An Analysis of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

Lysistrata is an eponymous play by the Greek playwright, Aristophanes (446-386 BC), best known for his comic plays such as The Birds, The Wasps and The Frogs. Of course, while Sophocles was famous for his tragic plays, Aristophanes is widely known as the father of comedy. Lysistrata is eponymous because the title is the same as the name of the hero. Lysistrata was written in 412 BC during the dark moments of the Peloponnesian War – a war fought in ancient Greece between Sparta and Athens between 431 and 405 BC. It should be noted that in ancient Greece, plays were performed at the Lenaea and at the Great City Dionysia – two religious festivals in honour of Dionysus which included theatrical competitions.

Aristophanes’ Lysistrata is a comedy with a blend of satire and lampoon. It demonstrates that, contrary to what patriarchal ideologies would have us believe, women are capable of contributing meaningfully to the growth and development of society. This assertion might seem light when viewed from today’s level of gender awareness in society. However, it becomes more serious when it is understood that the classical period of the Greeks was a deeply patriarchal clime when even scholars like Aristotle believed in the inferiority of the women in relation to men.

In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, the eponymous heroine’s actions serve to counter the demeaning views held by men against women in society. The play opens in medias res. The war is in a state of a stalemate and the two Greek city states keep counting the cost in money and in men. It is at this point that Lysistrata rises to the occasion. The men have failed to decisively win the war, while the war keeps the men away from their family members – wives and children. Lysistrata believes that she could solve this problem where men have failed. Put simply, her solution is that women should withhold sexual affection from their husbands until they decide to end the war. Lysistrata had convened a meeting of the women representatives from the two Greek city states of Sparta and Athens.

The play opens as Lysistrata awaits the arrival of these women. In her first speech which opens the play, Lysistrata expresses her anxiety or disappointment at not seeing any of the women yet. She says if they were summoned to the shrine of Bacchus, Pan, Colias and Genetyllis, there would be no space for the crowd that would converge in those places. Bacchus is the god of wine, Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks; Colias is the place that houses the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, while Gentyllis is the protectress of childbirth. Lysistrata’s words imply that the women would have loved to gather for any event that brings pleasure instead of a brainstorming conference like the one she has called.

The setting of the play at this point is morning in Athens near the acropolis. Calonice, Lysistrata’s neighbour, arrives presently for the meeting and joins Lysistrata in a conversation. The tone for the gendered discourse in the play is set by Lysistrata when she expresses her grief for the woman’s condition in her time. Her words: ‘My heart is hot within me . . . and sore I grieve for the sake of womankind,/Because the men account us all to be sly, shifty rogues’. This statement, which is in response to Calonice’s concern about Lysistrata’s gloomy countenance, demonstrates the deep suspicion with which men hold women in Lysistrata’s society and time. It at once creates the men/women binary which is one of the major conflicts that the play deals with. Calonice replies that even Zeus is suspicious of women. Zeus is at the head of the Greek Pantheon, hence Calonice’s statement is an indirect way of saying that the earth and heaven are united in their hatred of women. This deepens the woman’s oppressed position in the mind of the reader/audience. Calonice equally asks Lysistrata to be patient with the women on their late arrival at the meeting because it is difficult for them to go out. The women needed permission from their men before going out, apart from having so many chores to complete each day. In Calonice’s words, ‘One has to mind her husband; one, to rouse/Her servant: one, to put the child to sleep: one, has to wash him: one, to give him pap’.

When Calonice asks Lysistrata why she summoned the women, Lysistrata replies: ‘. . . ‘Tis a scheme I’ve hit on,/Tossing it over many a sleepless night’. This means that she has an idea, a stratagem, and that she came about it after many nights of thinking. Note the pun in Calonice’s response: ‘Tossing it over? Then ‘tis light, I fancy’. The word ‘light’ contrasts with the idea that what Lysistrata summoned the women was a weighty matter. The word ‘light’ does not only rhyme with night, but it also contrasts with it in a poetic and punny sense. Lysistrata’s response is marked by verbal irony, thus: ‘Light? Ay, so light, my dear, that all the hopes/ of all the states are anchored on us women’. This statement by Lysistrata raises the theme of the women as the hope of society, and it at once counters the patriarchal perception of the women by men. Calonice is taken aback by Lysistrata’s words about women being the hope of society. Her words show that Calonice does not believe that women are so relevant to the extent of being the hope of society. She uses the metaphor, ‘a slender stay to lean on’ to depict women as untrustworthy or unreliable.

