Study Guide

Lysistrata Men and Masculinity

By Aristophanes

Men and Masculinity

Men's Leader: "By god, if someone had socked them in the mouth a couple of times, like Bupalus, they wouldn't be making any noise!"

Women's Leader: "Okay, here's my mouth; someone take a sock at it; I'll stand here and take it. But then I'm the last b**** that ever grabs you by the balls!"

Men's Leader: "If you don't shut up, I'll knock you right out of your old hide!"

Women's Leader: "Come over here and just touch Stratyllis with the tip of your finger."

Men's Leader: "What if I give you the one-two punch? Got anything scary to counter with?"

Women's Leader: "I'll rip out your lungs and your guts with my fangs."

Men's Leader: "No poet's wiser than Euripides: as he says, no beast exists so shameless as womankind!" (360-369)

These lines show the Leader of the Men's Chorus trying to hang onto some old-fashioned patriarchal authority. He doesn't seem to stand much of a chance, though: that Women's Leader is easily a match for him. But maybe that's exactly what's got the Men's Leader so riled up. If he weren't afraid of the women taking over, would he really have to resort to such threats of violence? Could his anger show some anxiety about his own masculine prowess?

Lysistrata: "Before now, and for quite some time, we maintained our decorum and suffered in silence whatever you men did, because you wouldn't let us make a sound. But you weren't exactly all we could ask for. No, we knew only too well what you were up to, and many a time we'd hear in our homes about the bad decision you'd made on some great issue of state. Then, masking the pain in our hearts, we'd put on a smile and ask you, 'How did the Assembly go today? Any decision about a rider to the peace treaty?' And my husband would say, 'What's that to you? Shut up!' And I'd shut up."

First Old Woman: "I wouldn't have shut up!" (507-515)

These lines show men desperately trying to hold onto their masculine authority. Once again, they end up revealing more anxiety than confidence. Sure, men hold all the political power in the city, and prevent women from having a voice in the assembly—but if they're so confident in their power, why do they get so ticked off when their wives point out their mistakes? Could this be because their wives' intelligent remarks reveal that the idea of male superiority is nothing more than a myth? (Answer: yes.)

Magistrate: "If you hadn't shut up you'd have got a beating!"

Lysistrata: "Well, that's why I did shut up—then. But later on we began to hear about even worse decisions you'd made, and then we would ask, 'Husband, how come you're handling this so stupidly?' And right away he'd glare at me and tell me to get back to my sewing if I didn't want major damage to my head: 'War shall be the business of menfolk,' unquote."

Magistrate: "He was right on the mark, I say." (516-521)

Here we see, yet again, how the men maintain their power in the city through the threats of violence against their wives. When the Magistrate approves of this behavior, he shows not only that he's unenlightened when it comes to women's rights, but also that he's just plain stupid: if the men had taken the advice of Lysistrata a long time ago, the city wouldn't find itself in the horrible mess it's currently in.

Lysistrata: "How could he be right, you sorry fool, when we were forbidden to offer advice even when your policy was wrong? But then, when we began to hear you in the streets openly crying, 'There isn't a man left in the land,' and someone else saying, 'God knows, there isn't, not a one,' after that we women decided to lose no more time, and to band together to save Greece. What was the point of waiting any longer? So, if you're ready to listen in your turn as we give you good advice, and to shut up as we had to, we can put you on the right track." (522-528)

With these words, Lysistrata winds up her lecture on the stupidity of male dominance in Athens. Now, we're not blaming the men in her story from reacting badly to the news that many young men of the city have been killed in war; after all, Lysistrata and her fellow women are largely motivated by grief at these senseless deaths, too. But doesn't it show just a little self-centeredness that men only come to realize their mistakes when lots of other men have been killed, even though their neglected wives have been warning them about the truth all along?

Magistrate: "Me shut up for you? A damned woman, with a veil on your face no less? I'd rather die!"

Lysistrata. "If the veil is a problem for you, here, take mine, it's yours, put it on your head, and then shut up!"

First Old Woman: "And take this sewing basket too."

Lysistrata: "Now hitch up your clothes and start sewing; chew some beans while you work. War shall be the business of womenfolk!" (530-538)

Clearly, women aren't the only ones in this play who have their priorities screwed up. Back in lines 119-130, we saw some women initially react to Lysistrata's plan by saying they would rather die than give up sex. Well, now we see that the men—or, one man, at least, the Magistrate—would rather die than take advice from a woman. Which of the two is stupider? We don't know about you, but we have our money on the Magistrate.

