I wrote a comedy. It has Scythians, and lots of mashed-up quotes. Beware: political topicality.
Misogyny is a Greek Word
A comedy in one act
by Bryn Hammond
Like trucks the Scythian wagons pull to a stop in a circle, and women climb down from the driver’s seats.
The trader said:
On my business trips into Scythia I deal exclusively with women. Cash transactions, foreign commerce: these are in the wives’ charge. Classified as household, by extension, I think, from spoils – which, if not on four feet, go straight into the women’s hands. They drive the only repositories, you see. Because of this – at least if you ask a trader, or ordinary folk who know them through exchange, and not important men of politics and war – Scythian women have always been the interface of contact. Towns don’t scare them. The women look much more outward than the men. They are more conversable.
To my frank exasperation, Greeks not on the ground describe society in terms of what the men do. That’s a habit that ignores both my needs and the average marketgoer’s. I have listened to scrolls by experts who briefly treat the Scythians’ home wagons as if they follow the basic principles of Greek houses, and pay them no further attention, which means they can give no adequate account of the Scythian economy. I am a humble trader, no great shakes in my city, and often feel myself inside a cloak of invisibility. But my advice to you, friend, is don’t look past the women as if they were not there. We Greeks have a blind spot. Unless we fantasise of Amazons…
The home wagons, in most months of the year, you’ll find a women’s town. Imagine you leave your wife to run the household and go off for a three-months’ jaunt – to catch wild horses in the mountains, or join the king’s great hunt, or on campaign. Except the household is on wheels, and she can trundle for a thousand miles uninterrupted, unimpeded. That way stretch the steppes of Asia, and none of us know where they end. Nomads do: they have laughed heartily when I tell our geographers’ tales about the monster races whom we say live just beyond the Scythians – those with anatomy of humankind and beasts, or body parts dislocated and distorted. In exchange for my tales I try to elicit from them report of what lies beyond. A great-grandmother answered me succinctly. She said, ‘more of us, and more of you.’ No monsters, then. But other Greeks.
When I am in a town of women, with no Scythian man to talk to, I simply forget they are of the wrong sex, and behave with the courtesy I would towards a foreign citizen. In Scythian terms, women have participatory citizen status; just accept it. I cannot transact with the men, and I became accustomed to them years ago. It isn’t hard to forget what sex they are. Women’s work? To make and maintain those wagons, for a start. As well as business.
Look, here are the husbands, here are the Scythian men, come afterwards on horse. Cautious and suspicious. They hang back in a circle of uncertain hooves, while already the women swing towards our gates. Unarmed. Let not your fellow citizens be afraid of Amazons. These are prosperous ladies come for commerce and amusement. Offer your hospitality, in turn, as I have found the women’s wagons jolly and hospitable places for a guest. And entirely decent, to save you the inevitable inquiry. We are neighbours about this Black Sea, and Zeus loves the hospitable, as does the Scythians’ great Sky Father. – I must not mention him without our Mother Earth: it is unholy to acknowledge one, omit the other.
Chorus of citizens:
What monstrous regiment of women enter at our gates? These cart-makers have physiques fit to hire as labour, but ladies? A lady has some delicacy, some elegance I recognise, although she be not Greek. Hands the size of shovels; her feet sprawl like a camel’s. I have never seen a woman walk like that. I think her hips are the axle of her cart. This is not athleticism, but rather ignorance of human motion – the opposite, in fact, of our sports. They walk rawly, as if never taught. I cannot even describe the way they walk.
Scorched by the sun, scoured by the wind, whatever beauty they once claimed stripped away by weather. These women who have never been indoors – never seen the inside of a house, only their primitive huts on wheels. Not our idea of housewives, or respectability. She drives her own house where she wishes, in company of wives. As our playwright said, ‘Let husbands not allow their wives the company of women: every trouble starts when women natter.’
Coarse faces, devoid of femininity. Aphrodite does not know these women. The interplay that happens when a woman meets a man – you notice it in its absence. The address of a woman to a man is remembered when a so-called woman talks to you without it. These are not women, certainly, by the standards of civilized men.
The historian wrote:
A barbarian is womanish in that, in common with women, he is a creature of lusts and urges he must gratify, of greed and inability to subdue his desires or to temper his emotions. Both possess the spontaneity of beasts. Rational self-control, the virtue of a man – an individual man’s self-government which enables men in co-operation to construct a civilized society, is unknown to barbarians, impossible to women.
A nomad is the ultimate barbarian. With no fixed address, with no habit of hard work, he finds easy to extort from others what he fails to produce himself. Restlessly he prowls his wastelands, stares across our frontier, forever envious of luxuries we have and he has not. He lives in hives like bees, unseen until he swarms, and then he cuts a swathe through us like locusts. His horde as quickly come and gone as a flock of birds, he is impossible to catch but swoops out of the blue and vanishes. His steppe is as vast as sea or sky, one is lost in it. His instinct is the wolves’, and while he has a human face, his heart is animal. He has been a pest in every age of history, and every society likens him unto destructive insects.
