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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Lysistrata, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender Roles Theme Icon

Though Athens was a democracy, male citizens held all of the political power, and women enjoyed relatively few rights and privileges. Athenian women could not hold political office, for example, or participate in democratic elections, votes, or debates, nor could they serve on juries or bring lawsuits. Furthermore, the economic activity of Athenian women was also limited (although they did budget the household accounts, as Lysistrata says), and so was their freedom of movement. Their education and responsibilities centered on domesticities like weaving cloth and raising children. The most powerful women in Athens tended to be the priestesses of the tutelary wisdom goddess Athena, as well as the hetairai, courtesans or prostitutes who were of a lower social status than citizens’ wives but who were compensated with more privileges.

We must have some understanding of these cultural features in Classical Athens to understand what Aristophanes is up to in Lysistrata, because it is a play that both reflects and plays with the gender roles of its time and place. On the one hand, the women in the play, other than Lysistrata herself, tend to be stereotypes: superficial, flighty, and coy. Even they themselves are skeptical about their power to effect peace in Greece: women are lazy, they say, unwise, and talented only in glamorously painting their faces and primping. The Athenian men, both in and out of the play, perhaps, would agree: women are unfit for rational discourse, they say, deceptive, sly, and immoral as they are. The men of Athens, however, are stubborn, paranoid, and so entangled in their mismanagement of the state that they have lost sight of basic human needs.

Consequently, the grand, intelligent, and alluring Lysistrata—whose character, scholars argue, Aristophanes modeled after both a contemporary priestess of Athena named Lysimache as well as the figure of the courtesan—arrives at the conclusion that a reversal of gender roles is necessary if Athens is to be at peace. So it is that she and her women storm the Acropolis—a great citadel that served as the political and religious center of Athens, and also home to the Athenian war treasury—thereby usurping, albeit temporarily, their men’s political power. The women justify their loving plot with unanswerable simplicity: the Female Koryphaios announces, “I hold stock in Athens—stock I paid for in sons.” In place of political madness, the women propose common sense. Indeed, Lysistrata suggests that women’s domestic work cultivates in them a common sense that men tend to problematically lack, particularly in the world of the play, where the male characters are presented as hopelessly inept. This point is eloquently made when Lysistrata compares Athens to “fleece, recently shorn,” and gives her solution to political problems by extending this metaphor of domestic work. As fleece needs to be scrubbed, beaten so as to rid it of vermin, combed of its lumps and knots and snarls, and expertly woven, so too does Athens need to be cleansed of filth, rid of incompetent parasites, and politically reunified if it is to properly fit the Athenian spirit. This is homespun political sanity at its best.

Still, Aristophanes is no feminist, and Lysistrata is no proto-feminist tract. The women take control only to restore their men to sanity, after which, the play suggests, the men will and should once again pilot the ship of state. To complicate the matter even more, only men performed on the Classical Athenian stage, a fact which Aristophanes milks by giving some of his female characters masculine qualities, like the brawny Spartan Lampito as well as the take-charge and severe Lysistrata herself. Moreover, scholars are not in agreement as to whether or not women in Classical Athens would have attended dramatic festivals at all—Lysistrata may well be a play written by a man, performed by men, and performed for men alone.

Gender Roles ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Gender Roles appears in each section of Lysistrata. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Gender Roles Quotes in Lysistrata

Below you will find the important quotes in Lysistrata related to the theme of Gender Roles.
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. 

Lines 254 – 705 Quotes

What a catastrophe—
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. 

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

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.    

A tally of [these girls’] talents
convinces me they’re giants
of excellence. To commence:
there’s Beauty, Duty, Prudence, Science,
Self-Reliance, Compliance, Defiance,
and Love of Athens in balanced alliance
with Common Sense!

