We are rejoined by actresses Lucy Lawless and Emily Perkins to discuss Aristophanes’s bawdy play. Listen to us perform it first.
Supplementary readings included Jeffery Henderson’s introduction to his 1988 translation of the play; “Sexual Humor and Harmony in Lysistrata” by Jay M. Semel (1981); and “The ‘Female Intruder’ Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae” by Helene P. Foley (1982).
We discuss the play in terms of a clash between the oikos (home) and polis (city). Women were taken to have rights and responsibilities in the oikos, but none in the polis. Unlike in tragedies like Antigone, where the female lead adopts assertive, “male” traits to “intrude” into the polis, Lysistrata exerts political power by making use of oikos values, i.e., by encouraging women to use the the type of power traditionally associated with women, and so ultimately her “revolution” is not revolutionary at all.
We explore the various feminist and anti-feminist elements in the play, and try to relate it to the present: Women were oppressed because sex was (and is!) seen as inherently dangerous, as disruptive to political life. Can “make love, not war” be a politically effective slogan now? Given that women are now much less restricted to particular roles, what do we make of claims that are still made now that if women ran things, we’d have a lot less war? What would it be for a woman in politics now to exert her “feminine attributes” to gain power in the way Lysistrata does? Given how messed up Ancient Greek society was, does this play have anything to teach us?
Early on we talk about four different translations of the same passage; here’s where you can find what we were looking at.
Here’s the trailer for Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s modern take on the play.