On Tuesday Professor Christopher Faraone of the University of Chicago gave a talk about "Lysistrata," one of the three classic peace-plays of the Greek poet Aristophanes. This play can be read as either one of the first feminist texts in Western culture or one of the first depictions of pornography. Aristophanes uses this conflict for comedic effect.
Aristophanes wrote "Lysistrata" during the Peloponnesian War, a time when tensions were high and his city, Athens, seemed in danger of being defeated by Sparta. Because of this tension, it was difficult to express opposition to the war without seeming to threaten the Athenian state. Aristophanes succeeded in finding an outlet for expression by using women as the main characters of his play. Women were not involved in politics in the Greek state and so their opposition to the war was not threatening. In this peace-play, the women argue they should be allowed to run the state because they run their households and so have more experience. The women demand peace with Sparta. They see, as the men do not, that war can only hurt their nation.
However, while Lysistrata is, to some extent, political commentary, Faraone's talk focused on the depiction of women and women's roles in the play. Women are divided into two sections the young Greek wives, who are portrayed as interested only in wine and sex, and the older Greek matrons, who are pious and virtuous. These divisions are united in their leader, Lysistrata, who was presented by Faraone as seeming to be both the madam of a whorehouse and the head priestess of Athens. The women's power in the play comes from both their position as wives and their piety. The younger women vow to refuse their husbands sex until they make peace with Sparta, while the older women guard the younger ones in the temple. Faraone argues that because both divisions of women are portrayed stereotypically and, aside from Lysistrata herself, do not break from conventional women's roles, Aristophanes did not intend Lysistrata to be a feminist work. Lysistrata is a comedy and utilizes "delicious irony and good humor, according to Faraone, to contrast two female stereotypes.