Ruskie Froggies

Trotsky mused as he walked towards the Volga .The Ruskies always knew that the Styx was just a Greek myth, to get to the Russian Underworld , you had to cross the Volga. His butler , Xanthus walked behind him , rather annoyed at his master’s antics . Trotsky was wearing the guise of Peter the Great . Ever since Stalin had taken over , Karl Marx had been coming in his dreams and informed him that he needed to bring back a great Russian novelist from the underworld and only they could create a drama intense enough to dislodge the myth that was Stalin . He had just met his good friend Vladimir Lenin , who had suggested taking the route across the Volga. So the duo had been traveling for the last several days and now they would have to cross the Volga in a special boat at a special time . The boatman named Charon came in a silver boat right at the time of the Aurora Borealis , the sky lit up with shades of green, the frogs danced in anticipation croaking happily , a sign perhaps that they were in heat but Trotsky having read Aristophanes knew that the croaking of the Frogs


was a good sign.

Charon looked at Xanthas scornfully ,”No slaves are allowed here ” . Poor Xanthas looked disgustedly at Trotsky and started walking around to the nearest bridge. Charon looked gleefully at Trotsky and gave him the oar to row. Trotsky looked in horror while Charon sat down and pulled out his cuban, “So you believe in the working class , don’t you, now do some real work , row us across” . A disgruntled Trotsky protested but the whip came out and started singing , Trotsky started rowing to the rhythm of the whip cracking on his back.

Once they reached the underworld , Trotsky proudly proclaimed his achievements , creator of Trotskyism . Cerberus the three headed dog came rushing out , promptly ran Trotsky screaming for Plutus  who disturbed by the screams came out and recognized Trotsky and stopped Cerberus.

Plutus listened to Trotsky and liked his idea of a debate between the great Russian novelists and promptly bought up Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky: What would Tolstoy know ? He is a rich count who worked with the high and mighty , me , I wrote notes from the underground in prison, I understand the common man

Tolstoy : I wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina after spending time in the army with regular soldiers , how would I not know the common man?

Dostovsky: You are a prude !! you damaged women’s psyche permanently by writing Anna Karenina . You have done Women’s lib a great disservice .  A woman who strays from home loses her son and ends up killing herself ignominiously. When was the last time that a man’s transgressions were punished?

Tolstoy : You are a pervert . You had no trouble showing father and son sharing the same woman , Fyodor and Dmitry Karamazov lusting after Grushenka. That is just disgusting. And Raskolnikov killing an old woman just because he wants to. Your characters are not creatures of the real world but ghastly caricatures

Dostovsky: Ovid tells us that clearly, that men would sleep with any woman who is not mother , sister or daughter so why are you so shocked? As for Raskolnikov , he foreshadows the darkness that lies within all of us .

Tolstoy: Your grand Inquisitor dialogue with Ivan reeks of heresy and raises questions that are dangerous for stable society.

Dostoevsky: Oh you mean , one should have nice happy endings like War and Peace . You glorify War in 200+ pages in War and Peace

Tolstoy: It is to give people a good idea of the uselessness of war.

Trotsky: Bravo , Bravo (turning to Plutus) , I think I am going to take Count Tolstoy back with me . He is not an anarchist , nor does he raise uncomfortable questions like Fyodor here .

Plutus : I agree!!!

Trotsky came back to the wrong side of the river looking at the white bearded Tolstoy proudly as he came to the Volga waiting for Charon , the boatman. Hopefully there is still hope for Russia


This is inspired(copied) by The Frogs by Aristophanes  . I have obviously taken heavy liberties with both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, in the same vein as Aristophanes did with Euripides and Aeschylus .

