The Political Wisdom of Women in Aristophanes: A Study of Lysistrate, Ecclesiazusae and Thesmophoriazusae

Dissertation, Boston College (1989)

Aristophanes reveals considerable interest in the relation between women and politics in his three women's plays, particularly in his portrayal of two political heroines, Lysistrate and Praxagora. Because the playwright uses comedy to express his thought on controversial subjects, care must be taken in order to discover his serious teaching. For this reason, I provide detailed commentaries on the plot of each play before analyzing and comparing the plays with regard to their treatment of women and politics. ;Two major themes can be discerned from a consideration of Aristophanes' women's plays: a female theoretical perspective on politics which does not make distinctions between political rule and household management; and a social and political connection between women as a class and aristocrats. Lysistrate portrays a woman of outstanding political ability who negotiates a conclusion to the devastating Peloponnesian War. Her character and action, considered together with similarities between her followers and Athenian aristocrats, suggest that Aristophanes' women have aristocratic qualities like patriotic prudence, caution in war, and concern for the preservation of wealth. Ecclesiazusae introduces a very different sort of political heroine. She also has political ability and aristocratic women followers but introduces radically egalitarian and communist reforms which, despite a theoretical appeal, have unattractive practical consequences. Yet Praxagora's philosophic notions, which resemble those found in Plato's Republic, reveal a similarity between Lysistrate and Praxagora: both consider politics in the light of household management. Finally, Thesmophoriazusae portrays the persecution of a poet by women during a civic religious festival. The women's clandestine activities suggest dangers to the wise from oligarchs in an unstable political climate. The religious theme of this play also casts light on another common characteristic of Aristophanes' heroines: in looking at politics from the perspective of the household they differ from Aristophanic heroes who understand politics in light of its relation to the gods
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