Lysistrata

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Athena and the Acropolis Symbol Analysis

Athena and the Acropolis Symbol Icon

Athena was the tutelary wisdom goddess of Athens, and she was worshiped chiefly at her temple in the Acropolis, a great citadel that served as the political and religious center of Athens, home to the Athenian war treasury. In Lysistrata, Athena is a shadowy but important presence. She symbolizes the wisdom that the Athenian men, in their greed and ambition, have forgotten. Relatedly, the Acropolis symbolizes political control over Athens; it is the mind of the Athenian body politic, where Athena’s wisdom should reign. Under the control of the men, however, this mind has gone mad, and so the women under Lysistrata’s leadership storm the Acropolis to restore sanity, wisdom, and peace. Over the course of the play, Aristophanes cleverly modulates this symbol so that the Acropolis, fiercely besieged by the men and even more fiercely defended by the women, also comes to be associated with the female anatomy. When wisdom is forgotten, a reminder of our basic needs might be just what we need to bring us to our senses. By the end of the play, Athens and Sparta make peace, Athena as the goddess of wisdom once again rules in the Acropolis, and sex and wisdom are unified into what Douglass Parker calls “the civilizing force of love.”

Athena and the Acropolis Quotes in Lysistrata

The Lysistrata quotes below all refer to the symbol of Athena and the Acropolis. 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 254 – 705 Quotes

What a catastrophe—
MATRIARCHY!
They’ve brought Athene’s statue to heel,
they’ve put the Akropolis under a seal,
they’ve copped the whole damned commonweal…
What is there left for them to steal?

Related Characters: The Chorus of Old Men (speaker)
Related Symbols: Athena and the Acropolis
Page Number: 258-265
Explanation and Analysis:

The women have agreed to Lysistrata's plan of abstaining from sex; at the same time, the Chorus of Old Women has seized the Acropolis, thereby putting the other half of Lysistrata's plan into action. Meanwhile, the Chorus of Old Men has entered, complaining about their wives and how the group of women has managed to take over the Acropolis. The Chorus calls matriarchy "a catastrophe," which is ironic, considering Lysistrata's whole plan was designed to avoid the catastrophe caused by the rule of men. The words "they've put the Acropolis under a seal" highlight the connection between the Old Women sealing off the Acropolis and the younger women sealing off their bodies from their husbands. At this stage, however, the Old Men remain ignorant about the plan for abstinence, which builds comic suspense. 

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Preserve me, Athene, from gazing on any
maiden or maid auto-da fé’d.
Cover with grace these redeemers of Greece
from battles, insanity, Man’s inhumanity.
Gold-browed goddess, hither to aid us!
Fight as our ally, join in our sally
against pyromaniac slaughter—
Haul Water!

Related Characters: The Chorus of Old Women (speaker), The Chorus of Old Men
Related Symbols: Athena and the Acropolis
Page Number: 335-349
Explanation and Analysis:

The Chorus of Old Men have been slowly and shakily making their way to the Acropolis, revealing their bumbling incompetence while at the same time praying to Athena to grant them victory over the women. The Chorus of Old Men have resolved to burn down the gates of the Acropolis, but at the same time, the Chorus of Old Women are preparing buckets of water to put the fires out. They, too, pray to Athena to grant them victory over "battles, insanity, Man's inhumanity." The contrast between the two Choruses reveal the men to be brutish and self-interested, hoping to use force to gain back "supremacy" over the women. The women, meanwhile, are cunning, pre-empting the men's attack with fire by preparing buckets of water.

Furthermore, the women are also shown to be motivated beyond self-interest. Rather than wanting to secure "matriarchy" for its own sake, the women seek an end to the destruction caused by war and "slaughter." In this sense, the women are shown to be wiser, more caring, and even more patriotic leaders than the men. 

Koryphaios of Women:
I’ll crop your lungs and reap your bowels, bite by bite,
and leave no balls on the body for other bitches to
gnaw.

Koryphaios of Men:
[Retreating hurriedly.]
Can’t beat Euripides for insight. And I quote:
No creature’s found
so lost to shame as Woman.

Talk about realist playwrights!

Related Characters: The Female Koryphaios (speaker), The Male Koryphaios (speaker)
Related Symbols: Athena and the Acropolis
Page Number: 368-370
Explanation and Analysis:

The Chorus of Old Men have marched toward the Acropolis, carrying torches with which they plan to burn down the gates. The Chorus of Old Women, meanwhile, have noticed the torches and prepared water to dump on the men. When the two choruses finally confront each other, they exchange threats. In this passage, the Chorus of Old Women threaten to bite the men, leaving "no balls on the body for other bitches to gnaw." The Chorus of Old Men, alarmed, call for an immediate retreat, quoting Euripides' statement that "No creature's found / so lost to shame as Woman." This meta-theatrical reference is humorous, and draws attention to Aristophanes' presentation of gender and how it fits into the wider tradition of Greek drama. 

Indeed, although the Chorus of Men point out that, like other Greek playwrights, Aristophanes shows women to be "lost to shame," note the unconventional way in which women are here shown to be more fearless, aggressive, and resolute than the men. This passage suggests that women have a unique understanding of men's vulnerabilities, which the Chorus of Old Women is not afraid to exploit. Indeed, the women's violent threats indicate that at this point the Peloponnesian War has been overshadowed by another war: the battle of the sexes.    

