Lysistrata

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Lysistrata Character Analysis

A grand, intelligent, alluring woman, Lysistrata organizes a sex strike not only in her hometown of Athens but in Sparta as well, all in the hope that the men of Greece might peacefully end the bloody, costly Peloponnesian War. She is something of an idealist, and very witty. Scholars see in Lysistrata traces of two important Athenian figures: the priestess of Athena and the courtesan (mistress or upper-class prostitute). Lysistrata is not married, is seemingly less susceptible to erotic desire than the other Athenian women, and wisely works for Peace by masterfully manipulating the men around her. Indeed, Lysistrata practically directs the play of which she’s part: the Athenian women obey her orders, and the men can’t help but react to her plot in the way she wants them to. By the play’s end, of course, the men who earlier denounced Lysistrata as a rebel celebrate her as the most excellent of women, a true peace-bringer.

Lysistrata Quotes in Lysistrata

The Lysistrata quotes below are all either spoken by Lysistrata or refer to Lysistrata. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War and Peace Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the New American Library edition of Lysistrata published in 1984.
Lines 1 – 253 Quotes

Announce a debauch in honor of Bacchos,

a spree for Pan, some footling fertility fieldday,

and traffic stops—the streets are absolutely clogged

with frantic female banging on tambourines. No urging

for an orgy!
But today—there’s not one woman here.

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker)
Page Number: 1-4
Explanation and Analysis:

Lysistrata has entered the stage alone and is pacing anxiously. She laments the fact that the women she has called on are not yet there, claiming that if she had suggested hosting a party or an orgy then everyone would have arrived without hesitation. This humorous opening to the play establishes a world dominated by hedonism, in which women enjoy debauchery but are reluctant to participate in serious matters. In many ways, this presents a rather sexist view of women (one that would have been standard in Greek culture at the time), suggesting that they are frivolous, lustful, and flighty. It also hints at the fact that the course of action Lysistrata is proposing––a coordinated sex strike––is not going to be easy for the women. This creates comic suspense in advance of the arrival of the other female characters. 

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I’m positively ashamed to be a woman—a member

of a sex which can’t even live up to male slanders!

To hear our husbands talk, we’re sly: deceitful,

always plotting, monsters of intrigue…

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker)
Page Number: 11-12
Explanation and Analysis:

Lysistrata has been waiting impatiently for other women to join her to discuss the sex strike. Eventually, her neighbor Kleonike appears, and urges her to calm down. Lysistrata replies that she's "ashamed to be a woman," because women can't even live up to all the negative stereotypes that men use to describe them. From the examples Lysistrata gives, it is clear that she is fully implicating herself in this critique. As she points out, men accuse women of being "sly, deceitful, always plotting"––even as she herself is secretly plotting a sex strike designed to undermine the men. This suggests that negative stereotypes about women can sometimes be accurate. 

On the other hand, Lysistrata's reference to these negative stereotypes is humorously ironic. She implies that it would be better if all women lived up to these "slanders," rather than just being frivolous and lazy. This in turn suggests that men do misrepresent women––but do so by overestimating their capabilities! Note that, although Lysistrata is complaining about women's flightiness at this point, she plans to strategically utilize people's low expectations of women's political commitment in order to achieve her aim of ending the war. 

Us? Be practical. Wisdom for women? There’s nothing

cosmic about cosmetics—and Glamor is our only talent.

All we can do is sit, primped and painted,

made up and dressed up.

Related Characters: Kleonike (speaker), Lysistrata
Page Number: 41-43
Explanation and Analysis:

While they wait for the other women, Kleonike has asked Lysistrata to describe her plan. Lysistrata has explained that she wants to unite all Greek women into bringing about the end of the Peloponnesian War, thereby saving Greece from itself. Kleonike responds cynically; she clearly thinks Lysistrata's plan is ridiculous. In this passage, Kleonike explains that women will never be able to act wisely (or even effectively), because "glamor is our only talent." Clearly, Lysistrata and Kleonike have very different attitudes to gender roles (and the possibility of subverting them).

While Lysistrata laments the stereotypes women are held against and believes it is possible for women to transcend them, Kleonike seems happy to accept the idea that all women can do is be "made up and dressed up." Note that the examples she gives are in the passive tense, implying that even this "primping" is something that is done to women, rather than something they choose to do themselves. Obviously, this does not bode well for political action. At the same time, Lysistrata plans to use these stereotypes to her advantage; by withholding sex, the women will not have to actively do anything, but rather look enticing while denying their husbands intimacy. 

