Democratic Ideology and The Poetics of Rape in Menandrian Comedy

Classical Antiquity 20 (1):79-119 (2001)
Many of Menander's comedies are structured according to a rape plot pattern in which a young Athenian citizen usually rapes and impregnates a female citizen prior to the opening of the play. In most cases, the rape leads to a happy ending: the marriage of the rapist and victim. This casual treatment of rape is striking because in all other respects Menander's plays are not only scrupulously faithful to Athenian law, they also use Athenian legal and social norms as their own generic conventions. Although the rape of a female citizen was a serious oense in Athenian law, potentially punishable with death, and a flagrant violation of the norms of Athenian citizenship, Menandrian comedy never morally or legally problematizes rape. This study considers how the comedies neutralize the potential legal signicance of rape and what this tells us about Athenian law and the ideology of democratic citizenship. It argues that by portraying a neutral form of rape, Menander's comedies implicitly articulate those factors which had the potential to bring "rape" within the purview of Athenian legal discourse. Menandrian Comedy's strategic fidelity to the norms of Athenian citizenship also tells us something about the gender ideology of Athenian democratic citizenship, that is, the ways in which relations between the sexes support and sustain civic relations between men in Athenian political culture and democratic ideology. While Menander's romantic plots uphold the laws of citizen marriage, they do not passively enact the legal constructs. In one common variant of the rape plot, the gendered construction of citizenship embedded in Athenian law is specically conjoined to democratic norms. In this type of play, a wealthy young citizen rapes and eventually marries the daughter of a seemingly poor citizen. By using rape to generate matrimonial unions between the rich and the poor, these plays extend democratic norms into the social arena. The formation of marriages across class lines disrupts the eects of intergenerationality in reproducing social and economic inequalities
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DOI 10.1525/ca.2001.20.1.79
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