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This paper was delivered at the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference, April 1997, as part of a panel on Greek and Roman bodies.

Constituting an Adorned Female Body
--from Pandora to Livy's Lex Oppia

Rebecca Resinski

    Viewed in a postmodern light, the body is no longer a material given. Indeed, in that theoretical light, we no longer see one body, but a multiplicity of bodies and bodily positions. Michel Feher, in his Introduction to the first volume of Fragments for a History of the Human Body, explicitly resists characterizing the project as a history of the representations of the body: such a description would imply that while representations of the body may be historically variable, there remains one body--across space and time--underneath its historically determined manifestations.*1* Instead, Feher and the other scholars contributing to the Fragments volumes study bodies and corporeal possibilities, configured at particular places and times by different social forces and bodily techniques, bodies which come to be at intersections of ideology and praxis.

    I use the Fragments project to set the stage because its general sensibility exemplifies the spirit and perspective informing much current study of bodies. But my particular interest is with a different theorist and cultural critic, Judith Butler. In Bodies That Matter, Butler sets out her idea of how bodies come to take on the status of material givens.*2* Bodies are materialized through a process of repeated identification with norms and consistent abjection of deviations from those norms. Bodies are constituted through the reiteration of approved practices as well as through the reinforcement which comes of steady proscription. Through the ongoing, relentless process of materialization a body acquires its substance--it comes to seem fixed and natural. While certain bodies are made possible, livable, and material through this constituting process, other bodies are practically disavowed, excluded from the realm of lived possibility.

    Sometimes it seems that the recent study of bodies, with an emphasis on practice and experience, renders ancient bodies ever more elusive. For we are unable to see ancient bodies in practice: the postures, dispositions, and attitudes taken by and toward bodies. We cannot see the net effect of the processes by which bodies come to be, let alone analyze the processes in action. Yet Butler's understanding of bodies as socially constituted through repetition can provide an enabling analogy for studying bodies in ancient sources. For what we do have from antiquity, what we can see, are processes of textual constitution, traceable in the literary or artistic repetitions of kinds of ancient bodies. I propose to look at a set of repetitions which cross literary genres as well as Greek and Roman literary cultures; taken together, they illustrate the literary constitution of an adorned female body in classical antiquity.

    Pandora--the first human woman and created to cause trouble for mortal men forever--is the most artificial creature in the Hesiodic cosmos. Instead of naturally emerging from the genealogies Hesiod traces, Pandora is fashioned like a clay pot and then decorated before she is endowed with language and life. Hesiod's accounts of Pandora's creation in the Theogony (570-589) and Works and Days (60-105) are not similar in all details, but they do both emphasize the adornment of this first woman. In both works, Pandora is molded by Hephaestus and then belted by Athena. In the Theogony, Athena alone continues the extensive adorning with silver clothing, a clever veil, garlands of flowers, and a gold diadem crafted by Hephaestus. In this version of Pandora's creation, 13 out of 20 lines are devoted to her decoration. In Works and Days, the Graces, Persuasion, and the Hours help Athena to deck Pandora with golden necklaces and fresh flowers. In this narrative, Pandora's decoration is placed before her endowment with speech and personality; her adornment precedes the animation of her body and, indeed, is so bound up in the creation of her body that it is part of it. Vernant's phrasing is apt when he says that Pandora's cosmetic decorations are "integrated into her anatomy" *3* --they are not supplemental to her body, for the first female's body is always already adorned.

    If the primary focus of Pandora's fashioning is on her adornment, Hesiod's next concern is with her deceitfulness, which complements her cosmetic elaboration. Pandora's adorned body is activated with Hermes' gifts of "lies and wheedling words and a thievish nature" (WD 78) which he places inside her. A beautiful exterior with a nasty interior, Pandora is sent to Epimetheus as a tricky evil intended by Zeus to balance out the good humans received from fire. And how does Hesiod describe the evil caused by the deceitful, adorned female body and the race of women descended from it? First, of course, Pandora opens the pithos, thereby unleashing ills on the mortal world. But Pandora and women present continuing cares and dangers to mortal men, as well: for the tricky bodies and natures which women inherit from Pandora make their child-bearing a suspect activity. Perhaps women will use their crafty minds and cosmeticized surfaces to beguile their husbands out of rightful paternity. Such seems to be the worry informing Hesiod's reproductive ideal, when among just people "wives give birth to children like their fathers." (WD 235) *4* Ideally, the external charms and internal disposition of a woman's body are deactivated and she becomes transparently the medium in and through which her husband produces offspring resembling himself.

