Friday, February 19, 2016
In the Miller and Franklin's tale, the reader sees differing levels of success from the proposed suitors, regardless of initial marital ties. When analyzing the texts, the reader finds differing spiritual emphases in each which may reflect the suitor's likelihood for success. In the Franklin's tale, the Aurelius relies on witchcraft and magic to gain the love of Dorigen. Aurelius is asked to accomplish the task to "remoeve alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon, / That they ne lette ship ne boot to goon" (Chaucer, 993-994). Though a seemingly impossible task, Aurelius is able to accomplish the job with the help of witchcraft and promises to recompense the magician with 1000 pounds if he can accomplish the task. Though the deed is accomplished, Dorigen still refuses his advances and nearly commits suicide instead of accepting his love. Though Aurelius accomplishes the task, he does not do so of his own accord and must rely on sorcery to finish the task. Textually, the Franklin's Tale has a much more abundant use of greek and ancient religious figures. Dorigen is described as a "servant to Venus" (937) and the actions of the two are compared to those of "Ekko / For Narcisus" (951-952), two other characters of Greek Mythology. Aurelius even goes as far as to mention "Appollo, god and governour / Of every plaunte, herbe, tree, and flour" (1031-32) instead of emphasizing the Christian God. It seems his reliance on magic and older traditions makes it more difficult to acquire Dorigen's love despite the fact "That fressher was and holyer of array / As to my doom, than is the month of May. / he syngeth, daunceth, passynge any man" (927-929). Aurelius is quite the catch, but does nothing himself to try to attain the love of Dorigen. Nicholas, on the other hand, uses his only faculties to gain the attraction of Allison, even though those skills were of trickery and beguiling. One also sees a much greater emphasis on the Christian God in this tale even convincing Allison's husband John that a flood similar to Noah's would strike. Though Nicholas is an astrologist and seeker of the stars, there is greater emphasis in this tale on Nicholas using his own strengths to keep the attraction of the carpenter's wife. Though not done honorably, it seems that by working through one's own skill under the Christian God is more successful than using magic and the gods of the ancients to steal the love of a fair maiden.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The contrast of viewpoints and opinions in today's readings was interesting. In Sidney's view, poetry is the supreme way for human beings to explore and understand themselves and the world. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales the real world is parodied and made fun of and human beings are criticized for their vices and idiocy. His characters, like the Miller, are good at something but not inherently good. Chaucer uses them to represent the shallowness and hypocrisy of society. Human beings in Canterbury Tales cannot achieve higher understanding of themselves. God is on a higher level than humanity and humans cannot reach him. Sidney's work seems to emphasize the connection between poetry and divine knowledge. In his opinion, poetry should celebrate and inspire the values that are in line with God's word. Sidney was a well-respected individual in his society and therefore if he said to read and write poetry in order to better oneself and it would probably be passed along and encouraged. Whereas Chaucer encourages against the reading and writing of poetry as a false and fake expression of self and emotion. It is interesting to look at two such different views of humanity and society. Chaucer's satirical view is more negative and points out bad things a contrast from Sidney's positive view of the beauty of poetry. This contrast presents a question of how to view the world and how to view humanity.
Poetry, unlike any other kind of literature has powers which transcends nature itself. For some unknown reason words come together to form beautiful rhythm and meter describing things that were almost impossible to explain. Sydney discusses how poetry is made to discuss topics like nature and religion, those kinds of topics which are sometimes difficult to comprehend. He goes even further to talk of the famous and noteworthy philosophers and how they too were poets, and their words which sounded nice and pleasant to the ear, had great power behind them. Poetry has the ability to teach virtues and vices and a poem is not just rhymes and metaphors/similes, but also lessons on morality. “…which I speak to show that it is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet-no more than a long gown maketh a advocate and no soldier. But it is that feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which must be the right describing note to know a poet by…” (Sydney, 87.) A poem is a lot more than pretty sounding words in a rhyming scheme. There is a lot hidden in those words.
For instance, Chaucer’s tales serve as the perfect example of poetry which serve a purpose, specifically teaching some kind of lesson. However, the Miller’s prologue and tale is mostly satirizing the knight’s tale on courtly love while simultaneously bringing up to the host and us readers the differences among the classes. Now the Nun’s Priest Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue is more of a fable than the Miller’s. The moral of the story is that flattery is not to be meant to be taken seriously, and you must never trust a flatterer. Although the lesson is clear it is difficult to take the poem seriously, since it is about a chicken and a rooster. It was almost as if Chaucer was mocking serious more serious fables, especially since it is the Nun’s priest telling this story.
