Anecdota

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Greek Comedy, Satyrs, and Aristophanes: Crash Course Theater #4


Hi there I’m Mike Rugnetta. Welcome to Crash Course Theater. Today we’ll be covering Greek satyr plays
and classical Greek comedy. We’ll also take a look at Aristophanes’
“Lysistrata,” a play in which the women of Athens and Sparta decide to ban sexual
intercourse until their husbands stop fighting a war. It might get a little lewd, but this play
is actually a lot less lewd than most Greek comedies that came before it. The next time you’re at a museum, staring
up at some noble piece of ancient marble statuary, just remember: those folks LOVED a good fart
joke. INTRO
Satyr plays are the raunchy plays that appear at the conclusion of each tragic trilogy. They’re meant to cheer an audience up after
all of that pity, fear and purgation. And what did audiences find most cheerful? You guessed it: phalli. Like tragedies, satyr plays were usually derived
from mythological stories. Unlike tragedies, satyr plays featured a chorus
dressed as satyrs—ears, tails, shaggy legs and … tie-on phalluses. Satyr plays presented goofy versions of important
legends: here’s your typical myth, going along as planned, and then who shows up: Satyrs! These plays normally focus on how fun-loving,
drunk, and cowardly the satyrs are… but there are often a few human characters who
engage in serious moral debate at some point. Only one complete satyr play survives and
that’s Euripides “Cyclops,” based on an episode in the “Odyssey.” It’s almost a retelling of Odyssey’s version,
except there are a lot of satyrs on the Cyclops’s island and they’re the ones who get Odysseus
into trouble with Mean Ole Mr Unipupil. While trying to avoid being eaten, Odysseus
takes a moment to engage the Cyclops in an earnest debate on whether duty or pleasure-seeking
is the key to a happy life. After that the Cyclops and the head satyr
Silenus get very drunk and Silenus gets dragged off to maybe do Cyclops sex stuff, but then
Odysseus blinds the Cyclops and it ends happily for all. Except the Cyclops who is blinded and was
probably like UGH THAT WAS MY ONE. GOOD. EYE. You may remember from a couple episodes ago,
the Drama Contests of Dionsyia. In 486 BCE, a separate contest for comedy
was established, with five competitors each year. In classical Greece, comedy was pretty raucous
and pretty ribald. The word “comedy” came to us from the
Greek word komoidia, which literally means party song. After forty years or so, comedy got popular
enough that it had its own festival, the Lenaea, held in winter for Athenians only. No foreign dignitaries, which makes sense
because these comedies were probably not how Athens wanted to represent itself to the world. Like tragedies, comedies were inspired by
the philosophies and problems of present-day Athens. But while tragedies tended to cloak their
relevance in the mythic past or foreign lands, comedies were typically set in contemporary
Athens, poking merciless fun at contemporaneous life. They kept themselves safe by being so wild
and crazy you couldn’t take their political attacks seriously, though there are records
of a couple lawsuits. SPOILSPORTS. Comedies differed from tragedies in that they
often depended on spectacular effects and featured funny costumes like padded stomachs
and butts, and yes, of course, say it with me now–though I would totally understand
if it makes you uncomfortable and you super don’t want to– phalluses. Most of the formal elements—dialogic scenes
interspersed with choral odes—were similar to tragedy, but comedy included something
new. It was the parabasis, a speech in which the
chorus addresses the audience directly. And while tragedies focus on some noble figure
falling, comedies are often about the little guy struggling to rise. Though as we’ll see with “The Lysistrata,”
comedies can deal with great figures and serious subjects, as well. Unfortunately, few examples survive from the
golden age of classical comedy and all the ones that do are by Aristophanes. But we have fragments by many others, including
sections from the plays of Eupolis, a comedy writer so beloved that legend has it that
when he died fighting a war, the government passed a law exempting all poets from military
service. Let’s take a moment to look at what separates
comedies from satyr plays. Satyr plays are situated in a mythic past,
comedies in the present. Satyr plays are typically rural. Comedies are usually urban. Satyr plays are about messing things up. Comedies are about putting things back together. They tend to return social order and conclude
with a compromise of some kind: a peace treaty, a constitution, a marriage. There’s not necessarily any reconciliation
at the end of a satyr play, while comedies are about offering absurd suggestions to real
problems. Aristophanes is the most famous figure of
classical comedy for the very good reason that his plays are the ones that … uhhh…
still exist. Invading hordes: You. Are. The Worst. He wrote at least forty plays. We have eleven. Aristophanes was born into a wealthy Athenian
family sometime in the 450s. He started writing early and he was almost
immediately known for his splendid poetry, and for relentlessly mocking specific political figures. In fact he was sued at least once for “unpatriotic
behavior”. But, undeterred, Aristophanes kept the poetry
