Classic Civilization: Greece and Rome

Dr. Greg Massey
Classic Civilization: Greece and Rome
February 24, 2004
The Athenian Women
American women today enjoy, for the most part, equality. In some countries, however, people think that women should not be seen or heard; they believe that the woman’s place is in the home attending to the children and household matters. This attitude about women has been passed down through tradition that was being practiced before Jesus Christ’s time. The Greeks (or Hellenes) had that view about women. The Greek plays often showed women poorly or negatively. Aristophanes also portrayed women in a bad light, which was common among the Athenians of his time, which was between 450 and 388 B.C. (Aristophanes 1). In Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, he showed the women having substantial power, but he still kept to the average Athenian views about women within the play. The main Athenian view about women was the women should stay in the home taking care of the children and the house (Massey). Aristophanes stuck with traditional Athenian ideas about women by portraying them as vindictive, disrespectful, and sex-crazed.
Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata reflected the Athenian view about women by portraying the females as vindictive creatures. The women of Greece wanted peace for their homes instead of war, which was raging among the Hellenes, so they followed the plan of one Athenian woman named Lysistrata (Aristophanes 29). Lysistrata was the “ring leader” of the group of women. Lysistrata was a rare exception to the traditional view of women; she was smart and had will power. She was the one who orchestrated a plan for peace. Even the women thought lowly of themselves. That was illustrated at the beginning of the play when Kleonike told Lysistrata, “You know a woman’s way is hard...fuss over hubby, wake the maid up, put the baby down, bathe him, feed him...” (Aristophanes 17). That was the common role for Athenian women; their places were in the house raising the children and tending to the household chores (Massey). Lysistrata was intentionally trying to be what the men expected the women to be, which was “sly: deceitful, always plotting” (Aristophanes 16, 35). Her ploy showed how an Athenian woman was vindictive; in part, she was plotting for spite. Lysistrata had to talk the other women into taking part in her plan to abstain from sex because she could not do it alone. Another great example of Aristophanes portraying women as vindictive was in the scene where Myrrhine deceived her husband Kinesias. Kinesias came looking for his wife, who was at the acropolis with the other women; he wanted her to come home and tend to his needs (Aristophanes 80). Myrrhine played on his “needs” by making him think that she was going to go to bed with him (Aristophanes 84-90). She kept him waiting while she ran back into the acropolis several times for various items to make the experience more enjoyable, such as a cot, mattress, and even perfume (Aristophanes 85-89). Finally, she asked him if he would be sure and vote for peace if she were to give in to him, and he said that he would “think it over” (Aristophanes 89). When he gave that answer, she jumped up and ran back into the women’s stronghold, leaving him in an awful way (Aristophanes 90). That was the perfect revenge for a woman. She was being, what some would call, a vindictive wench. Those examples illustrated Aristophanes’ traditional negative view about the women of his time.
Besides portraying the women as vindictive, Aristophanes also viewed the women in the play Lysistrata as disrespectful, which was an offense that the men threatened to punish. An example of the Athenian women being disrespectful was when the Athenian men confronted the women for the first time after the women had seized the acropolis. Lysistrata defied the commissioner’s authority when he and his men tried to arrest the women (Aristophanes 46-57). She told the others to “Call them (the policemen) nasty names! Don’t be ladylike” (Aristophanes 51). The women rebelled against the men in all sorts of ways. At one time during Lysistrata’s explanation of what she and the other women were doing, she shushed the Commissioner publicly (Aristophanes 57). The Commissioner’s response was that he was not going