Thetis. My focus will be on the way in which the merging human, animal
and/or divine nature is visually represented in a specific context, namely on
Attic vases from the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.
Based on the assumption that both the idea of clear boundaries between
human, animal and divine as well as the possibility of (temporal) dissolution or
blurring of these boundaries were operative in Greek culture, the aim of the
paper is twofold. First, I want to discern some structural characteristics by
which the boundaries between animal, human and divine bodies were made
visible. Second, I want to see whether the changes that occur in the myths’
iconography over time offer some insight into how human and animal bodies
were conceived. More specifically, I want to explore whether we can interpret
some common general features as indicating a shifting of boundaries, either
within the specific context in which the images were looked at, for instance the
symposium, or in relation to a general change in the understanding of human
and animal (and divine) nature.
The myths I have chosen therefore deal with three different types of meta-
morphosis according to the function the act of transformation assumes in the
story, and according to the human, animal and divine actors involved. In the
myths of Actaeon and of Circe and Odysseus’ companions, humans are trans-
formed into animals. In the case of Actaeon the metamorphosis is an act of
punishment by the gods (Zeus or Artemis depending on the version of the
myth). Accused of having dishonoured the gods by transgressing their sphere –
he either had attempted to seduce Zeus’ beloved Semele, or he had hunted in
Artemis’ sanctuary – the hunter Actaeon is transformed into a game animal (a
deer) and then hunted himself and killed by his own dogs. Actaeon loses his
human aspect forever: he dies as an animal; his transformation is irreversible.
The metamorphosis of Odysseus’ companions follows a different pattern.
Their transformation is not an act of punishment, but the result of a magic spell
cast on them by the sorceress Circe. In Homer’s narrative, she transforms them
into swine, though the visual representations also depict other domesticated or
half-domesticated animals. The metamorphosis is reversible and temporary.
Unlike the first two myths, the encounter of Peleus and Thetis presents a god-
dess as shape-shifter. In order to escape the advances of the mortal Peleus, she
transforms herself into different wild and dangerous animals, before she finally
surrenders. She is subject and object of her transformation at the same time. In
the mythical story the goddess changes her shape from one animal into another
without, as it seems, going back into a human form in between. The multiple
metamorphoses are a sign of divine power.
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 263

I should say at the outset that I am not primarily concerned with how
metamorphosis is represented as a process in time, 1 but with the particular
ways of merging or combining different bodies, which in the images always
appear to be static. In Metamorphosis and Identity, Caroline Bynum calls for
clearly distinguishing between hybridity and metamorphosis: “Hybrid reveals
a world of difference, a world that is and is multiple; metamorphosis reveals a
world of stories, of things under way” (Bynum 2001: 31). While this may be
true on a strictly narrative level, it cannot be directly applied to images which
have only restricted options for visualizing process in time.2 The different so-
lutions the Athenian vase painters choose to depict a change of form shall
therefore be interpreted less in narrative terms than in relation to the specific
content of the stories and the figures involved in it. Another point of clarifica-
tion: I define as metamorphosis all the transformations of shape humans and
gods undergo. Christan Zgoll has recently established the ancient meaning of
metamorphosis for Augustean literature (Zgoll 2004: 133-141, 175-179, 217-
223). On a lexical basis, he draws a clear distinction between the irreversible
transformation of human beings (metamorphosis), their magic transformation,
for instance by a witch, and the shape shifting of gods (allophanie). 3 This
classification matches, as we will see, the principal visual distinctions between
the three types of bodily transformation. Nevertheless, I do not want to stick to
a terminological corset which may prove to be too rigid to grasp all the
allusions and overlappings that are so fundamental for the often comical or
subversive effects of an image.

2. Actaeon
The story of Actaeon was the most favoured episode of mythical metamorpho-
sis depicted in Greek and Roman times.4 The earliest renderings of Actaeon
pursued by his dogs emerge in the 6th century B.C. They all have a more or

1 See, for instance, Himmelmann-Wildschütz (1967), Snodgrass (1982), Raeck (1984), Davies
(1986), Frontisi-Ducroux (2003: 74-93) and Giuliani (2003).
2 And even on a narrative level the corporeality of a creature in metamorphosis, for instance of
a human being transformed into an animal, is presented as a succession of several steps of
hybridity. See for example Ovid’s description of the metamorphoses of Daphne, Callisto, Ac-
taeon, Arachne or Myrrha, to name but a few (Ovid, Met. 1.547-556, 2.476-481, 3.194-197,
6.140-145, 10.489-514). Sharrock (1996) argues for a close connection between both con-
cepts, hybridity and metamorphosis, in literal and visual tradition. See also Frontisi-Ducroux
(2003: 74-93) and Coelsch-Foisner (2005: 42).
3 On Ovid in particular, with some critical remarks on Zgoll’s strictly philological classifica-
tion, see Holzberg (2005: 37-50).
4 See Schauenburg (1969), Guimond (1981), Schlam (1984), Mugione (1988), Forbes Irving
(1990: 80-90, 197-201) and Frontisi-Ducroux (1997: 435-454; 2003: 95-144).
264 Annetta Alexandridis

