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AT: Revolt of the Women A: Aristophanes Pf: 411 bc, Athens Tr: 1878 G: Greek com. in verse S: Before the Acropolis in Athens, early 5th c. bc C: 10m, 13f, extras, chorus (m), chorus (f)Lysistrata (= ‘disbander of armies’), an Athenian woman, persuades the wives of Athens and other warring states to withhold their sexual favours from their husbands and lovers until they give up their senseless war. They join forces with the chorus of old women who have already taken over the Acropolis. A chorus of old men attempt to smoke the women out of the Acropolis, but they and the police are repelled by the women. It is proving difficult for the women to maintain their resolve, but one of them, Myrrhine, acquits herself well, exciting her husband to a sexual frenzy only to abandon him and return to the women. A Spartan herald arrives, somewhat hindered by his permanent erection, to announce that the women's revolt has been successful in the enemy camp too. At the prospect of peace, the opposing choruses of old men and old women are reconciled. When the Spartan and Athenian negotiators then meet, Lysistrata is able to call forth Reconciliation, a lovely young woman, who brings the two warring sides together. Lysistrata reminds them of their common heritage, and peace is rapidly restored. The play ends with general feasting, a dance, and the final recognition that Athene, the goddess of wisdom, is worshipped in both Athens and Sparta.

AT: Revolt of the Women A: Aristophanes Pf: 411 bc, Athens Tr: 1878 G: Greek com. in verse S: Before the Acropolis in Athens, early 5th c. bc C: 10m, 13f, extras, chorus (m), chorus (f)

By 411 bc the Peloponnesian War against Sparta was – apart from a brief cessation in hostilities after 421 bc – dragging on into its twentieth year. The expedition against Sicily had been a dismal failure, Athens' allies were deserting her, the city was almost bankrupt. Aristophanes now wrote a play with a truly radical solution, as extreme to the male Athenian mind as building an ideal state in the sky (see Birds): let the women take charge. Not only do the Athenian women withhold their sexual favours (which is what is best remembered about the play), but they occupy the Acropolis, taking over the treasury and therefore the economic means to prosecute the war. It is notable that Lysistrata is the only extant play by Aristophanes that bears the name of an individual, and this is the first European comedy with a female lead. Lysistrata has something of the toughness exhibited by the great tragic heroines of Sophocles and Euripides, even if some of the other wives are shown to be weak and shallow. She succeeds where the politicians and generals have failed. She not only brings about a genuine peace, but also paves the way for reconciliation, reminding the Athenians how much common heritage they share with the Spartans. It would have been the equivalent of staging a play in London in the First World War, reminding the English that the hated Kaiser Wilhelm II was the grandson of Queen Victoria. Inevitably, it is the bawdy element of the play which has made it Aristophanes' best known, and it has been adapted again and again to offer a light-hearted appeal for men to abandon their violent conflicts.


Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Aristophanes (c. 448—380 bc) Greek comic dramatist

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