Lysistrata by Aristophanes is a particularly difficult play to analyse from a modern perspective, especially since our views and understandings are far from those of the target audience of the play. This makes it very difficult to assess just what was the main joke of the play. One could argue that the main joke is based around the women taking over the public affairs, but one could equally argue that the main joke is based on the sex strike among other themes. This paper will explore to an extent whether the women taking over public affairs was the main joke and what social attitudes can be discerned form the humour in the play, focusing on the attitudes towards women despite many other attitudes discernible throughout the play which will not be explored here due to the huge extent to which these topics can be explored.
The sex strike could indeed be seen as the main joke as it appears to be at the centre of the play. As Halliwell puts it ‘sex and war are the comic heart of the play.’ No one can get by without sex. At the start of the play it is the women who are in anguish and ‘sex mad’, but towards the end of the play the focus changes tact and it is the men who are in anguish. But would this work as the focus of the whole play? How could it have worked unless there was some real contention between husbands and wives in this period, which we just don’t know of? Sommerstein asserts that this was most likely not the mindset of Aristophanes’ essentially male audience…for one thing, the plot requires us to assume that consensual marital sex was the only kind of sex available to an Athenian male; well-known alternatives are simply ignored. Ultimately the concept brings around more questions than answers. Is the comic tension simply who is going to crack first in a situation which is a fantasy?
The concept of women taking over public affairs is also questionable as the main joke of the play. Hulton argues that the women’s occupation of the acropolis is indeed the central theme to the play, but when one looks at the play as a whole one can’t help but notice that this theme often takes a considerable backseat, especially in the second half. Parker assesses that this theme works in connection with the sex theme in order to represent love in its civic manifestation, the bond between husband and wife identified with the city itself. The treatment of these ‘twin themes’ though appears to leave us with nothing more than an alluring fantasy.
This concept does have a comic tone which is significant in the play. For instance the comic reversal of the ways of the οικος favourably compared to those of the πολις with the old women defeating the old men of the chorus, Lysistrata’s attendants beating the Scythian archers and when the magistrate is symbolically turned into a woman. It is also fair to note that the women in the play do represent οικος and πολις for as Lysistrata points out, why can’t they look after the finances of the πολις? After all they look after the οικος finances. It is even said that there is a need for women to save or rescue the whole of Greece from war as the men have created such chaos, an idea which in the mind of the male audience of the period would have surely been preposterous, and even more comic as the women are actually able to take over. This concept though almost becomes forgotten in parts of the play as it is overshadowed which suggests that though it was an important concept it may not have been created in order to be the main joke of Lysistrata.
The attitudes that emerge in Lysistrata are a mixture of social reality and comic stereotyping. There are a number of attitudes which are portrayed in the play, for instance the idea that Athens was a society in which the unmarried woman had no role or place. The institution of marriage appears to be the foundation of society in Lysistrata, which is very different from in Aristophanes’ other plays such as the promiscuous sexuality of the Acharnians. The humour of the play particularly highlights the woman’s prominent role in marriage as well as in burial and lament. For instance the chorus of the old women ‘bury’ the magistrate, and pour a ‘nuptial bath’ on the old men ‘to make them grow.’
Also in relation to the social attitudes towards women the humour of the play discerns comic stereotypes of Athenian wives, for instance, as secret, heavy drinkers. The play discerns attitudes towards two groups of women; the first group of young sexually active women is portrayed in a rather negative manner appearing foolish and easily manipulated by their bodily desires, particularly their lust for sex and wine. The second group of older women past their prime are portrayed in a more positive manner: they pray to the gods, perform services in the cults of the πολις and are introduced to the stage while performing a classic type of portrayed female work (carrying water from a fountain). The attitudes towards different groups of women are seen throughout both parts of the play.
Social attitudes concerning a woman’s place and duties are also discerned throughout the play. For instance Kalonike comments when Lysistratas is exasperated over the women’s failure to appear that the domestic duties make it hard for women to leave the house. This among many other passages discerns the norms of respectability in relation to women and is seen as the general social attitude towards the place of women. Their place was in the home, not to be seen or heard. Foley argues though that Lysistrata dissipates the standard comic and tragic expectations of behaviour of women. Still, as Faraone points out there is a repeated association with both day-to-day household economy and with important civic rituals and cults which women were expected to participate in.
