Study Guide For Aristophanes' Lysistrata

To help with the usual barrage of people, places and things, use the Glossary which begins on page 599.

The plot is about as simple as it gets: Athenian women, fed up with the Peloponnesian War, barricade themselves in the Acropolis and go on a sex strike to force their husbands to vote for peace with Sparta.

This plot demonstrates that the overriding mode of Aristophanic comedy is fantasy. In the Congresswomen women take over the assembly to save Athens from corrupt politicians. So consider that, while in tragedy assertive women cause catastrophe, in comedy they bring joy and harmony.

But Aristophanes is not content to turn the tables and present purely virtuous women and venal men; consider why, exactly, they are so upset about the duration of the war. To paraphrase Freud, what do these women really want? Note in the first scene how difficult Lysistrata finds it to interest other women in her plan.

Part of the original humorous effect derives from Greek staging practice. Remember that all the actors are male. Also, a prominent part of the comic costume was a large leather phallus. The male characters in this play would walk around the stage with huge erections. This is not a comedy that for prudes. Most of the sexual innuendo that you see in virtually every line is actually there.

The name of the play's heroine, Lysistrata, means "releaser of war," which typifies the Aristophanic tendency for an "outsider" hero whose indicates his or her function. Interestingly, there was an important priestess in Athens at that time whose name, Lysimache, meant "releaser of the battle." However, it is impossible to say this significance of this possible coincidence. Think about the character of Lysistrata and how the audience might have viewed her. What figure in mythology or tragedy does she most resemble?

page 356: If you have trouble understanding the Spartan woman Lampito, read her lines aloud, using a hillbilly accent. The translator is trying to imitate how the Athenians regarded the Spartans as hicks.

p382ff. Note how Aristophanes blends the slapstick scene of the women chasing of old men with weapons like weaving spindles and the intellectual humor of the commissioner's attempt to argue with Lysistrata's exposition of the incompetence of the men's pursuit of the war.

There are several references to Sicily in the play. Recently Athens had added to its problems by deciding to invade Sicily as well, an expedition that ended in disaster.

p408. Lysistrata and the women stage a parody of a typical tragic scene: does it look familiar to you?

p436: the koryphaios is the leader of the chorus. The leaders of the two male and female choruses attempt to make amends. Note that the play seems to hoping not just for an end to the Peloponnesian War, but to the proverbial war between the sexes.

p.444: note how Aristophanes undercuts the lofty sentiments of Lysistrata's speech to the men. What are the men doing while she is talking about peace?

The final pages are taken up with a revel (a typical comic ending) celebrating the new peace. For an audience still at war, this is the ultimate form of escapist entertainment.