Aristophanes and Women
Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata provides the audience with a comedic relief to one of the more pervading themes of war and peace, while also highlighting the empowerment of women. The setting of this play takes place during a time when war was customary and fighting between countrymen was familiar. Aristophanes wrote the play during the Peloponnesian War when Athens and Sparta were engaging in continuous battles that weakened supplies and destroyed cities.
Athens unfortunately was suffering a great deal more during this time, however their refusal of peace sparked much debate and allowed Aristophanes to critique the ideals of politics in an environment that was less threatening, such as the theatre. Although the central theme regarding the foolishness of war and necessity for peace is evident, it is less certain if Aristophanes’ intentions were to inspire the rise of women in the society of that time.
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It is a well known detail that women of ancient Greece were not considered equal members of society compared to their male counterparts, however Aristophanes gives wisdom and freedom to the female characters far beyond their presumed capabilities. The Lysistrata provides a unique perspective on the senselessness of war and the peaceful nature of women through the aesthetic nature of unity. One of the central themes presented throughout the play is the absolute necessity of peace. War has a destructive effect by nature, and when it is being demonstrated between countrymen there is often a consequential lasting impression.
The Peloponnesian War in particular was regarded by many as both damaging and senseless for Athens and Sparta. Both countries exercised a lack of judgment and consequently exhausted many resources and lives. In an effort to illustrate the negative aspects surrounding war, Aristophanes uses the unique perspective of the wives to convey its indirect effects. Often times when we think of war we reflect on the costs, the resources, and the lives that are all being sacrificed for a specific cause or dispute.
However, when considering these variables it is common to overlook the indirect impact war can impose on families, wives and children. Before proposing her strategy to end the war, Lysistrata asks the women a provoking question, “Are you not sad your children’s fathers go endlessly off soldiering afar in this plodding war? I am willing to wager there’s not one here whose husband is at home. “ (Lysistrata, 108-110). As each woman tells of the months she has endured without her husband, they begin to express the lengths and extent to hich they would go to end the war if that decision were left in their hands. Myrrihine offers to pawn her dress, “…I will though I’ve to pawn this very dress and drink the barter-money the same day. ” While Calonice presents her own body as sacrifice, “And I too though I’m split up like a turbot and half is hacked off as the price of peace. ” Even Lampito expresses her desire for peace, “ I’d clamber up to the tip-top o’ Taygetus to get a glimpse of peace. ” (Lysistrata, 122-129). It is evident through the expressions of these women that the desire for a treaty is their upmost concern.
Aristophanes utilizes the female characters within this play to emphasize the demand for peace and demonstrate how war has the potential to not only divide nations, but it can divide families as well. As many other nations during the fifth century, Greek men held all forms of power within their society. Women were commonly regarded as companions, and only seen as sources of reproduction. Their role in ancient Greece was purely to fulfill the traditional duties of child rearing and household labor. To even consider women in a position of power or being capable of sensible organization was comical.
They were by no means regarded as equals amongst men, and therefore by exploiting them as central figures Aristophanes incidentally prompts their rise to power. Although Greek men possessed dominance over women in their society, they lacked a clear sense of wisdom and reasoning regarding the Peloponnesian War. In comparison, their female counterparts recognized this senselessness and maintained their insight and peaceful nature. Aristophanes creates strong female characters that immediately direct their empowerment and desire for peace, however he does this by manipulating their sexual dominance.
The women not only successfully overtake the Akropolis, but also devise a plan to refrain from sex with their husbands until a treaty is made between Athens and Sparta. “We must refrain from every depth of love… ” (Lysistrata, 134). Initially the women are relentless, but after they realize the drastic effect this could have on their men they take an oath of abstinence. The women remain in the Akropolis until their husbands are begging for their attention, however they keep to their oath until finally a treaty is made. …Witnesses of our revelry and of the noble peace we have made, Aphrodite our aid ” (Lysistrata, 1484-1485). Aristophanes empowered the women by transcending their traditional roles to authoritative figures. These women utilized the most basic form of female dominance to not only gain power, but also initiate a treaty for a common cause. There are several main themes depicted throughout this play, however I believe Aristophanes illustrated these subjects in a manner that brought together a greater underlying message of strength in unity.
Both the notion of peace, and the newfound power brought forth by a presumed weak group of women clearly speaks to the depth of unity. “Earth is delighted now, peace is the voice of Earth. Spartans, sort out your wives: Athenians, yours. Let each catch hands with his wife and dance his joy, dance out his thanks, be grateful in music, and promise reformation with his heels. ” (Lysistrata, 1466-1470). It is commonly regarded that the weak can be strong when the cause is just, and in this particular case it has held true. The peace that was brought forth not only united families once again, but additionally united a nation.
Aristophanes demonstrates through his unique form of comedy an entirely new meaning to the phrase, “make love, not war. ” He utilizes both the beauty and dominance of female characters, and initiated a new ideal regarding their rise to power and possibly equality. However, although the sexual theme grabs our attention there remains a strong underlying theme of both peace and unity. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata provides us with that unique perspective on war and through the peaceful nature of women further emphasizes the aesthetic nature of unity.