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Lysistrata

Aristophanes

Gates of the Akropolis–Wool Metaphor

Lysistrata's Appeal–Gates of the Akropolis

Wool Metaphor–Myrrhine's Seduction

Summary

The Chorus of Old Men makes its way toward the gates of the Akropolis. The males prepare their earthen pots of fire to smoke out the women who have already over-taken the Akropolis. The Chorus of Old Women, carrying water back to the Akropolis, meet the men at the gates. The Koryphaios of Women tells the men that the chorus only represents one percent of all the women in their force. The Koryphaios of Men assures his troops that a few jabs will certainly quiet the women, in the manner of Hipponax. The Koryphaios of Men reluctantly steps up to the Koryphaios of Women who has begun to advance on him. The Koryphaios of Women tells her enemy that she will castrate him, which apparently frightens the Koryphaios of Men, who retreats. The Koryphaios of Men quotes Euripides (evidently from a lost play) and states that there is no beast as shameful as a woman. The threats between the two sides escalate until the women empty their pitchers of water over the men, fully soaking them.

The Commissioner of Public Safety enters with a squad of police. The Commissioner has heard of the insurrection of the Akropolis, but does not yet know of the sex-strike. The Commissioner has come to the Akropolis to withdraw funds to equip Athens's naval fleet. The Commissioner, realizing that the Akropolis has been taken by women, concludes that the women must be involved in some kind of orgy or "spontaneous combustion of lust" and takes the opportunity to rant about women and the imminent moral chaos that they create. The Commissioner criticizes modern society and men who have allowed women to have such power. As the Commissioner and his police attempt to pry open the gates of the Akropolis, Lysistrata bursts through. The Commissioner orders four policemen to arrest Lysistrata and the women, but the men are overpowered by the women's threats comprised of a chamber pot, a lamp, a pair of tweezers, and finally an entire hoard of women brandishing pots and household articles. The policemen run and Lysistrata and The Commissioner are left to argue.

Lysistrata informs The Commissioner that she intends to keep the money in the treasury until Athens and Sparta declare peace. The women will budget the money for the city, just as the women budget their household accounts. Lysistrata tells the Commissioner that she will save Greece from itself. The women of Athens have tolerated and endured too many stupid actions of men and have now decided that they will not witness any more. The Commissioner is increasingly offended and threatened by Lysistrata's words. The Commissioner tells Lysistrata that he cannot listen to a woman who wears a veil, the obvious sign of women's inferiority. Lysistrata defiantly removes her veil and tells the Commissioner to be quiet. Lysistrata takes her veil and puts it around the Commissioner. Kleonike and Myrrhine enter and help to dress the Commissioner up as a woman with Lysistrata. Lysistrata shouts to the Chorus of Old Women, "Ye Women must Wive ye warre!"—a rewrite of Homer's text, "Ye Menne must see to Ye warre." (This passage from the Iliad means "What Athens needs is a Man," or, in the case of Lysistrata, "What Athens needs is a Woman.")

The Chorus of Old Women dances around the stage and sing a verse about their coming victory. Lysistrata imagines the states of Greece as a great piece of wool to be spun. Lysistrata tells the Commissioner that Hellas is in a nasty snarl and the women will be responsible for cleaning, scutching, pluching, combing and finally spinning the fibers into a bobbin of yarn to clothe the entire city of Athens, free of Bias or stitch. The Commissioner is not convinced of Lysistrata's weaving metaphor and exclaims that the women have not born any part of the war. This comment infuriates Lysistrata who tells the Commissioner that she has had to bear double the quota—she has given her son and her husband to the effort. Lysistrata winds a bobbin of thread around the Commissioner, Kleonike empties her chamber pot over him and Myrrhine breaks a lamp over the Commissioner's head. The Commissioner, defeated, finally staggers off.

Analysis

The humorous tone set by the rivalry between the two choruses, the dressing up of the Commissioner in women's clothes, and the defeat of the Officers with chamber pots fades into a serious debate about the politics of Athens between Lysistrata and the Commissioner. Lysistrata tells her captive audience member how Greece should be taken care of and repaired. The extended wool metaphor she employs describes Athens as a whole city, as a body of citizens. Lysistrata believes that the whole city must be cleaned and the burs, or bad men, and corruption should be removed. Lysistrata specifically mentions the "clots" or lumps of knots snarled together to "snag important posts." Aristophanes is here criticizing politicians in Athens who conspire to get each other elected. Politicians who combined to get each other elected threaten the democratic structure of Athens. Douglas M. MacDowell suggests that Aristophanes was here attacking men who might want to stage an oligarchic coup on the city. After the play was completed an oligarchic revolution did take place in Athens.

After threats of oligarchy have been removed, Lysistrata imagines that the good people of Athens should be gathered together in a basket. Lysistrata makes clear who she would accept into her city, including loyal "Resident Aliens, all Foreigners of proven and tested friendship, and any Disenfranchised Debtors." Resident aliens, or Metics, are non-citizens who have permission to permanently reside in Athens. Metics paid taxes, did military service and many Metic families lived in Athens for multiple generations. The "[f]oreigners of proven and tested friendship" are simply any resident alien who did not have permission to live in Athens, but who desired to do so and, lastly, the "Disenfranchised Debtors" were men who failed to make payment to the state. Any man who failed to pay money to the government was disenfranchised and forfeited his rights as a citizen. The man would remain disenfranchised until he paid his debt. If the debt was still owed when the man died, it was passed on to his heir.

Lysistrata then urges the Commissioner to "cull the colonies settled by our own people" that she regards as nothing but scattered flocks. It has been suggested that Aristophanes didn't mean just colonial settlements, but all Ionian cities. Aristophanes probably didn't mean to give citizenship to all of these people, but rather to gather citizens loyal to Athens from around the Aegean region and along the coast of Asia Minor together in Athens. Lysistrata imagines this collection of people as a new, stronger Athenian civilization—a fine staple to be spun into a bobbin of yarn. Lysistrata describes enough yarn to "clothe the City of Athens"; in other words, Lysistrata means to create a state that will encompass and embrace the many people loyal to Athens.

Lysistrata excludes women from her idealized Athens—a considerable omission. This is the first time Lysistrata dictates what men should do and explicitly excludes women from the plan to change Athens. This passage is clearly the voice of Aristophanes coming through Lysistrata. As women were truly given no political power in Athens, it seems that this omission indicates that Aristophanes was making a viable, serious proposal to his audience, not one that they would disregard completely. This passage reduces and undercuts the women's seizure of the Akropolis as an anomalous and comedic event; although the women take real power in the course of Lysistrata, women are not included in Lysistrata's idealized vision of the city.

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