Lysistrata | Study Guide


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Lysistrata | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Lysistrata what does Lysistrata instruct the women to do during their sex strike, and how effective is the strike?

As part of their act of civil disobedience, Lysistrata tells the married women to appear as tempting as possible at home but to ignore their husbands' reactions. If a husband carries his wife to the bedroom, Lysistrata says, "Grab the door post"; if he forces her to have sex, she should not "cooperate." The husbands of Greece will eventually comply with their wives' demands for peace because as Lysistrata explains, "No husband ever had a happy life/if he did not get on well with his wife." After sending some women back to the home fronts in Athens and throughout Greece, Lysistrata takes another group to the Acropolis, where they barricade themselves inside. As time wears on the sex strike does work; the younger men develop huge, painful erections. None of them seek relief through masturbation or extramarital sex—alternatives that would undermine the play's logic. Men throughout Greece become so desperate they are prepared to heed Lysistrata's demands. As a result delegations from Athens and Sparta arrive at the Acropolis to make a treaty under Lysistrata's supervision.

In what way is Lysistrata by Aristophanesa utopian fantasy?

The term utopia was first coined in the 16th century, but writers conceived ideal worlds long before that. In Lysistrata Aristophanes imagines a world in which a woman of extraordinary wisdom, courage, and strategic ability solves one of society's most intractable problems—war. Lysistrata's plot is utopian first of all because a woman in ancient Greece never would have had the opportunity to implement her plan. Greek women's place was in the home, and they were discouraged from being much seen in pubic, let alone speaking out. The plan itself is also implausible in many ways. First, Greek men could go elsewhere to satisfy their sexual needs. Second, it wouldn't take long for armed men to retake the Acropolis and its treasury, thus allowing the financing of war to continue. And third, although Lysistrata makes a good case for unity in Greece, any number of grievances between the various Greek states could blow up into another conflict. Aristophanes surely knew his play offered a utopian vision. Utopian literature aims not to propose concrete solutions but to inspire people to pursue better ways of living and being.

Lysistrata's utopian aspects aside, in what ways is Lysistrata's strategy grounded in practical tactics?

In her campaign of civil disobedience Lysistrata employs many tactics drawn from Greek women's experience running households. For example, in the Agon Lysistrata asks the Magistrate, "Isn't it true/that we take care of all the household money?" The Magistrate doesn't dispute this fact, but his response relies on circular logic: men should take care of the money because men need the money for war—the very thing Lysistrata wants to save men from. The women's sex strike, which also amounts to abandoning household chores, also could be drawn from women's experiences at home, where they might refuse to do household duties as a sort of power play. Finally, although men wouldn't condone the women's takeover of the Acropolis for long, Aristophanes's choice of the citadel as a place of refuge for the women had some basis in reality. The Acropolis was one of the few places outside the home that belonged more to women than to men; the government didn't own it, and priestesses attended its temples to Athena.

In Lysistrata what does Lysistrata consider the proper relationship between the household (oikos) and the community (polis)?

Lysistrata seems to want to put the oikos back in the polis by persuading men to take the advice of the women in their lives. In the Agon, Lysistrata paints a picture of herself sitting at home, listening to increasingly stupid and destructive plans devised by men in the assembly. When she offers her opinion, she is told, "If you don't spin your thread,/you'll get a major beating on your head." Husbands' refusal to listen to their wives is what motivates Lysistrata "to rescue Greece/by bringing wives into a single group/with one shared aim." Lysistrata is not agitating for a permanent, public role for women; as soon as the men agree to peace in Episode 3, life returns to normal. Instead, through Lysistrata, Aristophanes reminds audiences that peace and unity, the values associated with a harmonious household, are also Greece's values.

In Lysistrata why does Lysistrata believe women can be trusted to give sound advice to Greece's demos, the male citizens who rule the state under its democratic system of government?

Lysistrata believes the women who run Greece's households can make valuable contributions to the peace, prosperity, and unity of Greece. In the Agon she repeatedly uses the household as a model for how Athens and Greece as a whole should be run. She suggests women are better than men at managing money and relationships. As evidence she cites women's prudent handling of household budgeting. She says men could bring about peace by observing the way women untangle yarn, and she explains how to unify the diverse states by demonstrating the process of creating fabric. The sex strike itself reminds men how much they depend on their wives. Like a well-run household, Lysistrata suggests, the whole population of Greece could be more peaceful, loving, and economically solvent if men simply remembered to consult women.