less explicit connection to the Dionysiac world, especially the consumption of

wine at the symposium. Some late archaic black-figure vases, mainly lekythoi,
from Athens simply show a bearded, naked man attacked by several dogs who
bite him on the legs, waist, chest, throat or head (fig. 1).5 Actaeon runs away;
only in one instance, on an alabastron, does he defend himself with a sword.6
Although the images do not visualize transformation, Actaeon is assimilated
by his beard, nudity and in some cases the erect penis to a satyr, that is a half-
man, half-animal figure. His appearance as well as the general theme of hunt
point to the wild Dionysiac world with all its implications of unrestrained
sexuality.7 Occasionally vines in the background allude to an accordant set-
ting. 8 Apart from their decoration the vases’ shapes are also related to the
symposium: Food could be served on plates, while alabastra and especially
lekythoi provided the oil or other essences for body-care (Heinemann 2003:
29-41). Together with the consumption of wine and the resulting conversation,
the display of a beautiful body played an important role during the gathering.9
One of the earliest images that represent the act of transformation is on the
neck of the famous red-figure amphora by the Eucharides Painter in Hamburg
of about 490/80 B.C. (fig. 2). 10 In contrast to the depictions on the black-
figure vases it explicitly explores different corporealities, human and animal,
male and female. Actaeon, bearded, is kneeling on the ground, helplessly fac-
ing the four dogs that attack him and bite him on the belly and chest. His trans-
formation into a deer is visualized by the animal skin knotted on his chest. Ac-
taeon’s body is displayed against the skin as if against a screen. He is in disguise:
his animality seems to be external, as opposed to an essential aspect of his na-

5 Athens, Nat. Mus. A 488 (CC. 883), 489 (CC. 882). See Guimond (1981: 455-456, nos. 2*,
3*); see also nos. 1 (plate, formerly Bomarzo, Schlam 1984: pl. 1), 4 (lekythos, London, coll.
Winslow) and 5 (lekythos, Athens, Agora Mus. P 1024).
6 Athens, Nat. Mus. A 12767; see Guimond (1981: 456 no. 6*).
7 See Schöne (1987), Lissarrague (1988; 1990b; 1993: 207-215) and Schnapp (1997: 403-452).
8 The meaning of the women who occasionally frame the scenes remains vague. Similar fig-
ures can be part of various Dionysiac scenes such as processions towards a mask of the god.
They also act as spectators and contribute to a certain theatrical effect of the event, see Fron-
tisi-Ducroux (1991: 101-113, 121-135; 1997: 534).
9 For care of the body, see Lee (2009, in this volume).
10 Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 1966.34; see Hoffmann (1967) and Guimond
(1981: 457 no. 27*). For similar representations on Attic red-figure vases, see Athens, Nat.
Mus. G 180/ACR 760 (frgs. of a volute-krater; see Guimond 1981: 457 no. 26*); Certosa di
Padula, Mus. 164 (kalpis attributed to the Pan Painter: see Nabers 1965-84: fig. 1-3; Gui-
mond 1981: 457 no. 28); Kopenhagen, Thorvaldsens Museum 99 (amphora attributed to the
Geras Painter; see Jacobsthal 1929: 4 fig. 6; Guimond 1981: 457 no. 29); Malibu, J. Paul
Getty Museum 85.AE.476.1-6. and 86.AE.199.5. (pelike by the Geras Painter; see Neer
1997: 14 no. 15 pl. 338-9); Paris, Musée du Louvre G 224 (pelike: Guimond 1981: 457 no.
30*); Würzburg, Martin von Wagner Museum H 5356 (frg. of a white grounded cup; see
Guimond 1981: 457 no. 33a).
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 265

Figure 1: Lekythos. Athens, National Museum A 488 (CC883).

Neg. DAI Athens (D-DAI-ATH-NM 3014,
photograph: Hermann Wagner), all rights reserved
266 Annetta Alexandridis

Figure 2: Neck-amphora by the Eucharides Painter (detail).

© Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 1966.34.

ture. Only at certain points do human and animal nature seem to refer to each
other. So the widespread legs of the animal skin repeat Actaeon’s right arm,
outstretched in a gesture of calling for help. Additionally the dog sitting on his
master’s left shoulder bites the skin knotted on his chest: blood comes out, as if
he bites the human body like his companion dogs do. Finally Actaeon’s head is
doubled by the animal scalp.
The inversion of hierarchies is a crucial element of the story itself, which
makes this punishment particularly cruel: the hunter becomes his own prey.
The representation on the Hamburg amphora intensifies the tensions and para-
doxes inherent in the structure of the plot. The human hunter is disguised as
the hunted animal; his double nature and status are still visible. Artemis ap-
proaches from the left. She just has shot an arrow in order to kill the
hunter/hunted. The killing of the human/animal by the dogs is repeated by the
shooting of the human/animal or hunter/hunted by the goddess. The hu-
man/animal is trapped between the divine and the animal sphere.
Furthermore the image plays with the sex of human and animal or hunter
and hunted. The deer’s skin on closer examination proves to be that of a hind,
as the scalp has no antlers. While this may on the one hand underline the vic-
tim’s weakness, it also adds to the general inversion of hierarchies: the stag’s
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 267

hunter has become Artemis’ companion animal and thus incarnates a part of
the goddess whose sphere he is guilty to have trangressed. At the same time,
the female goddess, superior to the male human she wants to punish, is about
to shoot a part of her own.11 A similar confusion occurs on the opposite side of
the amphora, which represents another myth of metamorphosis. Io, trans-
formed by her lover Zeus (or by the jealous Hera) into a heifer, is guarded by
Argos.12 The scene shows Hermes killing Argos at Zeus’ insistance in order to
free Io. The god’s beloved appears to be in complete animal form. But on
closer examination, the heifer turns out to be a bull, whose genitals are promi-
nently displayed. While the twist may be an allusion to the presence of Zeus, it
challenges the structure of the encounter as told in the myth: Io, originally in
an inferior position both as a mortal woman and as a female animal, has as-
sumed the shape and gender of the male god himself who often abducts his
mortal lovers in the guise of a bull.
These doublings or inversions as well as, in the case of Actaeon, the inter-
play of human body and animal skin, leave the real nature of the event and the
figures involved in it in a state of uncertainty. Nevertheless, as for Actaeon,
human and animal nature remain separated as to their corporeality. The human
is clad in an animal skin, but both natures do not really merge. Actaeon seems
to be in disguise, the whole setting a masquerade. The case is a bit more com-
plicated for Io. Here, the change of sex may indicate that the human female is
not completely identical with the animal into which she has been transformed.
Structuralist interpretations aside (Frontisi-Ducroux 2003: 106), the fact that
both human victims do not fit their (new) skin, as if they had donned the
wrong costume,13 certainly had a comical effect.
Both images adorn the neck of an amphora, an elegant vessel that was
used for keeping either wine or water for the Greek symposion. Shifting species
and shifting sexual nature as well as masquerade might have been part of the
imaginary evoked in the context of cheerful conversation and drunkenness that
is always linked to the Dionysiac world. The images of the Hamburg amphora
support this idea by the fact that on both sides of the neck one of the figures,
Actaeon and Hermes respectively, is crowned with a wreath like a symposiast.14

11 In other depictions she wears a deer’s skin herself: Boston, MFA 10.185 by the Pan Painter
(here, Actaeon does not show any signs of transformation); see Frontisi-Ducroux (2003: 117
fig. 27).
12 For an overview of literary and visual sources, see Yalouris (1990).
13 This does not imply the image depicts a stage scene, as Jacobsthal (1929: 9) and Nabers
(1965-84: 40), among others, have suggested. Against the tradition of interpreting vase paint-
ings as reflections of ancient drama, see Krumeich (1999: 41-51).
14 As far as I can see, this detail has been overlooked, because the added white is flaked off. For
a good reproduction, see Hoffmann (1967: 9 fig. 1) and Frontisi-Ducroux (2003: 96 fig. 22).
For symposiasts with wreaths, see Lissarrague (1990a: 21, 32-35 figs. 9, 18-21). For mytho-
268 Annetta Alexandridis

Figure 3: Bell-krater by the Lykaon Painter. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 00.346.
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2009

