Vincent J. Rosivach, When a Young Man Falls in Love: The Sexual Exploitation of Women in New Comedy. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. Pp. viii + 211, incl. notes, bibliography, and two appendices. ISBN 0-415-18448-7. UKú45.00.
Department of Classical Studies, Duke University
The relationship between this volume's title and subtitle -- paradoxical, and almost jarring -- is a good indication of the author's approach and intention. When a Young Man Falls in Love: this is how New, and especially Roman, Comedy presents so many of its stories, with the juvenile lead as the agent whose passions set the plot in motion, and with a genial sympathy towards that young man's point of view. The Sexual Exploitation of Women: this is Rosivach's re-statement of these stories, centering on the ingenue as the object affected by masculine passions and actions, and re- naming those passions and actions in accordance with their effects upon her. Rosivach's publication record attests to wide interests, with an emphasis on social and religious issues in classical Athens.[] It is therefore not surprising that his emphasis in this volume is on the representation of Athenian society recorded in New Comedy, both Greek and Roman; his particular interest, in this case, is in the position and experience of young women in such a society.
Of the six chapters in Rosivach's volume, the first is an introduction (pp. 1-12) that describes the focus and the parameters of the study, defines terms, and describes his critical approach. That approach amounts to a sociological investigation of a fictional world which, though by no means identical with that of the society which produced it, can tell us much about that society, and the beliefs and practices which characterized it. Chapters two through five examine the situations and experiences of the ingenue in New Comedy under the titles 'Rape' (pp. 13-50), 'Mothers and daughters' (pp. 51-75), 'Slavers and slaves' (pp. 76-106), and 'Independent women' (pp. 107-39). In these sections, the heart of the book, comedy love stories are comprehensively surveyed in sections depending on whether the young woman involved is the victim of rape, a young woman under the authority of a mother or mother-figure, a slave up for sale, or living on her own and in charge of her own household. Each chapter begins and ends with commentary applicable to all the stories surveyed under its heading; each such story is then discussed in some detail, with particular attention to the social issues involved. Subsections within the chapter group the relevant stories by common features -- in particular, by outcome, as to whether or not the love relationship ends in marriage. The recurrent emphasis in these chapters is on the vulnerability of the comedy ingenue in her youth, her poverty, and above all her femininity -- a vulnerability exploited by those possessed of the opposite attributes, singly or in combination, and confirmed and approved by the expressed opinion of all kinds of characters in the plays. A brief final chapter (pp. 140-43) offers a general review of findings in terms of the sociology- of-fiction aims put forward in the introduction. Two brief appendices (pp. 144-46; 146-152) and fifty pages of footnotes (pp. 153-202) make up the remainder of the volume, together with a bibliography of works cited (pp. 203-08), and a brief index.
Rosivach's division of his material rests in part on the status of the female characters he studies (slavery, independence, subjection to maternal authority) and in part on what has happened to them (whether they have been victims of rape). For myself, I would prefer to have seen a division more strictly based on status -- whether the young woman in question is slave, free but non-citizen, or of citizen class. To some extent, the results would be the same, as Rosivach treats those of slave status in a separate chapter, and victims of rape always are, or are found to be, of the citizen class. But Rosivach's system treats female characters who are free, but not of the citizen class, in separate chapters -- divided by the chapter on slaves -- depending on whether or not they are subject to maternal authority. This is rather like categorizing young men as those free but subject to paternal authority, those who are slaves, and those who are free and independent of paternal authority -- in that order. It makes sense, in a way, to the extent that dependency on a male head of household characterizes both sons and slaves. From another point of view, though, the free have much more in common with each other than they have with slaves. Similarly, female characters shown to be free but not of the citizen class have more in common with one another than with slaves, whether or not they are dependent on a female head of household.
Rosivach is aware of the non-citizen status of the young woman featuring in most comedy love stories, and he acknowledges and discusses this at points (e.g., pp. 7, 51f. and 69). This awareness is, however, neither precise nor consistent, particularly not as it affects the marriageability of the comedy ingenue.[] Rosivach waxes reproachful at points about the absence of honorable intentions on the part of young lovers, as if this derived from the young man's innate irresponsibility,[] or from the young woman's relative lack of wealth and social connections,[] rather than from the legal bar to legitimate marriage between a citizen of either sex and a non-citizen of the other. Readers should take note that comedy lovers intend to marry, and in fact do so, in every case where that appears to be legally possible. Rosivach's relatively casual attention to civil status in these characters tends to obscure this point.
Rosivach offers many a pertinent observation on the strategies adopted by female characters in order to maintain themselves and improve their lot in the context of the male-dominated world of New Comedy, and these could be more adequately summarized on the basis of these characters' civil status. Those with any claim to citizen-class origins, even if they have fallen into slavery or into free but non-citizen status, cling to the tokens or recollections which would support this claim, and share them with others, in hopes that either the story or the tokens will be recognized, enabling them to reclaim their birthright. Discovery of a young woman's true status as a member of the citizen class is generally described as if it came out of the blue,[] and in some plays -- Casina, for example -- this description is justified. In many others -- Eunuchus and Rudens, for example -- the discovery has been prepared for by the efforts of the young woman herself and those sympathetic to her case.
