By Caitlin Hines, Assistant Professor in UC College of Arts and Sciences Classics Department
The Cincinnati Dionysia — a name inspired by the City Dionysia, the ancient Athenian religious festival that featured several days of theatrical performances in competition — brings together two dramas with wildly different tones: Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ uproarious sex comedy, and The Trojan Women, Euripides’ tragic meditation on the aftermath of war.
The two playwrights were contemporaries in 5th-century B.C.E. Athens. Aristophanes was known for writing comedies that presented sharp political commentary on current problems, often through wacky and absurdist scenarios. Euripides turned his view to the mythical past, exploring questions of power, duty and identity through the troubles and torments of mythological figures. Though only a limited selection of their works survive, both playwrights were extraordinarily prolific, with Aristophanes writing 40 and Euripides more than 90 plays within their lifetimes.
The two plays selected for the Cincinnati Dionysia were composed and performed during the same decade (The Trojan Women in 415 B.C.E., Lysistrata in 411 B.C.E.) as the Greek world suffered the political, economic and human consequences of a decades-long conflict between Athens and Sparta. Lysistrata, as is Aristophanes’ custom, addresses this contemporary conflict head-on, making the Peloponnesian War the focus of the protagonist’s anti-war efforts. The Trojan Women likewise confronts the costs of war, though Euripides chooses a mythical moment in a foreign setting — the Fall of Troy — as the focal point of his tragedy.
Ellen McLaughlin’s adaptations of both plays perform several essential functions for modern audiences: she translates not only the language but also culturally- and historically-contingent forms of humor, metaphor and idiom. Although the adaptations are relatively loose and substantially abridged, they capture the spirit of the originals with care and finesse. It is our hope that you will find, despite the sharp tonal shift between the comic and tragic portions of the program, meaningful intersections in the plays’ explorations of how women — be they fictionalized contemporaries of the original audience, or denizens of a far-distance mythical past — must bear the consequences of war.