Lysistrata is a play that demonstrates that women could succeed where the strength of men fail. The heroine Lysistrata is portrayed as a visionary woman leader, as she assures Calonice that all depends on the women to save the situation: ‘But if the women will but meet here now,/Boetian girls, Peloponnessian girls,/And we ourselves, we’ll save the States between us’. Calonice’s voice is presented as counter or foil to that of Lysistrata. While Lysistrata believes that women are capable of resolving the problem at hand, Calonice doubts the women’s ability to do so. Her doubts are conveyed through these rhetorical questions: ‘What can we women do? What brilliant scheme/Can we, poor souls, accomplish?’ There is the use of personification in the expression, ‘So that never more/Men in our day shall lift the hostile spear’. This statement by Lysistrata portrays her vision of a peaceful society through women’s agency, as well as indicating that what used to signify women’s weakness like ‘cambric robes and little finical shoes’ can turn out to be sources of strength.

The women soon start to arrive, as indicated in Calonice’s words, ‘. . . But they’re coming now: here they all are:/First one, and then another.’ A third character is introduced by name Myrrhina, who arrives from Anagyre alongside other women. She is afraid that they might be late and is impatient to hear what Lysistrata has to say. She gives the reason for her lateness as her inability to find her clothes in the dark. Lysistrata asks Myrrhina to wait until the other women arrive, especially those from Pelopnnessus and Boetia.

Then Lampito arrives from Sparta, along with her friends. She is portrayed as beautiful and strong: ‘. . . here’s an arm could fairly/Throttle a bull!’ in Lysistrata’s words. Lampito’s characterisation rejects the patriarchal notion that women are weak.  Lysistrata equally praises Lampito’s beauty thus: ‘. . . See here’s a neck and breast; how firm and lusty!’. There is simile in Lampito’s response, ‘Wow, but ye pradd me like a fatted calf’. Boetia is described as a land of plains. The character Ane is from Boetia. There is another woman who comes from Corinth.

 All the women are now present and Lysistrata begins the conference with a question: ‘Do ye not miss the fathers of your babes,/Always on service? Well I wot ye all/Have got a husband absent at the wars’. This is a creative and imaginative way of introducing the problem of war to the women. Wives need to be with their husbands but the war usually takes them away from home for several months. For instance, Calonice says that her husband has been away for five months in the Thracian quarters. Myrrhina’s husband has also been away for seven months at a place called Pylus. Lampito’s complaint is given thus: ‘An’ my gude mon nae suner comes frae war/Than he straps targe an’ gangs awa again’. It should be noted that Lampito’s dialect is slightly different from that of the others, as the Spartans spoke a different dialect from the Athenians. In this English translation, it is likely that her dialogue is rendered in Middle English, while the Athenian characters speak using early modern English.

Lysistrata continues to bemoan the fate of the women in war time: ‘No husband now, no sparks, no anything./For ever since Miletus played us false,/We’ve had no joy, no solace, none at all.’ The expression ‘Miletus played us false’ refers to the breaking away of Miletus from Athens. Lysistrata goes on to ask the women to help bring an end to the war: ‘. . . so will you, will you, if I find a way,/Help me to end the war?’ The pattern of the repetition of the expression, ‘will you’ is an instance of epizeuxis, the repetition of a word or phrase in quick succession.  

The women respond in the affirmative, going on to state the sacrifices that they are willing to make in order to obtain peace in their society. Calonice, for instance, says that she could cut herself in half and give a part of it for peace. This is, of course, an instance of hyperbole, which is usually effective in creating humour or exaggerating an event. To this, Lysistrata says that there is only one available solution for peace. The women are eager to know the solution. When Lysistrata asks if they are willing to do it, they respond in the affirmative through Myrrhina: ‘. . . ay, surely, though it cost our lives.’ It must be stated that from the beginning of her speech, Lysistrata shows herself as a great orator who has mastered all the techniques of capturing an audience’s attention and motivating them to take an action that is in line with her vision.

