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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.
Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Theme Icon

While Athens wages war against enemies offstage, Lysistrata presents warfare onstage, too: the battle of the sexes. In a parody of warfare, the women of Greece besiege their men with abstinence, and they storm the Acropolis and lock it down as if with a chastity belt. They fight not to the death, but to the peace, and they fight not with swords and bows and spears, but with pitchers of water, spindles, lamps, and other domestic tools. When the Chorus of Old Men attempts to retake the Acropolis by means of virile fire, the Chorus of Old Women douses fire with water—a metaphor for subduing warlike rapacity with chastity, anger with clear-headedness. The women, lacking political power, must weaponize their sexuality, and they do so not out of mad political ambition but out of a commonsense desire to restore peace.

Love, at last, necessarily gets the better of war, as is evinced by the comedy’s single most iconic stage image. After the women’s sex strike has gone on for so long, the Greek men, Athenians and Spartans alike, find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They refuse to make peace, but in this they also condemn themselves to waddling around the stage with painful erections, desperately but unsuccessfully attempting to hide them under their cloaks. Men aren’t the only casualties of the battle of the sexes either. The Athenian woman Kleonike, for one, is extremely reluctant to give up sex, even if it means the continuation of the war. “I’m willing to walk through fire barefoot,” she says, “but not to give up SEX—there’s nothing like it!” Another woman stuffs Athena’s sacred helmet in her clothing so that she appears pregnant, the better to sneak away from the Acropolis and rendezvous with her lover.

As such ridiculous stage images and antics suggest, Athenians “invested sex with little transcendental significance,” according to the esteemed Aristophanes scholar and translator Douglass Parker. Nor is the point of Lysistrata that the love of a good woman can save men from themselves, or that free love brings peace into the world. Rather, the play envisions sex as a basic human need, and, when sex is rooted in love and marriage, the gratification of sexual desire is deeply pleasing. Not so with the needless pain and suffering brought on by the Peloponnesian War. This is all to say that Lysistrata is a somewhat hedonistic play: whenever you can, it suggests, fulfill your needs, pursue pleasure in accordance with civic virtue, and avoid pain. When Peace personified makes an appearance toward the play’s resolution, it should come as no surprise at this point that the form she takes, as we learn in a stage direction, is that of “a beautiful girl without a stitch on,” that is, naked. The Greek men ogle Peace and her “purtiest behind,” as one Spartan has it, and their ardor “to plow a few furrows” and “to work a few loads of fertilizer in” quickly burns away all warlike thoughts. The men of Greece seem to have forgotten about pleasure in their greed, ambition, and paranoia—but Lysistrata and the women of Greece remind them that a pleasureless state is not worth living in.

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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes ThemeTracker

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Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes Quotes in Lysistrata

Below you will find the important quotes in Lysistrata related to the theme of Sexuality and the Battle of the Sexes.
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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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

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.    

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

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. 

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. 

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.