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Lysistrata | Study Guide


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Lysistrata | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why are there so many references to women flying in Lysistrata?

The women in Lysistrata often refer to flying. In the Prologos, after Lysistrata tells Calonice she has a plan to "save Greece," her friend says the women they're waiting for "should have sprouted wings/and come here hours ago." Later in the Parados, the Chorus of Old Men lug their loads up the hill to the Acropolis with great difficulty, while the Chorus of Old Women, with their own burdens of water, have no trouble: "We have to fly, Nicodice, fly," they sing, invoking the goddess Athena. These references to flying women suggest that women are or should be inspired to the high calling of saving Greece. Men, on the other hand, are depicted as trudging. The Chorus of Old Men making their slow progress up the hill have baser motivations: their anger toward the women who have occupied the Acropolis and their desire for cash. The younger ones are doubled over, preoccupied by their painful erections. The men can take flight only when they agree about saving Greece. "I must fly," says the Spartan herald in Episode 2, inspired by his mission of peace.

How did Aristophanes get away with pointed political satire in Lysistrata?

The 5th century BCE was a good time for artistic expression in Athens, which was a direct democracy where citizens enjoyed parrhesia, the right to speak freely. Because all citizens served in government at one point or another, they didn't put politicians on a pedestal. They were free to satirize and directly criticize, as long as their speech didn't criticize democracy itself or hamstring the demos (male citizens who took turns serving in the Assembly). That said, Aristophanes was prosecuted twice for slander—but not for Lysistrata. The play probably raised eyebrows though. Presenting a lifelike female character such as Lysistrata would have been frowned upon earlier in Aristophanes's career. During the Peloponnesian War, however, many people, including women, grew increasingly frustrated by the war's devastation. Desperate times called for innovative measures; in the character of Lysistrata, Aristophanes created a powerful voice for the polis's concerns.

Why does Lysistrata contain so many references to spinning and weaving?

Spinning and weaving were among women's primary household tasks, even for women of the upper class. Women spent a good deal of time and concentration on making cloth from raw wool, a painstaking process. Little wonder, then, that Aristophanes's female characters often express themselves through the metaphors of spinning and weaving. The textile metaphors serve another purpose as well. In classical Greece being fully clothed was considered a hallmark of civilization; the goddess Athena was said to have taught Greek women the textile arts. Because of weaving's association with high culture, textile references lend women authority when they speak. The first two women trying to flee the Acropolis in Episode 1 probably hope their excuses about attending to their wool and flax will be unassailable. Lysistrata's extended fabric-making metaphor in the Agon is more convincing, as she draws attention to the complexity of the process and masterfully connects it to her plan to unify Greece.

In Lysistrata in what ways is Lysistrata a realistic character or a male construct used to discuss male topics?

Lysistrata is unavoidably a male construct, since Aristophanes is a man and her role, originally, would have been played by a male actor. But she is more than that. While some of the female characters in Lysistrata—particularly Calonice—seem like stock or stereotyped characters, Aristophanes's heroine seems lifelike. She is complex, standing apart from the other women (and men) in her bravery, wit, and determination but also revealing the same weaknesses as her comrades (such as admitting her desire for sex). If Aristophanes merely wanted a character to make symbolic gestures in support of an anti-war theme, Lysistrata's characterization might be far flatter and more stereotypical. Instead he created a character who generates deep sympathy because she resembles women audiences were likely to know in real life and voices grievances about war that many women probably expressed.

Would the performance of comedies such as Lysistrata be likely to strike modern audiences as realistic or unrealistic?

As originally performed, Lysistrata would seem strange to most modern audiences. Both ancient comedies and tragedies were performed in a highly stylized way. Actors wore masks and made broad gestures to be seen from afar, and their lines were in verse, which is why the dramatists are referred to as poets as well. However tragedies dealt exclusively with heroic myths, while comedies were more down to earth. Aristophanes's comedies were political satires dealing with people and ideas drawn directly from the polis, or community—including women, children, and slaves. Though the plays were written in verse, characters use everyday language though occasionally they parody the more formal tragic style, as when Cinesias expresses his desolation after Myrrhine leaves him high and dry in Episode 2. Aristophanes's satirical take on both the public and private lives of contemporary Athenians evokes laughter and reflection even today.

