I had one more question in my pocket for the discussion Tuesday which no one picked: What to you make of the attention given to the biographies of rhetorically important women (Sappho (22), Aspasia (36), Diotima (44))? How important is it to understand the historical reality of the lives they led as opposed to their rhetorical practices and theories? Perhaps I should take the hint that the question wasn't that interesting, but I can't really help it. I wanted to talk about our obsession with women's personal lives.
It makes sense that we talk about Aspasia's personal life, since we don't really have anything of hers to read. She was notable for affecting notable men, so her relationship with Pericles is certainly important. And since Aspasia has gotten some flack for not adhering to the role of an Athenian wife, I can understand that we want to free her from charges that she was a prostitute. Still, how important is it, really, whether she was a prostitute or not? When I read about rhetoric, do I really expect to learn whether Cicero was sexually pure? Bizzell and Herzberg seem intent on confirming that Aspasia was no whore--that even if she were a prostitute, it was due to the social roles of the time (57). They seem to suggest that she really would have married Pericles (making her a proper woman), but since the law didn't allow foreigners to marry Athenian citizens, she was his official concubine (57). I was really worried there for a second that I might have been reading about a woman who didn't live up to my moral standards.
Now let me be fair: I understand that we don't want to let ancient Greek jokes obscure what we might otherwise be able to learn from Aspasia. But I'm just not sure that focusing on the sex lives of influential women is always called for, even when we're trying to help.
Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg, eds. "Aspasia." The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Ties to the Present. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 56-60.
Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1997.