Study Guide

Lysistrata Sex

By Aristophanes

Sex

Calonice: "Well, Lysistrata dear, what exactly is this business you're calling us women together for? What's the deal? Is it a big one?"

Lysistrata: "It's big."

Calonice: "Not juicy as well?"

Lysistrata: "Oh yes, it's big and juicy."

Calonice: "Then how come we're not all here?"

Lysistrata: "That's not what I meant! If it were, we'd all have shown up quickly enough. No, it's something I've been thinking hard about, tossing it around night after sleepless night."

Calonice: "After all that tossing it must be limp by now." (21-28)

These lines come from near the beginning of the play. And, in every sense, this is just the beginning. The play is simply packed with sexual references, many of them in the form of double-entendres like these lines here. One thing that shows up loud and clear in these lines is that it isn't only the men of the play who are portrayed as sex-mad; in fact, the women of Aristophanes' might even have the edge on them.

Lysistrata: "Here goes, then; no need to beat around the bush. Ladies, if we're going to force the men to make peace, we're going to have to give up—"

Calonice: "Give up what? Tell us."

Lysistrata: "You'll do it, then?"

Calonice: "We'll do it, even if it means our death!"

Lysistrata: "All right. We're going to have to give up—the prick. Why are you turning away from me? Where are you going? Why are you all pursing your lips and shaking your heads? What means your altered color and tearful droppings? Will you do it or not? What are you waiting for?"

Calonice: "Count me out; let the war drag on."

Myrrhine: "Me too, by Zeus; let the war drag on." (119-130)

In case you didn't believe us the first time, these lines prove that Aristophanes' play shows that women are just as crazy-horny as men are. And Lysistrata knows it. Just look how she tries to trap the women into siding with her by getting them on board before they know all the details. But her plan doesn't work: apparently, these women would rather have war than go without sex.

Calonice: "Well, what if we did abstain from, uh, what you say, which heaven forbid: would peace be likelier to come on that account?"

Lysistrata: "Absolutely, by the Two Goddesses. If we sat around at home all made up, and walked past them wearing only our diaphanous underwear, with our pubes all plucked in a neat triangle, and our husbands got hard and hankered to ball us, but we didn't go near them and kept away, they'd sue for peace, and pretty quick, you can count on that!"

Lampito: "Like Menelaus! As soon as he peeked at bare Helen's melons, he threw his sword away, I reckon." (146-156)

In these lines, Lysistrata reveals that sex isn't all fun and games: it can also be used for political purposes. The way she sees it, if women want to get men to listen to them, they shouldn't stop being sexy—far from it. Instead, they should make themselves as sexy as possible, and then refuse to sleep with their husbands. That way, the poor saps won't have any other choice than making peace. Lampito, the Spartan, backs up Lysistrata's argument with an example from mythology.

Magistrate: "By Poseidon the Salty, it serves us right! When we ourselves abet our wives' misbehavior and teach them profligacy, these are the sort of schemes they bring to flower! Aren't we the ones who go to the shops and say this kind of thing: 'Goldsmith, about that choker you made me: my wife was having a ball the other night, and now the prong's slipped out of the hole. Me, I've got to cruise over to Salamis, so if you've got time, by all means visit her in the evening and fit a prong in the hole.' Another husband says this to a shoemaker, a teenager sporting no boyish cock: 'Shoemaker, about my wife's tootsy: the thong is squeezing her pinky winky, where she's tender. So why don't you drop in on her sometime and loosen it up so there's more play down there?' That's the sort of thing that's led to all this, when I, a Magistrate, have lined up timber for oars and now come to get the necessary funds, and find myself standing at the gates, locked out by women!" (403-430)

Did we mention that Aristophanes portrays women as lustful? Well, here we get some more evidence of that. This time, though, it isn't the women themselves who are providing the evidence, but the Magistrate. According to him, the women of Athens can't be trusted; the moment their husbands are out of sight, they're bound to end of having sex with some tradesman or other. And yet, the Magistrate shows a little bit of prejudice here: he thinks that the men are the ones ultimately to blame for their wives' behavior. From what we've seen already in the other quotations from this section, we think the women of Athens are perfectly capable of cheating on their hubbies all by themselves.

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)

Did we mention that sex isn't all fun and games? Here, once again, Lysistrata points out that their ability to turn men on gives the women of Athens tremendous power. This time around, Lysistrata goes so far as to appeal for help to the gods—Eros, the god of desire, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex.

Women's Leader: "O mistress of this venture and stratagem, why come you from the palace so dour of mien?"

Lysistrata: "The deeds of ignoble women and the female heart do make me pace dispirited to and fro."

Women's Leader: "What say you? What say you?"

Lysistrata: "'Tis true, too true!"

Women's Leader: "What dire thing? Pray tell it to your friends."

Lysistrata: "'Tis shame to say and grief to leave unsaid."