Chorus of citizens:
See the Scythian women at the market. We have fishwives of our own, but these are worse. They laugh to each other harshly with the voice of crows and gulls. Their fingers ruin everything they touch. Watch them eat: she tears the flesh like a bacchant. No-one taught her table manners. I would rather sit down with my slaves than dine with them.
These milk-drinkers desire our food, since culinary skill is quite beyond them. They have no patience to grow things slowly and with toil, but scavenge from the civilized with threats and violence. Nomads do nothing to earn their keep. They have no valid place in the world but are sent to plague us.
Where does the fur end and the fat begin? They swathe themselves in hides and hair, in felt and skins, until I can’t distinguish what is animal about them and what human. Greeks dress with a pride in human limbs, but these hide their bodies as if to disguise their sex or species.
I cannot eat beside them. The pungency of body odour puts me off my food. Now garlic and fish sauce, the usual offence, seem mild next to these women’s reek. If my wife stank like that I’d ask my goat into the room to perfume her.
I hear they let the clothes disintegrate upon them, as if they were holy garments that mustn’t be removed.
I hear they cannot wash, because of superstitions. I’d say we have olfactory evidence.
The sight of them disgusts, the smell revolts our better class of patron. Our good Greeks leave them to it, and desert the market.
The poet wrote:
Harpies – the name means Spoilers, Snatchers – are half-woman and half-bird. They have a human countenance, but clawed hands and vulture’s wings, and wasted, famished faces, ever hungry. They shriek and emit a fetid odour, such that no man can stand to let them close but must retreat. Storm Wind and Swift Flier, sisters foul, swoop in upon a feast laid out, despoil the tables. Now the whole horrid flock join in and rip apart the joints of meat. They attack the food like vultures, and what they do not seize they leave defiled with an obscene discharge from their under-vents. Everything they touch is left in filth. They persecute pious men with these visitations. Sometimes they steal people and fly off with them, into what evil fate none knows.
The trader said:
Yes, they accost citizens in the street. Scythian women do not wait to be spoken to. They laugh, yes, if laughter is a crime. I find the women merry to a fault. Whose fault, might be a matter of whose humour first runs short. In this case, it is the gentleman. Well, they mean no harm.
And now – they are tired of gentlemen only in the streets. I hear them wonder where the women are. Apart from public women, for if one thing strikes them silent, I have noticed, it is the painted faces of town pornai. I cannot tell whether they are scandalised or puzzled. It’s not a question I can ask. – Oh, my friend, that is an insult to them, although a common story. Trust me, I have myself smeared my face with fats, in the weather that they have; and found it most emollient, and saved my skin. I do not mean ‘saved my skin’ as a woman says it, I mean I saved my skin from falling off my face. I did not ape our pornai when I resorted to it, nor mistook sheep’s grease for a cosmetic. Apology accepted.
But what? They have broken into a residence, while we converse. Up goes the cry. They assume a hospitality, if they receive it not.
The proprietor complained:
They tried to steal my women. They tried to tempt my wife outdoors. My daughters, in a flutter, have forgotten how to hear their father’s voice. It is intoxication to them, this visit from the Scythians: I say we shut the gates next time.
Citizens: Sooth yourself, patriarch, for the women have withdrawn, almost with an apologetic air. They have ceased to disturb your peace.
The proprietor: That’s very well, but I warn you, they’d have kidnapped my females had I not chased them from the premises.
The trader said:
To be fair, there is frequently a tiny leak of population after the Scythians have been. Not necessarily debtors, either. I have seen where they end up. There are more ex-Greeks in Scythian clothes than Greeks care to believe. One does not defect from civilization, obviously. A Greek does not change his skin for a barbarian’s – that would be monstrous. Well, well, we never mention it.
Ah, see, they have called a cross-sexed shaman to make peace. The shaman comes among them and the women settle down like startled birds or like wild animals at music. A shaman means harmony to them. They act as the diplomats of daily life. Not an arbiter in office, much more familiar, everybody’s friend, and they heal the ordinary hurts. I suppose it is a simple logical extension to think one who is both sexes can see both sides to a dispute. I’m not assured this person is best chosen to calm the master of the house.
No, its organs are concealed. You can identify a cross-sexed shaman by the way they ornament themselves. Distinctively, yet each one different, as if they start from scratch. There are not enough of them to set a fashion. They are rare birds, feted like the arrival of a phoenix. There are never enough of them. And then the kings want their services, which the community resents.
You are uneasy? You might see them in a better light if you were close. Few who spend the time with them, I think, reject that these beings have a grace. My, the citizens sound upset – this is an unexpected guest. Citizens screech.
