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Comedy, Seriously: Lysistrata

A library guide to accompany the 2012-13 Humanities at Colby Theme

Texts, Translations, Adaptations

Online from the Perseus site:

  • Aristophanes, Lysistrata (Greek) (ed. F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart)
  • Aristophanes, Lysistrata (English) (ed. Jack Lindsay)

About Lysistrata

from Brill's New Pauly, the article on Aristophanes:  Two pieces are preserved from 411 BCE, Lysistrata , probably staged at the Lenaea, and the ‘Thesmophoriazusae’, probably staged at the Dionysia [2h. 2]. Lysistrata stands in the political tradition of the ‘Acharnians’ and ‘Peace’: this time a woman, Lysistrata, the ‘releaser of armies’, spiritedly takes the initiative and persuades her sisters to take measures (including a marital strike), which drives the opposing Spartan and Athenian men to finally conclude peace.

from Britannica Online:  Lysistrata, Greek Lysistratēcomedy by Aristophanes, produced in 411 bce. Lysistrata depicts the seizure of the Athenian Acropolis and of the treasury of Athens by the city’s women. At the instigation of the witty and determined Lysistrata, they have banded together with the women of Sparta to declare a ban on sexual contact until their partners end the Peloponnesian War, which has lasted more than 20 years. The women hold out until their desperate partners arrange for peace, and the men and women are then reunited.

from the Gale Online Encyclopedia:

Lysistrata opens in Athens in the fifth century B.C. during the Second Peloponnesian War. An Athenian woman, Lysistrata, calls all young women from every Greek city involved in the conflict to a meeting. She has a plan to end the war, and the women gather, curious about her scheme to bring their husbands and lovers home for good. When they all have gathered, Lysistrata tells them that the way to bring a quick end to the hostilities is to stop having sex with their mates. Most of the gathered women did not expect such a radical idea, and immediately begin to protest. One Spartan woman, Lampito, sees the possibilities and helps convince the others to try. They agree, but only reluctantly. Lysistrata makes everyone take an oath swearing that they will tempt their men, but not sleep with them unless they are coerced. The women return to their homes, while Lysistrata travels to Athens' citadel (or fortress), the Acropolis.

During Lysistrata's meeting, the older women of Athens have taken over the Acropolis. The city's old men will not tolerate this and try to burn the women out by setting fire to its base with wood they have gathered. The women respond by dumping water on the old men before they can start the fire. A war of words ensues between the two sides, and more water is dumped on the men. Some men, led by a city magistrate, try to break open a gate to enter the Acropolis. Lysistrata is in charge now and proposes a common sense solution to the conflict. Instead, the magistrate directs his Scythians to nab the woman and tie up her hands. The Scythians move forward hesitantly and before they reach Lysistrata, the women attack them.

The men ask the women why they took over the Acropolis. The women respond that they wanted to control the treasury, so that no more money would be spent on war. Further, Lysistrata proclaims, women will take over civil authority in the city. This remark offends the old men. Lysistrata also declares that the women also were sick of their husbands' ineptitude when it comes to the common good. Because the magistrate admonishes the women again, he gets more water dumped on his head. The men back him up, saying they will never yield to rule by the women. The women respond by calling the old men useless, emphasizing that the men just pass edicts that yield further disorder.

Though many women remain strong through the siege, numerous women find it hard to refrain from sex and maintain their hold on the Acropolis. Some leave, feigning pregnancy or pleading that the holy snakes and owls housed in the Acropolis scare them. To turn the tide of deserters, Lysistrata finds a prophecy complimentary to her cause. All the women come back. The husband of one of Lysistrata's friends returns from the war, and Lysistrata reminds the woman, named Myrrhin‹, to keep the oath. Myrrhin‹ meets him for a moment and almost gives in to his pleas, but in the end, she returns to the Acropolis.

Lampito sends a message to Lysistrata from Sparta which says the Spartans are ready to end the war and make a treaty. When the Spartan representatives arrive for the peace conference in Athens, they look desperate for their wives. They seem ready to go along with nearly any type of terms. Lysistrata addresses the delegates from both Sparta and Athens, admonishing them for fighting each other when the barbarians were a shared threat. During her speech, a naked young lady, ostensibly depicting the goddess of peace, parades in front of the desperate men. While Lysistrata speaks of the cities' common past and former friendships, the men leer at the nude woman and concede that what Lysistrata says is true. Lysistrata proposes an accord, but strife ensues because some conditions are not acceptable to both sides. To get them to agree to terms, the women arrange a feast and get the men drunk. Ready for physical pleasure, the men finally sign a treaty. They leave the site quickly with their wives and lovers in tow, eager to be home.

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