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War and Peace 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.
War and Peace Theme Icon

Aristophanes’ great comedy Lysistrata was first performed in the Greek city-state of Classical Athens in 411 BC, when Athenian supremacy in Greece was collapsing. For two decades or so, Athens had been engaged in bloody, costly warfare against the Peloponnesian League (led by the Greek city-state of Sparta), in what is now known as the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Moreover, as part of that conflict, Athens had also recently suffered a fatal disaster during the Sicilian Expedition (415-413 BC), a failed military intervention in which some two hundred ships and five thousand Athenian soldiers were destroyed in one fell swoop.

These events form the crucial historical backdrop of Lysistrata—indeed, the inciting action of the play, spearheaded by the titular heroine, is a resolution on the part of the women of Athens and Sparta to withhold sex from their men until they bring about a peaceful end to the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata herself identifies the cause of the war to be nothing more than political corruption, greed, and ambition. The men of Athens, entangled in their folly and paranoia, disagree. “The War Effort needs [the Treasury’s] money!” a Commissioner of Public Safety insists—to which Lysistrata wittily retorts, “Who needs the War Effort?” After all, the Peloponnesian War brought with it not public safety but rather pain and suffering for Athens, from military disaster abroad to ruptures in the fabric of daily life at home, over which Lysistrata and her fellow women grieve: dead sons, a lack of marriageable men, and women growing out of their “prime” without the chance to marry.

So it is that Lysistrata and the women of both Athens and Sparta are willing to go to great extremes in suing for peace. This is not to say that Lysistrata is an anti-war play, however, as many readers like to think it is. Rather, the play takes a stand against war when it is waged for bad reasons, against “staggering incompetence” when it comes to the handling of affairs of state, and against specifically Greek-on-Greek warfare. Both the Athenians and Spartans were Greek, after all, and allies in the Greco-Persian Wars that ended only some twenty years before the Peloponnesian War began. (It should be added here, however, that Aristophanes, always playing for laughs, nonetheless does little to improve the Athenian perception of the Spartans in his play, as he represents them as unsophisticated, half-witted bumpkins who speak a degenerate dialect of Greek.) By the conclusion of the play, the women’s sex strike so hotly bothers their men that the Greeks do in fact make peace: “Dance to the gods’ glory, and thank them for the happy ending,” Lysistrata calls out in her final speech. Historical Athens, though, did not make such a happy ending for itself: driven to it by besiegement, starvation, and disease, the Athenians surrendered to the Spartans in 404 BC, and their supremacy in Greece was forever broken.

War and Peace ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Lysistrata related to the theme of War and Peace.
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

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. 


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. 

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

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.