Study Guide

Lysistrata Perseverance

By Aristophanes

Perseverance

Calonice: "And what if they grab us and drag us into the bedroom by force?"

Lysistrata: "Hold onto the door."

Calonice: "And what if they beat us?"

Lysistrata: "Then submit, but disagreeably: men get no pleasure in sex when they have to force you. And make them suffer in other ways as well. Don't worry, they'll soon give in. No husband can have a happy life if his wife doesn't want him to." (160-166)

As in any strike, one of the most important ingredients of success in the women's sex-strike is sheer perseverance. Perseverance is especially necessary because those who disagree with the strike—that is, the men who want to have sex with their wives—are likely to use any means necessary to try to oppose it. In these lines, we see Calonice expressing fear about what might happen if the men use violence to try to rape the women. Lysistrata's response is, yup, perseverance. Persevere as long as possible physically, and then persevere mentally.

Lysistrata: "No man of any kind, lover or husband—"

Calonice: "No man of any kind, lover or husband—"

Lysistrata: "shall approach me with a hard-on. Speak up!"

Calonice: "Shall approach me with a hard-on. Oh god, my knees are buckling, Lysistrata!"

Lysistrata: "At home in celibacy shall I pass my life—"

Calonice: "At home in celibacy shall I pass my life—"

Lysistrata: "wearing a saffron robe and all dolled up—"

Calonice: "wearing a saffron robe and all dolled up—"

Lysistrata: "so that my husband will get as hot as a volcano for me—"

Calonice: "so that my husband will get as hot as a volcano for me—"

Lysistrata: "but never willingly shall I surrender to my husband."

Calonice: "but never willingly shall I surrender to my husband." (212-224)

Heck, it takes perseverance even to get through this oath. But seriously, what Lysistrata is getting the women to sign on to is total steadfastness. The way Lysistrata sees it, if the women absolutely refuse to have sex with their husbands, without exceptions, the men will eventually have to give in.

Lysistrata: "If he should use force to force me against my will—"

Calonice: "If he should use force to force me against my will—"

Lysistrata: "I will submit coldly and not move my hips."

Calonice: "I will submit coldly and not move my hips."

Lysistrata: "I will not raise my Persian slippers toward the ceiling."

Calonice: "I will not raise my Persian slippers toward the ceiling."

Lysistrata: "I won't crouch down like the lioness on the cheesegrater."

Calonice: "I won't crouch down like the lioness on the cheesegrater."

Lysistrata: "If I live up to these vows, may I drink from this cup."

Calonice: "If I live up to these vows, may I drink from this cup."

Lysistrata: "But if I break them, may the cup be full of water."

Calonice: "But if I break them, may the cup be full of water." (225-236)

Okay, we're not even going to speculate about what the whole "lioness on the cheesegrater" sexual position might be about. Mainly because that's not the point right now. The point is that the oath Lysistrata is making the women take is even longer than we thought. Here, once again, perseverance is a major part of the oath's message. Even if the men use violence against the women, the women still shouldn't give in. Instead, they should use nonviolent resistance; anything to keep the strike going.

Magistrate: "Really, you witch! Where's a policeman? (to First Policeman) Grab her and tie both hands behind her back."

Lysistrata: "If he so much as touches me with his fingertip, mere public servant that he is, so help me Artemis he'll go home crying!"

Magistrate: "What, are you scared? (to Second Policeman) You there, help him out; grab her around the waist and tie her up, on the double!"

Enter first Old Woman from the gates.
First Old Woman: "If you so much as lay a hand on her, so help me Pandrosos, I'll beat the s*** out of you!"

Magistrate: "Beat the s*** out of me? Where's another policemen? (to Third Policeman) Tie her up first, the one with the dirty mouth!"

Enter Second Old Woman from the gates.
Second Old Woman: "If you raise your fingertip to her, so help me our Lady of Light, you'll be begging for an eye cup!" (433-444)

For one person to show perseverance is very important—but there's only so much than an individual can do. To make perseverance truly powerful, you need many people standing together. That seems to be the message of these lines. The Magistrate might think at first that he can push Lysistrata around. But he'll have to think twice once two old women step forward to show their own perseverance in standing beside their leader. Get it, grandmas!

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 a 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. […] 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."

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?" (507-515, 518-526)

When perseverance turns bad, it usually becomes one of two things: stubbornness or apathy. In this exchange, we can see hints of the bad forms of perseverance in both Lysistrata and the Magistrate. Lysistrata's bad perseverance comes in the form of apathy: as she explains, for a long time she (like the other women in the city) listened in silence to her husband's stories of the daily business in the assembly, without speaking up to suggest changes. The Magistrate's bad form of perseverance is stubbornness: he stubbornly sticks to the traditional mindset when he says that Lysistrata's husband was "right on the mark" for prohibiting her from offering advice.

Women's Leader: "Rouse yourselves, women, away from those pitchers, it's our turn to pitch in with a little help for our friends!"