Lysistrata tells the women that they ‘must abstain each from the joys of love’. This expression is a euphemism for sexual abstinence, as the expression ‘the joys of love’ is a metaphor for sexual pleasure. The women’s response to Lysistrata’s suggestion is not impressive at all. Their reactions show that they are disappointed with Lysistrata’s suggestion. This is explained in the following words from Lysistrata: ‘How! What! Why turn away? Where are you going? What makes you pout your lips, and shake your heads? What brings this falling tear, that changing colour?’ The exclamatory expressions suggest dismay on the part of Lysistrata and the queries help us understand better the reaction of the women to the proposed solution. The women at first reject the suggestion outright. They would rather prefer the war to go on than cease from having sex. Even Calonice repents from her earlier vow of cleaving herself for the sake of peace. She tells Lysistrata: ‘Ask anything but this. Why, if needs be,/I’d walk through fire: only, not give up Love. There’s nothing like it, dear Lysistrata.’ Lysistrata addresses Calonice as Mrs Turbot, which is suggestive of her husband’s name.

Lysistrata decries the women’s negative reaction thus: ‘O women! Women! O our frail, frail sex!/No wonder tragedies are made from us./Always the same: nothing but loves and cradles.’ At this point, Lysistrata takes on the earlier part played by Calonice which sees the women as inferior and weak. However, this is only a strategy to get the women to rethink their position by mirroring the undesirable traits that they have exhibited.

It is only Lampito who appears to stand by Lysistrata and her weird suggestion. Lysistrata goes on to explain to Calonice and the other women how withholding love from men could help bring an end to the war. They are to stay at home, beautify themselves with makeup to charm the men but then withhold love consummation until the men agree to end the war. Calonice and the other women begin to accept Lysistrata’s advice as far as it will bring about peace. Then the women decide to take an oath that will bind them to their decision. The oath consists of Lysistrata asking all the women to place their hands on the wine-cup and repeating the words of the oath after her. The wording of the oath goes thus, ‘I will abstain from Love and Love’s delights/And take no pleasure though my lord invites/And sleep a vestal all alone at nights./And live a stranger to all nuptial rites.’ It should be noted that the oath’s lyrics are written in iambic pentameter and that it has a rhyme scheme: aaa. There is also an instance of anaphora in the repetition of ‘and’ at the initial position of the lines, beginning from the second line.

Calonice protests even in the midst of the swearing. The oath continues: ‘I will abjure the very name of Love/So help me Zeus, and all the powers above./If I do this, my cup be filled with wine./But If I fail, a water draught be mine.’ All the women swear to the oath and soon afterwards the acropolis is seized by the women. The acropolis is called Athen’s castle in the play. It houses important offices of the State, including the Treasury. The women have seized it so as to stop the men from accessing funds and other supplies necessary for war. The acropolis is to remain seized and locked until the men give in to the demands of the women. Upon Calonice’s fear that the men might come after them with arms, Lysistrata says that the men ‘will not bring or threats or fire enough/To awe our woman hearts. . .’ Lysistrata asks Lampito to leave for Sparta to organise the women there. The girls (women) she came with will remain in Athens as hostages.   

It is observed that mentioning a god before a speech is an indication of swearing in the play. An example is when Calonice says: ‘By Aphrodite, no! else ‘twere for nought/That people call us bold, restless jades.’ The statement is to reinforce the need to hold the men to ransom by not opening the acropolis until peace returns to the two warring Hellenic States.

The symmetrical scene is introduced at this point. It consists of Chorus of Men and Chorus of Women. They represent the collective voices of the men and women in the play. Chorus of Men is surprised at the bold and courageous actions of the women: ‘Who would have thought that sluts like these,/Our household pests, would have waxed so bold,/As the Holy Image by fraud to seize/As the City Castle by force to hold. . .’ The metaphor ‘household pests’ is a misogynistic expression that speaks of men’s view of women as dependent or parasitic beings in the life of men. The Chorus of Men’s words capture the subconscious disdain that men have towards women. The men intend to burn the city wall along with the women. They vow never to allow themselves be mocked by women: ‘. . . No, never, never, whilst I live/shall woman-folk deride me’.

The men are using fire to scare the women into abandoning their siege and the castle. There is the use of ideophone/onomatopoeia in the expression: ‘Puff! Puff! Puff!/O the smoke! The smoke!’ which is the sound of blowing the cinders to make fire. The expression, ‘like a battering ram we’ll butt’ is a simile and refers to part of the males’ threats against the women. In essence, the ram symbolises male strength, while the fire symbolises male anger or the flipside of love and passion.

The Chorus of Women’s speech indicates that the women are trying to flee from the raging fire. Again, it should be noted that fire is a symbol of men’s hatred towards women. However, in its benign form, it could be a symbol of love and desire. The women also have their own response to the men’s weapon and it is seen in the antithetical expression, ‘And O, if with fire men invade them,/O help us with water to aid them’. The women reprimand the men for their thoughtless action with invectives: ‘You vile, abandoned crew, no good and virtuous men, I’m sure,/would act the way you do’. The men are shown to be afraid of the bold and warlike postures of the women. It is then obvious from this point that the play dramatises the battle of the genders, literally and figuratively.

A long dialogue ensues between Chorus of Men and Chorus of Women. The dialogue demonstrates the theme of gender war in society, reinforce the idea of war as a motif, as well as the theme of war-within-a-war in the play. The women are defiant towards the men; they would not be cowed by the men’s fire, instead they will counter it with water. The men want to beat the women into submission or beat sense into them. The women use words to hurt the men, daring the men to slap them as they purport to do. There is also the war of words between the men and the women as can be seen in the following excerpt.

Chorus of Men: ‘And what if with these fists, my love,/I pound the wench to shivers?’

Chorus of Women: ‘By Heaven, we’ll gnaw your entrails out. . .’

War and conflict then constitute a motif in the play.

The representation of women by contemporary writers is seen to be negative and in consonant with the mainstream intellectual view of women at the time. As reported by Chorus of Men, Euripides, one of the classical Greek tragedians, sees women as ‘a shameless sect/the vilest creatures going’.

The men are shown to be afraid of the water that forms the retaliatory action of the women against the fire of the men. The men had said that the fire was to burn the women, the women say that the water is to quench the men. It is soon obvious why the men are scared by the water thrown at them by the women; it is hot! Chorus of Women says, ‘I’m watering you, to make you grow’. This statement is an instance of verbal irony. It also constitutes implied metaphor because the men are indirectly being compared to plants.

The dialogue between Chorus of Men and Chorus of Women is characterised by sarcasm. These sarcastic remarks heighten the comic mood in the play. For instance, when Chorus of Men says that he is withering up from shivering after being poured water by the women, Chorus of Women asks him to warm himself with their fire.

The character of Magistrate is introduced at this point. He is a public official, a probuli. His appearance calms the gender wars for a moment, but it is soon seen that he is on the side of the men and the war, as his speech soon reveals. For instance, he asks if the women’s wantonness has blazed out, implying that women’s anger is not strategic and usually stops after it has been vented. The Magistrate sees the women’s action as stupid, making reference to a past event involving Demostratus and a woman who got killed for daring the warrior and using abusive language on him.

Chorus of Men reports the women’s action to the Magistrate, especially pouring water on them. The Magistrate blames the men for the women’s insolence, saying that the men have overpampered and spoiled the women. He directs that crowbars be brought to force the acropolis doors open, as he wants to withdraw money from the Treasury to support the war efforts: ‘. . . when I, the State’s Director, wanting money/To purchase oar-blades, find the Treasury gates shut. . .’ Lysistrata tells the Magistrate that it is not crowbars that he needs to open the gates, but wit. Magistrate then orders that Lysistrata be arrested by the Archers. He calls her a traitress. Lysistrata threatens the Archers with Artemis’ curse. Calonice, and later Myrrhina, comes out to defend Lysistrata in the confrontation between the women and the Magistrate with his archers. The women are ready to fight the Archers who have been commanded by Magistrate to seize them. There is a charge and an attack during which the archers are seen to be worse hit. The women are not as weak as previously thought. Lysistrata taunts the men thus, ‘What did the fool expect? Was it to fight/With SLAVES you came? Think you we women feel no thirst for glory?’

