Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Athens. Capital and city-state of the peninsula of Attica, a province of east central Greece. Firmly established as a cultural, political, and commercial center by 429 b.c.e., Athens became an imperialistic empire and naval power. In 431 b.c.e. it began its war with Sparta, the powerful city-state of southern Greece’s Peloponnesian Peninsula. Aristophanes depicts Athens at a time when it was suffering naval and military disasters and undergoing chaotic political and social conditions, which he uses to give Athenian women a motivation for striking. It is significant that the play’s women consist of the strong and weak-willed, suggestive of the city’s fickle population. Their strike ends the war. (The historical Athens surrendered in 404 b.c.e. and lost its empire and military power.)
*Acropolis. Citadel and highest point in Athens, and the place containing the city’s treasury and the Parthenon, a temple significantly holding a statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, arts, and the preserver of the state. On the Acropolis Lysistrata has the women seize the treasury that finances Athens’s war. They are aided by Athenian old women and repel an attacking group of Athenian old men and male officials trying to oust them. Suffering the effects of sexual abstinence, warriors throughout Greece come to the Acropolis, where they agree to make peace on the women’s terms, and reunite with them for a...
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The Peloponnesian War was in its twentieth year when Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata. Athens and Sparta had been long-standing enemies, but they had finally negotiated an uneasy peace in 445 B.C. When Athens wanted to extend its empire, the uneasy peace was broken, and war erupted. When the war began in 431 B.C., Greece was not a country as we know it today. Instead it was a collection of small, rival city-states, located both on the mainland and on the surrounding islands. The war began after Sparta demanded certain concessions of Athens, and the Athenian leader Pericles convinced the Athenians to refuse, and instead, go to war. There was a short truce after ten years of fighting, when it appeared that the war was deadlocked between the two city-states; but soon the war resumed. Initially Athens seemed to be winning; in spite of having lost many people to the plague, they were winning some battles and appeared to be stronger than their enemy, Sparta. Sparta even suggested peace, which Athens rejected. But soon, the war changed, with Sparta in the stronger position. Athens had a stronger navy than Sparta, and the Athenian forces commanded the seas, but when the battle shifted, Sparta emerged as the stronger force. A major shift in the war occurred when Athens attempted to invade Sicily. This unsuccessful attack led to serious losses at land and at sea. These losses made Athens more vulnerable to Sparta’s land forces, which had always been stronger than those...
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The people for whom a drama is performed. Authors usually write with an audience in mind. Aristophanes writes for an audience interested in drama as entertainment, but this is also an audience that would expect the playwright to include important lessons about life. In this case, the lesson is about an effective society and government that allows a war to continue after so many years. This comedy uses satire and humor to suggest to the audience that the men in power have not been effective in dealing with the war.
A person in a dramatic work. The actions of each character are what constitute the story. Character can also include the idea of a particular individual’s morality. Characters can range from simple stereotypical figures to more complex multifaceted ones. Characters may also be defined by personality traits, such as the rogue or the damsel in distress. Characterization is the process of creating a lifelike person from an author’s imagination. To accomplish this the author provides the character with personality traits that help define who he will be and how he will behave in a given situation. As is usually the case in Greek drama, the character’s names in Lysistrata suggest their function. Lysistrata’s name means ‘‘she who disbands the army.’’
In ancient Greek drama, a chorus consisted of a group of actors who interpreted and...
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Compare and Contrast
c. 411 B.C.: The democracy of Athens is overthrown by extremists, who are in open negotiation with Sparta. These extremists are soon overthrown, and the Athenian navy defeats the Spartan navy a few months later.
Today: Greece is a united country at this time, with no city-state attempting to seize control over the country.
c. 411 B.C.: The war between Sparta and Athens has continued for twenty years. The Peloponnesian War will end in 404 B.C., with Athens’ defeat.
Today: Greece, which has been dominated by military coups and turmoil with neighboring Turkey since the end of World War II, is no longer considered a dominant military force.
c. 411 B.C.: In 429 B.C., a plague killed one third, and perhaps as many as two thirds of the population of Athens. Because of this plague, many Athenians ceased to believe in their gods, and much of the population fell into drunkenness, gluttony, and licentiousness. The effect of this change can be seen in the drama, Lysistrata, in which there is little mention of the gods-as there had been in many earlier Greek dramas.
Today: Medicine has helped to identify the cause of disease, and most modern populations no longer blame the gods for the plague. But occasionally, as was the case with the initial discovery of AIDS, a segment of the population will attribute the victims’ disease to a punishment of god and a judgment on...
