Shades of Lysistrata!

One of the things that I remember most about my A.P. English course in high school is the time that we all read Aristophane’s Lysistrata. This play, as you may or may not remember, is a comedy taking place during the Peloponnesian War. The plot, boiled down to its essence, entails a plan by which the women of Athens, led by Lysistrata, join with the women of other warring states and decide that they will refuse to have sex with their men until the war is ended and peace agreed to, as summarized here:

The women of Athens, led by Lysistrata and supported by female delegates from the other states of Hellas, determine to take matters into their own hands and force the men to stop the War. They meet in solemn conclave, and Lysistrata expounds her scheme, the rigorous application to husbands and lovers of a self-denying ordinance–“we must refrain from the male altogether.” Every wife and mistress is to refuse all sexual favours whatsoever, till the men have come to terms of peace. In cases where the women must yield ‘par force majeure,’ then it is to be with an ill grace and in such a way as to afford the minimum of gratification to their partner; they are to be passive and take no more part in the amorous game than they are absolutely obliged to. By these means Lysistrata assures them they will very soon gain their end. “If we sit indoors prettily dressed out in our best transparent silks and prettiest gewgaws, and all nicely depilated, they will be able to deny us nothing.” Such is the burden of her advice.

Three things amazed me about this play. First, it was funny, even nearly 2,500 years later translated into English. Second, as a junior in high school, I couldn’t believe that the ancient Greeks, whom I had always been taught to view as being of the utmost seriousness and high-mindedness, actually liked bawdy humor, complete with boner jokes. (This is obviously more a sign of my ignorance at the time and how Greek history and drama had been taught than anything else.) I kid you not, there were a number of jokes in this play that would not be out of place in some movies today (you know, along the lines of, “Are you hiding a lance under your clothes?” or when Cinesias, pleading with Lysistrata to let him speak with his wife, describes himself as “tortured by spasm and rigid convulsion”). Finally, I couldn’t believe this stuff was being taught in a Catholic high school.

All of this is just a quick introduction to show that the idea of women withholding their favors from men to obtain peace still resonates today:

Fretting over crime and violence, girlfriends and wives of gang members in the Colombian city of Pereira have called a ban on sex to persuade their menfolk to give up the gun.

After meeting with the mayor’s office to discuss a disarmament program, a group of women decided to deny their partners their conjugal rights and recorded a song for local radio to urge others to follow their example.

“We met with the wives and girlfriends of gang members and they were worried some were not handing over their guns and that is where they came up with the idea of a vigil or a sex strike,” mayor’s office representative Julio Cesar Gomez said.

“The message they are giving them is disarm or if not then they will decide how, when, where and at what time,” he said by telephone.

Mr Gomez said the city, in Colombia’s coffee-growing region, reported 480 killings last year.

Shades of Lysistrata!

I have to wonder if any campaign like this ever actually worked outside of Lysistrata, or if this campaign will work. After all, violent men might just take what they want by force and not be too concerned about whether the women like it or not.


  1. #1 David Harmon
    September 24, 2006

    Whether it works comes down to relationship… it should be interesting to watch.

  2. #2 Graculus
    September 24, 2006

    Don’t forget, in “Lysistrata” the ladies also took over the treasury.

    Sex *and* money. They’re what make the world go ’round.

  3. #3 Orac
    September 24, 2006

    Good point. I had forgotten about that part of the plot…

  4. #4 Ruth
    September 24, 2006

    Remember, in “Lysistrata”, several women started fraternizing with the ‘enemy’. It was a great play-took my sister to see at Ann Arbor Community theater had had a blast.

  5. #5 EoR
    September 25, 2006

    But I thought that ancient Greek men were into other ancient Greek men (“He’s Greek? That’s worse! I mean, they invented it, didn’t they?” – Basil Fawlty). Or was this the origin of that particular practise?

  6. #6 Bey
    September 25, 2006

    I had friends in the Theater dept at college. They put Lysistrata on and the whole cast was in nude costume, with the addition of slinkys, brillo pads, and small colanders.

    It was wonderful.

  7. #7 Justin Moretti
    October 12, 2006

    I know someone who read this out at a youth conference I attended, as a serious anti-war protest. Fool her, to think it would work. The men would simply start having sex with each other (I could chip in with “What was Lysistrata thinking she would achieve, this was Greece after all”, but that would be stereotypical).

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