This Little Piggie Went To The Megara…

Mike Lippman

Emory University

Sexual punning adds crucial, if not crude, comic support to the "little piggie" scene in Acharnians 719-835.  There is, however, another largely unexamined series of puns depending on the word megara.  In a religious context, these not only add a less vulgar element to the distracting and titillating sexual humor, but also help elucidate the familiar jokes surrounding the slang term choiros

Aristophanes draws our attention to the word megara by using it in some form or another nine times during this brief episode.  Megara here indicates the city-state currently under embargo by Athens and the pits into which religious items are thrown during what is likely the second day of the Thesmophoria.  These items, dedicated to Demeter, include the remains of sacrificed piglets as well as snakes and phalloi made of dough.  These pig remains commemorate those of the swineherd Eubulus that fell into the earth at the time when Hades kidnapped Persephone.  According to the primary sources for these aspects of the Thesmophoria, (the scholiast on Lucian's Dialogue of the Courtesans 2.1 and Clement of Alexandria's Protrepticus 17.1) these offerings also acted as symbols for human sexuality as part of a ritual designed to ensure fertility.  In other words, literal piggies sacrificed to Demeter in the megara represent women's genitalia in the same way Dicaeopolis mischievously the genitalia of the girls disguised as Megarian piggies. 

Aristophanes several times chooses an unusual verbal manifestation of the word megara.  Clement too describes the women who descend into the megara during the Thesmophoria ritual as a participle- megarizing.  This odd verb megarizo is glossed by the scholiast on Acharnians 822, Hesychius and the Suda as synonymous to "starving."  It is quite possible that this use of the word originated from the comic depictions of the famished Megarians reduced by the Athenian blockade, which surely include, but are not necessarily limited to, the Acharnians.  If this definition were not, however, an invention of later commentators, Aristophanes' deliberate emphasis on verbal forms of megara draws our attention to the significance of this new pun to the overall scene.  Clement's detail that descent to the megara occurred on the second day of the Thesmophoria underscores Aristophanes' point.  This particular aspect of the ritual, then, took place during the Nesteia, the day of the women's fast that reproduces Demeter's suffering- as described in the Homeric Hymn.  Even the sexual joking of Dicaeopolis and the Megarian is reminiscent of the aischrologia that may well have taken place on this second day.

Undoubtedly, Aristophanes plays off the doubling of the pigs as sacrifices to Demeter and Aphrodite.  The megarian trick on the surface is to dress up his daughters similar to Demeter's piggies of the Mysteries (746-747, 764) but, as he slyly marks later (790-794), they are really only sacrificed to Aphrodite.  However, as the puns off megara remind us, in a festival containing much sexual imagery that ultimately celebrates fertility, this is quite true.  Since we already connect the two meanings of choiros, an additional series of puns off the word megara would only supplement the former ones.  The two other meanings referring to both hunger and the megara of a festival to Demeter are both quite relevant to the episode in which they appear.


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