Chorus of Men and Chorus of Women resume their conversation, which is mostly an exchange of blame. The women are called brutes for pouring water on the men, the women explain away their action in metaphors, comparing themselves to men’s neigbour and using the word ‘hive’ to describe their dwelling. Both the men and Magistrate enquire from the women why the acropolis has been seized. Lysistrata replies that they are preventing the men from accessing the funds in the acropolis so that they will not continue with the war: ‘Keeping the silver securely in custody,/Lest for its sake ye continue the war’. Magistrate scoffs at Lysistrata’s statement that the women will deliver the men from being ruined by the war. He calls her ‘impudent hussy’.

Lysistrata begins to unveil the men’s war mistakes to them: ‘We perceive your mistakes and mismanagement/Often at home on our housekeeping cares,/often we heard of some foolish proposal you/made for conducting the public affairs’. The patriarchal nature of the Athenian society is reflected in how women are not allowed at meetings where war decisions are made because women were thought not to have the intellectual ability necessary for brainstorming on war. Lysistrata’s husband stoutly tells her that ‘War is the care and business of Men’. However, Lysistrata’s words debunk such a claim; she is even able to pick holes in the war decisions of the men. Hence, Lysistrata demonstrates that ‘War is the care and the business of women’. Lysistrata also demonstrates that the same skills that women use in spinning clothes at home are going to be applied to resolving the war.

Magistrate mocks at Lysistrata’s spinning analogy about resolving war and solving the State’s conflicts and problems. Lysistrata argues that women are doubly affected by the war: ‘We are the people who feel it the keenliest,/doubly on us the affliction is cast: where are the sons that we sent to your battlefields?’ Women do not only lose husbands, but they also lose their sons to the war. This qualifies them to also be stakeholders in the war. Lysistrata equally presents the idea that women age fast and quickly pass the time of marriage compared to the men: ‘Brief is the spring and the flower of our womanhood.’ Prolonged war, according to Lysistrata, limits the woman’s possibility of getting married, as most of the eligible young males are usually in the war front, with some of them dying there. A man can marry anytime he wants, but this is not so for the woman, as her beauty is timed by nature.

At this point, Magistrate runs off to report to the other Elders what the women have done. The device of foreshadowing is depicted in the words by Chorus of Men: ‘This is not a time for slumber;/now let all the bold and free,/strip to meet the great occasion,/Vindicate our rights with me./I can smell a deep, surprising/Tide of Revolution rising. . .’ The revolution referred to in the excerpt foreshadows the eventual success of not only the cause of Athenian women in the play, but also the triumph of the women’s liberation movements many centuries later in the modern period.

The play reveals that some of the men profit from the war expenditures, implying that there might always be a selfish motive for supporting war, which might have little or nothing to do with national sovereignty and glory, all which are usually appropriated by the war-mongers. This is seen not only in the desperation of the Magistrate to get money from the Treasury, but also in the words of Chorus of Men which talks about the possibility of the women being incited by Laconians from the house of Cleisthenes to seize the Treasury so as not to allow the men to be paid the ‘. . .pay from which [they] get their living’. The expression ‘shallow wenches’ portrays the women as unintelligent. Chorus of Men thinks that the women are plotting with some political factions to bring about tyranny in the land. This recalls how Athens valued their democracy.

The men continue to issue threats to the women and the women are seen replying them with equal threats. There is the device of inversion in the Chorus of Men’s expression, ‘. . . your mother shall not know you,/impudent! when home you go. . .’ In response to the Chorus of Men’s threat to cut the women with sword, Chorus of Women asks the women to strip for action. Chorus of Women dares the men and threatens to slap their cheeks with an unpolished slipper. There is the use of archaism in ‘methinks’ which in contemporary English means ‘I think’. Chorus of Men rallies the men to face the insolence of the women: ‘Come, my comrades, hale and hearty, /on the ground your mantles throw/In the odour of their manhood/Men to meet the fight and go’.  The major poetic device in this excerpt is alliteration, which can be seen in ‘come’ and ‘comrades’, ‘hale’ and ‘hearty’, ‘manhood’, ‘men’ and ‘meet’.

