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Clytemnestra and Lysistrata

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Clytemnestra and Lysistrata


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Classical scholars generally believed that Athens at the turn of the 5th century achieved one of the greatest zeniths of Western culture. But, on the other hand, the status of women was at its very low. Women were considered, as legal minors and their participation in political activities and intellectual life, especially in arts and literature, were indirect. “Indeed, they rarely emerged from the seclusion of barred women’s quarters except to attend marriages, funerals and civic festivals.

Conversely, men apparently spent little time in the spheres of the home. Marriages represented an involuntary and radical break in the life of a woman”. (Foley, 31)

There is no Western literary form, which is so powerfully woman-centered, than Greek drama. As in the case of fifth-century Greek, many dramas were populated by giant female characters like Clytemnestra and Lysistrata, “who burst the confines of domestic life and act commandingly, though often destructively, in the very political sphere, which was barred to them in life”.

(Slater, 48) Female psychology, their sexual encounters within family, explored in details. “While this is natural in a myth-based literature, the degree of focus on these non-public domestic relationships in a literature, which is through performance so completely public – the dramatic festivals were a matter of great civic pride to the Athenians”. (Foley, 36)

The Character of Lysistrata

Lysistrata is often produced in contemporary theatre. Modern audiences enjoy the sexuality and humor in Aristophanes’ work, and they enjoy what appears as modern feminism and the depiction of strong women. Comedies were very popular presentations during the Greek festivals, and there is no reason to think that Lysistrata was not immensely popular. At the time of the play’s initial production, Athens and Sparta had been at war for twenty years, and this play would have offered one of the few opportunities to laugh at war. The idea that Lysistrata could unite women to end the war would have set up the audience for a traditional battle between the sexes.

However, there are also serious ideas to be found in Lysistrata’s speeches. She reminds the audiences of the many men who have died during the Peloponnesian War, and the Chorus of Old Men emphasizes that there are no young men to take up their position. Aristophanes uses a woman to bring peace, but in doing so, he is pointing out to men that they have failed in their efforts to settle the war. With the failure of men, women are the only remaining hope for peace. There is no record that Aristophanes received any awards for Lysistrata, but the play’s popularity in modern productions points to its probable success on stage.

The Character of Clytemnestra

In Aeschylus’ tragedy Agamemnon, the character of Clytemnestra is portrayed as strong willed woman. This characteristic is not necessarily typical of women of her time. As a result, the reader must take a deeper look into the understanding of Clytemnestra. In Agamemnon she dominates the action. Her most important characteristic is like the watchman calls it, male strength of heart. She is a strong woman, and her strength is evident on many occasions is the play. Later in the play after Clytemnestra murders her husband, Agamemnon, and his concubine, Cassandra, she reveals her driving force and was has spurned all of her actions until this point. Clytemnestra is seen by the Elders of Argos (the Chorus) as untrustworthy and although suspicious of her they still could not foresee the impending murders.

Her words are plain but her meaning hidden to all those around her. She more or less alludes to her plan of murder without fear of being detected. Only the audience can seem to understand the double meaning in her words. One example of how Clytemnestra hides meanings in otherwise plain words is stated in her hope that Agamemnon and his soldiers do not commit any sacrilege in Troy that might offend the gods. Now must they pay due respect to the gods that inhabit the town, the gods of the conquered land, or their victory may end in their own destruction after all.

Compare and Contrast

In Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, the reader is presented with a female central character that revolutionizes the power of women in Greek society in her pursuit for peace. At first glance, the actions undertaken by Lysistrata – taking over the Acropolis, distributing the funds in the treasury as she sees fit, challenging the reputation of women as pernicious and foolish, and depriving men of their honor both intellectually and physically by refusing to allow Athenian and Spartan women to sleep with their husbands– bespeak the same mad power and strength of Clytemnestra. And yet, the purposes of Lysistrata differ so much from those of Clytemnestra that this originator of sexual abstinence resembles the good wife Penelope to a far greater extent. (Fink, 12)
From the very start of the play, Lysistrata and her female supporters declare that the motive for their bold behavior results from a desire to issue peace in order to no longer be separated from their husbands. Faithfully, these women have awaited the return of their spouses from the battlefield; faithful the women intend to remain. Like Penelope, Lysistrata stays true and loyal to her husband, insisting, “Each man stand by his wife, each wife by her husband” (724). The fact that – unlike Penelope – Lysistrata grows impatient anticipating the return of her unnamed husband and becomes actively involved in relieving her impatience neither alters her virtue nor imputes the integrity of her purpose. In addition, the rebellion, instigated by the women, started only after a long period of proper wifely behavior.

