Monday, April 25, 2005

Well, Sunshine asked for the revised version of my paper for my Greek Civ. class so here it is.

Women Against War

Euripides in The Trojan Women and Aristophanes in Lysistrata explore the consequences of war. The focus of each play is the affect war has on the women and how they respond to a demanding situation. However, the women are characterized in entirely opposite ways. Even with the same topic and group of focus, Euripides and Aristophanes take their respective plays in completely different directions yet come to the same conclusions about the ramifications of war.

At the time these plays were written, Athens and Sparta were about 20 years into the Peloponnesian War. When The Trojan Women was written, Greece had just captured Troy. It makes sense that these two playwrights would choose the backdrop of war for their plays. However, it is the portrayal of the women that is really the core of these two plays.

Euripides uses tragedy to give the audience an idea of what the women of Troy had to deal with after the capture of their city. Pretty much everything bad that could happen to these women did. Their husbands were killed and left without proper burials, their children were taken from them, and they were assigned to Greek men as concubines and slaves; some were even killed. These women are powerless to defend themselves against the brutality of the men.

Hecuba has lost almost all the people important to her as well as her city and home. She has “no limit to [her] misfortunes. They are beyond number” (The Trojan Women 56). Her husband and children are dead, her daughter-in-law, Andromache, is enslaved and her grandson is thrown off the walls of Troy. One of her daughters, Polyxena, is killed on the tomb of Achilles and her other daughter, Cassandra, is chosen by Agamemnon to be his concubine. Andromache, widow of Hecuba’s son Hector, is another woman focused on in The Trojan Women. She is grieving the death of her husband and fearful her fate and the fate her infant son, Astyanax. Her grief only increases when he is thrown off the walls of Troy and she isn’t allowed to openly mourn his death. The horrible things these two women face encompass what has happened to all the women of Troy. Their lives and futures are rife with tragedy.

On the comedic side of things, we have the women as portrayed by Aristophanes in Lysistrata. The title character, Lysistrata, calls together the women of Athens as well as Spartan women with an idea she thinks can put an end the war. They have taken over the Parthenon and are striking against sexual relations with their husbands. These women have obtained power through cooperation and their husbands’ sexual appetites. Lysistrata knows that if they “want to force the men to make peace, [they] must renounce…sex” (Lysistrata 145).

These women are suffering as well. Their home lives have been disrupted because their husbands are not around, but they are not helpless. These women have banded together to get what they want. They have a strength that the women in The Trojan Women do not possess: strength in numbers. It was very unusual for women to have this kind of power handed to them by men at this time in Greek society. This play is an example of the role reversal of men and women in ancient times.

The Athenian and Spartan women are waging their own battle against the Peloponnesian War. Waging war is generally the masculine thing to do. As with the actual war going on, this fight against a war is a power struggle, but instead of being between two cities it is between the two sexes. It seems less war-like because it is centered on sex and there are men walking around with erect phalluses much of the time.

Even the goddesses involved in each play are as opposite as comedy and tragedy. In The Trojan Women, the women have Athena on their side. She is quite upset with the Greeks for defiling her temple in Troy, especially after helping them take the city. In Lysistrata the women have the backing of Aphrodite for their sex strike. In one play we have a goddess of war and in the other a goddess of love. Both goddesses are upset with the men and their disregard for the women in their lives. The gods don’t approve of a war so why should the women.

At the beginning of a war, no one really knows what the consequences are going to be. It is not known how it will affect people not fighting the war, like women and children. Around 400 BC it probably wasn’t up to the women whether they should go to war or not. Their input wasn’t important to the men making those decisions. How war affects the women was probably not taken into consideration when the battle lines were drawn.

In The Trojan Women we see women and children suffering at the hands of the invading army. The women are being raped and murdered and their children are being killed all because of a war they did not have input on. Even though the war is over they are still suffering. Everything in their lives has been disrupted by a war that probably could have been prevented. The men are using their power over the women to hurt them for a war they had very little to do with.

In Lysistrata we see women on both sides of the war dealing with the difficulties of living in a country at war. The men have disrupted their home lives by going to war. They are worried about losing their husbands, and they are living in poverty and dealing with the corruption of their government and the hostility of the Greeks. The women in both plays have lost all sense of domestic normality. They aren’t happy with their current situations, and the men don’t have a clue until they lose something they have taken for granted. Lysistrata believes they are “ruin[ing] Greece’s towns and slay[ing] her men” for no reason (Lysistrata 186).

Euripides and Aristophanes take their respective plays in entirely different directions, tragedy and comedy respectively, yet have the same conclusions about the ramifications of war, especially on the women. Because of wars, people are dying, living in poverty, being treated unfairly, losing the people they love and the powerless are taken advantage of. Euripides and Aristophanes have demonstrated these things in their plays through the women of the time. The women handled their situations very differently but they showed the usually neglected side of war. They showed there is not always a victor in war because of what war does to the people at war even if they do win. They also showed the wars did not benefit anyone. Everyone involved suffered in one way or another. Whether it was becoming a slave or being denied sex, everyone suffered.


Sunshine said...

Thank you Chelsea.

So were both plays written around 400 BC?

Interesting that it was culturally except-able for a play to reverse the roles of men and women, I would have thought that this could have made Lysistrata very unpopular.


Chelsea said...

One was written in 411 BC and the other was written in 415 BC or something like that.

I thought the sex role reversal was rather interesting as well. I believe Lysistrata may have won a competition at a festival around the time it was written.