great classics books

In short, the assignment is to choose a scene from Lysistrata (roughly the same number of lines as I typically assign for scene analyses) and re-write it so the jokes and the political/cultural references would be intelligible to someone who knows nothing of Athenian history. In rough terms, if your scene makes explicit reference to the Peloponnesian war, update your rewrite to deal with Iraq/Afghanistan. If your scene deals with male/female sexual relationships, make that dynamic ‘sound’ modern, for a society that has different rules and expectations for gender and sex roles. Once you’ve figured out general tone and content, move on to the details. How will you change the identities of Aristophanes’ characters into modern ethnic ‘types’ and relevant modern political figures, cultural commentators, and so on? What ‘inside jokes’ will you use, where will you employ bathroom humor and where will you stick to a more intellectual satirical message? Aristophanes’ humor was very narrowly aimed at his immediate audience and their political knowledge. Your scene should do the same…it’s fine to make references that will likely be obscure not long from now. Most of you would get, at least in broad terms, a joke about Monica Lewinsky, even though many of you were quite young when she was in the news. Do you think as many people will ‘get’ a joke about a stained blue dress in 2020? And of course the political realities of war in our world are quite different from those in Athens. The US is defended by an all-volunteer army very different from the it’s-an-upper-class-privilege-to-fight reality in Athens, for example; there is a peace movement in western society, unlike Athens, and those who support war do it for different reasons than did Athenians. In all this I’d like you to preserve the basic structure of the scene you’re re-interpreting, but the jokes and politics should make sense to a friend who knows nothing of Athens.

As you’re constructing your scene, keep in mind how Aristophanes does satire…criticizing the war effort without offending those fighting in it, criticizing democracy and leaders without criticizing the people who vote in the assembly. Aristophanes wrote serious political satire, but it’s not the one-sided political humor to which we’re accustomed. He was a master at criticizing Athens and the war effort in the midst of that same war, the war that his audience was constantly voting to continue. But he must have succeeded in not offending his audience too badly, such that they were able to laugh at his barbs even as athens was disintegrating in front of them. Your task is to walk that same line today, to write a satire that is broadly acceptable, not targeting only one side of the political spectrum or the other.

That is, Aristophanes manages to make a bold, critical statement apparently skewering the aristocracy (to the delight of the lower classes) while at the same time slyly winking over his shoulder at high-class citizens and mocking the same lower classes to which he seems to appeal. He criticizes Athenian leaders sharply, but in that he is implicitly indicting democracy and the lower class voters who keep going along with those leaders’ proposals…all of this is comedy in the midst of death and destruction that every audience member had felt to some extent. Regardless of your personal political and social views, your scene rewrite should achieve this sort of balance. It shouldn’t sound like keith olbermann or bill o’reilly and hence automatically turn off half of a typical American audience…try for more subtlety. You can choose to boost one side over the other, but be sly about it…

And a couple more thoughts about how people have waded into war ‘humor’ in regards to Iraq…this onion-news link satirizes the gun control debate in the US with a panel discussion on suicide vests. As with the tom toles cartoon on the lysistrata study guide, some people find these funny, others find them offensive. In your papers, try to get as close to that line as possible…make like Aristophanes and be controversial without getting yourself exiled–or in our case, without getting your play banned or getting accused of treason. These are just some ideas…feel free to send around more as you come across them.

The choice of scene is up to you, but select one that demonstrates how you can be funny and satirical/critical at the same time…make sure you’re uncovering some social/political issue and subjecting it to serious critique as Aristophanes does.