Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hobbesian Portrayal of Males in Lysistrata

While reading Lysistrata, I felt very troubled by Aristophanes' depiction of male figures. Not only are they driven solely by impulse, but they are portrayed as being brutish, lustful, and abusive. They employ a mentality that everything we choose to do is only a result of our natural desire to relieve physical yearnings, which includes everything from sexual yearnings to hunger. In essence, these male figures show no depth whatsoever. They reminded me of Thomas Hobbes' description of humans--physical objects that are more of machines than thinking, feeling beings. Hobbes believed that a person's actions are a direct result of a desire for satisfaction, strictly mechanical.

When the Chorus of Old Men first speak of the women's plan to abstain from sex until the men declare peace, their reaction is a typical testosterone-induced statement. "...And on the blazing pile burn with our hands these vile conspiratresses, one and all...!" they scream thoughtlessly, never stopping to wonder why the women might have chosen to act this way. This kind of reaction is a stereotypical portrayal of men, making it seem like all males are violent and ever-ready for the next gory battle. Shortly thereafter, a leader of the chorus suggests, "Suppose one of us were to break a stick across their backs?" This pondering makes men seem insensitive, animalistic, and brutally violent, driven solely by impulse. Philosopher Thomas Hobbes portrays people in this way, as well, theorizing that we as a whole act only as a result of our desire to relieve desires and make our uncomfortable emotions disintegrate. The men in Lysistrata do so by making violent suggestions, allowing them to release their anger verbally and rid themselves of the unease that goes along with being angry.

Not only are the males portrayed as being violent toward women, but they are also condescending. They use terms like, "you dirty slut" to address the opposing sex. Perhaps they do this in order to relieve their worry that the women actually had the upper hand in the situation; by demeaning them with this derogatory language they feel they are preserving their dominance. This is another Hobbesian theory represented in Lysistrata--that people will act in ways that promote their personal well-being, including actions that would promote the individual's power and dominance.

The males in Lysistrata are also portrayed as lustful and totally unable to resist their sexual pinings. For example, Myrrhine's husband is willing to do just about anything to have alone time with her. He practically begs her for sex, trying to persuade her from her stance by saying "And Aphrodite, whose mysteries you have not celebrated for so long? Oh! won't you please come back home?" When Myrrhine says, "No, least, not till a sound treaty puts an end to the war," he quickly complies. With the hopes of relieving his urges, he says "Well, if you wish it so much, why, we'll make it, your treaty." This scenario in Lysistrata is another instance where Hobbes' theories are represented fully in the male characters. Hobbes believed that everything we choose to do is strictly determined by our natural desire to relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our bodies. By the way that the males give in to the women's protest so quickly because they know it would mean instant sexual gratification, they completely embody Hobbes' theories.

Personally, I believe that males deserve credit for being emotional and expressive in the way that females are. The way that Aristophanes portrays them in Lysistrata seems cliche' and inaccurate, but also belittling. Not only are they depicted as superficial and insensitive, but they are also made to seem impulsive and thoughtless. I would like to think that men would be represented as being at least semi-understanding of the pleas and thoughts of women without having to be deprived of sex to make them interested. The whole theme of this play, although quirky and amusing in the moment, angered me after I let it sink in.

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