After everything I have learned about ancient Greece—the advanced democratic society, the classic art, and the eternally acclaimed intellectuals—imagine my surprise, and disbelief, when I read Lysistrata by Aristophanes and found it to be entirely about the idea of sex being powerful enough to literally end wars. However, once I suspended my humorous disbelief, I found that there are many aspects of Lysistrata that are progressive for that time in ancient Greece and even applicable to the world today. The lines between gender roles have gradually been blurring through out the 2,400 years since Lysistrata was written; blurred almost to the point of invisibility in some cases. With the progressive viewpoint and the extremely explicit and crass translation, it comes as no surprise that this play falls under the category of “Banned Books.”
A play about a society where women take a stand to demonstrate that they too have the right to have a say in their society is extremely progressive for Ancient Greece. Often times during the reading, I found myself picturing the Women’s Rights Movements of the 60’s where women were burning their bras in the streets in protest. The play gives us a viewpoint of an early ancestor of feminism. Some may say that the spirit of progressivism and feminism is damped, however, that the fact that the women decide to make a stand by having a sex strike. While it does seem adverse to the idea of progressivism, I would argue that it is not because women are taking advantage of the only power that they are given in their ancient patriarchal society: sex. In today’s world, women have more access to all parts of society and can express their discontent in more civilized ways. And they choose too, most of the time. The sex strike in the play reminds me strongly of the Free the Nipple campaign that is popular in the world today. Both seem to be “on a mission to empower women,” as it says on the Free the Nipple website.
The topic of the play resonates strongly with a lot of the current pop-culture issues. It is about a society of women who do not approve of the way a war is being handled but, because they are women, they are unable to have a voice regarding manners outside of the household. Gender roles—gender, in general—today have been a hot topic in light of news such as Bruce/Caitlin Jenner and gay marriage being legal countrywide. Today, while women are given an unimpeded voice and many of the same opportunities as men, inequality still remains to be an issue in current events.
It does not surprise me that, in our society today, there are people who object strongly to the content—especially the language—of this piece. The crass and vulgar language in the piece could rival that of Fifty Shades of Grey—and we all know how well that novel was received by current society. Michael Ewans, the translator of this version of the play, said in his introduction that he, “tried to give Aristophanes a viable voice for the contemporary English-language stage (41).” The blunt and, what some might call, inappropriate manner in which topics relating to sex are discussed in this play make me believe that, were it to be made a movie, it would be rated R. When I try to compare it to things that I see in the world today, what comes to mind is the way comedians and satirists use vulgar terms for shock value to drive their point home. If that was the goal of Ewans and his “contemporary English-language,” I’d say that he succeeded because I will definitely not be forgetting this piece of literature for a while.