Waspy Juries

Long long ago , once upon a time  …. there was no cable TV. I know , I know , the horror is hard to imagine .  I wish I could tell you that these were the days of lore when dinosaurs and mammoths walked the earth but alas , it was a mere 20 odd years ago . In India , we had the the state run broadcasting corporation called Doordarshan (translated in English, door(far) darshan (viewing) which is incidentally the same as tele {far (Gr)} vision {see(L)} or as the Germans under Hitler ( and till date) call it as Fernseher ) . BTW they did not pick tele(Gr)vision(L); 2 different languages to torture us , tele{far (Gr)}scope {see(Gr)} had already been usurped in the  16th century. So most of us who were not very imaginative had to make do with either books or watch whatever was broadcast . I ended up watching a Hindi movie that showed 12 men locked up in a room , deciding the fate of a young accused . I loved the movie though in those days , it would have been a ‘art’ movie which meant that it did not bear the Bollywood stamp of approval , today we would call it an independent movie . However in those days , the adjective ‘art’ being attached to the movie was more pejorative in sense that it was understood that it would not draw crowds and be a commercial failure, it would be far too realistic for the tastes of the audience that sought an escape from the mundane realities of everyday life.And one might rightfully argue that the vast majority of Bollywood’s output should not be considered art. Regardless of any of this , the movie was wonderful and it kept me riveted when I was a mere stripling of a teenager . It would well over a decade later that I saw 12 Angry men and realized that the original Hindi movie that I had seen was an excellent adaptation for the Indian masses( though India does not have the jury system 🙂 ). I loved 12 Angry men and all the social and psychological drama behind it. Having lived for the last 18 years in the US and seeing several friends getting called to be jurors and seeing most of them dreading the whole exercise , I am not particularly enthusiastic about it but I know it is my civic duty and if called upon , I will do it but I am about as enthusiastic about it as I am  visiting my dentist.

Coming from such a background , I could not relate to the Wasps at all. The story is about a son Bdelycleon (hates Cleon(Gr)) who is trying to prevent his father Philocleon (loves Cleon(Gr)) from being a juror. As usual exaggerations abound with Aristophanes and it shows the son placing the father under house arrest and the father trying to escape from the chimney or chew his way through a net and other ridiculous contraptions which are solely to make us laugh. So why is this dude so crazy about being a juror? In the play you find out that there are perks , the juror wields enormous powers over the accused  including sentencing (they sting like wasps), due process was not followed closely , there were handsome rewards including easy money and young girls so older men were especially susceptible .A learned man informed me further that in the days just after the disastrous Sicilian expedition (more on that when I read Thucydides or Herodotus) they would abandon their lands and their normal duties so they could hang around the courthouse hoping to be called up as a juror . Cleon was an Athenian that supposedly is the man responsible for setting up this system so even the names are parodies . Cleon would also reward these jurors so they could pass judgement his way when needed , so it made for an extremely corrupt system.  Halfway through the play, we have Bdelycleon agreeing to setup a mock trial to convince his father of the foolishness  …

Details of the trial :

The jury – Philocleon

The accused : A dog!!!

The plaintiff : Another dog

The crime : Eaten some fine Sicilian cheese !!!

When Philocleon complains that he has no bar , Bdelycleon runs in and brings a stool and calls it a bar , replaces urns with pots .  The whole exercise again reminded me of a Hindi movie “Shatranj ke Khiladi”(Chess Players) directed by the greatest of India’s directors Satyajit Ray and written by the greatest of the Hindi novelists , Premchand . The main protagonists are two chess players who are obsessed with the game , to the peril of everything else including their marriages and their fiefdoms . At one point, one of the wives hides all the chess pieces and the players after chaffing for a while decide to play the game using vegetables and condiments to the chagrin of the wife .This situation in the Wasps reminded me of that exact scene from the movie , exacerbating the humor of the situation.

The verdict : a resounding guilty after the accused belches and Philocleon smells an odor of cheese but Bdelycleon convinces him otherwise and he ends up acquitting upon which he suffers pangs of regret.

It is a funny play with some brilliant humor and dialogue but seems hopelessly irrelevant and antiquated unlike most of his other plays  but I can see that it gives us a very close look at the judicial system and the political climate in Athens at the time.


Interpreting Antigone

Benjamin Franklin had a falling out with his only son during the Revolutionary war and he cut off all ties because his son was a loyalist and Franklin believed that family ties should usurp any artificial ties of state or king , a theme that would have sounded musical to Antigone.

This is the last part of the Theban tragedy / trilogy and the story of Oedipus . I finished 3 Shakespearean tragedies this year  , King Lear , Othello and Macbeth and while it was enthralling , they do not move one nearly as much as each of the Oedipal plays. Perhaps it is the element of helplessness that Sophocles portrays , man is a pawn in the games of the gods . There is interesting quote on those lines in King Lear

As flies to wanton boys,are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport

Chronologically this play follows “Seven against Thebes” which in turn has followed “Oedipus at Kolonus” where we see Oedipus cursing Polynices that he would slay his brother and be slain in his hand .

