Lysistrata | Study Guide


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

Lysistrata | Prologos | Summary



The prologos, or prologue, introduces the play's setting and themes. Lysistrata appears on the streets of Athens, below the Acropolis, the hilltop complex that houses the Parthenon (a large temple to the city's patron goddess, Athena) as well as the treasury. Lysistrata is irritated because she has called the women of Greece to a meeting but none have arrived yet. She says if there were a festival taking place women would fill the streets. Soon her friend Calonice arrives wanting to know the reason for the meeting. She defends the other women's tardiness: they have husbands, servants, and children to deal with.

Lysistrata hints that the meeting's purpose has to do with something "really hard," and Calonice riffs on the double entendre. She defends women's preoccupation with other things, such as clothing and cosmetics. Lysistrata says these very things will bring an end to the fighting among the different tribes of Greece—the Athenians, the Spartans, the Boeotians, the Acharnians, the Thebans, and others. Finally the other women start to arrive; first Myrrhine, Lampito, and Ismenia. Calonice and Myrrhine examine Lampito and Ismenia, making bawdy comments about their bodies. The four women insist Lysistrata explain her purpose.

Lysistrata first gets the women to agree the constant state of war in Greece creates domestic problems and drastic measures must be taken to bring their men back. Then Lysistrata reveals her purpose: the women must agree to withhold sex from their husbands until the men negotiate a peace. The other women raise objections—they don't want to give up sex, and their husbands will force them to have it anyway. Lysistrata agrees they must submit if forced, but they shouldn't show any pleasure in it. Then the other women point out that Athenians are "mad for war"; in response Lysistrata explains the other part of her plan: she has already enlisted the old women to take over the treasury housed in the Acropolis to keep the Athenian politicians from funding their battles. The women are convinced; they swear on a jug of wine to arouse their husbands' passions, make them desperate for sex, and then withhold it. Lysistrata tells Lampito to spread the word in Sparta; then she and the other Athenian women, taking the non-Athenian women as hostages, go to barricade themselves in the Acropolis.


From the start Lysistrata presents herself as an atypical female in Athens; she is out in the marketplace rallying women—something utterly forbidden in Greek culture, where women were meant to stay home or, if they did go about in public, to be discreet. That she manages to rally a large number of women to her cause probably reflects real tensions in Athenian society at the time. The Peloponnesian War was in its 20th year. Athens was surrounded by a Spartan army of occupation, democracy was under threat, and everyday life was difficult.

The plan Lysistrata unveils is in many ways utopian. Men could easily get around their wives' withholding sex; there was no shortage of slaves or prostitutes, for example, to whom men could turn. And while women had some business being at the Acropolis—the goddess Athena was attended by female priestesses—taking over the treasury wouldn't have been tolerated. So although the tolerance for Lysistrata's rabble-rousing is utopian, the methods Lysistrata proposes—a domestic strike and guarding the budget—have down-to-earth roots. What Lysistrata really wants is a return to normal domesticity throughout the polis, or population. War has had a negative effect on the Greek household, or oikos. Lysistrata's two-pronged plan reflects temporary measures a wife might take in her own home to bring a husband to his senses.

Apart from Lysistrata, unique in her wisdom and determination, the other women introduced in the prologos fit male stereotypes about women in ancient Greece. Myrrhine offers a flimsy excuse for being late—typically unreliable woman! Myrrhine and Calonice's horrified reaction to Lysistrata's proposed sex strike makes them seem sex-obsessed. Calonice's excitement over the wine fits a stereotype that women were overly fond of drinking. Only Lampito, the Spartan woman who is the first to agree to the strike, deserves Lysistrata's praise. "O you're a true friend!/The only real woman in the bunch." This is a touch of irony—Spartan women were considered unwomanly because like their male counterparts they took physical training from an early age.

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