Lust is defined as an intense longing or a sexual desire. It is a common theme in literature; particularly in classic Greek literature. The reason it is so prevalent in literature is that is prevalent in our daily lives. Everyone lusts after something or someone. It is an interesting topic to examine closely, and classic literature is an excellent medium for such an investigation. Two works I have studied, in which lust is a theme, are an epic, Homer’s The Odyssey, and a play, Aristophanes Lysistrata. In both The Odyssey and Lysistrata, lust is a theme that plays a major role in the course of the story, making the stories similar, but very different.
The Odyssey is an epic that tells story of Odysseus as he returns to his home and his wife after fighting in the Trojan War. He is faced with many perils, trials, and tribulations along the way. One such trail is lust. It shows up in two instances in The Odyssey. One such instance occurs in Book X on the island of Circe, and the other notable instance occurs in Book XII on Calypso’s island of Ogygia.
In Book X, Odysseus and his men find themselves on the island of the sorceress, Circe. The men hear her singing and are overcome with lust for her. They say, There is some one inside working at a loom and singing most beautifully. The whole place resounds with it. Let us call her and see whether she is woman or goddess, (The Odyssey).
Circe transforms Odysseus’s men into swine. and when they had drunk she turned them into pigs by a stroke of her wand, and shut them up in her pigsties. They were like pigshead, hair, and all, and they grunted just as pigs do; but their senses were the same as before, and they remembered everything, (The Odyssey). It is up to Odysseus to save them. He does this with the help of the god Hermes, but is tricked into remaining on the island for a number of years without even realizing it. Circe says to him, so be it then; sheathe your sword and let us go to bed, that we may make friends and learn to trust each other, (The Odyssey). He is reluctant, but finally consents. He thinks he is only there overnight. However, he does not realize how long he is actually on the island until the time has passed. Then, it is too late.
Odysseus stays on the island because of a mutual lust between him and Circe. Odysseus loves his wife, Penelope, deeply, but is overcome by his lust for Circe. The reason Circe holds Odysseus captive on her island for so long is her lust for him. She is certainly not in love with him, but she wants him. Thus, she makes the time pass very quickly so that Odysseus will stay with her.
The second instance of lust occurs in Book XII when Odysseus is washed up on the island of Ogygia, after just barely surviving the perils of Scylla and Charybdis. His whole crew has perished, and he is alone. He is found by Calypso’s handmaidens. At first Calypso treats Odysseus well. However, when Odysseus asks for a boat to leave the island, Calypso tells him that he may never leave the island.
Calypso lusts for Odysseus so much that she holds him captive for many years. Odysseus, however, does not feel this lust for her. At this point in the epic, he wants nothing more than to reach his home and his wife, whom he loves very much. Finally, the gods tell Calypso that is time to release Odysseus, and she obeys.
The Odyssey is a tale of growth and development. Odysseus was, in a sense, defeated by the power of Circe. However, later in the story, as he continued to grow and change, he was able to be strong when faced with Calypso. He did not forget his goal of getting home as he had previously done.
The comedy, Lysistrata, is based almost entirely around the theme of lust. The story tells of a war among the Greeks. Lysistrata, whose name means “she who dissolves armies,” is the wife of one of the soldiers. She, along with the other wives, is sick and tired of her husband always being away doing battle. In fact, she says to the women, “It’s your husbands. Fathers of your children. Doesn’t it bother you that they’re always off with the Army? I’ll stake my life, not one of you has a man in the house this morning,” (Lysistrata). So, she comes up with a plan to end the war and have all the men return home. Her plan is to convince all the wives to withhold sex from their husbands until a treaty can be reached. She believes that the men will be so overcome with lust for their wives that they will come to an agreement and end the war.
When Lysistrata first introduces her idea to the wives, she tells them, “Only we women can save Greece!” (Lysistrata). They are all very glad and excited to hear her plan. They claim they are willing to do anything that will bring the war to a close. However, when she tells them her plan, their tone changes. The women want their men just as much as the men want them. One woman’s response is, “I couldn’t. No. Let the war go on,” (Lysistrata). Another woman says, “Lysistrata, no! I’d walk through fire for youyou know I would!, but don’t ask us to give up that! Why, there’s nothing like it!” (Lysistrata). But, eventually, Lysistrata manages to convince the women that this is the only way to end the war, and they reluctantly agree.
Many of the women are weakened by their lust for their husbands. They try to make excuses in order to go home. One woman says, Ive got to get home! Ive a lot of Milesian wool, and the worms are spoiling it, (Lysistrata). Another woman goes so far as to put a helmet under her cloak and pretend she is about to have a child. However, Lysistrata responds to them by saying, You useless girls, thats enough: Lets have no more lying. Of course you want your men. But dont you imagine that they want you just as much? Ill give you my word; their nights must be pretty hard. Just stick it out! A little patience, thats all, and our battles won, (Lysistrata).
And, Lysistrata is right; the men are weakening with their lust for their wives. They all echo the sentiments of this statement. Were at a standstill. Cant seem to think of anything but women, (Lysistrata). Eventually the men can no longer stand it, and they agree to make peace. Lysistrata and the women have won because of the power lust had over the men.
When compared, The Odyssey and Lysistrata have one apparent similarity. That similarity is the power of lust. However, when the theme of lust in the two works is compared, one major difference can be seen. In The Odyssey, lust is conquered by Odysseus. In Lysistrata, lust is the conqueror. The Odyssey is an epic that shows Odysseus growth and development, as well as his strength to resist temptation. Lysistrata is a comedy that shows how weak men are when it comes to lust. Therefore, the two works have one basic similarity, but it is that very similarity that makes them very different.
In conclusion, both Homers The Odyssey and Aristophanes Lysistrata contain the theme of lust. In The Odyssey, lust is overcome, and in Lysistrata, lust overcomes. The stories are linked by the idea of lust, but they are very different.
I enjoyed reading both of these works, and I found it fascinating to examine them in regards to a topic that is so prevalent in todays society. It was interesting to take a look at these two tremendously different representations of the emotion of lust. These stories represented the extremes of this emotion, and I believe that most humans fall somewhere in the middle, sometimes giving into lust, and sometimes remaining strong. And let us all hope that, Never againshall we lose our way in such madness, (Lysistrata).