In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata the women of Athens , fed up with the war against Sparta, go on a sex strike and barricade themselves into the acropolis to persuade their husbands to vote for peace. In recent years, it has been claimed as an inspiration by political movements from Feminists, to Greenham Common protestors, to the movement against the invasion of Iraq. The most often produced of all Aristophanes’ comedies, it is also, perhaps, the most misunderstood.
This collection of essays by eight leading academics sets the play firmly in its historical and social context, while exploring Aristophanes’ purpose in writing it and considering the responses of modern audiences and academics.
The book has been compited and edited by David Stuttard, whose fast-paced performer-friendly version of the play is included here, bringing out Aristophanes’ earthy (sometimes scatological, sometimes anatomical) raw wit as well as his love of word-play and glorious sense of the absurd.
ISBN 978-1-8539 9736 5 First published 2010
It is that rather impossible thing, a faithful adaptation. Professor Alan Sommerstein
Most readers will have seen touring productions by the Actors of Dionysus: company supremo Stuttard here presents his lively acting version of Lysistrata with eight commissioned essays. His introduction stresses the complex fluidity of the political situation when the play was first performed in 411 BC. He also justifies the use of modern allusions (urging further topical updating in performance) in a ‘fantasy amalgam’ of registers reminiscent of Aristophanes’ own technique, most obviously in Birds. Performance history occupies several contributors;Michael Walton shows how the central issue of the play has been variously identified, with interesting information about early translations;James Morwood explores the idea of role-reversal, to emphasise (through intertextual reference to the Iliad and Medea) how war is indeed the concern of women;Edith Hall stresses the innovationof so strong a heroine in comedy, comparing Lysistrata to assertive women in myth and history; with other essayists, she accepts David Lewis’s theory of allusion to the real-life priestess Lysimache, suggesting that Lysistrata virtually takes the role of Athena herself; Alan Sommerstein (going beyond the familiar point that a peace-promoting Aristophanes is very different from a modern pacifist) claims that even in a war-weary world, the settlement proposed in Lysistrata is so unrealistically pro-Athenian that it can only be a comic fancy; James Robson explores the gallery of personalities in the play, stressing the blatantly revisionist history (e.g. of Cleomenes and Cimon) which underlies the vision of co-operation between Athens and Sparta;Alan Beale explores the illogical implausibility of the plot, though of course disbelief is willingly suspended in performance; Martin Revermann shows how modern feminist and anti-war readings, although they distort the text, nonetheless keep it alive and make it ours by their productive misunderstanding. Finally Lorna Hardwick offers a survey of notable modern productions. Stuttard’s version of the play (hovering between translation and adaptation) bounces along and reads well: the mix of verbal ingenuity and relentless double-entendres (some of them added in) gives it the character of an upmarket Carry On film. The book is well-produced, excellent value, and surely an essential purchase for any department or school library. Journal of Classical Teaching