We find out from Antigone and Ismene that Polynieces and Eteoclyes, the sons of Oedipus have killed each in battle fulfilling their father’s cruel prophecy. Creon the new king of Thebes has decreed honors for Eteoclyes since he defended the city but declares that Polynices was a traitor and his body be deprived of burial and anyone who dares to do otherwise will be put to death.Antigone is clear that she has a higher duty to the gods and her promise to her dead brother who has entreated her on their last meeting to bury him. She has to bury her brother even if that means her death. Ismene tries to talk her out of it, she starts off stating their helplessness and then tries to convince Antigone of her civil duties(obeying the laws of the land) and then finally she brings up her gender , stating that women do not fight men and finally that it is the highest wrong to chase what is impossible.

We watch Creon justify his edict that the traitors not be honored even though Polynices is his nephew . He has put his family ties aside for the sake of the state and decrees that Polynices be punished by denying him last rites.

True to her word , Antigone buries her brother’s dead body and performs last rites secretly. When Creon finds out he berates money as being the root of all evil to sprout from human soil (human invention) and accuses his watchmen of taking bribes. It is interesting that the thought that he is dealing with somebody who is fighting for her beliefs never crosses his mind. So Creon digs up the body again and this time sets a trap . Antigone is caught and sentenced to death and this is where we start with the drama.

Creon gives him a speech to his son Haemon (betrothed to Antigone) about the importance of family versus the woman who comes by marriage (so past family vs future family) . But Haemon admonishes his father and also reminds him that the City of Thebes is also against him. Creon seems to have lost sight somewhere that as a ruler, he has to bow to the wishes of his subjects from time to time,especially in religious matters. Creon sentences Antigone to be buried alive in some desolate wilderness.

Antigone states that she would only do this for a brother, not for her children, not for her husband because she would have no more brothers with both Oedipus and Jocasta dead but husband and children can be replaced. So would Antigone have not gone with this terrible ordeal if she had another brother I.e Eteocycles had lived ? and what does that say for her earlier arguments of family vs state.

Thereafter the prophet Tiresias ( does he never die ) shows up and tells Creon that if he does not bury the body and let the girl go free, Creon will pay a price of blood. Interesting just like Oedipus in “Oedipus Tyrannos” , Creon refuses to believe him at first but soon his mind full of dread (and helpfully goaded by the chorus), Creon decides to bury the body and free Antigone but he is too late, Antigone has hung herself and his son commits suicide after an unsuccessful sword lunge at Creon. After hearing of her son’s death, Eurydice, wife of Creon kills herself after cursing Creon. My emotions at this point did a 180 degree turn , I had despised Creon until this point and suddenly my heart bleeds for the man . Talk about a raw f***ing deal and merely because he was trying to do something right by the state i.e punish a traitor.

I kept wondering about the family vs state argument . My favorite actor , growing up was the Bollywood hero , Amitabh Bachchan , and I have probably watched every single movie that he ever acted in until the late 90s.  Early in his career , he acted in two movies ,several years apart where he plays characters that end up on the wrong side of the law and in the first movie , he is killed by his brother who is a police officer and in the second movie , he is killed again by a police officer ,this time around; his own father . The two police officers are doing their duty and both movies tout that dedication to their duty ( and to society as a whole) is absolutely well and beyond the call of  family .Obviously both the movies have an underlying theme that is the complete antithesis of Antigone . Personally the cynical side of me believes that when playwrights decide to write about inspiring stories , they write about themes that are missing in their society , so Indian playwrights write about incorruptible police officers , ancient Greek playwrights write about family values instead of seducing young boys and Black Southern writers write about a society where the color of your skin is a irrelevant factor  but that is a topic for another day.


The chorus seems to have very active role through the play whether it is stopping Creon from killing Ismene or later praising Antigone and reminding her that she will have much glory, not wasted by old age and disease or maimed by a sword  when she is weeping at her fate , being unwedded and going to her death.

Antigone raises many questions but I could not help but wonder if she is the first emancipator of women , the first truly strong woman who was willing to take on an entire state for her beliefs and indeed the first truly strong individual willing to take up an non violent stance against the state and willing to give up her life for her beliefs.

