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Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Analysis

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.
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Theme Icon

Lysistrata, during the exposition of her comedy, announces that she intends to put into motion a plot “that really deserves the name of monstrous,” a full-blown rebellion. And that is exactly what she does, rebelling both against patriarchal authority and against the disastrous policies of Athens itself. In addition to being the stage for the battle of the sexes, then, the Acropolis is also a symbol for the mind of the Athenian body politic, as it were—the center where all political decisions are made. The Greek women conclude that, under the control of men, this mind has gone mad, and they refuse to be obedient any longer to madness. No more will they tolerate and endure the men’s incompetent manhandling of affairs of state, “masking our worry with a nervous laugh,” as Lysistrata says; no more will they endure the needless death of their sons in war.

The Greek men, characteristically, misunderstand the women’s rebellion altogether, and this misunderstanding reflects how their idea of patriotism has been perverted. The Commissioner of Public Safety reasons rather badly that what is elsewhere referred to as the “MORAL CHAOS” let loose upon Athens arises from husbands being too incautious with their wives. We shouldn’t have left our wives alone with goldsmiths and cobblers, he argues, because the ensuing “hanky-panky [is what] what we have thank for today’s / Utter Anarchy.” Later, the men reason, again badly, that the women’s rebellion is really sponsored by the Spartans in a bid “to commandeer the City’s cash.” Such lame attributions of motive speak to the Athenian men’s greed and self-absorption, as well as to their blindness as to the domestic effects of needless warfare. Their cardinal error is to think that such pride and warmongering is in the best interests of the city-state.

This brings us to the great irony of Aristophanes’ comedy: the women are more in line with the wellbeing and spirit of Athens than their male counterparts are, not so much rebels against as defenders of the city-state. When the mind of Athens is mad, rebellion alone can restore it to sanity. Indeed, that was in part the purpose of Aristophanes’ comedy in general: to bring the Athenians to their senses through satire, mockery, and purifying laughter. As the playwright himself suggests, his vocation involves saying much that is amusing, but also much that is serious. His is a comedy with a sense of civic duty. Lysistrata, of course, is no political tract; Aristophanes is not arguing that women should overtake the City. The play is rather a fantasy, lovingly intended to disrupt, and to liberate Athens from, its self-destructive downward spiral. In the spirit of Lysistrata herself, Aristophanes’ comedy is not an act of rebellion, but rather a reminder of Athenian values and a satire about how far the people have drifted from what they once rightly held dear. That historical Athens did not make full use of Aristophanes’ insights does not diminish his comedy’s power to make us laugh, thoughtfully, even now.

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Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Lysistrata related to the theme of Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy.
Lines 1 – 253 Quotes

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. 


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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. 

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

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.    


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

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. 

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 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.