Although poetry is powerful and has the ability to convey important messages to the reader, it can also be made fun of and be taken less seriously than other kinds of literature. Sydney though, was a profound fan of poetry, and Chaucer used his poetry to open up about the corruption among the supposed moral characters, including those who were religious. Poetry is a weapon in literature. An extremely powerful weapon.
Chaucer’s poetry is filled with explicit language and sex. The Miller’s Tale is by far one of his most provocative, featuring a young attractive woman, who shows her lack of morals through her life of infidelity and trickery. Alisoun's character proves the power women can hold over men. Her beauty, slender body, and youth are what make her so captivating to men. Alisoun and her husband, Nicholas, trick the other two men that are infatuated with Alisoun. Throughout The Miller’s Tale we see not only the power Alisoun holds, but also the way she enjoys holding this strong power over men. The Franklin’s Tale is less provocative, however overall portrays the same message about women. Dorigene and Arvirgus are in a loving and surprisingly, equal, marriage. However, Dorigene runs into trouble when she realized the debts she owes to Aurelius and infidelity becomes a theme yet again in this tale. Luckily, everything for Dorigene works out, Arvirgus forgives her debts and she is allowed to remain faithfully with her husband; love ultimately triumphs. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is different from the others, mainly because it takes place in a barnyard and involves animals. This tale demonstrates deceit and persuasion. Sidney focuses on the power of poetry. Sidney suggests that poetry is written for everyone, while philosophy is written for educated peoples. However, Sidney's claim that poetry takes a different approach, it has a deeper meaning and allows individuals to connect in a more personal way. Sidney’s claim about the power of poetry, holds validity- through The Canterbury Tails, that do not rely or even discuss philosophy or history. Sidney's claims also hold validity just by looking at the impact it has had and how long poetry has been around, and the place it continues to hold in literature and the world.
Sidney’s assertion that poetry provides a more visceral experience of an event applies to the Canterbury Tales, each of which are told through poetry. The stories within the Canterbury Tales are neither philosophy nor history and yet tell us about the world of the characters sharing the stories. Some of the stories are told as though occurring to personal friends of the narrators but some of the stories, such as the Nun's Priest's Tale, are impossible and cannot be true. Nonetheless the tale has a clear moral lesson that denounces flattery and pride, a common moral lesson. Similarly, the poetic renditions of the story give insight into how stories are received in Chaucer's world; the characters laugh at the stories and make demands of future storytellers that give insight into how those characters are viewed. For instance, when the Miller offers to tell his tale next, the Host suggest that a better person follow the Knight's Tale. The Miller insists however and provides us with the raunchiest of the three tales. The tale is comical in its physical humor and gives memorable images of Allisoun's "erse" and brand on Nicholas's "erse". The language itself isn't as comical as the situational humor within the story.. I didn't notice many puns or verbal comedy but rather that comedy revolved around Allisoun, Nicholas, and John's actions.
I wasn't surprised by how powerful the poetic element was in Chaucer but was surprised by how effective the humor was in conveying a message. All three stories have elements of the ridiculous, particularly the Miller's Tale and the Nun's Priest's Tale. The stories evoke strong responses through the poetic language that conveys the absurdity of the situations described and, in some ways, mask any moralistic message embedded in the stories. The Miller's Tale warns against gullibility and the deception of beautiful young women but before considering this, readers are quickest to note how the Miller conveyed his attitude. Additionally, Allisoun, who may be considered the character in the moral wrong, is not condemned for her actions but instead convinces the town John is mad and she never receives punishment. The listeners and readers understand for themselves what has occurred and it isn't necessary to end the humor of the situation and explain it. The humor throughout Chaucer's Canterbury Tales serves as an effective tool for showing the values of the society the pilgrims live in and the reactions to these values. Some of the Tales, such as that of the Nun's Priest laud those values and demonstrate the good that comes of honoring those values while tales such as the Miller's suggest the opposite. The tales show a diversity of opinions and experiences that powerfully illustrate the society Chaucer depicts.
