Self-Help in Menander

Cheryl Anne Cox

University of Memphis

Virginia Hunter in her informative discussion on self-help (1994:120ff.), which she prefers to term "private initiative" because of its less violent connotation, points out that often arguments were settled and violence quelled without the intervention of authorities.  The orations, and particularly Lysias 3, are especially useful in showing self-help that is privately motivated.  Here the speaker and his rival, Simon, argue over a male prostitute and bring in friends and even bystanders to help resolve the conflict.  What strikes one in this incident is the exuberant street activity.  The street in Menander's Dyskolos is used to forge associations so as to assist one in one's needs.  It is a rural street in which Sostratus encounters Gorgias and his slave Daos, whom he has never met before.  Gorgias decides in the street to help Sostratus win Cnemon's favor so that Sostratus can ask Cnemon, the grouch, for his daughter's hand in marriage.

Demosthenes 54 is a good example of youths fighting on behalf of one of their own over the affections of hetairai.  In Menander, Chaereas, Sostratus' parasite in the Dyskolos, remarks that when a friend, who is in love with a hetaira, asks for Chaereas' help, Chaereas will get drunk, burn the girl's door down, grab her and carry her off (57ff.).  The pimp in the Kolax (120ff.) is worried that a young man will gather friends and drag off one of his hetairai in the street.  In the Peirikeiromene Polemon's friends, slave and a hetaira (467ff.) have rallied around him after his outburst against his concubine, Glycera.  After Glycera has left him for Moschion's house, Sosias, Polemon's slave, threatens Daos, Moschion's slave, that they will storm the house to get Glycera back (396ff.).

The individual could have the initiative to call on bystanders and the wider community to come to his aid.  Dromon, Philoumene's slave in the Sikyonios, appeals to a crowd in the street in Eleusis to defend Philoumene's rights.  Stratophanes, Philoumene's master, emerging from the crowd acknowledged that he has brought up the girl, admits that she is Athenian and will approach Philoumene's father to ask for the girl's hand in marriage.  He places Philoumene in the trust of the crowd so that they can hand her over to the priestess of Eleusis.  Stratophanes' speech meets with the approval of the crowd.

Therefore, the street was where a kind of rough justice could take place; with its links to the neighborhood and community the street was where quasi-legal activity and informal tribunals occurred.


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