This way the beholder could identify directly with protagonists in the mythical
In the second half of the 5th century B.C. depictions of the myth of Ac-
taeon address transformation in a new manner: human and animal nature
merge in one body. A bell-krater by the Lykaon Painter in Boston, from about
440 B.C., shows on one side Actaeon’s punishment (fig. 3).15 All protagonists
are identified by inscriptions. Zeus on the left and Artemis (with torch, not
bow and arrow) on the right watch the scene. Three dogs attack Actaeon, but
they seem less aggressive compared to the earlier depictions. Only two dogs
are shown in direct contact with their master’s body. Neither bites him; rather,

logical figures with wreath on a sympotic vase see Zeus and Ganymede on a Nolan Amphora
attributed to the Pan Painter from about 470 B.C. (Boston, MFA 10.184).
15 Boston, MFA 00.346; see Guimond (1981: 462 no. 81*).
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 269

they seem to sniff around him. In any case: we see no blood. The dogs’ rage is
visualized by a personification: a woman wearing a short dress under an ani-
mal skin, and the head of a dog on her own head, approaches from the left. The
inscription tells us that she is Lyssa, the personification of canine madness
(Borg 2002: 147-150). Both her hybrid body and the animal skin that resem-
bles a Maenad’s attire point to a situation of transgression. Actaeon’s trans-
formation into a stag is indicated by the antlers and ears emerging from his
head, and even by painted markings of fur (Schlam 1984: 91). Human and
animal nature are intermingled in one body: in contrast to the depiction on the
Eucharides Painter’s amphora, the hunter’s human ears are replaced by animal
ones. But, whereas the earlier depictions, in which Actaeon seems to be more
in disguise, show him as the victim in an inferior position, this later image is
more ambivalent as to the result of the fight. Although the gods are not directly
involved in the action, their static figures, which frame the scene as well as the
approaching figure of madness, imply that there is no escape for the victim. On
the other hand, despite Actaeon’s merging with the hunted animal’s physique,
the dynamic position of his youthful body as well as the double spear in his
right hand suggest that he will be able to overcome the attack.16
Whereas the earlier images of Actaeon in animal skin or disguise offer a
joyful and confusing play with human and animal nature, they retain the defin-
ing outlines of both. The animal skin is added to the human body; it is remov-
able. The iconography thus suggests the idea of a clear and distinct boundary
between human and animal body, a boundary which can be subverted or paro-
died, but the existence of which remains nevertheless unquestioned because it
is constitutive for the comical effect of the masquerade. In contrast, the later
images show a fusion of human and animal bodies. The animal parts (ears), are
not added to Actaeon’s body, but replace the correspondent human organs. Al-
though Actaeon has assumed physical characteristics of the hunted and inferior
animal, he retains his superior human position. Here, the boundary between
both species has been moved into human nature itself.

16 See also Cohen (2000: 121-131). For a similar depiction on an Attic vase, see the calice-
krater from about 450/440 B.C. (Basle, private collection; see Guimond 1981: 462 no. 83a*).
At about the same time we also find representations that show Actaeon in entirely human
form: Boston, MFA 10.185 (bell-krater attributed to the Pan Painter; see Guimond 1981: 456
no. 15*); Paris, Musée du Louvre CA 3482 (volute-krater; see Guimond 1981: 456 no. 16*).
The theme also appears on ‘melian’ terracotta reliefs of the 5th century B.C.; see Jacobsthal
(1929: 20-21, 65-66 pl. 7a) and Guimond (1981: 458 no. 39*, 40). The motif of Actaeon’s
merging animal and human nature is especially popular during the 4th century B.C. on South
Italian sympotic vessels; see for example, with different accentuation, Guimond (1981: 457-
459 nos. 32*, 33*) for a calice crater and oinochoe (Cività Castellana, Mus. 6360 and 1601),
no. 46* (plate; Taranto, Mus. Naz. 5163), no. 49* (scyphos, Karlsruhe, Badisches Landesmu-
seum 76/106); p. 462 no. 83b* (oinochoe, Taranto, Mus. Naz.); p. 464 no. 110* (volute-
krater, Naples, Mus. Naz. SA 31).
270 Annetta Alexandridis

In both cases the vessels’ forms prove an almost exclusive connection of

the theme with the symposium.17 On the earlier vases the relation to the Dio-
nysiac world is made explicit by iconographic elements such as the vine, ivy
wreaths or an assimilation of the hero to satyrs. Masquerade is a fundamental
element of Dionysus’ world. But even beyond a strictly religious or theatrical
context we can easily imagine how the consumption of wine transformed the
revellers’ minds and bodies (Frontisi-Ducroux 1995: 95). Parody or imaginary
fusion of both human and animal natures thus formed one of the enchantments
of a banquet.

