Sunday, April 03, 2011

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

"Yes, we’re going to save you, whether you like it or not."
Lysistrata is a classic play written in 411 BC by Aristophanes which centres around a woman named Lysistrata who frustrated by an ongoing civil war organizes the women of Athens to take matters into their own hands. Lysistrata persuades the female population not to have sex with their husbands until a treaty has been signed and the war is over. Faced-paced and filled with shocking behaviour and comments this sex comedy has managed to stay both relevant and humorous over the years.

Lysistrata definitely managed to shock me, at times I could hardly believe I was reading a classic Greek play. Not only do men walk around with large, painful erections on stage but there are references to masturbation, sex toys, and all sorts of other sexual humour that honestly made me blush a little at times.

What I particularly loved about the play was the cleverness of it, the characters are constantly making puns, sexual and otherwise, like when Lysistrata says she has summoned the women regarding something larger and another character looks intrigued and asks her if it is thick also. As outlandish as the play is at times, it is also intelligently written and the dialogue flows smoothly and enjoyably. Even though sex is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing the play, it's also not just about sex. Here's one example of a conversation that is both clever and still relevant:
Lysistrata: If only you had common sense, you would always do in politics the same as we do with our yarn.
Magistrate: Come, how is that, eh?
Lysistrata: First we wash the yarn to separate the grease and filth; do the same with all bad citizens, sort them out and drive them forth with rods — they're the refuse of the city. Then for all such as come crowding up in search of employments and offices, we must card them thoroughly; then, to bring them all to the same standard, pitch them pell-mell into the same basket, resident aliens or no, allies, debtors to the State, all mixed up together. Then as for our Colonies,you must think of them as so many isolated hanks; find the ends of the separate threads, draw them to a centre here, wind them into one, make one great hank of the lot, out of which the public can weave itself a good, stout tunic.
Clearly, there are many reasons why Lysistrata has lasted so long as a play. The only issue I had reading it was that it felt rushed and came to a resolution too quickly. I do think if I ever saw it performed live that the pacing would probably be better, but I read the entire thing at a similar speed (I'm pretty sure that's how everyone reads?) and so the play felt heavy on the beginning and light in the middle, with some odd pacing going on near the end. I'm also perpetually skeptical of the use of a chorus in a play but that's a personal preference and I realize that traditionally they have been very popular.

Overall, Lysistrata is both a shocking and humorous play. In addition to some lewd behaviour and clever innuendo, Aristophanes makes an interesting comment on politics and Lysistrata certainly leaves a lot of possibility for discussion when it comes to the role of the females. Ultimately, this is one easy to read and easy to recommend classic play and while it may make you blush, it will certainly make you laugh as well.

Release Date: 411 BC
Pages: 64
Source: Free Ebook
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  1. Great review! This one is coming up soon in my pile - I got my hands on it a few months ago, without having heard of it. Glad I made the purchase!

  2. Thanks for the review. Now I will have to add Lysistrata to my TBR pile.

  3. The pacing is very typical of Greek comedies, but I am not really sure why. I have studied this multiple times and it is a great play.


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