Though the argument of family vs state is something that will keep us wondering forever, Sophocles has many  useful messages including “There is nothing more dangerous than rash judgment” or as Sophocles puts it “It is deadly for bad judgement to embrace a man”

Infernal dreams

I was in a shadowed forest and as I am trying to find my way , I keep seeing this Victoria Secrets model blocking my way but she keeps disappearing when I try to get close  , a proud New York banker who keeps chasing me wanting to invest with him and a creature that looks like Caligula , Hitler and Stalin had a love child. Fortunately a man dressed in 13th century Italian garb approached me and said in a thick Italian accent “Escuzze me , come with me if you want to live?” . I was grateful to find another normal human being even if he spoke like “The Terminator” or had time traveled 7 centuries or come back from a Halloween party. He proceeded ” My name is Dante Alighieri and I am hier to show you the errors of your ways” . I was dumb struck , “Dante ?? like the dude who wrote the Divine Comedy ? ” Dante looked askance at me and his eyes lit up as he replied “Commedia , si si”. Authority has a powerful effect on me so it never occurred to me to ask him as to what he meant by error of my ways and just followed him like a love struck puppy. And of course I was glad to be rid of the freaks!!

We proceeded through  and I see a inscription on the gate “Abandon all hope , all who enter here” . I wonder if I was entering Hotel California , I don’t particularly like The Eagles , listening to their songs and entering their world would be fitting punishment for me. But it was not to be so , instead it was a cacophony mingled with screams and I was informed that these were people who were defeated by their pain , these were the folks who refused to make choices , be original in their thoughts , were cowardly in their ways , in short were never alive . Beyond them lay a great river , and a boat came to the shore with a horrible old man who glared at us with glowing embers for eyes . He looked as though was probably expecting coins but Dante whispered to him and he promptly took us across . This was the boatman , Charon who ferries the dead in Greek mythology, looks like he has been repurposed here.

Dante informed me that this was the first circle of hell or Limbo (not to be confused with the Limbo of Inception)  and lo and behold we find Homer , Euclid , Aristotle , Plato , Xeno , Virgil (who gives a knowing nod to Dante) and hordes of other philosophers and great men including Einstein ,  Feynman , Bohr , Chandrashekhar  were discussing Unified Field theories and Freud , who looked at me closely and diagnosed me with a horde of psychological issues at a glance . Dante informed me that this was Limbo and this is where all who had not been baptized end up .This is where all the Buddhists , Hindus , Muslims , Jews , Parsis end up . I wonder if Protestants end up here as well!! More importantly is this where I go ??? but Dante moves on before I can pose that question

We entered the second circle and this is where the Lustful are imprisoned , I happened to see some very eminent  politicians (no surprise there!!!), judges  , actors , artists ,war heroes and surprise , surprise , several popes and other religious leaders. Some of them tried to approach me to tell their story but Dante seemed disinterested so I followed him onwards to the third circle

It is freezing cold and being battered with cold heavy rain and I see with great astonishment ,a three headed dog snarling , could it be Cerberus , the guardian of Greek hell?? Has he been reassigned to this hell? or did Herakles bring him here.But my ADD comes to my rescue and  I start looking at the people here , mostly obese and still stuffing their face . I did not need to be told that was where the gluttons were being sent . I wonder if I can back off and head back but Dante is relentless

As I enter the next circle (4th in case you are not counting) , I see multitudes pushing weights with their chests complaining about hoarding and squandering . Personally I am confused , I see a binary world , either one hoards or one squanders . Is that not true for all of us , are all of us destined to this useless task ? Dante seemed to read my thoughts as he proceeded to enlighten me that it was hoarding of material wealth and the incessant squandering of wealth and time that bought upon this wretched condition . I wondered if this was a good time to mention that the Bhagwad Gita mentions the same thing.  “Let us move to greater sorrows” says my guide and I reluctantly follow to the next circle.

This time around we have to cross a river , strangely the name of the river is Styx, the same name that separates the underworld from Earth . The color of the stream is a deep purple and I see faces around me , angry , sullen , various states of apoplexy , glaring at me , I suppose that if looks could kill , I would be turning in my grave or more accurately might be in the first circle.  I am guessing this is where one comes in when one is overcome with wrath. I see the city of Dis with its great Citadels and fires which imparts a reddish glow to all around . Dante hurries through , this time I am more than eager to follow him and get out of this hell and onto the next circle.

To my horror , I find Epicurus in this circle. Though most of us  believe that he started the belief that we have one life so we might as well enjoy it to the fullest. The emphasis was placed on pleasures of the mind rather than on physical pleasures.But today Epicurean means indulging  of the physical senses  rather than what he advocated. I look around , everybody is enclosed in burning sepulchers . Dante looks at me knowingly and states that this is where heretics are sent. I suppose this is where I will end up if I don’t end up in the first. Dante goes on “As they thought it was so important to live in the present , God has denied  them knowledge of the present . They are acutely aware of the past and they can see the future but have no awareness of the present” . I was silent , it is a horribly contrived and grotesque punishment .

