ARISTOPHANES: Lysistrata

ARISTOPHANES: Lysistrata

• Lysistrata anxiously paces in front of her house. She laments that if she had invited women to a Bacchic reveling or feast of Pan, then they would have arrived immediately, but no woman has arrived at her house. Finally, Lysistrata’s friend Cleonice arrives.
• Cleonice asks Lysistrata why she summoned the women. Lysistrata informs her that she summoned them for “a big thing.” Cleonice inquires whether it is also a “thick thing,” suggesting a penis. Lysistra laments that the women would have already arrived if she had summoned them for that.
• Lysistra discloses that she formed a plan to save Greece from war.
• Another woman named Myrrhine enters the stage followed by several other women.
• A Spartan woman named Lampito enters followed by three women. Lysistrata marvels at Lampito’s strong body. Cleonice feels her breasts, and Lampito exclaims that Cleonice is feeling her as if she were a beast for sacrifice. Lampito introduces a Boeotian woman to Lysistrata. Lysistrata tells her that she is as blooming as a garden. Cleonice inspects under her garments and declares that her garden is thoroughly weeded.
• Lysistrata asks the crowd whether they would be willing to support Lysistrata if she has discovered a way to end the war. The women assert that they would do anything to end the war.
• Lysistrata inorms them that they must refrain from sex with the men. The women express their wish for the war to continue rather than refrain from sex.
• Lampito acknowledges that abstaining from sex will be tremendously difficult, but she agrees to support Lysistrata.
• Lysistrata then convinces the other women to abstain from sex. She persuades them that the men will soon give up the war if they refuse to have sex with them.
• The older women will seize the Acropolis where the men hoard their treasure.
• The women agree to swear an oath over a bowl of wine. Cleonice demands to “swear” first, as in drink first. The women all swear the oath to abstain from sex and drink the bowl of wine. A commotion is heard off stage. Lysistrata and the Athenian women will help the older women secure the Acropolis while Lampito and the Spartan women return home.
• A chorus of old men enters the stage and lament that the women have seized the acropolis. The men are carrying piles of sticks, and intend to burn down the Acropolis if the women do not allow them to enter. They begin to burn the wood too soon, and the smoke chokes them before they arrive at the Acoropolis.
• A chorus of women enters the stage with buckets of water. The choruses exchange insults and threats, and the women finally throw cold water onto the men. The old men shiver from the cold.
• A magistrate enters the stage. The Magistrate argues that men are to blame for the wantoness and dissolute character of women. In support of his claim, he adduces men who ask a cobbler to visit his wife to fix her sandal, and another man who asks a jewler to visit his wife to fix her jewelry. The magistrate requests a crowbar so that they may force the gates of the Acropolis open.
• Lysistrata exits the Acropolis and states that the women do not want to use bolts and bars, but rather common sense.
• The magistrate orders his officers to bind the hands of Lysistrata, but the women intimidate the officers, and cause the officers to defecate and flee the area.
• The women beat the remaining officers who retire in haste.
• The Magistrate asks the women why they seized the Acropolis. Lysistrata answers that they seized the Acropolis to seize the treasury – no more money, no more war. Lysistrata maintains that money is the cause of the war and all troubles.
• Lysistrata contends that women could more effectively manage the State’s affairs. Men incessantly desire to go to war. The women would manage the State as they manage yarn. They will wash the yarn to separate grease and filth; i.e. drive the bad citizens from the State. Then they will card all people who wish to enter the State and bring everyone to the same standard, everyone will be equal. Then as for the colonies, they will draw these separate threads and wind them together to make one strong thread.
• Lysistrata laments that women are only able to reproduce for a few years, and that the modern woman is wasting away because all of the men are at war. It is different for men because they can return from the war with grey hair and still find a wife, but women cannot.
• The chorus of men and women exchange verbal threats and insults again. Lysistrata renters the stage disconcerted. She tells the chorus of women that the women are deserting the Acropolis because they want to fornicate. She can no longer prevent them from lusting after men. Women try to escape the Acropolis, dissembling that they need to strip flax or spin wool at home. One woman hides a helmet under her dress and asserts that she is pregnant and must find a midwife immediately.
• Lysistrata exhorts the women to persevere in this endeavor. Their husbands surely are grieving worse than they. Lysistrata persuades the women to reenter the Acropolis.
• The chorus of old women and men exchange threats and insults again.
• Lysistrata espies a man running toward the Acropolis enflamed with desire. The man is Cinesias and is Myrrhine’s husband. Lysistrata commands Myrrhines to inflame and torture and torment him with seductions, caresses, and provocations, but never to consent to fornication.
• Cinesias enters the stage with an erection and asks Lysistrata to bring Myrrhine to him. Myrrhine appears on the battlements. Cinesias implores her to return home. Myrrhine declares that Cinesias does not want her and turns to enter the Acropolis. Cinesias exclaims in disbelief “not want you! Why, here I stand stiff with desire!” Then Cinesias tells her to come home for the sake of their child who has not been fed or washed in a week. Myrrhine comes down, caresses the infant, and forbids Cinesias to touch her. Cinesias begs her to return home. Myrrhine says that she will when a peace treaty is signed. Cinesias agrees and begs her to lie with him. Myrrhines exclaims “in front of the child?” Cinesias sends the child away. Myrrhine says that they must have a bed to lie on. She returnes to the Acropolis and brings a cot. Then she says they need a mattress. She brings a mattress. Then she says that they need a pillow. Then blankets. She asks him to get up so that she can put the blankets on the bed. He says that he is up, pointing to his penis. Then she says they need perfume. Then she says she needs to take off her slippers, but runs away.
• Cinesias laments the agony which he is experiencing.
• A Spartan herald enters the scene with an erection. The magistrate asks him whether he is a man or Priapus (god of fertility represented by a phallic symbol or man with an erection).
• The leader of the chorus of women cajoles the leader of the chorus of men, putting a blanket on him and removing a bug from his eye and giving him a kiss. The choruses reconcile and resolve never again to be enemies.
• The Spartan envoys arrive. Lysistrata enters the stage, and invokes the goddess Peace to appear. Peace appears in the form of a beautiful nude girl. Lysistrata first reproaches the Athenian and Spartan men for battling each other while the barbarians yonder threaten them.
• Throughout Lysistrata’s harangue, both envoys ogle Peace, and curse their erections.
• Lysistrata scolds the Spartans for forgetting how their ancestor Periclidas sat suppliant at Athenian altars and begged for an army of Athenians to assist him in battle against Meseenia. The Athenian provided an army, and Messenia was forced to retreat.
• Lysistrata then chastises Athenians for forgetting that the Spartans released them from the bondage of slavery by driving out the Thessalians.
• The Spartan and Athenian men agree to a peace treaty and Lysistrata and the women host a feast in the Acropolis for everyone.
• All exit singing and dancing.

