“By Zeus, if they had already been given two or three hosts in their noses like Búpalo, they would no longer want to talk.” “If you don’t shut up, I’ll beat your skin to foxes.” “What if I punch you to dust, what?” “If you don’t leave, no matter how pretty you are, I’m going to give you a good spanking.” Threats of this type, always uttered by men against women, were common in Greco-Latin comedies and it is not difficult to find them in the works of Aristophanes, Menander and Plautus, the three most representative authors of the genre. They were not only a humorous resource, but a reflection of reality, because just as tragedies were carried out by idealized characters, comedies were populated by ordinary people, so that their study offers more clues about what daily life was like in that society than other literary forms such as epic, lyric, oratory, philosophy or the aforementioned tragedy, where the middle and lower classes only appeared as objects of rejection or ridicule. It was the sitcoms of the time.
The volume Women and violence in the ancient theater, Edited by Catarata, it brings together five essays by classical philologists that analyze the Greco-Latin repertoire from a gender perspective. Not only to verify that the patriarchal ideology was firmly rooted in the classical world, but to explore the roots of certain behaviors that still persist today: physical and verbal violence as a measure of control and subjugation of women, rape as a weapon of war institutionalized and the legitimation of sexual exploitation. “Our intention is to offer a solid benchmark against which to compare how far we have come. Because despite the fact that it is evident that we have evolved in many areas, sexist violence continues to be systemic and is normalized in our thinking schemes. For example, a situation that often appears in these comedies is the fear of women to go out alone: that still happens today, ”says Rosario López Gregoris, coordinator of the book and author of one of the essays.
In his essay, López Gregoris focuses on Plautus’ Roman comedies (The comedy of the pot, The three coins, The comedy of the basket, The merchant The Truculent, among others) and draws very illustrative examples. On the one hand, in the sphere of marriage, verbal violence is very palpable. Husbands often label their wives as controlling, spending and living “too long.” In The three coins the following conversation develops:
“How is your wife doing?” How is your health?
“Better than I wish.”
“I’m glad luckily for you she’s alive and well, by Hercules.”
“I think you are glad of my misfortunes, by Hercules.”
The dialogue is humorous, but reveals the prevailing misogyny. The alarming, as you remember López Gregoris, is that this same relationship structure continues to emerge in many contemporary fictions, such as the well-known Spanish television series Marriage scenes. Let us remember that this series, broadcast between 2007 and 2009, consisted of independent scenes that showed the discussions of three couples of different ages and was condemned by the Institute for Women in 2007 for “reproducing stereotypes about roles”, “transmitting couple behavior” that includes “insults and humiliations” and “showing women as the source of man’s unhappiness”.
In Plautus, the philologist also finds examples of continued physical violence against female slaves (“we need a slave who knows how to weave, who knows how to grind, cut firewood, spin wool, sweep the house, hold on to the lashes and cook daily the food from the house ”, says a character in The merchant), sexual exploitation of servants or daughters and rapes of young citizens that are generally justified by drunkenness.
The philologist Begoña Ortega Villaro explores in another chapter of the book the Athenian comedy, represented by Aristophanes and Menandro. Various forms of misogyny, sexual violence and rape are also manifested here, with a frequency that seems to show that all this was legitimized and widespread in society. But the author also makes an interesting observation regarding two of the works of Aristophanes most represented today, List Y The assembly of women, in which, in an unusual way for the time, women decided to intervene in the political sphere: in List go on a sex strike to demand an end to the war, while The women’s assembly They take Parliament to institute a kind of proto-communist regime. Contemporary versions usually make a feminist reading of both texts, but the truth is that Aristophanes did not have that intention. “The intention of these combative women is not to annihilate and replace the men, but to solve the problem so that they can return home with them and re-establish the traditional order. The ending is completely patriarchal, ”writes Ortega Villaro.
A third is added to these two essays devoted entirely to the comic repertoire in which Luis Unceta Gómez offers a linguistic analysis of the different forms of verbal violence of Plauto’s male characters. The fourth chapter of the book, signed by Marta González González, leaves the field of comedy to explore how these forms of sexist violence are manifested in tragedy: in this genre, above all, a systematic institutionalization of rape as a weapon of war is noted. In The Trojans, Supplicants Y Andromache, Among others, it is clear that wars did not end when one band of men killed another, but when the victors captured and possessed their women. A way of proceeding so ingrained that even today it is a weapon of war in many regions of the world. The volume closes with a text by Rosario Cortés Tovar that also leaves the field of comedy to show how a character belonging to the mythical sphere, Dido, powerful queen of Carthage, descends into the world of mortals by falling into the traps of love. romantic after meeting Aeneas.
Beyond your keen analysis of the past, Women and violence in the ancient theater offers keys to look at the present. “Any classic text contains a double reading: a contextualized one —that is, what the author wanted to tell in his time— and a current one that speaks of the present through the past,” explains López Gregoris. “Our old scenarios, Greece and Rome, consequently, speak of migration, flight, war, rape and pain, anger and revenge, misunderstanding and silencing, insults and beatings against women. They will be old, but their validity is scary. And for this reason, it is convenient that we return to them ”, he concludes in his prologue.
Rosario López Gregoris (editor), Begoña Ortega Villaro, Luis Unceta Gómez, Marta González González, Rosario Cortés Tovar.
Cataract, 2021. 144 pages. 16 euros.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.