Lysistrata | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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Lysistrata | Episode 1 | Summary

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Summary

Five days have passed. Lysistrata comes out of the citadel in an angry state. She complains to the Chorus of Old Women that she can't keep the women inside the citadel. At that moment, women begin to come out, offering lame excuses for leaving. The first says she has to go home to save some wool from being eaten by moths. The second says she has to go home to shuck flax. The third says she is about to give birth, which is forbidden inside the temple of Athena. Lysistrata examines her and finds she has a helmet under her dress. The woman claims she was going to sit in it, like a bird in a nest, and give birth there. Lysistrata doesn't buy any of it—she tells all three women to go back into the citadel, as well as a fourth who says the owls inside keep her awake all night. To persuade them, she produces an "oracle," which says sparrows who stick together and avoid the penis will come out on top, but those who flee will be called promiscuous. The women agree to give chastity another try.

Analysis

Here, as in other parts of the play, Aristophanes juxtaposes high-flown speech with the profane. The opening dialogue between the Leader of the Women's Chorus and Lysistrata uses complex syntax and lofty diction. For example, Lysistrata says "It's the way these women behave so badly,/together with their female hearts, that makes/me lose my courage and walk in circles"—a rather delicate way to say the weak-willed women are driving her crazy. A moment later, urged by the Leader, she says, "I'll keep it short—we all want to get laid." Aristophanes uses this contrast between high and low language to comic effect throughout the play.

The "oracle" Lysistrata produces is supposed to be a message from the gods, but Aristophanes's audience would understand it was a fake. For one thing, oracles were supposed to be short and cryptic, not long poems. For another, male orators often used fake oracles to dupe gullible audiences; Lysistrata—whose powers of persuasion are equal to any man's—successfully employs the same tool here.

Sparrows feature prominently in the oracle. The ancient Greeks believed the little birds were aphrodisiacs. The word sparrow was also slang for both penis and vagina. Their association with sexual desire would have been obvious to the female characters who hear Lysistrata's "oracle."

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