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Menander's Courtesans and the Greek Comic Tradition

Second Edition


Madeleine M. Henry

No recent study has examined the courtesan's place in classical drama. This work investigates her images and roles in predramatic literature and in Greek comedy. The archaic poets condemn harlots while acknowledging their erotic powers; this dualistic view continues into Old Comedy. There, historical prostitutes are mentioned in order to discredit their lovers; harlots are often the metaphors for food or animals, and they enter comic literary debates as the personifications of cheap and degraded poetics. Middle and New Comedy expand these portraits and develop the new types of greedy enchantress and pseudohetaira. Menander's heroic courtesans are considered in relation to this heritage. Critical analyses of five comedies show that his courtesans are generically necessary to the praxis, virtuous by comparison to their male detractors, and courageous beyond expectation. Menander has given the genre a character who is outside the family, yet who reunites it; who could neither marry nor have legitimate children, but who acts as a wife and mother.
Contents: U.a. Critical readings of the plays of Aristophanes - Critical readings of Menander's Epitrepontes, Samia, Perikeiromene, Misoumenos, Sikyonios, and Dis Exapaton - Discussion of relevant comic fragments.