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Women in Assembly


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AT: Women Holding an Assembly; Women in Parliament; Women in Power; The Parliament of Women; The Assemblywomen A: Aristophanes Pf:c.392 bc, Athens Tr: 1833 G: Greek com. in verse S: A street in Athens, c.390 bc C: 9m, 8f, extras, chorus (f)The women of Athens, under the leadership of Praxagora, have agreed to take over the Assembly. They disguise themselves as men and arrive at the Assembly at dawn to vote in a number of radical measures: all power in Athens shall be transferred from men to women, and all property shall be held communally. There is also to be complete sexual liberation, with men and women free to have intercourse, and children regarding all men as their fathers. In order to protect the old and ugly, however, these will have priority in choosing their lovers. This last rule persuades Praxagora's ageing husband that there is some merit in the new legislation. While two men debate whether they really need to give up their property, everyone is summoned to a banquet by the ‘general’ (Praxagora in disguise). A young girl, now free to consummate her love with her boyfriend, has to yield him first to one old woman and then to an even older, uglier one. The play ends with a choral song, as everyone goes off for the communal dinner.

AT: Women Holding an Assembly; Women in Parliament; Women in Power; The Parliament of Women; The Assemblywomen A: Aristophanes Pf:c.392 bc, Athens Tr: 1833 G: Greek com. in verse S: A street in Athens, c.390 bc C: 9m, 8f, extras, chorus (f)

It is tempting to regard Women in Assembly as both a proto-communist play and as an early manifesto of feminism. It was however understood by Athenians that each citizen had to be prepared to sacrifice individual wealth for the good of the polis, and Plato, who established his Academy at about the time this play was performed, recommended in his Republic that the ruling class of his ideal state should not own any private property. Moreover, as with Lysistrata, the possibility that women might take control is not so much a political programme as a good joke. Despite these reservations, however, the play now seems remarkably ahead of its time in its portrayal of an ideal state run by women. Given the ineptitude of male-dominated rule, Aristophanes implies, even women would make a better job of governing.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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