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Lysistrata | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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Why is Lysistrata considered one of Aristophanes's peace plays?

Lysistrata is considered one of Aristophanes's three peace plays (the other two are Acharnians and Peace) because it imagines an end to the Peloponnesian War that had been raging off and on for 20 years. The war with Sparta had taken a terrible toll. Around the time Lysistrata was performed, Spartan armies occupied the countryside around Athens, something for which Lysistrata scolds the Spartan ambassador: "How can you ravage the Athenians' land,/the ones who helped you out" in a previous era of friendship. This state of affairs deeply troubled Aristophanes. He loved Athens and hated the idea of Spartan armies occupying Attic lands; at this point in this war, peace at any price would have meant submitting to Spartan rule, an unacceptable option. Lysistrata is a peace play not because it suggests a viable roadmap to peace but because it harkens back to the values of a long past era, when Athens and Sparta were allies.

How are most of the younger married women characterized in Lysistrata?

Aristophanes characterizes most women in the play—not including Lysistrata, of course—according to popular stereotypes of his day. Most of the female characters are some combination of devious, lazy, sex-obsessed, frivolous, and fond of drinking. Sometimes this characterization comes from these women's own words and actions. For example, the prospect of making an oath of a bowl of wine leaves Calonice weak-kneed with desire: "Just touching this gives instant pleasure." The women who try to flee the Acropolis in Episode 1 offer double entendres as excuses: "I've left my wretched flax/back in my house unstripped!" thinly veiling their actual motives. Some complaints about women's inconstancy come from Lysistrata's own lips, as in the Prologos: "Men say we're devious," she complains, but adds that instead of coming to her meeting, women "just stay in bed." Later, when the she is trying to keep women from fleeing the Acropolis, she includes herself when describing the wayward women: "We all want to get laid." As classical scholar K.J. Dover observes, Greek men believed women were wanton creatures who "had a lower resistance to sexual temptation" than men. Aristophanes wasn't above these stereotyped portrayals, which would have been funny to his mostly male audiences.

Is it accurate or inaccurate to characterize Lysistrata's women as promiscuous?

Although Aristophanes portrays most of the female characters in the play as frivolous and overly interested in sex and alcohol, they are not unfaithful to their husbands. Though the women talk eagerly about sex, it's always within the bounds of marriage. When Lysistrata mentions lovers in the Prologos, she is bemoaning the fact that all the old ones are dead; she is not referring to a current lover. The audience never sees the women misbehave with men. If they seek sexual satisfaction outside of the marital bed, it's by masturbating—and even that is difficult thanks to the war's disruption of trade. "Since the Milesians went against us, I've not seen a decent eight-inch dildo," Lysistrata complains.

How is Lampito different from the other younger women in Lysistrata?

Unlike most of the other women in the play, Lampito, the representative woman from Sparta, is nearly as impressive as Lysistrata herself. Aristophanes created a formidable voice for peace in the character of Lysistrata, but her plan's success demands an equally stalwart Spartan counterpart. When Lampito first appears, she is characterized as having impressive stature: "Your body looks so fit, strong enough to choke a bull"—not surprising, since Spartan women exercised to a point considered "masculine" by Greek standards. More significantly, in the few lines she speaks, she immediately grasps the sense of Lysistrata's proposal and backs it unwaveringly: "You've got it all worked out./What you say sounds good," she tells Lysistrata. Later, in Episode 2, we learn from the Spartan herald that Lampito has successfully implemented Lysistrata's plan in Sparta: "At her suggestion, other women ... ran off to keep men from their honey pots." Though she only appears in the first scene, Lampito helps determine the successful outcome of the plan.

To what extent does Aristophanes protect the honor of Athenian wives in Lysistrata?

Athenians were sensitive about comic portrayal of wives and mothers, and Aristophanes upheld the custom of representing Athenian wives as faithful. Audiences wouldn't have tolerated adulterous portrayals of Athenian wives—it would have reflected badly on the honor of Athenian men. Underlying Lysistrata's sex strike is a deep faith in marital fidelity; if the women can make the men desperate enough, they will come home to their wives. Faithless women would have undermined her argument; they would not have been able to claim that sexual happiness can only be found at home. The only characters who insult the honor of women are the Magistrate, the play's obvious villain, and the Leader of the Men's Chorus, who calls Myrrhine a "slut." Both of these characters get their comeuppance before the play ends. The younger women in Lysistrata certainly don't hide their enjoyment of sex, but their sexual behavior is within the bounds of propriety.

