I first heard of Aristophanes last year while studying English Literature in Belgium. I studied him then as one of the founding fathers of comedy, especially because of his use of satire and innuendo. When I read Lysistrata for this class, however, I was shocked by how blatant and sometimes vulgar Aristophanes’ writing actually is. The plot seems tame enough at first, with the Spartan women trying to shield their nation from war. However, Aristophanes does something different by making it clear the women will also miss the “prick” greatly while depriving their husbands of sex. This reversal from men in power to females in power provides the comedy in Lysistrata, and of course the play ends with a song and dance, and women placed back into the seat of inferiority, which, back then, was how it ought to be.
Witty banter between the women and men throughout the play probably kept the Greek audience laughing. Also, Aristophanes knew how to release the sexual tension between his characters, filling their speech with symbols and metaphors, such as the reference to the men carrying a “torch” while the women have buckets of water to “put out the fire”. The tension even escalates to physical fighting between the men and women. What is nice about this play is that it ends in true comedy fashion, with the problem resolved (the men agreed to end the fighting) and the women getting their way. However, the women have to go back into the same subservient societal position they were in when the play began.
What is most disturbing to me is the women, including Lysistrata herself, are actually happy to resume their duties as wives and lovers. In a liberating way, Aristophanes revealed that women, too, enjoy the pleasures of sex and marriage. On the other hand, it almost makes the women look licentious in their desires for sex, especially when it is revealed Myrrhine has left her infant child home, without care or food, for six days while the women held fort at the Acropolis. Aristophanes’ original concept is liberating to women in its pure form, but in the workings of comedy the women lose all potential for respect and are used mainly as a vehicle to achieve a haughty laugh.