Related Characters: The Chorus of Old Women (speaker)
Page Number: 541-548
Explanation and Analysis:

The Commissioner has expressed skepticism over the fact that the women are even interested in war; Lysistrata responds by explaining that the women are tired of men's incompetence. She and the other women then dress the Commissioner up as a woman, and the Chorus of Old Women joyfully announce their virtues: "Beauty, Duty, Prudence, Science, Self-Reliance, Compliance, Defiance and Love of Athens." The fact that the virtues rhyme adds a sense of silliness to the situation, but at the same time, there does seem to be truth in the chorus's words, as throughout the play, the women have demonstrated many of these virtues. On the other hand, several of the virtues are contradictory––such as compliance and defiance––which could be taken to suggest that the women's boasts are largely meaningless. 

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. 

I admit to being a woman—
but don’t sell my contribution short on that account.
It’s better than the present panic. And my word is as
good as my bond, because I hold stock in Athens—
stock I paid for in sons.

Related Characters: The Female Koryphaios (speaker)
Page Number: 648-650
Explanation and Analysis:

The women have argued with the Commissioner about the war, before wrapping him in thread and emptying their chamber pots on him; he eventually retreats. Meanwhile, the Male Koryphaios has encouraged the men to confront the women, and hits the Female Koryphaios in the jaw. In response, the Female Koryphaios announces defiantly that she admits to "being a woman," and claims that she holds stock in Athens, "stock I paid for in sons." This is an important and surprisingly moving moment in the play. With neither money of their own nor political power, women were not thought to be invested––both literally and metaphorically––in the happenings of the city-state. However, as the Female Koryphaios shows, women were in fact fundamentally implicated in the matters of politics and war on a very deep level. 

Note that even while making this rather feminist statement, however, the Female Koryphaios still frames her point in terms of women's relationship to men. The experience of the women themselves counts less than the fact that their sons died (or risked death) in battle. This logic therefore still upholds men as more important than women. 

Lines 706 – 979 Quotes

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

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.

—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. 
Lines 980 – 1323 Quotes

The most unnerving work of nature,
the pride of applied immorality,
is the common female human.
No fire can match, no beast can best her.
O Unsurmountability,
thy name—worse luck—is Woman.

Related Characters: The Male Koryphaios (speaker)
Page Number: 1014-1015
Explanation and Analysis:

The Spartan Herald has revealed that the men of the Peloponnesian League have been driven mad with lust. Hearing this, the Commissioner has then ordered the Spartan Herald to call for a truce between Spartans and Athenians. Meanwhile, the Male Koryphaios describes women as "the most unnerving work of nature." Yet even while the Koryphaios spitefully curses women, he can't help doing so in terms of their strength and stubbornness: "No fire can match, no beast can best her. O Unsurmountability." This shows that although the women have aroused enormous anger and resentment from the men, they have simultaneously established themselves as fierce, influential actors whom the men should be careful not to underestimate. Indeed, the fact that women are asserting agency at all is enough to provoke rage from the men.

I can’t dispute the truth or logic of the pithy old proverb:
Life with women is hell.
Life without women is hell, too.

And so we conclude a truce with you, on the following terms:
in future, a mutual moratorium on mischief in all its forms.

Related Characters: The Male Koryphaios (speaker), The Female Koryphaios
Page Number: 1038-1041
Explanation and Analysis:

The Female Koryphaios has attempted to befriend the Male Koryphaios, who initially rejects her. However, after the Female Koryphaios continues to show kindness, the Male relents, and eventually the two choruses agree to a truce. The terms of this truce are typically cynical and humorous; the Male Koryphaios declares, "Life with women is hell. Life without women is hell, too." His words emphasize the fact that the women have achieved a kind of absolute control over the men. They also illustrate the complicated nature of sexual desire, highlighting the way in which it is possible to be mad with lust for someone you despise. The fact that the Male Koryphaios quotes a "pithy old proverb" (and the fact that we are still reading this play thousands of years later) also suggests that the battle of the sexes is as ancient as humanity itself. 

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.