We can force our husbands to negotiate Peace,

Ladies, by exercising steadfast Self-Control—

By Total Abstinence…
By Total Abstinence…
from SEX!

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker)
Page Number: 119-125
Explanation and Analysis:

The other women have at last arrived, and are eager to know why Lysistrata has summoned them together. Lysistrata has announced that she hopes that, together, they will put an end to the war, and the women enthusiastically say they will give up anything to do this. In this passage, Lysistrata announces that she plans to force their husbands "to negotiate Peace" by collectively abstaining from sex. The way she repeats "by total abstinence" builds dramatic and comic suspense for what she will reveal. When Lysistrata announces "from SEX!" this is humorous both in its frivolity and––eventually––in how extremely negatively the women react to it. Indeed, Lysistrata's words play with the audience's expectations that sex is not a "serious" issue like war; however, the play suggests that it is in fact arguably more powerful. 

I’m willing to walk through fire barefoot.
But not

to give up SEX—there’s nothing like it, Lysistrata!

Related Characters: Kleonike (speaker), Lysistrata
Page Number: 134-136
Explanation and Analysis:

The women have pleaded to know why Lysistrata has brought them together, and Lysistrata has told them that she plans for them to collectively bring about peace. Although the women initially pledge to do anything for this cause––including die––when Lysistrata eventually reveals that she is asking them to give up sex, the women are appalled. In this comic passage, Kleonike emphasizes that she would "walk through fire barefoot" rather than give up sex. Once again, the women are shown to be shallow, frivolous, and weak-willed. Kleonike's insistence that "there's nothing like it" suggests that she is unable to look beyond her immediate pleasure in order to serve the greater good of ending the war. The women's reaction also coheres with the play's crude humor, in which sex takes on an outsized significance, while also being presented as something universal and essentially human (i.e., not particularly "sacred" or idealized). 

Lines 254 – 705 Quotes

Commissioner:
I DO NOT WANT TO BE SAVED, DAMMIT!

Lysistrata:
All the more reason.
It’s not only Sparta: now we’ll have to save you from
you.

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker), Commissioner of Public Safety (speaker)
Related Symbols: Athena and the Acropolis
Page Number: 522-523
Explanation and Analysis:

The Commissioner of Public Safety has entered, and blames the women not only for creating the current chaotic situation but also for creating an atmosphere in which war could flourish in the first place. The gates of the Acropolis have burst open, revealing Lysistrata and the other women; the Commissioner has tried to have them arrested, but is unsuccessful. Lysistrata demands that women be put in charge of the city's budget, and offers to save the men from themselves, to which the Commissioner cries out that he does not want to be saved. This humorous exchange plays on the unexpected power dynamic between the Commissioner and Lysistrata; while we might expect the Commissioner to be in firm, authoritative control, it is in fact Lysistrata who is commanding the conversation, and the Commissioner who is acting like a petulant child. 

Although Lysistrata's comment that she wants to "save you from you" is comic, it reflects a longstanding paradox within the cultural history of gender relations. As the play shows, women have historically been stereotyped as foolish, flighty, and incapable of making serious decisions. At the same time, they have also been characterized as more sensitive, caring, and nonviolent than men. Thus, although women generally have not been trusted with political responsibility, there is an extent to which they have been tasked with keeping men in check, and limiting the destruction that can result from violence and war. Although Lysistrata's words seem over-the-top, there is a historical precedent for her argument. 

It’s rather like yarn. When a hank’s in a tangle,
we lift it—so—and work out the snarls by winding it up
on spindles, now this way, now that way.
That’s how we’ll wind up the War.

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker)
Page Number: 584-591
Explanation and Analysis:

The women have dressed the Commissioner up as a woman, and explained to him their plan of action. They intend to withdraw the army currently occupying Athens, telling stories to illustrate why the military does not belong in the city center. In this passage, Lysistrata explains that Greece is "rather like yarn" that has become tangled, and that the women plan to "work out the snarls." This is a significant moment in the play, in which Lysistrata applies "feminine" logic to the traditionally masculine domains of politics, war, and the city-state. To some extent, her words imply that she is naïve, as her analogy suggests that she has a rather simplistic understanding of war. On the other hand, the women's success thus far indicates that they are perhaps not as naïve as they first appear, and suggests that the men could use a healthy dose of "feminine" logic to cure them of their current madness of war and greed. 

Lines 706 – 979 Quotes

I’ve lost my grip on the girls—they’re mad for men!
But sly—they slip out in droves.