I have read Chaucer a few times throughout both high school and college, and each time I read the tales, I am struck by the raunchiness and daring of Chaucer's language. The Miller's Tale especially is one of debauchery, sex, and basically bad behavior on the part of a majority of the characters. Alisoun is young, attractive, and not above cheating on her adoring husband if it means gaining the favor of eager young men. She and her lover, Nicholas, subject poor John to numerous humiliations until finally the entire town believes John to be mad. The subject matter of the poem is scandalous in itself, but Chaucer pushes the envelope with the jokes Alisoun and Nicholas play on another one of Alisoun's would-be suitors. The Franklin's Tale is slightly less bawdy in tone and word choice, but it still deals with the concept of adultery. Dorigen is forced to agonize over the debt she owes Aurelius; ultimately, Aurelius proves to be nobler than he first appears, and Dorigen is released from her obligation. The entire tale is one that could have gone either way, but Chaucer chooses to defer to love instead. Additionally, this tale does not contain the outright warning characteristic of the Miller's Tale. Women are not portrayed as flighty and prone to betrayal, but instead kind and capable of honoring true love. Finally, the Nun's Priest's Tale involves a story based around the lure and deceit of flattery. The chicken is tempted by the cunning fox and eventually captured, all because the chicken wanted to demonstrate his impressive crowing skills. The tables turn when the fox falls prey to flattery when he opens his mouth to taunt the other pursuers, and the chicken is able to escape and fly into a nearby tree. All of these tales revolve around different subject matter, but each one has managed to survive in the literary canon for centuries. Chaucer wrote these tales in the fourteenth century, and they are still being read today by students and teachers alike. It is a clear demonstration of the durability and impact of poetry, and serves as a perfect example for Sidney's argument: "First, by turning to history itself, he notes the extent to which poetry has been the first educator and mental nourisher of primitive peoples, leading them gradually into a more civilized state and a more sensitive receptivity to knowledge of every sort" (79). If this argument is true, then poetry holds far more power and influence than first imagined. As stated before, Chaucer's legacy is a prime example of this capability on the part of poetry. It has survived for an impressive amount of time, and will most likely continue to hold a place in the literary canon for years to come.
Monday, February 15, 2016
I’ve read The Canterbury Tales a few times in my academic career, but the only one I had any clear memory of before this read-through was the Miller’s Tale. It was easy to imagine why the Miller’s Tale would have been banned, since it’s a raunchy story full with sex, debauchery, and bad language. The miller even warns us of this, saying, “I am dronke […] And therfore if that I mysspeke or seye,/ Wyte it the ale of Southwerk” (3138-3141). The narrator as well warns us that the story may be offensive. (It is very interesting to look at the way the different characters introduce their tales, often in a way that makes their values and the content of their stories very clear.) The Miller’s Tale begins with a description of Nicholas and Alisoun, the wife of the carpenter who is giving lodging to Nicholas. Alisoun is very attractive and youthful. The miller describes her beauty and likens her to a weasel, a clever and sly animal that also has a similar body type as her. Although she is just eighteen, Alisoun has captured the hearts of multiple men, namely her husband the carpenter, Nicholas, and a vain parish clerk. With the help of Nicholas, Alisoun manages to dupe the other two men, making them both look and feel ridiculous. Alisoun even participates in some activities, such as leaning her butt out of the window for Absolon to kiss, showing she has autonomy and enjoys the tricks she is playing on the other men. The Miller’s Tale, aside from being bawdy entertainment, shows the power that an attractive young woman can have, even in Chaucer’s time. It also shows that inquiring into “Goddes pryvetee,” a euphemism for female genitalia, brings trouble.
While The Miller’s Tale stuck in my memory, I admittedly don’t remember reading the other tales that were assigned to us. I was very surprised to see, however, that they all had a recurring theme: female power and autonomy. The Franklin’s Tale is much more palatable than the miller’s; he says his story “moot be bare and pleyn,” a promise that is a far cry from the miller’s drunken warning that he gives at the beginning of his story (720). The Franklin’s story concerns a woman named Dorigene and her relationship with her husband and a young squire who falls in love with her. Arviagus, her husband, absolutely adores her and does anything she asks. They decide together that their marriage will be one of equality, something extremely abnormal for Chaucer’s time. When Arviragus has to leave, Dorigene is beside herself with sorrow. In an attempt to cheer her up, Dorigene’s girlfriends bring her to a Mayday festival, where she meets Aurelius, a squire who admits he has been pining after her for years. She placates his pleas for love by promising him that if he can remove all of the rocks on the coastline, she will leave her husband and marry him. However she promises, “Ne shal I nevere been untrewe wyf,” obviously not expecting that Aurelius will able to complete his end of the bargain (984). Things get complicated when Aurelius fulfills Dorigene’s request with the help of a sorcerer, right when Arviragus returns. Although Dorigene contemplates suicide in order to protect the sanctity of her marriage, the story ends happily, with Aurelius allowing Dorigene to maintain her honor and stay with her husband.
