Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.02.23
Edward Einhorn, Lysistrata. New York: Theater 61 Press, 2006. Pp. 110. ISBN 0-9770197-2-1. $14.95.
Reviewed by Barbara Clayton, Stanford University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 1184 words
Edward Einhorn's play is an adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, not a translation. Einhorn is a playwright and the artistic director of Untitled Theater Company #61, based in New York. He writes in his introduction that he used a computer program to see a literal translation of the Greek, and also consulted "several very old translations of the play." He doesn't specify who those translators were except to say that one of the translations came from the Victorian era. Indeed I suspect that Einhorn was not familiar with either Jeffrey Henderson's 1996 translation or Sarah Ruden's from 2003,1 because his introduction implies that all the versions of Lysistrata he had seen or read were rather tame and staid, whereas Henderson and Ruden are neither by any stretch of the imagination. In all fairness, Einhorn never explicitly says that rescuing Lysistrata from the pruderies of a by-gone era was his primary motivation (although the cover, showing a statue of Aphrodite wearing a strap-on penis, might suggest otherwise). It is clear in fact that his adaptation focuses on performance values, and his main objective is to come up with a version of the play that will work best as a staged production, enjoyable by all. Einhorn has subdivided the play into ten scenes, several quite short, which makes for an appropriately fast and lively pace.
As a consequence of prioritizing performance, one of the most obvious adjustments Einhorn makes is to eliminate almost any historical or cultural reference that would require a footnote. For the most part, he has made good choices. For example, when Lysistrata swears the women to an oath of abstinence, she includes on the list of prohibitions that they will not "crouch like the lioness on a cheese grater" (l. 231 in the Greek). As much as I enjoy this image, it certainly demands an explanatory note. Einhorn simply changes this to: "Nor will I pretend to be a lioness he has caught in the forest." Or, when near the end of the play the Athenian and Spartan delegates have arrived at the Acropolis in full tumescence and they are told to cover themselves lest a "herm-cutter" see them, Einhorn capitalizes on what is a common condition of ancient statues and writes, "You'd better be careful. If you keep walking around like that, someone may try to cut you short. Look at how many statues have had their penises chopped off." I have appended a few quibbles with some minor inaccuracies at the end of this review.2
The most significant change Einhorn has made to Aristophanes' text is the curtailment and liberties he has taken with the choruses and their songs. In the first encounter between the choruses, the women's chorus successfully fends off the attack on the Acropolis by men's chorus. The shortening here is reasonable, although the age of the choruses is definitely underplayed. It is difficult to tell from the language alone how much dramatic mileage Einhorn is getting from their senior citizen status. Their second encounter (about 90 lines in Greek) is a contest in song more than a physical confrontation. In Einhorn this scene takes up only one page, with no mention of the taking off of shirts, which appears in the original. Their final encounter, which ends with a song of reconciliation, includes one of the more interesting stage directions in the text. Einhorn writes that the male chorus leader gives the female chorus leader a cock ring with which to remove the gnat in his eye! Einhorn's treatment of the chorus is the hardest aspect of this play to evaluate reading the text alone, without music or more information about costumes and staging.
Some of Einhorn's lyrics are completely made up, while others are very loosely based on the original. It is here that he takes the most liberties. The text includes, at the back, music for one of eight choral odes composed for the performance by William Sullivan Niederkorn, with a short essay by him describing his approach to creating music for the play. Niederkorn states at the end of the essay that a CD and a printed score are available, I assume from the publisher of this volume.
Einhorn has reduced the number of characters, and made an effort to have those characters who appear in the first scene return in the final scenes. The Athenian Delegates of the final scenes are replaced by Cinesias, Myrrhina's husband. Calonice, Myrrhina and Lampito, who all have prominent roles in the opening scene with Lysistrata, are on stage when Lysistrata introduces Peace at the end. I found all these changes to make sense dramatically, without significantly altering the meaning of the original. Einhorn's introduction notes the fact that we have no definitive version of how Aristophanes assigned lines to individual characters. He therefore includes a "dialogue only" version of the play, so that directors using his script can approach the issue of line assignment with complete freedom.
The one area in which Einhorn's play fails Aristophanes is in the language. The brilliance and playfulness we find in the Greek are completely missing in this adaptation. The occasional obscenity gives the dialogue some energy, but by and large Einhorn does not seem to be striving towards anything beyond the mundane. I found the lyrics for the choral odes to be particularly flat. Here is one example from Scene 4: "The women are the pawns of those Spartan dogs. / They have betrayed us and for no cause. / Without sex what will happen to our great State? / Democracy will end if we can't copulate."
How to deal with the Spartan dialect is a perennial problem for translators of this play. Einhorn explains in his introduction that he wanted to avoid identifying the Spartans with a specific cultural group, so he chose "something that is part caveman and part Cookie Monster." While I applaud Einhorn's reasons for not choosing a specific ethnicity, I don't find that he has created a plausible alternative. The "Cookie Monster" quality appears in the use of "me" for "I," although Einhorn is not always consistent in this pattern. Otherwise, his Spartans sounded to me a little bit like a B-movie version of a Russian accent.
The most important issue for readers of BMCR is no doubt the question of the usefulness of this text in the courses we teach. I do not think Einhorn's Lysistrata is appropriate for a course on Greek comedy, where one would miss both the topical references as well as Aristophanes' wonderful verbal virtuosity. On the other hand, because Einhorn has done such a thorough job of streamlining the play and making it dramatically coherent, his Lysistrata would be very easy to produce. Moreover, the "dialogue only" version at the back, as well as the simplified lyrics (which could be fitted to many different kinds of music), offer accessible opportunities for various creative approaches. Any drama class whose emphasis was on performance rather than fidelity to the original could use this adaptation. Einhorn's Lysistrata is basically a fun story with a timeless appeal and lots of room for camp.
1. Jeffrey Henderson's translation appears in Three Plays by Aristophanes, Routledge (1996). Sarah Ruden's Lysistrata is published by Hackett (2003). It was reviewed by me for BMCR, 2003.12.25).
2. Einhorn has not purged the play of all potentially puzzling elements. In the opening scene, as Lysistrata and her Athenian friends await the arrival of the other women, Aristophanes allows himself a joke at the expense of Anagyrus, a deme named after what was apparently a foul-smelling plant (l. 67 in the Greek). Einhorn translates: "Ugh, where are those women from? Anagryra [sic], where everyone is smelly." This really makes no sense without a footnote, although I suppose the idea of a town where people smell bad, for no apparent reason, could be funny all by itself. Later in this first scene, just before the women swear their oath, one woman proposes sacrificing a "grey mare" instead of the "white stallion" in the original text (l. 192 in the Greek). Both Henderson and Ruden footnote here, suggesting that some kind of sexual innuendo is involved. I'm not sure that "grey mare" is any less perplexing. Einhorn has made a few small mistakes that will no doubt sound jarring to a classicist: "Peloponnesia" for Peloponnesus, in the first scene, or the reference to multiple sacred snakes on the Acropolis in Scene 5. Others may have a dramatic purpose that was simply not apparent to me as a reader. In Scene 8, where Myrrhina is tantalizing her husband Cinesias, who has arrived at the Acropolis in dire straits, she tells him, "Let me just unfasten my girdle. I'll be naked in no time," (l. 931 in the Greek). "Girdle" is not a zone in the Greek, but rather a strophion, commonly rendered as "bra" or "breastband." Now, at the beginning of the play, Myrrhina claims that she was late because she could not find her "girdle" (zone in this case), so perhaps some kind of girdle was an important part of her costume. Or it may be that taking off a girdle has more comic potential than taking off a bra.