How is Lysistrata's plan to end war a two-pronged approach in Lysistrata?

Most people associate Lysistrata with the idea of a sex strike. Speaking about husbands in the Prologos, Lysistrata tells the married women she has gathered below the Acropolis, "If we stay away and won't come near them,/they'll make peace soon enough." But the idea of Greek women withholding sex from their husbands until they stop fighting is only half of her plan. The other part involves taking control of the treasury, which was housed in the Acropolis. Lysistrata wants to withhold Greece's military commanders from the funds required to pay for war—including soldiers' pay and materiel. The Magistrate, who comes to the Acropolis (in the Agon) to get war funds, questions Lysistrata's logic by suggesting that conflict would occur even if money weren't available. "Is it money that's the cause of war?" he asks her. "Yes," Lysistrata responds, "and all the rest of the corruption." Lysistrata has had the insight that the money itself encourages warfare, because corrupt politicians use conflict to make deals that line their pockets.

In Lysistrata what is Lysistrata's vision for Greece, and how does she propose to achieve it?

Lysistrata's is a Panhellenic vision—she sees a unified Greece. Her plot, the sex strike and seizure of the treasury, will achieve only the first step, bringing an end to the current war. She makes it clear that men must do the rest, but they will only succeed if they listen to women's advice. "Start to listen," she tells the Magistrate in the Agon. "Keep your mouths shut/the way we did. We'll save you from yourselves." She then explains if men were smart, they would "deal with everything the way we do/when we handle yarn." She then uses an extended metaphor about the processing of wool into cloth to outline a formula for achieving unity across Greece: "into a common basket of goodwill,/comb out the wool, the entire compound mix ... , including foreigners, guests, and allies." She wants to return Greece to a previous era of cooperation.

How is Aristophanes's character Lysistrata in Lysistrata similar to Sophocles's character Antigone?

The heroines of both Greek dramas represent voices of protest. Lysistrata protests the war, and Antigone protests a law prohibiting her brother's burial. In mounting their protests, both characters appeal to treasured Greek values. Lysistrata appeals to peace and unity, and Antigone appeals to familial and religious duty. Both characters stand against bullheaded male figures of authority. In Aristophanes's play, the Magistrate embodies the worst of the older politicians who have embroiled the Greek states in a decades-long war. In Sophocles's Antigone, the heroine faces off against Creon, whose stubborn pride in his own authority is his downfall. Finally, both women break the law: Antigone buries her brother, and Lysistrata seizes the treasury.

In what ways do Lysistrata in Lysistrata and Antigone, two of Greek drama's most famously defiant heroines, differ?

Although both characters defy male authority, they differ in their overall aims and strategies. Lysistrata rallies an army of women who are sympathetic to her cause, which is founded on cherished Greek values of peace and unity, both in the home and across the nation. Antigone is an army of one. Although her cause concerns values that all Greeks claim to hold dear, including familial and religious duty, none of the other characters are willing to risk capital punishment. She stands alone in her face-off with the tyrannical Creon. Finally, although both Antigone and Lysistrata advance their arguments with great rhetorical skill, Lysistrata uses other skills as well—her sexuality and that of all married women—to achieve her goal. Antigone, as an unmarried young woman of considerable honor, would not and could not resort to such tactics.

How is the Parabasis of Lysistrata different from that of typical Old Comedy?

Parabasis literally means "step aside"; in Old Comedy, the chorus leader would remove his mask and deliver a long aside to the audience. This aside would voice the dramatists' opinions relating the play to society as a whole. In Lysistrata, however, the chorus doesn't speak as one voice; it's split between the old men and old women, each with their own leader. The audience would expect things to calm down after a rowdy scene between Lysistrata and the chief villain, the misogynistic Magistrate. Instead, things get even rowdier. Instead of taking off their masks, the Chorus of Old Men take off their clothes. The Chorus of Old Women follows suit, and the two choruses engage in a ridiculous nude face off. In a genre known for inverting the usual order of things, Lysistrata ratchets up the antics by upsetting audience's expectations about the comedy's structure.

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