The Mute Nude Female Characters in Aristophanes' Plays
Considering the issue of the mute, nude female characters that have cameo appearances in many of Aristophanes' plays from the perspective of pornographic representation entails many problems, both of ancient scholarly criticism and of modern interpretation. Historically, the short, nonspeaking role assigned to these characters has resulted in comparably short scholarly attention to their dramatic and cultural significance. Classical scholarship has focused, in the words of Cedric Whitman ( 1964: 112), on "a minor, but enthusiastic, philological controversy," namely, were these characters portrayed by male actors in padded costume or by real, nude hetairai? 1 However enthusiastic the debate, and regardless of which position they espouse, critics curiously continue to discuss the thematic or dramatic significance of these scenes without regard to whether they were played by padded actors or real live women.
The situation is hardly better in the area of modern interpretations of pornography, where the scholarly literature is divided on both its definition and significance. How, or whether, one can distinguish between erotica and pornography continues in debate. Feminist, sociological, and psychoanalytical interpretations drastically oppose each other and are as often divided intra- as well as interdiscipline. Finally, once a coherent approach is proposed, whether it could validly be applied to the ancient material remains a serious question.
Undaunted by these multiple complexes of scholarly problems, I attempt in this chapter to accomplish several things. I first examine the role of the mute, nude female characters in Aristophanes' plays in their appropriate dramatic, religious, and societal contexts. I then briefly review some salient points in the modern debate