    Hesiod advises men to marry young wives (WD 699), and Ischomachus, the exemplary gentleman of Xenophon's Oeconomicus, follows just that advice and marries a young girl in order to educate her himself. Thanks to his educational program, as recounted by Ischomachus to Socrates, and recounted by Xenophon to us, the young bride is successfully integrated into the domestic cosmos, taught to serve as her husband's deputy indoors, and so watches over all the internal runnings of the household--its organization and storage possibilities as well as the management of slaves. Ischomachus teaches his wife her duties by using civic (male) analogies for her domestic overseeing: she must be like a guardian of the law (9.14), and the oikos may be conceived of as an army (8.4), a fighting ship (8.8), or a polis in its own right (8.22, 9.14). The crowning endorsement of Ischomachus' teaching is Socrates' formulation of its result: "By Hera, Ischomachus," he exclaims, "you show that your wife's mind is indeed manly!" (10.1) *5* Ischomachus seems to have circumvented a Hesiodic suspicion of the female body and its actions by making his wife and her activities as male as possible.

    After the education of the wife seems complete and Socrates has given his stamp of approval to Ischomachus' educational efforts, cosmetics arise as a possible disruption of domestic order. One day Ischomachus notices that his wife has powdered herself, heightened her cheek color, and put on high shoes (10.2). To explain his disapproval, Ischomachus likens his wife's decoration to claims of imaginary property or the concealment of actual property. Ischomachus continues his rebuke by telling his wife that while her makeup may trick outsiders, such a deception should not be perpetrated against him, since he would not misrepresent his resources to her. Just as Ischomachus' house is without adornment (ou kekosmêtai, 9.2), it seems his wife should be without kosmoi. However, it turns out that Ischomachus is not the enemy of all female adornment. He admits that a ready and well- dressed wife outshines any submissive servant girl: "Besides, when a wife's looks rival a servant's, since the wife is fresher and more seemingly dressed, she is arousing, especially when she willingly pleases rather than submits because she is forced." (10.12) Ideally, the wife's adorned body is clearly and willingly subordinated to the husband's desires and becomes the reflection of those desires. The gentlemanly Ischomachus, in educating his wife, makes her mental interior and adorned exterior mirror himself and his own inclinations. The adorned female body, thus colonized and reformed, is disarmed of its deceptive and disordering potential.

    In Lysias 1, On the Murder of Eratosthenes, we find a domestic situation which stands in high contrast to the ideal of the Oeconomicus: Euphiletus, the speaker of Lysias 1, duped by his wife and her lover, killed the offending Eratosthenes and now must defend himself in court. Though this final scenario differs significantly enough from Ischomachus' marital harmony, Euphiletus speaks of his wife as having initially been as well-integrated into her new household as the wife of Ischomachus was into hers. After a trial period in which Euphiletus kept a judicious watch over his wife, the wife bore him a baby and Euphiletus promptly handed over his domestic affairs to her (6). And she had shown herself to be "a keen and frugal manager of the household," Euphiletus tells his audience (7). However, this oikonomic ideal does not last: when Euphiletus' wife is corrupted by Eratosthenes, Euphiletus' entire oikos gets turned inside out (9-13). Euphiletus, living in the female quarters of the house, is locked inside those rooms at night so the wife can grant Eratosthenes easy and unhassled access in the parts of the house typically inhabited by men. The dutiful wife has been transformed into a cunning manipulator of domestic space, and we should not be surprised to see cosmetics used in drawing a convincing portrait of this transformation. Euphiletus tells his Athenian peers that he should have known that his wife was having an affair from her makeup: he says that, the morning after his domestic incarceration, "it seemed to me, men, that she had powdered her face, although her brother had not yet been dead thirty days. But nevertheless saying nothing of this matter I left the house, exiting in silence." (14) Only in retrospect was Euphiletus able to read the import of the signs conveyed by the adorned female body. Like Ischomachus--but with more dire consequences--he is reminded that even female bodies which seem blissfully unadorned and trustworthy can become deceptive and dangerous at any moment, for the female body cannot be stripped of its cosmetic trickiness in a lasting way.

