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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
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
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
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
"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
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
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Ancient Greece, Lysistrata, Women in war, Literature, 1st millennium BC, Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes, Sex strike, The Clouds, Peace, Classical Athens, Sparta
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