Dante is in contemplation as we go to the next circle and then he looks me in the eye and says “These are crimes against God. The violent take this circle, violence against others in the first ring , violence against self in the second ring and violence against god in the third ring. Frauds are lower , suffering more” . I see a Minotaur and several centaurs guarding Hitler , Stalin , Attila , Henry VIII , Julius Caesar , Caligula in a river of boiling blood in the first ring. I see Ajax the great, Sylvia Plath and some  I know in the second ring transformed into strange trees .

A hideous creature with the body of a snake and the tail of a scorpion comes down and we ride that creature  to the next circle . It had 8 pouches  . I recognized Casanova and the Marquis De Sade in the first pouch , I don’t recognize people in the following pouches  but I see to my horror , a Pope that Dante tells me is Pope Nicholas III . I see astrologers , diviners  , tarot card readers , I see Charles Ponzi, John Law . And then to my surprise and horror , I see Odysseus and Diomedes . Odysseus tells us that he ignored his duties towards his wife , his parents and his son in order to indulge his curiosity and that is what brought him here  . I listened , stunned . If Odysseus had not done what he did, we would never have the Odyssey. As I walk on , still puzzled , I encounter two Arabic looking men whom Dante introduces as  Mohammed and Ali. They are  wounded by a demon constantly. I have to wonder now , is this the coup de grace for Dante? As I proceed , I find chemists, Marie Curie , Pierre Curie , Fredric Joliot and Irene Joliot-Curie , I suppose they are the ones who did solve the mystery of the philosopher’s stone , transmuted one metal into another , the modern day chemists are the equivalent of the ancient alchemists.

Moving on , I see a frozen river and finally catching the glimpse of a horrible creature that Dante introduces as Satan , the emperor of Pain . The face is grotesque and I see claws , big claws ….

I woke up with a start as my cat sank his claws into my lap .The TV was playing the movie ‘Seven’ starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman and I see a copy of Dante’s Inferno , the first installment of the Divine Comedy, open face down my lap.  What a horrid dream!!!







Riding the Great Allegheny Passage


For several years , my friends and I do a annual long distance bike ride . The whole process was started by Mike and he has christened this ride as the Bear Paw Soap Company (my that’s good soap TM) . This year we decided to do the 147th 8th Annual bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington DC . Happily the two cities are connected completely by bike trails , a rarity by any standards.

Pittsburgh is connected to Cumberland by the Great Allegheny passage and it is 150 miles of gravel /crushed limestone .  I prefer wider knobby tires on trails like these

We started early and headed out to Pittsburgh where Mike’s brother had left us a bike for me to ride . Then we headed to West Newton where I drove off while the other 3 rode . West Newton has a great bike shop and a restaurant and a CVS in case you decide to do some last minute shopping .

We planned to meet in Connellsville. As I reached Connelsville , I found out that today was the historical re enactment of Gen Braddock’s crossing of the Youghigheny river.  Before the colonies were free , General Braddock was summoned from England to help in the French- Indian wars. The campaign ended in a disaster with General Braddock ending up mortally wounded.


After everybody showed up , we decided to go check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater which is in a town called Ohiopyle also on the trail but it was 20 miles away from Connelsville. We needed to be there by 2:00 PM because they close at 4:00 PM and it takes an hour for the tour of the house, so we ended up driving to the place.

He designed the building so that the waterfall would go through the house , just mind boggling . One of my favorite books “The Fountainhead” written by Ayn Rand,  had  the lead character, Howard Roark  supposedly based on Frank Lloyd Wright . I personally dislike Ayn Rand intensely and more so for her bigoted views but the book delivered an unmistakable message to me when I was all of 16 years old and something that I strive to , even now . Shakespeare puts it more eloquently “This above all: to thine own self be true”. Her message in the book was simple , that one must be original in their thinking. If you happen to be in Ohiopyle and not had enough of Frank Lloyd Wright , you can also go check out Kentuck Knob. Also Ohiopyle is a fair sized town to do any shopping / eating if you need to . I have managed to make some friends in Ohiopyle who inform me that they have some white water rafting tours . They drive you to a point upstream and let you loose and then drive down to meet you downstream after you have had your fill of white water .