For what purpose are some male characters in Lysistrata so misogynistic?

The misogyny of some of the male characters in Lysistrata, particularly the Magistrate and the Chorus of Old Men, might stem from the traditional gender roles in classical Athens. Men were defined as everything that women were not, and vice versa. Men's matters were considered of a higher order than women's; anything women could do was considered less valuable than things men did exclusively. Therefore it was important for men distance their behavior from women's behavior so they wouldn't seem womanly in any way. If a woman encroached into male territory—as Lysistrata does in taking over the treasury—she threatened men's masculinity. That's why in Lysistrata's Agon the Magistrate is so angry with Lysistrata, notwithstanding her persuasive arguments for women managing the treasury. Lysistrata knows exactly how to get under the Magistrate's skin; by transferring her headscarf to his head, she deals him the ultimate insult.

How does Aristophanes characterize Cinesias in Lysistrata?

Cinesias, who appears in Episode 2, is representative of the younger married men in Lysistrata, those who fight in wars and for whom the sex strike is most painful. He first appears irritated and perhaps not too bright; he's convinced that his "dim-witted girl" has been "led on" by Lysistrata and her comrades, which fits the stereotype that women are weak and need protection. During the scene it becomes clear that Cinesias has underestimated Myrrhine, who makes Cinesias's sexual frustration even more unbearable through a strategic series of moves. Halfway through their interaction, Cinesias changes his position on peace from noncommittal to definitive. Left unsatisfied, he agrees that his wife is a tease but also "a loving girl, a sweet one, too." In essence, Cinesias comes across as somewhat blind to the "real" Myrrhine but sweetly smitten with her nonetheless.

Why might Aristophanes have been able to get away with so much obscenity in Lysistrata?

Modern audiences may be uncomfortable with Lysistrata's obscenity, but in Aristophanes's time obscenity was a part of everyday life and many ritual activities. The use of large phalluses, for example, was rooted in the ancient rural revels. The fertility cults of Dionysus and Demeter, in which many women participated, engaged in plenty of earthy rituals that would seem obscene by today's standards. Obscenity—in costume, gesture, and language—was considered a harmless way to blow off steam in these ritualized situations. Obscenity was also thought to have certain powers. In particular the phallus had a religious association with reproduction and the ability to scare away evil spirits. Neither representing nor watching obscenity onstage was considered shocking.

In Lysistrata how is the Chorus of Old Women similar to Lysistrata?

The Chorus of Old Women and Lysistrata appear—to borrow a phrase from from Shakespeare—"both alike in dignity." Lysistrata, with her Scythian girl servant, her ready jug of Thasian wine, and most importantly, her skill at argument, seems to be an educated woman of the upper class. The Chorus of Old Women too seem to be upper class; in the Parabasis they describe their prominent role in the city's various sacred rites, roles available only to girls of noble birth. The old women appear to be in complete agreement with Lysistrata's mission. After Lysistrata's debate with the Magistrate in the play's Agon, the Old Women mirror her arguments in their confrontation with the Chorus of Old Men; the women beg the men not to hold their gender against them but instead to listen to their sound advice, and they point out the important contribution they make in giving birth.

How is the Chorus of Old Women different from Lysistrata?

One obvious difference is their age; although Lysistrata shows great maturity and judgment, she does not seem to be as old as the members of Chorus of Old Women. She treats the women she calls to her meeting—younger wives with children at home—as her peers. Also, she is apparently still young enough to tempt Cinesias in the moments before he confronts Myrrhine. Finally, she sent old women to the Acropolis to occupy it because they are not like her; as senior citizens, they are not needed in the sex strike either because they are widows or because Aristophanes believes senior women don't have sex lives—an idea they would no doubt ridicule. Another difference between Lysistrata and the Old Women is their conduct. In her dealings with the Magistrate and the Ambassadors, Lysistrata is never less than dignified; when she expresses anger, she does so coolly, with carefully measured words. Although she orders her army of women to attack the Magistrate's guards, she does so with the authority of a general; she is not part of a mob. The old women, on the other hand, don't hold back their violent anger with the Chorus of Old Men. Their insults and threats are just as unhinged as their antagonists', and they take off their clothes when the Old Men do. Clearly Lysistrata is above the fray; the old women are passionately a part of it.

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