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. 

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. 

Melanion is our ideal:
his loathing makes us free.
Our dearest aim is the gemlike flame
of his misogyny.

Related Characters: The Chorus of Old Men (speaker), The Chorus of Old Women
Related Symbols: Athena and the Acropolis
Page Number: 790-792
Explanation and Analysis:

The women have confessed that they are pining for the men and wish to leave the Acropolis; Lysistrata, however, has urged them not to give in by telling them an analogy about Zeus. The women reluctantly agree. Meanwhile, the two choruses have assembled, and the Chorus of Old Men sings about a man called Melanion, who abstained from women permanently. The chorus claims that this is their "ideal," and that they look up to "the gemlike flame of his misogyny." This is a highly silly moment, in which the Chorus of Old Men seem desperate to find a way of dealing with the fact that the women have abandoned them, and thus unconvincingly pretend that they have no interest in women in the first place. 

On the other hand, the Chorus of Old Men is also pointing to a more serious phenomenon. Throughout history, women have been portrayed as sly seducers who distract men from more important matters such as war, politics, or religion. The ability to resist the temptation of women is thus often framed as a noble masculine virtue, the sign of dignity, discipline, and self-restraint. Although it is unusual to portray this in terms of "loathing" for women, there is nonetheless a long tradition of men believing that such resistance to women will indeed set them free. 

—Life is a husk. She left our home, and happiness
went with her. Now pain is the tenant. Oh, to enter
that wifeless house, to sense that awful emptiness,
to eat that tasteless, joyless food—it makes
it hard, I tell you.

Related Characters: Kinesias (speaker), Myrrhine
Related Symbols: Athena and the Acropolis
Page Number: 865-869
Explanation and Analysis:
Myrrhine's husband, Kinesias, has approached the Acropolis. Lysistrata has asked who he is, before flattering him by telling him that he is famous among the women of Athens, who circulate rumors about his penis. Lysistrata allows him to speak to Myrrhine, and in this passage Kinesias laments how terrible their household is without his wife around. On one level, Kinesias' speech might provoke sympathy––he seems to miss his wife terribly, and even brings along their young son to stress how pitiable they are without Myrrhine around. On the other hand, the audience knows that Kinesias is in a kind of sexual frenzy, and thus it is difficult to take him at his word. His love for Myrrhine seems rather instrumental––he loves her mostly for the services she provides to him. 
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Athena and the Acropolis Symbol Timeline in Lysistrata

The timeline below shows where the symbol Athena and the Acropolis appears in Lysistrata. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1 – 253
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The play opens on a street in Athens, with the Acropolis visible in the background. It is early morning. Lysistrata is alone, pacing in furious impatience,... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...Athenian men from continuing the war effort, the Chorus of Old Women will seize the Acropolis, where the war treasury is located, on Lysistrata’s command. (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
Lampito then hears a “ruckus” in the 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... (full context)
Lines 254 – 705
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...fire, which is always in danger of going out. They’re intent on seizing back the Acropolis. As they shuffle on, they gripe about their wives (“she’s a National Disaster,” one named... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
As the Chorus of Old Men nears the Acropolis, the old men increasingly struggle to carry their torches and firepots uphill. To prevent the... (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 put out the fire before its too late, praying as they do so for Athena’s protection from “Man’s inhumanity.” (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
...Utter Anarchy.” The Commissioner concludes that he needs to access the war treasury in the Acropolis, and orders his squad of police to pry the gate open with a crowbar. (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
Just then, the gate to the Acropolis bursts open, revealing Lysistrata. She is perfectly composed and is holding a large spindle, an... (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
...charge 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... (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 suggest, is to choose death. The Commissioner staggers off, and the women re-enter the Acropolis. (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 comedy, she reveals that... (full context)
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
...women begin to crowd around Lysistrata. Kleonike complains of “those goddamned holy owls” in the Acropolis who hoot all night long. But Lysistrata understands that the women are really bothered by... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon
...can’t make love on the ground. She goes off to get a cot from the Acropolis. She returns—but, she just remembered, the couple will need a mattress, too. Kinesias says he... (full context)
Lines 980 – 1323
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
...But only Lysistrata can truly make Peace. Sure enough, she emerges at once from the Acropolis, to much praise from the Male Koryphaios. Lysistrata is also accompanied by Peace herself, who... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
Lysistrata promises the Greek men a feast, and with that she and Peace enter the Acropolis. The delegations exit at a run. The Chorus of Old Women sing about jewelry on... (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
The Choruses flock together, unified at last, to the door of the Acropolis. The Commissioner, wearing a wreath, carrying a torch, and slightly drunk, emerges from therein. He... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Kinesias also emerges from the Acropolis, wreathed and drunk. Speaking in the Spartan dialect, he praises the feast as “splendiferous.” Wine... (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... (full context)
War and Peace Theme Icon
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon
...the “Spartan muse” and sing a lively ode to dancing, beautiful girls, Spartan rivers, and Athena. Everyone then exits, dancing and singing. (full context)