and dirty jokes and mockery coming for quite some time. Late in the fifth century BCE, though, Athens
started losing the Peloponnesian War to Sparta and a lot of things changed, including comedy. Suddenly it wasn’t a great idea to satirize
political figures. And Athens didn’t have as much money to
spend on spectacular effects and fancy choruses. So Aristophanes made a mid-career switch. He started writing plays for smaller choruses
and with composite comic figures rather than specific, real-life politicians. Aristophanes has a lot of famous plays—The
Birds, The Clouds, The Frogs. But, today we’re going to look at “The
Lysistrata,” which we chose for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s still relevant today. In the early days of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, thousands of theater companies staged readings and productions of the play. The Lysistrata’s frustration at the senselessness
of wars and the tolls they exact won’t seem very ancient to us. Also it’s one of the rare ancient comedies
in which the women get to be really funny. So that’s nice. (But remember, all the actors in ancient Greek
theater were men! And all the playwrights, too.) Let’s go to the Thoughtbubble. The Lysistrata won first prize in 411 BCE,
at which point the Peloponnesian War had waged for about twenty years. Athens and Sparta together defeated an enemy
once thought unstoppable: the Persians. But after their victory, they squabbled over
colonies. Sparta had the superior land army, Athens
had the superior navy. Athens was a democracy, Sparta was an oligarchy. Athens had a lot of money, Sparta had a lot
of staying power. Things got ugly and stayed ugly. Also Athens had a plague that killed a lot
of its citizens and its great leader Pericles. That didn’t help. This … is the background story for The Lysistrata,
at the start of which, the women of Athens are fed up. They’re tired of war, they’re tired of
being poor and they’re really, really tired of their husbands leaving to fight. Because when their husbands are away, they
can’t have sex. And in The Lysistrata, these women really
want to have sex. So led by a woman named Lysistrata, they devise
a so-far-fetched-it-just-might-work plan. They seize control of the Acropolis, which
is where Athens keeps all its money, and they say they’re not going to give up the siege
and they will not have any sex until the men stop fighting. To show that they’re really serious, they
get a bunch of women from warring areas, like Sparta and Corinth, to join them. The women swear an oath and achieve a truce,
showing the men that it can be done. Thanks, Thoughtbubble. I’d love to quote the chaste ladies oath
for you. But it’s a family show and this oath is
filthy, which is sort of the point. To begin, the women prepare a sacrificial
victim, but instead of killing an animal, the sacrifice they make is to open a jug of
wine, which they’re obviously going to chug. And then they swear to not let any man near
them, but the joke is that the oath they take is really, really specific. It’s not just that they’re swearing off
sex, they’re swearing in great detail about exactly the kind of sex they’re not going
to have—like…EXACTLY. EXACTINGLY EXACT
This is one of the things Greek comedy does. It makes fun of beliefs and rituals that are
often held sacred, but doesn’t satirize. The point isn’t to show that oaths are ridiculous
or that the goals of the women are absurd. The point is to make fun of social conventions
with the end goal of creating a better and happier society. So cheers to that. In a patriarchal society like ancient Greece,
by the way, the idea of women seizing power was also pretty funny in itself–for the men–because
it was so impossible. The women might have had different ideas. Most of the jokes are about how difficult
it is to go without sex. Women keep pretending to be hurt or pregnant
in order to sneak out of the Acropolis. Men come to try to entice their wives back
into bed. And in one of the funniest scenes, a wife
agrees, but then she keeps making more demands of her husband—she needs a mattress, she
needs a pillow—and then runs back into the Acropolis at the last minute, leaving her
husband with an epic case of… frustration. Good times. At the end, Lysistrata comes out of the Acropolis
and meets with Athenian and Spartan delegates. She reminds them of what they owe to each
other and how ridiculous this conflict is. Yet they agree to peace not because Lysistrata
is so wise, but because the goddess of Reconciliation is there, personified as a naked woman, and
they all want to have sex with her. Which is creepy. And misogynist. And violent. Then, there’s a banquet and all the newly
reconciled men and women sing and dance together. From this you can get a sense of how delightful
and radical Greek comedy is, while also being kinda troubling. Suggesting the absurdity of a vicious and
expensive war is a pretty racy thing for an Athenian play to do when Athens is still in
the middle of that war. But this isn’t a bleak satire. It has a happy ending, with its enthusiastic
embrace of food, wine, singing and dancing, and it tries to show that peace is possible
and preferable… if maybe kind of ruined by creepin’ dudes. Typical. Thanks for watching. Next time we’ll look at the transition from
Greek theater to Roman theater and the rise of popular entertainments that’ll make The
Lysistrata seem tame. Until then… curtain!