But moving on , my friends were done and I had not ridden any yet so I decided to ride the 12 miles from Ohiopyle to Confluence by myself .

At Ohiopyle in the Youghiogheny river , I see people playing water volleyball

So I start riding and this is what the trail looks like for the most part

but since we were riding alongside the Youghiogheny and then the Casselman , it is punctuated by scenes like these


I saw this owl just chilling . Unusual to catch an own during the day .

I noticed a board which proudly declared that the Casselman river was  healthy  enough that fish , worms , insects and snakes were coming back so the Pennysylvania game commision had  re introduced the  American river otter into the Casselman after 75 years and the otters were thriving . I was gladdened to see that . I reached Confluence in less than an hour and we ended up staying at the Rivers edge cafe . It is a small cafe right on the rivers edge and one can hear the river bubbling by at night , it is a soothing rhythm that I could probably listen to and never get bored. Rivers edge cafe is a delightful place for dinner as well .

We had a sumptuous breakfast at the Sisters Cafe early morning and and got an early start on the ride and our first big sight was the Pinkerton tunnel

Bridge before Pinkerton


After that we stopped briefly in Rockport , PA where you see this beautiful bicycle sculpture. The smoke rings are bicycle wheels . There is also a bike shop nearby and a bed and breakfast which serves lunch.

Our next sight of wonder was the Salisbury Viaduct, an engineering marvel by any standards . The viaduct now runs across rail lines , a river , a freeway and fields and it is 2/5  of a mile long and 101 feet tall


Our next stop was Meyersdale , for shopping for biking merchandise and for lunch

For some reason  , this church caught my eye . In California , the churches tend to be oriented towards the Spanish Mission style so the Gothic architecture is a pleasant change.

Our next sight to see was the Eastern Continental divide . This is the dividing line for water going to the Chesapeake or  to the Gulf of Mexico

This picture gives us a good idea of the elevation involved.

continental divide

The next sight after the continental divide is the Big Savage Tunnel . Scary movie makers , take notice!!!  here are two dark dungeony tunnels , the Pinkerton and the Big Savage Tunnel,  that hare brained cyclists routinely enter without lights  , I see a wealth of opportunities for Slasher flicks .

But just outside the tunnel is this

Tim tried to fly here (or fall off the cliff )


It was barely  5 miles before we ended up hitting the Mason-Dixon line


and a super inquisitive deer that would not take its eyes off us

From here Cumberland was a mere trifle away (it is all downhill )and there ends our sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage.

The Great Allegheny passage is a wonderful bike trail with a wealth of sights to see including wildlife and landscapes , experience riding on an viaduct , alongside rivers and in at least two dark and scary tunnels . It is generously dotted with bicycle shops , places to eat and stay . If you are a bike aficionado , obviously add it to your bucket list

Don’t forget to collect your certificate



To check out the remainder of the trip on the C&O , go here


Lysistrata : Hello there , I am sure you have heard of me , haven’t you ?

Curious Reader : Not really , who are you?

Lysistrata : (disgusted) You moderns are such blockheads  . I am the heroine of one of the most notorious plays penned by Aristophanes.

CR: Why is it notorious?

Lysistrata : For its blatant sexuality of course .

CR: An ancient Greek porno!!

Lysistrata : Of course not!! You idiot!!  It depicts how women could have singlehandedly stopped the peloponnesian war and saved Greece from the men .Women have far greater capabilities than  given credit for

CR: Sounds like the start of Womens Lib

L: I wish I had my pestle that I could pound you with. I am at least 2300 years old and you best be giving me some respect.

CR: So what did you do?

L: We told our husbands that until the wars were resolved , we would exercise ‘Total abstinence from sex’. We informed the Spartan women accordingly and they agreed as well

CR: (aghast) , you did what!!!

L: Well it was just foolish, men have far greater responsibilities than leaving their families and country behind to go fight some silly wars

CR: (still aghast) , you goddamn hippie!!! And all the women agreed to this

L : Harummph Hippies indeed .The women were extremely unwilling at first but I got them to swear an oath that we would create desire in their husbands but abstain from sex , they managed to stick it out, though I did get some creative excuses like one woman wanted to get some flax , another miraculously got pregnant overnight and she wanted to go home to deliver .

CR: How does one get pregnant overnight?  divine intervention?

L: Hardly, she found herself a helmet and stuck it on her belly to look pregnant

CR: Why ?

