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an introduction to the play by Aristophanes

LIKE Lysistrata and the Ecclesiazusae, the Thesmophoriazusae, or Women's Festival, is a comedy in which the fair sex play a great part, and also resembles those extremely scabreux productions 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 Aristophanes' 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 honor of the goddesses Demeter and Persephoné, from which men were rigidly excluded. The poet is terror-stricken, and endeavours to persuade his confrère, 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 sactuary 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 sympathizing 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 Aristophanes' comedies.

This article is reprinted from Aristophanes: The Eleven Comedies. Trans. Anonymous. London: The Athenian Society, 1922.


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