Ecclesiazusae by Aristophanes.
|First page of the 1905 edition.|
Ecclesiazusae (Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι), also known as The Assembly Women, The Women of the Assembly, The Congress Women, Women in Parliament, and A Parliament of Women, is one of Aristophanes' later plays first performed in 391 B.C. It has much in common with Lysistrata, which was first performed twenty years early in 411 B.C.
By 391 B.C. the Peloponnesian War had been over for over a decade. Athens had been defeated and immediately afterwards a pro-Spartan oligarchy acted as a government (they would come to be known as the 'Thirty Tyrants'). A revolution followed and after thirteen months in power the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown and Athens began a period of rebuilding. Meanwhile a new war with Corinth had begun (in 395 B.C.)
So, in Ecclesiazusae a group of women led by Praxagora decide to take control of Athens, feeling they could do a much better job than the men. They disguise themselves as men and sneak into the assembly where they propose communist-like measures, vote for them, and even convince some men to vote too, and so are successful. Private property is thus regarded as theft, and a common fund is established and made available to all Athenians. Bizarrely, as a means to establish equality, it is insisted that a man first must sleep with an ugly woman before he may sleep with a beautiful one. Slaves still exist, but are commonly owned. This success is celebrated at the end of the play with a communal banquet, and it is during this banquet the longest word in the Ancient Greek language was used, a word coined by Aristophanes for this play -
It's defined by Liddell & Scott as "name of a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, flesh, fowl, and sauces" and was included in the 1990 Guinness World Records as the longest word to appear in literature. Here is the translation in my edition - it's spoken by the chorus regarding the communal feast:
Haddock-craddock-out of the paddock-
Larder-garden-frog and toady-
Squashed-on-the-road - an
Ollapodrida to serve and save you -
The stove and the lot
Of whatever you've got or haven't got!
And if any of you,
Can't grasp the menu,
Just ask for STEW.
I hate to say it, but Ecclesiazusae is the first play by Aristophanes that could not hold my interest. Nevertheless it is an important work because it represents the link between the Old Comedy (seen, for example, in Aristophanes' earlier works) and the New Comedy (for example Menander's plays) in which the Chorus had a greatly reduced role. Ecclesiazusae, I hope, is not a prime example of this 'new comedy' because I dread what's to come! I just could not get into it and much of the comedy slipped me by.
The Plays of Aristophanes