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CLA232H1 Lecture Notes - Alcibiades, Cultural Anthropology, Ancient Greek Comedy

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Victoria Wohl

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by Aristophanes
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©1998-2002; ©2002 by Gale Cengage. Gale is a division of Cengage Learning. Gale and Gale Cengage are
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eNotes: Table of Contents
Lysistrata: Introduction1. Lysistrata: Aristophanes Biography2. Lysistrata: Summary3. Lysistrata: Characters4. Lysistrata: Themes5. Lysistrata: Style6. Lysistrata: Historical Context7. Lysistrata: Critical Overview8. Lysistrata: Essays and Criticism
Aristophanes' Depiction of Women in LysistrataSexuality in LysistrataThe Funtion of the Chorus in LysistrataAristophanes, 'Lysistrata' 231
Lysistrata: Compare and Contrast10. Lysistrata: Topics for Further Study11. Lysistrata: Media Adaptations12. Lysistrata: What Do I Read Next?13. Lysistrata: Bibliography and Further Reading14. Lysistrata: Pictures15. Copyright16.
Lysistrata: Introduction
Lysistrata is often produced in contemporary theatre. Modern audiences enjoy the sexuality and humor in
Aristophanes’ work, and they enjoy what appears as modern feminism and the depiction of strong women.
Comedies were very popular presentations during the Greek festivals, and there is no reason to think that
Lysistrata was not immensely popular. At the time of the play’s initial production, Athens and Sparta had
been at war for twenty years, and this play would have offered one of the few opportunities to laugh at war.
The idea that Lysistrata could unite women to end the war would have set up the audience for a traditional
battle between the sexes. However, there are also serious ideas to be found in Lysistrata’s speeches. She
reminds the audiences of the many men who have died during the Peloponnesian War, and the Chorus of Old
Men emphasizes that there are no young men to take up their position. Aristophanes uses a woman to bring
Lysistrata 1

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peace, but in doing so, he is pointing out to men that they have failed in their efforts to settle the war. With the
failure of men, women are the only remaining hope for peace. There is no record that Aristophanes received
any awards for Lysistrata, but the play’s popularity in modern productions points to its probable success on
stage. In 1930, Lysistrata enjoyed a successful revival in New York City, which lasted for several months. It
has inspired an opera, Lysistrata and the War, which was written in the early 1960s and first performed by the
Wayne State University opera workshop, as a pro test to the Vietnam War. The theme of war and women’s
efforts to invoke love as a replacement for war works as well in the twenty first century as they did in the late
fifth century B.C.
Lysistrata: Aristophanes Biography
Little is known of Aristophanes, except that his father, who was from Athens, may have been a property
owner. When Aristophanes was born, Athens was at its most glorious, both culturally and politically. Born at
about 450 B.C., Aristophanes was a young man when the Peloponnesian war was fought between Athens and
Sparta. This war (431- 401 B.C.) provided some of the historical framework for Aristophanes’ comedies.
Athen’s loss in this war affected Aristophanes, and in response, he used comedy to ridicule the political order
responsible for the war and the city’s loss. Aristophanes’ sympathy with the aristocratic landowners and
condemnation of the rulers of Athens makes him appear more revolutionary than many of his cohorts.
Aristophanes is associated with the Old Comedy, or comoedia prisca, which is earthy and irreverent and
willing to attack prominent people.
Aristophanes’ comedies are the only ones to have survived from this period. Of the forty-four comedies he
wrote, eleven have survived. The Athenian festival of Dionysis was the first festival, in 486 B.C., to officially
include comedy. Aristophanes entered the festival and won three first prizes, which was less than either of his
rivals, Cratinus and Eupolis. The themes of Aristophanes’ eleven surviving comedies reflect the poet’s
dissatisfaction with the government of Athens. Aristophanes wrote many of his plays during the war between
Athens and Sparta. The works that have survived include Acharnians, 425 B.C.; Knight, 424 B.C.; Clouds,
423 B.C. (revised c. 418 B.C.); and Wasps, 422 B.C. Other surviving plays include Peace,421 B.C.; Birds,
414 B.C.; Lysistrata, 411 B.C.; Thesmophoriazusae (Women Keeping the Festival of the Thesmophoriae), 411
B.C.; and Frogs, 405 B.C. The remainder of Aristophanes’ extant work includes Ecclesiazusae
(Assemblywomen or Women in Parliament ), 392 B.C.; and Plutus (Wealth), 388 B.C. A number of other
plays have been lost. Three of these comedies—Lysistrata, Thesmophoriazusae,and Ecclesiazusae—depict
women as the moving force in human society. After his death, Aristophanes’ popularity ceased, and he was
not rediscovered until the Renaissance, and it was not until modern times that Aristophanes reentered the
Western literary canon. In the Byzantine world, however, Aristophanes always held the rank of a major
author: he was assiduously copied, studied, and appreciated by scholars.
Lysistrata: Summary
The play opens with Lysistrata pacing back and forth as she waits for the other women to arrive. She is
impatient and tells her neighbor, Calonice, that women have a reputation for sly trickery, but when they are
needed for something important, they lie in bed instead of rushing to meet. Lysistrata tells her neighbor that
the safety of all of Greece lies with the actions of the women of Greece. Soon, all the women arrive, and
Lysistrata tells them of her plan to end the war between Athens and Sparta. But first the group enters into
some ribald joking about their figures and about sex. Lysistrata asks the women if they would not rather their
husbands were home instead of fighting elsewhere. When the women reply in the affirmative, Lysistrata
relates a plan to have all the women deny their husbands and lovers their sexual favors until the men vow to
stop fighting and end the war. The women are difficult to convince, but eventually they agree to the plan.
Lysistrata also tells the women that if they are beaten, they may give in, since sex that results from violence
will not please the men. Finally, all the women join Lysistrata in taking an oath to withhold sex from their
Lysistrata: Introduction 2

