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ARISTAENETUS, EROTIC LETTERS. Introduced, translated and annotated by. Peter Bing and Regina Höschele. Society of Biblical Literature. Atlanta.
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Internal indicators point to a date around c. In Ep. Since Emperor Constantine officially established Constantinople as the new Rome in c. This letter, however, also contains a reference to the famous pantomime Karamallos Wooly Head, a designation likely pointing to the type of wig worn by the mime. He may or may not be 8. Lesky , 8 and Drago , 17 suggest that the compound should rather be taken passively, that is, describing the author as worthy of the best praise; see also Arnott s translation Bestpraiseworthy , No one would dream of taking Aristaenetus as anything other than fictitious if this letter did not come at the start of the collection but was located elsewhere.

Zanetto , , however, argues that because the collection includes several letters playfully purporting to be by Aristaenetus s epistolographic models see xxii below , we cannot rule out the possibility that the author would have wanted to take his place at the head of his work among these illustrious literary predecessors.

This Karamallos is unlikely to have been the same who bestrode the stage in Sidonius, since Malalas, writing about events some twenty years later, appears to envision a performer considerably younger and less established than others of his time or than the one highlighted by Sidonius. Perhaps, as scholars have suggested, these two or more Karamalloi belonged to different generations within the same theatrical family, an artistic dynasty, 14 or perhaps they refer simply to a character type common among pantomimes of this period.

Which Karamallos did Aristaenetus have in mind? There is no sure way to tell. These wooly mime stories, however, offer a range of possibilities between about and c. A date in this general range harmonizes with the language of Aristaenetus. He emulates the Attic style of such classical authors as Plato and Menander, favorite models both, while also regularly drawing on second and third century c.

Atticists such as Alciphron, Lucian, and Philostratus On contorniate medallions coins with a deep furrow on the edge, which were struck in the fourth and fifth century c. Burri , Cf. Burri , 86 87; Drago , Yet as with so many writers of late antiquity his aim often fell far short of the target, and his Greek abounds with solecisms, as Arnott puts it , Prose rhythm is another factor placing Aristaenetus in the fifth century or later: he is one of the earliest authors to use accentregulated clausulae, that is, a prose rhythm at the end of his sentences or before a sense pause that avoids sequences of words there with one or no unaccented syllables between the last and penultimate accents, and favoring sequences with two or four such syllables Arnott , He, in turn, considered it the greatest injustice for his beloved, the mother of such a child, to still be called hetaira.

So he liberated her at once from that shameful profession and made his beloved his wife, so as to plant in her the seed of legitimate children. Mazal , 3 4 has argued that this story presupposes the existence of the Lex de nuptiis enacted by Emperor Justin between and , which specifically permitted actresses scaenicae to wed men of any rank provided they give up their dishonorable profession. Fundamental on this topic are Meyer and Nissen The latter demonstrates how Aristaenetus regularly modified the phrasing of antecedent texts he was quoting, so that they would follow this rule of prose rhythm.


Mazal s argument for a date after thus gains a certain plausibility, the more so as it would place Aristaenetus in the context of the revival of classical literature in the reign of Justinian. We do best, therefore, to remain flexible: a date somewhat before or after c. Letters about love they are, indeed love letters they are, for the most part, not. Only a few texts in the collection grant us glimpses of an intimate correspondence between lovers, while a significant number bear only the slightest resemblance to actual letters: containing neither epistolary formulae nor references to the medium, to the composition of the message, its delivery, or its reception, they offer third-person narratives with no visible connection to either sender or recipient.

As we shall see, the epistolary framework is indeed meaningful to Aristaenetus. Yet one can often lose sight of it, as the author s emphasis appears to lie more in presenting his readers with erotic tales or anecdotes, which would function equally well without their epistolary trappings. The majority of Aristaenetus s letters are concerned with the description of extramarital affairs; they are full of lovers using every trope of erotic literature to praise their beloveds in over-the-top encomia, paramours hatching complicated schemes to achieve their desires, wily gobetweens who help smooth their way, unfaithful spouses barely avoiding It is impossible to say where the author lived.

Mazal s contention that Aristaenetus must have been part of that humanistisch gebildeten Schicht in Konstantinopel , 5 remains purely speculative. See Zanetto , Altogether, Aristaenetus s fifty letters contain only four brief references to the letter as medium 2. We encounter, among other things, a man getting into bed with two women 1. The entire collection is pervaded by a spirit of frivolity and imbued with light-hearted humor; we are invited to laugh about the erotic adventures and misdemeanors of Aristaenetus s characters.

Despite its erotic topics, however, the corpus remains relatively tame in its description of amorous encounters, avoiding open obscenity and passing over the most delicate moments: it is titillatingly suggestive rather than explicit. Placed toward the beginning of the collection, this erotic aposiopesis has a clear programmatic function: so far, and not further.

