Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Classics Club 26: Lysistrata

Lysistrata by ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes was a quick, easy and fun read. Tired of the men constantly being away from home, fighting in the Pelopponnesian War Lysistrata comes up with a plan to put an end to hostilities. She proposes that women withhold their sexual favours until the men agree to make peace, and convinces women from all states involved in the conflict to join her plan. The women also take over the Acropolis (Treasury) to apply a little financial pressure as well.

With a set up like this the amount of bawdiness and sexual innuendo in the plot is not a surprise. Some of it comes across well in the written form, such as the humourous scene when Myrrhine's husband arrives, desperate for sex. She pretends to go along with his wishes but keeps putting him off as she returns to the women's sanctuary for first one thing, then another to make their experience more comfortable and enjoyable. Eventually she doesn't return and he is left disappointed. Other humour - the so-called "Spartan walking sticks" - was of the visual variety and so couldn't really be "appreciated" simply by reading the text.

There is more to Lysistrata than a simple bawdy comedy, however. It has a clear anti-war message, which actually saw it banned in Greece in 1967. It also argued for an expanded role for women, albeit using their traditional roles as justification. For instance, Lysistrata argues that Athens should be structured as a woman spins wool and uses this analogy to justify a role for them in the peace process, something that would have typically been the domain of men, In addition Aristophanes recognised women as sexual beings by showing that the sexual strike cost women as much as it cost men. In one comedic scene a woman attempts to leave the group allegedly to find a midwife to deliver her baby - despite not being pregnant the day before!

Lysistrata would be a good pick for anyone wanting to read their first Greek play - so long as sexual bawdiness is not an issue of course!

N;B I counted this as my Classic in Translation for the Back to the Classics Challenge over at Books and Chocolate.

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