Chorus of Men also makes statements that suggest that the Athenian men are old or have seen better days as warriors: ‘. . . In the days when we were men!/Shake this chill old Age from off you,/Spread the wings of youth again’. The expression ‘wings of youth’ is an implied metaphor, as youth is imbued with the qualities of a bird. Chorus of Men constantly calls on the menfolk to deal decisively with the women before it is too late. Chorus of Women responds with an equal fervour: ‘. . . soon our wild beast wrath will break/Out against you, and we’ll make,/Make you howl to all the neighbours’. 

Chorus of Women converses with Lysistrata and their conversation reveals that the women (girls) are longing to be with their husbands again; they are ‘husband-sick’. This report is made by Lysistrata to Chorus of Women: ‘They slip out everywhere. . .’, Lysistrata says, referring to the husband-sick women. The women have been giving different excuses, mostly flimsy ones, to go home. Presently, First Woman wants to run off with the excuse that she wants to save her Milesian wools from moths. Second Woman wants to ‘hackle flax forsooth’. Lysistrata tries to restrain them from deserting the cause. Third Woman says that she is experiencing labour pains even though, as Lysistrata observes, she was not even pregnant the previous day. It turns out that the woman had faked the pregnancy with the sacred helmet. This is an instance of humour. Fourth and Fifth Woman also give their excuses of fearing the sight of the holy serpent at night and being unable to sleep because of the hooting of the owls, respectively.

Lysistrata urges the women to resist their urges/desires for their husbands till they achieve their goals. She says an oracle has assured her of their victory. The women are eager to hear what the oracle had said about their struggle. Lysistrata repeats the words of the oracle: ‘Soon as the swallows are seen/Collecting and crouching together,/Shunning the hoopoes’ flight/and keeping aloof from the Love-birds,/Cometh a rest from ill,/and Zeus the Lord of the thunder/Changeth the upper to under. . .’ The prophecy specifically admonishes the women never to falter if they want victory. The women then resolve to hold on to their pledge: ‘Let us not falter in our efforts now,’ says Woman to the others.

Chorus of Men requests the men to be like Melanion who once left home and forever detested women. A character named ‘Man’ asks Woman, another character, if he should kiss her cheeks. Woman replies with a threat of making sure the man does not use his lips again. When Man proposes to kick Woman, Woman describes Man’s legs as ‘stalwart’. This is an instance of a lampoon. Note that these conversations are characterised by humour and wit. This scene demonstrates the love stalemate between the men and the women.

Chorus of Women counters the tale of Melanion told by Chorus of Men with the story of Savage Timon, who abjured the society of men in favour of that of women. This implies that, like the men, the women are also armed with a historical sense, which is a mark of leadership. It also buttresses the idea that women are not intellectually inferior to men.

Shortly after this, Lysistrata announces that she has sighted a man full of love’s desire approaching them. The man turns out to be Cinesias, Myrrhina’s husband. Lysistrata urges Myrrhina to ‘roast and bother’ Cinesias well, ‘coaxing, yet coy; enticing, yet fooling him’. Cinesias enters saying, ‘O me! These pangs of paroxysms of love, riving my heart. . .’ Cinesias has come to see Myrrhina but his way is blocked by the women. He pleads that Myrrhina should be called out for him. The women coax and humour Cinesias.

Cinesias’ words show that he misses Myrrhina: ‘I have no joy, no happiness in life,/Since she, my darling, left me. . .’ Myrrhina pretends as if she is not well desired by Cinesias, making the man shamelessly express how much he loves her. For instance, he says: ‘I’m dying for you’. When all this does not work, Cinesias resorts to making their child to speak to Myrrhina as part of the tactic or stratagem of getting her to come out. The child is used to emotionally blackmail Myrrhina. Note the words of Cinesias after the child has called out for the mother three times: ‘Have you no feeling, mother, for your child, six days unwashed, unsuckled?’ In this statement, it is seen that gender roles are well defined and that men and women know their duties at home and their responsibilities towards their children. For six days, the child has not been bathed. Rather than do that himself, Cinesias would rather carry her to the mother because, apparently, it is not his duty to bathe the child.

