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Today the women at the festival are going to kill me for insulting them!' This bold statement by Euripides is the absurd premise upon which the whole play depends. The women are incensed by his plays' portrayal of the female sex as mad, murderous, and sexually depraved, and they are using the festival of the Thesmophoria (an annual fertility celebration dedicated to Demeter) as an opportunity to debate a suitable choice of revenge.
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2016
Copyright © 2016 Sovereign Classic
Like the ‘Lysistrata,’ the ‘Thesmophoriazusae, or Women’s Festival,’ and the next following play, the ‘Ecclesiazusae, or Women in Council’ are comedies in which the fair sex play a great part, and also resemble that extremely scabreux production in the plentiful crop of doubtful ‘double entendres’ and highly suggestive situations they contain.
The play has more of a proper intrigue and formal dénouement than is general with our Author’s pieces, which, like modern extravaganzas and musical comedies, are often strung on a very slender thread of plot. The idea of the ‘Thesmophoriazusae’ is as follows.
Euripides is summoned as a notorious woman-hater and detractor of the female sex to appear for trial and judgment before the women of Athens assembled to celebrate the Thesmophoria, a festival held in honour of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, from which men were rigidly excluded. The poet is terror-stricken, and endeavours to persuade his confrčre, the tragedian Agathon, to attend the meeting in the guise of a woman to plead his cause, Agathon’s notorious effeminacy of costume and way of life lending itself to the deception; but the latter refuses point-blank. He then prevails on his father-in-law, Mnesilochus, to do him this favour, and shaves, depilates, and dresses him up accordingly. But so far from throwing oil on the troubled waters, Mnesilochus indulges in a long harangue full of violent abuse of the whole sex, and relates some scandalous stories of the naughty ways of peccant wives. The assembly suspects at once there is a man amongst them, and on examination of the old fellow’s person, this is proved to be the case. He flies for sanctuary to the altar, snatching a child from the arms of one of the women as a hostage, vowing to kill it if they molest him further. On investigation, however, the infant turns out to be a wine-skin dressed in baby’s clothes.
In despair Mnesilochus sends urgent messages to Euripides to come and rescue him from his perilous predicament. The latter then appears, and in successive characters selected from his different Tragedies—now Menelaus meeting Helen again in Egypt, now Echo sympathising with the chained Andromeda, presently Perseus about to release the heroine from her rock—pleads for his unhappy father-in-law. At length he succeeds in getting him away in the temporary absence of the guard, a Scythian archer, whom he entices from his post by the charms of a dancing-girl.
As may be supposed, the appearance of Mnesilochus among the women dressed in women’s clothes, the examination of his person to discover his true sex and his final detection, afford fine opportunities for a display of the broadest Aristophanic humour. The latter part of the play also, where various pieces of Euripides are burlesqued, is extremely funny; and must have been still more so when represented before an audience familiar with every piece and almost every line parodied, and played by actors trained and got up to imitate every trick and mannerism of appearance and delivery of the tragic actors who originally took the parts.
The ‘Thesmophoriazusae’ was produced in the year 412 B.C., six years before the death of Euripides, who is held up to ridicule in it, as he is in ‘The Wasps’ and several other of our Author’s comedies.
MNESILOCHUS, Father-in-law of Euripides.
SERVANT OF AGATHON.
CHORUS attending AGATHON.
A PRYTANIS or Member of the Council.
A SCYTHIAN or Police Officer.
CHORUS OF THESMOPHORIAZUSAE—women keeping the Feast of Demeter.
SCENE: In front of Agathon’s house; afterwards in the precincts of the Temple of Demeter.
MNESILOCHUS. Great Zeus! will the swallow never appear to end the winter of my discontent? Why the fellow has kept me on the run ever since early this morning; he wants to kill me, that’s certain. Before I lose my spleen entirely, Euripides, can you at least tell me whither you are leading me?
EURIPIDES. What need for you to hear what you are going to see?
MNESILOCHUS. How is that? Repeat it. No need for me to hear….
EURIPIDES. What you are going to see.
MNESILOCHUS. Nor consequently to see….
