Month: October 2013

An Introduction to the Joke of Lysistrata

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Cover of "Lysistrata (Signet Classics)"
Cover of Lysistrata (Signet Classics)

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.’[1] 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.[2]  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[3], 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.[4]  The treatment of these ‘twin themes’ though appears to leave us with nothing more than an alluring fantasy.[5]

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.[6]  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.[7]  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.[8]  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.[9]  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,[10] and pour a ‘nuptial bath’ on the old men ‘to make them grow.’[11]

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.[12]  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).[13]  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.[14] Their place was in the home, not to be seen or heard.[15] Foley argues though that Lysistrata dissipates the standard comic and tragic expectations of behaviour of women.[16]  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.[17]


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

[1] Halliwell, S., Aristophanes – Birds, Lysistrata, Assemby-women, Wealth (Oxford, 1997), p.79

[2] Sommerstein, A.H., Penguin Classics: Aristophanes – Lysistrata and Other Plays (London, 2002), p.136

[3] 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

[4] Parker, D., Lattimore, R., and Arrowsmith, W., Four Plays by Aristophanes (Middlesex, 1964), p.343

[5] Halliwell, op.cit., p.83

[6] Dillon, M., The Lysistrata as a Post-Deceleian Peace Play, in Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol.117 (1987), p.101

[7] Halliwell, op.cit., p.87

[8] Ibid., p.85

[9] Dillon, op.cit., p.103

[10] Aristophanes, Lysistrata (Penguin trans.), 599-607

[11] Ibid., 378-84

[12] Faraone, C.A., Salvation and Female Heroics in the Parodos of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 117 (1997), p.39

[13] Faraone, op.cit., p.39 – this task is seen in numerous echoes in popular myths and rituals concerned with salvation.

[14] Halliwell, op.cit., p.85

[15] 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

[16] Foley, H.P., The “Female Intruder” Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae, in Classical Philology, Vol.77, No.1 (1982), p.10

[17] Faraone, op.cit., p.39


Productive Procrastination: Some Documentaries on History, Anthropology and Archaeology

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Hello lovely followers, I am very busy at the moment and unfortunately haven’t been giving you the attention you deserve. I am moving to America, starting a new job, finishing a PhD and moving into a new house. So in case you don’t hear from me in a while here are some wonderful documentaries for you to watch, some of my favourites. 🙂

Incredible Human Journey

Dr Alice Roberts travels the globe to discover the incredible story of how humans left Africa to colonise the world — overcoming hostile terrain, extreme weather and other species of human. She pieces together precious fragments of bone, stone and new DNA evidence and discovers how this journey changed these African ancestors into the people of today.

Episode 1 – Out of Africa

Episode 2 – Asia

Episode 3 – Europe

Episode 4 – Australia

Episode 5 – The Americas

Around the World in 80 Faiths

Very interesting and educational series. Around the World in 80 Faiths is a British television series which was first broadcast by the BBC on 2 January 2009. The series is presented by the Anglican vicar, Pete Owen-Jones, who is researching the various faiths from around the world.

Episode 1 – Australasia and The Pacific Ring of Fire

Episode 2 – The Far East


200 px
200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Episode 3 – Africa

Episode 4 – The Middle East

Episode 5 – USA

Episode 6 – India

Episode 7 – Latin America

Episode 8 – Europe

The Bible’s Buried Secrets [BBC]

Stavrakopoulou visits key archaeological excavations where ground-breaking finds are being unearthed, and examines evidence for and against the Biblical account of King David. She explores the former land of the Philistines, home of the giant Goliath, and ruins in the north of Israel and in old Jerusalem itself purporting to be remains of David’s empire.

Episode 1: Did King David’s Empire Exist?

Episode 2: Did God Have a Wife?

Episode 3: The Real Garden of Eden

B B C “Η πόλη κάτω από τα κύματα: Παυλοπέτρι” – Pavlopetri – The City Beneath the Waves

The underwater city of Pavlopetri, a city that thrived for 2,000 years during the time that saw the birth of Western civilisation, lies less than five metres below the surface and is littered with thousands of fragments, the remains of stone buildings and a complex of city streets.

The Minoans: Ancient Civilization of Crete – Bettany Hughes (2004)

Bettany Hughes visits Crete to recount the story one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made.

The Minotaur’s Island – Bettany Hughes (2003)

Best known for the myth of the Minotaur — a monstrous half-man, half-bull imprisoned in Daedalus’s labyrinth — Crete gave birth to Europe’s first civilization nearly 5,000 years ago, more than two millennia before Homer composed The Iliad. Then it collapsed in fire and violence.

Delphi • The Bellybutton of the Ancient World • © BBC (full documentary)

Very professional and interesting BBC production on the rise and fall of Delphi as the centre of the Greek world.

Titanic: The Survivors’ Story (1997)

In Search of Myths and Heroes – Michael Wood

In this series, Michael Wood goes in search of four of the world’s most famous myths. These gripping adventures take the viewer to some of the most extraordinary places on earth, exploring stories that have captivated the world for thousands of years.

The Queen Of Sheba
Jason And The Golden Fleece
King Arthur

National Geographic Video – Mass Decapitations

Mass Decapitations in Southern England

What violent event caused this many beheadings?

The Christ Files – Dr John Dickson

WHO WAS JESUS – REALLY? Has the real Jesus been so buried by tradition and legend that he is now lost to people living in the 21st century?

Historian Dr John Dickson sets out to discover what we can know for certain about the life of one of history’s best known and most influential figures. In a captivating journey across the globe, Dr Dickson examines ancient documents and consults the world’s most respected historians and scholars. Beginning with the Gnostic Gospels, he criss-crosses continents on a search back through time for the historical sources that reveal the real Jesus— a search for The Christ Files.

Research Resources and Ideas for the Ancient History Enthusiast/Student

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This page provides resources concerning Ancient Texts, New Testament Studies, Inscription Resources, Papyri Resources, Dictionaries and Lexicons, and Modern Texts.

Ancient Texts

New Testament Studies

Inscription Resources

Papyri Resources

Dictionaries and Lexicons

Women and Gender


Modern Texts and ebooks

Reblog from the Thesis Whisperer: How I broke up with my supervisor.

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A very interesting article by an anonymous PhD student. I have have many friends in different institutions who have found that there was some conflict between student and supervisor. Most of the time when talked about things get better and problems solved but if they don’t know that there is always a way. You can’t do a PhD without enjoying and embracing it or you will damage your sense of self and even your health. I have been fortunate that my supervisors are absolute legends, I hope others are so lucky or get that lucky in the future. Good luck and best wishes to all PhD and thesis writers.

The Thesis Whisperer

This post, written by a PhD student, who wishes to stay anonymous, was sent to me late last year. Due to my new job, it’s taken me a long time to edit it down and make sure it doesn’t identify the student or their supervisor. I think you will find it an interesting story that highlights the tensions we all experience around the ‘finish at all costs (and on time)’ mentality.

Insitutions are feeling financial pressure to complete candidates within 4 years and put this pressure onto supervisors, who then pressure students. But social media, by connecting students with each other, is giving some the courage to push back against this pressure. Supervisors might feel they are doing their best for a student by behaving as described in this post, but are they really? I’ll be interested to hear what you think in the comments.

Screen Shot 2013-07-27 at 3.13.39 PMI’m a compliant, goody-two-shoes

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