I consider myself a huge fan of the Ancient Greeks and their writing. If you don't believe me, look at the name of my blog! When I found out that the Classics Circuit was going to be focusing on these old works, I knew that I had to participate.
Deciding what to read was the hardest part. I find that Ancient Greek literature is diverse and wonderful, so I had a hard time narrowing it down. Originally I was going to read Antigone, but I went with Lysistrata by Aristophanes, since it is one of the few small Greek works on my own project list that I am unfamiliar with.
Assuming that you are also unfamiliar with it, the first thing to know about this piece is that it is a play. It was probably first performed around 400 B.C. So yes, it is a rather old piece of literature, but very, very racy.
The basic premise of the play is that a certain woman, Lysistrata, comes up with a plan to put an end to the Peloponessian War that is currently being fought by the men-folk. After rounding up the women, she encourages them to withhold sex until the men agree to stop fighting.
What ensues is a battle of the sexes. The men, without their women or sexual favors, begin to storm the acropolis where the women are holed up. They are frustrated and angry that their women are not at home waiting for them. It is a very funny, and racy kind of play.
I have found in my reading of Ancient Greece that they were far more comfortable with the profane than we are today. It is not unusual for there to be dirty jokes and references to nudity. This is obviously a prime example of the familiarity and acceptance of sex as an everyday act. You'll find the same is true as you move forward into Shakespeare's time!
My favorite scene is when a man, Cinesias, arrives to get his wife for some "favors." Lysistrata convinces the woman, Myrrhine, to tease the poor man, by at first refusing, then agreeing. She then has to leave multiple times for things necessary for their act. She brings back a cot, a pillow, a blanket, etc. Each time she leaves he waits, frustrated and angry. It is comical and puts poor Cinesias in a horrible and compromising position. All he wants is his wife!
I don't really want to get in a whole debate on whether using sex is a good idea for revenge or ending wars (although, that WOULD be an interesting argument, don't you think?). That would be opening up a whole big can of worms I don't want to get in to.
But I do want to mention the translation I had. My edition is a Signet Classic and it was translated by a Douglass Parker. Seeing as this is the only translation of the play I have read, I don't know what liberties Parker took with it, but I found the language to be FAR too modern for the period the piece was intended for. I found it distracting and annoying that he modernized the play as much as he did. If it hadn't been for the fact that I wanted to know what happened, I probably would have the book down and gone to get another translation. I understand than when translating, sometimes there are words that don't translate exactly, but I love when translators stay as true to the original as possible. And I don't think that happened in this case. I am curious to read another translation in the future to compare.
In all, this was a great example of Greek writing and the issues that plagued the era. In Ancient times, it was far more common to be in a constant state of war than what we would hope for, so perhaps this kind of solution was a desperate last act. In any case, I am glad to have known that even then, people cracked some dirty jokes for amusement, and captured a piece of history in the process.
If you are interested in participating in a future Classics Circuit Tour, visit the designated blog to look for future sign-ups!