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Lysistrata And The Peloponesian War Essay, Research Paper

Lysistrata and the Peloponnesian War

Many comedies of this time period explore issues that were of importance to those people. Lysistrata is no different. It explores issues relevant to the time period in which it was written. Aristophanes uses the Peloponnesian War to illustrate the differences between the men and women of the time period.

As Lysistrata begins, the women are gathering for their meeting with Lysistrata. They gripe and complain about how late the others are for the meeting, while Lysistrata begins to clue them in on her plan. Once all have arrived who will be arriving, she gives them the details of her plan to stop the war. That plan being that they with hold sexual favors from their husbands or lovers until the war is over. For the most part, only one other woman, Lampito, is in agreement with her. The others cannot fathom doing such a thing. After all, they cannot go without sexual pleasures, could they? Eventually, Lysistrata and Lampito convince the others to go along with the plan. Finally, the women who did not give up and go home manage to seize the acropolis. The elders and magistrates try their best to smoke the women out, but to no avail. The women dump water on the men and stand their ground. Eventually the men of both sides had enough of being denied sexual pleasures and came together to sign the treaty. They were reluctant at first, but they gave way to the women’s wishes and signed the treaty ending the war between Athens and Sparta.

The references to the war in the text are actually quite blatant. The war is openly referred to during the course of the story. The women do what they do because they are sick of their men being gone at war. The women did not like the idea at first. They could not tolerate the thought of going without sexual relations even to stop the war. In a way, I think the issue of the Peloponnesian War is shown by the women and what they do more than the women’s actions as retaliation against the men.

Aristophanes explores the hostility behind the war and illustrates that same hostility by both parties in the actions of the characters. The women’s sexual drives which keep them from pursuing the goal of ending the war represents the men’s hatred towards the other city-state and why they cannot just quit the war. These same women use their sexuality to accomplish their goal of ending the war. The men end up conceding to the women’s demands for peace essentially so they can, if you will pardon the pun, get some lovin’. According to Magill Book Reviews, “Eventually the sexually deprived men from opposing sides gather but are reluctant to sign the treaty. Soon, however, they are enticed into doing so by the resolute women.” (Magill)

The men did not think too much of the women’s planning at the beginning. Aristophanes illustrates well the attitudes of the men towards the women’s intelligence and ability to do anything other than look pretty and satisfy their wants and needs. He demonstrates the way many of the women feel about their own intelligence quite well in a conversation between Lysistrata and Kleonike. It begins as Lysistrata is explaining her plan to bring about peace.

Lysistrata says Only this:

the hope and salvation of Hellas lies with the WOMEN.

Kleonike answers Lies with the women? Now there’s a last resort.

Lysistrata continues by adding, It lies with us to decide affairs of state

and foreign policy.

The Spartan Question: Peace

or Extirpation? (Norton p675.32-38)

Even more than that, he portrays women as being tricky, deceitful, and very interested in ensuring their continued sexual relations with their husbands or lovers, whichever the case might be. In this passage, Lysistrata tells them the specifics of her plan to stop the war, and receives her responses from the women.

Lysistrata says Very well,

then here’s the program:

Total Abstinence

From SEX!

Why are you turning away? Where are you going?

—- what’s this? Such gloomy stricken expressions!

Such gloomy gestures!

—- Why so pale?

Whence these tears?

—–What IS this?

Will you do it or won’t you?

Cat got your tongue? (Norton p679.128-132)

The responses Lysistrata receives from the majority of the women show the women’s interest in maintaining sexual relations with their husbands and lovers, even at the expense of the war. These women would rather “walk through fire barefoot” (Norton p679.139) than give up sex. Who say’s men are the only ones after sex! The only woman who sticks by Lysistrata at the beginning is Lampito. The others could not figure out how the plan would work. Lysistrata explains how it will work in this passage:

Certainly, here’s how it works:

We’ll paint, powder, and pluck ourselves to the last

Detail, and stay inside wearing those filmy

Tunics that set off everything we have —-

and then

slink up to the men. They’ll snap to attention, go

absolutely mad to love us—

but we won’t let them. We’ll abstain.

— I imagine they’ll conclude a treaty rather quickly.

After this speech, she was once again met with criticism and questions from the women. Lysistrata was well prepared for this. For every argument, she had a rebuttal.

Aristophanes illustrated the women’s perceived weakness during this point in history. He used this to show that the women believed the men had the power and that they, as women, were powerless to stop anything the men decided to do. In addition, he shows how the men of the time feel about women taking charge. The following two passages demonstrate this quite well:

Swifty say’s

I’m never surprised. At my age, life

is just one damned thing after another.

And yet, I never thought my wife

Was anything more than a home-grown bother.

But now, dadblast her,

She’s a National Disaster!

The first semichorus of men adds,

What a catastrophe—


They’ve brought Athene’s statue to heel,

they’ve put the Akropolis under a seal,

They’ve copped the whole dammed commonweal . . .

What is left for them to steal? (Norton p684.280-291)

This shows us the men’s attitudes about women in charge. They apparently believe it would be the downfall of the state to have women in charge. However, one must ask this question: Without women, how would men survive? More than likely, these men did not clean, cook, help with raising children (except training the boys), or wash clothes. How ever would these men be able to live without women to take care of all they did? These men just did not realize how much their women did for them. In the beginning, some of the women are late because they are taking care of their husbands and children. The men go off to war leaving the women alone with the children at home to take care of everything that needs to be done.

During Lysistrata, it is very clearly shown that the men believe they are superior to the women, and that the women believe themselves to be subservient to men. The Peloponnesian War was important in Lysistrata in that it enabled Aristophanes to have a context within which to describe the attitudes and personalities of men and women of this time period. People are not always as they seem. The men of Athens and Sparta knew their women were bothers at home, but they found out that their actions at home were nothing compared to what could happen when a whole group got together and decided to accomplish something. Lysistrata show’s us all the value of working together as a team to accomplish a goal. As it was put by Magill Book Reviews, “LYSISTRATA is high comedy, as popular and timely today as it was when it was written. The humor is broad and bawdy. Like much good comedy, the play holds up to ridicule contemporary conditions and situations.”

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