Greek Comedy and Ideology

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David Konstan.

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In comedy, happy endings resolve real-world conflicts. These conflicts, in turn, leave their mark on the texts in the form of gaps in plot and inconsistencies of characterization. Greek Comedy and Ideology analyzes how the structure of ancient Greek comedy betrays and responds to cultural tensions in the society of the classical city-state.

It explores the utopian vision of Aristophanes' comedies--for example, an all-powerful city inhabited by birds, or a world of limitless wealth presided over by the god of wealth himself--as interventions in the political issues of his time. David Konstan goes on to examine the more private world of Menandrean comedy including two adaptations of Menander by the Roman playwright Terence , in which problems of social status, citizenship, and gender are negotiated by means of elaborately contrived plots.

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Table of Contents. Contents Introduction. Politics and Utopia. Popular passages Page 67 - The first phase of separation comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group either from an earlier fixed point in the social structure, from a set of cultural conditions a "state" , or from both. During the intervening "liminal" period, the characteristics of the ritual subject the "passenger" are ambiguous; he passes through a cultural realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state.

In the third phase reaggregation or reincorporation , They are also disturbed by the disruption to the home caused by the war and the absence of their husbands. Aristophanes is at pains in Lysistrata to portray women as preservers of the household. Lysistrata later explains to an Athenian commissioner who has come to negotiate with the women: "Just when it is right to have fun and enjoy the fruits of youth, we have to sleep alone on account of campaigns.

Okay, I'll leave us out of it; but I suffer for the young girls who are growing old in their bedrooms. War is worse for unmarried women because the bloom of youth quickly fades, while men can find a young girl to wed even when their hair is gray It is marriage, and not just sex, that is at stake. This same note of shattered homelife is struck when the excited Cinesias appeals to his wife Myrrhina with their infant in his arms The women's sexual motive coexists with their commitment to marriage and the home.

In an important article, John Vaio has inquired why Aristophanes tolerated the inconsistent motivation of the women in the opening scene in the play, "when he could easily have omitted any reference to the separation of husband and wife. It is partly to cure this ill that the women's action is directed, and the success of this action at the end of the play enables husband and wife to return home together in an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation.

Besides, slaves, who were exempt from the fighting, might have served as lovers, as Aristophanes suggests in Women at Festival , which was produced in the same year as Lysistrata. In representing women simultaneously as licentious and as concerned for home and family, Aristophanes has fused two distinct and mutually contradictory images. The women's sexual passion is at odds with their custodial relation to the home. Of course, the women's randiness makes for some good fun at the women's expense, and this may be justification enough for the motif, even at the cost of logic and consistency of characterization.

But female sexuality is also an element in the image of women constituted as a unified body as opposed to the antagonistic division of the men. The transgressive quality of feminine desire is coded as corrosive of the boundaries fixed by civic structures, rendering women the locus of primal solidarity and the vehicle of an appeal to the collective identification of all Greeks.

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Correspondingly, the idea of autonomous female desire threatens the integrity of the household. Women's eroticism must be contained. Aristophanes makes the women's sexual deprivation the basis for a plan intended to reaffirm the values of the household and to defend its exclusivity against the dangers that arise in the masculine, public space of politics and war.

He both insinuates and seeks to control the danger of women's desire. In their effort to defend the home, the women are obliged to abandon it, at least temporarily, and join together as a corporate body. The anomaly of women inaugurating a political conference is underscored by the difficulty they experience in escaping from their houses, to the chagrin of an impatient Lysistrata.

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Once assembled, the women act out a parody of masculine debate and ceremony, the only model available for political behavior. Despite its farcical character, the collective action of the women imports a new element into the drama, which goes beyond the antinomy between adulterous eroticism and fidelity to the home. For libertine sexuality and marital fidelity are both defined in relation to the home as the presumed locus of a woman's life, segregated from the public sphere of male activity.

The household is still recognized as a woman's proper place, even if its boundaries are respected in the breach, so long as each transgression is conceived of as an individual affair. But women meeting in assembly in order to influence state policy exceed this simple opposition, and challenge the ideological basis of the opposition between men's and women's spheres.

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By representing them as engaging in a political action against the war, Aristophanes conjures up the image of women as a countersociety, a kind of mirror world of the masculine civic space. On the one hand, there is the sex strike; on the other hand, there is the capture or occupation of the acropolis, the citadel of Athens where the treasury was located. The second scheme is introduced after the women, following the lead of the Spartan delegate Lampito, agree to Lysistrata's proposal that they abstain from sexual intercourse with their husbands.

