In classical Greece, peace was an Athenian

Peace in the Greek world had a feminine face. Eirene was a goddess, already mentioned by the epic poet Hesiod in 700 BC. Daughter of Zeus and Themis, she formed, with her sisters Justice (Dike) and Good Government (Eunomy), the group of “Hours” or Seasons in charge of justice and social peace but also of material prosperity.

Allegory of Peace and State Happiness. Eunomia (good government), Dice (justice) and Eirene appear in this work, the latter in the center embodying the idea of ​​peace. Jacob Jordans.
Víctor Balaguer Museum Library / Wikimedia Commons

This positive image of peace is found in the democratic Athens of the 5th century BC in the works of the playwright Aristophanes. In the midst of the Peloponnesian War, this is a time when Athens does not yet civic worship peace as a deity (which it will do in the 4th century BCE). However, peace is shown as an aspiration of the peasants in various works by this author, returning to the earlier tradition hesiodicbut by inserting certain strokes and brushstrokes that lead us to think of a link between women and peace.

Aristophanes’ Athenian Woman

Peace in Aristophanes is clearly presented with feminine features, not just as a goddess, but as an Athenian woman. Already before the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians had concerned themselves with peace with the Persians in the Peace of Callias in 499 BCE. They had built it, in the imagination and more precisely on the acropolis, like a Victory (Nike) against the Persians, with a clearly imperialist posture.

There were in the city, urgently during the Peloponnesian War, other currents which advocated a tendency to peace understood as inaction (hesychia) typical of the city’s oligarchic ideology, linked to aristocratic leisure and estrangement from political life.

However, Aristophanes will present in his works (thesmophorians, Acharniansbut especially in Peace and in lysestrata) to Eirene as a female figure, presented as a medical remedy or ointment. His speeches are linked to the traditional ideology associated with this deity “in love with parties”, wine and marital relations, but also with the ways of telling and dealing with the problems of the city of women.

Bust of Aristophanes in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
Alexander Mayatsky / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The works of this playwright reveal a world of feminine relationships and solidarity linked to the ritual space that contain networks of contact and communication, support and mutual aid. These networks are based, among other aspects, on the ritual and religious practice of the city, more precisely on the cult of Dionysus, the god of agricultural festivals and wine.

In the comedy of Peace, the goddess, once freed, appears accompanied by two beautiful young women, Opora, the harvest, and Teoría, the party. The reconciliation and peace in the play is further shown as the gossip relationship between the girls and the focus is on remembering their laughter. The goddess takes on the features of an Athenian woman – she does not speak in public – and is very angry at the war. Eirene speaks in a low voice with Hermes and introduces herself as an “anti-war woman” carrying a basket – typical of women in their ritual acts – with the pacts.

female strategies in lysestrata

The fruit of peace is abundance. This is achieved by ending elaborate suspicions, through friendship that promotes mixing between different people, and with “sweeter understanding”. These values ​​could be defined as “feminine”, and in lysestratawork par excellence on peace, also alludes to feminine strategies of reconciliation, such as delicacy.

Marble stele representing Lysistrata.
KaDeWeGirl/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The argument develops the conspiracy of the citizens of Athens and other poleis to carry out a sex strike, as well as the seizure of the acropolis and the treasury, to end the war. In this context, women are called lysimacas, “those who dissolve war”. It was the name given to the priestess of Athena Polias. He is believed to be represented in Aristophanes’ play by Lysistrata, whose name means exactly the same as lysimachus (such layers What chewed up means “war”).

Peace, on the other hand, does not concern only the citizens of the upper classes, but also the citizens of the lower classes and the foreigners and even, perhaps, the slaves, the “allies” as Lysistrata invokes them. Peace is achieved through the unity of the female gender with the absence of internal conflict.

The initiative for peace is praised in the choir of old women, which attributes to women positive qualities such as grace, courage, wisdom, patriotism and common sense. Weaving, a fundamental task for women in the city, is presented as an image of peace. The text speaks of embassies, the elimination of the corrupt, the search for the common good, as well as the integration of the excluded in the decision: ethical, foreigners, expelled for debt and settlers.

Harmony/reconciliation is therefore feminine. And this peace is not fully identified either with the imperialist peace of radical democracy or with the estrangement of members of the elite from political life. It may be a utopian peace, but it is presented in the mouths of women, perhaps reflecting something of female discourse, particularly that of the priestess of Polias, in the city.

Eirene is not yet a ‘civic virtue’, but it is a feminine value which tries to infiltrate, without success, into the politics of male democracy and feeds on the ritual activity of women.

Precisely the ritual is the pretext for the old women of the work to gather in large numbers and take the acropolis, a living image of the profusion with which they would frequent the sacred place and of the ascendancy they would have over the cults. acropolitans. These spaces are places where communication and female solidarity are nurtured, allowing a discourse such as that of peace.

In Athens, Eirene is also presented as one of the followers of the god Dionysus (a maenad), in the same way that the women of Attica acted as maenads in their rural rites, representing the “Hours” (as Eirene she -even), Nymphs and Bacchantes”. Precisely in the iconography of the Peloponnesian War period, Eirene and Opora (good harvest) appear as maenads of the god in the iconography.

woman’s face

In short, peace is presented in the Athenian imagination, and more specifically in Aristophanes, with the face and figure of a woman, as a goal pursued by citizens, but in collaboration with other women, allies of different types .

Women also have, according to the comedy, specific methods, forms, and goals for achieving peace that are tied to weaving, parties, wine, and the marital relationship. They also imply dialogue, understanding, consensus or the search for what is common, reconciliation and, ultimately, the integration of the excluded. Behind this message can hide real feminine attitudes and discourses in the city, nourished by spaces of feminine solidarity nourished by ritual and festive activities.

The cult of peace which was established in the 4th century BC in Athens had been prepared beforehand by the thoughts, speeches and ritual acts of women, without yet reaching, at that time, the political core of the assembly. However, she becomes a virtue that presents itself with a feminine face and manners and penetrates the democratic popular consciousness of the Athenians.

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