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is where things get a little weird. Set in a barnyard, the priest tells a story about an attractive rooster named Chantecleer and his main hen, Pertelote. When Chantecleer has an ominous dream, Pertelote criticizes him for his cowardice, saying, “Now han ye lost myn here and al my love!” (4100). Chantecleer eventually puts his premonitions aside, and tells Pertelote, “womman is mannes joye and al his blis” (3166). While we find at the end that Chantecleer’s dream was indeed correct, Pertelote regardless has some very strong powers of persuasion. The Second Nun’s Tale is quite different from The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, however, it speaks to female power as well. The prologue sets Cecilia up as a beautiful, virgin saint. I was curious to see what the actual tale was about so I looked up a summary. Cecilia, determined to stay chaste and pure, manages to send her new husband, Valerian, to get baptized so that he can see her guardian angel and understand why she refuses to consummate their marriage. This leads to Valerian converting his brother. Before the two are put to death for being Christians under the Roman Empire, some of the prison guards are also converted. When Cecilia is finally sentenced to death for her actions, she survives two attempts to execute her, and she continues preaching for three days after getting partially beheaded. Cecilia’s undying commitment to her purity and God makes her into a Saint.
All of these women (and a chicken) use their feminine power to get men to do what they want. The Canterbury Tales has a remarkable series of female roles that show the power of women. Intentional or not, Alisoun, Dorigene, Pertelote, and Cecilia make The Canterbury Tales more than a book full of sexual innuendos and dirty language. It becomes a series of stories about strong women who are able to overcome the male power system, in at least some sense, in order to achieve their goals.
Sidney’s “Apology for Poetry” says that “the poet is the food for the tenderest stomachs,” and I agree (90). While Chaucer’s poetry is hard to understand due to the lack of modern spellings, it fits with Sidney’s definition of what poetry should be. The tales featured in the Chaucer reading are an excellent example of poetry being used to record spoken tales. The entirety of the Canterbury Tales is just people telling stories to each other on a pilgrimage, but that telling is formatted to be look like poetry. The poet in this case truly is the moderator between the historian and the moral philosopher (88). In the Franklin’s Tale, Chaucer speaks of a couple who decides that a marriage of equality is a good idea. This would not have been a popular idea at the time, but writing a bawdy tale about such a subject was a good way to mask its potential impact on society. The historians can look back and see progressive social ideas from poems like this, and philosophers can also use them to find examples from the past to back up their own statements about equality. Without poetry—and without its accessibility—literature would suffer greatly.
Like Sidney says, “it is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet” (87). I think it is the ideas that lie behind the verse and the way they are expressed. Sidney argues that the philosopher exists to teach those who are already educated while the poet exists to provide his work to everyone regardless of their education level. Good poetry affects people without taking into account their level of understanding. It’s easy to imagine a group of people sitting around sharing different stories and learning something from each one of them. Poetry gave us that. It gives us a medium through which we can explore different cultures, different feelings, and through which we can learn about something that we have never seen or experienced before without actually having to do so. It gives us a way to relate to other people without actually having to go through the same things they have.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
The play “Lysistrata” is definitely ahead of its time with regards to women empowerment and rights. Interestingly, Arsistophanes wrote this play I believe intentionally making fun of women, however he made characters like Lysistrata driven and determined, and not sex crazed like the men. This play did not make women seem like the bad guys tricking men into doing deceitful actions but instead it sheds light on how women, although having little to no power with war affairs and disputes, do have power over men (whether the men admit it or not). Women may not be the rulers or the soldiers, but they do have power over men in some areas in life, and that area is in the bedroom.
Usually women are depicted as being vicious and evil in Greek plays or young maidens in need of a male savior. Yet, in this play women have the upper hand. They use their sexuality and female bodies to end war. Women are still tricking men, but they are doing it to end war and bring peace. At times comedic, particularly during scene 5 when Myrrhine leads her husband on, but refuses to give it up for the purpose of a peace treaty. The fact that the women (both Athenians and Spartan women) came together and all withheld sex from their husbands in order to save Greece was in a way an example of a feminist movement. It’s an example of many different women coming together for a common purpose, similar to the feminist movement today.