Myrrhina has no choice than to come down for the sake of the child. She pets the child and ignores the father. One of the epithets of that she uses for the child is ‘Naughty father’s child’. She equally refuses for Cinesias to touch her. Myrrhina tells Cinesias that she will not go home, not until the war has ended.  Cinesias promptly accepts this, if only it will lead to love making between him and the wife. But Myrrhina keeps leading him on, placing one obstacle after another in love’s way: first the child, then needing a mattress, then a pillow, among others.

After a lot of pleadings, Cinesias is able to extract a kiss from his wife. This kiss is represented as an ideophone/onomatopoeia: ‘smack smack’. Ointment is one of objects that Myrrhina uses as an excuse to delay sexual gratification with Cinesias. As noted by Cinesias, the ointment does not have a pleasant smell. Myrrhina says that it is the Rhodian kind. Note the humour that characterises the statement: ‘Perdition take the man that first made ointment,’ exemplifying Cinesias’ frustration.

Having taken Cinesias to the point of no return, Myrrhina abandons him without satisfying him. Instead, she asks him to vote for peace. Sex then becomes a tool of power retention between husband and wife. It is a trap that the woman uses to get the man to do what she wants. Cinesias is left to bemoan his fate: ‘The creature is done for me, bamboozled me,/Gone off and left me in this wretched state’. Cinesias also decries Myrrhina’s abandonment of the child, Cynalopex, a daughter.

Chorus of Men defends Cinesias’s cause, while Chorus of Women defends Myrrhina. Chorus of Men uses invectives on Myrrhina, calling her vile and asking Zeus to send a storm and a whirlwind to sweep her away for punishing her husband thus. Herald (a messenger from Sparta) enters. It should be noted that Herald’s language is a Spartan dialect, but that which which denotes a lower social station: ‘Whaur sall a body fin’ the Athanian Senate,/Or the gran’ lairds? Ha’ gotten news to tell.’ Herald engages in a dialogue with Magistrate. Note how Herald carries a spear but speaks of peace. Herald reports that the Spartans are having the worse of the battle. He also reports of Lampito’s agency and contribution in the Spartan affair. He also reports on the duplication of the Athenian women’s strategy by Lampito to achieve peace in Sparta: ‘. . . they stan’ abeigh, the lassies do, an’ vow/They’ll no be couthie wi’ the ladies mair/Till a’ mak’ Peace, and throughly en’ the War’. In this speech one can note the frequent use of syncopes to shorten words like ‘stand’, ‘and’ and ‘make’. There is also the use of random capitalisation for words like ‘Peace’ and ‘War’.

Magistrate has by now realised the extent of the women’s plot and asks Herald to hurry home to get the Spartan officials to send an Envoy to make peace, while he himself gets the Athenian council to do the same. It is from this moment on that Chorus of Men begins to acknowledge the powers of the women: ‘There is nothing so resistless/ as a woman in her ire,’ using simile to compare the woman to a leopard and fire: ‘She is wilder than a leopard/She is fiercer than a fire’. Chorus of Women responds to the effect that the men do not understand the women enough to know how to win them as friends. There is the device of inversion in the Chorus of Men’s expression, ‘I’ll never, never cease/all women to detest.’ Note how Chorus of Men strips himself naked, but is quickly cloaked by Chorus of Women who thinks that stripping makes the men to look like a joke or objects of ridicule. It is seen that the process of reconciliation between the two genders has begun.

Chorus of Men has a fly (a Tricorysian gnat) irritating his eye, as observed by Chorus of Women, who opts to help remove it. He consents and she helps to pull it out. He is grateful. Chorus of Women also offers to wipe the water running from Chorus of Men’s eyes as a result of the gnat’s removal. She also offers to kiss him. He, however, refuses the kiss. He says that he recognises women’s tricks and calls them ‘coaxing rogues’ and tormentors, apparently referring to the Cinesias affair. But this is now done playfully. Chorus of Men then calls for a treaty between the men and the women: ‘Now we’ll make a faithful treaty/and forevermore agree,/I will do no harm to women,/they shall do no harm to me. . .’

