Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 853
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 declares that the women have assumed all civil authority and will henceforth provide for the safety and welfare of Athens. The magistrate cannot believe his ears when he hears Lysistrata say that the women have grown impatient with the incompetence of their husbands in matters that concern the commonweal. For rebuking the women, the magistrate receives potfuls of water poured on his head. When the ineffectual old men declare that they will never submit, the women answer that the old men are worthless and that all they have been able to do is legislate the city into trouble.
Despite their brave talk and their bold plan, however, the women prove to be weak in the flesh, and disaffection thins their ranks. Some, caught as they are deserting, offer various excuses in the hope of getting away from the strictures imposed by Lysistrata’s oath. One woman simulates pregnancy by placing the sacred helmet of Athena under her robe. Some of the women claim to be frightened by the holy snakes and by the owls of the Acropolis. As a last desperate measure, Lysistrata resorts to a prophecy favorable to their project, and the women reluctantly return to their posts.
When the husband of Myrrhine, one of Lysistrata’s companions, returns from the war and seeks his wife, Lysistrata directs Myrrhine to be true to her oath. The husband, Cinesias, begs Myrrhine to come home, using various appeals, but without success. Although Myrrhine consents to his request for a moment of dalliance with her, she puts him off. At last, ignoring his pleas, she retires into the citadel.
A messenger arrives from Sparta, where Lampito and her cohorts have been successful; the messenger brings the news that the men of Sparta are prepared to sue for peace. As the magistrate arranges for a peace conference, the women look on the old men of Athens with restored kindness, which cools their ire.
On their arrival in Athens, the Spartan envoys are ready to agree to any terms because they are so desperate for the favors of their wives. Lysistrata rebukes the Spartans and the Athenians for warring with each other; they have, she declares, a common enemy in the barbarians, and they share many traditions. While she speaks, a nude maiden, representing the goddess of peace, is brought before the frustrated men. Lysistrata reminds the men of both countries that they had previously been allies, and she insists that war between the two is illogical. The men, their eyes devouring the nude maiden, agree with everything Lysistrata says, but when she asks for terms of agreement there is immediate contention, with each side asking for conditions unsatisfactory to the other.
The women, seeing that appeal to reason is futile, prepare a feast for the envoys and fill them with intoxicating liquors. Sated, and eager for further physical satisfaction, the men sign a peace agreement and leave hastily with their wives for their homes.