E. F. M. (Edward Felix Mendelssohn) Benecke.

Antimachus of Colophon and the position of women in Greek poetry. A fragment, printed for the use of scholars online

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Online LibraryE. F. M. (Edward Felix Mendelssohn) BeneckeAntimachus of Colophon and the position of women in Greek poetry. A fragment, printed for the use of scholars → online text (page 1 of 18)
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Position of Women in Greek Poetry







7.3 -


Page 22, n. i, 1. 10, for 'xxxix.', read 'xxxvii.'
,, 27, n. i, for 'plp\la,' read '/3iAta.'

,, 31, 1. 8, after 'dissolute habits,' add: [Bergk, ed. I. (used by
the author) reads jmrjdeva iru /c.r.X. in Theog. 547 : Bergk,
ed. IV., has TTCU for TTW].

,, 60, for ' v(3p[fov<T : ov,' read * v(3piov(T' ov.'

,, 107, n. 3, add : [Tytu6Aioz> atfaov. The author accepts Hermann's
reading; see Opusc. iv. 245. a'^aov = 6pos v^ri\bv (Hesych.)].

,, 108, note, 1. 6, for ' cratpavj' read ' eTaipav.'
117, n. i, for ' 405-336,' read '403-336.'
,, 158, 1. 12, for ' avOpuTTos,' read ' avOpuTros. '
,, 160, 1. 23, for 'ireldeiv,' read l TreiaeLv.'
,, 191, note, 1. 4, for l La ReveJ read l Le Reve.'
,, 204, n. i, 1. 5, for 'T^TTJS,' read '17/377x775.'





EXCURSUS A. THEOGNIS (1. 261 seqq.} . . 199




Emendations) . ... 206



(Analysis of passages) . . .219


NEW COMEDY (Analysis of passages) . 233







THE author of the following pages met with his
death in Switzerland on July i6th, 1895, in his
twenty-sixth year. Had he lived to complete the whole
work of which they form part, he might have recast it
throughout; and some apology is, perhaps, needed for
its appearance in the present form. Several scholars
have, however, expressed their opinion that the material
contained in the extant fragments might be useful to
those engaged in similar studies, and they are accord-
ingly published, in the hope that this may prove to be
the case.

From the author's papers it appears that his work was,
if completed, to have been entitled " Women in Greek
Poetry : being an Enquiry into the Origin of the
Romantic Element in Literature." It was to have con-
tained three divisions, dealing respectively with (i) the
position occupied by women in the Greek lyric and
tragic poets, (2) the part played by women in Greek
comedy, (3) the Alexandrian ideal of woman. The
former of the two essays contained in this volume
("Women in Greek Poetry") no doubt includes much
that would have been incorporated in the first of these
three divisions. At the same time, as it was, in all
probability, written before the whole scheme was ar-
ranged, and was intended to be complete in itself, it
contains allusions to certain subjects which would more
naturally have fallen into the third, and would have
received fuller treatment there, while several points
which belong properly to the first division have not
been treated on the scale which would finally have be-
longed to them. The second essay (" Women in Greek
Comedy") corresponds more nearly in subject to the
author's matured plan, but had still less than the first

viii Introductory Note.

essay the benefit of his final correction and revision.
This much is said, not in order to deprecate criticism
(a result which the author would have been the last to
desire), but merely in explanation of the occasional
repetitions, and possibly also inconsistencies, which are
to be found in this volume.

In preparing the work for the Press as few alterations
as possible have been introduced, and the essays appear
substantially in the form given them by the author.
Thus the second essay is divided into nine chief
sections, while the first has no such sub-divisions.
Again, Excursus F (which was originally written for the
first essay) contains much material which is elaborated
in the second essay. In several places also, especially
towards the close of the volume, reference is made to
parts of the work which seem never to have been
written. It is believed that the reader will be anxious
to possess the author's own words so far as possible,
and, accordingly, the changes which have been adopted
are only such as the author would probably have made
himself when revising his work.

