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Allison Glazebrook: Sexual Labor in the Athenian Courts, Austin: University of Texas Press 2021, XVII + 246 S., 10 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-1-4773-2440-0, USD 55,00
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Rezension von:
Hilary Lehmann
Knox College, Galesburg, IL
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Hilary Lehmann: Rezension von: Allison Glazebrook: Sexual Labor in the Athenian Courts, Austin: University of Texas Press 2021, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 4 [15.04.2023], URL:

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Allison Glazebrook: Sexual Labor in the Athenian Courts

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This book does many things: it is an introduction to Attic oratory and how to read these idiosyncratic, entertaining texts; an exploration of the social construction of the sex laborer; and a series of exercises in the close reading of individual speeches. Its greatest strengths lie in Glazebrook's use of case studies to draw attention both to the figure of the sex laborer and to the orators' technical artistry.

When working with ancient oratory, it is necessary to recognize that the orators depict exaggerated versions of the world that correspond with what their audiences will find most appealing and persuasive. Distilling what is real from these texts is a delicate task, a balance between careful humility and bold speculation. Glazebrook argues that the version of the world depicted in the speeches must have resembled reality enough to convince most of the orator's audiences. Through careful reading, she aims to identify the "rare glimpse into the possible lives of marginal women in the Athenian household and polis" (61). As Glazebrook shows, sex laborers - male and female, enslaved and free - were thoroughly woven into Athenian public and private life, their depiction in the orations reflects an amalgam of anxiety and desire, not to mention a heavy hand of stereotyping influenced by their portrayal in comic drama.

Following an introduction outlining her approach to the corpus and the organization of her book, Glazebrook explains her use of the term "sex laborer" rather than "prostitute" or "sex worker." For today's readers, the ancient term hetaira connotes a romanticized vision of the luxurious courtesan, while "prostitute" and "whore" are derogatory. She rejects the term "sex worker" used by modern advocates because it diminishes the pervasiveness of slavery in the ancient sexual marketplace and connotes a sense of agency for which the ancient sources provide little evidence. This attention to the lived reality of sex laborers in antiquity is a welcome reminder that, while the orators overwhelmingly use sex laborers almost as rhetorical tropes, these tropes did correspond to living people.

Each chapter focuses on a single speech, allowing each to unfold into a representative microcosm of the legal system. These close readings allow Glazebrook to examine the speech as a whole with an analytical focus on the sex laborer.

Chapter 1 focuses on Lysias 4, Concerning an Intentional Wounding, a short speech concerning one woman shared by two men. The speaker characterizes himself as moderate and restrained in contrast to his opponent who suffers from dyseros and is incapable of self-mastery. Lysias uses the figure of the sex laborer to sharpen his characterization of the opponent as helpless and crazy; at the same time, the woman is associated with agency and danger. This chapter lays the groundwork for the rest of the book by demonstrating that the depiction of the sex laborer is determined by the needs of the situation.

In Chapter 2, Glazebrook turns to Isaeus 6, On the Estate of Philoktemon. In this speech, the speaker emphasizes the movements and networks of a freedwoman and former sex laborer named Alke, who apparently seduced the aged Euktemon from his own oikos into her own. The speech characterizes Alke's activities as transgressive, suggesting that normal behavior (a citizen man cohabiting with a freedwoman) would somehow border on illegal because of the identity of the person doing it. Glazebrook argues that Alke's physical mobility coupled with her social mobility rendered her a danger to the Athenian civic body. The speaker's accusation that Euktemon registered Alke's sons as his own, thus incorporating non-citizens into the rosters of citizens, constituted an existential threat to Athenian citizen identity.

Chapter 3 focuses on Apollodoros' speech Against Neaira ([Dem. [59]). Neaira is not only accused of being a sex laborer, she is also a foreigner and formerly enslaved, an outsider and a threat to both the Athenian oikoi and the polis. This chapter makes several important observations about the co-constitutive construction of citizen and non-citizen women. The speakers of both Isaeus 6 and [Dem.] 59 contrast the transgressive behavior of the non-citizen female sex laborer with the citizen wife.

Chapter 4 centers on Lysias 3, Against Simon. Like Lysias 4, this speech involves two men of citizen status in dispute over a sex laborer, in this case the youth Theodotos, whose citizen status the speech leaves ambiguous. Glazebrook points out that - as in Isaeus 6 - the speaker characterizes something fairly normal, in this case the purchasing of sex and the courting of boys, as transgressive by associating it with violence and lack of self-control. Simon's lack of control when it comes to his desire for Theodotos renders him unreliable as a democratic, voting citizen, a threat to democracy itself.

In Chapter 5, Glazebrook turns her attention to Aeschines 1, Against Timarchos. This chapter showcases a digital project that Glazebrook conducted, mapping the locations named in this speech to show the distribution of public and private places. The attention to space is the chapter's most original contribution, as it shows Timarchos' dislocation from his family home and thereby from the social order. Aeschines argues that Timarchos' clandestine ways and lack of control over his appetites disqualify him from the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

The book concludes with a summary of the chapters' main points. The gender of the sex laborer determines how the orator uses them to draw out social anxieties about the threat that these individuals pose to the household, as well as to the city and its sanctuaries. Lacking a permanent connection to a citizen oikos, sex laborers are characterized by both mobility and an unstable identity. Even freed or free sex laborers bear the stigma of enslavement, as Aeschines' characterization of Timarchos makes clear.

The characterization of sex laborers, however, is both malleable based on the situation and outwardly determined by stereotypes and the preexisting depiction of sex laborers in comedy and philosophy. The speeches' depictions of sex laborers, particularly female sex laborers, reveal more about everybody else, particularly citizen men and women.

I have a few small critiques. First, the book's essential argument about Athenian anxiety towards sex laborers is somewhat overdetermined. This theme threads throughout the book, with repeated language like "anxious," "alarming," "uncomfortable," "discomfort," and "unease." It makes sense that the Athenians, who restricted citizenship to the legitimate children of married citizen parents, would have concerns about sexual reproduction outside of the bonds of marriage, but the examples adduced do not always show clearly that this anxiety is the primary motivation for the orators' negative portrayal of the female sex laborers.

Second, the book does not always seem to know its audience. Occasionally, terms like antidosis and basanos are included with little context. Additionally, the words erastes and eromenos are used in Chapter 4, but these terms are not fully defined, nor is the cultural practice of pederasty explained, until Chapter 5. Furthermore, translated passages include many parenthetical transliterated words that are not subsequently discussed in the passage. These transliterations are helpful when the language itself is being analyzed, but transliteration without analysis may cause confusion for readers who do not know Ancient Greek.

The decision not to include Greek text certainly makes the book more accessible for casual readers, but it does detract from Glazebrook's excellent grammatical analyses. For example, in Chapter 2, she notes how Isaeus' use of the genitive of personal agency "highlights [Alke's] responsibility for [Euktemon's] mental state" while forms of the passive show "how far Euktemon was under her influence" (33-34). In Chapter 3, she observes that "Apollodoros and his family [...] are associated with active and passive verbs denoting their victimization" (66). This focus on how the orators build meaning from the smallest building blocks represents an important step towards the greater appreciation of the speeches "as texts in their own right" (4), one of the book's stated purposes. In this aim, as in the purpose of shedding light on the discourse surrounding sex labor (though less so the lived reality of sex laborers), Glazebrook has met with resounding success.

Hilary Lehmann