The Politicisation of Sexual Assault in Fourth-century Athens

  • Jean Menzies

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis identifies and examines a cross-section of passages from democratic Athenian oratory that reference mythological incidents of sexual violence against women. These four passages come from four politically motivated public speeches delivered during the fourth century BCE. In analysing these passages within the context of the literary depictions of these myths elsewhere and the political environment of the speeches themselves, this study highlights the existence of a rhetorical technique employed during the Athenian democracy that has yet to be widely recognised. This technique employs recognisable characters and stories from myth and adapts them according to contemporary Athenian values and attitudes. It is subsequently employed by orators to appeal to a sense of shared identity among Athenians that paints an idealised version of Athenian citizens as defenders of women in opposition to the imagined ‘other’ or barbarian. Chapter one focuses on Demosthenes’ use of the sisters Procne and Philomela, who took vengeance on the man who assaulted Philomela sexually, as role-models for the Athenian soldiers who died fighting the Macedonians at Chaeronea. Chapter two explores the comparison drawn by Hyperides between the Greeks who rescued Helen from Troy and the contemporary Athenian soldiers whom he frames as having saved numerous Greek women from a fate similar to Helen’s. Finally, chapter three focuses on the use of the sexual assault of Alkippe and the subsequent acquittal of her father Ares for the murder of her attacker by two different orators, Demosthenes and Dinarchus, as an example of the greatness of the Athenian justice system. Through politicising these incidents of sexual violence against women from Greek myth, this rhetorical technique thus incorporates sexual violence against women into a construction of the idealised democratic Athenian identity; idealised because these values are not always reflected in reality.
    Translations and Abbreviations Authors and titles of ancient works are abbreviated according to the list of the Oxford Classical Dictionary (fourth edition).
    Date of Award25 Apr 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorFiona McHardy (Director of Studies) & Susan Deacy (Co-Supervisor)


    • Sexual violence
    • oratory
    • sexual assault
    • rhetoric
    • women
    • democracy
    • Athens
    • fourth-century
    • Greece

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