Emilia Barbiero |
Dating c. 500 AD, Aristainetos’ fictive amatory letters draw extensively upon the erotic topoi of Greek literature, and comedy features among the author’s most important models. Scholars have begun to investigate Aristainetos’ borrowings from the Greek comic tradition (cf. Arnott 1973, 1975, 1982, Magrini, Zanetto, Drago, Höschele), though the full extent of his appropriation remains to be discovered. In this paper, I explore the reception of Old Comedy in letters 2.3 and 2.12, both of which contain direct references to a speech of Strepsiades from Aristophanes’ Clouds (vv.41-55). Observing that both letters share the same generative nucleus, I argue that they form a thematic diptych, and have much to tell us about Aristainetos’ reading of Aristophanes, as well as the method of his comic imitatio.
First, I analyze epistle 2.12, which presents Euboulides’ lament about the imperiousness of his spendthrift spouse, Deinomache. While the influence of New Comedy on the portrayal of this bossy wife has been amply illustrated (Arnott 1973, 1975, 1982, Drago), more is to be said about Aristainetos’ indebtedness to, and inversion of Clouds, in which the simple Strepsiades has been driven to bankruptcy by the tastes of his rich wife and their spoiled son. I argue Aristainetos deliberately inverts this motif, for wealthy Euboulides has come to be overruled by the originally poor Deinomache. Ironically, he married a woman of lowly origin precisely to escape his present predicament, and I submit that there may be an allusion to the comic reversal: this man of ‘good counsel’ has (unsuccessfully) attempted to avoid the fate of his model. In fact, Euboulides demonstrates literary self-consciousness by quoting the Clouds directly in a scene that suggests theatrical performance. Illustrating his despair, Euboulides relates his reenactment of Strepsiades’ futile complaint, reciting ὦ γύναι, λίαν σπαθᾷς (N.55) at the very moment when he is ‘by chance’ holding the same item as his literary predecessor, a threadbare coat. This comic reference is explicitly signaled as such (κωμικῶς...ὑπαινίττομαι), and I argue for a metaliterary reading: like Aristainetos, Euboulides is versed in the genre that serves as his template, though this has not kept him from becoming a comic victim.
Next, I consider the similarities of 2.12 to 2.3, which likewise considers an unhappy marriage: the νεόνυμφος Glykera bemoans her husband’s obsession with rhetoric to the complete exclusion of sex. The girl’s appeal to her matchmaker evokes that of Strepsiades at N.41-42, and her spouse’s name (Strepsiades!) and intellectual fixation recall the protagonist of the Clouds (Arnott, 1973, 1975, 1982). Thus, the monologue at N.41-55 generates epistles 2.3 and 2.12: Aristainetos gives word to both wife and husband using its beginning (N.41-2) and end (N.55), respectively, as his source. I note that the roles in both epistles are inverted (on 2.3, cf. Arnott 1973, Bing, and Höschele), and that the texts are further linked through the motif of leaving the family home: Glykera suggests that she will leave, and Euboulides resolves to expel his wife, recalling Strepsiades’ threats to throw out his son through a verbal echo in 2.12 of N.123, as observed by Magrini. These parallels are reinforced by an animal-related proverb concluding both epistles, implying that Aristainetos composed 2.3 and 2.12 as a pair.
Finally, I argue that contemplating these texts may further support a sexual interpretation of the weaving metaphor used at N. 55 (λίαν σπαθᾷς) to illustrate the profligacy of Strepsiades’ wife (cf. e.g. Henderson, Guidorizzi). Based on its absence from Euboulides’ letter, Drago asserts that Aristainetos did not perceive a double entendre. But considertion of 2.3 suggests otherwise. I submit that the veiled sexual references throughout Glykera’s epistle allude to the same topos in Clouds: a voracious appetite is shared by both wives of Strepsiades (Arnott 1975, 1982), though the roles of dissatisfied spouse are reversed. The affinity between 2.3 and 2.12, then, evinces an erotic reading of the weaving image, telling us something about how Aristainetos reads Aristophanes.