Lysistrata | Study Guide

Aristophanes

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Lysistrata | Parodos | Summary

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Summary

In Greek drama, the chorus normally appears first in the parodos. In Lysistrata, only half the chorus appears initially: the Chorus of Old Men. They are engaged in lugging logs, pots of coals, and torches uphill toward the Acropolis. As the chorus members grumble about the unruly and ungrateful women who have barred them from the citadel, the Leader of the Chorus reveals their plan to rescue their goddess, Athena, by burning down the doors (and the women, too). The men speak of their courage in old battles, but now they are decrepit. As they struggle to haul their loads up the hill, the smoking coals sting their eyes.

The Chorus of Old Women, carrying jugs of water, head toward the fire. They say they too want to protect Athena by protecting all of Greece from the devastation of war. They block the Chorus of Old Men with their torches from the Acropolis, and the leaders of the two choruses exchange insults and threats. The Leader of the Men's Chorus brandishes his torch at the Leader of the Women's Chorus, who threatens to douse him with water. Finally, she does, and the rest of the women follow suit, soaking the Chorus of Old Men.

Analysis

The chorus in Greek drama represents the polis. Usually, the chorus was all male. In Aristophanes's Athens, all male citizens took part in running the city, so they were also the demos, or political authority. But there was another part of Greek society, or course: the predominantly female oikos. Aristophanes's genius was in creating a chorus that represented a broader idea of the polis—both demos and oikos. And rather than presenting a unified front, these two choruses are in bitter conflict in their first appearance.

The old men make quite a fuss about how difficult their loads are, emphasizing their feebleness. The old women, however, appear to be a hardy lot. They describe how they muscled in at the well to fill their water vessels, which they energetically carry to the fire. (In many ancient cultures water is associated with the feminine, and fire with the masculine, so it's fitting that the elements are the weapons of the choruses of women and men, respectively.) In vulgarity, the old women match the old men taunt for taunt and threat for threat. If anything, the women seem a bit more threatening, and the men's boasts of their valor in ancient battles are ridiculous—they are not old enough to have participated in, for example, the siege against Cleomenes in the Acropolis a century earlier.

Both the Old Men and the Old Women appeal to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens and the Acropolis. The old men claim they are protecting her, but it's their sense of ownership that seems most threatened. "They've seized my own Acropolis," they complain. The women, however, seem to have a nobler cause; they want to protect the women inside who "rescue cities, all of Greece,/from war and this insanity."

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