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Lysistrata | Agon | Summary

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Summary

The Magistrate, a city official, arrives with four public guards. He complains about the "lewdness" of women, illustrating his point with a story about a politician named Demostrates, "whom the gods despise." Demostrates's wife made a spectacle by wailing about Adonis on the rooftops while he forced a war tax through the assembly. He concludes his rant with "That's just the kind of loose degenerate stuff that comes from women."

After the Leader of the Men's Chorus complains about the soaking they've received, the Magistrate says the men are to blame for giving women too much freedom to plot intrigues. He provides a couple of funny examples of husbands who inadvertently set themselves up to be cuckolded. Then he reveals he has come to the citadel to get money to buy oars (for triremes, Athenian warships), and he orders his slaves to force the door with crowbars. Just then Lysistrata emerges from the doors.

The Magistrate demands Lysistrata's arrest, but three old women threaten his armed guards as they try to do so. The Magistrate next orders the Scythian Guards to charge against Lysistrata and the old women, but armed women pour out of the citadel, beating them back.

The Magistrate asks Lysistrata why she is blocking the citadel. In the dialogue that follows Lysistrata lays out her argument: Men only use money to cause problems, so women should manage the citadel's treasury, just as they manage their own homes. For too long, Lysistrata says, women have stayed silent as men made stupid choices and voted for war. Now virtually no young men are left to fight.

The Magistrate erupts that he cannot listen to a woman, "someone with a scarf around her head." In response, Lysistrata takes of her scarf and winds it on his head; one of the old women gives him a basket, and Lysistrata tells him to do women's work while she and her band of women take care of war. She explains how she will unite the citizens of Athens and all Greece, comparing these feats to the complex task of turning raw wool into a ball of yarn. When the Magistrate objects that women don't "bear any part of what goes on in war," Lysistrata reminds him women send their sons and husbands to war and waste their youth waiting for their husbands to return. The Magistrate can't deny an old man has an advantage there, as long as he can "still get his prick erect." In disgust, Lysistrata tells him to die, and she and the old women douse him with urns of water. He leaves in a huff; Lysistrata and the old women return to the citadel.

Analysis

The scene between Lysistrata and the Magistrate represents the height of Aristophanes's utopianism. Aristophanes's Magistrate, who is violently opposed to the women's cause, comes across as an entirely unsympathetic character. Although Lysistrata, as a politically powerless woman, represents a marginalized group, her argument with the Magistrate—a representative of the status quo—would have resonated with the citizen audience, who were no doubt just as frustrated with the status quo as she. One reason is the new status quo involved a dilution of Athenian's beloved democracy. In 412 BCE the democratic assembly handed much of its power to small group of elder statesman, called Probouloi, who could make decisions about war without the assembly's approval. The Magistrate, a member of Probouloi, is represented as warmongering (he has come to get money from the treasury to buy oars for warships) and unabashedly lascivious (he can barely contain his excitement when Lysistrata complains about old men's prerogative to take young wives). Through iron-clad reasoning, Lysistrata destroys the Magistrate's objections to her cause. In elaborate metaphors between women's work and the work of governing, she makes a strong case that women are more fit to govern than men.

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