Young women with no such claim to citizen-class status attempt, if slaves, to gain their freedom, typically by persuading a lover to purchase them and set them free. If freed, they join the ranks of free non-citizens, like those of foreign origin, and concentrate on earning their living, building if possible financial security in the form of accumulated property, and social security in the form of patronage and friendly alliances with well-placed citizen-class men. The raising of daughters is itself a strategy for social and economic survival on the part of the free but non-citizen female. This practice creates households out of individuals, with the strengths and strains which that involves, where those of an age to bring in income support those too young or too old to do so. This is not simply a matter of exploitation, although that is the aspect which Rosivach stresses in his third chapter (see esp. pp. 51 and 74), but of organizing resources to maintain individuals in various stages of their life cycle. The matriarchal and matrilineal household of the free but noncitizen female mirrors the patriarchal and patrilineal household of the free citizen male, with the elder generation in each restraining and advising the younger against economically irresponsible courses of action into which they may be tempted by erotic attachments. The challenge to male-centered systems which Rosivach recognizes in the independent female as an individual (p. 139) is even more potent on the level of the household.
Feminine agency is, however, not the focus of Rosivach's volume. His concern is to highlight the position of the young women featured in Roman and New Comedy love stories, in the context of the male- dominated society there described, and the effect upon those young women of men's behavior within such a world; the masculine point of view around which the comedies are organized is one of the objects of Rosivach's critical attention. His commentary on individual texts is, with the reservations recorded above, sound, useful, and informed by the considerable body of published scholarship on individual plays, and the female characters in them, which has appeared in recent decades. But Rosivach's special contribution lies in placing each story, and each young woman featured there, within a pattern of similar characters and events found in the corpus of Roman comedy and its Greek forerunners. Each example of a recurrent motif gains significance from its relationship to the others, and the whole amounts to a meaningful reading, from a specific viewpoint, of the whole New Comedy corpus. Readers and teachers of Roman comedy will find this volume a useful, and corrective, addition to their shelves.
[] Recent publications include The System of Public Sacrifice in Fourth-Century Athens (Atlanta 1994) as well as articles on land and population distribution in Athens (JHS 112  153-57; GRBS 34  391-407), and the manning of the Athenian fleet (AJAH 10  41-66). Rosivach's work on literary texts, including occasional studies of the Roman comedy, tends to be concerned with social issues and the relationship between literary theme and social reality: see, e.g., 'On Creon, Antigone, and not Burying the Dead', RhM 126 (1983) 193-211; 'The Advocati in the Poenulus and the Piscatores in the Rudens', Maia 35 (1983) 83-93; 'Love and Leisure in Roman Comedy and the Amatory Poets', AC 55 (1986) 175-89; 'Anus: Some Older Women in Latin Literature', CW 88 (1994) 107-17.
[] So on p. 51, Rosivach names too many categories of unmarriageable girlfriends: 'The women are either foreigners, slaves, prostitutes, or poor.' If prostitutes, the women are also either foreigners or slaves; poor women were not unmarriageable unless they were also either foreigners or slaves, although even if of citizen class they might not have been a father's first choice as a wife for his son. Or so I believe; Rosivach cites J.H. Lipsius, Das attische Recht (repr. Hildeshein 1966) 460f., to the effect that in real life, young women of the citizen class might be courtesans (hetairai or meretrices). If so, this was not the norm, as is indicated by such casual remarks as that of K.J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality (Oxford 1974) 210, 'No danger attended the sexual use of women of servile or foreign status, whether they were prostitutes owned by a brothel-keeper [or] hetairai . . .' For a thorough discussion acknowledging contested cases and occasional changes in the law, see C.A. Cox, Household Interests (Princeton 1998) 170-89. In Roman comedy, certainly, the meretrix is often stated to be of free or servile origin, as Rosivach acknowledges (p. 109) -- and never shown to be of known citizen-class status. Where a heretofore unrecognized citizen-class origin is discovered for her, a young woman ceases to be regarded as a meretrix.
[] E.g., p. 80, in discussion ofCurculio, 'Phaedromus . . . never mentions marriage or any other permanent relationship.' Rosivach adduces Phormio as evidence that young men might perfectly well have married the young women with whom they instead form liaisons (p. 75) -- but the young woman in question, unlike others in the plays Rosivach compares, has a claim to citizen-class status.
[] E.g., p. 84, in discussion ofPoenulus, 'And of course there can be no serious question of someone with his (Agorastocles') position in society every marrying an ex-slave and an ex- meretrix.' Actually, there can be no question of such a marriage at all, not because of the young woman's morals nor because she has been a slave, but because she is not of citizen class -- and Agorastocles is.
[] Rosivach regularly uses the passive: The ingenue 'is discovered to be freeborn,' or her true origin 'is discovered': see, pp. 55, on Perikeiromene; 57, on Andria; 60, on Cistellaria; 85, on Curculio, Rudens, and Poenulus -- et passim. This is traditional; Duckworth, for example, refers repeatedly to 'the discovery' or 'the revelation' of the character's original identity: see The Nature of Roman Comedy (Princeton 1952) 147, 148, 153, 155, et passim.