Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
One of the shorter plays, Lysistrata appears to have been produced at the Lenaia, with no surviving indication of its achievement. The most outrageously notorious scenes in all drama could only have been staged in the Greek theater, with its base in the phallic-oriented festivals of the city-state cult.
The play also is famous for the role given to women, particularly noteworthy since there is no evidence for women attending Athenian theater, and since it entailed the somewhat comic difficulty of having men, already in their phallic-oriented costumes, play the roles of the women. Yet that same year, 411 b.c.e., Aristophanes appears to have submitted for the City Dionysia the Thesmophoriazousai (Thesmophoriazusae, 1837), another play with women as principal characters, and he returned to this theme several other times in subsequent plays.
The prologue (lines 1-253) introduces Lysistrata, an Athenian woman who seeks to achieve peace from prolonged warfare among the city-states, which the men have been unable or unwilling to accomplish. Her idea is to withhold all sexual relations from husbands or lovers until they agree to peace terms. In the opening scene, she must first persuade diverse women, some of whose discourse provides marvelous examples of what else women of the time had within their duties, as well as upon their minds. The scene closes with the women convinced. In agreement,...
(The entire section is 675 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Second Peloponnesian War is in progress when Lysistrata summons women from Athens, Sparta, and all other Greek cities involved in the war. She wishes them to consider a plan she has carefully devised for ending hostilities between Athens and Sparta. The women arrive, curious about the purpose of the meeting. Because their husbands are all away at war, they are positively inclined toward any scheme that will bring the men back to them.
Lysistrata declares that the war will end immediately if all the Greek women refuse to have sex with their husbands until the fighting stops. Most of the women at first object strenuously, but Lampito, a Spartan woman, likes the idea. The others finally agree to try the plan, but they do so without enthusiasm. Over a bowl of Thracian wine, Lysistrata leads her companions in an oath binding them to charm their husbands and their lovers but not to have sex with them unless forced. Most of the women then return to their native lands to begin their lives of self-restraint. Lysistrata goes to the Acropolis, the citadel of Athens, for while the younger women have been meeting with Lysistrata, the older women have marched on the Acropolis and seized it. The old men of the city have laid wood around the base of the Acropolis and set fire to it with the intention of smoking the women out, in response to which the women, during a particularly heated exchange, throw water on the old men from their pots.
(The entire section is 853 words.)
The play opens with Lysistrata pacing back and forth as she waits for the other women to arrive. She is impatient and tells her neighbor, Calonice, that women have a reputation for sly trickery, but when they are needed for something important, they lie in bed instead of rushing to meet. Lysistrata tells her neighbor that the safety of all of Greece lies with the actions of the women of Greece. Soon, all the women arrive, and Lysistrata tells them of her plan to end the war between Athens and Sparta. But first the group enters into some ribald joking about their figures and about sex. Lysistrata asks the women if they would not rather their husbands were home instead of fighting elsewhere. When the women reply in the affirmative, Lysistrata relates a plan to have all the women deny their husbands and lovers their sexual favors until the men vow to stop fighting and end the war. The women are difficult to convince, but eventually they agree to the plan. Lysistrata also tells the women that if they are beaten, they may give in, since sex that results from violence will not please the men. Finally, all the women join Lysistrata in taking an oath to withhold sex from their mates.
With Lampito returning to Sparta to secure the agreement of the Spartan women, Lysistrata and the women who remain with her make plans to join the women who have seized the Acropolis and its treasury. Within moments, a group of old men arrive, planning to set the base of the...
(The entire section is 1000 words.)