“Sir, sir what good are words? they are of no avail with wild beasts of this sort.”

“Money is the cause of war and all our troubles.”

“Step aboard the boat; Charon is waiting for you, you’re keeping him from pushing off.”

Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata in 411 BC. The play’s purpose is chiefly to entertain and amuse audiences. Although the play is superficially a comedy, it also considers profound philosophical themes. Aristophanes explores gender roles, war, power and corruption throughout the play.

In ancient Greece, women were expected to remain at home and care for the household – cook meals, rear children, wash clothes, etc. In the play, Aristophanes demonstrates the capacity of women to more effectively rule the State than men. Aristophanes portrays men as ardent supporters of war and ruin. The women, on the other hand, are the ones responsible for ending the irrational violence.

But women are not immune from Aristophanes’ satire. He accuses both genders as possessing a crippling dependence upon sex. In the beginning of the play, Lysistrata laments that the women would have hastened to her house if she had invited them to an orgy instead of a solemn discussion relating to the war. In another instance, after seizing the Acropolis, some of the women attempt to sneak away unnoticed so that they can fornicate with their husbands. Men are equally impotent against the flame of lust. At the end of the play, most of the male citizens have an intense erection, and they are willing to do anything to come to terms of peace so that they can fornicate with their women.

The transposition of traditional gender roles also evinces ideas relating to power. Though the ancient Greek society is designated a patriarchy, women still possess power; and if that power is united under a common cause, then the women can overrule the sovereign sway of men. When I read this play, I was reminded of a passage written by Charles Darwin. Darwin examined a colony of ants consisting of a master race and a slave race. Some centuries ago, the master race conquered and enslaved the slave race. However, during the subsequent years, the master race of ants became dependent upon the slave race for food and transportation, to the extent that the master race lost the ability to feed themselves, and even the ability to walk unassisted by the slave race. In this type of society, the master race no longer holds power over the slaves. The question becomes: Why do the slaves continue to serve the masters? A plausible answer is that both the master and slave races have developed a dependency upon one another, just as men and women are dependent upon one another to satisfy their crippling desire for sex.

During one of the dialogues between Lysistrata and the magistrate, Lysistrata asserts that money is the cause of war and all our troubles. She declares that women can more effectively manage the State, and she asserts that if women were elected to govern the State’s affairs, then they would eventually “mix everyone together” in a box like yarn. In other words, the women would make everyone equal. Lysistrata’s proposed society is a revolutionary vision of the future in which women and men are regarded as equals in government.

Some of my favorite jokes from this play are the vulgar references to erections and defecation. I also enjoyed the interactions between the choruses of old men and women. The threats and insults hurled at one another were hilarious, especially “step aboard the boat, Charon is waiting for you, you’re keeping him from pushing off.”

Lysistrata

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7 thoughts on “ARISTOPHANES: Lysistrata”

  1. I’m a writer from Pennal, Great Britain just sent this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on this. And she in fact bought me lunch just because I stumbled upon it for her… lol. Actually, allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the food… But anyways, thanx for taking some time to write about this issue here on your blog.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I hope that my reflections upon the readings have been as interesting as the actual books.

      I hope that you will contribute some of your own thoughts about the readings – whether you agree or disagree with my interpretations. I am interested in reading other opinions about these thought-provoking texts.

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