Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 806
Praxagora, who had stolen her husband’s clothes and escaped from the house before dawn, was waiting in the street for her fellow conspirators to appear. As they arrived she inspected them to see if they had made all the preparations that had been agreed upon at the feast of the Scirophoria. Had they let the hair under their armpits grow? Had they darkened their complexions by rubbing themselves thoroughly with oil and standing all day in the sun? Had they prepared false beards? Had they stolen their husbands’ shoes, cloaks, staffs, and clubs? Assured that they had done everything possible to disguise themselves as men, Praxagora opened the discussion of their plot to save Athens by taking over the government from the men. This was to be achieved by invading the assembly disguised as men and dominating the vote. The first problem was to select a spokesman. When woman after woman failed the practice test by invoking goddesses or addressing the audience in feminine terms, Praxagora herself took on the responsibility of speaking for them. At dawn they departed for the assembly.
Meanwhile, Blepyrus, Praxagora’s husband, had awakened with a need to relieve himself, only to find both his wife and his clothes missing. His need was so great, however, that he dressed in his wife’s saffron robe and rushed outdoors. Before he could return to the house, he was accosted by his friend Chremes, who gave him a detailed account of the strange proceedings at the assembly. He told how, after several citizens had proposed stupid suggestions for curing the economic plight of the city, a rather fair young man had taken the floor to urge that the government be hereafter entrusted to the women. The speaker had been enthusiastically applauded by a large crowd of strange shoemakers. Chremes himself was rather in favor of the idea, since it was the one and only solution that had hitherto not been tried.
After supervising a secret change back to feminine dress among the women, Praxagora returned to her husband with the excuse that she had been called during the night to aid a friend in labor and had taken his clothes for greater warmth. When Blepyrus described the decision of the assembly, Praxagora expressed great surprise and delight and immediately launched into a detailed list of the revolutionary reforms she intended to carry out. Every conceivable kind of private property—land, money, food, and even husbands and wives—was to be common to all. All cheating, bribery, and lawsuits would disappear, since no one would have to engage in such activities to achieve what he wanted. Robbery, gambling, and the exchange of money would be abolished. Prostitutes would be outlawed so that decent women could have the first fruits of the young men. Upon Blepyrus’s protest that complete sexual freedom would result in chaos, Praxagora established the rule that all the youth would first have to satisfy the prior claims of the aged before mating with other young people and that all children would look upon the oldest people in the community as their parents. Blepyrus, thrilled, looked forward to the prospect of being known as the dictator’s husband.
Chremes, also eager to cooperate, began to pack up all his belongings to contribute to the common store, despite the taunts of a skeptical citizen who reminded him that all previous decrees, such as the reduction of the price of salt and the introduction of copper coinage, had failed. But Chremes insisted that the new reform was thoroughgoing and departed for the common feast, leaving the citizen to devise some scheme whereby he, too, might participate without abandoning all his goods.
The first great test of the new society occurred when a young man, about to enter the house of a voluptuous girl, was stopped by an old woman, a veritable hag, who insisted on her prior claim. The young man tried every conceivable stratagem to avoid relations with the aged flat-nose, but the old woman stubbornly insisted on her legal rights. At first the young man decided to do without sex altogether, rather than yield to the disgusting hag first; but, finding such renunciation impossible, he at last reluctantly submitted. Before the old woman could get him into her house, an even older and uglier hag appeared on the scene to demand her prior right to him. While he quarreled with her, a third and truly horrendous old woman seized him. He was last seen being carried off by two frightful old hags.
Praxagora’s maid, returning from the great banquet, met Blepyrus, who had not yet dined, and regaled him with a frenzied account of the delicious viands that were being served there. Taking some young girls with him, Blepyrus hurried off to gorge himself on rich food and drink.
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