There aren’t many plays that can entertain us for more than a year or two. And there are even fewer that last more than a generation. Then there is Shakespeare, whose plays have lasted 500 years (almost) and are still going strong. But even the Great Bard comes in after the winners when compared to the Greeks of the Golden Age.
411 years before the Christian Era, and Aristophanes writes a comedy that involves a group of women who are sick and tired of war. The Big War for them was between Athens and Sparta, and it simply went on too long. A brazen woman named Lysistrata decided that the best way to force men back to the bargaining table and secure peace was to hold back on the only “piece” under their control. No peace, no sex.
Oh yes, there are antics and some sub-plots along the way. Some moralizing about the frailty of women and the duties of men to keep them under control. But look at the play more closely and there is much more than that.
For the moralizing, though dated in our eyes, is actually a sarcastic statement commenting on the absurd expectations of men and women, over two thousand years ago. Aristophanes was effectively the voice of our own modern women. And there’s more. The play centers around the masculine need for war, and the feminine desire to forge peace at any cost. These are sentiments that still ring true today, perhaps even more than then.
And it is here that the play has its greatest value for me. It shows us that there are fundamental behaviors, regarding men and women, war and peace, that humanity understands no better than it did 2400 years ago. Lysistrata’s complaints and Aristophanes observations are just as relevant. And until we, as students of behavior, commit to truly understanding what these behaviors are about, we are doomed to relive the past. War and Peace, peace and war. Perhaps it’s time for another Lysistrata to rise!