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Aristophanes Banned Play - Lysistrata

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Banning books is an all too familiar pastime across the world. Libraries, schools, communities, and sometimes, governments ban books with "unfit language, scenes, context, and idiotic ideas" (Sova 2). Aristophanes' Greek play Lysistrata is no different. While this work may be racy and lewd for some, the message of Lysistrata should still be available to read.

Lysistrata revolves around a plea for peace amongst the Athenian, Spartan, Boeotian, and Corinthian women. Their husbands are fighting in the Peloponnesian War, which lasted over twenty years. In hopes to end the war, the women in the community take over the Athenian treasury (the Acropolis) and placed an embargo upon the city's wealth, and more cruelly, upon all physical interaction with the men.

The main character Lysistrata, a woman of Athens, calls a meeting of women from all the Greek city-states, at which she convinces them to swear an oath to withhold sexual favors from their husbands until they sign a treaty to end the war. This stop on sex presents not only a problem for men, but also for their posterity: the women will not reproduce heirs to continue on family names and to defend their homeland. After the older men of Athens try, and fail, to recapture the Acropolis, Lysistrata humiliates and lectures them on the frustrations that women have with war. Soon enough, the war ends and the men return home.

Lysistrata is notorious for its racy, almost pornographic, humor, which is typically the reason why it is banned. It has also been banned for its description of war and "push for women's liberation" (Sova 151). The Comstock Law banned Lysistrata in 1873; the play could not be sold, advertised or distributed through the mail. In addition to banning books, this law also forbade the selling of birth control and the right to choose abortion. The play was taken off the ban list in 1930; however, it is still frequently challenged in high schools and some colleges (Sova 151).

Lysistrata, at one time, was banned in Asia, Australia, and Europe. The play has also been banned three times in Greece, where the play originated. Lysistrata was first banned in 411 B.C., when the Grecian government declared it "government impropriety" (Sova 151). When the Nazi's took control of Greece in 1942, they banned the play, fearing it would inspire Greek nationalism and strike a revolt. And in 1976, the Greek government, which was then controlled by a military junta, banned Lysistrata, along with other famous and influential plays. While the sexual content of the play may not have offended the Greeks and Nazis, it continues to offend teachers, administrators, and play directors. To this very day, many theater groups and companies refuse to perform this play, because of its content, sexual nature, and degradation of women.

The obvious choice for banning Lysistrata is for its crude and sexual language.

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