Envy, Poison, & Death

Envy, Poison, & Death : Women on Trial in Classical Athens

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At the heart of this volume are three trials held in Athens in the fourth century BCE. The defendants were all women and in each case the charges involved a combination of ritual activities. Two were condemned to death. Because of the brevity of the ancient sources, and their lack of agreement, the precise charges are unclear, and the reasons for taking these women to court remain mysterious.

Envy, Poison, and Death takes the complexity and confusion of the evidence not as a riddle to be solved, but as revealing multiple social dynamics. It explores the changing factors - material, ideological, and psychological - that may have provoked these events. It focuses in particular on the dual role of envy (phthonos) and gossip as processes by which communities identified people and activities that were dangerous, and examines how and why those local, even individual,
dynamics may have come to shape official civic decisions during a time of perceived hardship.

At first sight so puzzling, these trials reveal a vivid picture of the socio-political environment of Athens during the early-mid fourth century BCE, including responses to changes in women's status and behaviour, and attitudes to ritual activities within the city. The volume reveals some of the characters, events, and even emotions that would help to shape an emergent concept of magic: it suggests that the boundary of acceptable behaviour was shifting, not only within the legal arena but also
through the active involvement of society beyond the courts.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 436 pages
  • 142 x 223 x 28mm | 636g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0199562601
  • 9780199562602
  • 2,355,389

Table of contents

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Review quote

Envy, Poison, and Death is a book of great learning and intellectual flair. The three women who are its subject have had a destiny that no one could have expected. Folklorists and anthropologists will see a classicist grappling with a question that they often have to ask themselves: how to understand the mind-set of culturally and/or historically remote persons. * Lowell Edmunds, Folklore * Eidinow's book is certainly a worthwhile one, especially for introducing readers to a plethora of theoretical approaches, for providing a genre-crossing and extensive swath of material for discussion, and offering close readings that are smart and stimulating. * Adele Scafuro, Sehepunkte * the author effectively combines philological analysis of a wide range of Greek texts and contemporary social science theory to build her case. A significant study for advanced students and scholars interested in the history of women and law in fourth-century BCE Athens ... Highly recommended. * CHOICE * Eidinow's exploration of the trials of women enriches our understanding of social and legal processes that affected all Athenians, citizen status males or otherwise ... Eidinow's meticulous detail ... binds together our fragmentary glimpses of women's lives into a compelling account of the complex intersections of private and public speech, imagined and realized actions and threats, and unofficial religion and civic legal institutions, in a vivid picture of Athens. * Carol Atack, Times Literary Supplement *
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About Esther Eidinow

Esther Eidinow is Assistant Professor in Ancient Greek History at the University of Nottingham.
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