by Aristophanes
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711

On the way to the house of Agathon, Euripides, the celebrated dramatist, explains to his aged but lusty father-in-law, Mnesilochus, that he is in great danger. The Thesmophoriazusae are gathered at the temple of Demeter to decide on an appropriate punishment for the playwright—Euripides—who so consistently and so bitterly insults their sex in his plays. Agathon will surely be able to help him. At the door of Agathon’s house a servant appears and orders the people and the winds to be quiet because his master is seized with poetical inspiration. Mnesilochus knows at once that no real help can come from such a man.

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When Agathon appears, reposing on a bed, dressed in a saffron tunic, and surrounded by feminine toilet articles, Mnesilochus insults him roundly for his lack of manhood. As expected, Agathon refuses to aid Euripides by dressing as a woman in order to mix with the fertility celebrants and plead Euripides’ cause; the plan is simply too risky. Mnesilochus then offers himself and is promptly and painfully shaved, undressed, and depilated. Disguised as a woman, the old man is suddenly very reluctant to go to the temple until Euripides swears by all the gods to come to his aid if anything goes wrong.

Striving to act as womanly as possible and giving his voice a feminine lilt, the old man enters the temple with a prayer to Demeter and Persephone that he will not be recognized. After certain preliminaries the women within begin their deliberations concerning Euripides’ fate. The First Woman, after spitting as orators do, opens with the charge that Euripides presents women in his plays as adulterous, lecherous, bibulous, treacherous, and garrulous; he causes husbands, especially old ones, to be suspicious of their wives; and he provokes them into keeping the keys to the storerooms and sealing doors upon their wives. She declares that the playwright deserves any form of death, but preferably by poison. The Second Woman explains that she, a widow with five children, supported herself by selling religious chaplets until Euripides convinced spectators of his plays that there are no gods. Mnesilochus, unable to restrain himself upon hearing his son-in-law so defamed, agrees that Euripides indeed committed two or three such indiscretions, but he urges the women to consider all their horrendous faults that Euripides has not attacked. Mnesilochus then proceeds to present a detailed catalog of feminine failings.

The outraged women turn upon Mnesilochus in furious wrath, but before the face-slapping leads to hair-pulling Clisthenes arrives with the warning that a man disguised as a woman is in their midst. Unmasked, the desperate Mnesilochus seizes what he thinks is a woman’s child and threatens to slit its throat if he is not allowed to go free. The “child,” however, turns out to be a wineskin and the enraged women begin to gather faggots in order to roast Mnesilochus alive.

Euripides, summoned by messages scratched on wooden idols that Mnesilochus throws out of the temple, enters, declaiming Menelaus’s lines from his play Helen (412 b.c.e.; Helen, 1782). Mnesilochus responds with Helen’s lines, but before a rescue can be effected a magistrate accompanied by a hefty Scythian archer arrives and Euripides flees. The magistrate, after ordering Mnesilochus to be lashed to a post, leaves him under the guard of the Scythian. As the women begin their ceremonies, Euripides, playing Echo of his drama on Perseus and Andromeda, begins to echo Mnesilochus’s laments as he enters the temple in the dress of Perseus. The illiterate Scythian, however, refuses to believe that old Mnesilochus is really Andromeda, as Euripides insists.

During the ceremonies the guard falls asleep. Euripides proceeds to disguise himself as a procuress. He then offers the women a proposal of peace: If they will release his father-in-law, he will no longer insult them in his plays. The women agree, but there remains the Scythian to be outwitted. Still disguised as a procuress, Euripides offers the Scythian a good time with the little flute girl whom the barbarian eagerly purchases. While the two are away, Euripides releases his father-in-law and they both escape. His lust satisfied, the Scythian returns to find his prisoner gone; the obliging Thesmophoriazusae send him off in hot pursuit—in the wrong direction.

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