75. The Ecclesiazusae (Assemblywomen), by Aristophanes (c.392 BC)

Plot:  The women of Athens have had enough ineffective government from the men of the city, so they disguise themselves as men, and led by Praxagora, invade the Assembly and vote women into the role of managing the city. They instil a form of communism or shared wealth, with banquets for all to share, and although Scene 2 shows one man unwilling to hand over all his goods to the State, we don’t see his clever idea for evading the collection as promised.  Closure of the brothels and encouragement to open lovemaking is also made a priority, providing any man wanting to sleep with a beautiful young woman must first satisfy an ugly old woman or two.

This was the fourth play in the Penguin edition of Aristophanes’  The Birds and other plays translated by David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (ISBN 9780140449518)

My thoughts : While certainly in his usual vein of comedy, with social and political commentary alongside quite graphic toilet humour : singeing off pubic hair with oil lamps, and defecating in the street (I will never feel comfortable near a cucumber again!) this is a fairly disjointed play with each scene (especially the short second and third ones) being separate vignettes. There is no reversal or comeuppance for the new order, no discovery of the trick and every citizen bar one just goes along with the new rules.

It was suggested by the editor that the reduced role of the Chorus in this play reflects the financial constraints of a defeated and battered Athens, after their defeat in the Peloponnesian wars. It is also suggested that the utopia created by the women in the play matches Plato’s Republic, which I will have to remember to consider when I get to that in due course.

Favourite lines/passages:  Despite being a result of the new laws and not part of the story of their creation, the most fun is in Scene 3, where three old painted hags compete to be the one to insist on having their legal rights by way of the randy young suitor who is trying to reach the nearby young beauty.

Personal rating : 4

Also in that year : In 405 BC, Athens lost the war to Sparta, and her empire was in tatters. Pro-Sparta rulers started a reign of terror with thousands of Athenians killed or banished. Persia joined forces with Athens to recover, and by 392 BC, a slow recovery of Athenian power is realised. Meanwhile, Roman dictator Camillus is consolidating his control over his neighbours and Rome is now the most powerful city on the Italian peninsula…..
Next : Back to Plato and his Socratic dialogue Charmides


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