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With Lampito returning to Sparta to secure the agreement of the Spartan women, Lysistrata and the women
who remain with her make plans to join the women who have seized the Acropolis and its treasury. Within
moments, a group of old men arrive, planning to set the base of the Acropolis on fire and force the women
out. The old men complain that the women they have nourished all these years have turned against them and
seized a sacred shrine. But while the men are busy with their smoking logs, the women enter, carrying
pitchers of water, which they will pour over the fires that the men have set. The old men and old women trade
insults, but the women will not back down, and they empty their water over the heads of the old men. When
the magistrate arrives, he tells the men that the women’s behavior is the result of the men spoiling their
women, treating them with gentleness when they do not deserve to be cherished. The magistrate orders that
the men force open the doors, but he moves to a safe distance to watch.
When the doors are forced open, Lysistrata emerges. The magistrate orders her arrested, but the policeman is
too intimidated by Lysistrata to arrest her. The other women join Lysistrata in defying the policemen, who are
too cowed to follow the magistrate’s orders to seize the women. The magistrate responds to the women’s
actions with a claim that they shall never lose to women, and the newly brave police attack the women, but
they are soon beaten off and in retreat. When there is calm again, Lysistrata explains that the women have
seized the Acropolis to keep men from using the money to make war and to keep dishonest officials from
stealing the money. The women say they can administer the money, since they are used to administering the
household money. Lysistrata also tells the magistrate that the women have been patient while the men mucked
up the war and refused to listen to any advice, but now, the women have decided to take action, since there are
few men left in Greece. When the magistrate continues to protest, the women dress him in women’s clothing,
and then they explain that they will approach the problems of state in the same way that they approach the
carding of wool. When the magistrate continues to insult the women, the women dress him as a corpse, and
the man runs away. Left to continue the argument, the old men and old women turn to insults again. The old
women meet each of the men’s insults with rebuttals of their own. They remind the men that women bear
children, but men make no contribution. The shouting and insults eventually turns to physical fighting, as both
sides strip off their tunics and set upon each other.
Although there is no division of scene, it is understood that an interval of five days has passed since the
previous action, and Lysistrata is now dealing with a possible mutiny. Many of the women are deserting and
going to the men. Lysistrata tries to convince the women that the men are also miserable sleeping alone, and
she pulls out an oracle from the gods telling the women they will win. The women are convinced, and the
rebellion is soon ended, as they return to the Acropolis. A group of old men and old women soon enter
singing, and Lysistrata calls their attention to a man, who is approaching. Cinesias is mad with passion, and in
great pain and distress, since he misses his wife, Myrrhine. But she refuses to abandon her oath and join him,
until the men stop the war. Through a succession of maneuvers, Myrrhine teases Cinesias until he is
exasperated, and then she leaves him and returns inside. The chorus of old men sympathize with Cinesias, but
it is not sympathy that he wants; he is now quite angry. Within moments a magistrate from Athens arrives and
is joined by a herald from Sparta. Both are suffering from the women’s absence, as are men everywhere. The
two agree that something must be done, and the herald returns to Sparta with instructions to return with
someone who can arrange a truce. While everyone awaits the peace envoy, the women seek to soothe the men.
When the ambassadors arrive, Lysistrata is sent for, and the negotiations begin. But when it appears that
neither group can reach an agreement, the men are invited inside to feast. The men’s desire for their wives
increases with the wine, and soon the treaty is signed, and both men and women leave for their homes.
Lysistrata: Characters
Lysistrata: Summary 3
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