Lysistrata

Aristophanes was a “craft” comedy poet in the fourth century B.C.

during the time of the Peloponnesian War. Aristophanes’ usual style was
to be too satirical, and suggesting the outlandish. He shows little
mercy when mocking Socrates and his “new-fangled ideas” which were most
likely designed to destroy the cohesiveness of society and lead to
anarchy, in his play The Clouds.
The most absurd and humorous of Aristophanes’ comedies are those in
which the main characters, the heroes of the story, are women. Smart
women.
One of the most famous of Aristophanes’ comedies depicting powerfully
effectual women is the Lysistrata, named after the female lead character
of the play. It portrays Athenian Lysistrata and the women of Athens
teaming up with the women of Sparta to force their husbands to end the
Peloponnesian War.

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To make the men agree to a peace treaty, the women seized the
Acropolis, where Athens’ financial reserves are kept, and prevented the
men from squandering them further on the war. They then beat back an
attack on their position by the old men who have remained in Athens
while the younger men are out on campaign. When their husbands return
from battle, the women refuse to have sex with them. This sex strike,
which is portrayed in a series of (badly) exaggerated and blatant sexual
innuendoes, finally convinces the men of Athens and Sparta to agree to a
peace treaty.
The Lysistrata shows women acting bravely and even aggressively against
men who seem resolved on ruining the city-state by prolonging a
pointless war and excessively expending reserves stored in the
Acropolis. This in turn added to the destruction of their family life
by staying away from home for long stretches while on military
campaign. The men would come home when they could, sexually relieve
themselves, and then leave again to continue a senseless war.

The women challenge the masculine role model to preserve the
traditional way of life of the community. When the women become
challenged themselves, they take on the masculine characteristics and
attitudes and defeat the men physically, mentally but most of all
strategically. Proving that neither side benefits from it, just that
one side loses more than the other side.

It’s easy to see why fourth century B.C. Athenian women would get tired
of their men leaving. Most Athenian women married in their teens and
never had to be on their own, and probably wouldn’t know what to do if
they did land on their own. The men leave for war and some don’t return
because of death or whatever reasons, so now a widow finds herself on
her own, probably with children, and no one to take care of her or her
children.She might be able to enter her male children as a
journeyman/ward to a wealthy family (who either have no male children,
or most likely lost their son(s) in one of the wars) that will raise
him. The widow has few prospects. If she’s young and attractive enough
with the right domestic skills she might be able to remarry. But her
lot isn’t too promising. After all, why would you want a widow, when
you could get a “fresh” wife to “break-in” the way you want and start a
family from your own seed?
According to Lysistrata it is easier to untangling multinational
politics, stop wars and fighting than the women’s work of sorting out
wool. If you just stop war, it’s settled, but with wool all tangles
must be physically labored out by hand. Women’s work is never done.

Lysistrata insists that women have the intelligence and judgment to
make political decisions. She came by her knowledge, she says, in the
traditional way:
“I am a woman, and, yes, I have brains. And I’m not badly off for
judgment. Nor has my education been bad, coming as it has from my
listening often to the conversations of my father and the elders among
the men.”
Lysistrata was schooled in the traditional fashion, by learning from
older men. Her old-fashioned training and good sense allowed her to see
what needed to be done to protect the community. Like the heroines of
tragedy, Lysistrata wants to put things back to the way they were. To do
that, however, she has to become a revolutionary.
Ending the war would be so easy that even women could do it.
Aristophanes is telling Athenian men, and Athenians should concern
themselves with preserving the old ways, lest they be lost.

Aristophanes (Through the eyes of the women) mocks man’s inclination
for fighting. His catalyst was Lysistrata, feminist champion over war
through peace. The idea of role reversal was as funny to the Athenians
as the movie Tootsie is to modern America. Their culture was such that
each gender had very defined roles, and there really wasn’t any room for
leeway.

Women were property. Something beautiful to own, to gaze upon, to
fulfill your sexual needs and desires and to bear and raise your
children in the appropriate cultural aspect. Except for sex and the
family element, women really didn’t have any redeeming social values.
To even consider putting a woman into any position where she would be
required to think, or to make decisions outside of the home was
laughable. This is the root of their humor. Role reversal was true
humor because to imagine a one-dimensional woman in a multifaceted role
was just insane. The sky would fall first.

Whether a Lysistrata could have existed is really mute. The point is
that it never would have happened.
In the opening scenes of the play Lysistrata says “I’m furious with
women and womankind. Don’t all of our husbands say we are not to be
relied upon Don’t they think we are such clever villains?” The women
don’t like the fact that the only power women have had over men from the
dawn of time (and until the end of time) is to withhold sex. By some
accounts, women seemed little more than walking sperm receptacles. That
is their one-dimensional world, to please men, no more or less.

Again this is illustrated at the start of Act Two. Holding-out
started to become a serious internal conflict. The women started to
mutiny. They started making up all sorts of reasons and excuses to
leave the Acropolis. All through the play there is a heavy sexual
connotation, but here the excuses are as phony as any pick up line in
any modern singles social scene.
Woman #1I must go home and spread my fleece out onto the bed!
Woman #2I need to go home, I forgot to strip (my bark from the flax!)
Modern Frat-Boy #1If I told you that you have a GREAT body, would you
hold it against me?
Modern Frat-Boy #2Your hair would look so goodon my pillow.


The underlining notion of returning home is also not specifically
because of their “sex-starvation,” but from the burden of guilt for
being away from their family, their chores and their domestic
responsibilities. They are after all not just defying their husbands
but ultimately the whole Greek culture of the times in which they
lived. They had a place, and status-quo demanded they assume it.


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