3. Circe casting a spell on Odysseus’ companions

The theme of Circe casting a spell on Odysseus’ companions appears about the
middle of the 6th century B.C. in Attic imagery. In the archaic and classical
period it remains limited to vase painting,18 and almost exclusively to sympotic
vessels.19 One of the earliest examples is the depiction on one side of the fa-
mous merrythought cup in Boston of about 550/540 B.C. (fig. 4). Two groups
are facing each other. On the left stands Circe, behind her are two of Odys-
seus’ transformed companions, one of them with a boar’s head, the other one,
who seems to flee, with a lion’s head. In between them Odysseus is approach-
ing brandishing his sword. On the other side we see three transformed compan-
ions, one with a boar’s head, the next with a ram’s head, the third with a wolf’s
head. A fourth man in entirely human shape strides away.
In contrast to the passage in the Odyssey (Homer, Od. 10.135-547), the
men are not transformed into swine, but into different wild and domestic ani-
mals. This magic and, as we know from the story, reversible metamorphosis, is
represented in a different manner than the one Actaeon experiences. The men
retain their human torso and human legs, but all of them have an animal head
and most of them animal limbs instead of human arms and hands. Unlike the
earlier depictions of Actaeon, in which the hunter is shown with an animal skin,
Odysseus’ companions do not seem to be in disguise. On the contrary, human
and animal bodies are one entity, but not in the same way as on the later depic-
tions of Actaeon. The transformed companions look like hybrid or mixed crea-

17 Most of the depictions from archaic and classical times stem from sympotic vessels. Gui-
mond (1981) definitely identifies 47 Greek objects dating from these periods as showing Ac-
taeon’s metamorphosis. 36 among them are sympotic vases; see Guimond (1981: nos. 1-8,
15-17, 26-30, 32-34, 44-51b, 81, 83a-b, 88, 110-112).
18 See Touchefeu-Meynier (1968: 81-131), Brommer (1983: 70-80), Snodgrass (1982: 4-9),
Canciani (1992), Frontisi-Ducroux (2003: 61-94) and Giuliani (2003: 186-202).
19 With one exception: an arula (Paris, Louvre CA 5956; see Canciani 1992: 51 no. 4*). On the
vases used in a symposium see above.
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 271

tures such as satyrs, centaurs or the Minotaur, in the depictions of which ani-
mal limbs or heads are stuck to a human body or vice versa.20 Although their
transformation is conceived to be reversible, the iconography suggests that
they are ‘stuck’ in hybridity as are all the wild and frightening mythical mixed

Figure 4: Merrythought cup. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 1899.518.

© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2009

Nevertheless, the inter-species appearance of the bewitched companions is

strongly linked to sympotic enchantment, too, as Detlev Wannagat (1999) has
shown. Both the rendering of the figures in the scene as well as their relation-
ship to the beholder and user of the cup support this interpretation: Circe, na-
ked, stays in the centre mixing the magic potion in a cup while simultaneously
handing it over to one of the companions. In a synoptic conflation of time, he
has already been transformed into a boar. The gestures of his still-human arms
and hands imply that he is having a conversation with the sorceress. He seems
eager to get to drink the kykeon – like the others who have lined up waiting for
the drink – and like the symposiast who holds a cup of similar shape in his
hand. The scene on the opposite side of the cup shows another scene of en-
chantment and drunkenness linked to the adventures of Odysseus: the prepara-
tion for the blinding of Polyphemus. The giant is shown crouching in the cen-
tre, a drinking cup in his hand. His inflated red belly assimilates him to figures
of dancing komasts whose pot bellies are often squeezed into short red shirts.
The iconography of the cup as a whole thus relates metamorphosis to the
magic forces of wine, the transgression of species boundaries to the enchanting,
if not comical effects of drunkenness. Furthermore, Circe’s naked body corre-

20 See Lissarrague (1990b: 54-55), Padgett (2000: 43-59; 2004) and Morawietz (2000).
272 Annetta Alexandridis

sponds to images of naked hetairai, maenads or other women and thus alludes
to sexual seduction, which is also a constitutive part of the banquet.
An Attic black-figure neck-amphora of about 510 B.C. explicitly connects
the scene to sexuality and libidinous behaviour that characterizes the komos
(Lissarrague 1990b: 55-66).21 Circe is sitting in the middle, mixing the kykeon
in a cup. The vines in the background suggest a Dionysiac setting. Two of
Odysseus’ companions transformed into donkeys stand on either side. Whereas
the companion on the left seems to dance or at least to perform agitated
movements with his hands, the second one in front of Circe tenderly touches
the sorceresses’ throat with his fingers and draws his mouth towards the potion.
Both companions have human torso and limbs, but the heads as well as the tail
and the ithyphallic genitals are those of a donkey or mule, the Dionysiac ani-
mal par excellence, which is often shown with erect penis to illustrate his li-
bidinous behaviour and virility (Lissarrague 1988; Dierichs 1993: 42-43 figs.
63-66). Animality is especially linked to animal sexuality in this case. The wa-
terbirds in front of the bewitched men might allude to fertility, like the so-
called phallos-birds (Boardman 1992). In any case, their long sweeping necks
repeat or mirror the shape of the mens’ large phalloi and tails.
On red-figure vases of about the mid-5th century B.C. the scene is de-
picted differently. First of all, the images are closer to the epic text. All the
companions are represented as transformed into swine with animal heads and
tails. The torso and the limbs are usually human. The focus of the (visual) nar-
rative is on the negative effects of the magic drink. On a pelike in Dresden
from about 440 B.C., for instance, the transformed human resists the potion
(Canciani 1992: 51 no. 8*). The companion, depicted with animal head and
hooves, moves away; with his right hand he refuses the drink Circe is offering
him. On a Nolan Amphora in Berlin of about the same time (fig. 5) the com-
panion – who has human feet – is shown from the back as he leaves Circe.
Touching his front he discovers what has just happened to him.22
Whereas in the earlier examples the transgression of interspecies bounda-
ries takes place in the Dionysiac context of consuming wine and of enchant-
ment, in the later ones metamorphosis seems to be a problematic experience.
The figures struggle with their double nature. This change in iconography re-
flects a shift in the concept of how human and animal nature and how inter-
species boundaries were conceived. In all cases a model of oppositions seems
to be effective. But in the archaic and early classical images human and animal

