Plato Comicvs: Frag. Phaon II.: A Parody of Attic Ritual

Classical Quarterly 14 (3-4):139- (1920)
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Abstract

There is no fragment of the older Attic Comedy that concerns Greek religion so intimately as this, and none which has been so misinterpreted. It may also claim to have a certain value for our literary judgment of Plato. The story of Phaon is preserved for us by three authorities, Aelian, Palaiphatos, and Servius; and with few variations and additions all three present it as follows: Phaon was an elderly Lesbian ferryman who transported Aphrodite, disguised as an old woman, across the sea; and she in reward gave him a magic ointment which restored his youth and ensured him the desperate love of all women. I am not concerned here with the handling of the story in other literature, nor with its original significance. We may suspect that it originated as a ίερòς λόγος. But it is presented to us merely as a piece of folklore, as a theme well suited to the temper of the Middle Attic Comedy. We may suppose that Plato followed a version known to Kratinos, according to which Aphrodite was the chief lover of Phaon and jealous of guarding him against her rivals. For it is certain, as Meineke has pointed out, that it is Aphrodite who delivers the speech contained in this fragment; in line seven she demands a preliminary sacrifice to herself, under the name κουροτρόος Only a divinity can demand sacrifice, and κουροτρόο;ος is a familiar epithet of many deities including Aphrodite, and she is the only deity possible in this scene, in which she is trying to keep off the ardent crowd of women from her beloved Phaon, by insisting on long and complicated preliminary rites and sacrifices before their admission to her shrine, where she is keeping him, as she once kept Kinyras

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