In references to the Greek lyric poets, the numbers
are those of Bergk's Poetae Lyrici Graeci (4th edition,
1878-82). The fragments of the tragedians are cited
from Nauck's Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (2nd
edition, 1889). For the comic fragments the author
used Meineke's Fragmenta Comicorum Graecorum (five
vols. 1839-57). Meineke's numbering has been kept in
the text, but a list will be found on page 253, giving the
corresponding references to Kock's Comicorum Atticorum
Fragmenta (three vols. 1880-88) in all cases where the
two editions differ seriously. The references to Theo-
critus, Plautus, and Terence have been verified from the
editions of Ziegler, Ritschl, and Dziatzko, respectively ;
but where the text is doubtful, the author appears to
have adopted what seemed to him the most probable
reading, without following any editor exclusively.

Additions by the editor of this volume are enclosed
in square brackets. He has to acknowledge most grate-
fully his indebtedness to several friends for advice and
assistance on various points.


GREEK literature may be divided roughly into
two parts, the earlier school which culminated
at Athens, and the later school which culminated at
Alexandria. The obvious differences between these
two schools of art have often been described, and
there is no need to dwell on them here ; but the
great, the essential difference between them has been
too generally ignored.

The chief ik oiring element of all art is love ; and
it is in their insphation that is to say, in their view
of love that the real difference between the two
schools consists. The love of the later poetry is the
love of man for woman ; the love of the earlier
poetry is the love of man for man.

By "love" I mean here love in the modern sense.
A man of the Alexandrian Age might say "I love
you" to a woman, and mean by that what a man
may mean if he says as much to-day ; before that
time a man could only have said " I love you " in this
sense to a friend of his own sex. There is no trace
in literature of what we now understand by the
word " love " earlier than the end of the fourth


2 Women in Greek Poetry.

This phenomenon has been noticed before indeed,
it is one that could not very well escape notice
though its true importance has not always been
appreciated ; and the general consensus of opinion
has agreed to ascribe this great change, the greatest
change perhaps that has ever come over art, to the
influence of two men, Euripides and Menander. My
object in writing now is to endeavour to show, firstly,
that this general view is a mistaken one, arising from
an insufficient appreciation of the true nature of the
change ; and secondly, that the real originator of that
new feeling which we encounter in Alexandrian
literature, in other words, the first man who had the
courage to say that a woman is worth loving, was
Antimachus of Colophon.

The commonly accepted view as to the origin of
that " romantic " feeling (for so, for briefness' sake, it
will be convenient to call it) 1 which meets us in
Alexandrian literature, would seem to be due to a
confusion, arising from a misunderstanding of what
that feeling really is. This confusion takes two dis-
tinct forms. Thus, in the case of some writers, the
improved tone with regard to women which appears
in Greek erotic literature from the fourth century
onwards, has been confounded with that improvement
in their social and intellectual position which was so
marked a feature of the latest period of the history

1 The expression is, of course, an awkward one, for the word
"romance," like "chivalry," embodies the old superstition that such
feelings were a product of the Christian Middle Ages ; but this and
similar expressions are so generally used in this connection, that there
is little real risk of misunderstanding, and I cannot think of anything

Women in Greek Poetry. 3

of classical Greece. In other words, romantic feelings
have been spoken of as if they were identical with
feelings of social and intellectual respect. That they
are not, scarcely requires even to be stated. Others
again, while perceiving the distinction between these
two entirely different things, have yet argued as if the
one were the natural and inevitable outcome of the
other, and inseparably connected therewith ; as if, in
fact, all that was necessary to purify and elevate the
feelings of men towards women had been the social
emancipation of the latter. This view is of course
possible, and as such is entitled to consideration
rather than the previous one ; but not only is it
improbable in itself, but it is also in direct opposition
to the teaching of history : for while no one would
deny that this emancipation, if more or less simul-
taneous with the appearance of the romantic feeling,
would serve at once to disseminate and to dignify it,
how entirely independent the one is of the other is
sufficiently proved by the conditions prevailing in the
Middle Ages. It is surely a fact which cannot well
be ignored in discussing this question, that just
during that period of history when "chivalry" and
" romance " were at their height, the social and
intellectual position of women, both absolutely and
relatively, was perhaps lower than at any time before
since the creation of the world. 1

1 Among the many arguments in favour of the social emancipation
of women at the present day, I have never heard it suggested that such
an emancipation would inevitably lead to an increase of chivalrous
feelings on the part of men ; the general view seems to be that it would
have just the contrary effect.