21 Private collection Rolf Blatter, Bolligen; see Blatter (1975: pl. 29.2), Canciani (1992: 51 no.
5 bis*) and Frontisi-Ducroux (2003: 71 fig. 12).
22 On an earlier black-figure lekythos in Taranto (Canciani 1992: 51 no. 5*) the companions’
movements are ambiguous. Some are approaching Circe, whereas the two men close to her
strive away, their heads however drawn back by the kykeon as if by a magnet.
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 273

natures mark two different poles. They get intermingled only in a situation out
of control. The images of the high classical period in contrast place the an-
tagonism of both natures within the human being itself.

Figure 5: Nolan amphora. Berlin, SMPK-Antikensammlung F 2342.

© Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

All the images of reversible transformation by a magic spell are related to the
symposium in a more explicit way than the stories of irreversible metamorpho-
sis. Unlike Actaeon, Odysseus’ companions have lost their human face, which
has been substituted by an animal one. This transformation not only recalls the
tradition of masking in Dionysiac cultic contexts, but during the symposium it-
self. The vessels themselves could function as masks. The so-called eye cups
or face vessels – wine cups the bottom sides of which were decorated with a
pair of eyes, sometimes also a nose or ears – transformed the face of the revel-
274 Annetta Alexandridis

ler into Dionysus himself, as he drank from the cup. Rhyta with bodies in the
shape of a donkey’s or mule’s head made him into an animal.23

4. Peleus wrestling with Thetis

In the last part of my paper I explore how a divine body was imagined in rela-
tion to human and animal ones, and whether its change of shape can also be re-
lated to the symposium. Representations of Peleus pursuing or wrestling with
Thetis enjoy a greater popularity on archaic and classical vase painting than
any other story of metamorphosis, be it human or divine.24 The iconography
therefore shows more variations in detail than the other myths I have discussed
so far. I will focus only on some important characteristics. Most of the vases
depicting the myth are related to the consumption of wine or could have been
used in a sympotic context, as for instance lekythoi, aryballoi and alabastra for
body-care (Heinemann 2003: 29-41). A funeral context, which scholars often
take as backdrop for relating the depictions to rites of passage from maiden to
wife, must not have been the prevailing one. Apart from the fact that a passage
from virgin to woman can also be understood as metamorphosis, we should
consider the images in the context of sympotic enchantment with all its erotic
phantasies, instead of relating them to specific religious rites in real life
(Danali-Giole 1989/90: 113-116; Barringer 1995: 87-94).
Among the 112 relevant representations listed by Vollkommer (1994, 1997)
more than half (63 = ca. 56 %) show Thetis without any sign of shape-shifting,
whereas 49 (ca. 44 %) depict her metamorphosis into different animals (mostly
snake, panther, lion) or into fire.25 Both types appear with great prevalence on
sympotic vessels of the late 6th and early 5th centuries B.C. It is therefore im-
possible to (re)construct either a homogeneous ‘development’ of the iconogra-
phy or to link it to different contexts of usage in which the images were viewed.
But in general the depictions feature strong links with Dionysiac imagery.
In contrast to the other types of metamorphosis I have discussed, Thetis’
anthropomorphic body is neither wrapped in animal skin, nor is it a merging of
human and animal bodies. The animals or parts of animals spring from her