L: Women want the family life as much as men do , nobody enjoys celibacy, not even the monks who practice it

CR: So what happened next?

L: The men tried their best to persuade us with their various juvenile tactics , including trying to smoke us out , sending commissioners of the peace etc

CR: And?

L: Nothing , we did not budge!!

CR : The men did not try to force themselves on you

L: I had told them to resist . Besides men dont like these forced affairs, A married man wants harmony, cooperation not rape

CR:I suppose, what happened next?

L: Eventually the Spartans and the Athenians made their peace

CR: Just like that??

L: Well it was preceded by many many days of painful tumescence for both the Athenian and the Spartan men.

CR: sounds like  ‘Make love not war’  another hippie theme

L: Hardly , we experienced the original horrors of war and would have been the first to experience that which is why Lysistrata is so relevant even today . And morever all is well that ends well . We had a great big dance at the end .

CR : A dance ? I would have expected a orgy

L: Well they do say that dancing is the vertical expression of horizontal intention but as open minded as the Greeks were , an orgy is absolutely out of the question . Orgies were invented by the barbaric Romans. But a little plug from a 2300 year old woman to all women , “My sisters , read Lysistrata and see how I bought two empires to their knees .And you will also see that only a woman could have done that ” .  Now a little plug for my male readers  , “My brothers , read and be warned”.

From a modern highfalutin  Lysistrata reader : While the play is funny and it has an excellent premise and a noteworthy goal, I was quite mortified to read about the sexual humor . Where is the need to show the enormous phallus es of the various male characters ?  Or the need for the Athenian women to fondle the breasts of the Spartan women and comment as to their lusciousness?  or admire their smooth behinds . It was funny but not so great that I would bother to read it again

From a normal modern day Lysistrata reader : The play was extremely funny with enormous phallus’s and oodles of sexual humor . It was extremely funny when the Athenian women decided to go feel up the Spartan women and admire their well endowed assets . Though I would not bother to read it again


For the Birds

The plot starts off with two Athenians, Euelpides and Pisthetairos who are disenchanted with the current conditions in Athens and have decided that they need to start a new utopia which will satisfy all their needs . To fulfill the above  requirement, they decide to go find cloudcuckooland aka Bird Utopia run by the Hoopoe . To find this place, an enterprising individual sells them a magpie and a crow which will act as a guide to the cloudcuckooland. The hoopoe turns out to be a charlatan who is happily willing to dupe them. This story has an charming premise , our perennial disenchantment with the human condition  , the desire to further our lot and the power of invention that is our greatest achievement. While Euelpides and Pisthetarious are guilty of the previously mentioned traits , they are also gullible and extremely lazy which makes them extremely ripe targets for the Hoopoe who goes on to tell them that the sky is the abode of the Birds and they are even superior to the gods and our two Athenians can even communicate with them because he has taught the birds to speak Greek. It is followed by a charade of more humans dressed as birds , one comes as a Flamingo , another as a bird in a Persian attire who is described as a Bedouin bird (one of the Athenians wonders aloud as to how the Bedouin bird made it here without a camel bird) .It is followed by a hysterical chorus listing the advantages of feathers including one where we are informed that feathers are a big advantage for one that is having an affair with a married woman, if one spots the husband out and about , he can just fly in for a quickie with the winsome wife . The praise of the birds gets more amusing and exaggerated . Eventually a goddess , Iris comes with a message from Zeus demanding a sacrifice but she is dispatched rather rudely , followed by a round of self praise and applause . A chance comic meeting with Prometheus follows that the gods are starving because there has been no sacrifices made to the gods and Prometheus advises on the terms of peace which would be marrying Ms Universe who holds the keys to the universe . I thought that Ms Universe was Hera but apparently it is not and we are left in the dark as to the true identity of Ms Universe but it is made clear that Zeus cherishes her more than Hera , his own wife and sister. Eventually the gods sue for peace and Poseidon himself comes down along with Herakles . There is more comic relief  where they discuss the illegitimacy of Herakles and his inability to inherit anything from Zeus with Herakles finally capitulating the wily arguments of Pisthetairos .

