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Lysistrata | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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How does the Chorus of Old Men compare with the Chorus of Old Women in Lysistrata?

The two choruses represent different social strata. The old men's reliance on jury pay suggests their lower social standing. The old women play important roles in city rites, roles only available to daughters of noble birth. They have other differences too. In the Parados the old men seem petty and greedy in their concern about getting at "their" money and taking "their" Acropolis back. The old women are motivated by a desire to protect Lysistrata's noble mission of peace. Furthermore, the old women are the ones who make the first move toward reconciliation with the men in Stasimon 2. The two choruses are similar in important ways, however. In Stasimon 1 the chorus leaders' insults to each other are precisely balanced. When the two choruses strip naked, removing the trappings that distinguish classes, they appear to be on an equal, earthy footing. And both engage in the highest levels of vitriol, suggesting equal passion. By making the Chorus of Old Women every bit as unruly as the old men, Aristophanes makes it clear that the ladies won't be taking over Athens on a permanent basis. Lysistrata, in her extraordinary wit, vision, and determination, is unique among women as well as men.

In Lysistrata what parallel benefits result from Lysistrata's two-pronged approach to peace?

The first benefit is peace and unity in Greece. By depriving the old warmongers of money and the younger men of sex, Lysistrata drives the warring parties to the negotiating table in Episode 3. From that point Lysistrata easily brokers peace between the Athenian and Spartan ambassadors, who assure her that their allies will agree to the treaty. The second benefit is peace and unity at home. In the Exodos, after the larger peace has been assured, husbands are sent home with their wives, resulting in harmony and wholeness on the home front. Aristophanes subtly equates a harmonious Greek household and the unified Greek state, reinforcing the idea of the oikos as a bastion of Greek values.

How does the sex strike in Lysistrata compare with the Iroquois sex strike of the 1600s?

The earliest documented modern case of "Lysistrata action"—a term coined by advocates of nonviolent action—happened in the Iroquois Confederacy in the early 17th century. Men in the confederacy of six North American tribes decided when and where to go to war. Women wanted veto power over these decisions, so in a plan bearing an uncanny resemblance to Lysistrata's, they withheld sex and also took control of the dried-grain stores men needed for military expeditions. The plan worked, in part because Iroquois men were afraid that they would never have be able to have children if the women continued to abstain from sex.

In Lysisitrata how does satire in the Prologos set the tone for the whole play?

Aristophanes's satire in the first scene of the play takes direct aim at women. Lysistrata and Calonice paint a picture of Greek women as lazy, frivolous, and obsessed with men. To neither's surprise the other Greek women are late. Calonice expresses doubt that Greek women could undertake any important task: "What sensible or splendid act could women do? We sit around playing with our cosmetics ..." Then Lysistrata announces she will harness this women's preoccupation for self-grooming for her protest. By making themselves as tempting as possible, the women will bring their husbands to their knees. Converting Calonice's derisive assessment of women into an advantage is the first of the many inversions and situational ironies that present themselves as the play unfolds.

How does the symbolic relationship between wine and women play out in Lysistrata?

In the Prologos, Lysistrata and her comrades replace the traditional blood oath—a traditional male ceremony—with a wine vow, a distinctly female ceremony. Calonice says, "Healthy blood spurts out so beautifully!" as she pours the wine into a bowl, adding imagery of menstruation and fertility to a vow of peace. Women such as Calonice delight in wine's intoxication, just as men such as Cinesias are intoxicated by their wives. Wine makes another appearance at the end of the play, linked again to the women's peacemaking. In the Exodos, after Lysistrata orchestrates a peace treaty and a celebratory feast, one of the Athenian delegates proposes that whenever ambassadors meet "they stay permanently drunk" because "when we're sober, we lose our minds." This is an interesting inversion: the men are properly drunk now, and the play women have made men nearly mad with desire, driving them to form a peace treaty. Linking the intoxicating effects of women and wine, Aristophanes proposes a benign alternative to the madness of war.

How does the theme of femininity versus masculinity play out in the choruses of Lysistrata?