Lysistrata: "If Eros of the sweet soul and Cyprian Aphrodite imbue our thighs and breasts with desire, and infect the men with sensuous rigidity and bouts of truncheonitis, then I believe all Greece will one day call us Disbanders of Battles." (551-554)

Throughout history, one of the main symbols of masculine authority has been, well, men's "manhood." Doesn't this make it all the more ironic that Lysistrata and her fellow women's plan is to turn the very source of men's symbolic power into a weapon against them? Even the man who's proudest of his potency wouldn't want to endure "bouts of truncheonitis," would he? From Ancient Athens to the present day, the message of those Viagra commercials rings true: "If erection lasts more than 4 hours, consult your doctor." Aristophanes says pretty much the same thing—but with a lot more pizzazz.

Lysistrata: "…to begin with, we can stop people from going to the market fully armed and acting crazy."

First Old Woman: "Paphian Aphrodite be praised!"

Lysistrata: "At this very moment, all around the market, in the pottery shops and the grocery stalls, they're walking around in arms like Corybants!"

Magistrate: "I say a man's got to act like a man!" (555-559)

Here, once again, we see the Magistrate resisting a very sensible request by the women, because he sees it as a threat to his masculinity. Before, he said that he would rather die than take advice from a woman. This time around, he insists that walking around the marketplace in full military regalia is simply the proper way for a man to act. If the Magistrate were transplanted to the present day, what behavior do you think he would insist on as the way to "act like a man"?

Lysistrata: "Then, when we should be having fun and enjoying our bloom of youth, we sleep alone because of the campaigns. And to say no more about our own case, it pains me to think of the maidens growing old in their rooms."

Magistrate: "Men grow old too, don't they?"

Lysistrata: "That's quite a different story. When a man comes home he can quickly find a girl to marry, even if he's a graybeard. But a woman's prime is brief; if she doesn't seize it, no one wants to marry her, and she sits at home looking for good omens."

Magistrate: "But any man who can still get a hard-on—"

Lysistrata: "Why don't you just drop dead?" (591-599)

In these lines, Lysistrata calls the Magistrate out on the inequalities between men and women. The Magistrate thinks it isn't a big deal that women have to spend their youth alone; after all, growing old sucks for everyone, right? But Lysistrata points out that an old man can find a young wife, while a woman who gets past marriageable age is likely to remain lonely. Then the Magistrate starts to make some comment about men's sexual prowess, but Lysistrata cuts him off. What do you think the Magistrate was about to say?

Men's Chorus: "Now doesn't this behavior of theirs amount to extreme hubris?
And I do believe the situation will only get worse.
Every man with any balls must stand up to this threat!

Men's Leader: "Let's doff our shirts, because a man's got to smell like a man form the word go, and shouldn't be all wrapped up like souvlaki." (They remove their shirts.)

Men's Chorus: "Come on, Whitefeet!
We went against Leipsydrium
when we still were something;
now we've got to rejuvenate, and give wing
to our whole bodies, and slough off this old skin!" (659-670)

These lines show the Men's Chorus preparing to do battle with the Women's Chorus. For them, doing battle is all about showing their masculine prowess—as you can see from their reminiscing about their soldier days, towards the end of this passage. Why do you think they place such importance on letting their male B.O. waft out? Could this be a classic case of (as they say in the tech field) turning a bug into a feature? Putting it another way, do you think they would be so tolerant if they had to smell the women's body odor?

Cinesias: "Ah, what shall I do? Whom shall I screw,
cheated of the loveliest of them all!
How will I raise and rear this orphaned cock?
Is Fox Dog out there anywhere?
Lease me a nursemaid!"

Men's Leader: "Yes, frightful agony, you wretch,
does rack the soul of one so sore bediddled.
Sure I do feel for you, alas!
What kidney could bear it,
what soul, what balls,
what loins, what crotch,
thus stretched on the rack
and never getting a morning f***!"

Cinesias: "Ah Zeus! The cramps attack anew!" (954-967)

Here we see the classic symbol of masculine (an erect penis) prowess turned into a liability. We're willing to bet that, under ordinary circumstances, these geezers from the Men's Chorus would be highly proud of their potency. But there's only so long they can be all dressed up with nowhere to go. Thus, it is inevitable that they will make peace—making Lysistrata's plan a success. Clever girl.