JOINT CHORUS is introduced at this point to signify the unity between men and women, as well as the fact that they have finally reconciled their differences. Joint Chorus also means that men and women now speak with one voice and ‘Not to objurgate and scold you,/Not unpleasant truths to say,/But with words and deeds of bounty/Come we here to-day. . .’ These words mark the resolution of the conflict between men and women in the play. But then there is still the larger conflict between Athens and Sparta.

The Spartan envoys have now arrived in Athens. They come ‘in pitiful plight’ and ‘heavily hangs each reverend beard’. The expressions contain alliteration in ‘pitiful plight’ and ‘heavily hangs’. ‘Reverend beard’ is a metonym for nobility, dignity and age. The expressions, especially ‘heavily hangs’, suggest that the representatives from Sparta are sad.

At the head of the Spartan envoy is a man by name Laconian. They are welcomed by Joint Chorus: ‘. . . ‘first I bid you welcome,/And next I ask how goes the world with you?’ In this play, it is seen that the Spartan characters speak a different dialect from their Athenian counterpart. This is equally exemplified in Laconian’s speech, apart from those of Lampito and Herald.

Laconian’s speech indicates that the Spartans are tired of the war and are all for peace; ‘We maun hae peace whatever gaet we gay till’ t’. An Athenian comes looking for Lysistrata. It is apparent that the Athenians too are spoiling for peace. Both the Spartan and the Athenian men soon agree to make peace. The women’s power and value are recognised in Lysistrata, who is now sent for. Note how Joint Chorus refers to Lysistrata as the ‘noblest and best of all!’ She is also described as ‘Gentle, severe, attractive, harsh’, which at once constitutes oxymoron and antithesis. Lysistrata says to the two parties to the war: ‘I am a woman but I don’t lack sense. . .’ She goes on to chide the two sides to the war. She tries to make them see the foolery in fighting each other when they are actually ‘one blood, all brethren’.

Again, Lysistrata is blessed with the knowledge of history, which all leaders need. She reminds the Spartans of how they were saved from their enemies (both human – Pericleidas – and natural -earthquake) by 4000 Athenians led by Messene. She also reminds the Athenians of how they were rescued by the Spartans when they were under the yoke of the Thessalian trooper.

The men have now come to have high regards for Lysistrata, seeing her knowledge and wisdom. They call her ‘sweet creature’, which is an instance of synaesthesia and ‘bonnie lassie’, which means a beautiful woman. All this is leading to the amicable resolution of the conflicts in the play, as it is expected in any comedy.

Through the trope of rhetorical questions, Lysistrata wonders why Sparta and Athens, which were great friends and supporters of each other in the past, could be tearing each other apart now: ‘. . . such friends aforetime, helping each the other,/What is it makes you fight and bicker now?/Why can’t ye come to terms?’

The Spartans are ready to make peace but on the condition that they be given back ‘yon girdled neuk’ which means a place called ‘Pilus’. The Athenians refuse. It is seen that Lysistrata is helping the men with the negotiation. She is detached enough to stay in the middle as they negotiate peace terms. The Athenians ask for Echinus, the gulf of Melis, as well as the strait of Megaric limbs.’  Laconian, who represents the Spartans, refuses. Lysistrata asks that each side should retire to consult among themselves, but the Athenian men have already decided that all they want are their wives and not the spoils of war. They agree to share their meals/food and goods to those in need among them. This agreement to share food signifies an agreement to cease hostilities on all sides.

The feast of peace is seen to be unprecedented, among other issues, as discussed by Second Idler, Idler and Porter. Note the paradox in the words of the second Athenian: ‘. . . ‘tis when we’re sober, we’re so daft. Now if the State would take a friend’s advice,/ ‘twould make its envoys always get drunk’. Note also the song that ends the play: ‘Call upon Bacchus, afire with his maenads/Call upon Zeus, in the lightening arrayed;/Call on his queen, ever blessed, adorable;/Call on the holy, infallible witnesses, /Call them to witness the peace and the harmony.’

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