4 Women in Greek Poetry.

When once the romantic element is cut clear from
all extraneous entanglements, so that it is possible to
recognise what it really is, it becomes, I think, imme-
diately evident that neither Euripides nor Menander
can have much to do with its origin. The leading
motive of romance is the idea that pure love for a
woman may justifiably form the chief interest in a
man's life. But this idea, as I hope to be able to
show clearly, does not appear in literature until after
the time of Euripides, while it is already to be found
fully developed before the time of Menander. This
being so, it seems impossible to regard either of these
writers as the originators of it.

In the course of the following pages, I shall there-
fore endeavour to show, by a detailed examination of
such parts of the contemporary literature as bear
upon the subject, that low as was the social position
of woman in most parts of Greece during the so-
called classical period, the place which she occupied
in the minds of men and in their art was even lower,
and that her subsequent social emancipation did not
by any means immediately lead to her being regarded
with any more real respect. In the course of this
argument, I purpose to dwell especially on the
influence of Euripides, and hope to succeed in
making it clear that though he, as judged by his
works, was strongly in favour of giving women
larger liberties, and firmly convinced that their
capacities both for good and evil were far greater
than the more old - fashioned among his contem-
poraries supposed, there is yet nowhere in his plays
any real love-element as between man and woman,

Women in Greek Poetry. 5

nor is it anywhere suggested that love for a woman
may be a determining factor in a man's life.

Secondly, I purpose by a similar process to show
that that place which in later Greek art and in
modern times is occupied by the love of man for
woman, was occupied among the earlier Greeks by
the love of man for man a fact which, though it
may at first sight appear foreign to the immediate
subject of our enquiry, is yet of such extreme im-
portance for a true understanding of the history of
the origin of the romantic feeling, that a consideration
of it can on no account be omitted from any work
professing in any way to deal with that question.
For it cannot be too strongly emphasised that those
who wish to study the development of love, as we
now know it, must commence their studies with an
examination of this essentially primitive emotion.
It cannot be too strongly emphasised that love, as it
now exists, has been evolved, not from the sexual
instinct, but from the companionship of the battle-
field, that the first real lovers the world ever knew
were comrades in arms. The Iliad of Homer is a
love story, its heroes Achilles and Patroclus ; the
Ajax of Sophocles is a love story, its heroes Ajax
and Teucer. To ignore such facts as these is wilfully
to misunderstand the meaning of Greek poetry and
the meaning of Greece in the history of the world.

Having thus cleared the ground, I hope finally to
show that it was Antimachus who first taught that
that love which was possible between man and man
was possible also between man and woman.

Antimachus stands at the junction of the two great

6 Women in Greek Poetry.

tendencies of his time. The influence of Sparta and
of Euripides was gradually re-emancipating women,
and showing that their powers and their passions
were at least equal to those of men ; the steady
growth and development of that relation between
man and man which found its highest exponent in
Plato had made it clear, even to the blindest, that
love was possible as distinct from lust. It was left to
Antimachus to unite the two streams of thought in
one, and to show that woman, with her newly-
awakened capabilities, was a worthy object of pure
and chivalrous devotion.

The works of Antimachus are lost, and none of the
few fragments which survive are of any importance.
All discussion with reference to them must therefore
be based on suppositions and an examination of
relative probabilities. The risks of error in entering
on such doubtful ground are manifestly infinite, and
conclusions can be reached only through the accumu-
lation of a mass of evidence, the separate particles of
which are often in themselves of very little weight ;
the veil of darkness covering all such Greek literature
as does not bear the hall-mark of Athens is so thick
that it is perhaps no longer possible for the real truth
about it ever to be known. Ceterum, fiat justitia.
It is a bold claim, I know, that I am making for
Antimachus; it is a claim which, if established, would
give him right to rank among the greatest poets of
the world : it would give him right to rank as the
founder of modern literature. How great a poet he
really was we do not know. Perhaps my estimation
of his importance is altogether exaggerated. His

Women in Greek Poetry. 7

con temporaries, we know, preferred Choerilus; perhaps
they were right ; for myself, Malo cum Platone err are.

