Lust in Homer's The Odyssey and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata
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 pigs—head, 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,...