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Lysistrata

Aristophanes

Myrrhine's Seduction–Play's End

Wool Metaphor–Myrrhine's Seduction

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Summary

The Koryphaios of Men comforts the distraught Kinesias, abandoned by Myrrhine. In agony, Kinesias departs. A Spartan Herald enters the stage and shrouds his own erect phallus with his cloak. The Herald asks for the Executive Board and tells the men he has brought some news. The Commissioner enters the stage and asks whether the Herald is carrying a concealed weapon (indicating the Herald's erection). The commissioner throws open the cape of the Herald and exposes the Herald in full. The Herald explains that things are very bad in Sparta and that the men are quite desperate for their women. The Commissioner tells the Herald to go to Sparta and request a Plenipotentiary Commission to conclude an armistice. The Herald departs.

The Koryphaios of Women tells the Koryphaios of Men that the two should no longer persist in their frivolous war of the sexes. Although the Koryphaios of Men cries out for misogyny, the Koryphaios of Women wins his favor by helping him put his tunic on once again. The Koryphaios of Women also helps the Koryphaios of Men take an insect out of his eye and the two make amends, sealed with a kiss from the Koryphaios of Women to the Koryphaios of Men. The Chorus of Old Men and the Chorus of Old Women also make amends and end their disputes. The two choruses unite and face the audience in song. The Spartan ambassadors, who enter from stage right, interrupt the singing. The ambassadors, like the Herald, also suffer from their erections. The Athenian delegation, also with erections, enters from the left led by Kinesias.

The gates of the Akropolis open and Lysistrata emerges with her handmaid Peace. Peace is a beautiful girl and is completely naked. Peace remains out of sight when Lysistrata first enters the scene. Lysistrata tells the men that they will come to an agreement soon enough and calls out Peace. The men stare at Peace who makes the men's stiffness all the more uncomfortable. Lysistrata directs the Athenians and the Spartans to places opposite each other. Lysistrata announces that she is a woman with wisdom and condemns the killing of Greek men and women. As Lysistrata's oration goes on, Kinesias comically remarks that he will be destroyed if "this is drawn out much longer" (alluding both to the "drawn out" nature of not only Lysistrata's speech, but also of his elongated phallus). Lysistrata continues and ignores Kinesias's complaint. Lysistrata reminds the men that the Spartans have asked for assistance from Athens and that Athens gave it. Lysistrata tells the men of Athens that they should remember when the Spartans saved Athens from the "pride of Thessaly." Lysistrata asks what keeps the men from peace and a Spartan replies that they would end the war if Sparta was given a strategic location. Pointing to Peace's buttocks, the Spartan tells Lysistrata that Sparta will take The Promontory of Pylos. Using the maid Peace as a map of Greece, Kinesias tells the Spartans that he wants certain portions of Greece and is given the land equivalent of Peace's legs or the "legs of Megara." (The legs of Megara are the walls that connected Megara with the seaport, Nisaia. The names of the towns desired by Kinesias are puns on the geography of the female body.)

With some urging from Lysistrata, both parties agree to a truce. The men take off their cloaks and again expose their throbbing phalluses. Lysistrata further instructs the men that they must convene with their councils and declare a union among allies; the delegations of men run off to follow her instructions in full.

The Chorus of Old Men and the Chorus of Old Women sing another verse and go to the door of the Akropolis. The Commissioner appears, slightly drunk and carries a torch. Time has apparently passed and the banquet between the Spartan and Athenian delegations has just finished. The Commissioner tells the chorus to get back from the doors. Kinesias, also drunk, comes out of the Akropolis and raves at the wonderful party between the Spartans and the Athenians. The Commissioner also adds his enthusiastic description of the party. The Spartans enter onto the stage through the door of the Akropolis, followed by all of the women. Lysistrata tells the men that they may take their women home and the men and women of the chorus join together in a joyous song. As the play concludes there is singing and dancing all around.

Analysis

Recognizing the performance practices of Ancient Greece is vital to an understanding of Aristophanes's real purpose in the writing of Lysistrata. The illusion and sexual tension of an original performance of Lysistrata would have been undoubtedly influenced by the fact that males played all of the female parts and that there was only an all-male audience to watch. With this in mind, it seems that one could view Lysistrata as a chauvinist piece, with men playing at their idealized woman. However there remain a few earnest arguments for empowering women in the play.

One such argument is that the shortage of men in Athens necessitated the empowerment of women. Indeed, in the play there seems an overabundance of women by comparison to the males. Lauren K. Taafee points out that the conditions of Athens in 412 and 411 BCE may have actually caused such an inequality. The Sicilian expedition killed many young and middle-aged men. The male population was actually reduced by one-third in 411. Thus, Lysistrata complains about a real problem facing Athens when she complains that there is a shortage of men because of the war. The shortage of men in the city may have given the impression that there were too many females in the city, possibly a threatening force for men and most likely a real influence on Aristophanes's imagination.

Another example of sympathy towards women is Lysistrata's argument with the Commissioner. In the debate between Lysistrata and the Commissioner, Lysistrata seems the more sensible of the two and it seems reasonable for her to complain that the Athenian men do not listen to their wives when they obviously should. Lysistrata herself commands respect throughout the play from both females and males. Lysistrata is called upon by the males to forge a truce between the two sides, a show that she has gained great support and respect from the males of both camps. Unlike the other women, Lysistrata makes humorous remarks that do not make her seem stupid or frivolous like the other women. Also in the battles between the choruses, the women come out on top (so to speak). The Chorus of Women defeats the men in wit and in strength. Aristophanes seems to argue that, while the women should remain in the home, women do have a lot to say. Aristophanes communicates this explicitly as Lysistrata argues that Athens should be treated and handled as a woman would work with wool.

Nonetheless, part of the joke on women, which may explain Lysistrata's own masculinity, is the fact that there are no real women on stage. Lysistrata is played by a man and her masculine proclivities become somewhat apparent in the wool scene because, for the first time, she describes what the men of Athens should do, rather than what the women of Athens should do. In this passage, as Lysistrata completely excludes women as part of the Athenian society, it is clear that Aristophanes means not to advocate actual political power for women. Although this is the first time that Lysistrata talks explicitly about what the men should do, the entire play is really about what the men will do—what they will do to get their wives back in bed. It is assumed that after the play the women go home and return to their domestic duties. Rather, as suggested by MacDowell, Aristophanes's main theme of Lysistrata is peace. MacDowell believes that women are not the theme of the play, but merely the crafty ones who figure out how to restore peace to Athens. The goal of the play is not to empower women, but to make Sparta and Athens sign a treaty.

The terms of peace are comical themselves, however, with the ease of agreement and allusions to the various part of a naked woman. Aristophanes could not hope that his proposals for peace would be taken seriously, but rather that his connections between the domestic and political spheres would be recognized. The relationship between Athens and Sparta is not unlike the relationship between the men and women of the play and the emotions and well being of the two couplings are inextricably linked and dependent on one another. By the rules of Lysistrata, a happy home means a happy country and a peaceful civilization.

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