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker)
Related Symbols: Athena and the Acropolis
Page Number: 714-715
Explanation and Analysis:

The women are losing their resolve, and have been inventing suspicious excuses to leave the Acropolis. Lysistrata announces with exasperation that the women are "mad for men" and are sneakily escaping "in droves." After the women's early triumph, their vulnerability is revealed: they, like the men they are "fighting," are not able to resist the temptation of sex. This is a surprising twist, given the pride of the women and the negative treatment they have received from the men. Indeed, it is somewhat paradoxical that the women should be driven "mad" by desire for the men who have been trying so desperately to thwart, undermine, and even physically attack them. On the other hand, throughout the play sexual desire is presented as a comically all-powerful force that is almost impossible to resist. 

Your duty is clear.
Pop him on the griddle, twist
the spit, braize him, baste him, stew him in his own
juice, do him to a turn. Sear him with kisses,
coyness, caresses, everything
but stop where Our Oath
begins.

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker), Myrrhine, Kinesias
Page Number: 841-845
Explanation and Analysis:

The Chorus of Old Men have been taunting the Chorus of Old Women; one man attempts to kiss a woman, and when this fails he kicks her, only to reveal his pubic hair. Lysistrata, meanwhile, has seen Myrrhine's husband, Kinesias, approaching. He looks mad with desire, and in this passage Lysistrata instructs Myrrhine to excite and tease Kinesias, but to "stop where Our Oath begins"––meaning to stop just at the point before they have sex. Lysistrata's words evoke a grotesque, almost sadistic punishment. She reduces Kinesias to a piece of meat, urging Myrrhine to "baste him, stew him in his own juice." Indeed, her words seem to contradict the stereotype that women are less violent (or objectifying of the opposite sex) than men.

Lines 980 – 1323 Quotes

Now, dear, first get those Spartans and bring them to me…
Be a lady, be proper, do just what you’d do at home:
if hands are refused, conduct them by the handle…
And now a hand to the Athenians—it doesn’t matter
where; accept any offer—and bring them over.

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker), Peace
Page Number: 1116-1124
Explanation and Analysis:

A group of Spartans have entered, all of whom have painful, exaggerated erections and are desperate to strike a peace deal. Everyone present has agreed that this is the best course of action, but that Lysistrata must be present when it happens. Lysistrata arrives, accompanied by Peace, who is symbolized as a beautiful, naked young woman. In this passage, Lysistrata instructs Peace to "be a lady, be proper" and help the peace treaty be signed. Lysistrata's behavior in this moment shows how much power and authority she has gained as a result of her actions. Meanwhile, her words emphasize the way in which Peace is feminized, represented as both a "proper lady" and a sexual object (who can conduct the men by the "handle" if they won't offer her a hand). Indeed, the instructions Lysistrata gives humorously resonate with the responsibilities of women within the domestic sphere. 

Each man stand by his wife, each wife
by her husband. Dance to the gods’ glory, and thank
them for the happy ending. And, from now on, please be
careful. Let’s not make the same mistakes again.

Related Characters: Lysistrata (speaker)
Page Number: 1274-1178
Explanation and Analysis:

The peace treaty has been signed; the war is over, the two choruses have fused into one, and all the characters have held a feast to celebrate. The Spartans dance and sing, honoring Spartan heroes as well as the hunting goddess, Artemis. After this is done, Lysistrata returns both the Athenian and Spartan wives to their respective husbands, encouraging them to dance and be happy, as well as to be careful to "not make the same mistakes again." Although Lysistrata herself is shown to have had a singular, positive effect on the state of Greece, overall it does not seem likely that her plea will be fulfilled (and indeed, in real life the Athenian leaders didn't heed Aristophanes' advice, and the war continued on to Athens' ultimate ruin). 

There are several moments that hint at the idea that the battle of the sexes is ancient, cyclical, and will never be resolved. Furthermore, even though some characters reveal themselves to be wiser or kinder than we may have initially assumed, overall the play presents a farcical view of human nature––the men are largely aggressive and lustful, while the women are shallow, fickle, and sly. Although the end of Lysistrata takes the form of an unambiguously happy resolution, the rest of the play indicates that the "truce" between the sexes (or the city-states) may not last very long.

