The Story Says Athens

To sketch out lines of argument, let us start from reasons why this can not be an Attic story. Athenians who died without sons did indeed need to make their will known, and even made wills. If a father without sons wanted to snub shameful daughters, his will would run into a wall of resistance, and risk being set aside in court, with the dirty washing bringing real shame on the family. In any case, he could make no woman, not even his widow, his heir. And the problem of ‘marrying’ daughters to estate could not even begin to arise in anything like the form envisaged in the story. Instead, this is where the (in)famous mechanism of the Athenian ‘epiklerate’ kicked in-and spawned deliberation, consternation, and (not least) litiga­tion. The estate must pass through the daughters to those sons that they will bear to the closest patrilateral relatives that are now obliged to wed the girls. Somehow all the players must adjust to the dis­ruption that buys continuity of the family substance and eventual retrieval of patriarchal succession. Distinctively Attic law to the res­cue! If the tale is about looking for a way for a father to beat ‘the system’, then it can’t work in Athens.

Or, rather, Phaedrus’ effort is a pis aller that does drag in ‘Athens’, but only by transmogrifying it out of all recognition. By the same token, features of his poem which emphasise ‘Rome’ may be mark­ing cultural translation, casual or designed, and serve to open the story to pertinence to Roman readers, 포커사이트 via detour to Athens. Thus the currency of centena sestertia doesn’t convict Phaedrus of abysmal failure to rustle up some authentic Attic drachs! Less superficially, perhaps, the ‘legal’ phrasing in the archaism (ni) and disjunctive precision of phrase ni data possideant aut fiuantur colours the story ‘Roman’, and not not about Roman law. But how superficial, and how structural, is which feature? When Aesop reaches for the epitaph formula on ‘sentience in the grave’ to spank Athens, for example, it flags up bi-cultural valency across the Graeco­Roman divide. If the mother’s role in 4.5 is conceivable within the terms of Roman reality, as heres fiduciaria charged to see the estate does reach the children as it must and as pater ordains, the sticking- point is still that a chasm yawns where male family and friends would have to be, in whatever city. If the Roman principle of joint ‘universal succession’ between heirs “ran counter to the natural desire of testators to leave the house to John and the best tea-set to Mary, and so on”, then the story reads as a sardonic pseudo-plot to out­wit the system. But in that case, we know perfectly well that wor­rying how to give siblings ‘equal’ shares is not a Roman preserve, but precipitates cases and stories in every ‘Athens’ under the sun. The aporia, clearly enough, is to tell apart ‘surface detail’ of Phaedrus’ poem, and ‘structural core’ of Aesop’s (putative) fable.

If we squeeze 4.5 for what could derive from a fable found in Phaedrus’ usual Greek source of Aesopica, and so (arguably) at one remove from Greek folklore, we can point to the abstract ‘story pat­tern’ of consulted experts outdone by oddball Aesop, as found in, a story which is attested in Greek. And of course the theme of the baffling bequest did feature in Aesop as in any body of folklore:

A dying farmer tells his three sons a treasure is buried among the vines. They dig over the whole vineyard but find nothing. So the vines yield a crop way more abundant and profitable than ever before, and they realise…


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