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The Lysistrata of Aristophanes

Aristophanes was a satirist who produced Lysistrata around 413 BC when the news of

Athen?s warships had been destroyed near Sicily. For twenty-one years, while Athens was

engaged in war, he relentlessly and wittliy attacked the war, the ideals of the war, the war party

and the war spirit. This risked his acceptance and his Athenian citizenship. Lysistrata is probably

the oldest comedy which has retained a place in modern theatre. It primarily deals with two

themes, war and the power of sexuality..

Lysistrata (an invented name meaning, She Who Puts an End to War) has summoned the

women of Athens to meet her at the foot of Acropolis. She puts before them the easy invitation

that they must never lie again with their husbands until the war is ended. At first, they shudder

and withdraw and refuse until, with the help of the women from Sparta and Thebes, they are

impelled to agree. The women seize the Acropolis from which Athens is funding the war. After

days of sexually depriving their men in order to bring peace to there communities. They defeat

back in an attack from the old men who had remained in Athens while the younger men are on

their crusade. When their husbands return from battle, the women reject sex and stand guard at

Acropolis. The sex strike, portrayed in risqu? episodes, finally pressure the men of Athens and

Sparta to consent to a peace treaty.

Ancient Greece in 431 BC was not a nation. It was a collection of rival city-states that

were allies with each other or with leading military powers. Athens was a great naval power,

while Sparta relied mainly on its army for superiority. In 431 BC, these alliances went to war

against each other in a conflict called the Peleponnesian War. The war, which went on for 27

years, is named for the Peloponnesus, the peninsula on which Sparta is located.

As the war began, Sparta and Athens each took advantage of their military strengths.

Sparta ravaged Attica, the territory around Athens, while the Athenian navy raided cities in

Peloponnesus. This strategy lasted for two years. Meanwhile, Pericles? death in 429 BC left the

democracy open for hostile factions and reckless leaders who pursued their own advantages.

Chief among these leaders was Alcibiades, who was as irresponsible as brilliant. By 425 BC,

Sparta?s hopes for victory were bleak, and its leaders were ready to ask for peace. Slowly,

however, the fortunes of war changed. Sparta, under general Brasidas, scored significant

victories at Chalcidice and Amphipolis. The Athenian leader Nicias persuaded the city to accept

Sparta?s offer to cease the war in 421 BC. Everyone was allowed to go home, and the territorial

status as it stood at the time of peace, was allowed to remain in place. Athens kept its continental

territories and allies, and Sparta kept all the territories acquired.

Nicias, however, was a rival with Alcibiades in the democratic assembly. Alcibiades in

415 BC convinced the Athenians to attack the Greek city-states on the island of Sicily and bring

them under the rule of the Athenian Empire. In 413 BC, the entire army was defeated, captured

and destroyed in the harbor of Syracuse. The disastrous Sicilian expedition left Athens almost

completely powerless.

By 412 BC, Athens was in distress politically. An oligarchy overthrew the democracy in

411 BC, and then was replaced by a moderate regime. Full democracy was restored in the

summer of 410 BC after a significant Athenian victory over the Spartans. In 405 BC, Sparta?s

Lysander took his navy northward to Hellespont. He made a surprise attack on Athenian ships at

Aegospotami while the crews were dispersed on land. Several thousand Athenians and their allies

were slain. Peace was finally signed in the spring of 404 BC. Athens was henceforth to be a

Spartan ally and follow the same foreign policy.

Lysistrata was the play of peace. The war had been going on for twenty-one years and it

seemed to many that it might go on forever. Aristophanes had to devise another route for his

theory on the war. He chose the women of Athens and played with their role in Ancient Greece.

The war takes men away, and by the time the men return, their women are old. However, it is

assumed that they will continue to play the role of the servant: caring for children that will leave

to be killed at war, cleaning the home, weaving spreads and meet the needs of their returning


Athenian women had no power; they were excluded from politics; from the army, navy

and war; from the Olympics; from agriculture and trade. They were also uneducated and men

had degrading opinions of women?s intellectual competence. Women entered an arranged

marriage at around the age of fourteen to a much older man. The purpose of marriage was to

have legitimate children. Athenian women held very restricted lives: in Greek literature, however,

women play very prominent roles. In fiction, one might see her as heroic, vivacious, splendid, and

beautiful. But this woman is fiction. In reality, she was beaten, flung about, locked up and

practically insignificant.

The domain of Athenian aristocratic women was the house(oikos). While the men worked

in a public space, women worked in a private space at cooking food, spinning clothes, and

supervising slaves. In Lysistrata, Lysistrata defies the system of the oikos as represented as sex

and attacks the attacks the privilege of war. Because of the sex strike, the male world is forced to

end the war. Therefore, Lysistrata is defined as a woman who enters the world of the man and

conquers it.

The Lysistrata presents women acting bravely and aggressively against men who seem

entangled in destroying their family life with their absence and the prolonging of a pointless war.

The woman take on masculine roles to preserve the tradition in community life. Lysistrata

emphasizes that women have the intelligence and judgment to make political decisions. She was

schooled by learning from older me. Lysistrata is a reactionary, she wishes to preserve the way

things were. However, she must be a revolutionary to succeed. Ending the war would be so easy

that women could complete the task.

Aristophanes is not one of the most profound or exalted of Greek poets, but he is the most

creative. Others deal with the world as it is, glorifying it or justifying its flaws, discovering hidden

values in it and suggesting how they may be realized. Aristophanes erases the present and

constructs another. He rids history and its constraints. If war has become tiresome he makes a

private treaty and fetches the goddess of Peace. If Athens has become tiresome, he builds a new

one in the sky. As Lysistrata shows, he is more moved by sympathy for the innocent sufferers of

war than anger against the warmongers. Although caustic and good-humored, he intended to

show the power lust and civil war amongst the Greeks.


Aristophanes? Lysistrata. 18 September 2000. *http://www1.cc.va.us/hurst/eng251cr/*

Arkins, Brian. Classics Ireland. ?Sexuality in Fifth-Century?. 15 September 2000.


Hadas, Moses. Lysistrata. The Complete Plays of Aristophanes. New York, 1962. 287-328

Peleponnesian War. 16 September 2000. *http:/www.library.thinkquest.org/*

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