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Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, 1896.

Dramatis Personae in ancient comedy depend on scholars' interpretation of textual evidence. This list is based on Alan Sommerstein's 1973 translation. [1]
Written by Aristophanes
  • Old men
  • Old women
  • Lysistrata
  • Calonice
  • Myrrhine
  • Lampito
  • Magistrate
  • Cinesias
  • Baby
  • Spartan Herald
  • Spartan Ambassador
  • Athenian Negotiator
  • Athenian Delegates
  • Two Layabouts
  • Doorkeeper
  • Two Diners
  • Stratyllis
  • Five Young Women
  • Ismenia
  • Corinthian Woman
  • Reconciliation
  • Four Scythian Policemen
  • Scythian Policewoman
  • Athenian citizens, Spartan envoys, slaves et al.
SettingBefore the Propylaea, or gateway to the Acropolis of Athens, 411 BC

Lysistrata ( /lˈsɪstrətə/ or /ˌlɪsəˈstrɑːtə/ ; Attic Greek: Λυσιστράτη, Lysistrátē, "Army Disbander") is an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC. It is a comic account of a woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War between Greek city states by denying all the men of the land any sex, which was the only thing they truly and deeply desired. Lysistrata persuades the women of the warring cities to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace—a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes.


The play is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society. Additionally, its dramatic structure represents a shift from the conventions of Old Comedy, a trend typical of the author's career. [2] It was produced in the same year as the Thesmophoriazusae , another play with a focus on gender-based issues, just two years after Athens' catastrophic defeat in the Sicilian Expedition.


               LYSISTRATA     There are a lot of things about us women     That sadden me, considering how men     See us as rascals.                CALONICE     As indeed we are! 

These lines, spoken by the Athenian Lysistrata and her friend Calonice at the beginning of the play, [3] set the scene for the action that follows. Women, as represented by Calonice, are sly hedonists in need of firm guidance and direction. Lysistrata, however, is an extraordinary woman with a large sense of individual and social responsibility. She has convened a meeting of women from various Greek city-states that are at war with each other. (There is no explanation of how she manages this, but the satirical nature of the play makes this unimportant.) Soon after she confides in her friend her concerns for the female sex, the women begin arriving.

With support from the Spartan Lampito, Lysistrata persuades the other women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk as a means of forcing them to conclude the Peloponnesian War. The women are very reluctant, but the deal is sealed with a solemn oath around a wine bowl, Lysistrata choosing the words and Calonice repeating them on behalf of the other women. It is a long and detailed oath, in which the women abjure all their sexual pleasures, including the "lioness on the cheese-grater". [6]

Soon after the oath is finished, a cry of triumph is heard from the nearby Acropolis—the old women of Athens have seized control of it at Lysistrata's instigation, since it holds the state treasury, without which the men cannot long continue to fund their war. Lampito goes off to spread the word of revolt, and the other women retreat behind the barred gates of the Acropolis to await the men's response.

A Chorus of Old Men arrives, intent on burning down the gate of the Acropolis if the women do not open up. Encumbered with heavy timbers, inconvenienced with smoke and burdened with old age, they are still making preparations to assault the gate when a Chorus of Old Women arrives, bearing pitchers of water. The Old Women complain about the difficulty they had getting the water, but they are ready for a fight in defence of their younger comrades. Threats are exchanged, water beats fire, and the Old Men are discomfited with a soaking.

The magistrate then arrives with some Scythian Archers (the Athenian version of police constables). He reflects on the hysterical nature of women, their devotion to wine, promiscuous sex, and exotic cults (such as to Sabazius and Adonis), but above all he blames men for poor supervision of their womenfolk. He has come for silver from the state treasury to buy oars for the fleet and he instructs his Scythians to begin levering open the gate. However, they are quickly overwhelmed by groups of unruly women with such unruly names as σπερμαγοραιολεκιθολαχανοπώλιδες (seed-market-porridge-vegetable-sellers) and σκοροδοπανδοκευτριαρτοπώλιδες (garlic-innkeeping-bread-sellers). [7]

Lysistrata restores order and she allows the magistrate to question her. She explains the frustrations that women feel at a time of war when the men make stupid decisions that affect everyone, and further complains that their wives' opinions are not listened to. She drapes her headdress over him, gives him a basket of wool and tells him that war will be a woman's business from now on. She then explains the pity she feels for young, childless women, ageing at home while the men are away on endless campaigns. When the magistrate points out that men also age, she reminds him that men can marry at any age whereas a woman has only a short time before she is considered too old. She then dresses the magistrate like a corpse for laying out, with a wreath and a fillet, and advises him that he's dead. Outraged at these indignities, he storms off to report the incident to his colleagues, while Lysistrata returns to the Acropolis.