It took courage for a lot of this women to remain faithful to their oath and to not go back to their sex-crazed men, but they managed to do it despite many temptations to quit. Aristophanes could have made women weak and powerless, but he made them more powerful than men. He imagined a world where women were not passive and had a voice. A world where a woman like Lysistrata led a sort of revolution and ended war. The only weapon used was sex and it was more effective than resorting to physical violence and destruction of monuments and cities.
Although there is a lot of vulgar language the play does show women leadership and power. A lot of times Greek plays are extremely misogynistic and women are not given a proper voice. The only problem with this play is that because of the comedic elements and innappropiate sexual innuendos it can be hard to take seriously by some readers. Sadly, women represented in this play may not receive the praise they deserve because people simply do not take the plot seriously.Despite the comedic downfall, the play still has strong women leaders, like Lysistrata herself, who refuses to back down. She is an example of the ultimate fierce woman, she’s sexy but refuses to let men have power over her. It’s inspiring for women who read the play especially. These women took matters into their own hands and that is not easy
The Classical era produced a great number of works which influenced generations of writers, philosophers, politicians, and ordinary citizens. My personal favorite, from the classical era, is Virgil's Aeneid, a tale which inspired countless works of art, from writers shameless ripping off its plot line, to poets comparing the fall of Dixie during the Civil War to Aeneas fleeing a burning Troy. Virgil's epic sets the tone for a great many discussions of Classical works, in no small part because it is considered to have encapsulated the best of them. One of the most profound moments I had reading the poem comes right at the beginning, when Virgil invokes the presence of a muse to help him speak the tale of Aeneas. I had read both of Homer's works, which began much in the same way, and to me this moment marked the creation of a long awaited sequel. It was not simply a a reworking of the themes of Homer, as some critics have suggested, but an ultimate capstone of the genre, as if the best of Classical literature had converged upon a single work to rival all that had come before, and perhaps all that had come since. This became a reading which served as the baseline for nearly all heroic works, and inspiration from Inferno to Hamlet to the modern day. It all begins with a respectful allusion to the past, ushering in perhaps the finest hour for the Western Canon.
With this mindset, understanding Lysistrata as a Classical work proved to be somewhat difficult. Lysistrata as a play, reflects a Classical style which is much less known today. The more comedic of Classical plays are considerably less familiar to most readers in today's society, as it is the tragedies, such as Oedipus or epics such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey which are most often taught and studied by a majority of students and private readers. Tragedies have always been considered the "Higher" plays, in part due to their serious and dramatic nature, though also because, prior to the Renaissance Era, they were generally not written in the vernacular language, for which many attributed a more "venerated" status with the works.
I say this to preface this post with the idea that, prior to my first time reading Lysistrata a year ago, I was not familiar with any of the Greek Comedies. My understanding of the Classical era largely came from Greek and Roman epics, written by Homer and Virgil, respectively. Thus, I was not particularly familiar with Aristophanes' style, or indeed the Greek comedic style in general. I was primarily used to reading an opening line calling upon mythological muses to help the narrator channel the story of legendary heroes, stories of the gods themselves; not a complaint about tardiness. As a result it took some time for me to adjust to the style in context of the time period. When I first began reading, the play sounded much more like a 16th or 17th century creation, rather than a classical piece. I found the conversations developed more like what I would expect from Shakespeare, Marlowe, or Jonson: Down to earth, with just the right level of absurdity.
Thus, the experience may have been colored by a subversion of expectations. The difficulty was not in understanding the play itself, but rather the play in the context of its original existence. Lysistrata ultimately seemed like a play that was written for a certain festival or event, the kind of work that in some ways is ironically more formal than the Epics. The Epics were built off of a basic concept, to which a number of storytellers would add variations and episodes, resulting in a sort of "finished" project we have today. Lysistrata would seem to be meant as more of a formal performance, something for an acting troupe, professional or amateur, would perform, to a, perhaps rough, script. The play is certainly unlike what many tend to expect from the Classical era, an argument echoed by its subject matter.
