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The Comic Fashioning and Self-Fashioning of the Eunuch Sophist Favorinus

Ryan Samuels

Favorinus of Arles is described in sources both hostile and friendly as a eunuch or hermaphrodite who was nonetheless accused of adultery with the wife of a consular; the philosopher-sophist himself even reportedly acknowledged the allegation as one of his “three paradoxes” (Philostr. VS 489; Polem. Phgn. 161.9-163.16 Foerster; Luc. Eun. 7, 10). Although Favorinus’ condition is likely historical (Mason 1979), this paper argues that polemical descriptions of him are informed by Aristophanic satire of contemporary Athenians characterized as eunuchs or androgynes (e.g., Ach. 117-21), while the story of his alleged adultery is modeled upon the plots of comedies such as Menander’s Androgyne and Eunuch, adapted by Terence, in which a male seducer infiltrates female space in the guise of a woman or a sexless man (Whitehorne 2000). An example of this plot roughly contemporary with Favorinus is found in the fragmentary “Iolaus Romance” (POxy. 3010), in which a youth appears to have prevailed upon a friend to learn and teach him the secrets of the emasculated priests known as galli in order that he may approach his beloved in the costume of a eunuch (Parsons 1971; Parsons 1974). It has been speculated that Favorinus is the inspiration for a declamation theme attested by Hermogenes, in which a man is defended against a charge of murder for killing a eunuch whom he caught in adultery with his wife (Hermog. Stat. 60 Rabe; Russell 1983: 52n42). The virile eunuch, however, is a figure familiar from earlier and contemporary satire and epigram (Juv. 6.366-78; Mart. 6.67, 10.91, 11.81, 3.81; Parker 2004: 290-91; cf. Philostr. VA 1.34-37), while the adultery plot is a stock element of comedy and mime (Reynolds 1946; cf. Porter 2007 on Lys. 1). The eunuch in love, moreover, is one of many declamation themes based upon characters types from classical comedy and one that Favorinus may have performed ([Lib.] Eth. 26 Foerster; Favorin. fr. 18 Barigazzi; Amato 2006; Amato 2007). This paper concludes that Favorinus himself utilized the comic tradition of the virile eunuch in answer to rival sophists who exploited his condition in order to call his manhood into question.

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Greek Comedy in the Roman Empire

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