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Lysistrata

Aristophanes

Lysistrata's Appeal–Gates of the Akropolis

Beginning–Inspection of Spartan Women

Gates of the Akropolis–Wool Metaphor

Summary

The women gather around Lysistrata and ask her why she has brought them here. Lysistrata first asks the women if they would like to have their husbands safely restored to them from the war. Kleonike immediately tells Lysistrata that she would like to have her husband home for he has apparently been gone for the last five months. Myrrhine and Lampito agree that they too miss their husbands. Myrrhine complains that since the Milesians revolted she hasn't even been able to buy a masturbation tool from the open market and is desperate for sex. With such apparent enthusiasm, Lysistrata asks if she can then have the support of the women to end the war. Lampito, Myrrhine and Kleonike all brag of the great feats they would accomplish just to end the fighting, but when Lysistrata finally tells them that she means to end the war through the evocation of chastity, the three women refuse and cry out, "On with the War!" Kleonike, Myrrhine and Lampito tell Lysistrata that they would be willing to do anything but give up sex to end the war, and even offer to walk through fire. Lysistrata is outraged at her peers and tells the women that they are the stuff of heroic songs about women—that the women are playing out their stereotypical sex-driven roles.

After more rousing, the women finally agree to Lysistrata's plan. Lysistrata explains that the women should powder, primp and make themselves look as attractive as possible so that the men will want them desperately. She says the women will refuse sex with the men until a treaty for peace between Athens and Sparta has been signed. Lysistrata also tells the women that the Akropolis, including the temple of Athena, will be seized by women later in the day to prevent the Athenians from using the money from the treasury for the war. Lysistrata calls a policewoman over and tells her to turn over her shield so that the women can sacrifice a sheep on it and swear an oath that they will follow Lysistrata's directions and make peace in Greece. Kleonike tells Lysistrata that the women cannot make an oath of peace on a shield and suggests that they might slaughter a jar of Thasian wine instead.

Lysistrata agrees and the women bring in an enormous jug of Thasian wine. As if it were an animal for sacrifice, the women remark that the color of the wine is a beautiful shade of blood. Lysistrata prays over the wine and then elects Kleonike to take the oath on behalf of the rest of the women. Lysistrata recites an oath of chastity and each line is repeated by Kleonike. After the oath is recited, the women drink the wine.

As the women pass the cup, loud sounds are heard from offstage. Lysistrata informs the women that the sounds they hear are the women taking the Akropolis and announces that the citadel of Athena is theirs. Lysistrata and Kleonike hurry off to help the women at the Akropolis. Meanwhile, the Chorus of Old Men is led in from stage Left. This group of rather aged and decrepit old men carries wood and earthen pots of fire to smoke the women out of the Akropolis. The Koryphaios of Men encourages the men to keep going. Swifty, a leader one of the groups of men, struggles to sing a song to set the pace of the group. The First Semichorus of men joins Swifty in song and adds his own laments of the pains of Matriarchy. The Second Semichorus also joins the singing and tells the story of Kleomenes, the Spartan, who briefly occupied the Akropolis in 508 BCE.

As the men progress towards the Akropolis they blow on their earthen pots of fire, which give off great clouds of smoke right back into the men's faces. As the men work with their firepots at the gates of the Akropolis, the Chorus of Old Women, carrying pitchers of water and led by the Koryphaios of Women, approaches. The Chorus of Old Women is quite old like the men, but lively. The First Semichorus of Women urges the women ahead in song and is joined by the Second Semichorus of Women.

Analysis

There is a considerable inconsistency in Lysistrata that may possibly be the impetus for the two-plot structure employed by Aristophanes: men away from home would not be affected by a sex-strike staged by their wives. The women complain to Lysistrata that their husbands have been fighting away from home for years, but their wives refusing sex at home miraculously affect these same men. Thus, Aristophanes's fantastic tale is somewhat faulted and inconceivable in real life. As critics point out, even if the men were home for the sex-strike, they would have certainly made use of local prostitutes and other means of pleasuring themselves. Aristophanes ignores these issues in favor of comedy and the sight of men with enlarged and desperate phalluses at the conclusion of the play.

Therefore, perhaps for the sake of reality, Aristophanes devises a second plot for Lysistrata and the women—the seizure of the treasury. Lysistrata reasons that if the Athenians have no money they will not be able to continue the war. Lampito, the Spartan delegate, tells Lysistrata that the Athenians will not give up as long as there is "Abundant silvers stored up with the Goddess." The dual plot lines work well together—the young, attractive women stage the sex-strike and the older women take the treasury, but the divide between old and young women is quickly blurred. The distinct female characters introduced in the first moments of the play disappear into the crowd of women at the Akropolis. Douglas MacDowell suggests that Aristophanes may have not have enough actors available to keep the groups of old and young women distinct. And, of course, the distinctions are unimportant thematically. As MacDowell states, the point is that all Grecian women are opposing the men as a unified force. The plots, like the women, also become confused. Rather than the women going home to entice and seduce their husbands into maddening desire, the women stay and are held hostage at the Akropolis. In only one scene, between Myrrhine and her husband, does the audience witness any seduction between husband and wife; the grand sex-strike theme is never fully played out.

The Akropolis, by the time of Aristophanes, was not Athens's center of business or democracy. The Akropolis belonged to Athena and was primarily a religious place. The Akropolis was also Athens's treasury, placed under the protection of Athena. By taking the treasury, the women prevent the men from accessing public funds which are essential to the war effort—in all, a much more direct way to end the fighting. Although primarily religious, the Akropolis also stood for the democracy and government of Athens. The Chorus of Old Men, progressing up the hill, sings about Kleomenes who took the Akropolis. Kleomenes seized the Akropolis at least a century before Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, but this event was obviously a memorable and great event in the collective minds of the Athenian men. Kleomenes, like the women, threatened the government and democracy of Athens. As the men walk up the hill, the First Semichorus of Men remarks that a Matriarchy has taken hold.

The issue of the control of money is another source of tension between the sexes. Lysistrata clearly tells the Commissioner that the women will take care of the money just as they do the money at home. Aristophanes here implies that women have a sense of reason greater than their male counterparts.

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