Then & Now: Grecian spurn

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The Independent Online
411: Aristophanes produces 'Ly sistrata', his bawdiest, some would say pornographic, comedy of sex and war. The Athenian women secretly meet wives of other belligerent cities to swear an oath that they will deny sexual intercourse to their husbands or lovers until the men agree to end the war. Male sexual deprivation provides most of the humour. In his 1972 study 'Aris tophanic Comedy', K J Dover finds the plot fatally flawed:

'Anyone who goes to the play in the expectation that continuous bawdy jokes will keep him laughing from the first line to the last is likely to find that the choral lyrics, after the first vigorous encounter between the old men and the old women, fall rather flat . . .

'A curious feature of the plot . . . is that the strike is not in fact a strike of all women, but a strike of the wives of citizens. Slave-prostitutes, slave- concubines, hetairai, all the women who made extra-marital sex easily accessible at Athens, are never mentioned in the play, and the deserted husband goes around miserably with a continuous erection as if they did not exist. Apparently, men cannot even masturbate - though women can, for Lysistrata refers to the difficulty of buying a six-inch artifical penis . . . Again, homosexual relations among males were so much taken for granted at Athens that a man denied his wife would not have needed to spend much trouble or money in search of a youth on whom to exercise himself.'

June 1993: Sir Peter Hall's version of 'Lysistrata' opened last week at the Old Vic to critical outrage from some quarters.

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