57. The Thesmophoriazusae, by Aristophanes (411 BC)

Plot: The playwright Euripides fears that the women of Athens seek his death due to the way he portrays them in his plays. He asks a fellow playwright Agathon to dress up as a woman (as is his penchant) and infiltrate the Thesmophoria, a womens-only festival where he fears they will vote on his death. Agathon refuses, but Euripides’ old relative Mnesilochus volunteers instead. He gets inside the women’s festival, but then needs Euripides’ help to get out again.

I read the Penguin Classics edition The Frogs and other plays translated by David Barrett, revised by Shomit Dutta (ISBN 9780140449693) which provides a brief introduction to each play plus extensive footnotes.

My thoughts: Not only the world’s first Battle of the Sexes in literature, but also the first transvestite comedy, The Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria) is my favourite Aristophanean comedy so far, mainly because the plot is far more coherent and structured, flowing on from cause to effect.  There is still plenty of slapstick, double entendre, coarse humour and ribald behaviour, but the level of surrealism is not as noticeable.

Aristophanes’ use of Euripides as a major character in his play allows him to satirize many of Euripides’ works, notably Helen at the beginning of Act Two (which I totally got this time around, having just read Helen two days ago) but also unfortunately lost plays such as Andromeda and Telephus.

The last minute reversal of the women’s rancour towards Euripides is a little unbelievable but I think the audience would have had such a good time that they could forgive a weak ending.

The characterization of women in this all-male play performed for a mostly-male audience is interesting. The plot starts with the accusation that Euripides denigrates women, yet Aristophanes portrays them as lustful and  drink-loving (no better than men, in fact  😉 )

“A curse upon the man who plans our enemies to please,

Or puts his lot in with the Persians or Euripides

Aspires to be a tyrant, or to set one on the throne,

Or tells a woman’s  husband that the baby’s not his own;

The maid who knows the very man when Mistress wants some fun,

But spills the beans to Master when a good night’s work is done;

The messenger who bears false tales; the lover who seduces

with talk of all the gifts he’ll bring, and then no gift produces

……. And last of all the characters who meet with our displeasure,

The barman or the barmaid who serves us a short measure,

On these and on their houses may the wrath of heaven fall

But otherwise we pray the gods will guard and bless us all”       Chorus-Leader, page 89

I’m thinking Aristophanes would have made a great writer for the Carry On movies. Even down to the not-very politically correct stereotyping “Italian” accent inflicted on the Scythian guard.

And as for the singeing of Mnesiloichus’ crotch hairs….. ouch!!!

Favourite lines/passages : Mnesilochus’ disguise is revealed, and with accusers on all sides, he tries to hide his “damning evidence”

Cleisthenes: Stand up straight! Where’s his … thing? He’s hidden it!

Mica [lifting his robe at the rear]: Ooh! He’s pushed it through to the back. A nice one too!

Cleisthenes : Where? I can’t see it.

Mica : It’s back at the front again.

Cleisthenes  [lifting his robe at the front] : No it isn’t.

Mica: Oh no, it’s here again.

Cleisthenes : What is this? He’s sending his old chap back and forth like a shuttle service across the Isthmus.

page 99

Personal rating: Lots of laughs. An 8. 9.

Also in that year : Things were not so rosy for the Athenians on the war front. Following the defeat of their land and sea forces in Sicily in 413, their siege of Miletus was also thwarted in 412.

Next : Another battle of the sexes in Lysistrata by Aristophanes.




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