Lysistrata has met the objection that the women may be forced by recommending that they resist passively, if all else fails , for sex gives no pleasure under compulsion. Lampito then suddenly, and to all appearances inconsequentially, interjects that the Athenians will not reliably adhere to a peace treaty so long as their ships have rigging and their inexhaustible silver is stored safely in the temple of the goddess Athena Lysistrata reveals that the oldest women of Athens have already been assigned to seize the citadel under the pretense of performing a sacrifice.

With this settled, the women proceed to take the oath of abstinence. In the play as a whole, the two strands of the plot defined by the alternative stratagems remain largely independent of each other. Thus, the chorus of old men, who attempt to break into the acropolis after Lysistrata and her friends have occupied it , are motivated not by sexual desire but by the determination to recover the citadel which, as they see it, has fallen into enemy hands,- they compare the women's action with a Spartan takeover that occurred a century earlier Neither is the commissioner, who is the next to arrive, in the grip of lust.

Wilamowitz suggested that it needed the passage of time before the effects of the women's strike were felt. The action reverts to the sexual theme only when Lysistrata emerges from the citadel, more than halfway through the play, to complain about the women inside, who are running her ragged by their attempts to slip back home for sex Once they are brought under control, Cinesias, the husband of Myrrhina one of Lysistrata's allies , arrives and is teased into agreeing to a truce, although a lastminute equivocation costs him his satisfaction When a Spartan herald turns up and is mistakenly suspected of harboring a weapon under.

To be sure, the transfer of the scene of action to the citadel facilitates the sex strike, inasmuch as it is possible to lock the passionate husbands out and, even more important, keep the passionate wives inside. But the move to the acropolis also transforms the sex strike from an essentially individual affair, to be put into practice household by household, into a collective action of the women united as a kind of city themselves, defending their own walls and occupying their own separate civic space.

The women's solidarity as a community within Athens mirrors their unity on the international scale. Both at home and abroad, women are seen as overcoming or abolishing divisions that are constitutive of the masculine order. It is worth emphasizing this contrast between the private character of the sex strike, where each woman will cling to her own doorpost in order to prevent her husband from hauling her into bed, and the collective or communal aspect of the seizure of the acropolis, where the women act as a single body.

John Vaio sees a thematic connection between the two movements in the play: in both, the playwright emphasizes the domestic life of women. The occupation of the acropolis by the women effectively turns the city into a larger version of the home, with which the women have all along been primarily concerned. As Vaio puts it, "the women turn public into domestic economy, city-center into private household," and he adds: "Home and city merge in the language of the play.

Rather, the distinction between public and private collapses here. The collective action of the women establishes their new domain as a communal space, the locus of the city's solidarity as a single body. The private households, for the time being, have been abandoned. By taking control of the acropolis, the women openly organize themselves into a separate community, and any suggestion of individual resistance to husbands at home is tacitly dropped.

All the women, young and old, are now gathered together and are in a position to withstand an assault collectively. By locating themselves at the ritual center of the Athenian state, moreover, the women cease simply to function as a kind of shadow society, with a parallel organization to that of the men, and insert themselves into the male domain in fact. After the women have occupied the upper city, they do not merely hold the treasury hostage until their demands for a peace treaty are met,.

Rather, Lysistrata announces, to the consternation of the commissioner sent to draw on the treasury, that she will act as manager of the public funds , and in that capacity will cease financing military operations on the grounds that the war is unnecessary. She is fully conscious of the reversal between private and public roles that such a usurpation represents. Formerly, as she says, women were kept silent within the house ; now they have formally elected to save Greece by their collective will To dramatize the inversion, they dress the commissioner in a veil and women's garments and declare that henceforth war is women's business.

The women's right to govern the state rests on two kinds of claim. First, they are loyal and responsible citizens, distinguished by their participation in the women's rituals and festivals, and have contributed to the city its most valuable form of wealth, that is, its men Note the public character of this claim, especially in respect to civic festivals, which recalls Lysistrata's original instructions to the oldest women of Athens to occupy the citadel on the pretext of performing a sacrifice Thanks to their role in public cults, the women are preeminently suited to offer advice to the city.

Greek Comedy and Ideology

Second, implicit in Lysistrata's elaborate analogy between statecraft and the working of wool is the point that the skills required for domestic chores, and in general for managing a household, equip women perfectly for the administration of public affairs. The women, then, who had hitherto been mute and confined within the house, propose an alternative model of civic government based on principles of domestic economy. There is, of course, a certain simplification involved in the women's depiction of Athenian politics, not to mention the men's motives for maintaining the war, but it is no worse than most political sloganeering.

