The Edible Woman: Athenaeus's Concept of the Pornographic
Madeleine M. Henry
Now she had a blank white body. It looked slightly obscene, lying there soft and sugary and featureless on the platter. She set about clothing it, filling the cake- decorator with bright pink icing. . . . Her creation gazed up at her, its face doll- like and vacant except for the small silver glitter of intelligence in each green eye. While making it she had been almost gleeful, but now, contemplating it, she was pensive. All that work had gone into the lady and now what would happen to her?
"You look delicious," she told her. "Very appetizing. And that's what will happen to you; that's what you get for being food."
-- Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman ( 1983)
Athenaeus the rhetorician ( Athenaeus sophistês) is an author more often consulted than read. His extravagant work Sophists at Dinner discusses the minutiae of the classical symposium (drinking party) in nearly unreadable detail, giving recommendations for correct arrangement (taxis). In the last 150 years, almost no attention has been paid to investigating Athenaeus's thought, with the exception of Barry Baldwin, who considers that Athenaeus's intent was at least partly satirical. 1 While other scholars have acknowledged Athenaeus's contribution to our knowledge of the lost texts of classical Greek comedy and to cookery and other Realien, they generally have failed to find any unity of thought in his work. Gulick, the Loeb Library editor- translator through whom most readers of English come to know the Deipnosophistae, does little more than apologize for the object of his scholarly labor, claiming that the work is too long and that its author's powers can't sustain it (I, x, xii); he also holds that Athenaeus did not appreciate the literary merits of the works he quotes (I, xv). His remarks largely echo and rephrase the remarks of other classical scholars of the last two centuries. 2 Nor has Athenaeus fared better under the scrutiny of nonclassicists. Michel Foucault, one of the most provocative and