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Topics for Further Study
How does the comedy in Lysistrata differ from the comedy of one of William Shakespeare’s comedies, such as Taming of the Shrew?
Consider the ways in which Lysistrata attacks Athenian society and discuss the effectiveness of ridicule and irony in changing political decisions. Would such satire be effective in attacking politicians today? Or do modern politicians simply ignore satire?
How are the men’s attitudes toward women depicted in this play, and how do the women respond to the men’s attack? Who do you think demonstrates the stronger position?
Research the war between Sparta and Athens. Does Aristophanes’ attack on Athenian society reflect the uselessness of this war? That is, is the playwright correct in having Lysistrata point out that both Sparta and Athens would be better off uniting to fight a common enemy?
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There are no filmed adaptations of this play. However, Lysistrata, was adapted as an opera in 1963–1967, to be performed by the Wayne State University opera workshop. There is a 90-minute cassette of the music available from Greenwich Publishers in Saskatchewan, Canada.
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What Do I Read Next?
Thesmophoriazusae, also by Aristophanes, was produced in 411 B.C. Like Lysistrata, this play also depicts women as an important force in society.
Peace, also by Aristophanes (421 B.C.), addresses the problem of war, with a stronger presence by the gods of Mt. Olympus.
Four Plays by Aristophanes: The Clouds, The Birds, Lysistrata, The Frogs, is a compilation of four of Aristophanes' plays. This New American Library paperback (1984) is an easy and inexpensive way to become acquainted with this author.
The Penn Greek Drama Series, Aristophanes, 2: Wasps, Lysistrata, Frogs, The Sexual Congress, (1999) provides a scholarly translation of four of Aristophanes' plays.
William Shakespeare's, The Taming of the Shrew (1592), offers a romantic examination at the war between men and women.
Menander, a later Greek playwright, also wrote comedy, including, Samia (c. 300 B.C.), a romantic comedy about confused identities. Menander represents the new Comedy, but only fragments of his plays are available.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Aristophanes, Lysistrata, edited by Jeffrey Henderson, The Focus Classical Library, 1992.
Arkins, Brian, ‘‘Sexuality in Fifth-Century Athens,’’ in Classics Ireland, University College, 1994.
Barnes, Clive, compilation of reviews of the 1930 production of Lysistrata, in New York Times Directory of the Theatre, Arno Press, 1973.
Coleman, Robert, review of Lysistrata, in Daily Mirror, November 25, 1959.
McCain, John, review of Lysistrata, in Journal American, November, 15, 1959.
Motto, Anna Lydia, and John R. Clark, ‘‘Lysistrata: Overview,’’ in Reference Guide to World Literature, 2nd ed., edited by Lesley Henderson, St. James Press, 1995.
Tyrrell, William Blake, and Larry J. Bennett, ‘‘Pericles' Muting of Women's Voices in Thuc. 2.45.2,’’ paper delivered at the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference, 1999.
Woolf, Virginia, ‘‘A Room of One's Own: Shakespeare's Sister,’’ in The Lexington Reader, D.C. Heath & Co., 1987, pp. 50-60, originally published in 1929.
Bowie, A. M., Aristophanes: Myth, Ritual, and Comedy, Cambridge University Press, 1996. This book uses the techniques of cultural anthropology to compare Aristophanes' plays with Greek myths and rituals. This book also attempts to reconstruct the probable...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bowie, A. M. Aristophanes: Myth, Ritual, and Comedy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. An interesting structural anthropological approach that places Aristoph-anes’ plays in their contemporary context. The analysis of Lysistrata includes a discussion of earlier myths and rituals that demonstrate feminist power.
Dover, K. J. Aristophanic Comedy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. A tribute to Artistophanes’ plays in their cultural context by a distinguished classical Greek scholar. A separate chapter on Lysistrata provides a synopsis and examines the lyrics and characters. Also includes a discussion of war and incorporates useful notes on transliteration.
Reckford, Kenneth J. Aristophanes’ Old-and-New Comedy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Six essays on interpreting Aristophanes. The author, who views Lysistrata as living theater, offers unusual staging possibilities and discusses the play within the context of loyalty to comic truths, ritual, and sexual equality. Lengthy bibliography included.
Solomos, Alexis. The Living Aristophanes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1974. The author, the director who first staged all of Aristophanes’ plays at the classic theater at Epidaurus, discusses...
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