Alcibiades is one of the most explicitly sexualized figures in fifth-century Athens, a "lover of the people" whom the demos "love and hate and long to possess" (Ar. Frogs 1425). But his eros fits ill with the normative sexuality of the democratic citizen as we usually imagine it. Simultaneously lover and beloved, effeminate and womanizer, Alcibiades is essentially paranomos, lawless or perverse. This paper explores the relation between Alcibiades' paranomia and the norms of Athenian sexuality, and argues that his eros reveals an intrinsic instability within the sexual economy of the democracy: the desire he embodied blurred the categories that defined Athenian masculinity; the desire he inspired rendered the demos passive and "soft." This same instability can be seen in Thucydides' juxtaposition of the mutilation of the Herms and the legend of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. These two episodes (obscurely linked by Thucydides) together tell of an idealized citizen body under threat. The tyrannicide story figures the democratic citizen as an elite lover, whose sexual dominance is vital to his political autonomy. The Herms, with their prominent phalloi, symbolized this citizen-lover, and thus their mutilation was an assault on the masculinity, as well as political power, of the demos. The tyrannicide legend seems to promise a defense against this threat of civic castration; but instead of shoring up the sexually-dominant citizen, Thucydides' version of the legend merely reveals his frailty and fictionality: even in Athens' heroic past there is no inviolable democratic eros to cure the impotence of mutilation and tyranny. Reading these two episodes against the backdrop of Alcibiades' paranomia (as described by Plutarch and Plato), this paper examines the nature of democratic masculinity, the (eroticized) relation between demagogue and demos, and the place of perverse desire within the protocols of sex.
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