Pseudo-Demosthenes' Against Neaera

We'll be reading Against Neaera, speech number 59 in the "Demosthenic corpus," though the speech isn't actually by Demosthenes.

Accessing the Reading

Via Bb PDFs. (In Demosthenes. Demosthenes. Speeches 50–59. Trans. Victor Bers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. Print.)

Journal Entries

Having read already several sources relating to Greek/Athenian women, do you agree / disagree with the following, probably the most famous sentence of the speech, at least insofar as it applies to its world: "We [Athenian men] have prostitites for the sake of pleasure, concubines for meeting our bodily needs day-to-day, but wives for having legitimate children" (p. 191)?

  • Does that sound like a viable way to "construct" a woman's role in any society, Athenian or otherwise?
  • Do sources you're familiar with bear than out?
  • Or do they challenge that assertion?

Background

The year is 349 BCE, just a few years earlier than the trial at which Aeschines' Against Timarchus was delivered. Athens is still a democracy, and able to project her power abroad, but no longer possesses an empire.

This work, the Against Neaera, is a courtroom speech. In classical Athens, nearly all legal prosecutions (criminal and otherwise) were handled by private individuals. You could, then, use the courts as a weapon against enemies.

Here, the speaker, co-prosecutor, and likely author is Apollodorus. (The speech was transmitted from antiquity under Demosthenes' name, but Demosthenes certainly did not write this speech.) Stephanus has done wrong to Apollodorus; the aim is, then, to do harm back, in this case, by attacking Stephanus' marriage to Neaera.

Apollodorus, who quickly takes over the role of main speaker from an in-law of his, accuses the defendant, Neaera, of falsely representing herself as citizen so as to live as if in legitimate matrimony with another citizen. Athenian law did not permit Athenians to marry any but other Athenians; from 451 BCE on, the precondition for citizenship was that both one's parents be legitimate citizens.

  • Note that prostitution, however disreputable (and it was disreputable), was itself no crime. Thus posing as a citizen is the crime that Neaera, alleged to be a prostitute, has been charged with.

If found guilty, Neaera will be sold into slavery and her "husband," fined one thousand drachmas, a large, but not necessarily ruinous sum.

So the speech would seem to contain important data relevant to the ideologies and actualities pertaining to classical Athenian women: citizens, non-citizens, respectable, otherwise. Sections 1-15 lay out the judicial-political background to the feud lying behind the trial; the prosecution of Neaera begins in earnest in section 16.

Cast of Characters includes:

Neaera: The defendant, claims to be Athenian, but is alleged by Apollodorus to be an ex-slave and prostitute.

Apollodorus: The co-prosecutor and speaker.

Stephanus: Lives with Neaera as if they were married (he's a citizen, but she's allegedly not).

Phano: Neaera's daughter; married off to Phrastor; later married off to Theogenes, the king-archon (an important religious official at Athens — his wife has important religious duties, too).

Epaenetus: Allegedly, victim of a fraud involving Phano and Stephanus.

Ex-lovers of Neaera allegedly include Simus, Timanoridas, Eucrates, Phrynion.

Study Questions

  1. JOURNAL QUESTION AGAIN: Having read already several sources relating to Greek/Athenian women, do you agree / disagree with the following, probably the most famous sentence of the speech: "We [Athenian men] have prostitites for the sake of pleasure, concubines for meeting our bodily needs day-to-day, but wives for having legitimate children" (p. 191)?
    • Does that sound like a viable way to "construct" a woman's role in any society, Athenian or otherwise?
    • Do sources you're familar with bear than out?
    • Or do they challenge that assertion?

  2. (related to above) What are the details, as described in this speech, of roles prescribed for women?

  3. What generalizations about women — their character, powers, etc. — are stated or implied in the speech? What positive and/or negative qualities are attributed to them? One place to look for this is sections 56-57, but what else can you find?

  4. What ideals/criteria does the speech presuppose for judging a woman's character and conduct? What societal values are here reflected?

  5. How do issues of insider/outsider — "us" and "them" — seem to figure into the moral calculus of the speech?

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