It is generally agreed that in prehistoric times the
position of women among the Greeks was a much
higher one than was the case subsequently. There
seems every reason to believe that the social con-
ditions of the Lesbians and the Dorians and the
other nations which did not come under the influence
of the history-writing lonians, were but the survivals
of what was originally a more or less general state.
It is of considerable assistance for a proper compre-
hension of the earliest literature, if one remembers
that at the time of its production the enslavement of
women had only comparatively recently taken place.

The reason of the influence of primitive woman
over primitive man is probably not very far to seek.
In early times women were regarded with super-
stitious reverence 1 one need only watch a woman
making lace, say, to be able nowadays still to quite
appreciate the feeling and with natural woman's wit
for a time kept up the illusion, the hard head of man
taking some time to come to maturity. But when
man did at last wake to the fact that he was physi-
cally, and therefore, for practical purposes, generally
superior, an inevitable reaction set in, and the history
of early Greece shows women as occupying on the
whole a very low position a position, too, which
became lower still with advancing civilisation. 2

1 Very noticeable is the preponderance of goddesses in the Greek
Pantheon. The powers of nature, whether of sea, mountain, river, or
forest, were almost invariably incarnated in the form of women.

2 This change, retrograde or not, according to taste, may be exactly
paralleled from the social history of the Arabs.

8 Women in Greek Poetry.

That the original state of women was not one of
slavery is clearly shown by the early epics. The
Iliad and the Odyssey are pictures of an earlier state
of society than that of the poet who describes them.
A man living in a society in which women were
despised, had to deal with legends belonging to an
earlier social condition, in which women played a
prominent part. Traces of this anomaly are easy to
find in both poems. The Trojan war was the work
of a woman, but how very little that woman appears
in the Iliad! A woman has been managing the
affairs of Odysseus for twenty years in an exemplary
fashion ; but the hero of the Odyssey on his return
prefers to associate with the swineherd. It is by this
contradiction between the actual experiences of the
poet and the social conditions which he was called
upon to depict, that the many inconsistencies in the
treatment of the Epic woman must be explained.

Another excellent illustration of this conflict
between the primitive and the subsequent views of
the nature and importance of women is furnished by
the elaborate treatment of the Pandora legend in the
Opera et Dies of Hesiod. On the one hand is the
early conviction of the power of women's influence
it is only by the help of a woman that Zeus can outwit
man : on the other the later conviction that this
influence must be for evil before Pandora came

vocn^tv are/3 re Ka/cwv KCU are/) ^aAeiroto TTOVOLO. (1. 90)

And a like contradiction runs through all the details
of the description. Woman will be man's ruin, but
he cannot fail to love her all the same

Women in Greek Poetry.

rots S'eyw dvrt Trvpos Scocrco KOLKOV o>

re/)7ra>VTai Kara Ovpov eov KCLKOV ap/>aya,7rcovTS, (1. 57)

Woman will gain man's heart by her beauty, which
is like that of the immortals

Se Oeais t? covra ewr/cetv
KaXbv eiSos eTTTJparov (1. 62),

by her skill and by her charm ; it is but as an after-
thought that the poet adds

kv Se Oepzv KVVCOV re voov /cat eTTt/cAoTrov ^os
*Ep//,6av ^Vwye SiaiKTOpov dpyi<J)6vTr]v. (1. 67)

And, lastly, it is through a woman that trouble
comes into the world ; but it is this same woman's
doing that Hope at least is left. It was Pandora
herself that shut down the lid of the casket before
Hope had flown ; it was she that preserved this
" dream of waking hours" for mankind. 1

But if we pass from the general condition of women,
as depicted in Homer or Hesiod, and come to our
own more immediate subject, it must be admitted
that neither in the prehistoric legends, nor in their
subsequent development, is there any trace what-
ever of a romantic sentiment existing between
men and women to be found. Considering the
important position occupied by women in these
poems, the absence of the love element is most

