Lysistrata | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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Lysistrata | Parabasis | Summary

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Summary

In this ode, the Leader of the Men's Chorus proposes that "for action on this issue"—the women occupying the Acropolis—the men should strip themselves, which they partially do. The Chorus of Old Men express the concern that enemy Spartans have put the women up to seizing the treasury (which also pays the old men's pensions). They move threateningly toward the Chorus of Women. The women do not back down. Instead, they sing about their duty—and their right—to safeguard the city, and they talk trash to the old men. This angers the men more; they decide to strip completely naked so they can "smell/the way [they] should, like men," and "stand erect again, aroused/in our old bodies—shake off old age." They strip down to their "shriveled phalluses." The old men add that the unruly women should be yoked like animals to keep them under control. In retaliation the Leader of the Women's Chorus calls on the women to strip "so we can smell a woman's passion/when we're in a ferocious mood." The Leader of the Women's Chorus mocks the men's leader, saying that not even his neighbors like him.

Analysis

In this scene the old men continue to gripe about the effrontery of the old women. Stupidity and selfishness underlie the men's complaints about the women's actions, which amount to resolving petty quarrels with old enemies ("making peace/on our behalf with Spartan types/whom I don't trust") and preventing the old men from collecting their pay as jurors ("the funds I need to live my way").

The old men's response is even more absurd—they strip themselves as if preparing for some kind of battle or wrestling match. In doing so they reveal not the muscular physiques of warriors but impotent old bodies. The old women's stripping is equally ridiculous. They invoke the ritual nakedness of little girls in an all-female coming-of-age ceremony, the Brauronia—a totally inappropriate excuse for old women getting naked in public.

Aristophanes makes the women seem more respectable than the old men, however. They have a higher social standing, evident from their reference to participation in rituals and ceremonies only open to high-born women. In contrast, the old men who threaten them are from a lower social stratum that relied on jury-pay for a living. What's more, echoing Lysistrata's argument with the Magistrate, the old women point out their significant contributions to society, since they give birth to men who fight and die in war. They have also ritually served Athena, and therefore the city, throughout their lives. The old men contribute nothing, say the women: "That pile of cash/which we collected from the Persian Wars/you squandered. You don't even pay taxes." But by making the women in their nakedness look as ridiculous as the men, Aristophanes seems unprepared to grant these women the same dignity as he does Lysistrata.

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