As part of the ‘final kick’–to borrow a term from long distance running since this has been a long distance project–I.ve been reading comedies, histories, and philosophies. Why?–the goal in the final chapter of Paying Melpomene’s Price is to define tragedy by setting its worldview in opposition to the other genres. On the weekend I read Four Plays by Aristophanes. The Clouds and The Bird are translated by Arrowsmith, Lysistrata by Parker, and The Frogs by Lattimore. The translations are quite liberal. For example, at some points extra lines are added so that a modern reader can ‘get’ the joke. This edition is more for modern readers interested in guffaws rather than historians researching the cultural milieu of Aristophanes. The comprehensive footnotes, however, justify the translator’s liberties and explain what was in the original text.
The other thing that was going on during the weekend was the referendum in Greece. You know, the one where the Greece votes on whether it should accept the terms of the ECB/IMF bailout. As I read Lysistrata, I couldn.t help thinking how a popular play it could be if it were to be restaged today. Well, maybe not in North America. But it could provide some comic relief in Greece and Europe.
Synopsis of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata
Actually, it might make more sense to begin with what’s been going on in Greece.
Events Leading up to the Greek Referendum
Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza party, became prime minister of Greece in January 2015. He campaigned on an anti-austerity platform. Austerity had been imposed on Greece by the European Commission, the IMF, and the ECB as part of two earlier bailout packages in 2010 and 2011. Loans of 240 million Euro were given to Greece at extraordinary low interest rates (2-3% when the best rates Greece could get in the open market ranged from 10-15% on average) in exchange for promises to get its finances in order. The getting its finances in order included cutting back pensions, laying off government workers, and raising taxes: in other words, austerity.
Tsipras and his finance minister, Varoufakis, have been saying that you cannot cut spending and hope to grow the economy. That.s true: it would be very hard to cut spending to produce more!
Facing off against Tsipras and Varoufakis are German chancellor Merkel and her finance minister Schauble. They’ve been saying that if they.re going to be lending money, of course it comes with strings attached. That.s true: if tax dollars collected from Europeans are sent over to Greece so that Greece can pay its pensioners and its’s bills, the lender should be expected to see an excel spreadsheet every so many months showing how the structural reforms in the economy are improving things. Otherwise it would be just bailout after bailout. What.s the point?
To this, Tsipras and Varoufakis reply that they want to see things get better as well. Austerity is hard and who wants to be in perpetual austerity! They would like to get rid of debt by spending more. They like to cite Roosevelt’s New Deal in which government measure stimulated the economy into firing on all cylinders. Once the Greek economy is going, then they can slowly pay back their creditors.
But the thing is that other EU members have very recently gone through painful bouts of austerity. Italy, Ireland, and Portugal have gone through austerity in the last five years and now have come out ahead. Why should Greece get a better deal, say Merkel and Schauble. The EU is a rule based community. If Greece gets a better deal, then why couldn.t Italy, Ireland, and Portugal have gotten better deals? They made it, after all.
Then there is all the finger pointing. Varoufakis, a university professor, has taken to lecture his European colleagues on what he perceives to be economics. One look at Schauble and you can tell the grumpy bastard doesn.t need a Varoufakis lecture. Here.s a telling anecdote on how poisonous their relationship has become: as they emerged from another failed negotiation, one said, ‘Well, we agree to disagree’. When the other emerged, he retorted, ‘We don.t even agree to disagree’. Basically, you can see why their negotiations aren.t going anywhere!
In the meanwhile, people are suffering from the uncertainty all over the place. Money that could be invested into different ventures to make the world better (cleaner energy, cure for cancer, better sliced bread, etc.,) is fleeing into safe haven bonds. Credit controls are playing havoc with the ability to Greek consumers to get basic necessities.
Synopsis of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata
The comedy Lysistrata was produced in 411 BC. Later on in that year, the century old democracy in Athens (funny thing, one of the reasons why the Greek people think they deserve better bailout terms today is because they gave democracy to the world back in the ancient days…) would be overthrown in an oligarchic coup. Also, in 413 BC, the Sicilian Expedition went awry. Over two hundred ships lost in an ill-conceived venture. It was like the loss of the Spanish Armada for Phillip II of Spain years later. So Athens was going down in the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. It was not a good year. In fact, it was even worse back then in Greece than it is now. A few years after Lysistrata, Sparta conquered Athens. At least the creditors aren’t invading. At least not a military takeover!
The central character in the play, an Athenian woman by the name of Lysistrata, calls a meeting of women from all over Greece affected by the Peloponnesian War. She calls the meeting to organize a sex strike: unless the men can agree to a truce, no sex for anyone!
The predictable comic elements don’t deter from its ability to draw out laughter. The ribald women complain that they just want to get laid. The men walk around trying to conceal their swollen members (during the negotiations: ‘is that a concealed weapon you’re carrying under that toga?’). The women attempt to get past Lysistrata’s watchful eye, making up lame excuses if they’re caught: ‘I have to pop home to get my weaving…’. Sure you do. So do I!
But in the end, the sex strike works and they sign the peace accord to END THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR!
Do you know where I.m going with this, diligent readers? If the negotiations between the Troika and Syriza are in tatters, maybe what needs to happen is for the men and women of Europe (it would have to be men and women because some of the politicians today, unlike in ancient times, are women: Merkel, Lagarde, etc.,) go on a sex strike until their elected politicians are able to come to terms with one another!
Hmm, who would this effect most? That would be too prurient for me to report in my PG13 blog!
Ah, that.s what I love about the ancients! The stuff they write is too old to go out of style! I should have my own referendum. Yes or No: is Lysistrata is the best solution to the Greek debt crisis?
Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.m Doing Melpomene’s Work by reading Thalia’s works.