The play starts on a quiet, residential street in ancient Athens. A woman steps onto the stage: it's Lysistrata.
Lysistrata is frustrated that the streets are deserted. We don't yet know why this makes her angry, but Lysistrata is not having this deserted-street thing.
Just then, out comes another woman: Lysistrata's neighbor, Calonice.
Lysistrata explains that she's mad because she called all the women of the city to a meeting—but nobody's showed up yet. Ahh, so that's why she's peeved.
Calonice tells Lysistrata to calm down: the women will be there as soon as they can. Then she asks Lysistrata what the meeting's all about, anyway.
Instead of giving a direct answer, Lysistrata tells her that the meeting is extremely important: the fate of Greece hangs in the balance and it's up to the women to make sure things turn out okay.
Calonice doesn't believe it. She thinks women are more interested in dainty clothes than power.
But Lysistrata tells her otherwise: not only can women wield power, but dainty clothes will be the key to it. Using makeup and see-through underwear, they can see to it that their men stop the relentless war that is tearing apart Greece.
We'll get to how dainty clothes can stop war in a sec. First, there's a more basic question: what war is Lysistrata talking about? So glad you asked. That's because it's time for us to take a break from this summary to bring you one of Shmoop's patented Historical Content Lessons. Ahem. We're putting on our tweed and bowler hats (that's what historians wear, right?) in order to tell you this:
By the time Aristophanes's play was performed in 411BCE, Athens and Sparta had already been fighting each other, on and off, for about 20 years. The conflict started in 431BCE— remember that dates go backwards before the year 0.
Not only that but, two years earlier, Athens had suffered a major military defeat, when its vast military expedition against Spartan allies in Sicily was completely destroyed. Bummer.
So there are tons of reasons for the women of Athens to decide that enough was enough, and try to bring an end to the destructive war. Twenty years is way too long.
And that brings us to the end of our Historical Context Lesson. Now: back to the play.
Calonice thinks this sounds like a great idea. She predicts that the women will be there soon enough.
Then, right on cue, some groups of women begin showing up. One of the women, named Myrrhine, apologizes for being late, then asks what's going on. Lysistrata tells her to wait until the women from Boeotia and the Peloponnese show up.
Just then, some of those women show up: Lampito, from Sparta (the capital of the Peloponnese, and Athens's main enemy); Ismenia, from Thebes (a city in Boeotia allied with Sparta); and another woman from Corinth (a city between Athens and the Peloponnese, allied with Sparta).
Lysistrata and Calonice are impressed by Lampito's muscular physique. Myrrhine thinks Ismenia, from Thebes, is a very elegant lady. And Calonice thinks the woman from Corinth is built like Jessica Rabbit.
These women, even though they're enemies, are being super nice to each other, and super body-positive.
Once the women are all assembled, Lysistrata launches into her speech. She starts by asking the women if they miss their husbands while they're off at war. All the women say they do. Then Lysistrata asks them if they want to end the war. They all say they do.
Then Lysistrata gets to the point. She says that, if the women want to bring an end to the war, they will all have to give up sex. This time around, the reaction is negative: the women think Lysistrata has gone too far, and they start walking away.
But, just then, Lysistrata gets Lampito, the Spartan woman, to agree to her plan. Once they see that Lampito is up for it, the other women stick around. Calonice asks Lysistrata how giving up sex is supposed to end the war.
The way Lysistrata explains it, it's basically like going on strike: the women will refuse to have sex with their husbands until their husbands bring the war to an end. In the meantime, the women will walk around the house in their most scanty, alluring lingerie, to drive the men wild with desire.
Wow. And we thought Ancient Greece sounded kinda stuffy.
Now Calonice says she's willing to try it, too. But then Lampito has an objection: she's happy to try out the same strategy on the men of Sparta, but it still won't bring peace so long as Athens has its vast stockpiles of money to spend on war.
Lysistrata, however, tells her not to worry: that very day, a commando squad of old women has headed up to the Acropolis (the fortified government center of Athens, on top of a steep hill), and is going to seize the treasury by force. That way, they can prevent the men of the city from squandering the money on war.
Lampito is cool with that. Hearing this, Lysistrata suggests that they all swear a formal oath.
Just then, in comes a Scythian slave-girl, carrying a shield. It turns out that Lysistrata wants the women to formalize the oath by making a sacrifice over the shield. But Calonice is against this idea—she thinks that, if they're trying to bring about peace, the shield can only bring bad luck.
Eventually, Lysistrata suggests that they should just crack open a big bottle of wine and celebrate things that way. This suggestion is a winner, and Lysistrata sends off the slave girl to bring back a big jug. The slave girl does just that.
Before letting the good times flow, Lysistrata leads all the women in solemnly swearing that they (a) won't let their menfolk have any sex, (b) will wear only their sexiest clothing, (c) will use passive resistance if their husbands try to take them by force—no fancy sexual positions allowed.