Lysystrata Essay

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ENG297 SUMMER2006 PROF. BERMAN GARY LINDBERG Aristophanes’’ LYSISTRATA The play is an ancient Greek comedy set in Athens during time of war amongst the city states themselves. The story is told how Lysistrata, a wise woman of Athens, calls her fellow woman compatriots from all of Greece, Athens to Sparta and all points in between, to withhold sexual favors from their husbands and lovers until Greece is saved from endless warfare between Hellenes. “A tremendous thing! comes to this--Greece saved by Woman!” in the words of Lysistrata. Armed with womanly charms and wiles (controlling the Acropolis treasury besides), united with sisters from other great city states, the women would defeat all foes and save the race. The plan well laid out, and under oath to stay united, women emissaries return to their cities to withhold their favors until the men make a treaty and end the wars. The seized Acropolis is the scene where the battle plays out. Two choruses, one of old men and one of old women duke it out mainly with words, the men seek to use fire and force to drive the women out. In answer the women douse them and their fire-pots with water much to their humiliation. To threat of violence the women answer in kind intimidating the men to comic impotence. A Magistrate with officers appears and his men are frightened off as he blusters attempting to regain control of the treasury. Lysistrata spells out her terms to him and he is humiliated and sent away. The chorus battle intensifies to rage where the combatants strip naked to savor the scent of men and women in passion for their cause. The women of the oath waver, desiring their men. By this time, the ploy working obviously well, one of the husbands approaches and attempts to persuade his wife to lay with him. He is all too easily toyed with and rebuffed by his wife as the banter between the choruses takes on a new tone of sexual tension. The Athenian Magistrate and male envoys from Sparta and all Greece convene on the Acropolis to entreat for peace. Their embarrassing condition all too obvious the men agree to what ever terms Lysistrata might demand in order to end the boycott. Playing her trump card to the hilt, she brings out a nude maid she calls “Peace” or “Reconciliation” before the tortured men as she spells out her terms of peace. The glories of Greece are propounded with all social virtues which ought to validate civilization. Driven to distraction by the sight of the maid the men agree to make peace at all costs. Once peace is settled the men and women unite in feast and dance, friends compatriots and lovers all.
Lysistrata proclaims Earth herself is pleased and Great Athene, Goddess of the city is praised. At first glance Lysistrata seems to play simply on the baser impulses of its audience and make pure sport of the relations of the sexes. There go those licentious Greeks again with their fertility cults. Knowing that the plays were performed for religious festival seems to confirm this. Learning that the actors wore huge leathern phalluses also supported this view. The battle of the sexes set in comedy, albeit cleverly done. This take on the play does not bear much scrutiny, however. Yes the culture was much less prudish than our own, but there were still ideals of virtue and chastity. I thought at one point how successful could a women’s strike be amongst a nation renowned for their homosexual practices and idealization of the beauty of the male form? The religion does indeed include fertility cult practices with priestesses and temple virgins who practiced ritual prostitution. And a merely comic tale of female revolt cowing the men into submission seems too shallow as well. Looking for deeper meaning brings out the fuller picture of Aristophanes intent. The play was written as an affirmation of life, love, earthly pleasures, Amity amongst Greeks, the civilizing