    In Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae the Athenian women leave their private oikoi to enter into, and take over, the Athenian political order. To do this, the women manipulate their adornment: discontinuing their usual cosmetic practices, they adopt the tokens of male civic identity. Adorned as men, the assembly of women gain political power, appoint their leader, Praxagora, strategos, and restructure the Athenian state. Praxagora's reforms include knocking down shared walls between individual homes and making the city one big household (210-211, 673- 674). In this restructuring, "inside" and "outside" lose their traditional significance, with all the private insides becoming outside, and the outside becoming one inclusive inside.

    Praxagora, the assembly of Athenian women, and their political new deal seem to issue a firm challenge to Athenian norms. When the women assume male, citizen identities by putting on their husbands' clothes and adopting the patterns of public speech they expose as contingent the process of materialization which naturalized the adorned female body, as well as other body types with their attendant gender roles. Parallel to Praxagora's reconfiguration of the Athenian polis is the possibility of the refiguration of body types available for repetition.

    But Aristophanes does not allow such a possibility to become a plausibility. Praxagora's plan, with all its radical implications, is ultimately exposed as ludicrous and impracticable. Aristophanes does not show us a refiguration of bodies, just a ridiculous reversal. As the Athenian women become men, their husbands take on the role of women, a reversal which we can see most clearly in the case of Blepyrus, Praxagora's spouse. Constipated and left without clothes (since Praxagora is wearing them), Blepyrus puts on Praxagora's dress and comes outside to "give birth" to his feces: he even prays to Eileithuia, the goddess invoked by women in labor, to oversee the delivery (316-369). And when Praxagora has assumed her position as the city's leader, Blepyrus becomes the ruler's wife, proud to be wondered at as he passes people by on the way to his female husband (725-727).

    Matching Bleyprus in ridiculousness are the old women who are now granted the right of sexual initiative. In the climax of the comedy, Aristophanes shows the audience three old women and a young woman pitching a battle for sexual access to a young man. Although the old women are legally entitled to claim sex with the young man, they are unsympathetically hideous and their sexual haggling is grotesque. Their excessive cosmetics repeatedly come under attack (904-905, 928-929, 1072-1073). The rouges and powders of these old women who actively pursue their satisfaction are meretricious. They dishonestly attempt to disguise the women's decrepitude and in so obviously attempting to disguise it they reveal it. When Aristophanes ridicules the old women plastered with makeup, he implicates in the ridicule Praxagora's plan. The Ecclesiazusae presents a spectre of what women, working their cosmetic capabilities on the outside, could do to disrupt the social, political cosmos. By orchestrating the ludicrous consequences of women's actions outside the house, Aristophanes shows the impossibility of such a spectre taking flesh and form beyond the comic stage.

    For a final case, let me now turn to Rome, and Livy's account of the debate over the lex Oppia, for--despite distances of space and time-- Livy repeats the configuration of and preconceptions about the adorned female body found in the Greek texts. The lex Oppia was passed in 215 BCE, in the middle of the Second Punic War; according to its provisions, no woman could have more than a half ounce of gold (jewellery and cash, combined), wear a varicolored garment, or be drawn in a carriage inside the city except during a religious festival. My concern is less with the actual law than with Livy's rendition of the debate over its repeal, a debate which took place 20 years after the law was passed and was recreated by Livy 2 centuries later in the opening chapters of the 34th book of his history (34.1-34.8.3).

    First Livy sets the scene by painting a picture of women flooding the streets and forum of Rome to lobby for repeal of the law. In their zeal, Livy tells us, "they were even daring to approach and question the consuls and praetors and other magistrates." (34.1.7) Cato, as consul, is appalled by the women's actions and speaks in support of the law, using the women's presence outside the domestic sphere as a reason for maintaining the restrictions on female adornment (34.2.2, 34.2.8, 34.3.7). He offers other reasons, too: women must not be allowed to gather and act as a class (34.2.4, 34.2.7); a free rein given to female passions would contribute to luxury and social decline (34.2.13, 34.3.1, 34.4.1, 34.4.20). Further, adornment leads to competition among women (34.4.15), and if that competition is given license, women will use any and all means to satisfy their cravings for adornment (34.4.18). Livy's Cato presents the spectre of women seceding from the state and disregarding marital ties in order to satisfy their repressed desires. Cato's women are the Roman equivalents of deceptive, ornamented Pandoras.