In Aristophanes' comedic play, Lysistrata is a strong independent woman who sends ancient Greece into total chaos over sex. She is smart, witty and is able to control even the supposed-to-be manliest of men in both Athens and Sparta. Aristophanes gives the audience a look at the way women lived in ancient Greece by having an original female protagonist, something that has been done many times since but had not been done many times before. Lysistrata is about powerful women in a time of great war who use sex and politics to bring about peace. Aristophanes gives use powerful women and weak, foolish, incompetent men. The irony of all ironies; supposed-to-be incompetent and silly women foster peace in a supposed-to-be tough and powerful man's war. Everyone in the play, men and women both, are obsessed with sex. Sex rules Lysistrata's world and Aristophanes gives her power as the only character who is an exception to the rule. The men in the play are reluctant to take an advice on the war from the women as that would mean that they are not superior in reason, intelligence, etc. So therefore the women take away the one thing that boosts their egos and masculinity. Lysistrata is the definition of a "strong independent women who doesn't need a man"; she creates the struggle for power, she is the puppet master, and she gets what she wants. The men and women in the play switch roles, which was seen as unbelievable in Aristophanes’ day. Aristophanes conveyed an anti-war theme through ludicrous and dirty humor. His messages are modern and radical and therefore the play is meant to be comedic and ridiculous as a cover up.
The themes of the play have been seen as offensive since it was written in the 400s B.C. The play has been one of the most frequently banned over the past 2500 years for its anti-war sentiments and the remarkable power of women. It was banned in the U.S. in the 1870s and the ban wasn’t lifted until the 1930s. The issues that Aristophanes addresses in his play are still relevant to our modern world. Though women fight in wars, run companies, and help lead our country, there is a stereotype that is fought everyday about women being seductresses and distractions or lacking the same level of intelligence or reason as men. In addition, wars are always controversial topics. The US has fought in countless wars and the decision to fight is never unanimous. Lysistrata was ahead of its time. It joked about the power of women and the switching roles of men and women, but reading it today, it reads more realistically.
In many ways, Lysistrata is a challenge to conventional, patriarchal society – even now, I think, which explains why it might be apart of the banned books list. Aside from the obvious outrage that would have surrounded female autonomy, Lysistrata herself is a figure of a female authority. By the end, she is a heroine. It is by her own genius that she is able to convince and organize a band of women to rebel against sex, particularly the pleasures of the male groin. And while the women complain and begrudge this idea initially, they play into it quite nicely, employing tactics such as teasing, sexy provocation and false assurance, resulting in the ache for sexual fulfillment of the males that Lysistrata seems to believe will resolve the war between Sparta and Athens. The joke becomes the belief that males will submit under any circumstance for the release of sex. The joke becomes a reality when the men walk around with full-on erections, redirecting every conversation back to sex, pleading for the women to relieve their “pain” and “suffering.”
The thing to note is that Aristophanes is not depriving the women of autonomy in sex, but rather giving it to them. In fact, he gives them so much control that they are able to drive the men “mad” with their ability to hold out. He is giving them a sort of power that they otherwise lacked: matching physical strength (men) with mental (and even physical) willpower (women). Throughout the text, we constantly see men threaten physical violence as a form a control (pg. 68, 73, 74, 80 to name a few). It is only AFTER the women are threatened that they return the threat – after all, fight fire with fire, right? Wrong! When the women attempt to exhibit autonomy (success is irrelevant here), they are met with insults calling them “shameless beasts” (68). Females, therefore, are trapped in a double bind. What is acceptable behavior for man is not a (socially) acceptable course of action for woman. Even as women try to exercise their human RIGHT to protect themselves, sexism prevails.
One of the most illustrative and powerful scenes in this text occurs in Scene 2 (pg. 67-69). A representative from each side, an old and an old woman, bicker and threaten one another. The argument escalates from spoken threat to violent action when the old female asserts, “I’m a free woman” (68). It is this very proclamation that is met with actual violence, not the disturbing “I will devour your lungs and cut out all your guts” (68). Female autonomy angers him more than female aggression. It is this sentence that symbolizes feminine authority and it is this same sentence that threatens masculinity (namely, pride). If that isn’t telling of the male ego, I don’t know what is!
Today, women have significant sexual agency, at least, more than they once had. They also have more general rights, such as the right to vote and the right to contraception. There are even laws set in place to protect the wife from spousal abuse/rape (marriage rape laws). Changes, particularly in the law, are a result of the acknowledgment that woman are human beings just like their male counterparts. However, just because the law has transgressed over the past few decades does not mean that attitudes towards women have. Specifically, religion is a widely valued institution across the world, but its outdated perception of women as less than men is still very detrimental to the human mind. Outside of America, the less-industrialized nations deal with an even higher level of misogyny, as most of the inhabitants tend to lack access to basic education that might otherwise thwart these beliefs. So while I believe that attitudes towards women have evolved to some extent, there is still much work to be done in the realm of equalizing the sexes.
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.