Thursday, March 7, 2013

The End of War and Violence: An Ancient Idea Revisited

My mother would tell folks at family gatherings, or house guests of one sort or another that, when I was in the toddler stages of life, all she need do, while shopping for groceries, was put me in front of the book rack, where I would sit quietly 'playing' with the books I could reach....So it was that by the time I completed the 8th grade I had read: The dictionary, the Bible, Plato, and Homer......

My passion was Greek mythology, sparked by the Homeric Epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey.....When I entered college and discovered that there were entire courses devoted to ancient Greek literature, I felt as though I had died and gone to heaven...

I was introduced to classical Greek plays by authors such as: Aeschylus (c. 525–456 BCE), Sophocles (c. 495-406 BCE), Euripides (c. 480–406 BCE), and one of my favorites, Aristophanes (c. 446-388 BCE), author of Lysistrata.

Illustration from a bust

Lysistrata (translation: "Army-disbander") is one of the few surviving plays written by Aristophanes. Originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC, it is a comic account of one woman's extraordinary mission to end The Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace — a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes. The play is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society.

Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, 1896

LYSISTRATA: There are a lot of things about us women that sadden me, considering how men see us as rascals.

CALONICE: As indeed we are!

These lines, spoken by Lysistrata and her friend Calonice at the beginning of the play, set the scene for the action that follows. Women, as represented by Calonice, are sly hedonists in need of firm guidance and direction. Lysistrata however is an extraordinary woman with a large sense of individual responsibility. She has convened a meeting of women from various city states in Greece (there is no mention of how she managed this feat) and, very soon after confiding in her friend about her concerns for the female sex, the women begin arriving.

With support from Lampito, the Spartan, Lysistrata persuades the other women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk as a means of forcing them to end the interminable Peloponnesian War. The women are very reluctant but the deal is sealed with a solemn oath around a wine bowl, Lysistrata choosing the words and Calonice repeating them on behalf of the other women. It is a long and detailed oath, in which the women abjure all their sexual pleasures, including The Lioness on The (a sexual position).

Soon after the oath is finished, a cry of triumph is heard from the nearby Acropolis – the old women of Athens have seized control of it at Lysistrata's instigation, since it holds the state treasury, without which the men cannot long continue to fund their war. Lampito goes off to spread the word of revolt and the other women retreat behind the barred gates of the Acropolis to await the men's response. (-Wikipedia)

I'm thinking. what a marvelous idea it would be for women to be able to put an end to war, and street violence, or stop things like corporate greed, congressional gridlock, pollution of the environment and global warming....Just by saying no to sex....

Or, would that be asking too much?