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Tom Chaney No. R709: War: sex, and money

Of Writers and Their Books No. R709: War: sex, and money. First published in the Hart Co. News-Herald Sunday, 30 April 2006.
The next earlier column: Tom Chaney: No. R708 Think Globally, Act Locally

By Tom Chaney

In 411 B.C. Athens had been at war with Sparta for at least twenty years. Two years before in 413 an expeditionary force had been decisively whipped in their attempt to conquer Sicily. The entire Greek world was in turmoil.

The Greek playwright Aristophanes prepared a comedy for the Lenaia festival in Athens for 411. The play suggests a rather novel if simple solution to the waste of the young men of Athens and to the drain on the Athenian treasury caused by an unwinnable war.

The play is Lysistrata. Its heroine of the same name gathers the women of Athens about her to call an unusual strike. She proposes that the women make themselves as attractive as possible to their husbands and lovers and then deny them sex.

At the same time, Lysistrata proposed that the women take control of the civic purse strings of the city and refuse to allow the city's funds to be spent fighting.

The idea catches on. Before long the women of the warring city-states bought into the deal and the fighting stops as each group signs on to the peace plan.

Sex is not seen as sacred in the view of this playwright. It is fun. Pretty soon the warriors of Greece opt for the hedonistic pleasures of sex and fulfilled desire as opposed to the discomforts of war.

The silly fighting of men is made ludicrous at the hands of crafty women who know what really makes those warriors happy.

Unfortunately, that solution to war was not accepted by the non-theatrical rulers of Athens. Within the year the final blow was struck against Athenian democracy with the loss of power of the citizens -- the death of the independent elected councils and the rise of an autocratic government.

Should we, perhaps, draw any contemporary lessons from this wildly funny serious play? I expect the current [2006] Repuritan administration would flee in horror from the idea of sex for pleasure only.

But we can dream and listen to the voices of our poets who call for waging peace. I heard from a good one a week or so ago. A friend from Baltimore called the poem to my attention. The poet is Judyth Hill of Taos, New Mexico. I tracked her down at a Virginia college to ask whether I could share her poem with others in the News-Herald. She graciously agreed. Lysistrata and her Athenian friends would be pleased.

Wage Peace
by Judyth Hill
Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.

Celebrate today.

copyright 2001 Reprinted with permission

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at

Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749. Phone (270) 786-3084. email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2011-05-01 06:24:48
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