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Power Struggles: Neaira and the Threat to Citizenship

Naomi Campa

Kenyon College

Apollodoros’ Against Neaira ([D].59) presents us with the prosecution of a foreign, manumitted sex worker for her alleged illegal marriage to an Athenian citizen. A naturalized citizen himself, Apollodoros frames power as a zero-sum game in which its illegitimate deployment comes at the expense of Athenian citizens. As Deene has shown, Apollodoros’ performance of citizenship, including public prosecutions and a marriage to a citizen, is concerned with defending the boundaries of citizenship precisely because of his enfranchisement. While scholarship on [D.] 59 has illuminated the centrality of both the oikos to Athenian citizenship (Patterson, Bakewell) and connected the characterization of Neaira as a sex worker to her status (Glazebrook, Miner), the relationship between power and civic status has not yet been explored. This paper draws on Morriss’ definition of power as the ability to effect desired outcomes, rather than limiting power to domination over other people. In Against Neaira, I argue, kurios and its opposite (akuros) are repeatedly deployed as indicators of power coupled with an expression of power as an ability to do “whatever one wishes” (hoti an boulētai). Tracing descriptions of the empowered and disempowered in the speech, this paper demonstrates that Apollodoros attempts to arouse fear in the jury through his portrayal of Neaira as gaining power in the oikos and polis. By examining power, we may better understand the imagined threat the immigrant wife poses to the oikos and citizenship.

I will first show that the prosecution establishes proper citizens as empowered in contrast to the defendants. They take it for granted that the jurors should be empowered, or kurioi, to do “whatever they wish” and they highlight their own role in facilitating that empowerment (4, 12, 109). Neaira and her consort Stephanos are instead depicted as rendering the same jurors and the laws disempowered, or akuroi (13, 93). The proper attribution of power to citizens is complemented by the portrait of Neaira as someone who should not be empowered. Apollodoros employs the language of subjection to show that Neaira cannot do “whatever she wishes,” but rather that others do “whatever they wish” to her (20, 29, 33, 114). Whether as a slave or freedwoman, Neaira is not only a morally deficient outsider (Glazebrook), but also incapable of being empowered like a citizen.

Yet Neaira allegedly assumes power through her marriage. If, as in Apollodoros’ estimation, she has married Stephanos and passed off her daughter as a citizen, Neaira has effected desired outcomes and achieved practical enfranchisement. According to the prosecution, the illegitimate commandeering of power has consequences for the household and city. In the topsy-turvy world that Neaira’s empowerment represents, prostitutes, assumed to be foreign, are able to marry and have children freely with “whomever they wish” (112). The result is a reversal, where “the laws will become powerless (akuroi) and the ways of courtesans will become powerful (kurioi) to accomplish whatever they wish” (112). Insofar as foreign sex workers will share in the state as female Athenians do, this scenario amounts to non-Athenians performing citizenship (113). The phrasing recalls both the legitimate power of citizens and Neaira’s subjection. As a consequence of a power shift at the oikos and polis levels, citizens become like metics and metics, citizens.

By attending to the power struggles as presented by Apollodoros, we can better make sense of how Neaira as the specter of the metic wife threatens the oikos, and thus the city. Ultimately, I demonstrate that Apollodoros appeals to underlying notions of power in order to frame Neaira’s marriage as an immigrant intrusion into the oikos that imperils citizenship and the polis.

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Citizenship Migration and Identity

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