Women's Leader: "Hide not from me the damage we have taken."

Lysistrata: "The story in briefest compass: we need a f***!" (706-715)

The Greek in these first lines is a parody of the fancy-pants lingo of Greek tragedy. This is what the English translation tries to capture with its weird phrasing and old-fashioned words like "O" and "venture" and "dour of mien." (Uh, yeah.) So what's the big tragedy all about? Unfortunately, we at Shmoop are far too modest to use such language—but you can read the quotation and see for yourself. These show that even though the sex strike is designed to make men change their ways, the women are suffering from it as well.

First Wife: "I want to go home. I've got some Milesian woolens in the house, and the moths are chomping them all up."

Lysistrata: "Moths indeed! Get back inside."

First Wife: "By the Two Goddesses, I'll be right back; just let me spread them on the bed!"

Lysistrata: "Don't you spread anything, or go anywhere."

First Wife: "So I'm supposed to let my woolens be wasted?"

Lysistrata: "If that's what it takes."

Second Wife rushes from the Acropolis.
Second Wife: "Oh my god, my god, my flax! I forgot to shuck it when I left the house!"

Lysistrata: "Here's another one off to shuck her flax. March right back here."

Second Wife: "By our Lady of Light, I'll be back in a flash; just let me do a little shucking."

Lysistrata: "No! No shucking! If you start doing it, some other wife will want to do the same."(728-741)

Wait, where's the sex in this? We thought this was nothing more than a clean, family-friendly discussion from some housewives who want to go home and attend to some chores: you know, the chores of "spreading" and "shucking." Once again we see that the women of Lysistrata sure love sex, and the strike is every bit as hard on them (pun intended: we take our pun cues from Aristophanes) as it is on the men. Fortunately, they've got Lysistrata around to keep them in line—otherwise all hell would break loose. All we want to know is: how come Lysistrata is immune to the sex fever that seems to be affecting everyone else?

Myrrhine: "Lift up now, upsy daisy. There, is that everything?"

Cinesias: "Everything for sure. Now come here, my little treasure!"

Myrrhine: "I'm just getting my breastband off. But remember: don't break your promise about a peace settlement."

Cinesias: "So help me Zeus, I hope I die if I do!"

Myrrhine: "You don't have a blanket."

Cinesias: "It's not a blanket I want—I want a f***!"

Myrrhine: "Don't worry, that's just what you're going to get. I'll be back in a flash."

Cinesias: "That woman will drive me nuts with all her bedding!"

Myrrhine (returning with a blanket): "Get up."

Cinesias: "I've already got it up!" (929-937)

So close and yet so far! Here, Cinesias thinks he is finally about to get some relief from the painful swelling that has been tormenting him. The problem is, Myrrhine, his wife, is only leading him on; for all her seductive behavior, she has no intention of actually sleeping with him. (Not right now, at least.) These lines of dialogue show Lysistrata's plan in action (make that, inaction), and the pain and frustration it causes to the men of Athens.

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)

These lines give us a bit more of the men's perspective on the goings-on in Athens. As you can see, they are seriously ticked off, and are desperate for some relief. For example, Fox Dog was the name of a notorious pimp of Aristophanes' day, and the nursemaid that Cinesias thinks he can "lease" is, in fact, a hooker. Is it any surprise that, for that all the Magistrate's talk earlier about how women are eager to commit infidelity, we now learn that men are interested in sleeping around as well? In fairness, we never actually see Cinesias stray from the bonds of matrimony—but that might just be because the peace treaty gets concluded before his "cramps" become too excruciating.

Spartan Delegate: "What's the use of wasting lots of words? It's plain to see how we're faring." (They open their cloaks.)

Chorus Leader: "Wow! This condition has grown terribly tense, and looks to be inflamed worse than before."

Spartan Delegate: "Unspeakable! What can one say? Just let someone come and make peace for us on any terms he likes."

Enter Athenian Delegates
Chorus Leader: "Look, now I see these native sons holding their cloaks away from their bellies too, like men wrestling! Looks like a bad case of prickly heat."

First Athenian Delegate: "Who can tell us where Lysistrata is? Because we men are present, and palpably so." (They open their cloaks.)

Chorus Leader: "Their condition seems to jibe with these others. Now, does this cramping seize you in the wee hours?"

First Athenian Delegate: "Yes, and what's worse, we're worn absolutely raw by being in this condition! I mean, if someone doesn't reconcile us soon, there's no way we won't be f***ing Cleisthenes!"(1074-1092)

These lines show the Spartan delegation showing up at Athens to make peace. As they compare notes (and more) with their Athenian counterparts, they realize that the men of both nations are suffering from the same unrelenting sexual desire. If things don't get resolved soon, the First Athenian Delegate says, the men of his city will have to start thinking outside the box—by turning to homosexuality. (Cleisthenes was a man.)