The debate or agon is continued between the Chorus of Old Men and the Chorus of Old Women until Lysistrata returns to the stage with some news—her comrades are desperate for sex and they are beginning to desert on the silliest pretexts (for example, one woman says she has to go home to air her fabrics by spreading them on the bed). After rallying her comrades and restoring their discipline, Lysistrata again returns to the Acropolis to continue waiting for the men's surrender.

A man suddenly appears, desperate for sex. It is Kinesias, the husband of Myrrhine. Lysistrata instructs her to torture him. Myrrhine informs Kinesias that she will have sex with him but only if he promises to end the war. He promptly agrees to these terms and the young couple prepares for sex on the spot. Myrrhine fetches a bed, then a mattress, then a pillow, then a blanket, then a flask of oil, exasperating her husband with delays until finally disappointing him completely by locking herself in the Acropolis again. The Chorus of Old Men commiserates with the young man in a plaintive song.

A Spartan herald then appears with a large burden (an erection) scarcely hidden inside his tunic and he requests to see the ruling council to arrange peace talks. The magistrate, now also sporting a prodigious burden, laughs at the herald's embarrassing situation but agrees that peace talks should begin.

They go off to fetch the delegates. While they are gone, the Old Women make overtures to the Old Men. The Old Men are content to be comforted and fussed over by the Old Women; thereupon the two Choruses merge, singing and dancing in unison. Peace talks commence and Lysistrata introduces the Spartan and Athenian delegates to a gorgeous young woman called Reconciliation. The delegates cannot take their eyes off the young woman; meanwhile, Lysistrata scolds both sides for past errors of judgment. The delegates briefly squabble over the peace terms, but with Reconciliation before them and the burden of sexual deprivation still heavy upon them, they quickly overcome their differences and retire to the Acropolis for celebrations. The war is ended.

Another choral song follows. After a bit of humorous dialogue between tipsy dinner guests, the celebrants all return to the stage for a final round of songs, the men and women dancing together. All sing a merry song in praise of Athene, goddess of wisdom and chastity, whose citadel provided a refuge for the women during the events of the comedy, and whose implied blessing has brought about a happy ending to the play.

Historical background

Some events that are significant for understanding the play:

Old Comedy was a highly topical genre and the playwright expected his audience to be familiar with local identities and issues. The following list of identities mentioned in the play gives some indication of the difficulty faced by any producer trying to stage Lysistrata for modern audiences.

Pellene was also the name of a Peloponnesian town resisting Spartan pressure to contribute to naval operations against Athens at this time. It was mentioned earlier in the Birds. [44]


Modern adaptations of Lysistrata are often feminist and/or pacifist in their aim (see Influence and legacy below). The original play was neither feminist nor unreservedly pacifist. Even when they seemed to demonstrate empathy with the female condition, dramatic poets in classical Athens still reinforced sexual stereotyping of women as irrational creatures in need of protection from themselves and from others.[ citation needed ]

In fact the play might not even be a plea for an end to the war so much as an imaginative vision of an honorable end to the war at a time when no such ending was possible. [45] According to Sarah Ruden, Lysistrata (Hackett Classics, 2003), the play "nowhere suggests that warfare in itself is intolerable, let alone immoral" (87).

Old Comedy

Lysistrata belongs to the middle period of Aristophanes' career when he was beginning to diverge significantly from the conventions of Old Comedy. Such variations from convention include:

Influence and legacy

English translations

See also

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  2. David Barrett's edition Aristophanes: the Frogs and Other Plays (Penguin Classics, 1964), p. 13
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  9. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 558
  10. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 1094
  11. Lysistrata line 619
  12. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 1153
  13. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 633
  14. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines1138-44
  15. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines 801-4
  16. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 489-91
  17. Peace lines 395
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  20. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 621
  21. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 1092
  22. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 63
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  28. Wasps line 1301
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