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Lysistrata | Study Guide


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Episode 2

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Episode 2 of Aristophanes's play Lysistrata.

Lysistrata | Episode 2 | Summary



Cinesias, Myrrhine's husband, is spotted approaching the citadel. Lysistrata instructs Myrrhine to tempt her husband in every way she can without breaking her oath. Cinesias arrives along with their child, the child's nurse Manes, and a "very large erection." Cinesias pleads with Lysistrata to let him see his wife; Lysistrata toys with him obscenely until he offers to have sex with her. She declines and fetches Myrrhine.

Cinesias begs his wife to come home—the child needs its mother and the husband is desperate for sex. Myrrhine objects that he doesn't really love her, they can't make love in a temple, and besides, the child is present. Cinesias finds answers to all of these objections—he'll send the child home with Manes—until Myrrhine appears to assent to his wish to have sex there and now. She begins to strip but repeatedly finds reasons to go back into the citadel—first for a bed, then a mattress, then a pillow, then a blanket, then some perfume, and then a different kind of perfume. Each time she returns with the item, she removes another article of clothing until her husband is positively "inflamed" with desire. Finally, she tells him he will vote for peace and leaves him alone.

Cinesias and the Leader of the Men's Chorus sing back and forth. "In a tragic style," Cinesias complains about how Myrrhine has betrayed his poor little penis. The leader sympathizes with the pain that racks Cinesias' body and calls Myrrhine a "bitch." Cinesias objects—his wife is an angel. The chorus says no, she's "a tease, a slut." Finally Cinesias calls on Zeus to pick up his wife in a whirlwind and set her down on his erect penis.

A Spartan Herald arrives with a protrusion under his cloak. The Magistrate accuses him of hiding either a spear or an erection. The Herald says it's a "Spartan Herald's stick" but then reveals the protrusion is an erection. The Herald tells the Magistrate that men throughout Sparta are suffering from lack of sex, thanks to Lampito's efforts. The exchange between the two men is filled with innuendo about the Spartans' supposed preference for anal sex. Finally, the Magistrate instructs the Herald to send Spartan ambassadors throughout the land to make peace and vows to do the same. Both men go on their way.


The speech Cinesias makes after Lysistrata leaves him to fetch Myrrhine is reminiscent of Lysistrata's lament about the weak-willed women in the Acropolis. It starts out poetically ("To me now everything/seems empty," he broods) and ends abruptly with vulgarity ("I'm just so horny"). This juxtaposition of the lofty and the profane is one of Aristophanes's comic trademarks.

The name Myrrhine was common for women; it meant myrtle, a leafy plant, and was slang for vulva; it's a fitting name for a character who uses her sexuality to get what she wants. Though her manipulation of Cinesias makes her a stereotype of a certain kind of woman, it also shows her cleverness. In spite of Cinesias calling her "dim-witted," she masterfully manipulates her husband into voting for peace using the only tools she has available, her body and her wit.

Though the exchange between Myrrhine and Cinesias plays as a sex comedy, it also says something important about marital fidelity. In his pleas with Myrrhine, Cinesias reveals he's not desperate for his wife's body alone. Their son needs her care, and he wants his orderly home back ("Inside our home/things are a mess.") Also, his sexual desperation makes it clear he hasn't sought relief outside of marriage. When he promises at the end of the scene to work for peace, it's clear Lysistrata's plan is working, and it's working because marital fidelity is more important to men like Cinesias than mere sexual gratification.

The interaction between the Leader of the Men's Chorus and Cinesias reinforces the idea that Cinesias isn't merely desperate for sex. He refuses to agree with the Leader of the Men's Chorus that Myrrhine is "a dirty stinking bitch." In spite of his pain, Cinesias insists his wife is "a loving girl, a sweet one, too." He truly loves his wife, whom he defends in spite of his intense discomfort.

The exchange between the Spartan Herald and Cinesias marks the turning point in the play, as Lysistrata's sex strike comes to fruition. Significantly, Cinesias is suspicious of the protrusion beneath the Spartan Herald's cloak; Sparta is the enemy. Although the Spartan Herald claims he has come to propose a truce, Cinesias thinks he might be hiding a spear. Of course, it's not a spear but a painfully inflamed penis. In an inversion of the usual symbolism of pointy weapons—the phallus/male power—the actual phalluses of the Herald and Cinesias symbolize weapons. What's more, these "weapons" have been turned on their owners, caused by the men's fundamental, biological need to make love to their wives.

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