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Lysistrata: Strategy to End War

Aristophanes lived from 427 to 387 BC. Those were the times of Socrates and Thucydides. Plato lived after the generation of Aristophanes. Aristophanes created at least forty plays, eleven of which remained until our days. Those were the days when all the plays performed outdoors during the day. Actors were wearing masks that completely covered their facial features and emotions were only revealed via words and gestures. There were no female actors in these times and men played both sexes. Men often wore large artificial genitals on their costumes to enhance their masculinity.

“Lysistrata” was performed in 411 BC and it was completely connected with The Peloponnesian War which had been lasting more than 20 years for that moment. It is important to emphasize that the comedy of Aristophanes was not a comedy in the modern sense. ”Lysistrata” refers to the genre of so-called “the old Greek comedy.”

The comedy of the ancient Greek playwright tells us how woman, governed by desire to stop the war and run by Athenian woman Lysistrata decided to deprive man from sex with them until they calm down.

This comedy appeared from the union of the traditional folk entertainments such as memes, improvised farces and village songs with ancient fertility cult in the honor of Dionis. Obscenity, topical, extremely rude personal and political insults dominate in the ancient comedy. Comedians used an unlimited liberty of speech and even the outstanding personalities were not protected from vilification. Because of this, it is hard to follow and to understand the play for a person who doesn’t know the ancient Athenian realities (Ball 2008).

This small-town character of the Aristophanes’ plays is even more smoothed out after rewriting: the end of the “old attic” comedy was marked by the fact that the play started to turn into the reading stuff from only theatre phenomenon. Famous roman orator Quintilianus used the passages from Aristophanes’ plays to teach oratory, and these passages preserved for us as fragments of Aristophanes in Greek language. The basic language, from which Aristophanes got to the modern literature, is Latin, where he was brought by his great admirer A. Divus, after being “cleaned” from too much of a local color (published in Venice in 1528). In such a way Aristophanes got the world fame he didn’t dream about.

“Lysistrata” is a comedy written by Aristophanes in about 411 BC and this is about a woman who managed to stop the war between Athens and Sparta by a very dodgy way – with a help of a woman strike. The name “Lysistrata” means the “The destroyer of the war”. The comedy was creating in the conditions of the worsening position of Athens. Peloponnesian War went on and Sparta got new powerful companions, including Persia. In this comedy women and girls from the whole Greece become the initiators of establishing piece, who suffered a lot from hardships of war, who are tired of separation and losses. Aristophanes called to those units all the warring men: to their need in love. This common to all mankind need appears to be under the threat. Woman of the whole Greece united headed by Athenian Lysistrata and secluded themselves in Acropolis. Having locked themselves up there they retract from man’s love until they finish the war, besides women also overtake the treasury of the state. All the efforts of man to change the situation fail (Ball 2008).

The war was between Athens and Sparta and lasted for ten years, and it was this war that Aristophanes opposed in the comedy “The Knights”. Later there were several years of armistice, but then the war started again. Aristophanes despaired that “The Knights” will manage to finish the war and he composes comedy-fairy-tale, where the world is inside out, where woman are smarter and stronger then man, where Lysistrata really ruins the war, this deadly men’s venture by arranging a whole Greece female strike. Comedies used to be obscene, that is the law of a spring theatre season, and there was a place in “Lysistrata” for all that obscenity.

This play has two Choruses – the chorus of women and old men. These choruses fought for citadel to possess it. Lysistrata is a young and beautiful woman, who during long and sleepless nights came to the thought that “So fine it comes to this–Greece saved by Woman!” (Prologue) Only woman can stop the war. “Our country’s fate is henceforth in our hands: To destroy the Peloponnesians root and branch—“(Aristophanes 2002). To gain that noble goal all the woman of Greece must be united: “But if the women join us From Peloponnesus and Boeotia, then Hand in hand we’ll rescue Greece” (Aristophanes 2002).

Lysistrata is going to gain her goal by an easy and accessible for all woman way: to arrange a peculiar female strike, to refuse conjugal affection to man until they stop the war. Following Lysistrata’s order woman capture state treasury, that is mostly spent on war. Here is her self-characteristic: “I am a woman, but I’m not a fool. And what of natural intelligence I own Have been filled out with the remembered precepts My father and the city-elders taught me” (Aristophanes, Sommerstein 2002).

Lysistrata’s dialog with a state official gives the idea about her political views. She considers that woman should take more active part in political and social life, condemns corruption and prefers democratic forms of government. Female strike gains success and the war in whole Greece finishes.

