Study Guide

Lysistrata The Home

By Aristophanes

The Home

Lysistrata: "But my heart's on fire, Calonice, and I'm terribly annoyed about us women. You know, according to the men we're capable of any sort of mischief—"

Calonice: "And so we surely are!"

Lysistrata: "But when they're told to meet here to discuss a matter of no trifling importance, they sleep in and don't show up."

Calonice: "Honey, they'll be along. You know, it's a lot of trouble for wives to get out of the house: we're giving hubby a hand, or waking up a slave, or putting the baby to bed, or bathing it, or feeding it a snack." (9-19)

One reasons why women weren't able to speak out against war was that is was considered proper for women to be quiet and cute and ornamental. Another reason was that they were simply too busy. In these lines we get a hint of the wide range (and sheer freaking quantity) of women's responsibilities as managers of the household.

Men's Chorus: "If you live long enough, you'll get many surprises, yes sir!
Well, Strymodorus, who in the world ever thought we'd hear
that women, the blatant nuisance we've reared in our homes,
now control the Sacred Image
and occupy my Acropolis,
And to top it all, with bolts and bars
close off the citadel gates?" (257-265)

To hear the Men's Chorus describe it, the home isn't a place of peace, love, and harmony. It's a place of conflict. Why else would they refer to women as "the blatant nuisance we've reared in our homes"? They seem to feel especially betrayed that these women—whom they saw as being under their thumbs—are now asserting themselves on the political level. But do you think these old geezers actually had much of a hand in "rearing" these women?

Women's Chorus: "Fly, fly, Nicodice,
before Calyce and Critylla go up
in flames, fanned all around
by nasty winds
and old men who mean death!
I'm filled with dread: am I too late to help?
I've just come from the well with my pitcher;
I could hardly fill it in the dim light of dawn,
in the throng and crash and clatter of pots,
fighting the elbows of housemaids
and branded slaves; zealously
I hoisted it onto my head, and to aid the women,
my fellow citizens faced with fire,
here I am with water!" (321-335)

When the women of the Women's Chorus go to the well, they fight against housemaids and "branded slaves," who have been sent to bring it back for their households. This gives a hint at the range of people who were employed in rich Athenian homes. The wife was essentially the manager of the workforce. Later in the play, Lysistrata will argue that this managerial experience in the home makes women qualified to play a managerial role in the affairs of the city. You tell 'em, Lysistrata.

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)

These lines by the Magistrate portray husbands as dunderheads who constantly give their wives the opportunity to commit infidelity—and wives as sex fiends who will jump at the opportunity. What does this say about the typical home-life among the Athenians? Do these people have warm and loving marriages with plenty of communication between husbands and their wives? Probably not so much.

Women's Leader: "Well, sir, you shouldn't lift your hand against your neighbors just anytime you feel like it. If you do, you're going to end up with a black eye. You see, I'd rather be sitting modestly at home like a maiden, bothering no one here, stirring not a single blade of grass. But if anyone annoys me and rifles my nest, they'll find a wasp inside." (471-475)

Here, the Women's Leader says that she doesn't mean to make trouble; really, she thinks traditional home life is just fine, and she wouldn't be bothering anybody if the men didn't bother her first. Do you take her at her word? Or is she being sarcastic when she talks about how she would much rather play a traditional feminine role in the home?

Magistrate: "But what do you plan to do?"

Lysistrata: "You're asking me that? We'll manage it for you."

Magistrate: "You'll manage the money?"

Lysistrata: "What's so strange about that? Don't we manage the household finances for you already?"

Magistrate: "That's different."

Lysistrata: "How so?"

Magistrate: "These are war funds!" (493-496)

In middle- and upper-class households (which could afford slaves and housekeepers) women were essentially managers of a large domestic workforce. Even in smaller households, however, women often had the role of managing the finances—as Lysistrata points out here. In fact, did you know that the word "economics" comes from the Ancient Greek word for "household management" (originally from oikos = "house")? Knowledge is power folks… and so is financial savvy. Based on her experience, Lysistrata thinks it's natural for women to take over managing the economics of the city, as well.

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!"

Magistrate: "If you hadn't shut up, you'd have got a beating!" (507-516)

These lines shed light on the power dynamic that existed in ancient Athenian homes. Not only do the men think they are in charge, but they maintain their dominance with threats of violence. Under these circumstances, the women put up with a lot more trouble than they should. And yet, as we can also see from these lines—especially the First Old Women's—women sometimes stood their ground against their husbands. Fight The Man, Old Woman.

Lysistrata: "Hey you! What's your hurry?"

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)

Okay, so it's super-obvious there are some sexual double-entendres here. The women clearly don't really want to go do domestic chores—those are just code words for various forms of hanky-panky. That said, even if the women aren't telling the truth about what they want to do, their lies still tell us something about them. That's because their lies reveal the types of activities the women normally do around the home; this gives us a window into their day-to-day existence.

Cinesias: "Myrrhinikins, dearest, why are you doing this? Come down here!"

Myrrhine: "I'm positively not going down there!"

Cinesias: "You won't come down when I ask you, Myrrhine?"

Myrrhine: "You're asking me, but you don't really want me."

Cinesias: "Me not want you? Why, I'm in agony without you!"

Myrrhine: "Goodbye."

Cinesias: "No, wait! At least listen to the baby. Come on you, yell for mommy!"

Baby: "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"

Cinesias: "Hey, what's wrong with you? Don't you feel sorry for the baby, unwashed and unsuckled for six days already?"

Myrrhine: "Him I feel sorry for; too bad his father doesn't care about him."

Cinesias: "Come down here, you screwy woman, and see to your child."

Myrrhine: "How momentous is motherhood! I have to go down there." (872-884)

Remember how the Magistrate was saying how women have it easy? Well, maybe if he had to spend a few days in his wife's shoes, he'd think differently. Just ask Cinesias, Myrrhine's husband. In these lines, we see how completely beleaguered the poor guy is after Myrrhine goes on a sex-strike and holes up with Lysistrata and the other women in the Acropolis. At the end of this exchange, it looks like Myrrhine has given in to her sense of domestic duty and is going down to take care of their baby. Do you think this reflects her true emotions? Or is this just part of her process of teasing Cinesias—as if she were saying, sure, I'll take care of the baby, but still no sex for you?

Myrrhine: "My sweetie, my bitty baby, that's got such a bad father, let me give you a kiss, mommy's little dearest."

Cinesias: "What do you think you're doing, you naughty girl, listening to those other women and giving me a hard time and hurting yourself as well."

Myrrhine: "Don't you lay hands on me!"

Cinesias: "You know you've let our house, your things and mine, become an utter mess?"

Myrrhine: "It doesn't bother me."

Cinesias: "It doesn't bother you that the hens are pulling your woolens apart?"

Myrrhine: "Not a bit."

Cinesias: "And what a long time it's been since you've celebrated Aphrodite's holy mysteries. Won't you come home?"

Myrrhine: "I certainly will not, not until you men agree to a settlement and stop the war." (889-901)

Here, we get the continuation of the exchange between Myrrhine and Cinesias. Cinesias seems shocked that Myrrhine wouldn't care about how the house is becoming a mess. What's really telling is that he lumps "hen pulling woolens apart" and "Aphrodite's holy mysteries," suggesting that Myrrhine should view sex as yet another (ugh) domestic chore.