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Subdivisions: The Containment of Femininity in Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae

Mason Johnson

In the Ecclesiazousae, Aristophanes presents his audience with a radical political question: what if the entire Athenian democracy were turned over to the women of the city, and they became the custodians of democracy rather than the men? As Zeitlin (1999) notes, the overall effect of this radical change is never fully explored within the play, and thus there is ambiguity as to whether or not this “communist” innovation deserves political approbation or blame. However, as Lape (2004) explores, Greek comedy had a powerful ability to reinforce norms and laws in society. Given the attitudes of Greek men concerning the nature and roles of gender, as explained by Carson (1990), these norms starkly contrast with the image of gynecocracy presented upon the stage. However, the “women” on stage are not really women: both within the plot of the play itself as well as in its performance, the notion of a female identity is a fractured one. In order to be palatable to a male audience or to win power in the state, the women must physically and culturally assimilate to the roles of men; however, when presented as women, they are caricatured as totally reckless. Given the normative power of comedy in Athens, and using an analysis in line with that of De Beauvoir (1969), I will show how this inversion of the male dominant society is hardly an inversion at all but rather an affirmation of that very society. Further, it reveals the Athenian perceptual framework which divides women’s subjective experience between stereotypes and confines their freedom to express this subjectivity with the same validity as men.

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The Next Generation: Papers by Undergraduate Classics Students

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