Lysistrata is determined to stop the senseless war, gathers women from all over Greece in the square in front of the Athenian Acropolis. She offers them “We must refrain from every depth of love…. We’ll disregard their knocking, beat them off–And they will soon be rabid for a Peace. I’m sure of it” (Aristophanes 2002). It was difficult and took long time but women agreed. They take refuge in the Acropolis and do not allow anyone to themselves. All the civilian population is divided into two camps: women and the Old Men (all young men were at war). Women quarrel with the old men, fights happen, but women remain relentless. After some time, however, some women try to escape from the Acropolis under the different veils, but Lysistrata stopped everybody

Every strike begins with the conspiracy. Lysistrata gathers women for collusion from all over Greece in the area before the Acropolis in Athens. They are going slowly: someone has laundry, someone cook, other has children. Lysistrata was angry: “If they were trysting for a Bacchanal, A feast of Pan or Colias or Genetyllis, The tambourines would block the rowdy streets, But now there’s not a woman to be seen Except–ah, yes–this neighbour of mine yonder” (Aristophanes 2002). Finally they all gathered. “Are you not sad your children’s fathers Go endlessly off soldiering afar In this plodding war? I am willing to wager There’s not one here whose husband is at home. – By the two Goddesses, Yes! I will though I’ve to pawn this very dress And drink the barter-money the same day. – And I too though I’m split up like a turbot And half is hackt off as the price of peace. – And I too! Why, to get a peep at the shy thing I’d clamber up to the tip-top o’ Taygetus. – No, I won’t do it. Let the war proceed. – Just as Menelaus, they say, Seeing the bosom of his naked Helen Flang down the sword. – But if they should force us? – Yield then, but with a sluggish, cold indifference. There is no joy to them in sullen mating” (Aristophanes, Sommerstein 2002). Finally they agreed to bring a solemn oath on a huge wineskin: “To husband or lover I’ll not open arms” (Aristophanes, Sommerstein 2002).

Oath was proclaimed and they came to actions. Chorus of women take the Athenian Acropolis. Chorus of old men – the young men were called to the war – go to the Acropolis to assault it. The old men shake fiery torches, the women are threatened with buckets of water. “What is your fire for then, you smelly corpse? Yourself to burn? – To build a pyre and make your comrades ready for the urn. – And I’ve the water to put out your fire immediately” (Ball 2008). Quarrel, fight, soaked old men run off. “Now I appreciate Euripides’ strange subtlety: Woman is the most shameless beast of all the beasts that be” (Aristophanes 2002). Two choruses are bickering with songs.

The oldest man, the state advisor come to the stage, barely moving his feet. Here the main part of any Greek drama started – a dispute take place. “Why do you women come prying and meddling in matters of state touching war-time and peace? – That I will tell you. – Well, so I did nothing but sit in the house, feeling dreary, and sigh, While ever arrived some fresh tale of decisions more foolish by far and presaging disaster. Then I would say to him, “O my dear husband, why still do they rush on destruction the faster?” At which he would look at me sideways, exclaiming, “Keep for your web and your shuttle your care, Or for some hours hence your cheeks will be sore and hot; leave this alone, war is Man’s sole affair! – For war from now on is the Women’s affair” (Ball 2008).

Adviser and the chorus, of course, cannot withstand such impudence, again fights start, daring song from both sides are heard, and the women come out victorious.

But it’s too early to exult! Women are people, too, yearn for men and just look for a way to escape from the Acropolis, and the Lysistrata catcht them and relieve. “I must get home. I’ve some Milesian wool Packed wasting away, and moths are pushing through it. – Fine moths indeed, I know. Get back within. – By the Goddesses, I’ll return instantly. I only want to stretch it on my bed. – You shall stretch nothing and go nowhere either. – O holy Eilithyia, stay this birth. Till I have left the precincts of the place! – I’ll drop it any minute. – Yesterday you weren’t with child” (Aristophanes, Sommerstein 2002). Again persuasion and admonition: “You wicked women, cease from juggling lies. You want your men. But what of them as well? They toss as sleepless in the lonely night, I’m sure of it. Hold out awhile, hold out, But persevere a teeny-weeny longer. An oracle has promised Victory If we don’t wrangle. Would you hear the words?” (Aristophanes 20002). Near the walls of the Acropolis a man appeares, his name is Cinesias, which means “The Pusher”. All the comic actors should have phalluses, and his was just gigantic one. “Sweet little Myrrhine! What do you mean? Come here. – O no I won’t. Why are you calling me? You don’t want me. – Not want you! with this week-old strength of love. – Not till a treaty finishes the war” (Ball 2008). And the woman is hiding, and the man writhed with passion and song howling about his suffering. Chorus of old men sympathize to him. There is nothing to do with it; they have to come to peace. The Athenian and Spartan ambassadors came together; they had phalluses of such sizes that all of them understand each other without words. Negotiations begin. Lysistrata come down to them, reminds them of an old friendship and alliance, praises for valor, chides for absurd strife. Everybody wants to come to peace, to get women, tillage and harvest, children, drinks, and fun. Without any bargaining, they exchange with captured things and, looking at the Lysistrata, exclaim: “I’ve never seen a nobler woman anywhere. – Nor I one with such prettily jointing hips” (Aristophanes, Sommerstein 2002). Men admired her intellect and beauty. They all miss their wives and quickly come to agreement. Peace concluded, happy husbands take their wives and go home. Athenian and Spartan husbands snap up their wives and go away from the scene singing and dancing.

In general this comedy is about the strike between to sex – male and female. It showed how women took leadership and made men come to peace. It’s also connected with sex, drama, violence and politics.

Works Cited:

Aristophanes. Lysistrata. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. 8th ed. Ed. Sarah Lawall, et. al. 2 vols. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. I. 722-755. Print.
Aristophanes, Sommerstein, A.H. Lysistrata and other plays. 2002. p. 163. Print.
Ball, J.A., Chemers, M.M., Aristophanes. Lysistrata: a new adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy. 2008. pp. 78-79. Print.