Study Guide

Lysistrata Warfare

By Aristophanes

Warfare

Lysistrata: "[The] salvation of all Greece lies in the women's hands."

Calonice: "In the women's hands? A precarious place to be!"

Lysistrata: "Yes, our country's future depends on us: whether the Peloponnesians become extinct—"

Calonice: "Well, that would be all right with me!"

Lysistrata: "… and all the Boeotians are annihilated—"

Calonice: "Not all of them, please—do spare the eels!"

Lysistrata: "I won't say anything like that about the Athenians; you get the point." (29-38)

In these lines, Lysistrata reveals how incredibly high the stakes are. The way she sees it, if she and the other women can't make Sparta and Athens agree to a peace treaty, all of Greece is likely to be destroyed in the war. Calonice's mind is more fixed on the material discomforts caused by war; the fact that international trade has been interrupted. Calonice is totally fine with massive bloodshed and the horrors of war, as long as she can have her tasty eels.

Lysistrata: "That's exactly what I think will rescue Greece: our fancy little dresses, our perfumes and our slippers, our rouge and our see-through underwear!"

Calonice: "Just how do you mean?"

Lysistrata: "They'll guarantee that not one of the men who are still alive will raise his spear against another—"

Calonice: "In that case, by the Two Goddesses, I'll have a dress dyed saffron!"

Lysistrata: "… nor hoist his shield—"

Calonice: "I'll wear a Cimberic gown!"

Lysistrata: "… nor even pull a knife!"

Calonice: "I'll go shopping for slippers!" (46-53)

Calonice is still generally kinda small-minded: she thinks that the suffering inflicted by war is fine, so long as it happens to somebody else—especially if that somebody else is one of the enemies of Athens. But just because she's somewhat narrow in her views doesn't mean Calonice thinks that war is a barrel of laughs. We can see that in this passage. The very second that Lysistrata suggests some way of putting an end to the war, Calonice jumps at the opportunity—no matter how crazy it sounds.

Lysistrata: "Don't you all pine for your children's fathers when they're off at war? I'm sure that every one of you has a husband away from home."

Calonice: "My husband's been away five months, my dear, at the Thracian front; he's guarding Eucrates."

Myrrhine: "And mine's been at Pylos seven whole months."

Lampito: "And mine, whenever he does come home from the regiment, is soon strapping on his shield and flying off again."

Calonice: "Even lovers have vanished without a trace. Ever since the Milesians revolted from us, I haven't even seen a six-inch dildo, which might have been a consolation, however small." (99-110)

Even though their main purpose is to be funny, these lines also show the terrible toll of war. The burden of war isn't just borne by the men who actually go out to the front lines and do the killing and dying; the women who are left behind also suffer, because they miss their husbands… and yeah, their Milesian dildos. The city of Miletus, which used to be under Athens's power, until it revolted, was renowned for manufacturing dildos (yup, you read that right). Now that it is Athens's enemy, this hot commodity is hard to come by.

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)

Lysistrata's point here is that, even if the war seems necessary, it's actually something the men are choosing to do. However impossible peace seems right now, it would suddenly seem a lot more possible if the men knew that they wouldn't get any more sex until they had put an end to the war. Make love not war indeed.

Men's Leader: "That's the way I laid siege to that fellow—savagely! We camped before the gates in ranks seventeen deep. And now shall I stand by and do nothing to put down the effrontery of these women, enemies of all the gods and of Euripides? Then my trophy in the Tetrapolis may as well disappear!" (281-285)

In these lines, the men's leader is recalling an old war he fought against the Spartan king Cleomenes. But how relevant is it to what's going on now? All the Men's Leader seems to be saying is that he fought bravely in the past, and therefore would lose self-respect if he didn't fight bravely now. These lines show that war is often waged for stupid reasons, like pride.

Magistrate: "We're at war on account of the money, is that it?"

Lysistrata: "Yes, and that's why everything else got messed up too. It was for opportunities to steal that Pisander and the others who aimed to hold office were always fomenting some kind of commotion. So let them keep fomenting to their hearts' content: they'll be withdrawing no more money from this place." (489-492)

In this argument with the Magistrate, Lysistrata sticks to her guns, and insists that the war isn't necessary. The way she sees it, the war is only being fought so that the powerful people in the city can become rich. History fact: one of the causes of the Peloponnesian War was the Athens wanted to maintain its domination over various other Greek cities, who were forced to pay them tribute money.

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)

The always-thick Magistrate's attitude seems to be "but…but…but…war funds are for boys!" Lysistrata's point is that women already act as treasurers for the household, and have proved that they know their way around a budget. But the Magistrate, with his "boys rule and girls drool" mentality, seems to think that war budgeting is totally beyond the ability of tiny ladybrains.

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)

These lines come at the end of a long story, in which she tells how the women of the city listened patiently as their husbands came home every day from the assembly. Even though the women knew the men were making bad decisions that would inevitably plunge the land into war, they kept their mouths shut. And now that there are no dudes running around the streets of Athens (because they're getting killed at war) the women have to speak up.

Magistrate: "Isn't it awful how these women go like this with their sticks, and like that with their bobbins, when they share none of the war's burdens?"

Lysistrata: "None? You monster! We bear more than our fair share, in the first place by giving birth to sons and sending them off to the army—"

Magistrate: "Enough of that! Don't open old wounds."

Lysistrata: "Then, when we ought to 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." (587-593)

War is hell on the home front, too. So you can see why Lysistrata reacts with such outrage ("None? You monster!") when the Magistrate suggests that men are the only one who have to bear the burdens of the war. Lysistrata then gives the Magistrate an earful, showing him that the decisions about war taken by the men of the city affect everyone who lives in it.

Lysistrata: "Now that you're my captive audience I'm ready to give you the tongue-lashing you deserve—both of you. You two sprinkle altars from the same cup like kinsmen, at Olympia, at Thermopylae, at Pytho—how many other places could I mention if I had to extend the list—yet when enemies are available with their barbarian armies, it's Greek men and Greek cities you're determined to destroy." (1128-1134)

So, after all that talk about how horrible war is, you might be thinking that Aristophanes is trying to teach his audience a pacifist message. Nope. In this passage, Lysistrata is arguing that the main problem is that the Greeks are fighting the wrong people: instead of fighting each other, they should be turning their attention to defeating the Barbarians (non-Greeks) who threaten them.