Monday, January 31, 2011

Lysistrata - Better late than never, I hope.

Dang it! I just realized that my Classics Circuit Ancient Greek Classics post was supposed to be posted on Sunday. All this time, I thought that I had been assigned to post on January 31. Well, I hope this post is worth the wait, if anyone comes back to read it a day later.

For this tour, I wanted to read something new, so I chose Lysistrata by Aristophanes. I was a high school English teacher for fifteen years, and I taught some of the tragedies several times. I was familiar with the premise of Lysistrata, but I had never read it or seen it acted on the stage (and I'm not sure that I'd want to now).

I thought that I had the play in an old Norton Anthology or other literature textbook, but I couldn't find it. Rather than purchase a copy or check one out from the library, I decided to read the book on my computer and iPhone for free. I got the book from Project Gutenberg, which means there were few footnotes and only a brief but interesting introduction/commentary.

One of the things that I like about Shakespeare's comedies (and even some of his tragedies) is his use of sexual innuendo and bawdy jokes. Yes, sometimes the puns are groan inducing, but they are generally so well-placed that I can't help but laugh a little. I don't know if some of Aristophanes' skill with humor is lost in this translation or not, but the phallic humor wore on me.

The play's premise is that the men of Greece spend too much time away from home, at war with one another. Lysistrata hatches a plan to bring about peace. She convinces all the women to refrain from having sex until the men agree to sign a peace treaty. Of course, the women resist her arguments at first but eventually agree. The women take control of the citadel and threaten to take over the treasury before the men begin to rebel. Lysistrata's plan works but not before some of the women threaten to give up and the men threaten to beat and even burn the women out of the building.

As I've already said the play is full of phallic jokes, obvious and sophomoric, jokes that only the prudest wouldn't see coming. For example, the men take a stand, a naked stand, against the women: "Let each one wag / As youthfully as he can, / And if he has the cause at heart / Rise at least a span." And later, when the Spartan and Athenian men are about to agree to a peace treaty, the Chorus chimes in with "The situation swells to greater tension / Something will explode soon." Ha! Ha! (To be completely honest, I did laugh at some of the dirty jokes in the first few pages of the play, but after a while, I just got tired of them.)

As a feminist, I feel like I should like this play. I'm sure it has a lot to say about gender and power, but I thought it was so obvious and simplistic that I couldn't really get engaged in the story or the characters. If I were teaching this play, I would research the status of women in ancient Greece, and I would probably find my way to liking it. I didn't do any research before or after I read it, and I didn't read the other Classics Circuit Ancient Greeks post on the play because I didn't want to have other people's ideas in my head when I read the play for the first time. Maybe I'll come back and update this post after reading the other post on this play. For now, though, I'm done. Later.


Shannyn said...

I don't really see Lysistrata as a feminist play, because it implies the only power (the only way they could impact war) was through their sexuality. And most of the women are portrayed as weak, barely being able to withold sex from their husbands.

Kim said...

Shannyn, I think you're right. Since I posted, I have thought more about the play, and I think that I was feeling the same as you, but I couldn't articulate it. That's why I couldn't immediately (and still don't) like this play. Thanks for putting words to my feelings.

Rebecca Reid said...

Oh it's too bad it got old. The premise sounded so funny -- and I"ve heard Aristophanes is hilarious.

And sorry about the dates -- I wonder if that was my confusion somewhere? Did I tell you wrong? I don' know, I had it down as Sunday. No worries on being a day later, it's all the same in the end!