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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

If you want love, do not make war

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Love and war seem incompatible, at least for Greek women

There is no doubt that it is more healthy and profitable to make love than war! But unfortunately wars are very usual and as old as man. Against the war there is only the peace, but all too often it has been stated and imposed the uncritical and forceful opinion that encloses the Latin sentence "si  vis pacem, para bellum = If you want the peace, prepare the war". If someone prepares the war, he will end declaring it to his adversary.

Countless agreements, meetings and conferences have been held in the history against the war and all of them with little success. No doubt the most consistent anti-war movements are pacifist proposals, some very old. Possibly the most striking pacifist tactic is the one called "sex strike" by which organized women refuse every sexual contact with their male partners, main characters and  cause of war clashes, male warriors for whom they serve as a rest.

In recent times we have seen some strikes of this type, which have obtained undoubted successes. So in Liberia, in 2003, Leymah Gbowee managed to make peace after a civil war of over 14 years and among the tactics or techniques that she and the women of her association used was the "sex strike". In 2009 the media reported us about similar strikes in Kenya or in Turkey, in this case to force their husbands to take seriously the water supply. In Colombia on various occasions, women have tried to end men´s violence with this peaceful method. Even in the European Belgium of the year 2011 the Flemish socialist senator Marleen Temmeran proposed a sex strike to pressure men to form a government (the various Belgium had been 241 days without the consent of the political forces).

But here again, the Greeks were pioneers and led the way. In Ancient Greece it took place the long Peloponnesian War, which pitted for nearly 30 years the two most powerful cities or polis, Athens and Sparta, each one with its allies. In the year 411 BC they had already had twenty years of war and destruction and ruin were general. Aristophanes, whose comedies portray and prosecute the society of his time, represented a piece against this war between Greeks, Lysistrata. The name itself means "the one who dissolves the army" (from  λύω, lýō,,“dissolve”  and  στρατός, stratós, “army”).

Women in Greece had little importance in political and social life, but Aristophanes shows us, with comic exaggeration, a kind of upside down world, where women, who are more sensible than men, can achieve the peace and finish with the struggles that face their husbands and lovers using a peaceful weapon they have. The Athenian Lysistrata proposes to her Athenian and Lacedaemonian fellows to declare a "sex strike" in which they refuse to have sex with their husbands and stop dealing with household chores while the war continues.

The whole work is peppered with lexical references, puns and sexual metaphors of healthy humor. Lysistrata's plan, that other women accept, is very simple:


LYSISTRATA:
By the two Goddesses, now can't you see
All we have to do is idly sit indoors
With smooth roses powdered on our cheeks,
Our bodies burning naked through the folds
Of shining Amorgos' silk, and meet the men
With our dear Venus-plats plucked trim and neat.
Their stirring love will rise up furiously,
They'll beg our arms to open. That's our time!
We'll disregard their knocking, beat them off--
And they will soon be rabid for a Peace.
I'm sure of it

According to Lysistrata´s proposal, Athenian and Lacedaemonian made a serious oath in front of a bowl of sweet wine:

LYSISTRATA:    So, grasp the brim, you, Lampito, and all.
  You, Calonice, repeat for the rest
  Each word I say. Then you must all take oath
  And pledge your arms to the same stern conditions--

LYSISTRATA:   To husband or lover I'll not open arms
CALONICE:   To husband or lover I'll not open arms
LYSISTRATA:   Though love and denial may enlarge his charms.
CALONICE:   Though love and denial may enlarge his charms.
   O, O, my knees are failing me, Lysistrata!

LYSISTRATA:   But still at home, ignoring him, I'll stay,
CALONICE:   But still at home, ignoring him, I'll stay,
LYSISTRATA:   Beautiful, clad in saffron silks all day.
CALONICE:   Beautiful, clad in saffron silks all day.
LYSISTRATA:   If then he seizes me by dint of force,
CALONICE:   If then he seizes me by dint of force,
LYSISTRATA:   I'll give him reason for a long remorse.
CALONICE:   I'll give him reason for a long remorse.
LYSISTRATA:   I'll never lie and stare up at the ceiling,
CALONICE:    I'll never lie and stare up at the ceiling,
LYSISTRATA:    Nor like a lion on all fours go kneeling.
CALONICE:   Nor like a lion on all fours go kneeling.
LYSISTRATA:   If I keep faith, then bounteous cups be mine.
CALONICE:   If I keep faith, then bounteous cups be mine.
LYSISTRATA:   If not, to nauseous water change this wine.
CALONICE:   If not, to nauseous water change this wine.
LYSISTRATA:   Do you all swear to this?
MYRRHINE:   We do, we do.
                            (Translated by Jack Lindsay)

And so it happened (only in the fiction of the theater), as Lysistrata had planned, but not without having to get over first with many difficulties this idea caused, even for women themselves.

Aristophanes has not been forgotten: in 2003 the Lysistrata Project was created in favor of peace and Aristophanes's famous work was read simultaneously in more than 40 countries. Once again the most alive and authentic theater is it that serves to the society.
 

   
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