Women's Chorus: "Oh yes! I'll dance with unflagging energy;
no toilsome effort will weary my knees.
I'm ready to face anything
with women as courageous as these:
they've got character, charm, and guts,
they've got intelligence and heart
that's both patriotic and smart!"

Women's Leader: "Now, most valiant of prickly mommies and spikey grannies, attack furiously and don't go mushy: you're still running with the wind!" (539-550)

Here we get another sight of the women's enduring perseverance, as seen in their bragging about their qualities of "unflagging energy," "guts," and "heart." The Women's Leader also encourages them to show perseverance by never "go[ing] mushy." At the same time, we see how perseverance feeds on teamwork. We're seriously contemplating getting a "Don't Go Mushy" tattoo.

Magistrate: "So how will you women be able to put a stop to such a complicated international mess, and sort it all out?"

Lysistrata: "Very easily."

Magistrate: "How? Show me."

Lysistrata: (taking the sewing blanket from the Magistrate and using its contents to illustrate) "It's rather like a ball of yarn when it gets tangled up. We hold it this way, and carefully wind out the strands on our spindles, now this way, now that way. That's how we'll wind up this war, if we're allowed: unsnarling it by sending embassies, now this way, now that way." (565-570)

In these lines, Lysistrata responds to the Magistrate's accusation that women simply lack the necessary skill and experience to run the city. Lysistrata begs to differ, and explains how the women's skills acquired through spinning yarn can be transferred to untangling the knotty problems of the city. And from the way Lysistrata describes it, it sure sounds like untangling yarn requires a lot of patience—another name for perseverance. Could she be suggesting that this type of patience/perseverance is something that women are good at (perhaps because they have had to practice it for so long), and something that men could use an extra dose of?

Lysistrata: "What are you raving about?"

Third Wife: "I'm about to deliver a child!"

Lysistrata: "But you weren't pregnant yesterday."

Third Wife: "But today I am. Please, Lysistrata, send me home to the midwife, right away!"

Lysistrata: "What's the story? What's this thing you've got under there? It's hard."

Third Wife: "It's a boy."

Lysistrata: "By Aphrodite, it's obvious you've got something metallic and hollow under there. Let's have a look. Ridiculous girl! You're big with the sacred helmet, not with child!"

Third Wife: "But I am with child, I swear!"

Lysistrata: "Then what were you doing with this?"

Third Wife: "Well, if I began to deliver here in the citadel, I could get into the helmet and have my baby there, like a pigeon." (744-755)

In these lines, we see a lack of perseverance and a type of perseverance wrapped up together in the same person. The Third Wife is lacking in perseverance because she is trying to sneak away from the sex-strike and go have sex her husband. On the other hand, she is showing perseverance through her steadfast insistence that she actually is pregnant, even as her claims become more and more ridiculous.

Lysistrata: "There's an oracle predicting victory for us, but only if we stick together. (produces a scroll) Here's the oracle right here."

Third Wife: "Tell us what it says."

Lysistrata: "Be quiet, then.
Yea, when the swallows hole up in a single home,
fleeing the hoopoes and leaving the phallus alone,
then are their problems solved, and high-thundering Zeus
shall reverse what's up and what's down—"

Third Wife: "You mean we'll be lying on top?"

Lysistrata: "But:
if the swallows begin to argue and fly away
down form the citadel holy, all will say,
no bird more disgustingly horny lives today!"

Third Wife: "A pretty explicit oracle. Ye gods!" (765-777)

Do you think this is a real oracle that Lysistrata is reading, or just something she made up? Either way, we think the Third Wife is right on the money when she calls it a "pretty explicit oracle." The clear message of the oracle is that, if the women use perseverance, their strike will succeed, and they will gain glory for themselves. If not, they'll be called "horny birds." Not hard to see which one is better.

Myrrhine: "There we are! Lie right down while I undress. But wait, um, yes, a mattress! Must go get one."

Cinesias: "What do you mean, a mattress? No thanks."

Myrrhine: "By Artemis, it's nasty on cords."

Cinesias: "Well then, give me a kiss."

Myrrhine: "There."

Cinesias: "Oh lordy! Get the mattress quick!"

Myrrhine: (returning with a mattress) "There we are! Lie back down and I'll get my clothes off. But wait, um, a pillow, you haven't got a pillow!"

Cinesias: "But I don't need one!"

Myrrhine: "But I do!"

Cinesias: "Is this cock of mine supposed to be Heracles waiting for his dinner?" (920-928)

Here we see Myrrhine's perseverance in sticking to the sex-strike. For all we know, deep down in her heart of hearts, she might be like the woman who sneaks away with the helmet tucked under her shirt: secretly eager to have sex with her husband. And yet, even if Myrrhine wants sex, she wants peace even more. And so she methodically goes about teasing her husband Cinesias, working him up to a pitch of extreme sexual tension—and then constantly inventing new excuses for why she can't have sex with him.