“When the war began, like the prudent, dutiful wives that [they] are, [they] tolerated [the] men, and endured” (694)

The men’s decisions quietly, without presuming to become involved in matters that their husbands believed to be beyond their slight comprehension. Thus, Lysistrata’s plot proves not a long-meditated deed of revenge (as is the case with Clytemnestra), but the result of a good wife missing her husband for too long and coming up with a quick solution to be united with him once more. (Fink, 14)
Moreover, while Lysistrata shares the cunning, quick-witted abilities of both Clytemnestra and Penelope, Aristophanes’ heroine embraces the notion of the quiet life led by Penelope before Odysseus sets off to war, and dispenses with the destructive faculties portrayed by Clytemnestra. Lysistrata’s aim is “to work in concert for safety and Peace in Greece”, and to “straighten…out and set… right” (695) the men. The intention expressed shares nothing with Clytemnestra’s drive to bring shame, ruin, and dishonor to her husband. On the contrary, Lysistrata seeks a means to enlighten, enrich, and make happy all the citizens of Greece (though the men do face dishonor in the process). The mischief Lysistrata causes with her demand for temporary sexual abstinence proves not much different than the slight injury done to the suitors by Penelope unweaving her cloth every night: Some insult to men does occur, but for the sake of remaining faithful and loving to the heroines’ husbands. (Fink, 16)
A further reference to Penelope and her loom can be observed within the text of Lysistrata itself. When the commissioner of public safety mockingly asks Lysistrata how she intends to execute peace and solve the problems of Greek society, the woman cleverly replies using weaving imagery. Explains Lysistrata:

“It’s rather like yarn. When a hank’s in a tangle, we lift it – so – and work out the snarls by winding it up on spindles, now this way, now that way. That’s how we’ll wind up the war” (697).

Besides the obvious allusion to Penelope’s famed device, Lysistrata seems to imitate Penelope herself in using the skills of weaving and unraveling to determine the environment of the kingdom. While Penelope uses her talent in these areas to delay the suitors, Lysistrata metaphorically employs these tactics to halt a war. Both women utilize these methods for a dutiful, proper, “good wife” purpose, and both women succeed in their plans.
Lysistrata demonstrates all the active and irked determination of Clytemnestra, but her desire for peace and faithful behavior to her husband show her to be far more like Penelope. Even a Spartan warrior declares that he “hain’t never seed no higher type of woman” (720) than Lysistrata, for she epitomizes the nature of women at its best as viewed by Greek society: dangerous, cunning, liable to get out of hand, but also loyal, subservient when united with her husband, obedient, and matronly. The “weaving” language of the play itself connotes Lysistrata’s connection to Penelope as a good wife. Hence, Lysistrata’s goal and reasons assert themselves more important than some of the consequences of her actions and define her, when considering her desire for peace, as a Penelope-like good wife. (Fink, 18)

Works Cited

Foley, Helene, P, Sex and State in Ancient Greece, Diacritics, Vol. 5,

No. 4, 1975, pp. 31-36

Slater, Philip, E, The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek

Family, Boston, Beacon Press, 1968, pp 48

Fink, Elana. Lysistrata: The Actively Good Wife, Susan Sterr-Ryan, March

26, 2002, pp 12-18

Cite this Clytemnestra and Lysistrata

Clytemnestra and Lysistrata. (2016, Sep 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/clytemnestra-and-lysistrata/

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