Lysistrata

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Overview

Lysistrata is an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes. It was initially performed in Greece around 410 BC. The plot revolves around a young woman called Lysistrata and her mission to secure peace and end the Peloponnesian War by denying sex. The play starts off with Lysistrata persuading a group of women from different states to withhold sexual privileges.

 

Context & Author

Aristophanes (c. 446 – c. 386 BC), was one of the most well-acclaimed comic playwrights of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive to this day. These plays provide some of the most complete examples of the genre of Old Comedy.

"Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right. I shall not please, but I shall say what is right."

 

Characters

Lysistrata

Lysistrata is the main character in the play, a passionate woman who envisioned a world without war and sustainable peace within the Greek States. Lysistrata seems to not have any sexual desires, unlike the women from the other Greek States. In many ways, Lysistrata is portrayed similarly to a man rather than a woman, with strong ambitions and dreams. Lysistrata is the one who controls the other women and tells them what to do and how to act around their husbands. She ends up using the women just like men would, putting a great emphasis on the women’s power of seduction and sexuality.

 

The Chorus of Old Men 

A common trope of Greek tragedies is a chorus. In Lysistrata, the chorus of old men adds a comic function to the play due to the way the men are described. The men in the chorus are aging, lack energy, and yet they still have the firm faith that they are more influential than the women around them. But the women prove them wrong, and the men are overpowered by the significantly younger females.

 

The Chorus of Old Women

Complementing the Chorus of Old men is the Chorus of old women. While the men lack vitality and energy, the Chorus of Old Women is lively and stand up against the men to take control of the Acropolis.

 

Kleonike

Kleonike is one of Lysistrata's neighbors. She arrives first and plays an active role at the meeting organized by Lysistrata. She also is ashamed of the lateness of the other women. But this is hypocritical since they have had to travel for much longer than she has. Later Kleonike goes on to confront some of the other women and how they put up with their husbands' behavior.

 

Myrrhine

Myrrhine is a young dowager from the outskirts of town. She arrives early on in the first scene with another group of women. Lysistrata advises Myrrhine to seduce her husband but to not sleep with him when he comes to the Acropolis looking for his wife.

 

Lampito

Lampito is a Spartan woman and one of the earliest women to arrive. She arrives with two other women. Lampito is described by Lysistrata as "having a broad chest", and she suggests that Lampito will seduce men the best because of their physical appearance.

 

Ismenia

Ismenia is the 'wingman' of Lampito. She is described as being remarkably beautiful and seductive. Her character is not widely developed, and her most developed attribute seems to be her well-groomed pubic area.

 

The Unknown Korinthian

Lampito and Ismenia are followed by another woman, an unknown Korinthian. Just like in the other girl’s case, she is also gorgeous, voluptuous and with a large behind that Lysistrata is sure will draw many men.

 

Kinesias

One of the later characters is Kinesias, Myrrhine‘s husband. She comes to the Acropolis to beg his wife to go back home and perform her duties as a housewife. In an unsuccessful attempt to bring back his wife, he takes their child along.

 

The Commissioner

Old, formal and confrontational - the Commissioner appears in the play towards the middle, and he attempts to convince Lysistrata to give up her plan and let the women retreat to their husbands. The Commissioner is confrontational with Lysistrata, refusing to talk with her as an equal due to her veil. In a comic turn of events, the Chorus of women forced him to dress in female garb by the women in the Acropolis.

 

Acropolis - An acropolis was in ancient Greece a settlement, especially a citadel, built upon an area of elevated ground.
 
Bacchic Celebration - A bacchanalian party is a wild, wine-soaked, rowdy affair. Bacchanalian is used to describe any event that Bacchus would have enjoyed. (The god of wine)
 
Pan - is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds,
rustic music and impromptus, and companion of the nymphs.
 
Aphrodite - is an ancient Greek goddess associated with love, beauty, pleasure, passion, and procreation.
 
The Peloponnesians - The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus is a peninsula and the geographic region in southern Greece.
 
Zeus - is the god of the sky, lightning, and thunder in Ancient Greek religion
and myth, and the king of the gods on Mount Olympus.
 
Boeotians - Boeotia, sometimes alternatively Latinised as Boiotia, or Beotia
is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central
Greece.
 
Cimberic shifts - Unbelted and hung straight down from shoulders. Cimberic was meant to be named after the place.
 
Giant slippers - Broad and flat shoes
 
Paralia - Municipality in Greece
 
Salaminians - A native or inhabitant of ancient Salamis, Cyprus
 
Holy Twain - Demeter and Persephone
 
Trefoils - small European plant of the pea family, with yellow flowers and three-lobed clover-like leaves
 
Thracian Coast - is a geographical and historical region in Southeast Europe, now split among Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, which is bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east.
 
Pylos - Under Pelopponessian control
 
Milesians - a native or inhabitant of ancient Miletus
 
Mount Taygetum - The Taygetus, Taugetus, Taygetos or Taÿgetus is a mountain range in the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece. (2,344
Metres)
 
Aeschylus - was an ancient Greek tragedian. He is often described as the father of tragedy.
 
