Simanaitis Says

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I RECENTLY GOT HOOKED on the plays of Aristophanes because of Emily Wilson’s fine article “Punishment by Radish,” in London Review of Books, appearing in print October 21, 2021. Here in Part 2 are tidbits gleaned from this article and from Internet research on four of Aristophanes’ plays, The Clouds, The Birds, Lysistrata, and Assembly of Women. 

The Clouds, 423 B.C. Wikipedia calls The Clouds “a lampoon of intellectual fashion in classical Athens…. Retrospectively, The Clouds can be considered the world’s first extant ‘comedy of ideas’…. The play also, however, remains notorious for its caricature of Socrates….” 

Two of the characters discuss Socrates, who hangs nearby in a basket. Engraving by Joannes Sambucus, 1564, from Wikipedia.

Clouds serve as “goddesses of thinkers and other layabouts” forming the chorus, a characteristic part of ancient Greek theatrics as commentators and plot enhancers.

The Birds, 414 B.C. Wikipedia regards The Birds as “a perfectly realized fantasy remarkable for its mimicry of birds and for the gaiety of its songs.” 

Rider with birds and a winged figure, c. 540 B.C. Image by Rider Painter—Jastrow from Wikipedia.  

Lysistrata, 411 B.C. This is perhaps the best known of ancient Greek comedies: It’s the one where Lysistrata persuades women of warring cities to withhold sexual privileges until their men stop fighting. 

Lysistrata. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, 1896. 

“The play,” Wikipedia says, “is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society. Additionally, its dramatic structure represents a shift from the conventions of Old Comedy, a trend typical of the author’s career.” 

Women of the Assembly, 391 B.C. Imagine a scenario in which the women of Athens assume control of the government and bring reforms that ban private wealth and enforce sexual equity for the old and unattractive. This is the one with plenty of sexual and scatological humor, sort of a Simpsons episode gone wild.

Assembly of Women, as presented at the Universidad de Alicante, 2014. Image from VEU–Cultural Magazine of the University of Alicante.. In Aristophanes’ day, all actors were men.

Wikipedia gives a G-Rated descriptin of the action: “In the final scene, a drunken maid enters praising Thasian wine and the new laws. She is looking to bring Blepyrus to dinner at Praxagora’s request. She finds Blepyrus passing by, already on his way to dinner with two girls in his arms. They all go to dinner together while the chorus sings of the lavish feast they are about to have.”

Mild, Poetic Versions of Aristophanes’ Ribaldry. Wilson observes, “Poochigian writes in the introduction that he finds a ‘necessary lesson’ for contemporary society in Aristophanes’ use of obscenity to condemn the ‘crude’ behaviour of ‘a person in power’ who ‘behaves obscenely’.”

She continues, “The translations themselves seem to show precisely the opposite: that careful, sometimes childish or archaic language can provide an alternative to the tiresome barrage of outrage and outrageousness that has dominated the media landscape in recent years. Maybe comic obscenity does not seem so funny anymore, now that a laughably unqualified perpetrator of sexual assault has served a full term as president.”

Aμήν σε αυτό; Greek: “amen to this.” ds 

Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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