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Lysistrata

Aristophanes

Beginning–Inspection of Spartan Women

Character Analysis

Lysistrata's Appeal–Gates of the Akropolis

Summary

Lysistrata opens with the exposition of Lysistrata's plan to save and unite all of Greece. The scene opens with Lysistrata pacing back and forth in front of the Akropolis in Athens. The Propylaia, the gateway to the Akropolis is directly behind her in the background. Lysistrata impatiently waits for the women of Athens and Sparta to meet her and discuss the war. Lysistrata fumes that if she would have called an orgy in the name of Bacchos, a celebration of sex and drunkenness, the women would have been out in the streets with tambourines, implying that no woman requires encouragement for sex. Lysistrata's tirade is interrupted by Kleonike, her next-door neighbor. Kleonike is older than Lysistrata, but not quite old enough to be considered a matron. Lysistrata tells Kleonike that she is distraught that the women will not come to talk about war and that she is ashamed to be a woman because of it. Lysistrata can't understand why the women will put up with their husbands' insults and deceit. Kleonike assures Lysistrata that the women will come, but for the moment they are occupied with helping their husbands.

Lysistrata begins to outline to Kleonike her plan to save Greece. Lysistrata claims that all hope of ending the war lies with the women, a comment Kleonike finds rather surprising. Kleonike can't understand how the women of Greece could possibly help end the war. Kleonike informs Lysistrata that "Glamour" is the only talent women possess and that there is nothing for a woman to do besides sit looking beautiful for her husband wearing the best of negligees and slippers. Lysistrata believes that women's ability to attract and allure men, to look beautiful, sexy and well kept is exactly the key to ending the war. As Kleonike begins to get excited about Lysistrata's ideas, a group of women enter from stage right. Lysistrata tells Kleonike that these women are from the "outskirts" of town. The group is led by Myrrhine, a young matron. Another group of women also joins the group, led by Lampito, a burly Spartan woman. Lampito is joined by two women, Ismenia, a pretty Boitian girl and a massive Korinthian Girl with large buttocks. (In the Meridian Classic edition of Lysistrata, the Spartans speak with an American "mountain dialect" to convey the Athenian attitude toward Spartans as backward and imperfect civilization.) Lysistrata and the other women look over and dissect the physical characteristics of Lampito, Ismenia and the large Korinthian that would attract a male best. Kleonike admires Lampito's bosoms and Ismenia's well-groomed pubic area and Lysistrata points out the exceptionally large derrière of the Korinthian.

Analysis

The opening scene of Lysistrata enacts the stereotypical and traditional characterization of women in Greece and also distances Lysistrata from this clichéd, housewife character. The audience is met with a woman, Lysistrata, who is furious with the other women from her country because they have not come to discuss war with her. The discussion of war, obviously the domain of the male, is not something that females in Greece are accustomed to. Lysistrata admits that if she had called for an orgy or festival for the god Dionysis, the women would have filled the streets with tambourines in tow. The God mentioned by Lysistrata is Bacchus or Dionysis who is the god of wine. Bacchus often presided over festivities, drunkenness, plays and theatrical celebrations. The housebound woman that disgusts Lysistrata so, is exemplified and affirmed by her next-door neighbor, Kleonike. As Kleonike sympathetically explains to Lysistrata, most of the women are probably off waking the maids or tending to children. Lysistrata is not only angered because the women won't prioritize war and the peace of their country, but she is ashamed that the women won't stand up to the stereotypes and names that their husband's give them. Lysistrata tells Kleonike, "I'm positively ashamed to be a woman", and Kleonike proudly admits, "That's us!"

Ironically, even though she despises the labels men give to women, Lysistrata fits the stereotype of the devious woman. Lysistrata deviates from the Grecian male will to further the Peloponnesian War and, with the help of other women, essentially takes over Greece and ends the war. But even though Lysistrata deviates from the male urges, she does so in a masculine way, by exploiting women as sexual creatures. By requesting that the women use their attractiveness to make the males want them sexually, Lysistrata encourages the women to play to their stereotype and exploit the sexual, idealized female. Like a man, with her plan for a sex strike in mind, Lysistrata examines women for their sexual potential. When Lampito, Ismenia and the Korinthian Girl enter, Lysistrata scrutinizes the women's bodies, as a male would do. As Lysistrata and Kleonike look at Lampito, Lampito remarks that she feels like "a heifer come fair-time"; in other words, Lampito feels like a piece of meat. The women also remark on the curves and genitalia of Ismenia and are delighted at her hairless vulva (in accordance with Greek high-fashion) and are wowed by the monstrous buttocks of the Korinthian Girl—all features to which a male might be attracted.

Therefore, women not only begin to see each other with male desire, but they exploit their stereotypical, female identity as a source of power. In doing so, the women of Lysistrata not only play upon the male stereotype (that males cannot control their lust for women), but also simultaneously become more masculine themselves; Kleonike and Lysistrata look at the other women as sex objects. As a pimp-in-reverse, the women look to see how difficult it will be for a man to resist each woman. Lysistrata is ultimately the most masculine woman in the play. She, unlike the other females who attempt to escape the treasury to find their husbands, is able to fully ignore and reject her own attraction to males. In this way, Lysistrata stands outside of the action of the other females of the play and works hardest to reject the fragility and frivolity that characterizes the other women. Lysistrata's dual ability to reject her own sexuality while exploiting others enables her to create peace in Greece.

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