Funny love: images of Aphrodite in old comedy
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This study investigates the relationship between Aphrodite's literary image and her cultic role in Athenian civic religion. The plays and fragments, especially those in the Aristophanic corpus, demonstrate that in Old Comedy the goddess not only holds the role of sexualized patroness of femininity, but also reflects the political associations of her Athenian cults. Chapter I investigates the cultic role of Aphrodite in Athens and her place within the Athenian religious and social system. At Athens, Aphrodite reveals aspects beyond her popular panhellenic position as a deity of love and overseer of marriage, but never displays the relationships to sacred prostitution claimed in some late-antique sources. Aphrodite's sanctuaries were associated with such putative pioneers of democracy as Theseus and Solon. The uniquely Athenian cult of Aphrodite Pandemos, worshipped in association with Peitho, emphasized her importance in the Athenian political system as a representative of (seductive) persuasion. Analysis shows that the "Platonic" dichotomy between Aphrodite Pandemos and Urania reflects later (mis)readings of Plato's Symposium. The fragments of Old Comedy (Chapter II) illustrate how Aphrodite aided the introduction of female protagonists onto the comic stage, both as hetaerae, who worshipped Aphrodite as their patroness, and Athenian wives, who were comically depicted as licentious and bibulous. Understanding Aphrodite's role as the mediator between comic raunchiness and female decorum helps explain the origins of the erroneous traditions regarding the dedication of prostitutes to the goddess. Chapters III and IV examine Aphrodite in the Aristophanic corpus, with Chapter IV entirely devoted to the Lysistrata. Aristophanes explores Aphrodite's comic persona to highlight the social and political issues of Athens, often associating the degeneration of the city with men's unnatural connection to Aphrodite. In the Lysistrata, Aphrodite plays her most extensive role in extant comedy and exhibits her political associations. The solidarity of the female protagonists depends on Aphrodite's role as a symbol of unification and social reform. The goddess in association with Athena successfully presides over Lysistrata's peace plot as the embodiment of the late fifth-century political slogan of "eros for the city" played out in the seduction of Kinesias by Myrrhine.
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