23 See Lissarrague (1990a: 56-59) and Frontisi-Ducroux (1991: 7-13, 177-187; 1995: 34, 100-
24 See Krieger (1975), Vollkommer (1994: 251-252, 255-265, 268-269; 1997: 7-9, 13-14) and
Barringer (1995: 69-94).
25 Without metamorphosis: Vollkommer (1994: nos. 51-58, 62, 63, 67-70, 80, 81, 84-87, 89,
109, 111, 113, 116, 119-125, 127-132, 135, 137, 138, 140-143, 147-152, 154, 156, 158, 168,
170, 171, 173-175) and Vollkommer (1997: nos. 9, 10, 15). With metamorphosis: Vollkom-
mer (1994: nos. 65, 73, 82, 83, 88, 90, 110, 112, 114, 115, 117, 118, 126, 133, 134, 136, 139,
144-146, 153, 155, 159-167, 169, 172, 176, 177-179, 188-190). Vollkommer’s lists represent
a selection; for a more complete catalogue of the evidence, see Krieger (1975: 155-184).
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 275

body or touch it, but they act independently (Vollkommer 1994: 269; 1997:
13-14). For example, on a black-figure neck-amphora in London of about 510
B.C. (fig. 6), a dragon’s head springs from Thetis’ shoulder. A panther sits on
Peleus’ back. He touches Thetis’ arm with his waist and rests on her right
shoulder. A similar arrangement can be found on the tondo in a cup by the
Peithinos Painter in Berlin of about 500 B.C.26 A lion sits on Peleus’ elbow
and back, and three snakes bite his body. Two of them are twined around Pe-
leus’ calf. Only the third one is in direct contact with the goddess. The snake
has wrapped itself around her wrist and bites Peleus in the front. The sequence
of different metamorphoses the goddess undertakes in the myth is visualized
by the simultaneous appearance of several different animals. The anthropo-
morphic body of the goddess never changes, the animals are added externally.
And often they have more physical contact with the body of the mortal they at-
tack than with the divine body who engendered them or of whom they are a
Although there is no explicit hint to enchantment or disguise, some ele-
ments of the setting of both images can be understood as a reference to the
Dionysiac or sympotic world: the group on the London amphora is typologi-
cally similar to groups of satyrs attacking maenads (Krieger 1975: 59-60;
Vollkommer 1994: 269; Barringer 1995: 78-87).27 In addition, it is framed by
two siren-like hybrid creatures, one male and one female. Their bodies are
formed by eyes. Big isolated eyes on amphorae usually belong to Dionysus,
like the ones on cups (Frontisi-Ducroux 1995: 100-103). Some late black-
figure lekythoi and other vessels of about the turn of the century even display
the scene against a typical Dionysiac background of vines. Depictions of
Thetis holding a snake in her hand assimiliate her to a maenad (Vollkommer
1994: nos. 83*, 112*). The Peithinos cup puts the mythological scene into a
context of hetero- and homosexual courtship, which is shown on the outside
and which plays an important role in a sympotic context (Skinner 2005: 45-
132, with further references).
Vases that show the encounter of mortal man and immortal woman with-
out any signs of metamorphosis at all have survived in larger numbers, but in
archaic and early classical times they offer a similarly close iconographical
connection to the Dionysiac world.28 About the middle of the century and until
about 420/410 B.C. the depictions seem to avoid any allusion to metamorpho-

26 London, British Museum B 215; Berlin, SMPK-Antikensammlung F 2279.

27 For example Paris, Musée du Louvre G 2 (Barringer 1995: pl. 91). Danali-Giole (1989/90:
114) also mentions the ivy wreaths that Peleus and Thetis are sometimes shown with. Pace
Danali-Giole (1989/90), I see these in the general context of Dionysiac imagery.
28 See, for example, Vollkommer (1994: nos. 65*, 80*, 81*, 84*, 86*, 113*, 115*, 119*-124*,
127*, 128*, 137*, 147*).
276 Annetta Alexandridis

Figure 6: Neck-amphora. London, British Museum B 215.

© British Museum, London
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 277

Figure 7: Dinos. Würzburg, Martin-von-Wagner-Museum L 540.

© Martin-von-Wagner-Museum der Universität Würzburg
(Photograph: K. Öhrlein)

sis, be it by divine power or by intoxication (fig. 7).29 The absence of Thetis’

metamorphosis into animals in these images thus coincides with the icono-
graphical shift I have outlined above for the other two myths which explore the
ambivalence and the problematic status of merged human and animal nature.
However, the divine body and its shifting shapes are not part of a discourse on
conflicting natures within the human body itself. The divine body in these later
representations becomes completely humanized; it offers an undisturbed hu-
man body. Or is this already a sign for the boundaries between humans and
gods becoming blurred?