In Lysistrata why is it inaccurate to call Lysistrata a pacifist?

Lysistrata does not advocate an end to all war, only stupid wars. She believes all the states of Greece should unify, and she thinks this should be easy since they share a common culture. As she tells the Athenian and Spartan ambassadors in Episode 3, "Both of you use the same cup when you sprinkle altars, as if you share the same ancestral group." She also believes a united Greece can better defend itself against "barbarian enemies." She reminds the Athenian and Spartan ambassadors that the two states allied successfully against Persia. Lysistrata reflects Aristophanes's concern, probably shared by much of the public, that Athens's ongoing war would lead to even greater instability. His concerns proved prescient. Toward the end of the war Persia subsidized Sparta's final push to defeat Athens.

In Lysistrata how does Aristophanes characterize Lysistrata?

Through her words and actions Lysistrata is revealed as strategic, eloquent, brave, resourceful, and visionary. Revealing her plan to the women of Greece in the Prologos, Lysistrata demonstrates her strategic abilities; her plan takes a two-pronged approach to ending war by cutting off funding and turning men's hearts back to their wives. In defending her plan to the Magistrate she demonstrates rare eloquence, developing elaborate and persuasive metaphors (that nonetheless leave the dull Magistrate unconvinced). She shows great courage in standing up to the bullying Magistrate and the public guards. Summoning women from every social class in Athens (from the venerable Chorus of Old Women to the market women who help her attack the guards) and from throughout Greece demonstrates her resourcefulness. Finally, in her goal of unifying Greece around a shared culture, she is a visionary leader.

For what purpose might Aristophanes have broken with tradition by creating a female protagonist in Lysistrata?

Lysistrata's dominance over the Magistrate may be a utopian dream; in real life they probably never would even speak. But the scene reminds audiences women are an essential part of society. Aristophanes's decision to flout dramatic tradition by featuring a "realistic" female hero is also an outgrowth of the social upheaval of the Peloponnesian War, during which women (as Lysistrata points out), in the absence of men, faced extraordinary pressures at home. By choosing a woman to voice civic discontent with the status quo, Aristophanes gets around possible accusations of partisanship during a tense political time. Rather than appearing to favor one political faction over another, his heroine appeals to the better nature of all Athenians (and indeed, all Greeks). After all, who can argue with love?

In Lysistrata in what ways is Lysistrata a typical Aristophanic hero?

In several of Aristophanes's surviving plays, he presents a hero who objects to the way society is being run and who figures out a way to change or undermine that situation. The hero overcomes all obstacles in his or her path and restores a society's most important values. Then there is a feast from which only the most intractable are excluded. Although Lysistrata's gender makes her unique among Aristophanes's heroes, her views probably reflected the discontent of a broad swath of the male citizenry, sick and tired after 20 years of war. Like many of Aristophanes's heroes, she uses cunning and logic to achieve her mission. Rather than maintaining the power she has gained, she restores society to the control of the males, but with a reaffirmation of the values of marital love and Greek unity that (supposedly) reflected the era before the war. The Magistrate, who bitterly opposed her, is noticeably absent from the celebration in the Exodos.

How does Lysistrata reflect a common aim of both Old Comedy and tragedy?

Though very different in form, both comedies and tragedies performed at the Dionysian festivals shared the goal of promoting social cohesion. Tragedy used historical and mythological characters and situations to transmit religious and cultural values. It did so by providing audiences with a shared catharsis—the experience of pity and fear aroused by watching a great figure brought low and cleansed by his (or her) recognition of the truth. Comedy provided a similarly cleansing experience, but rather than arousing pity and fear, it relieved social tensions by encouraging its audience to look at itself (or the ruling class) and laugh at its follies. In addition no one would argue with Lysistrata's core values of peace and unity. In spite of its portrayal of civil disobedience, Lysistrata didn't seriously threaten the powers that be because its plot—women in control!—was absurd at the time. Yet the play voiced real discontent in society, letting the demos know that the polis was not happy with the status quo.

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