95 thoughts on “Greek Comedy, Satyrs, and Aristophanes: Crash Course Theater #4

  1. Gotta keep it politically correct by repeatedly emphasizing the "creepy dudes" and being overly mindful of the different gender politics. Constantly having to overlay the current zeitgeist onto the story being told weakens the point being made. It's also tiresome. I think most young people are savvy enough to understand social differences that come with ancient literature and customs without falling all over oneself not to be offensive. There will always be the chronically outraged PC warriors, but trying not to offend them is like trying to keep the wind from blowing.

  2. Don't forget The Clouds! It's one of the only confirmations that Socrates was a real person and not just a fictional character of Plato's.

  3. For fun, I looked up the oath. One of the things they swore off was to never preform "the lioness on the cheese grater" anymore to the men. Half the women didn't know what Lysistrata was even talking about. However, the "professional" woman in the back, upon hearing the position was all "Ok, I got this!" – lol

  4. This was also staged just a year after the Sicilian expedition in which a huge number of Athenian men had died. Everyone in that theatre would have lost someone close to them in that expedition whether it be brothers, fathers, sons, friends or lovers, that wound would still be incredibly fresh

  5. I think you guys should consider your own definition of satire when writing these scripts, and also stop labeling every male in history who wants to have sex with a woman as a misogynist it's inaccurate, presumptuous, (offensive), and perpetuates a false male stereotype.

  6. Oh, please say "yes" that next week is going to involve Plautus and the contaminatio that led up to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum !

  7. I’d love to see the outtakes from this. But, since I is a family show I doubt they could publish them.

  8. The only thing that's creepy , is 21th century nerds, trying to pass moral judgement on 4BC's classical masterpieces.

  9. One of my favorite modern interpretations of Lysistrata is Spike Lee's Chi-raq which overlays the ancient violence with gun violence in Chicago. It's interesting to see what was kept. Like the movie is in meter.

  10. I just read the Lysistrata oath and i
    Holy hel i am dying over here
    The person who wrote that deserves a raise

  11. At my university, putting on Greek plays was a popular way of avoiding writing term papers. A class before mine performed the Lysistrata; their production was heavily sponsored by a local sex toy shop. It was before my time, but I have it on good authority that it was amazing.

  12. Please make Crash Course Mathematics – look at concepts like The Law of Exponents, Quadratic Equations, and basic Mathematics for Primary school students. Include GCSE lessons also please!

  13. Lysistrata was one of my favorite characters I ever got to play in Saving the Greeks: One Tragedy at a Time. My tie dyed toga and flower crown reflected the 1960s women perfectly while staying true to her original Greek comedy character.

  14. I adored this episode, not just because I am a theatrical and nerd. But because they're in college I remember performing a version of lysistrata it was so fun to perform

  15. "They agree to peace because the Goddess of Reconciliation is there…"
    Ah, the Greek gods' wisdom actually does something good for once!
    "…personified as a naked woman who they all want to have sex with."
    …Well, at least the war's over…

  16. Fan fact: Aristophanes's play "the birds" in Greek called "ornithes-όρνιθες" is translated into "chickens" … just a fan fact for ya all

  17. Fan fact: Aristophanes's play "the birds" in Greek called "ornithes-όρνιθες" is translated into "chickens" … just a fan fact for ya all

  18. Um, completely unrelated comment here but…CrashCourse, would you consider creating a Linguistics series? Thanks : )

  19. Intrigued by the suggestion that the oath was too lewd i went and looked it up. Its not that bad. Far worse is the part where the women swear not to enjoy getting raped. That is super creepy.

  20. As soon as I saw Greek comedy and satyrs I was whooo… bring it on 😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍

  21. Very informative video, but I think if you want to include a critical analysis from a modern point of view, you need to give it proper time to make your points.
    After the 10 minute mark you are basically just dropping buzzwords.

  22. Are you going to cover French Farce? I love theatre and theatre theory so much!!! Thank you so much I love learning

  23. also do we know the reason for the strict three actor limit in greek plays? I know we have a chorus. Wouldn't the limit of actors constrain types of stories, and the amount of stories being told?

  24. Fun fact! Lysistrati's name comes from the word Στρατός (stratOs emphasis on the capital) which means army and the prefix Λυσ- (lys-) which means to cut, break or dissolve. Biologists will know the prefix (and sometimes suffix) lys from fun words like Catalyst, Hydrolysis, and Lysosomes.

    In fact the play's names and dialogue (at least if you see it put on in its original Greek) are filled to the brim with fun double meanings and jokes. Idk if this is maintained at all in English translations, I've only interacted with the play in Greek.

  25. My favorite Arisophanes Quote comes from 'Knights' where a character by the name of Demosthenes is trying to convince an Sausage Merchant that he should run for High Office:

    'To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them. Besides, you possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, cross-grained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing.'

    It's funny how that quote is so often stuck in my head at the moment… Can't imagine why…

  26. The mass-reading of Lysistrata was on March 3, 2003 — 03/03/03. I know this because I took part in one of the readings. And it's "lISSistrata," not "LIE-su-strada."

  27. Euripides wrote at least one comedy, a play named Alcestis. It took the place traditionally held for Satyr play. It's far more lighthearted than his other plays.

  28. Socrates may have made a Plato, but Sophocles could make a play right/wright.
    Just kidding. I don’t care for Sophocles, he made Oedipus Rex…. that mother Ffff.

  29. When you explain where came a word from, better say the original word correctly because it seems like a KOMOIDIA! lol from Greece..

  30. So Brilliant ! I already had studied theater, so I know how these videos arrange keypoint very well. Thankyou!

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