(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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, they seize the Akropolis, site of Athena’s temple.

Aristophanes employs two half-choruses for this comedy, one of old men, the other of old women, to play off one another and as...

(The entire section is 675 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.

When a magistrate and his men attempt to break open a gate of the citadel, Lysistrata, who has taken command of the women, emerges and suggests that the magistrate use common sense. The indignant magistrate orders his Scythians to seize Lysistrata and bind her hands, but the Scythians advance reluctantly and are soundly trounced by the fierce women.

Asked why they have seized the Acropolis, the women reply that they have done so to possess the treasury. Now that they control the money, they believe that the war must soon end, since it takes money to wage war.

The pride of the old men is deeply wounded when Lysistrata...

(The entire section is 853 words.)