25 November 2012

Lysistrata's gambit

Lysistrata, the title character in Aristophanes' bawdy comic play first performed in Greece in 411 BC, brought together the women of ancient Greece in a conclave to bring to a halt the ruinous Peloponnesian Wars. Her method: organising the women of Greece to refuse to provide sexual favours to their menfolk - not even the renowned Lioness on the Cheese Grater position - until they relent and end the war. Here she explains her reasoning to an angry magistrate, who demands to know why the womenfolk have seized and barricaded themselves into the Acropolis with the all-important treasury, without which the war cannot proceed:

Lysistrata: In the last war we were too modest to object to anything you men did—and in any case you wouldn’t let us say a word. But don’t think we approved! We knew everything that was going on. Many times we’d hear at home about some major blunder of yours, and then when you came home we’d be burning inside, but we’d have to put on a smile and ask what it was you’d decided to inscribe on the pillar underneath the peace treaty. And what did my husband always say?—“Shut up and mind your own business!” And I did.

Stratyllis: I wouldn’t have done!

Magistrate: [ignoring her—to Lysistrata] He’d have given you one if you hadn’t!

Lysistrata: Exactly—so I kept quiet. But sure enough, next thing we knew, you’d take an even sillier decision. And if I so much as said, “Darling, why are you carrying on with this silly policy?” he would glare at me and say, “Back to your weaving, woman, or you’ll have a headache for a month. Go and attend to your work; let war be the care of the menfolk.”

Magistrate: Quite right, too, by Zeus.

Lysistrata: Right? That we should not be allowed to make the least little suggestion to you, no matter how much you mismanage the city’s affairs? And now, look, every time two people meet in the street, what do they say? “Isn’t there a man in the country?” and the answer comes, “Not one.” That’s why we women got together and decided we were going to save Greece. What was the point of waiting any longer, we asked ourselves. Well now, we’ll make a deal. You listen to us—and we’ll talk sense, not like you used to—listen to us and keep quiet, as we’ve had to do up to now, and we’ll clear up the mess you’ve made.

- Quoted from Lapham's Quarterly, 24 November 2012

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