Aristophanes, Lysistrata (Penguin trans.), pp.177-235
Dillon, M., The Lysistrata as a Post-Deceleian Peace Play, in Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol.117 (1987), pp.97-104
Faraone, C.A., Salvation and Female Heroics in the Parodos of Aristophane’s Lysistrata, in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 117 (1997), pp.38-59
Fletcher, J., Women and Oaths in Euripides, in Theatre Journal, Vol.55, No.1 Ancient Theatre (2003), pp.29-44
Foley, H.P., The “Female Intruder” Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae, in Classical Philology, Vol.77, No.1 (1982), pp.1-21
Halliwell, S., Aristophanes – Birds, Lysistrata, Assembly women, Wealth (Oxford, 1997), pp.79-89
Hulton, A.O., The Women on the Acropolis: A Note on the Structure of the ‘Lysistrata’, in Greece and Rome, Second Series, Vol.19, No.1 (1972), pp.32-36
Parker, D., Lattimore, R., and Arrowsmith, W., Four Plays by Aristophanes (Middlesex, 1964), pp.342-344
Sommerstein, A.H., Penguin Classics: Aristophanes – Lysistrata and Other Plays (London, 2002), pp.134-137
 Halliwell, S., Aristophanes – Birds, Lysistrata, Assemby-women, Wealth (Oxford, 1997), p.79
 Sommerstein, A.H., Penguin Classics: Aristophanes – Lysistrata and Other Plays (London, 2002), p.136
 Hulton, A.O., The Women on the Acropolis: A Note on the Structure of the ‘Lysistrata’, in Greece and Rome, Second Series, Vol.19, No.1 (1972), p.32
 Parker, D., Lattimore, R., and Arrowsmith, W., Four Plays by Aristophanes (Middlesex, 1964), p.343
 Halliwell, op.cit., p.83
 Dillon, M., The Lysistrata as a Post-Deceleian Peace Play, in Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol.117 (1987), p.101
 Halliwell, op.cit., p.87
 Ibid., p.85
 Dillon, op.cit., p.103
 Aristophanes, Lysistrata (Penguin trans.), 599-607
 Ibid., 378-84
 Faraone, C.A., Salvation and Female Heroics in the Parodos of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 117 (1997), p.39
 Faraone, op.cit., p.39 – this task is seen in numerous echoes in popular myths and rituals concerned with salvation.
 Halliwell, op.cit., p.85
 Aristophanes, op.cit., – Lysistrata comments that in the last war ‘we were too modest to object to anything you men did – and in any case you wouldn’t let us say a word. But don’t think we approved!…and then when you came home we’d be burning inside but we’d have to put on a smile and ask what it was you’d decided to inscribe on the pillar underneath the Peace Treaty – and what did my husband always say? – ‘shut up and mind your own business!’ And I did.’ – p.201
 Foley, H.P., The “Female Intruder” Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae, in Classical Philology, Vol.77, No.1 (1982), p.10
 Faraone, op.cit., p.39
We often read ‘In the beginning…’ but there are actually several beginnings told throughout the Bible, many of which have interesting relationships to other Mediterranean creation myths from Greece, Egypt and the Ancient Near East. So I want to explore some of those relation, the comparisons and contrasts. Frankly this could, and I’m sure does somewhere, make up an entire book series. So lets look at some of the basics.
The Old Testament contains at least a dozen creation “stories”. Two of these stories are told in Genesis 1 and 2, in addition to the creation story in Job 38 and the fragment in Job 26:7-13 among others. These stories are not always consistent with each other, so some will hold similarities to contemporary creation myths, while others contain contrasts.
One major point of comparison between Biblical creation myths and other creation myths is the idea of separation as a key component in the creation process. The idea of separation is seen several times throughout Genesis. Genesis 1:4 reads, “God saw light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness,” indicating the creation of night and day. The idea is also in Genesis 1:6, “God said, let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
Egyptian mythology also has separation themes; telling of the separation of the god of the earth and of the sky as a major part of the creation process. Though these creation aspects are represented as deities in Egyptian mythology, the idea remains; the separation of the earth and the heavens to create a place in between, to be inhabited. The idea of separation is also seen in the Mesopotamian creation myth the Enuma Elish. The god Marduk ‘separates’ Tiamat (primeval waters), splitting her in half, placing one half above the other, forming heaven and earth.. As in the Biblical myths, the act of separation is used as a key aspect of creation. Hesiod’s Theogony illustrates this idea was also an accepted part of Greek creation mythology. Hesiod explains that Gaia (Earth) was ‘separated’ from Ouranos (sky) through a scheme resulting in Ouranos detaching from Gaia, separating earth from the heavens.
