It is important to understand that the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata” serves as an example of how, throughout Greek drama, civil unrest is often defined and framed in terms of gender and sexual conflict. For example, female choruses, the Furies, male supremacy, female protest and incest have all been used as dramatic vehicles to convey a variety of issues, problems and disasters, including war and the subversion of traditional morality and values. In this way, the theater served as the primary forum for civic dialog among the ancient Greeks.In Aristophanes” “Lysistrata,” women refused to engage in any sexual activity with their husbands in order to demand that the warfare between Sparta and Athens be brought to an end.
The reader cannot help but smile when Lysistrata demands the women repeat the oath: “To husband or lover I”ll not open my thighs though he bring proof-of-love of monstrous size” (Lysistrata 260-264). The oath becomes increasingly threatening to the men with the women swearing they will not “wiggle with my toes stretched at the roof” (277) and “nor crouch like carven lions with arse in air” (279).Lysistrata,” demonstrates the depth of loathing for the war that was prevalent throughout Athens after the ruinous campaign to Sicily. The play goes far beyond sexual innuendo and provides a great deal of insight into the timelessness of human sexuality and desire.
The war between Athens and Sparta is of relatively little significance when compared to the war between the sexes. Aristophanes also clearly intended to make a political statement regarding the foolishness of continued Athenian military aggression.Of course he was not seriously suggesting that a sex strike could be a legitimate way bringing the Peloponnesian War to a close. It is much more likely that he wanted to suggest that the actual motivations for the war should be suspect. Lysistrata’s scheme to force the men of Greece to the peace table could never have been successful. Property issues, the role of women, and the sexuality of Athenian men prohibited Athenian women from making such a bold gesture much less being able to exert any sort of meaningful political influence.But again, Aristophanes is following the great dramatic tradition of asking the audience “what if? ” Although presented as a humorous tale, the play on the whole is quite sad. The story still gives voice to the constant male versus female battle of ideologies and sensibilities.
Athens was not simply a democracy, as most modern students understand that concept. Instead, it was a patriarchy in its most extreme form. All the benefits of citizenship were reserved for men. Women could not vote, own property, testify in court, perform in the theater or attend the assembly.Numerous social theorists and cultural anthropologists have assumed that women were more than likely banned from attending major “community ” events such as the theater festivals or other “male” events such as the Olympic games. Lysistrata does not cry for the loss of “women’s way” but instead encourages the other women to use, literally, their sex as a weapon. She is able to see the humor in what she proposes but still forges on. Lysistrata and the women accomplish what they set out to but Aristophanes does not make it clear who finally ended the actual battles between Sparta and Athens.
Perhaps he intentionally left the audience wondering which side caved in first. “Who freed Athens? The blameless young heroes, Harmodios and Aristogeiton, or the Alkmeonidai with the Spartans? Were the young heroes blameless or just erotically miffed? Were the Alkmeonidai supported by Apollo’s will or Apollo’s venality? Thucydides is better evidence for the existence of the arguments than for the facts behind them. But whatever the facts there was something here for every taste, intrigue in high places, violence, sex in many shapes” (Forrest 240).
As a playwright (and a showman), Aristophanes was as willing as Shakespeare to take advantage of the situations presented to him in the context of great epic stories and shape them to meet his own dramatic ends. In fact, Marshall based an entire study on the ways in which Aristophanes took advantage of the “regulations” of the ancient theater gatherings (only three speaking actors were allowed ion a play presented for a festival) and turned it to his own advantage in terms of universality of belief as shown in Lysistrata and the fact that, behind their masks, the women were all “saying” the same thing.The audience is actively aware that roles are being shared, since one actor’s performance (and not a particular character’s) is being evaluated by the judges” (Marshall 77). It was important for the audience of Aristophanes”” time to be able to discern the message within the message and the more subtle aspects of the stories being presented. Characters were presented in ways that demonstrated their larger qualities as well as representing the ways in which Aristophanes wanted a certain aspect of a social class or group of people to be represented.For example, some characters would speak with a certain accent so that the audience understood that these were uneducated or country people compared to other characters that were of the aristocracy. Even though there have been critics throughout history who have thought of: Lysistrata” as outrageously illogical, the fact remains that it is still a delightful premise.
Aristophanes obviously understood that and, in modern parlance, milked it for all it was worth in the common tradition of dramatists.It is abundantly clear in the dramas of ancient Greece that the society of that time was every bit as conflicted about issues of gender as is modern society. Throughout the plays, whether billed as tragedy or comedy, the audience is presented with characters that have chosen to move beyond gender constraints, often to their benefit, often to their detriment.
The age-old issue determinants of appropriate behavior and mindset are clearly accepted (or condemned) based on the societal constraints related to gender. By this definition, it is legitimate to make the simplistic statement that the more things change; the more they remain the same.