ABSTRACT

In the previous chapter, I suggested that after 451 bce an ideological barrier developed, evident in Athenian tragedy, separating the world of the citizen from the world of the metic. This barrier was not necessarily physically visible, but psychological, and it was policed. Individuals who straddled, or attempted to cross, the line between the citizen and metic worlds seem to have come under increasing scrutiny, especially women, who by virtue of being women were more vulnerable to attacks on their descent and who, if not above reproach, left their children and spouses also vulnerable to attacks on their citizen status. These attacks typically took the form of accusations of sexual deviancy or of being a danger to the city in some other way, a pattern most clearly represented in the figure of Phaedra in Euripides’ Hippolytus. The tragic discourse reflects what faced real metic women in Athens who crossed the citizen-metic divide. In this chapter, I explore the pivotal figure of Aspasia, perhaps the most famous metic woman from ancient Athens, whose relationship to a number of famous Athenian men positioned her at the center of public gossip and anxiety and made her a target for public abuse. As the wife of the general and politician Perikles and mother of his enfranchised son, Aspasia was accused on the comic stage (and perhaps elsewhere) of influencing his foreign policy decisions and was the Hera to his Zeus, the Helen to his Paris, the woman behind his most tyrannical urges. We must, then, examine Aspasia if we are to make any attempt at understanding the position of metic women in Athens as well as the Athenian mental world in which the ideology of the metic woman operated. But we cannot come to any real understanding of Aspasia as metic woman until we clear away the associations that have accumulated around her because of scholarly ideas about hetairai. 1