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Lysistrata | Themes

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Determination

It's not easy persuading Athenians to wage peace. Lysistrata shows impressive resolve as she bargains with the wavering women. Her task doesn't end when she first convinces the women, with great difficulty, to swear an oath on a jug of wine. As the sex strike wears on she must repeatedly beg, threaten, and cajole the women to keep them going. Even more impressive is her resolve in the face of threats from the Magistrate. He menaces her with his fists (not to mention a troop of Scythian Guards) and calls her a witch and an idiot, even when she presents cogent reasons for the strike. Lysistrata's defiance of the Magistrate is even more remarkable given that women in ancient Athens had no rights and were not welcome in public places; speaking with unrelated men such as the Magistrate was strictly forbidden. That Lysistrata sets aside fear to take a stand is a testament to her determination.

Femininity versus Masculinity

In ancient Athens masculinity and femininity are defined in opposition to one another. Manhood was defined by what womanhood was not, and vice versa. In fact anything women could do automatically was considered less valuable than tasks that were the sole domain of men. So when Lysistrata compares the task of governing to women's work, she threatens the very meaning of manhood in Athens. It may be the threat women pose to masculinity, rather than their withholding of sex, that really drives warring parties to the negotiating table.

Civil Disobedience

In the 1840s, when Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes for the Mexican-American War, he brought the notion of civil disobedience to Americans' attention. But Aristophanes used the tactic—if only fictionally—a thousand years earlier. Lysistrata's mission has the hallmarks of a campaign of civil disobedience. A disenfranchised group—women—band together and defy laws and norms to bring about a political change—the end of war. They mount a sex strike and seize the treasury, bringing their husbands to their knees and depriving warmongers of military funding. Modern readers might think Aristophanes's version of civil disobedience leaves something be desired, however. Though collective action helps the women achieve their purpose, they return to their politically powerless roles as part of the bargain.

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