n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - Desperate Simaetha : gender and power in Theocritus,

Volume 45, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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Many scholars, influenced by Gow's commentary, have regarded Theocritus as an important source for the study of erotic magic in antiquity. It is the contention of this paper that this poem should not be treated as if it were a literary precursor of the erotic magical papyri, but rather as a comic parody of a magic ritual in which the love-sick practitioner perpetrates ritual mayhem for the entertainment of Theocritus' audience, in which real magic was the domain of men, not women (as the papyri overwhelmingly testify). Consequently, does not add to the corpus of literature demonising women as witches; more seriously, it parodies female independence and initiative in establishing a relationship with a man, freed from the patriarchal network of familial marriage alliances. Embodying this in a mime indicates that for Theocritus' audience, as for that of Aristophanes, women in control of their lives was still, in the Hellenistic world, an alternative too laughable, and perhaps too threatening, to contemplate.

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