The play is rife with raunchy sexual innuendos and Aristophanes is not shy at all from using the vilest toilet humor to get his audience to laugh . When I was searching for images , almost all the images that I found had giant phalluses including the picture of the mug that I ended up choosing. Any actual photos of the play perfomed in modern times were similar. In my opinion the play is hysterical as it is and probably does not need the crude sexual humor but I suppose that the sexual humor makes the play more down to earth ,without it, the play needs the audience to make an effort to understand the humor but sexual humor needs no explanation or effort to understand

Why is this reading this play even important ? it starts off with that most familiar of desires , the desire to better our lot , that is the primary motivating driver in the play .It also depicts a freedom in society where nothing is sacred , they could poke fun at the gods and laugh at their foibles (quite a departure from today when we can’t even make fun of our political gods!!! authors can be sentenced to death or excommunicated if they write what is considered blasphemous , think Salman Rushdie or Nikos Kazantzakis). Another parallel that I saw with the play and modern times was the formation of cults .  Cloudcuckooland is probably the ultimate utopian dream and cult rolled into one .

Aristophanes is a excellent judge of human character and he takes us on a merry ride where he shows the innocent  Athenians slowly turn into  rascals , a delightful play  heavily laced with toilet and sexual humor .

Cloudy clouds

When I was a kid , I read about Socrates being executed by the city of Athens by drinking a cup of hemlock. Over the years , the reasons came out , or more precisely , the reason ; the sole reason for this travesty was that he was corrupting the youth of Athens . I also knew that the wealthy Plato was one of his proteges who was so turned off by the city’s decision to kill the noted philosopher that he became a philosopher himself . Though I have never read Plato except for bits and pieces , I was convinced that the people of Athens had no business killing Socrates for being a harbinger of change whose sole purpose was to oust corruption from the city.

When I was looking for various ideas for the order of reading the Greek Classics , I found it ironical that many of them suggest reading Plato before reading Aristophanes.That reason was evident after I read Clouds  . Clouds is about Socrates and the philosophical sophistry that he is espousing . The whole play starts with the main character(STREPSIADES) in debt and his belief that his debts could be written off if he argues well and convinces his debtors to forgive his debts . After approaching Socrates in his Thinkery (who deftly deprives him of his cloak which then is secretly sold by his disciples for their meals) , he realizes that he is too old and ignorant and his wastrel son must be the one to learn and redeem his debts. After suitable indoctrination , the son has become a sophist and does indeed scare the debtors away with highfalutin speech and threats , eventually the son does the same for his father and the father is seen running away from his son after having been beaten by him .I imagine that this play is probably the source of the insult “head in the clouds” before the modern day deplorable change to “head up their ass”.

The works of Homer , Sophocles , Aeschylus are rich with mythology and with characters who lived in the past . Aristophanes deals with what he considers to be a problem with a contemporary, Socrates . This genre is a quantum leap in writing , one is not merely writing about something that happened in the past but creating a new imaginary world , also passing  commentary on social issues and a past master at putting words in people’s mouth. I would have no trouble calling Aristophanes the father of Blogging , dramatists, debaters  and caricaturists.

Whether Socrates is guilty of the accusations and whether Aristophanes has passed a valid judgement is something each one of us has to decide but the play is an exceptional original. The play was so powerful that after it screened ,the city fathers of Athens decided that Socrates was a real threat to the city and had him condemned to death. Socrates , a wise man , for his part  , actually attended the play and stood up at the end so that audiences could make a comparison between the man and his caricature.

Until I read the clouds , I often imagined that most of the Greek plays could be easily portrayed in modern day plays and theaters . But I realized after reading , that Aristophanes more than anybody else could easily be translated into modern day plays  and his ideas and sense of humor are remarkably modern and relevant today . There are certain comical interludes where Socrates declares that Zeus is dead and the convection principle (whatever that is) is the order of the day . I see such nonsense in Stock broker lingo even today .  Years ago , I had met a young Indian student at an small airport in the Midwest and we started chatting and I found that he was studying Financial Engineering (Why does one need to engineer Finances?)  and more grilling got me past the financial jargon and into the world of Molecular physics , he informed me that one of the models that they used for predicting growth was Brownian motion . Brownian motion is the motion of the molecules in a fluid. I was suitably baffled and dumbfounded . The world of finance , dark and mysterious got more random and mysterious . As I lived through crashes and recessions , I have come to the conclusion that Wall Street (and every one of its equivalents around the world) is full of charlatans who are experts are peddling the latest confusing jargon (Momentum investing (borrowing from physics), Derivatives(Calculus) etc etc) and rip people off their hard earned money .

Reading Aristophanes is a true delight for all adults  . Where as most other playwrights could be easily depicted for children , Aristophanes has no doubts about who his true audience is and I cannot recommend it enough for one and all .