They cross sexes, that is the point. Shamans – to explain to you as has been explained to me – leap the gaps in the world: between human and animal, between the living and the dead, between the sexes too. In Scythia, what you take for a freak is likely to be sacred. A sacred communication across species, sexes, states. How far these concepts are from our own cults of physical perfection and the body. The steppe is a spiritual landscape and its people so, and in their ideas fixity is an evil, although the fate of most, while to change one’s shape makes visible the unity of spirit underneath. Physical anomaly becomes a wonder and a sign. They worship monstrosity? It is a charge I have heard before. Perhaps they are the opposite of Spartans, who weed out imperfect infants and destroy them.
Look into your own heart. Do you not, yourself, feel a sense of escape in the presence of this creature? She-he lifts the veil from our falsities.
I laugh – I’m sorry. I just heard a woman call out the shaman’s name. Conjunction of the Stars. It isn’t as pretty in my Greek. Conjunction of the Stars. A name for a living divinity. It can’t be easy to live and function in the exalted space they allot to the self-same creatures we throw sticks and stones at or make limericks about.
Yes, I take the Scythians’ side. Zeus loves the stranger, but his example never seems to be enough to convince us on the earth.
The historian wrote:
This odd tribe of men-women, whom Scythians revere, drink potions of the urine of pregnant mares to feminise themselves. They have a counterpart in women-men who take concoctions from certain liquids stallions secrete.
The trader said:
I never heard talk of potions, or what type. There is much slander in historians.
Here’s a lucky interruption: the Scythian husbands pluck up courage to enter town. Of course, on horses. The shaggy horses stand so low, they are scarcely a nuisance in the streets and can’t possibly intimidate. Yet they have a legendary energy.
Why are the men timorous? I do not think timid is the word, but their behaviour is not ours. Consider the effect of marriage customs. Your Greek ideal is to marry when he is thirty, she thirteen. Whereas a Scythian, if he is upper crust, seeks to marry up: to a wife up a rank, up a notch in nobility, and he expects to marry up in age. They can turn us on our heads: a youth might be wooed by his aunt’s friend and coeval, while a girl can wrest permission to be single until thirty, because her eligibility accumulates. I suspect this is where your myths arise, tribes where a maid must slay an enemy before she weds. Who can say? Scythia is a vast place, as differentiated as the cities of the Greeks.
The historian wrote:
A popular tale, agreed to by Scythians themselves, is that they did disservice to a goddess once, who in her vengeance struck their race with the female affliction. Our medical writers have attributed their constitution to the air and water, cold and heavy, so that in Scythia men have a sluggish sex urge and a flabby body. But I believe the explanation is a simpler one, still physiological rather than religious: that their testes suffer damage from being every day on horseback since childhood. Injury is exacerbated by the constriction of trousers, which keep the male parts musty and enclosed. Whichever is the true cause, sexual organs in a Scythian man seldom achieve healthy growth, and cannot flourish like a Greek’s in his sensible loose skirt. A Greek does not grind his testes against a horse’s back from dawn to dusk. This is why we keep our manhood, and the Scythians lose theirs.
Chorus of citizens:
These unfeminine women, these effeminate men. The Scythians have crushed their testicles, clinging to their animals like shabby Centaurs. They rarely have intercourse. They are not real men.
A Scythian is not frightening close-to. A Scythian in the wild is no different than our Scythian slaves at home, slow-witted and easily bamboozled. We laugh at him in our comedies. If you are not afraid of your slave, gentlemen, I exhort you to scorn these Scythians too.
These unfeminine women, these effeminate men. I miss the theatre in my home town, I miss the climate. Here I live next door to savages and look out on a waste. These unfeminine women, these effeminate men.
The trader said:
Scythian women seem content with the performance of their men. They don’t display a particular interest in stray Greeks.
The blogger typed:
Contemporary man lives an emasculated life. He has forgotten what he used to be. The modern West, sad to say, makes war on masculinity, and we are in the front lines of a fight for male existence. Our enemy pretends biology doesn’t matter, but you can tell they don’t believe this, because their stealth attack is biological. Female hormones infiltrate food on the shelves, leak into the water. Hormones have reduced the modern man to mock-women, tame and brainwashed by feminism’s lies.
Real men are under siege. Look back for strength – back to Ancient Greece when men were men. The three hundred Spartans who beat off an effeminate slave army from Asia. Take heart from the past – red-blooded barbarians who didn’t apologise for the instincts of a man. Cultural Marxism obliterates this from the record, in cooperation with the academic arm of modern feminism. The Greeks invented everything of worth, but ‘Western Civ’ is near-despised in universities today. Don’t be put off: take Classics classes. Occupy the university, and insist they teach the truth. Not every professor is a leftist; we have committed men.
Feminists and their allies try to neuter us. Unless you nurse your testosterone, you’ll become a monster too. Nothing is not monstrous in the future that they want. There is estrogen in the water. Beware.