EURIPIDES. What you have to hear.
MNESILOCHUS. What is this wiseacre stuff you are telling me? I must neither see nor hear.
EURIPIDES. Ah! but you have two things there that are essentially distinct.
MNESILOCHUS. Seeing and hearing.
MNESILOCHUS. In what way distinct?
EURIPIDES. In this way. Formerly, when Ether separated the elements and bore the animals that were moving in her bosom, she wished to endow them with sight, and so made the eye round like the sun’s disc and bored ears in the form of a funnel.
MNESILOCHUS. And because of this funnel I neither see nor hear. Ah! great gods! I am delighted to know it. What a fine thing it is to talk with wise men!
EURIPIDES. I will teach you many another thing of the sort.
MNESILOCHUS. That’s well to know; but first of all I should like to find out how to grow lame, so that I need not have to follow you all about.
EURIPIDES. Come, hear and give heed!
MNESILOCHUS. I’m here and waiting.
EURIPIDES. Do you see that little door?
MNESILOCHUS. Yes, certainly.
MNESILOCHUS. Silence about what? About the door?
EURIPIDES. Pay attention!
MNESILOCHUS. Pay attention and be silent about the door? Very well.
EURIPIDES. ‘Tis there that Agathon, the celebrated tragic poet, dwells.
MNESILOCHUS. Who is this Agathon?
EURIPIDES. ‘Tis a certain Agathon….
MNESILOCHUS. Swarthy, robust of build?
EURIPIDES. No, another. You have never seen him?
MNESILOCHUS. He has a big beard?
EURIPIDES. No, no, evidently you have never seen him.
MNESILOCHUS. Never, so far as I know.
EURIPIDES. And yet you have pedicated him. Well, it must have been without knowing who he was. Ah! let us step aside; here is one of his slaves bringing a brazier and some myrtle branches; no doubt he is going to offer a sacrifice and pray for a happy poetical inspiration for Agathon.
SERVANT OF AGATHON. Silence! oh, people! keep your mouths sedately shut! The chorus of the Muses is moulding songs at my master’s hearth. Let the winds hold their breath in the silent Ether! Let the azure waves cease murmuring on the shore!…
MNESILOCHUS. Brououou! brououou! (Imitates the buzzing of a fly.)
EURIPIDES. Keep quiet! what are you saying there?
SERVANT. … Take your rest, ye winged races, and you, ye savage inhabitants of the woods, cease from your erratic wandering …
MNESILOCHUS. Broum, broum, brououou.
SERVANT. … for Agathon, our master, the sweet-voiced poet, is going …
MNESILOCHUS. … to be pedicated?
SERVANT. Whose voice is that?
MNESILOCHUS. ‘Tis the silent Ether.
SERVANT. … is going to construct the framework of a drama. He is rounding fresh poetical forms, he is polishing them in the lathe and is welding them; he is hammering out sentences and metaphors; he is working up his subject like soft wax. First he models it and then he casts it in bronze …
MNESILOCHUS. … and sways his buttocks amorously.
SERVANT. Who is the rustic who approaches this sacred enclosure?
MNESILOCHUS. Take care of yourself and of your sweet-voiced poet! I have a strong instrument here both well rounded and well polished, which will pierce your enclosure and penetrate your bottom.
SERVANT. Old man, you must have been a very insolent fellow in your youth!
EURIPIDES (to the servant). Let him be, friend, and, quick, go and call
Agathon to me.
SERVANT. ‘Tis not worth the trouble, for he will soon be here himself. He has started to compose, and in winter it is never possible to round off strophes without coming to the sun to excite the imagination. (He departs.)
MNESILOCHUS. And what am I to do?
EURIPIDES. Wait till he comes…. Oh, Zeus! what hast thou in store for me to-day?
MNESILOCHUS. But, great gods, what is the matter then? What are you grumbling and groaning for? Tell me; you must not conceal anything from your father-in-law.
EURIPIDES. Some great misfortune is brewing against me.
MNESILOCHUS. What is it?
EURIPIDES. This day will decide whether it is all over with Euripides or not.
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