In Lysistrata Aristophanes suggests that the men of Athens have been poor caretakers of the city's welfare. In the Agon, Lysistrata reverses men's and women's roles by symbolically making the Magistrate—the key representative of the greedy and incompetent politicians—a woman by wrapping him in her headscarf and filling his arms with a basket of wool, while Lysistrata stands unveiled and in charge of the treasury. But in the Parabasis that follows, the conflict between the male and female choruses suggests that simple role reversal won't solve any problems. After threatening each other with increasing violence, the choruses stand naked, highlighting not only the anatomical differences between men and women but also their complementary natures. The men have phalluses; the women have none. In Stasimon 1, pubic hair is another complementary difference; the men have lots of it, the women trim theirs. Finally, in Stasimon 2 the Leader of the Men's Chorus accepts help and a kiss from the Leader of the Women's Chorus. When the play ends, traditional male and female roles have been restored, but with a renewed mutual respect.

How does Lysistrata subvert the usual symbolic associations of the phallus?

Lysistrata is a full of comic inversions, and one of the main ones is significance of the phallus. The phallus, literally and figuratively in the form of staff, spears, sticks, and so on, is most often associated with male potency and aggression. This aggression expresses itself in the Peloponnesian War, which Lysistrata is determined to stop. After women withdraw from sex, the phallus becomes a liability. Men are done in by their painful erections. Their phalluses become weapons turned inward as the men walk around doubled over like old men. The women in Lysistrata make it painfully clear to their men that they are not to be ignored.

How civil is the civil disobedience in Aristophanes's Lysistrata?

Civil disobedience is usually defined as a deliberate, public, nonviolent resistance to a law or government policy—often undertaken by an under-represented group—aimed at changing that law or policy. Lysistrata's action is deliberate and public—she and her comrades don't try to hide their reasons for the sex strike or for taking over the Acropolis, although the old women of Athens do take it over by subterfuge, pretending they are there to conduct religious rites. They also have a clear policy change in mind: ending war. One method, occupying the Acropolis to deny politicians' access to the treasury, breaks a law to change a policy. The other method, withholding sex, was probably illegal in that men had complete control over their wives, though Cinesias at least never threatens legal action or threatens violence. At any rate this part of Lysistrata's strategy is more of a private action than a civil action—it is aimed at Greece's bedrooms, with the intention of restoring husbands to Greek households. As far as the last criterion, nonviolence, no one dies in the occupation of the Acropolis. It's clear that Lysistrata is prepared for violence, however. When the Magistrate calls on his Scythian guards to arrest Lysistrata, she calls her army of women: "Hit them, stomp on them, scratch their eyeballs,/cover them with your abuse!" Somehow these unarmed women defeat the armed Scythian guards.

In Lysistrata which part of Lysistrata's plans seems most effective and why?

Lysistrata believes money fuels war, so she plans to cut off the flow of money at its source by occupying the treasury. On its face, seizing the treasury seems to be a logical strategy, and at the end of the Agon Lysistrata sends away the Magistrate without the war funds he came to fetch, so the plan seems to be working. However the more private part of her action—dealing with the private interactions between husbands and wives—is what really ends the war. At the end of Episode 2 the Spartan herald tells Cinesias that men in Sparta "go around city doubled up" in pain from their erections. Cinesias realizes then he is not the only one being denied sex, and both men go off to tell their ambassadors to make peace. When the ambassadors' delegations arrive in Episode 3, their erections make them eager to sign a peace treaty; they say nothing about their treasuries. Aristophanes suggests peace depends on men appreciating the fulfillment to be found at home.

In Lysistrata how does Aristophanes convey the devastation of war that motivates Lysistrata's protest?

Throughout the play Aristophanes refers to the losses felt throughout Athens because of the war. In the Prologos the women complain about their husbands' absence without specifying the effects of their absence. In the Agon, however, Lysistrata enumerates some of the deprivations of war. Hardly any men of fighting age are left in the city; many will never return from the war. Armed men roam the markets, disrupting business. Presumably they are there to protect Athenians from the Spartans who "ravage the Athenians' land," as readers learn in Episode 3. Finally, women waste their youth waiting for their husbands to return and then have to send their sons off to war as well. Because of all these hardships Lysistrata organizes women to protest.

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