The insignificant part played by Briseis has always

1 It is both instructive and amusing to compare this primitive ideal
woman with the contemporary Greek woman, as Hesiod himself knew
and described her. A striking passage is Op. 693 seqq., and others
will be mentioned in the next few pages.

io Women in Greek Poetry.

struck those who have wished to regard the Iliad as
an Achilleis, of which she is the heroine ; nor can
Agamemnon's love for the daughter of Chryses be
said to go very deep. He is distressed at losing her,
no doubt, but the loss is far from irremediable.
He evidently agrees with Antigone, TTOO-IS av JU.OL
KCLTQavovTOS a XX 09 tjv.

Paris again had originally been a celebrated warrior,
and it was to this that he owed his position and his
name. But his love for Helen, instead of inspiring
him, seems to have had the very opposite effect. One
exception there is, no doubt, to all this the relation
between Hector and Andromache. But the relation
between Hector and Andromache (as illustrated by
Iliad vi. 392, seqq.) is unparalleled in all Greek litera-
ture, and it is not, perhaps, without significance that
they are Trojans and not Greeks. How great was
the impression that they made is visible in the way in
which the later literature cites Andromache rather
than any Greek woman as the ideal of a wife. At
the same time, how little really sympathetic to the
Greek of the period was this wonderful and unique
passage is sufficiently shown by this very fact, that
no attempt was ever made to imitate or develop it.
It may sound strange to say so, but in all probability
we to-day understand Andromache better than did
the Greeks for whom she was created ; better, too,
perhaps than did her creator himself.

In the Odyssey, well nigh the entire action is in the
hands of women. What with Athene and Leucothea,
Circe and Calypso, Nausicaa and Penelope, Odysseus
himself hardly comes to the fore at all ; and yet it

Women in Greek Poetry. II

cannot be said that anywhere from beginning to end
is there so much as a suggestion of a love-motive.

Nausicaa is always regarded as a charming type of
woman, but, after all, how one naturally thinks of
her is as a charming type of washerwoman. Penelope
again is merely the ideal housekeeper : she longs for
the return of her husband, no doubt, but what really
grieves her about the suitors is not their suggestions
as to his death, but the quantity of pork they eat.

As for any idea that her devotion requires similar
constancy on the part of Odysseus, it is not so much
as suggested. The Odyssey opens, it is true, with its
hero longing to see even the smoke of his home
rising in the air ; but it must be remembered that he
has been spending seven years alone with Calypso on
a desert island, which for a man of his tastes was
doubtless exceedingly tedious. There is no reason to
suppose that he did not enjoy the first year or so of
his stay quite as much as his visit to Circe or

An examination of other Greek myths and legends
that have any claim to antiquity will furnish a very
similar result. Whether in those myths of gods and
heroes which found their way into literature from its
beginning, or in those local legends which, though
first appearing in the Alexandrian writers, are evi-
dently in reality much older, wherever the antiquity
of the story can be proved, two characteristics are
very noticeable. The first is the importance of
women as the originators of the action ; the second
is the absence of the romantic element. The capa-
bilities of women are thoroughly recognised, though

12 Women in Greek Poetry.

the tendency of the time is to describe their influence
as for evil rather than as for good ; their importance
is everywhere admitted : but that a man should be
really or seriously in love with a woman is a thing

This is certainly at first sight a strange anomaly,
and yet it is, perhaps, capable of explanation. The
developer of the myth could not fail to be confronted
by a great contradiction the traditional importance
of women and their actual condition of repression.
He saw in the stories the women, like Medea or
Ariadne, profoundly influencing the career of their
lovers, while the men, like Jason or Theseus, stood
helplessly and more or less apathetically on one
side. The converse of such positions he naturally
did not find. His surroundings forbade his drawing
the true deduction, that the stories were intended to
illustrate the helplessness of men without a woman
to direct them ; he drew therefore the contrary
deduction, that the dignity and superiority of man

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Online LibraryE. F. M. (Edward Felix Mendelssohn) BeneckeAntimachus of Colophon and the position of women in Greek poetry. A fragment, printed for the use of scholars → online text (page 1 of 18)