Birds; Lysistrata; Assembly-Women; Wealth

By Stephen Halliwell; Aristophanes | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The comic heart of Lysistrata, and the secret of its lasting appeal, lies in its combination, interweaving, and ultimately its confusion of a pair of archetypal human interests: sex and war. The play's brio stems from the evocation of a great and oversimplified dichotomy of the kind which Aristophanes had already exploited to some extent in Acharnians (425) and Peace (421). This dichotomy aligns sex, and indeed comedy itself, with the life-giving, procreative, and celebratory associations of peace, and sets this cluster of ideas against the negative, disruptive, and destructive effects of war. If we wanted a suggestive slogan to sum up this imaginatively enlarged and (in both senses of the word) theatrically polarized contrast, it might be: war is tragic, peace is comic.

It is arguable, as I shall later suggest in more detail, that the perspective on war which Lysistrata offered its first audience in 411, probably at the Lenaia festival (early February that year), had little explicit contact with the military or political realities of the time. In early 411 Athens was making strenuous efforts to rebuild her military strength after the devastating defeat, involving massive losses of both men and ships, suffered by the great expedition sent to Sicily in 415-413. The results of that defeat, in September 413, were intensified by the presence, from spring 413, of a permanent Spartan garrison at Dekeleia, affecting land access to Attika from the north and engaging in periodic plundering (see Lysistrata 1146, with Thucydides 7.19, 27). Another pressing factor was that by 4I2 several of Athens' allies, including Miletos (cf. Lysistrata 108), had attempted to secede from the empire. In addition, the Spartans were now building up their own fleet, with the help of Persian funds, to match the Athenian navy in size at least. Yet mass reaction at Athens to the Sicilian débâcle, or to these other developments, showed little interest in making peace. On the contrary, the city voted to make use of a special financial reserve of a thousand talents which had been deposited on the Akropolis in 431. 1 Money was there, in other words, to rebuild the fleet, and the political will

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1
Aristophanes' plot does incorporate one realistic reflection of the economics of this situation: the women's occupation of the Akropolis is designed to prevent further spending of the city's financial reserves (cf. esp. 488).

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Birds; Lysistrata; Assembly-Women; Wealth
Table of contents

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  • Aristophanes - Birds Lysistrata Assembly-Women Wealth *
  • Preface *
  • Contents *
  • Introduction - Aristophanes' Career in Context *
  • Note on the Translation *
  • Select Bibliography *
  • Chronology *
  • Introduction *
  • Birds *
  • Introduction *
  • Lysistrata *
  • Introduction *
  • Assembly-Women *
  • Introduction *
  • Wealth *
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