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Lysistrata | Plot Summary

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Summary

An Athenian woman named Lysistrata has asked women from throughout Greece to meet her in the marketplace below the Acropolis, the hilltop citadel that is also the temple of Athena. There she proposes a plan to end war between the cities of Greece. The first part of the plan requires the women to vow to withhold sex from their husbands until the men make peace with their neighbors. The second part of the plan, which Lysistrata reveals is already under way, involves a band of older women seizing the treasury stored in the Acropolis; without money, politicians can't wage war. After the women agree to Lysistrata's plan, she sends Lampito back to Sparta—Athens's key opponent in the Peloponnesian War—to implement the plan there. Lysistrata barricades herself and the other women, who are regarded as "hostages," within the Acropolis.

The Chorus of Old Men arrive with wood and burning coals, planning to smoke out the rebellious women. They're foiled by the arrival of the Chorus of Old Women, who throw urns of water on the old men, putting out their fires. At this point a Magistrate arrives with armed guards, prepared to storm the Acropolis to get at its treasury. The women chase away the guards, and Lysistrata engages the Magistrate in a debate. She argues that women can use their household-management skills to run the country. She adds that women suffer from war more than men because they lose their sons and husbands to warfare and waste their youth waiting for their husbands to return. She and the women send the Magistrate away humiliated; then they return to the Acropolis. The two choruses spar again, with both groups stripping naked.

After a few days Lysistrata is having trouble holding the women to their pledge. She produces an oracle, a poem that supposedly represents wisdom from the past, which suggests the women should stay the course. They are persuaded just as a desperate husband comes along to test the sex strike. Myrrhine's husband, Cinesias, begs his wife to come home, or at least to satisfy his sexual thirst. She strings him along but ultimately abandons him. When a herald arrives from Sparta, trying to conceal his own erection, he and Cinesias agree to plead for peace in their respective cities.

Now the two choruses make peace with each other, as a prelude to the wider peace Lysistrata is about to negotiate. She calls on the goddess Reconciliation to grasp the Athenian and Spartan ambassadors by their phalluses and bring them to her. Lysistrata scolds the ambassadors for forgetting their natural alliance and persuades them to conclude their peace negotiations. She and the women reward the men with a feast inside the Acropolis. The play ends with everyone coming outside together, where the Spartans perform a song and dance praising Athena.

Lysistrata Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Lysistrata leads Greek women in sex strike to end war.

Rising Action

2 Athens's old women take over the Acropolis and its treasury.

3 Lysistrata and female "hostages" hole up in Acropolis.

4 Chorus of Old Women stop Old Men from burning Acropolis.

5 Magistrate comes to extract war funds but leaves defeated.

6 Two choruses face off, stark naked and hurling insults.

7 Women deserting the Acropolis threaten the strike's success.

8 Myrrhine fuels Cinesias's desire but leaves him unfulfilled.

Climax

9 Cinesias and Spartan Herald agree to press for peace talks.

Falling Action

10 The Choruses reconcile.

11 Lysistrata brokers peace in Greece.

Resolution

12 Men rejoin their women to feast, dance, and praise the gods.

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