Thasos grapes - Grapes from Thassos, a Greek island, geographically part of the North Aegean Sea.
 
Lioness-on-a-cheesegrater - A mysterious sex position believed to be equivalent to the modern ‘doggy style’ position.
 

Opening Scene

SCENE: At first, in front of the houses of Lysistrata and Calonice, somewhere in Athens; later the background building will be reidentified as the west front of the Acropolis. It is the early morning.


LYSISTRATA: comes out of her house. She looks right and left, with increasing impatience, to see if anyone is coming.

LYSISTRATA [annoyed]: Just think if it had been a Bacchic celebration they'd been asked to attend - or something in honour of Pan or Aphrodite! You wouldn't have been able to move for all the tambourines. But as it is - not a woman here!

[CALONICE's door opens and she comes out to join LYSISTRATA.]

LYSISTRATA: No, here's my neighbour coming out, at any rate. Good morning, Calonice.


CALONICE: Same to you, Lysistrata. What's bothering you, dear? Don't screw up your face like that. Knitted brows really don't suit you. 

LYSISTRATA: Sorry, Calonice, but I'm furious. I'm really disappointed with womankind. All our husbands think we're such clever villains -

CALONICE: Well, aren't we?

LYSISTRATA: And now look - I've called a meeting to discuss a very major matter, and they're all still fast asleep!

CALONICE: Don't worry, darling, they'll come. It's not so easy for a wife to get out of the house, you know. They'll all be hanging around their husbands, waking up the servants, putting the baby to sleep or washing and feeding it...

LYSISTRATA: But dammit, there are more important things than that!

CALONICE: Tell me, Lysistrata dear, what is this thing that you've called us women together to talk about? Is it a big thing?

LYSISTRATA: A very big thing.

CALONICE: Big and meaty, you mean?

LYSISTRATA: Very big and very meaty.

CALONICE: Then why on earth aren't they here?

LYSISTRATA: That's not what I meant-otherwise they certainly would have arrived promptly! No, it's an idea that I've been thinking over and tossing about through many sleepless nights.

CALONICE: Something pretty flimsy, then, surely, if it's so easy to toss about?

LYSISTRATA: Flimsy? Why, Calonice, we women have the salvation of all Greece in our hands.

CALONICE: In our hands? Then Greece hasn't much hope!

LYSISTRATA: The whole future of the country: rests with us. Either the Peloponnesians are all going to be wiped out...

CALONICE: Good idea, by Zeus!

LYSISTRATA: and the Boeotians totally destroyed...

CALONICE: Not all of them, please! Do spare the eels.4

LYSISTRATA: - and Athens - well, I won't say it, but you know what it is that I'm not saying. But if all the women join together - not just us, but the Peloponnesians and Boeotians as well – then united we can save Greece.

CALONICE: But how can women achieve anything so grand or noble? What do we ever do but sit at home looking pretty, wearing saffron gowns and make-up and Cimberic shifts and giant slippers?"

LYSISTRATA: But don't you see, that's exactly what I mean to use to save Greece - those saffron gowns and scents and giant slippers and rouges and see-through shifts...

CALONICE: How are you going to do that?

LYSISTRATA: I am going to bring it about that no man, for at least a generation, will raise a spear against another.

CALONICE: I'm going to get a gown dyed saffron, by the Holy Twain!

LYSISTRATA: - nor take a shield in his hand –

CALONICE: I'll put on a see-through right away!

LYSISTRATA:- or even an icky little sword.

CALONICE: I'm going to buy a pair of giant slippers!

LYSISTRATA: Now do you think the women ought to have been here by now?

CALONICE: By Zeus, yes - they ought to have taken wing and flown here!

LYSISTRATA: No such luck, old girl; they are Athenian, after all, and can always be relied on to be late. We haven't even had anyone yet from the Paralia, or any of the Salaminians.

CALONICE: Well, I'm sure they'll have been riding over since the early hours!

LYSISTRATA: And the ones I was most expecting and counting on being here first - the Acharnians' - they haven't come either.

CALONICE: Well, I'm sure that Theogenes' wife at least will have been putting on all sail to get here.10 [Pointing offstage But look, here come some of them now.

LYSISTRATA [looking in the opposite direction]: Yes, and here are some more.

MYRRHINE and several other women arrive, some from the left, others from the right. CALONICE recoils from one group as if from a loathsome smell.

CALONICE: Uggh, where are this lot from?

LYSISTRATA: Stinking Trefoils.

CALONICE: That's why I thought I'd bumped into one!

MYRRHINE [who has taken a little time to get her breath back] We're not late, are we, Lysistrata? [There is no reply.] Well? Why aren't you saying anything?

LYSISTRATA: Myrrhine, I'm not best pleased with someone who arrives this late when such an important matter is to be discussed.

MYRRHINE: I'm sorry, I had trouble finding my waistband in the dark. If it's that important, don't wait for the rest, tell us about it now.

