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Lysistrata

Aristophanes

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Summary

Aristophanes's plays range from 427 to 387 BCE. Aristophanes lived in the time of Socrates and Thucydides and was a generation behind Sophocles and Euripides. Plato lived a generation after Aristophanes. Aristophanes put on at least forty plays, eleven of which have survived to modern times. Evidence of other plays by Aristophanes is seen in papyrus fragments and references to unknown works by writers of his time. Plays in the time of Aristophanes were put on at two festivals, in the City Dionysia and the Lenaea. There were also plays at local festivals, but little is known about them. The plays for the town of Dionysia were played at the theatre of Dionysus next to the Akropolis, but it is unclear where the plays of Lenaea were staged. The plays at the festival were always performed as a sort of competition and there was great rivalry between playwrights to take first prize. There is record of Aristophanes winning several contests. Ten comedies were typically produced a year, but during the Peloponnesian War this number was reduced to six. The magistrate or commissioner of the town would decide which plays were put on at the festivals. All plays were performed in the open air, during the day. The stage was a circular dance floor and the audience occupied half of the stage. The actors wore masks that completely obscured their facial features and emotions were only shown by words and gesture. There were no female actors in this time and men played both sexes. Males often wore large artificial genitals on their costumes to heighten their masculinity.

To specifically gain an understanding of Lysistrata, one must also have some knowledge of the Peloponnesian War at the time of Aristophanes. The Peloponnesian War is the name for the contest between Athens and the Peloponnesian confederacy, led by Sparta. The war was driven by intense jealously on either side for supremacy in Greece and among the Dorian and Ionian races. In 445 BCE the two sides declared a truce, but when the Corcyreans asked Athens to assist in their war against Corcyra and a fleet was sent in their aid, the Athenians were soon engaged in hostilities with the Corinthians. The Corinthians then asked the Peloponnesian confederacy at Sparta for help. The Spartans determined that the Athenians had broken the truce and decided to war against Athens. The truce between the two countries was openly broken in 431 BCE, in the 15th year of the truce between Sparta and Athens. Sparta's strength was in land and Athens strength was in funds. The Athenians were able to pay foreign sailors to command their naval fleet. The Athenians had more financial resources than the Spartans. Athens was the Greek center of commerce, politics and society. Athens faced many problems during the war. There was a lot of corruption among Athenian leaders and the government was finally overthrown in 411 BCE. The group of 400 men who overthrew the government attempted to form a dictatorial government and make peace with Sparta, but the Athenians then overthrew these men. Athens was then defeated by Sparta.

The war was devastating to Athens and it is clear that Aristophanes wanted the states to make peace. It has been suggested by several critics that Aristophanes chose to make women invade and capture the Akropolis because they were the lowest beasts of Greek culture. Aristophanes was commenting on the foolishness of the war where foolish creatures must tell the men what to do. It is impossible to know exactly what Aristophanes intended in his drama, but what we can see is that he strongly condemns war. While it is true that women were of very low rank in Greek society, Aristophanes does suggest that women are somewhat intelligent creatures and should be occasionally listened to.

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