V – Lysistrata: How a War can End

As of this post, EVE has been locked in the longest continuous large war in its history.  In fact, it has been locked in the longest continuous large war in its history for over half a year now, that’s how long this war has been.  Many players, who likely for some time have been scanning the horizon for an end to the war, are now beginning to grumble publicly—to predict, in hopeful or despairing terms, not a victory for their side, per se, but an actual cessation of conflict, a resumption of normalcy, however that might happen.  This is culturally notable in EVE: unlike wars in real life, players often enjoy slaughter on massive scales, to such an extent that if the Somme were fought in New Eden, it would be heralded as one of the greatest accomplishments of EVE’s single-shard design.  War fatigue has always been the most potent tool in an EVE strategist’s toolkit, as ultimately players do not have to log in; yet at the same time, peace-fatigue can be just as demoralizing.  These pressures have prompted the largest coalition in EVE’s history to announce, yesterday, that win or lose, the war will be over in six weeks.  No one knows if the current war is in fact boiling over, or has already boiled away.  But I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about one of my all-time favorite texts, a brilliantly funny and lastingly incisive comedy by Aristophanes, in which the Athenian poet imagines an end to Greece’s own sort of hell-war: Lysistrata.

In 411 BCE, the Greek world was gripped by war.  Indeed, like New Eden, they were usually gripped by some sort of war, and in fact this war, the Peloponnesian, was the fallout of the great Persian war a generation earlier, forever immortalized in 300 memes (and, to a lesser extent, Herodotus).  In the Persian War, the entirety of mainland Greece banded together to fight the invading “Persian Donut,”[1] a force comprised of the largest land empire in the world.  The mainland Greeks were huge underdogs, and after watching their farms, allies, and floodplains steadily rolled over, they finally won a decisive victory and were able to escape subjugation.  This left two blocs in the Greek world: led respectively by Athens and by Sparta.  After a few decades of abundance, war between them was inevitable. 

By 411, the Peloponnesian War had already been underway for twenty years, and Athens, after a disastrous defeat in Sicily, was on the ropes.  Athens would fight on until 404, but at this time, just as in EVE’s nullblocs now, war-weary eyes were already beginning to search for peace.  It was in this (grossly simplified) setting that Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata.

Now, to be fair, EVE’s current war and the Peloponnesian war don’t map perfectly onto each other.  In the latter, neither side was clearly attacking or defending for the entire time, neither side was massively outnumbered, Athenian shitposting was so vastly superior that, indeed, I’m writing about one today.  A better, but still not perfect, comparison would be to the Persian War decades earlier, when a numerically overwhelming force fought an entirely offensive campaign against the smaller.  But in even that war, there would be subtle elements to break the parallel: the Thracians, for example, the ancient world’s equivalent of Legacy Coalition (due to their constant infighting and reputation for cannibalism[2]) were subjugated by the larger Persian Bloc, not leading it.  No, I’m not here to talk about the actual history of the great wars of the 5th Century.  Others can do that much better[3].  Aristophanes’ play, after all, imagines a fictional end to the war.

Instead, I’m here to talk about cocks.

That’s right.  Cocks.  Peos, the Greek four-letter word that no housewife with a shred of respect would be caught dead with on her tongue.[4]  As Lysistrata’s eponymous heroine suggests, cocks get us into wars, but they can also get us out;[5] and while the play’s “main theme is peace,”[6] I don’t think this blog would be complete if I followed Lysistrata’s own advice, “leaving the penis alone.”[7]

Yes, the plot of Lysistrata is as simple as it is cutting: wives on both sides of the conflict, weary of war and their husbands being away, organize possibly the first pan-Hellenic Feminist movement[8], a sex-strike, in order to get their men to quit fighting.  They swear an oath not to perform the duties of wives, including sex and other household maintenance, and occupy the Athenian Akropolis, where the war funds are kept, so the men also cannot finance their fighting.  Lysistrata suggests “If we sat around at home all made up, and walked past them wearing only our see-through underwear and with our pubes plucked in a neat triangle,” but refuse their husbands’ attention, “they’d sue for peace, and pretty quick.”[9]  It works.

Like just about any Classical text, this play is a keyhole into a world so complex and alien that I’m not even really qualified to summarize it.  Some of the smartest people in the world spend their whole lives trying to understand what love means in a state of gender apartheid, or how the Ancient Athenians, to take just one sub-culture as an example, conceptualized the difference between homosexual and heterosexual partnerships, both of which were integral in their society.  Suffice it to say, for our purposes, that this was a pre-Christian society, existing in a world where sex and bodies were not stigmatized in the same ways they are now: the Romans had penis windchimes[10] and the Greek Satyr Plays used giant phalluses for prop comedy.  And yet, Ancient Athenian women existed in an entirely subjugated and almost separate, parallel society to men.  It was likely far more transgressive for Lysistrata to show women taking over the city than it was to show penises on-stage.

We’ll never fully grasp the infinitely nuanced humanity of the Ancients.  In a way, that’s a beautiful thing.  In two thousand more years, I don’t expect the residents of the tropical archipelago known as Colorado to understand the battle of M2-[11] either.

But the points of tension in Lysistrata are also present in our own lives.  We also live in a patriarchal society.  We are learning a new post-Christian impudence that one day might return to the sex-positivity of the Ancients.  Domestic partners, not just husbands and wives, have to navigate their gendered roles at home, their professional roles in society, and the tension between these.  Despite our best efforts, every EVE player still exists in this real world as well.

