Reproducing Athens: Menander's Comedy, Democratic Culture, and the Hellenistic City

Reproducing Athens: Menander's Comedy, Democratic Culture, and the Hellenistic City

Reproducing Athens: Menander's Comedy, Democratic Culture, and the Hellenistic City

Reproducing Athens: Menander's Comedy, Democratic Culture, and the Hellenistic City

Synopsis


Reproducing Athens examines the role of romantic comedy, particularly the plays of Menander, in defending democratic culture and transnational polis culture against various threats during the initial and most fraught period of the Hellenistic Era.


Menander's romantic comedies--which focus on ordinary citizens who marry for love--are most often thought of as entertainments devoid of political content. Against the view, Susan Lape argues that Menander's comedies are explicitly political. His nationalistic comedies regularly conclude by performing the laws of democratic citizen marriage, thereby promising the generation of new citizens. His transnational comedies, on the other hand, defend polis life against the impinging Hellenistic kingdoms, either by transforming their representatives into proper citizen-husbands or by rendering them ridiculous, romantic losers who pose no real threat to citizen or city.


In elaborating the political work of romantic comedy, this book also demonstrates the importance of gender, kinship, and sexuality to the making of democratic civic ideology. Paradoxically, by championing democratic culture against various Hellenistic outsiders, comedy often resists the internal status and gender boundaries on which democratic culture was based. Comedy's ability to reproduce democratic culture in scandalous fashion exposes the logic of civic inclusion produced by the contradictions in Athens's desperately politicized gender system.


Combining careful textual analysis with an understanding of the context in which Menander wrote, Reproducing Athens profoundly changes the way we read his plays and deepens our understanding of Athenian democratic culture.

Excerpt

Resilient Democracy and the Rise of Romantic Comedy

Athenian history between the battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C. and the end of the Chremonidean War in 260 is punctuated by one military disaster after another. At Chaeronea, Philip of Macedon won a decisive victory over Athens and its allies, enabling him to gain effective control of Athenian foreign policy. in 322 Athens suffered a much more catastrophic defeat in the Lamian War, the Greek-led rebellion against Macedonian rule. in the ensuing peace settlement, Antipater, the de facto ruler of Macedon, installed Macedonian troops in the city, replaced the democratic government with an oligarchy, executed leading democratic politicians, and relocated many disfranchised democrats to Thrace. These measures, despite their severity and scope, did little to disturb the Athenian commitment to democracy. Following Antipater's death in 319 the Athenians restored the democracy, apparently in the hope of regaining the pre—Lamian War status quo. the problems that erupted with Alexander's unforeseen death, however, had not really been solved. Alexander's would-be successors were still in the process of attempting to seize and define their own spheres of control. Accordingly, without the military power to defend themselves against the emergent military kingdoms, the Athenians were soon forced to capitulate yet again, this time to Antipater's son Cassander. Like his father before him, Cassander continued to employ highly coercive measures to control the Greek cities, including the imposition of oligarchic constitutions and the installation of military garrisons. While the wealth requirement for citizenship under this second oligarchic regime was fairly low, Cassander took an additional, more invasive, step of installing a manager of domestic affairs within the city itself. For the next ten years, Demetrius of Phaleron ruled Athens as a virtual regent on Cassander's behalf.

For the Greek loss at Chaeronea as leading to the enslavement of the Greeks, see Diod.
16.88.2. For Athens and the Lamian War, see Diod. 18.8.9–13.6, 15.1–9, 16.4–17.8; Paus.
1.25.3–5; Hyp. 6 (Epit.); Plut. Phoc. 23–26, Dem. 27–28. For the oligarchy imposed on
Athens in 322, see Plut. Phoc. 27.3–28.1, 28.4–29.1; Diod. 18.18.4–6. and for Antipater's . . .

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