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Aristophanes: Lysistrata. Thesmophoriazusae. Ecclesiazusae. Plutus. (Loeb Classical Library No. 180)

Lysistrata/Thesmophoriazusae/Ecclesiazusae/Plutus - Aristophanes, B.B. Rogers NOTE: This book contains four plays, but this review only pertains to LysistrataGuys: if you ever want to be the life of the party (or maybe get yourself arrested), consider borrowing this 2500 year old bit from Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata:KINESIAS: (entering the peace negotiation) ….I’ve come as a delegate to the Sexual Congress. (opens cloak to reveal massive, throbbing erection) Here are my credentials.AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I’m just dying to use that one.Now you might understand how Lysistrata got to be one of the five most frequently banned plays of all time, but that makes it all the more fun, doesn’t it? In it, the titular Lysistrata –a matron of Athens- laments at the needless destruction wrought by a twenty year long ongoing war between Athens and Sparta. She hits on a novel solution: organize a strike amongst all the women of Greece, refusing sex to their partners until the war is ended. Beautiful in its simplicity, it not only delivers a serious anti-war message, but sets the stage for a LOT of great double entendres…Here’s Koryphaios and Kinesias having a discussion about blueballs:KORYPHAIOS: It’s a dreadful disease. When the crisis reaches its height, what do you take for it?KINESIAS: Whatever comes to hand.Here’s another one, which takes place right after the peace treaty is signed, and the women of Greece are again willing to fornicate:ATHENIAN FARMER: (Hastily) Now that the war’s over, I wanna rush home and, uh, plow a few furrows.SPARTAN FARMER: (Just as hasty) Yeah! I have to be going! Gotta work a few loads of fertilizer in, myself!Those are some highlights, and there are a lot of other laughs too, but let’s get to the substance. The Athenian women are so sick of the war, they decide to abstain from sex. The obvious result, which the play spends a good deal of time exploring, is the affect this has on the men- who walk around with erections and complain about how horny and sex-starved they are. Ultimately the men break down and sign a peace treaty, to get back into their partners’ good graces (i.e. pants). So that’s like organized labor holding a strike, if you’re comfortable making that comparison, and that’s all good. But the more interesting angle is how the self-imposed strike affects the women: they miss the sex too, and amongst themselves grouse and complain, and consider abandoning the whole scheme. LYSISTRATA: (to the lamenting women) If we can just hold out a little bit longer, we’ll come out on top.SPARTAN WOMAN: Oh, how I love being on top!And that’s good for some jokes, but it’s an interesting thought experiment too, isn’t it? If a nation is considering going to war, it might be useful to contemplate whether they would still declare war, if it meant that every adult had to abstain from sex until the fighting ends. I’m not just talking about the soldiers… if you think about it, that’s really the deal most of them get anyway. We have soldiers in the military who’ve been on 4, 5, even 6 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan –each deployment generally being between 1 to 2 years. Obviously spouses (or partners otherwise) don’t accompany them, so these guys [I’m using the generic male, but let’s be clear: this applies to military women as well] are not only putting their lives on the line, they’re also going without sex for long stretches. But what about the rest of the population? In World War II, the homefront made sacrifices for the war effort. There was rationing and shortages, and almost every family had loved ones drafted into service. Lately, we’ve kind of gotten away from that. Economics drive a lot of kids from impoverished areas to volunteer for military service, but there’s no draft, so more (but certainly not all) middle class and upper class families have avoided putting loved ones in harm’s way. Likewise, we haven’t had any rationing or shortages related to our wars since World War II. After 9/11, George W. Bush didn’t tell Americans to prepare for sacrifices; he essentially told them to go shopping. How times change!But what if every adult man and woman in the country had to abstain from sex for the duration of our wars- as a sign of support and personal sacrifice? Would we still be in Afghanistan, ten years after the first boots hit the ground? Would we be beating the war drum against Iran, at every opportunity? I don’t think so.The more I think about it, the more reasonable this yardstick sounds. It really forces an assessment of priorities, doesn’t it? To be sure, there still would be wars we choose to fight. World War II was a just war, and we fought it to protect our children from a life under fascism. Most of us would abstain from sex for four years, to prevent our kids from growing up under fascism, so The Lysistrata Test (as I’m going to start calling it) successfully identifies this as an appropriate war. Now take The Spanish American War… a neocolonial adventure fought at the behest of yellow journalists, in response to a false flag operation. Give up sex for that? No way! Another point for The Lysistrata Test. Then there are a whole slew of wars in that gray area… the Korean War? Well… you can make the humanitarian arguments, and you can make a case that our long-term security depended on preventing the famous “falling dominoes”, but on the other hand, our national security was not immediately threatened. Some people would forego the sex for that, and some people wouldn’t… But you know what? In every one of those gray area cases, you can bet that there would be vigorous debate in the public square about it. People would give a fuck. They would try to inform themselves about the issues, and they’d contact their elected representatives with their opinions. The war debate would be front page news, not celebrity gossip.Another benefit of the Lysistrata Test is that it would keep us out of unnecessary alliances. Do we really want to sign an agreement with some other country, if it means we might have to go without sex for a few years? Let’s sit back and think about this some more… It’s genius! I really think Aristophanes was onto something.Best line (in translation): It ain’t the heat; it’s the tumidity.