Another similarity is the idea of chaotic water being a primal substance. The first account of Genesis refers to chaotic water being present at the time of creation. Genesis 1:2 states “…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This idea of chaotic water is witnessed in the Enuma Elish as Tiamat and Apsu both represent forms of chaotic water, and it is out of them that creation results. In all accounts of Egyptian creation the idea of chaotic water is apparent. The Heliopolis version of Egyptian mythology tells of the primeval matter ‘Nun’, the watery chaos from which all is created. In contrast, the creation myth of Job 38 is almost methodical: “Who marked off [Earth’s] dimensions? … who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set…?”
Greek mythology doesn’t seem to directly refer to water as the primal substance, but Hesiod explains the first god was ‘Chaos’, resembling the watery chaos of the other myths, representing the same ideas of a void from which all was created. Hesiod’s understanding of Chaos contrasts however Ovid’s, who defines it as an “anarchic dark matter that preceded the formation of the universe.”
The creation myths of Genesis share another common feature of Near Eastern, Egyptian and Greek accounts: they have a cyclical theme. Boadt indicates that this cyclical theme can be seen in Genesis as each of the first three days of creation parallels the next three days. Genesis’ Priestly account shows the creation of light and darkness on the first day is parallel to that of day and night on the fourth day. Whereas, the creation of waters and sky on the second day parallels the creation of sealife and life of the air on the fifth. This pattern is continued in with the third and sixth days.
This cyclical theme is seen in the Enuma Elish and Greek creation. However, the cyclical acts of these mythologies are based more on the violent processes which do not appear in the Genesis. This is a point of uniqueness. The Enuma Elish shows a cyclical theme in the overthrowing of Apsu by Ea in parallel to the overthrowing of Tiamat by Marduk. Hesiod also expresses this theme in Greek creation with the overthrowing of Ouranos by his son Kronos and then the defeat of Kronos by Zeus. The cyclical theme is also seen in Egyptian accounts as they believed in the idea of the first occasion and that life was part of a continuous process. For example, the rising and falling of the sun was imagined as a cyclical process repeating every day, rising and returning to Nun. However, the account in Job 38 is not cyclical; instead it is more of a process.
Biblical creation can also be compared and contrasted in relation to the formation of the god/s and the elements of nature. Genesis indicates that creation resulted from the divine word of a monotheistic god. Sproul asserts that this form of creation is not completely reflected in other mythologies. Hesiod explains that Greeks believed the first acts of creation were the result of sexual procreation by the gods Chaos and Gaia. Sexual procreation as a primary means of creation is also seen in the Memphite versions of Egyptian mythology, though the gods are the product of both asexual reproduction (Shu and Tefnut) and divine word in some accounts such as the Heliopolis (Re rising out of Nun). Near Eastern mythology also includes sexual procreation in creation, “…from Apsu and Tiamat in the waters gods were created.” From these accounts we see Biblical creation as fairly unique as it never includes an act of procreation within Genesis, however, Egyptian accounts do share a relation in including creation by divine word. Job, while not including procreation, does parallel it in 38:8 where it reads: “Who shut up the sea behind doors, when it burst forth from the womb.”
All four cultures’ accounts can be viewed as nature myths as they share a reaction to the power of nature and the creation of human life, even though humans have a limited role in Egyptian mythology. The Biblical accounts and the Enuma Elish both have cultic functions. The Enuma Elish displays cultic functions of kingship, and the Biblical Priestly cults feature the day of rest, both corresponding with ritual theories. Harris and Platzner explain Etiological theories of myths are attempts to explain origins. This theory, seen in all of these mythologies, shows Biblical creation is not unique as a prescientific attempt to justify the creation process.