While it is cast in homespun language, the women's advice is preferred as a political solution to dissension in Athens and among the Greek states. True, the analogy between the city and the household on which the women make their case maintains the association between women and the domestic space, even as they push their claims for a civic role. But their program is addressed to public issues and suggests an alternative to masculine modes of administering the state.

However, the option of a new regime is not fully developed or exploited in Lysistrata. The question of the women's ability to govern, and the suitability of their methods, is dropped when the plot shifts back to the sex strike, unless perhaps it resurfaces in an attenuated form in the superior and almost maternal impartiality with which Lysistrata presides over the peace negotiations in the finale.

by Konstan, David

Greek Comedy and Ideology, exploits a new and distinct critical method - ideological criticism - to analyze how ancient Greek comedy betrays and responds to. Greek Comedy and Ideology (): David Konstan: Books.

Having captured the citadel, the women do nothing except guard the treasury until the men, reduced by erotic desire, arrange the truce. In Lysistrata, the women do not aim to seize power permanently. Their plot is defined or limited by the single goal of effecting a reconciliation among the warring parties.

After that, they will return to their individual homes, which are seen as the locus of traditional values.

They are a one-purpose army, disbanded at the end of their campaign and recontained within the domestic sphere. On this conception of the women's goals, there is no scope for them to put their economic and political ideals into effect and rule the city as a commune. The larger plan for the adminstration of the city is at odds with the women's intention to resume their private household functions. The tension between the limited aim of holding the treasury hostage until the men consent to arrange a truce and the wider ambition of running the city along the lines of domestic economy reproduces the double aspect of the sex strike plot, in which women's sexuality is caricatured as illicit and ungovernable, and simultaneously harnessed to the interests of the home.

In both strands of the plot, the women threaten to break down the property-based structure of the city-state, predicated on the dispersion of women among discrete households under the authority of a presiding male. The moment they take action, the women conjure up the specter of a communal identity that, despite their professed commitment to the home, clashes with the norms of Athenian social life. It is as though the body of women, on which will be written, in the finale of the comedy, the division of the Greek world into separate territories, irrepressibly asserts its undifferentiated unity as the essence of social solidarity.

Praxagora, the heroine, originally proposes that the women pack the Athenian assembly in disguise and elect themselves into power on the grounds that their domestic experience renders them uniquely fit to end the mismanagement of state resources and to institute a clean and competent regime. Only after authority has been voted to the women with considerable support from the males at the meeting do they inaugurate, suddenly and unexpectedly, their social revolution, which does not follow directly from Praxagora's claims to superior talent in the administration of the state.

Aristophanes evidently regarded it as natural that women, once in power, should propose such a scheme. They are closely associated with the household, the structure of which is imitated in their public arrangements. What is more, as the social other, conceived in their collective identity as the antithesis of the masculine order, women represent the potential negation of the privatism in economic and sexual relations on which city-state society is based. Analogies with Birds, produced three years before Lysistrata, are especially conspicuous. The birds, under the leadership of Pisthetaerus, form the polis of Cloudcuckooland and encircle it with walls, just as Lysistrata and the women gain control of a walled space, here the acropolis, or, as it is called in the play and in Attic literature generally , the polis.

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The women, like the birds, defend their territory against petitioners from the lower city, such as the commissioner, the half-chorus of old men, and Cinesias, who bears the same name probably by coincidence as one of the visitors to Cloudcuckooland the root kin has a slang meaning appropriate to the sexual excitement felt by Myrrhina's husband.

Like Lysistrata, the birds oblige their opponents, here the gods, to submit by virtue of their control of an essential resource, the aroma of sacrifices wafting toward heaven on which the gods depend for sustenance. Like women, the birds are outsiders and constitute a natural locus for an alternative order, based on elementary forms of social solidarity. The birds, however, inspired by the megalomania of Pisthetaerus,. This is a far cry from the mellow affirmation of peace, reconciliation, and domestic life in Lysistrata, despite the festive spirit of the conclusion.

The erotic force celebrated in Birds is, in Lysistrata, harnessed to aspirations for quiet contentment, an end to conflict and competition, and a return to the pleasures of the home. Thus, Lysistrata does not exploit the full possibilities of the women's political organization and settles for the more limited objective of inducing the Athenian and Spartan men to come to terms, upon which the women will be reassimilated into the private spaces of their individual households. The women in Lysistrata do not rehearse in a serious way the kinds of deals on which a truce with Sparta might depend, and it has been doubted whether an immediate resolution of the war was conceivable in the political climate of B.

