Lysistrata begins with the Athenian woman Lysistrata pacing the streets of Athens, waiting for the Greek women she has summoned to arrive. Lysistrata’s neighbor Kleonike enters and tries to calm her, but Lysistrata denigrates the women of Greece as weak and lazy, and she announces that she has on her mind nothing less than a plot to end the Peloponnesian War between Athens and the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta).
The other women arrive soon enough, including the Athenian Myrrhine, the brawny Spartan woman Lampito, and the Peloponnesian women Ismenia and the Corinthian girl. After the women greet and inspect one another, Lysistrata asks them what they’d be willing to do to bring about an end to the Peloponnesian War: we’d be willing to die, they say. Lysistrata then reveals that her plot simply requires that the women abstain from sex. This, she hopes, will force their men to bring about peace. Kleonike and Myrrhine at first refuse to participate and begin to walk away—they prefer war to sexless lives—but once Lampito voices her support for the sex strike, all of the women gradually come to support it. Lysistrata proceeds to reveal the second part of her plot: not only will the women abstain from sex, they’ll also seize the Acropolis to prevent the Athenian men from accessing their war treasury. The women of Greece proceed to swear an Oath of abstinence over a cup of wine. Meanwhile the Chorus of Old Women, on Lysistrata’s orders, take the Acropolis. Lysistrata orders Lampito to stir up a sex strike back in Sparta, and Lampito goes off to oblige. Lysistrata and her women then hurry over to the Acropolis, and the door shuts behind them.
A decrepit, misogynistic Chorus of Old Men slowly enters with torches and pots of fire to smoke and burn the women out of the Acropolis. While they trudge uphill, however, griping all the way, their fires begin to smoke and go out. Somehow the men make it to the Acropolis door, only for the spryer Chorus of Old Women to meet them there with pitchers of water. The Male Koryphaios, or leader of the Chorus of Old Men, asks for volunteers to pulverize the women for their backtalk, but no one comes forward. Insults and threats are exchanged, and the old women, led by the Female Koryphaios, eventually douse the old men with freezing water—an utter defeat.
A Commissioner of Public Safety then enters with a squad of police made up of four Scythian archers; he plans on putting an end to the “MORAL CHAOS” created by the women (he also plans on getting some money from the treasury to buy oars for the Athenian navy). He orders his officers to pry open the Acropolis gate with crowbars. Lysistrata enters, and the Commissioner orders a policeman to arrest Lysistrata, but she comically repels him a vicious jab of her spindle. Kleonike, Myrrhine, and Ismenia similarly repel the three remaining officers. The Commissioner asks Lysistrata why she’s doing all this: she responds that the women are sick and tired of their husbands’ staggering political incompetence, and that money is the root of this evil. When the Commissioner becomes outraged, Lysistrata and her cohorts dress him up as a woman and tell him to go home. The women declare that they’ll handle Athens just as though it were yarn: they’ll clean it, rid it of parasites, and weave it into a suitable city-state. After all, Lysistrata says, the women have just as much a stake in affairs of state as the men do, because their husbands and sons are the ones fighting, and because their own quality of life is diminished in times of war. These arguments only convince the Commissioner to urge the Athenian men to fight all the more vigorously, so Lysistrata and her women comically attack him till he staggers offstage. The women themselves then reenter the Acropolis, while down below the Male Koryphaios wrestles, unsuccessfully, with his female counterpart, who succeeds in throwing him off balance.
Time passes, several days at least. A distraught Lysistrata reemerges from the Acropolis: the women, she says, really want to get laid, and they’re forsaking the sex strike as a result. She quickly reads a prophecy to them, which the women understand to mean that they must maintain solidarity, and they troop back inside the Acropolis. More trouble is on the horizon, however: Kinesias, Myrrhine’s husband, is approaching along with a slave and the couple’s baby boy. He has a large erection and is in considerable pain. Lysistrata flatters his physical endowment, and Myrrhine descends to him to comfort her dirty, unfed child. Kinesias tells her how empty the home feels without her, how much he loves her—and then he tries to seduce his wife, sending his baby home with the slave. Myrrhine acts as though she’ll give in to him, but she keeps prolonging the moment of consummation. At last, just when it seems that sex is nigh, Myrrhine asks her husband if he’s going to support the truce. When Kinesias gives her a noncommittal response, Myrrhine runs off for good. Accompanied by the Male Koryphaios, Kinesias tragically laments the throbbing pain of his erection, then exits.
A Spartan herald enters, as does the Commissioner, and both conceal erections under their cloaks. The herald announces that Lampito has sown disorder in the Peloponnesian League through her sex strike, driving the men mad with painful lust. The Commissioner orders the herald to have a Commission sent to Athens empowered to conclude a truce. Both men exit hurriedly, and, in the meantime, the Female Koryphaios dresses her naked male counterpart, thereby softening his hard heart.
A delegation of Spartans and Athenians soon enter. With Lysistrata’s help, and motivated by the sight of the naked body of Peace, here personified as a beautiful girl, they quickly draw up the terms of peace. Throughout, Lysistrata pontificates about the brotherhood of the Greeks, and about their common enemy in the Persians. Once peace is struck, the women throw a merry feast for all. Everyone gets drunk, and the wives return to their husbands. “Let’s not make the same mistakes again,” Lysistrata cautions, before inviting the Spartans to sing a final song. They oblige her by singing a lively ode to dancing, beautiful girls, and Spartan rivers, and the wisdom goddess Athena. Everyone exits, dancing and singing.