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Lysistrata Character Timeline in Lysistrata

The timeline below shows where the character Lysistrata appears in Lysistrata. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1 – 253
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...a street in Athens, with the Acropolis visible in the background. It is early morning. Lysistrata is alone, pacing in furious impatience, waiting for the women she has summoned to arrive.... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Lysistrata’s neighbor Kleonike enters. “Don’t look so barbarous, baby,” she says. Lysistrata responds that she’s ashamed... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Kleonike asks what Lysistrata’s plot is all about. Lysistrata responds that the hope and salvation of Greece lies with... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Lysistrata insists that she wants to bring together all the Greek women to form an alliance... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
At last, other women enter from the right and left, even some ragged rural women. Lysistrata’s friend Myrrhine also enters guiltily. Soon after, the brawny Spartan woman Lampito enters, along with... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
The women want to know, at last, why Lysistrata has summoned them. Lysistrata asks if the women would like their men to come home... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
To force a peaceful end to the Peloponnesian War, says Lysistrata, the women need only abstain totally—from sex. At once, the women turn away and begin... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Lampito, however, is on Lysistrata’s side, and the other women gradually come around to the idea of a sex strike.... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Lysistrata proceeds to reveal the second part of her plot: to prevent the Athenian men from... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...fragrant wine. The women surround the cup and place their right hand on it, and Lysistrata leads Kleonike through the Oath as a spokesperson for all the women. To uphold the... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...distance—the Chorus of Old Women have taken the Acropolis, citadel of the wise goddess Athena! Lysistrata tells Lampito to return to Sparta to work on bringing about peace on her end.... (full context)
Lines 254 – 705
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Just then, the gate to the Acropolis bursts open, revealing Lysistrata. She is perfectly composed and is holding a large spindle, an instrument used to spin... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...as a unit, but a horde of women brandishing household goods pours from the Acropolis. Lysistrata urges these “ladies of hell” onward, these bargain hunters and “grocery grenadiers.” The policemen are... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
The Commissioner asks Lysistrata why the women are blockading the Treasury. Lysistrata responds that money is the cause of... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Why do the women even care about War and Peace? asks the Commissioner. Lysistrata responds that the women have tolerated for long enough their husbands’ mismanagement of affairs of... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
The Commissioner is outraged by Lysistrata’s presumptuousness, but she shuts him up, winding her veil around his head. Kleonike and Myrrhine... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
While the Commissioner struggles to remove his new outfit, Lysistrata tells the Chorus of Old Women to dance and sing. They celebrate their willpower and... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
The Commissioner asks how the women intend to achieve their goal. Lysistrata responds that the women first intend to withdraw the Army of Occupation from downtown Athens.... (full context)
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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
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Lysistrata retorts that if the Commissioner were logical at all, he’d adopt her plan. She extends... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...the Commissioner complains, coming from women who had nothing to do with the war! It’s Lysistrata’s turn to be outraged: the women gave up their sons to the war effort in... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...women’s plight—but then only calls upon the Athenian men to fight all the more vigorously. Lysistrata bangs the Commissioner on the head with her spindle and winds him in thread; Kleonike... (full context)
Lines 706 – 979
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
A distraught Lysistrata emerges from the Acropolis. In a lofty speech more suitable for a tragedy than a... (full context)
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
The other women begin to crowd around Lysistrata. Kleonike complains of “those goddamned holy owls” in the Acropolis who hoot all night long.... (full context)
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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Lysistrata mounts a platform and scans the horizon. Then she stops suddenly, and orders her women... (full context)
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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
“WHO PENETRATES OUR POSITIONS,” asks Lysistrata. Kinesias identifies himself, and Lysistrata pretends to be overcome. The name “Kinesias,” she says, is... (full context)
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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Lysistrata moves to where Myrrhine is hidden and the two have a conversation in voices designed... (full context)
Lines 980 – 1323
War and Peace Theme Icon
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Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...open their cloaks and commiserate. Kinesias, one of the delegates, wants to get hold of Lysistrata; only peace can cure the malady of the Greek men. The Male Koryphaios, for his... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
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...The Spartans say that they’re ambassadors who’ve come to talk about Peace. Perfect! But only Lysistrata can truly make Peace. Sure enough, she emerges at once from the Acropolis, to much... (full context)
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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
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Lysistrata pontificates about the brotherhood of the Greeks, and about how they share a common enemy... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
...claims the “Easy Mountain” and “the Maniac Gulf,” among other things. An argument flares, but Lysistrata quells it at once to smiles of agreement. The men’s ardor “to plow a few... (full context)
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Gender Roles Theme Icon
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Lysistrata promises the Greek men a feast, and with that she and Peace enter the Acropolis.... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Everyone now emerges from the Acropolis, including the Spartan and Athenian delegations, a flutist, and Lysistrata and her women. The flutist plays and the Spartans slowly dance, singing in honor of... (full context)
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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
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When the Spartans end their song, Lysistrata returns the Peloponnesian women held hostage in Athens back to the Spartans. She also releases... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Lysistrata, in closing, invites the Spartans to sing a final song. The Spartans invoke the “Spartan... (full context)