Thucydides gives a vivid description of the reception of the news at Athens in B. Already distressed at all points and in all quarters, after what had now happened, they were seized by a fear and consternation quite without example. It was grievous enough for the state and for every man in his proper person to lose so many heavy infantry, cavalry, and able-bodied troops, and to see none left to replace them,- but when they saw, also, that they had not sufficient ships in their docks, or money in the treasury, or crews for the ships, they began to despair of salvation.

The Athenians did not remain passive. They took the extraordinary step of appointing a special board of ten commissioners probouloi to oversee the conduct of the war the commissioner who makes an appearance in. Lysistrata is one of these , and acted to prevent the defection of allied or subject states. The conflict concerning the war thus presented itself as a class issue.

As Henderson puts it: "Aristophanes' irritation was directed in particular at the new leaders of the demos, men not belonging to the old leading families, who, in his view, duped the people for their private gain. The internal controversy within Athens over the prosecution of the Peloponnesian War and the negotiations for peace is projected onto the division between the sexes. Lysistrata lacks a proper parabasis choral address to the audience, since the chorus remains divided till near the end of the play , and Lysistrata's argument with the Athenian commissioner, properly part of the formal debate [agon] in the structure of the play, effectively takes over this function.

Lysistrata recommends the incorporation of all allied populations into a single civic community ; cf. Henderson , and defends a thoroughgoing panhellenism based on the kinship of all the Greeks It is a remarkable program that does not correspond to anything supported by the democratic or the oligarchic partisans in Athens. Here the Utopian impulse of the comedy exceeds the confines of pragmatic politics. It is not accidental that this advice is tendered by an actor in the guise of a woman. Women are not conceived of as having the same stake as men in the narrow exclusivity of the city: they are outsiders to the hierarchy that discriminates between imperial Athens and its subject cities, colonies, and free allies, as well as to the division of Greece into rival leagues.

Dramatically, the strongest argument in favor of peace is the image of the women representatives of the several Greek states cooperating effortlessly with one another, mutually determined to put an end to the conflict among the men.

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The oath among the women of the several warring nationalities is an image of panhellenic identification and pre-. Given the preexisting alliance among the women, the commitment of the men to the war must seem perverse. It is, of course, a comic absurdity that Lysistrata can arrange a meeting of women from all over Greece and across battle lines in the wee hours of the morning, so that they can slip undetected out of their houses. Old Comedy was tolerant of such fantastic devices, like Dicaeopolis' private truce with the Spartans in Achamians. But the women's collaboration on an international level may be seen as an extension of their local organization within Athens itself, a kind of subterranean cohesion outside the public spaces where men regularly convened.

Material for study and suggestions for preparatory reading will be circulated prior to the sessions. Film screening enables students to look at a film adaptation of a Greek tragedy; it will be followed by discussion on the reception of Greek drama and modern responses to it. Independent study enables students to familiarise themselves with the primary source material and the most important modern approaches and debates on the subject.

A reading list is provided, with guidance on key items of reading for major themes and lecture topics. Coursework feedback tutorials provide students with an opportunity to get feedback and guidance on all aspects of their written work. The oral presentation will be written and delivered by small groups within teaching sessions after week 5.

Students will demonstrate: their ability to interpret and critically discuss questions relevant to the plays and their socio-political context, in the light of key primary and secondary sources, and their skills in public speaking, team-working and designing visual aids. The individual post-presentation report will build on the group presentation in a critical and reflective manner.

The post-presentation report and exam questions will require knowledge and critical deployment of evidence and an awareness of modern scholarship to answer questions and construct arguments relating to the historical context and interpretation of ancient Greek drama. In the source criticism exercise, specific written or material sources relating to the syllabus and the main themes of the module will be set, and students will have to assess their significance, thus deploying their knowledge of the period and interpretations of it.

Students who fail the module will normally be expected to resit the failed component s in the summer resit period. In lieu of a group presentation resit candidates will be required to submit presentation notes. Fagles, Penguin, Fagles, introductions and notes by B. Knox, Penguin, Davie, introduction and notes by. Rutherford, Penguin, reprinted with updated Further Reading. Rutherford, Penguin, Carey, C. Hornblower eds. Goldhill, S. Gould, T. Herington eds.

Greek tragedy. Yale Classical Studies. XXV, Griffiths, A. Stage Directions. Essays in Ancient Drama in Honour of E. Handley , Henderson, J.

Macleod, C.