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The Consequences of Laughter in Aeschines’ Against Timarchos

Deborah Kamen

In Aeschines’ Against Timarchos, in which the defendant is charged with speaking publicly despite being a male prostitute, the orator tells the jury about two occasions on which sexual innuendos uttered by or about Timarchos provoked laughter in the Assembly (Aesch. 1.80-84). In this paper, I demonstrate that this laughter was “consequential” (Halliwell 1991, 2008), in that it ultimately contributed to Timarchos’ conviction. Arguing that one effect of the Assembly’s uproarious laughter was to drown out Timarchos’ voice (Spatharas 2006; cf. Bers 1985, Montiglio 2000), I then show that Aeschines coopts this laughter to reinforce the civic silence (atimia) that was Timarchos’ due as a male prostitute (Wallace 1998; cf. Davidson 1997: 262-63).

            First, I examine how Timarchos’ reputation colored the Assembly’s reactions to his language. Aeschines says that whenever Timarchos mentioned “the repair of ‘walls’ (τειχῶν) or of a ‘tower’ (πύργου), or that someone ‘was led off’ (ἀπήγετο) somewhere, immediately you all shouted and laughed (ἐβοᾶτε καὶ ἐγελᾶτε) and said the name of the deeds you knew he committed” (1.80). While some translators have said that the meanings of these double entendres are lost on modern readers (Adams 1919: 67n2, Carey 2000: 51n86), we can at least hazard a guess. Walls and towers were popular places for sexual trysts, especially sex with prostitutes (Halperin 1990: 91, Davidson 1997: 80, Fisher 2001 ad loc.; cf. Adams 1919: 67n2), and ἀπάγω has the (secondary) sense of ‘lead off for sexual purposes’ (Adams 1919: 67n2, Fisher 2001 ad loc.; cf. LSJ I.3).

            I turn next to the second episode mentioned by Aeschines. At an Assembly meeting held to discuss Timarchos’ resolution about dwellings on the Pnyx, an Areopagos member named Autolykos said to the Assembly members: “Don’t be surprised if Timarchos is more experienced in the desolate spots on the Pnyx than the Areopagos is” (1.82). Everyone applauded (ἀνεθορυβήσατε), agreeing that Timarchos was indeed “well acquainted” with the deserted parts of the Pnyx, places (like walls and towers) frequently used for sexual encounters (Adams 1919: 68n2, Davidson 1997: 79, Carey 2000: 59n90). But Autolykos’ unintended double entendres did not stop there. He then said that Timarchos “thought that in this time of quiet there would be little expense for each of you” in redeveloping the Pnyx (1.83), provoking great uproar and laughter (μείζων…μετὰ γέλωτος θόρυβος) with the words ‘quiet’ (connoting desolate sexual meeting-places) and ‘little expense’ (suggesting the low cost of Timarchos’ services) (Carey 2000: 52n90, Fisher 2001 ad loc., Spatharas 2006: 381). Autolykos next spoke of ‘building sites’ (οἰκοπέδων) and ‘tanks’ (λάκκων), and once again the people burst out laughing (1.84). The word οἰκοπέδων was amusing for a number of reasons: its association with derelict buildings suitable for prostitution (Fisher 2001 ad loc., Davidson 1997: 306); its connotations of foundations or bottoms—and therefore buttocks (Carey 2000: 53n92); and even its auditory similarity to ‘testicles’ (ὀρχιπέδων: Adams 1919: 71n1, Spatharas 2006: 381). The word λάκκων, in turn, called to mind anuses (Carey 2000: 53n92) and, by association, both anal penetration and sexual insatiability (Davidson 1997: 79, Fisher 2001 ad loc., Worman 2008: 346), as well as being similar to a word for ‘scrota’ (λακκοπέδων: Adams 1919: 71n1, Spatharas 2006: 381).

            Finally, I demonstrate how Aeschines’ framing of these two humorous episodes serves his own rhetorical aims. He prefaces these stories by saying that he knows the jurors will vote that Timarchos was a prostitute “because you have spoken out and told me” (1.80), and concludes by pointing out that “you shout the name of Timarchos’ deeds you know he committed” (cf. the words used of the Assembly in 1.80) (1.85). By conflating the Assembly members with his current jurors (referring repeatedly to both as “you”), and by harnessing the laughter of both audiences at Timarchos’ sexual practices, Aeschines is able to ensure the conviction—and therefore the future silence—of his opponent.

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