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Many scholars have considered the Athenian law disqualifying male prostitutes from political participation as fundamental to regulating the sexual ethics of the “democratic citizen body” (e.g. Dover, Halperin, Winkler, Cohen). However, the orators frequently attribute to Solon laws whose exact origins they did not know, and few legal historians consider this law genuinely Solonic (see Ruschenbusch). This paper aims to identify the most likely period for this matter becoming an issue as the aftermath of the Periclean citizenship law of 451.

One must question whether the concept of “male prostitution” as distinct from traditional pederastic gift-giving could have had any meaning in the pre-monetary economy of Solonic Athens. It is unlikely that a clear concept of “male prostitution” could have existed even in the late sixth- or early fifth-centuries. As Andrew Lear’s careful study of pederastic iconography in the vase painting of this period has shown, there is little difference between scenes that feature presentation of a money bag and those involving other gifts to boys, certainly nothing suggesting moral judgment.

Demosthenes and Aeschines, in the mid-fourth century, are the only two sources explicitly attributing to Solon any limitation of citizen rights for having once been a prostitute; only Aeschines uses this law as an actual basis for prosecution in the case argued, and even then, only to forestall his own prosecution. Demosthenes’ speech against Androtion is over a different charge relating to an unlawful proposal, but he raises the prostitution accusation in a digressive excursus whose main goal is to blacken his opponent’s character. Androtion had been active in Athenian politics for at least 30 years without anyone having prosecuted him for unlawful political involvement on the grounds of prostitution. Androtion apparently responded to Demosthenes’ charge with a technical claim that the present court was not the proper venue for adjudicating such matters, but the Thesmothetes.

Aeschines’ better known prosecution of Timarchus in 346 also did not transpire before the Thesmothetes; the dispute over procedure and venue in the Androtion case nine years earlier suggests that prosecutions specifically on this matter were not in fact very common, and as van’t Wout has recently argued, atimia was a vague legal concept enforced only sporadically. Andocides 1.100, dated to 399, also includes a charge about his opponent’s unfitness to bring the case, but as in Demosthenes’ speech against Androtion, the matter is a digression meant to attack the opponent’s ethos, not a point of actual legal contention. That Andocides nowhere ascribes to Solon the law prohibiting former prostitutes from political involvement may suggest that its actual origin was still a matter of living memory at the end of the fifth-century.

Our earliest reference to politicians using charges of prostitution to deny citizen rights to rivals comes in Aristophanes’ Knights (875-80), dated to 424. But Cleon’s “erasure” of Grypus, presumably a reference to the citizen rolls of the phratries, appears not to be a case of atimia so much as one of denying citizen status altogether, as democratic politicians were wont to do after Pericles’ reform of the citizenship law; Aristophanes elsewhere suggests that Cleon had also questioned his own citizenship. We owe the so-called Solonic “law” on prostitution to this political context. Athenians increasingly came to value citizen privileges exempting them from the physical toil and banausic pursuits of slaves and metics. Prostitution especially was a form of labor inconsistent with citizen status, as emphasized in Apollodorus’ ugly attacks on Neaera and Phano. Independent literary and iconographic evidence suggest that elite pederasty generally came to be situated uneasily within the radical democracy of the late fifth-century (see Shapiro, Hubbard). I suspect that the so-called “law” may have never been an actual law so much as a collective memory and cultural codification of the principles behind demagogic attacks on elite opponents whose pederastic histories made them, like Timarchus, easy targets for exaggerated claims of mercenary motives or questionable adherence to “citizen” values.