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How does Aristophanes portray women in The Poet and the Women and Assemblywomen? How accurate a portrayal of the life style of contemporary Athenian women are these plays likely to be?

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Introduction

STEPHANIE JONES How does Aristophanes portray women in The Poet and the Women and Assemblywomen? How accurate a portrayal of the life style of contemporary Athenian women are these plays likely to be? In the plays of Aristophanes there are two main themes that stand out more than any of the other smaller ones; he was a politically motivated playwright and some of his plays suggest that he was quite anti-feminist. However, men of ancient Athens it seems have a perception that their wives are alcoholic nymphomaniacs; that they are always drinking neat wine and at the women only festivals all that the women do is drink. This of course is highly unlikely. I am analysing two of Aristophanes' comedies, 'The Poet and the Women' and 'Assemblywomen'-It is not known for definite but The Poet and the Women was probably performed at City Dionysia in 411 B.C. This play is unusual compared with some of the others as it has little relevance to politics in Athens at that time. Assemblywomen was first performed around the late 390's B.C.

Middle

In this play Aristophanes is able to draw on these familiar stereotypes; when Mnesilochus first enters the Thesmophoria the women are praying to the gods and cursing any men who mean to harm the feminine community. According to Aristophanes women take all kinds of immoral actions such as having affairs, if the child they bear is not a boy they will swap it with a slave for a baby boy; and the thing Aristophanes' women are all known for is drinking so they also curse the person who gives them a short measure. These are just some of the immoral things women are supposed to have done, it proves that Aristophanes has never been to any all women festival or even studied a woman's behaviour. Anything written by Aristophanes is his own perception of what happened. Later on when the women are talking about Euripides how he describes them in his plays and how he reveals that respectable married women don't always act appropriately, the first woman makes an interesting point that their husbands are so suspicious because, "he's filled our husbands minds with such awful ideas".

Conclusion

An excellent quality that was always admired in a woman was the ability to wool work, to turn the raw material into clothes for the family. The first of the parodies performed by Mnesilochus, is of Telephus; Mnesilochus grabs a baby from the first woman and threatens to kill it with the sacrificial knife. When he does stab into the bundle of clothing the truth is uncovered that the baby turns out to be a wineskin Mnesilochus comments, " One passion rules a woman's heart" meaning drinking of course. Mnesilochus then performs parodies of Palamedes, Helen and Andromeda; each failing in turn finally Euripides strikes a bargain with the women at the festival promising that he won't criticize the women of Athens again if they let Mnesilochus go free, but he must rescue Mnesilochus from the Scythian himself. Aristophanes and Euripides complain about how devious women can be, Aristophanes shows just how he can design crafty plots also. Somehow, Euripides must lure the Scythian away from Mnesilochus; to do this Euripides employs a dancing girl to dance for the Scythian whilst Mnesilochus is being smuggled away. Aristophanes has just proved that men can be just as deviant as women.

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