The most likely death-knell for any corporation in EVE is when the CEO is out “kissing girls” and doesn’t log on for a long time.  Lysistrata wouldn’t have been funny to the Ancients if there wasn’t some plausibility in it: even while fictional, the play shows us that love can end even the most brutal wars, with the highest stakes, in real life.  I have often thought before that it is game-breaking when a great conflict in EVE ends because a fleet commander or other leader has to step away from the game.  Why, I would wonder, would the capsuleer just suddenly abandon their ambitions, decide to stay docked in a station for months at a time, doing whatever they do in-world when we’re not playing them?  (Knowing how capsuleers are regarded in New Eden, I imagine this is something like the toys in Toy Story plus Silence of the Lambs.)  But now I imagine it’s quite possible that the capsuleer reached the same fate as their player, led from the clutches of agonistic contest into the pursuit of see-through underwear.  Our societies today are far more similar to those of New Eden than to 5th Century Greece; if Lysistrata rings true for us, it probably would for our characters as well.  This goes beyond sex.

The women of Lysistrata also seize the Akropolis, where Athens’ war-funds are stored, so that no men can continue to finance the war effort.  As the leader of the women’s chorus puts it, “you miserable geezers … have squandered your paternal inheritance, won in the Persian Wars … we’re all headed for bankruptcy on account of you!”[12]  To anyone who’s had their credit card seized so they stop subbing more Dread alts, I apologize if this quote elicits some painful memories.  It does also draw out an interesting wrinkle in our modern gender relations, and the profoundly male-dominated world of EVE: a common saying in hype-pings ahead of a major battle in EVE is “Give your wife the credit card.”  This is often stated just so explicitly, and the joke is that if you send your wife shopping, she’ll let you play EVE all day; the implications are that the one playing EVE is a man, makes more money than his wife, and moreover that women are so shallow they can be bought off.  Even if the first two assumptions are true in some cases, Lysistrata tells us maybe your wife is sick of her good Milesian dildo[13] and just wants some of you!  And regarding those assumptions themselves, the play actually begins by placing in tension the frivolous spending of a housewife, Kalonike,[14] just to show them overturned by a desire on a surface level for her husband’s love, but on deeper levels, for female solidarity, and for peace.  While we no longer live in a state of gender apartheid, do fight most of our wars online, and like to sneer at the Ancients for what we deem primitive gender relations, perhaps the EVE Skymarshal pinging for you to give your wife the credit card ahead of a major op shows us we still have a ways to go. 

We don’t know how EVE’s greatest war will end.  In reality, the Peloponnesian War did not end the way Aristophanes imagines, but in Athens’ utter defeat, permanent loss of influence in the Ancient world.  It does seem that the stakes of EVE’s war, at least in-world, are just as existential.  It only lends further realism, further weight, to that war, that the pressures on which Lysistrata’s comedy turn also exist in the lives of players: finances, male pride, and time away from loved ones.  Though our capsuleers cannot die, many EVE players have been removed from battle just as permanently as if by a spear-thrust by these forces.  Some have been removed almost as permanently by the thrust of a toe.[15]

Likewise, the message of Aristophanes’ comic vision is clear: love conquers war, but wars, not in opposition to but in concert with love, can also bring people together.  EVE’s wars should be especially so.  Assuming Mittani’s toe recovers swiftly, and no one gets SWATed again, no one will actually die in the prosecution of this war.  But if we are to believe in the reality of New Eden, we also must believe that the casualties of boredom, of distraction, and of burnout—losses to New Eden every bit as permanent as a death—are real.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  This is, after all, a videogame, and on average probably only the second most important thing in players’ lives.  And indeed, even the capacity for the universe to be so deeply shaped by the presence of war or the presence of peace is unique to EVE.  Yet we should learn from Lysistrata that what we love in-game is the same as out-of-game.  It is who we love, and how we spend our time with them.

Works Cited

Aristophanes, and Jeffrey Henderson.  Three Plays by Aristophanes: Staging Women.  Routledge, 2010. 

Foley, Helene P. “The ‘Female Intruder’ Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae.” Classical Philology, vol. 77, no. 1, 1982, pp. 1–21. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/269802. Accessed 25 July 2021.    

[1] Both an apocryphal epithet and what sounds like a delicious pastry, the “Persian Donut” is (not) referenced in fragments of the Boiotian shitposter Memeaides’ lyric verse.

[2] https://www.reddit.com/r/Eve/comments/mf5uw7/attn_legacy_members_with_assets_in_abandoned/

[3] My personal favorite is the amazing and very accessible history, Athens: A Portrait of the City in its Golden Age, by Christian Meier – though good translations of Thucydides and Herodotus can be really great too.

[4] Lysistrata endnote 49

[5] Lysistrata 141-144

[6] Introduction, pg. 36

[7] Lysistrata 767

[8] The Female Intruder Reconsidered, page 8

[9] Lysistrata 150-154

[10] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Lucky_flying_phallus.jpg

[11] https://www.eveonline.com/news/view/the-massacre-of-m2-xfe

[12] Lysistrata 654-657

[13] Unless the Milesians have revolted again… Lysistrata 110-113

[14] Lysistrata Prologue

[15] “Pando’s FC Chat” July 17, 2021, timestamp 3:20.  https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/pandos-fc-chat/hy-wanto-destroyer-the-mittani-DAIVP5oR0an/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: