New Music and Dancing Prostitutes

Performance and Imagery of Erotic Dancing in the Musical Criticism of Old Comedy

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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Abstract

Old Comedy often brings prostitute-like dancers on stage while parodying the New Music. This paper argues that such dances were reminiscent of sex practices, and supports this view with dance-historical and semantic evidence. For the history of Greek dance, I survey the literary evidence for the existence of a dance tradition that represents lovers and their acts, and which would easily provide Comedy with dance vocabulary to distort. The semantic analysis of three comic passages, all criticising the New Music in sexual terms, shows a consistent overlapping between the semantic fields of eroticism and of bodily movement, with several terms indicating both figures of lovemaking and figures of dance. By performing comically revisited erotic dances or by verbally alluding to them, prostitutes would powerfully embody the conservative criticism of Old Comedy against the new trends in dance promoted by the New Music.

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