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.
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy ThemeTracker
Rebellion, Patriotism, and the Political Power of Comedy Quotes in Lysistrata
We can force our husbands to negotiate Peace,
Ladies, by exercising steadfast Self-Control—
By Total Abstinence…
By Total Abstinence…
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?
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—
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:
Can’t beat Euripides for insight. And I quote:
No creature’s found
so lost to shame as Woman.
Talk about realist playwrights!
I DO NOT WANT TO BE SAVED, DAMMIT!
All the more reason.
It’s not only Sparta: now we’ll have to save you from
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.