 

Analysis of the opening scene

The opening scene of Lysistrata portrays the stereotypical characterization of women in Greece. It frames Lysistrata as someone counter to popular culture. The polar opposite of the housewife stereotype. Kleonike exemplifies the housewife stereotype. As Kleonike sympathetically explains to Lysistrata, most of the women are probably off waking the maids or tending to children. Lysistrata is angered because the women don't strive for peace of their country. Still, also she is ashamed that the women won't stand up to the stereotypes and names that their husband's give them. Lysistrata tells Kleonike, "I'm positively ashamed to be a woman", and Kleonike proudly admits, "That's us!"

Ironically, even though she despises the label's men give to women, Lysistrata fits the stereotype of the devious woman. Lysistrata is ultimately the most masculine woman in the play. She can ignore and reject her own attraction to males entirely. 

In the opening scene, Lysistrata separates herself from the other women and strives to reject the fragility exemplified by the other women. Lysistrata's dual ability to deny her own sexuality while exploiting others enables her as a character.

 

Acropolis-An acropolis was in ancient Greece a settlement, especially a
citadel, built upon an area of elevated ground
Bacchic celebration-A bacchanalian party is a wild, wine-soaked, rowdy
affair. Bacchanalian is used to describe any event that Bacchus would have
enjoyed. (The god of wine)
-Also defined by some as a party where women are involved
Pan- Is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds,
rustic music and impromptus, and companion of the nymphs.
Aphrodite-Aphrodite is an ancient Greek goddess associated with love,
beauty, pleasure, passion and procreation.
the Peloponnesians-The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus is a peninsula and
geographic region in southern Greece.
Zeus-Is the god of the sky, lightning and thunder in Ancient Greek religion
and myth, and king of the gods on Mount Olympus.
Boeotians-Boeotia, sometimes alternatively Latinised as Boiotia, or Beotia,
is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central
Greece
Cimberic shifts-Unbelted and hung straight down from shoulders.
Cimberic was meant to be named after place
giant slippers-Broad and flat shoes
Paralia-Municipality in Greece
Salaminians- A native or inhabitant of ancient Salamis, Cyprus
Holy Twain- Demeter and Persephone
 
Trefoils-small European plant of the pea family, with yellow flowers and
three-lobed clover-like leaves
 
Thracian Coast-Is a geographical and historical region in Southeast
Europe, now split among Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, which is bounded by
the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the
Black Sea to the east.
Pylos- Under Pelopponessian control
Milesians-a native or inhabitant of ancient Miletus
Mount Taygetum- The Taygetus, Taugetus, Taygetos or Taÿgetus is a
mountain range in the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece. (2,344
Metres)
Aeschylus-Aeschylus was an ancient Greek tragedian. He is often
described as the father of tragedy.
Thasos grapes- Grapes from thassos, a Greek island, geographically part
of the North Aegean Sea.
Lioness-on-a-cheesegrater- A mysterius sex position beleived to be
equivelant to the modern ‘doggy style’ position.
Acropolis-An acropolis was in ancient Greece a settlement, especially a
citadel, built upon an area of elevated ground
Bacchic celebration-A bacchanalian party is a wild, wine-soaked, rowdy
affair. Bacchanalian is used to describe any event that Bacchus would have
enjoyed. (The god of wine)
-Also defined by some as a party where women are involved
Pan- Is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds,
rustic music and impromptus, and companion of the nymphs.
Aphrodite-Aphrodite is an ancient Greek goddess associated with love,
beauty, pleasure, passion and procreation.
the Peloponnesians-The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus is a peninsula and
geographic region in southern Greece.
Zeus-Is the god of the sky, lightning and thunder in Ancient Greek religion
and myth, and king of the gods on Mount Olympus.
Boeotians-Boeotia, sometimes alternatively Latinised as Boiotia, or Beotia,
is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central
Greece
Cimberic shifts-Unbelted and hung straight down from shoulders.
Cimberic was meant to be named after place
giant slippers-Broad and flat shoes
Paralia-Municipality in Greece
Salaminians- A native or inhabitant of ancient Salamis, Cyprus
Holy Twain- Demeter and Persephone
 
Trefoils-small European plant of the pea family, with yellow flowers and
three-lobed clover-like leaves
 
Thracian Coast-Is a geographical and historical region in Southeast
Europe, now split among Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, which is bounded by
the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the
Black Sea to the east.
Pylos- Under Pelopponessian control
Milesians-a native or inhabitant of ancient Miletus
Mount Taygetum- The Taygetus, Taugetus, Taygetos or Taÿgetus is a
mountain range in the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece. (2,344
Metres)
Aeschylus-Aeschylus was an ancient Greek tragedian. He is often
described as the father of tragedy.
Thasos grapes- Grapes from thassos, a Greek island, geographically part
of the North Aegean Sea.
Lioness-on-a-cheesegrater- A mysterius sex position beleived to be
equivelant to the modern ‘doggy style’ position.

Editors

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