Biblical and other creation myths show contrasts in relation to the role and creation of humans. The creation of humans in Biblical myth is more important in the J account than the Priestly account. In both, humans are created in the image of god, whereas in Near Eastern myth they are created to serve the gods, but are divinely related as they are moulded from divine blood, “blood to bone I form, an original thing, its name is Man.” Hesiod’s accounts don’t include human creation, but Aristophanes relates that males were created from the sun and females from the earth. Some versions of Egyptian myth recount human creation by Khumn from clay, as do Near Eastern myth with the creation of man by Nintu from clay and blood. Greek, Egyptian and Near Eastern accounts are similar to the J version of Genesis as all refer to creation of man from the earth/clay.
Genesis is in part different because it saw creation not as the act of divine slaughter and violence, but as the divine word of god. Harris and Platzner assess that this is unlike Mesopotamian and Greek creation mythology which “features violent conflict between different generations of gods.” Hesiod describes the conflicts between the generations of gods creating order from chaos. The same idea appears in the Enuma Elish as the violence between generations creates ultimate order to chaos. Genesis, however, refers to a creation of divine word alone, reshaping older myths of “a primordial watery chaos to fit a monotheistic concept.” It would be wrong to say that Biblical accounts are purely non-violent. In Job 26:12-13, ‘By his power he churned up the sea, by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces, by his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.’
We also see that the Biblical myth is different because it contains the only creation myths encompassing monotheism. All other creation accounts are based on polytheism. The Egyptian creation myths start with one god of many, such as Nun (the primeval waters),  Ptah in the Memphite versions and Atum in the Heliopolis versions. Greek and Mesopotamian creation myths recount creation in polytheistic terms as the result of several generations of gods, each representing a creation component. Biblical myths do, however, include the trinity within creation. In John1:1-4, ‘In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made.’
The Biblical creation myths then do not stand out generally as unique. They contain themes that run through numerous creation myths from civilisations in direct contact and under similar influences to the Biblical cultures. And that my friends is ancient history for you! It is very difficult to be unique when it has all been done before. Any PhD student knows…
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 Holy Bible: New International Version, Hodder and Stroughton (London, 1996), Genesis 1.3, p.3
 Ibid., Genesis 1.6, p.3
 Pinch, G., Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Goddesses and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 2004), p.65
 Allen, J. P., Genesis in Egypt (Connecticut, 1988), p.9
 The Enuma Elish in Sproul, B. C., Primal Myths (New York, 1979), p.92
 Hesiod, Theogony in Harris, S.L., and Plarzner, G., Classical Mythology: Images and InsightFourth Edition (New York, 2004), p.89, lines 160-190
 Harris, S.L., and Plarzner, G., Classical Mythology: Images and InsightFourth Edition (New York, 2004), p.66
 Holy Bible, op.cit., Genesis 1.2, p.3
 Sproul, B. C., Primal Myths (New York, 1979), p.80
 Harris and Platzner, op.cit., p.68
 Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament (New York, 1984), p.111
 Holy Bible, op.cit., Genesis 1
 Ibid., Genesis 1
 Ibid., Genesis 1
 Sproul, B. C., Primal Myths (New York, 1979), p.123
 Hesiod, op.cit., lines 160-190
 Pinch, G., op.cit., p.68
 Sproul, B. C., op.cit., p.123
 Hesiod, op.cit., lines 110-120
 Shaw, I., and Nicholson, P., The British Museum: Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London, 2003), p.284
 Enuma Elish, op.cit., p.92, lines 1-10
 Sproul, op.cit., p.91 – The Enuma Elish’s main purpose was to praise Marduk’s divine supremacy and to honourBabylon.
 Harris and Platzner, op.cit., p.40
 Greek, Egyptian, Near Eastern and Biblical myths are all an attempt to explain creation in a non-scientific way (Eg. The sky, sea, earth and life itself) which reflects the primitive understanding of the world and its creation.
 Sproul, op.cit., p.104
 Arisphanes in Plato’s Symposium
 Sproul, op.cit., p.114
 Platzner and Harris, op.cit., p.70
 Ibid., p.70
 Pinch, op.cit., p.58 – explanation of the first god rising out of Nun, the primeval waters, due to differing accounts this god is ascribed as being Amun, Ra or Ptah depending on the version understudy
 Shabako Stone, king sha-bak, 700BC, 25Dyn