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“Whence This Man-Woman?”: A Parody of Aeschylean Satyr Play in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae

Amy S. Lewis

University of Pennsylvania

A scholiast on Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae 135 informs us that the line is a citation from Aeschylus’ tragedy Edonians, part of his Lycurgeia tetralogy. In this paper I argue that the scholiast was mistaken. The ancient evidence about Aeschylus’ Lycurgeia, the language of the Aristophanic parody, and its context in the Thesmophoriazusae all point to the citation coming from the Lycurgeia’s satyr play, Lycurgus.

At the opening of Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae Euripides’ boorish relative meets the tragedian Agathon, whose sensual and effeminate composition he has just heard (131-2). Agathon is dressed as a woman; confused by his appearance and titillated by his poetry, the relative declares, “I want to ask you who you are, young man, in the words of Aeschylus from the Lycurgeia: ‘Whence this man-woman? What is his native land? What is this dress?’” (134-6). The scholiast attempts to clarify the meaning of “from the Lycurgeia” (135), writing, “he means the Lycurgan tetralogy consisting in the Edonians, Bassaridae, Youths, and the satyr play Lycurgus. In the Edonians someone says “whence this man-woman” to Dionysus after he has been captured” (Thesmophoriazusae ΣR 135). Most scholarly attention on this passage has focused on establishing how much of the following ten lines can be said to come from or parody Aeschylus’ Edonians (Fritzsche 1838, van Leeuwen 1904, Rau, 1967, and more recently Sommerstein 1994, and Austin and Olson 2004).

In order to dismantle the assumption that the scholiast is correct, I first consider why an ancient commentator may have mistakenly assigned lines from the satyr play to the tragedy. Following the proposition of West (1990) and Sommerstein (2008), I argue that the tragic Edonians and the satyric Lycurgus presented different versions of the same story. The tragic treatment followed a similar narrative arc to that of Euripides’ Bacchae. On the basis of the mechanical and predictable plot-patterns of satyr play (Sutton 1980, Lissarrague 1990, O’Sullivan and Collard 2013, Shaw 2014), the most likely scenario for a satyric Lycurgus was likewise Dionysus’ kidnap and his escape with the help of satyrs. If I am correct, it follows that ancient commentators may have confused the two. Aristophanes plays on the tragic/ satyric ambiguity by naming the source of the parody after the tetralogy, the Lycurgeia.

In the second part of this paper I consider the satyric qualities of the relative’s parody in Thesmophoriazusae 134-45. For example, the word γύννις (Thesmophoriazusae 136) strongly suggests a satyric context. It is a rare word in fifth-century Greek literature, appearing in drama only here and in another satyr play of Aeschylus, The Sacred Delegation, similarly referring to Dionysus.    

Finally I consider the relative’s Aeschylean parody in the context of the Thesmophoriazusae. Directly after the parody (157-8), the relative figures himself both as a hypermasculine satyr and as a co-composer of satyr plays. As a character half way between tragedy and comedy, the relative’s depiction as a satyric figure contributes to an overall understanding of the interactions of dramatic genres in Thesmophoriazusae.     

Session/Panel Title

Greek Comedy

Session/Paper Number

29.3

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