    The tribune Lucius Valerius tries to counter Cato. He dismisses the dangers posed by women's passions and their presence in the public sphere (34.5.5, 34.5.13, 34.6.9, 34.7.14). He also validates female adornment by presenting it as the equivalent of male political, military, and religious honors (34.7.2). But it is the last rationale for repeal which Livy puts into Valerius' mouth that seems most interesting to me: Roman women prefer to have themselves and their ornament under private male control (34.7.13). Valerius upstages Cato by changing the terms of the debate. It is not a question of Roman men controlling women or not; it is a question of whether male control should be public or private. Cato and Valerius offer different versions of and justifications for female dependence, but in both cases the adorned female body is subordinate to the male order. However, male control-- according to Cato--is slippery and must be politically buttressed, while Valerius presents it as an unshakeable given. Although he may seem more moderate than Cato, Valerius puts the adorned female body most firmly in male hands by rendering up even women's desires about their adornment to private male approval and prohibition. Our Greek authors could only dream of such complete, untutored control over the adorned female body and its disordering possibilities.

    And so, in each of the texts I have sketched we find adorned female bodies enlisted to play crucial roles. The similarities among those bodies and what they are taken to mean may tempt us to move from the literary sphere to ancient society itself, to transpose the adorned female body, literarily constituted, into a lived ancient body type. I self-consciously stop short of that move and instead emphasize how the adorned female body constituted in literature is articulated and reinforced through the play of similarities and differences. Each adorned body, while true to type, is also specifically configured to meet the artistic or generic demands of the author and his text. Pandora, inserted into the Hesiodic cosmos, becomes prey to a range of sexual and textual anxieties as Hesiod tries to portray a stable universe against ever increasing odds. The wife of Ischomachus is given her place within an ideological fantasy and parodic Socratic dialogue. The cosmetics of Euphiletus' wife are used by Lysias as a capping detail in a persuasive portrait of a wife won over to the dark side. Aristophanes harnesses the power of assumptions about the adorned female body to foreclose any radical rethinking of those assumptions. Livy assigns the adorned female body a stable, subordinate position within Roman homes and Roman history. The combined persistence and malleability of the adorned female body constituted in literature reinforces its compelling strength and seeming naturalness. The adorned female body becomes a given and our authors each address the consequent thought experiment: how to assert control over this ever-cosmeticized body within a domestic or political cosmos?

    At the risk of preaching to the always already converted, let me conclude by returning to the question of ancient bodies in general. Just as there is no single body--in the 20th century or in antiquity--which is socially composed and articulated, there is no one definitively female body to uncover in our ancient evidence. I may trace one possibility, yet I do not address, for instance, the lesbian body or the postmenopausal one. Similarly, in explicit response to the question posed by the description of this panel in the call for papers, I maintain that there is not one body distinctively and exhaustively Greek and a different body necessarily and solely Roman. While we cannot retrieve any material ancient bodies, we can look at the variety of bodily positions set out in ancient art and literature, we can study the bodies reinforced by repetitions in these sources as well as bodies excluded from these verbal or graphic texts. And so we can build an interpretive store of the kinds of bodies and nonbodies which the Greeks, the Romans, or the Greeks and Romans together present as either necessarily significant or hauntingly impossible.


  1. M. Feher, "Introduction," Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Volume One (New York, 1989), 11.
  2. J. Butler, Bodies that Matter (New York, 1993), esp. 1-23.
  3. J.-P.Vernant, "Dim Body, Dazzling Body," Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Volume One (New York, 1989), 30.
  4. I follow West in translating goneusin as "fathers," not "parents." M.L. West, Commentary for Hesiod: Works and Days (Oxford, 1978), 215-216.
  5. For more discussion of the aims and consequences of Ischomachus' teaching, see S. Murnaghan, "How a Woman Can Be More Like a Man: The Dialogue between Ischomachus and his Wife in Xenophon's Oeconomicus," Helios 15 (1988): 9-22.