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Women at the Thesmophoria


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AT: The Poet and the Women; Women Celebrating/Keeping the Thesmophoria; Ladies' Day A: Aristophanes Pf: 411 bc, Athens Tr: 1853 G: Greek com. in verse S: A street, and before the temple of Demeter Thesmophorus in Athens, c.410 bc C: 7m, 4f, extras, chorus (f)Euripides tells an elderly relative Mnesilochus that he is worried that the women of Athens will use their private festival, the Thesmophoria, to plot Euripides' death for revealing their secrets in his plays. He begs the beautiful young poet Agathon to disguise himself as a woman to spy on the worshippers. When Agathon refuses, Mnesilochus offers to go instead, and there is much comic business as he is shaved and suitably dressed. At the festival, Euripides is denounced, but Mnesilochus defends him stoutly. Cleisthenes, an effeminate man trusted by the women, interrupts to warn them that a disguised man is violating the sacred festival. Those present are examined, and Mnesilochus is soon exposed. Learning of the old man's arrest, Euripides arrives, pretending to be Menelaus, come to free his Helen from Egypt (see Helen). When this fails, he appears as Perseus liberating Andromeda. Still unsuccessful, Euripides undertakes never to malign women again, distracts the barbarian guard with a dancing girl, and escapes with the ill-treated Mnesilochus.

AT: The Poet and the Women; Women Celebrating/Keeping the Thesmophoria; Ladies' Day A: Aristophanes Pf: 411 bc, Athens Tr: 1853 G: Greek com. in verse S: A street, and before the temple of Demeter Thesmophorus in Athens, c.410 bc C: 7m, 4f, extras, chorus (f)

Lysistrata was to be Aristophanes' last attempt to persuade the Athenians to give up their suicidal war against Sparta. Just before this, in 411, he turned to a gentle parody of his great contemporary Euripides. Euripides was by then 74, and it is entirely possible that he was in the audience of the Dionysia when it was first performed. Even though some of the allusions are now obscure (especially since Euripides' Andromeda play, performed the previous year, no longer survives), there is still a lot of fun to be gained from the elements of disguise and the outwitting of the stupid guard. It is notable for offering the first cross-dress role in European drama, with the additionally amusing twist that all the ‘women’ of the play would, as in the Elizabethan theatre, have been performed by men anyway.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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