The bawdiness of the text of Lysistrata—see previous post—made me laugh out loud. Apparently as staged, the men wore large comic erect phalluses, while the ‘women’, played by men, had fake breasts made of wood, and also wore wooden stomach ‘enhancers’. The entire process must have been hilarious, and it is a wonder that the actors could ever get their lines out without breaking into fits of mirth. It all sounds like a cross between Whitehall Farce and pantomime. Furthermore, staging theatre is said to have been very expensive, so plays like Lysistrata must have been very popular with the citizens to justify the cost of having them performed.
It is a very far cry from the dignity, grace, decorum, and grandeur we associate with the period of classical Greece, cradle of democracy, which fact must question whether that view has any validity. The received wisdom of the period is of statuesque patrician men with long beards dressed in flowing robes, discoursing on the nature of the universe, the meaning of life, and the ethics and politics by which men should live, with The Acropolis in the background. The women are likewise tall and slim, dressed in long, diaphanous gowns, with elaborate hairdos and jewellery, spending their time in leisure. Many statues, and the detailed pictures on thousands of Greek pots confirm this view.
Common sense suggests that only a small fraction of the populace looked like this, and by extension behaved like this. The philosopher Socrates, was famously short, fat, and ugly with a snub nose. He was even caricatured in another of Aristophanes’ comedies, The Clouds.
The reality cannot be avoided: wealthy Athenians paid good money to attend comedies like Lysistrata, and dissolved into hysterics watching men with large knobs chasing men in drag with large wooden tits...
(Listen to Natalie Haynes Stands up for the Classics on BBC Sounds for more on this)
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs