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BANNED ONSTAGE: Aristophanes play, ‘Lysistrata,’ was banned by the Comstock Law of 1873 and wasn’t lifted until 1930. Photo by Shea Carver.

BANNED ONSTAGE: Aristophanes play, ‘Lysistrata,’ was banned by the Comstock Law of 1873 and wasn’t lifted until 1930. Photo by Shea Carver.

It has always interested me to hear about a book that has been banned. My first thought: Why? I believe books are banned more out of fear than out of protecting our society. After all, take a look at some of the most popular television shows broadcasted to millions: “Law & Order: SVU,” which specializes in sexual crimes, and “Jersey Shore,” a phenomenon that teaches our youth that it’s OK to be a sexual fist-pumping drunk. Our society has certainly evolved since the banning of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” but I believe it was banned not due to the theme of sexuality but of the fear of supplanting an idea.

First and foremost, “Lysistrata” is about the women of a society coming together and standing against the men—a scary thought indeed! Even though this play was written around 400 B.C., it has only been in the past century that both sexes have become equal. More so, the women in “Lysistrata” decide to withhold sex from the men. Well, of course, this play would be banned. (Silly Aristophanes, you shouldn’t put crazy ideas into the heads of those women folk. They may start to think they’re entitled to a voice.)

I think we can all agree that if this play had the same amount of sexuality, and was instead about women rewarding their husbands after a long day of work, “Lysistrata” would have been seen as the Holy Grail itself. Women would have probably been handed a copy as they shook hands after completing their M.R.S. degree. However, that’s not what Aristophanes wrote. It is not the message he meant to send. His words were heard—and they were feared.

In addition to the idea of women uniting, there is also the larger scheme of opposing war and finding a way to make a voice heard. The women in “Lysistrata” were against the war; therefore, they were against their husbands, the warriors. Because they were only women, their opinions didn’t matter, so they needed to find their own way to make a stand. Withholding sex until the war was over ensured they would be heard.

Again, what modern civilization would want that horrifying proposal to get out there? Sure, hug some trees and sing songs of peace—a little “Kumbaya” never hurt anyone. But the idea of going further and doing something that could actually make a difference … preposterous!

“Lysistrata” wasn’t insinuating that every woman use sex as a bargaining chip; it was implying to the general public that there are many methods that would enable us to stand our ground; we just have to look for them and work together. Sexuality is quite an easy scapegoat when it comes to hiding a larger fear, isn’t it?

Another controversial theme of the book is the idea of a peaceful end to war—such an undesirable conclusion to those who crave domination! At the end of the play, Lysistrata introduces both envoys of the opposing sides to Peace, a beautiful goddess. She doesn’t speak a word, but her mere presence entrances everyone. Both sides are so enamored by this gorgeous woman that they quickly make amends, and everyone ends up happy and is able to have sex again.

Even the least avid readers can taste the symbolism dripping off of lady Peace. She’s a character that cannot escape notice and for a good reason: She’s logic itself. Now, is it just a coincidence that the character who originally gathered the women against the men has reason on her side as well, or is Aristophanes making another point here? Ding ding ding! It’s the latter!

His message to work peacefully toward a common goal represents the most logical people in society. Furthermore, they could be invincible if they only tried. Yet, again, it’s clearly a suggestion that most pro-war rulers would like protestors silenced.

Although the ban was lifted from “Lysistrata” in 1930, sentiments against the play are still present in some parts of the U.S. In more conservative societies, it has been marked as taboo. Why? The same question always arises when talking about a banned book. When doing the research, words like “lewd,” “indecent” and “obscene” mark reasoning against it, clearly referring to the theme of sexuality. I believe this play was banned for something deeper: for encouragement, for individual thought, for the inspiration to make a difference. Aristophanes truly created a work of art, and instead of banning such a motivating literary piece, we as a society should be using “Lysistrata” to rouse our idle minds to make a change.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Lucky Susan & Daisy Wilson

    September 22, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Clever, lively thinking on your part, Elyse. Enjoyed your essay very much! Got me thinking…
    I am a woman & guilty of many pitfalls you warn against – ie. not being rational or logical or even reasonable. Being a sufferer of intense emotional turbulences & frequent headline-induced frenzies (aka passion & empathy) your thoughts will remind me to be more measured and analytical.
    Plenty of hot topics, trends & BOOKS around for practice!

  2. Lucky Susan & Daisy Wilson

    September 22, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Clever, lively thinking on your part, Elyse. Enjoyed your essay very much! Got me thinking…
    I am a woman & guilty of many pitfalls you warn against – ie. not being rational or logical or even reasonable. Being a sufferer of intense emotional turbulences & frequent headline-induced frenzies (aka passion & empathy) your thoughts will remind me to be more measured and analytical.
    Plenty of hot topics, trends & BOOKS around for practice!

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