By all means touch my breasts, she tells her lover, enjoy the sweetest kisses, and embrace me while I m still dressed, but don t get on my nerves demanding sex, and don t expect it, since you ll only cause yourself distress and lose what you can have. It would be wrong to take this reticence as a sign of prudery: Aristaenetus evidently likes to tease his readers and to appeal to their erotic imagination by withholding a graphic account of the sexual act itself.

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The reader thus is in a situation similar to Telesippe s lover Architeles. But once it has happened, it s Arnott , As Arnott , has observed, Aristaenetus prefers to draw a veil over the subsequent love-making. Or rather, a series of different veils: for even in this area of taboos he aims at variety. On the significance of the names, see notes on Ep. There is, however, one erotic theme whose absence strikes us as conspicuous: nowhere does Aristaenetus make mention of pederastic relationships, 22 which is particularly surprising in light of his obvious debt to Plato. As Arnott , poignantly puts it: Why did Aristaenetus embargo homosexuality while cheerfully tolerating marital infidelity and perhaps even incest?

He views Aristaenetus s cultural background as a possible reason for his exclusion of this topic: writing in an age when Christianity had become the official state religion, Aristaenetus might, he argues, have hesitated to portray a form of sexuality so utterly condemned by many of his contemporaries. Nothing in the collection indicates that Aristaenetus himself was Christian quite on the contrary: given his nostalgic evocation of a pagan world, 23 it seems most likely that he was not. But whatever his personal beliefs, it is a fair assumption that Aristaenetus s omission of pederasty in some way reflects the moral climate of his time, as same-sex relationships of any kind came increasingly under attack during late antiquity, in Christian and non-christian circles alike.

The epistolary genre is notoriously difficult to define, and we will not offer a comprehensive discussion of its numerous subtypes. There are some vestiges of homoeroticism in the collection cf. Aristaenetus s description of how those who love the sight of beauty would jostle for a chance to see [Acontius] going to his teacher s in Ep. Arnott , calls his oeuvre a valedictory hymn to paganism. On the change in moral attitudes and conceptions of masculinity in late antiquity, see Kuefler , esp on impudicitia and pederasty. Boswell argues that early Christianity was relatively tolerant toward homosexuality.


Trapp , 1 gives the following definition: A letter is a written message from one person or set of people to another, requiring to be set down in a tangible medium, which itself is to be physically conveyed from sender s to recipient s. Not only are letters frequently embedded in narrative texts, especially in historiographic prose and the novel, but they also appear as important plot devices on stage.

The term describes an intellectual movemally, it is a piece of writing that is overtly addressed from sender s to recipient s , by the use at beginning and end of one of a limited set of conventional formulae of salutation or some allusive variation on them which specify both parties to the transaction. One might also add, by way of further explanation, that the need for a letter as a medium of communication normally arises because the two parties are physically distant separated from each other, and so unable to communicate by unmediated voice or gesture; and that a letter is normally expected to be of relatively limited length.

For further reflections on what constitutes a letter, see Gibson and Morrison ; on ancient epistolography, see also Stowers ; Stirewalt ; Morello and Morrison ; Ceccarelli This is the classification proposed by Sykutris , whose article is still an important starting point for any study of ancient epistolography. With regard to Sykutris s fourth and fifth categories, for instance, Rosenmeyer , 12 rightly points out that the difference between verse and prose is less crucial in an epistolary context than the difference between fictive or imaginative letters and letters whose writers and receivers are not invented.

On Greek epistolary fiction, see the excellent study in Rosenmeyer ; see also Jenkins on intercepted letters in Greco-Roman literature; Olson on embedded letters in Josephus; Hodkinson, Rosenmeyer, and Bracke on epistolary narratives in Greek literature. On the Greek epistolary novel, see Holzberg , esp. On pseudepigraphic letter collections, see also Rosenmeyer and Luchner Alciphron s four books revive the world of Menandrian drama through letters penned by fishermen, farmers, parasites, and courtesans, which grant the reader glimpses into the daily lives and concerns of nonelite characters from a long bygone era.

Rosenmeyer , , with further references. As Rosenmeyer , remarks, while Menander was praised for showing scenes of real life to his audience, Alciphron creates for his readership a reality based on the literary representations of Menander, so at a second degree of distance. One way in which Alciphron marks his debt to comedy and highlights the artificiality of his characters is his ubiquitous use of sprechende Namen.

As we have seen, Aristaenetus too likes to give his senders and recipients speaking names, but they look rather innocuous in comparison to such monstrosities as Alciphron s Cothylobrochthisus Cup Guzzler, 3. The author draws our attention to this incongruity when he has a character justify his erudition by the fact that he comes from Athens, where there is not a single man who hasn t had a taste of these things 3.

A similar tension is palpable throughout Aelian s collection of twenty Rustic Letters, 37 which invites us to picture various rural characters, including Menander s misanthrope Knemon Ep , with pen in hand. Aelian likewise reflects on the paradox of erudite country folk by sealing his work with a programmatic statement that, though voiced by a farmer to his friend, is clearly targeted at the external reader Ep.

