Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Peitho (Persuasion).
Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003
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Discussion: Peitho is principally the personification of erotic Persuasion, but also came to represent rhetorical Persuasion, and she is implicated as a civic divinity in both of these aspects. Unlike most personifications, she appeared as a goddess (she is first mentioned by Hesiod: Hes. WD 73 and Hes. Th. 349) before the noun peitho (ἡ πειθώ) was used in Greek literature. Peitho’s name was never joined as an epithet to that of Aphrodite, but she was rather an attendant to Aphrodite, in cult and in art. Pausanias reports that after the synoikismos (political unification) of Athens Theseus set up a cult of Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite of all the People) and Peitho on the South slope of the Akropolis at Athens. An alternative explanation for the origin of this cult is equally political: that the demos traditionally assembled by this sanctuary. There is little physical evidence for such an early date for the cult: Erika Simon has suggested that it existed by the end of the
Peitho is Aphrodite’s daughter according to several ancient sources (Aesch. Supp. 1039; Pind. fr. 122.2-5), which in part explains her worship with Aphrodite, and her involvement in Aphrodite’s sphere of influence—sex, marriage, and childbirth. Her importance as a matrimonial divinity, the force that persuades lovers to marry, is later noted by Plutarch, who lists her as one of five divinities invoked by new couples, along with Zeus Teleios, Hera Teleia, Aphrodite, and Artemis (Plut. Mor. 264b), and one of the divinities invoked by fiancées, along with Aphrodite, Hermes, the Charites and the Muses (Plut. Mor. 138c-d). In the latter reference, Plutarch connected the erotic aspect of Peitho with her rhetorical and political powers, explaining that the Greeks set up statues of Peitho and the Graces near Aphrodite “…so that married people should succeed in attaining their mutual desires by persuasion and not fighting or quarreling.” As Alexander Mourelatos has suggested, the conception of peitho as an agreeable compulsion that was associated with erotic inducement probably underscored the development of rhetorical peitho (in The Route of Parmenides [New Haven 1970] 139). Peitho’s erotic and rhetorical powers are not mutually exclusive. Peitho’s appearances solely with matrimonial divinities are excluded from this discussion, as those images are not revealing with regard to Peitho’s political aspect.
Peitho, ἡ πειθώ, is a multifaceted word which derives from the verb πείθειν, to persuade, and is etymologically related to the Latin fido, to trust, have faith ; persuasion and faith are thus modes of the same concept to the Greeks. With this in mind it is possible to understand Peitho as she was regarded by the ancient Greeks: a civic as well as personal virtue, the consensual force that joins people together in civilized society, through trust and faith in each other, as well as the persuasiveness, inducement, and obedience of individuals. In Aeschylus’ Eumenides (produced in
The popularity of Peitho’s cult in Athens by the
Rhetorical Peitho is implicated in personal, erotic matters, as well as civic concerns. Gorgias mentions peitho (not personified) as an evil force in his late
Peitho is present in many visual representations of the Helen myth throughout the late Archaic and Classical periods. On the Heimarmene Painter’s name vase , Helen is shown dressed as a bride, in the lap of Aphrodite, while Peitho holds a small box (wedding presents?), perhaps as an inducement. In earlier representations Peitho also attends Helen. The erotic role of Peitho is emphasized in most Attic representations, including mythological scenes that concern courtship and marriage. She attends the union of Ariadne and Dionysos on a cup in Würzburg, attributed to the Kodros Painter ; the wedding of Harmonia on the Eretria Painter’s epinetron ; and the marriage of Thetis and Peleus, on an aryballos once in Cambridge . Peitho flees from the “scene of the crime,” the rape of the Leukippidae, on the Hamilton hydria, in London . The implication here may have been that she was guilty of convincing Leukippos’ daughters to elope with the Dioskouroi (the women certainly appear to be happy with the results!). Peitho’s dramatic escape also implies that she did not condone this union in accordance with Athenian standards; the scene thus serves as a counterexample of the ideal marriage.
Plot on a Map
Even in non-mythological scenes, Peitho was probably meant to be an erotic personification, for she is shown in her generic role, attending Aphrodite and/or brides on vases from the end of the
Peitho appears twice on late
Scholars have interpreted Peitho as a democratic prerogative, as she is rooted in the origins of Athenian democracy through her cult association with Aphrodite Pandemos. But her role as the symbol of the political behavior that enabled the Athenian democracy (persuading the demos of one’s own view), is not explicit in any extant visual representations of the goddess. Athenian politicians, whether democrats or oligarchs, effected their will through peitho, so that it seems unnecessary to ally her to a particular political party. Peitho could fit into any political system, and was revered for the various applications, in private and public life, of the virtues that she represented—persuasion, persuasiveness, inducement, faith, trust, and even obedience. Her persistent appearance in the circle of Aphrodite, with other personifications of civic virtues, simply reinforces her cult association with Aphrodite Pandemos, and her importance to the whole city.
Examples (all examples are certain unless otherwise noted):
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