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But it is precisely this at first glance unproblematic, transparent relationship that this paper questions. I argue that the women of the Roman mime are no less artificial than their cross-dressed counterparts in the other genres, only that the mode of their theatricality has different effects and, perhaps, different aims. Of course, to a great extent our efforts are hampered by the scattered and incomplete state of the ancient evidence: the widely varied remains of a material culture often difficult to interpret, pitifully few fragments of what is usually called the "literary mime" (e.g., Decimus Laberius and Publilius Syrus), and occasional references in texts dating from the first century B.C.E. until the end of the Empire and beyond. Nevertheless, some conventions of the mime can be identified with reasonable certainty. The distinctive costume of the mime, the ricinium, and its absence, when nudity was at least occasionally demanded (cf. Val. Max. 2.10.8), mark the curious theatrical identity of the mima. This is an identity in flux, an identity in a state of perpetual motion, continually made and unmade by the gendered gaze of the spectators. On the one hand, the mima was figured as meretrix, both by the nature and by the very fact of her performance. But hers was a theatrical prostitution, just as her body was a theatricalized body: costume-as-costume gives way to the body-as-costume (Klossowski 1986). In fact, the ricinium, always about to disappear, poses more effectively than the pallium, the cothurni, or perhaps even the mask itself the problem of the body as the object of desire. But this is only a part of the story. The mima was also quite often called upon to play the part of an adulterous matrona, trapped between the affections of a paramour and the demands of a husband (Reynolds 1946, McKeown 1979). As it turns out, this transformation of matrona into meretrix figures in at least two fragments from mime-scripts of the late Republic (Laberius fr. 33R, Publilius ad Petr. Sat. 55).
This artificiality of the mima and, more to the point, the crucial role of costume in marking this artificiality are reproduced, for example, in certain characteristic scenarios of elegy. I will examine one such scenario in this paper. In poem 2.23, Propertius reveals his decision to abandon his adulterous ways, at once too demanding and too dangerous, in favor of less strenuous liaisons with prostitutes. The woman whom Propertius indignantly rejects is familiar: she is his version, his rewriting of the adulterous matrona of the mime, while the woman he prefers is instead the mima-as-meretrix, ironically "free" (libera). Like the mima in her ricinium, the Propertian puella walks reiecto amictu (2.23.13) and wherever she pleases, unburdened by husband and — more or less — by clothes. The arduous and expensive challenge of the matrona's bed chamber has yielded to the all-too-evident attractions of a slave mistress. "Woman," the object of the poet's (frustrated) desire, is thus deftly split in two. The oscillation between person and persona detected in the performance of the mima is incorporated by Propertius into his text as two kinds of performed "woman." The matrona and the meretrix, re-membered in the performance of the mima, can be seen as further examples of Propertius' scriptae puellae (Wyke 1987).
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