While Alciphron and Aelian slip into the roles of multiple characters, men and women alike, Philostratus writes in his own voice, or rather in the voice of a fictionalized alter ego. Although we may picture Philostratus as the composer of all these texts, the collection as a whole does not present us with a coherent narratorial voice, let alone any underlying Theon of Alexandria Patillon and Nikolaos 67,2 5 Felten.

On the role of letters in ancient education, see Cribiore , On sprechende Namen in Alciphron, see Schmitz , On Aelian s letters, see Rosenmeyer , ; Hodkinson and On Philostratus s letters, see Rosenmeyer , ; Goldhill His billets d amour for the most part offer variations on amatory topoi and are concerned with winning over a beloved.

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For the sake of erotic persuasion Philostratus resorts to any kind of argument and does not shy away from contradicting assertions phrased in other letters though seemingly sincere confessions of love, the texts are sophistic showpieces written for the entertainment of an erudite audience. Aristaenetus and His Epistolary Models Most of the letters in these three corpora remain unanswered and leave it up to the reader to imagine how the various situations might have evolved.

There are a few letter pairs and epistolary sequences in Alciphron and Aelian, 39 but in general the letters tend to be soliloquies rather than dialogues Rosenmeyer , The same is true of Aristaenetus s collection, in which not a single text is accompanied by a direct reply. His work does, however, feature epistolary dialogues of another metaliterary and intertextual kind, for Aristaenetus significantly pays homage to those earlier epistolographers by incorporating them as correspondents into his own oeuvre 40 : Ep.

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The absorption of Aristaenetus s literary predecessors into his epistolary universe is, in fact, prefigured by Alciphron s invention of an epistolary exchange between Menander and Glykera, which seals the fourth and last of his books Ep. In order to divert his suspicions, she hands her robe, which he had seen at the party, over to a friend, who subsequently saves her from the man s fury by pretending to have borrowed the garment in question.

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  5. Their trick has the desired effect: letting go of his anger, the husband even asks for his wife s forgiveness. As Arnott , 5 has demonstrated, Aristaenetus s letter recalls Menander s Samia in its depiction of the raging husband. Though the plot of this comedy has little to do with the event reported by Alciphron its main intrigue is centered on getting a youth married to the neighbor girl he had seduced Aristaenetus repeatedly draws on the vocabulary used by Menander with reference to angry old men. Beyond these and further verbal parallels detected by Arnott, one might, we suggest, also note a structural analogy between the two texts.

    In Menander s play, Demeas s concubine Chrysis passes off as hers the baby to whom Plangon, impregnated by Moschion during a festival, 44 has given birth in their fathers absence; this pretense leads to great trouble, as Demeas ends up suspecting innocent Chrysis of having slept with his son.

    In Aristaenetus, on the other hand, the guilty wife clears herself of any suspicion by eliciting the help of a neighborhood friend, who passes off as hers the incriminating corpus delicti. Could this deception acted out by the two women not recall the female scheme that stands at the beginning of the Samia?

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    A robe is, of course, no baby, and the women s trick in and of itself would hardly point to Menander s comedy. But a reader whose poetic Be that as it may, it is certainly no coincidence that the tale attributed to Alciphron is thus infused with Menandrian language and motifs. Significantly, the same is true of the letter addressed to Alciphron by Lucian Ep. As a composer of dialogues, this Second Sophistic author ca c. As noted above, these are the only two letters in the collection with an identical pair of correspondents.

    Even if Lucian does not explicitly reply to Alciphron s message, his tale is, from its first sentence, marked as a companion piece to that of his addressee through its reference to a common acquaintance, Charisios you know what the boy is like. For this seems to pick up Alciphron s aside concerning another common acquaintance, Charidemos, toward the beginning of 1. Homosexuality , both male and female, are absent.

    Aristaenetus loves to quote proverbs and proverbial expressions. As was customary in the New Comedy and in Hellenistic epistolography, the names of the writers and the addressees offer a clue about the contents of a letter. Some examples: a lover of beauty can be called Philokalos , a musician Eumousos , a painter Philopinax. His love letters are, in short, a highly intellectual game. From another source comes a fragment in which a writer advises his friend to take flight as quickly as possible.

    Two years later, Cyre Foucault translated the letters into French. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Aristaenetus was studied diligently, but he fell from favor when the neo-humanist scholars and classicists qualified his letters as pastiches without literary value. Beluosus marked it as to-read Jun 25, Renan Virginio marked it as to-read Feb 02, Anne marked it as to-read Feb 12, Fillyjonk marked it as to-read May 21, Kirsten marked it as to-read Sep 10, Anderson marked it as to-read Sep 03, Zezi marked it as to-read Feb 02, Scott marked it as to-read Jul 28, Kathleen marked it as to-read Dec 25, There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

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