5. Conclusion

In the iconography of Attic vase painting of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., the
transformation of a human or a divine being into an animal is visualized differ-
ently according to the type of metamorphosis that has taken place. The bodies

29 It is only in the late 5th century B.C. that the motif of transformation returns, this time also
on shapes intended for women, like the epinetron: Athens, National Museum 1629; see
Vollkommer (1994: 262 no. 172*). Moraw (1998: 29-65) observes similar features in the
iconography of maenads in Attic vase painting.
278 Annetta Alexandridis

of transformed humans are shown either wrapped in animal skin (the outside
of an animal) or as a mixture of animal and human body parts, thus suggesting
a merging of both natures. In contrast, the anthropomorphic body of the divine
shape-shifter is never affected by metamorphosis, but animals are added on its
The images also make a distinction between the two types of human
metamorphosis: The irreversible transformation into an animal, which is a pun-
ishment in the case of Actaeon, is visualized either by a second/animal skin, by
the addition of animal parts to the human head (the stag’s antlers) or by the re-
placement of human parts by animal ones (ears). Face and hair remain human.
In contrast, Odysseus’ companions, who are the victims of a magic spell, are
shown with entirely animal heads, sometimes even with animal limbs like the
mixed creatures of Greek myth.
Despite these very clear distinctions the iconography of all three myths
undergoes similar changes about the middle of the 5th century B.C. This sug-
gests that the images rely upon general concepts of human, animal and divine
bodies that interact. In the archaic and early classical world the images –
mainly of human metamorphosis – belong to a Dionysiac context. Drunken-
ness, enchantment and masquerade provide the frame for a ludic transgression
of species boundaries (among others). Animal nature seems to be part of a
world in opposition to the civilized one evoked in the symposion. By the mid-
dle of the 5th century transformation is visualized as a more ambivalent or
conflicting status of being: the superiority or inferiority of Actaeon in his fight
remains unclear; Odysseus’ companions struggle with their double nature.
Human and animal nature merge ever closely. Whereas in the earlier images
the boundary between both species is always visible, because both parts re-
main clearly distinguishable, even in hybrid figures, it now seems that the
boundary has shifted into human nature itself. On the other hand, as Catherine
Keesling observes in this volume, in the early classical period, statues of ani-
mals gain a certain autonomy as dedications and can even be considered as
‘portraits’ (Keesling 2009). Humans become zoomorphized, animals anthropo-
The iconography of Thetis’ self-transformations changes in a significant
way, too, although it is meant to visualize divine power. At a time in which
human metamorphosis is linked to the Dionysiac world, the wrestling couple
of Peleus and Thetis is assimilated to figures of satyrs and maenads; it is
placed in a Dionysiac setting and often accompanied by numerous different
animals. About the middle of the 5th century B.C., when the fusion of human
and animal nature engenders an ambivalent, if not problematic, unity, the body
of the goddess is represented as entirely anthropomorphic. It seems that, as the
Shifting Species: Animal and Human Bodies 279

boundaries between humans and animals become permeable, human and di-
vine bodies are also blurred.30

Barringer, Judith M. (1995): Divine Escorts. Nereids in Archaic and Classical Greek
Art, Ann Arbor.
Blatter, Rolf (1975): Frühe Kirkebilder. In: Antike Kunst 18, 76-78.
Boardman, John (1992): The Phallos-Bird in archaic and classical Greek art. In: Révue
Archéologique 2, 227-243.
Borg, Barbara E. (2002): Der Logos des Mythos. Allegorien und Personifikationen in
der frühen griechischen Kunst, München.
Brommer, Frank (1983): Odysseus. Die Taten und Leiden des Helden in antiker Kunst,
Bynum, Caroline Walker (2001): Metamorphosis and Identity, New York.
Canciani, Fulvio (1992): s.v. “Kirke”. In: Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Clas-
sicae (vol. 6), München & Zürich, 48-59.
Coelsch-Foisner, Sabine (2005): Metamorphic changes in the arts. In: Jürgen Schlaeger
(ed.), Metamorphosis. Structures of Cultural Transformations, Tübingen, 39-56.
Cohen, Beth (2000): Man-killers and their victims. Inversions of the heroic ideal in
classical art. In: Beth Cohen (ed.), Not the Classical Ideal. Athens and the Con-
struction of the Other in Greek Art, Leiden & Boston, 98-131.
Danali-Giole, Katerina (1989/90): Dionysos and Peleus. Problems of interpretation in
Athenian black-figure vases. In: Archaiognosia 6, 109-119.
Davies, Malcolm (1986): A convention of metamorphosis in Greek art. In: Journal of
Hellenic Studies 106, 182-183.
Dierichs, Angelika (1993): Erotik in der Kunst Griechenlands, Mainz.
DuBois, Page (1982): Centaurs and Amazons. Woman and the Pre-History of the Great
Chain of Being, Ann Arbor.
Forbes Irving, Paul M. C. (1990):