June 9, 2012

These Ancient Greeks Are Just Like Us!

Unknown Translator

Well this is a first for me - I have never reviewed a play before on this blog, in fact, I haven't really read any plays before (save for one or two in high school). But after watching my friend Dean's video book review on it, I decided it may be worth a go. It took only an evening for me to read it on my Kindle (94 pages) and this morning I watched it in play form on youtube (which I highly recommend after reading). 

I downloaded the free version from the Kindle store, which was 'converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers.' (from the book description), but unfortunately I was unable to find which translation it was taken from. The version I read had a list of characters in the front of the book, but was not separated into acts and scenes as a standard play would be. I think it was especially helpful after reading this play to watch it being performed, as many of the parts were declared simply 'women', 'men', 'Spartans', 'old men', and 'Athenians'. One other critique of this version is the over the top lyrical lines. This was obviously not written in English, so even though it was poetic in Ancient Greek, I would rather have more exact translations to really get the meaning behind the lines. If I ever end up purchasing this play for my library, I will hunt around for a better translation.


Lysistrata is an example of a timeless piece of work, been written and performed before the time of Christ, it still resonates with us today. It is a Classical Greek Comedy, set during the Peloponnesian War (civil war between Athens and Sparta which lasted from 431 BC to 404 - 27 years). At the start of the play, the women had been suffering the absence of their husbands for years. One woman, Lysistrata, thinks she knows a way to end the war, and calls a meeting at the Acropolis to discuss her tactics. 

Lysistrata is hesitant at first to reveal her strategy to end the war, as it would prove a difficult trial for both the women and their husbands. Her plan is to lock themselves into the Acropolis to ensure the celibacy of the women, wives of soldiers and powerful men. Hilarity ensues as the play unfolds - some women try to sneak out of the meeting, making up ridiculous excuses, to which Lysistrata is not fooled. As time passes in the play the men becoming increasingly sex starved (not to mention the women), are all walking around with massive erections by the end of the play, begging for a resolution. 

Many critics have dismissed this play because of it's phallic nature, but you can't deny the themes we can still sympathize with today. I don't know of how many jokes I've heard on movies and television of women trying to manipulate men in the same ways described in this play. Thought the concept of this play is humorous on the surface, Lysistrata's motivations were pure. She and her comrades were quickly aging while their husbands were away, dwindling down their child bearing years, for what? In one line, Lysistrata is arguing with the magistrate about the issue. She offers that while the men also age, coming back with heads of grey hair, they are still able to take a young ripe wife if he so chooses, while women only have so many fertile years to bear before 'shriveling' up. 

It is for these timeless themes that I believe Lysistrata has endured the centuries, and will continute to resonate with readers for many to come. Before Dean's review video popped up on my youtube feed, I had never heard of this play, so thanks Dean! I look forward to reading and reviewing many more plays, and also some more ancient greek stuff, which I always enjoy :-)

If you'd like an extremely quick and hilarious summary of this story, click here!

Happy Reading Everyone!

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