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Lysistrata’s clever plan to end the war between Athens and Sparta (411 BC)

Lysistrata persuades a group of her women friends to seize control of the Acropolis where the money used to fund the war between Athens and Sparta is stored and demand that their husbands sue for peace. When their husbands refuse to do so the women go on strike with comic and eventually peaceful results. In these passages Lysistrata explains to a member of the City’s Ruling Committee why the women felt obliged to intervene to stop the war:

Com. (Member of the city’s ruling committee): Well now, by Jove, I wish to learn this first from them; with what intent you shut up our citadel with your bolts.

Lys. (Lysitrata; That we might make the money safe, and that you might not fight on account of it.

Com.: Why, are we fighting on account of the money?

Lys.: Aye, and all the other matters, too, have been thrown into confusion. For in order that Pisander might be able to steal, and those who aim at offices, they were always stirring up some commotion. Therefore let them do whatever they please, for that matter! for they shall no longer take out this money.

Com.: What will you do then?

Lys.: Ask me this? We will manage it.

Com.; Will you manage the money?

Lys.: Why do you think this strange? Do we not wholly manage your domestic property also for you?

Com.: Well now, by Jove, I wish to learn this first from them; with what intent you shut up our citadel with your bolts.

Lys.; That we might make the money safe, and that you might not fight on account of it.

Com.: Why, are we fighting on account of the money?

Lys.: Aye, and all the other matters, too, have been thrown into confusion. For in order that Pisander might be able to steal, and those who aim at offices, they were always stirring up some commotion. Therefore let them do whatever they please, for that matter! for they shall no longer take out this money.

Com.: What will you do then?

Lys.: Ask me this? We will manage it.

Com.; Will you manage the money?

Lys.: Why do you think this strange? Do we not wholly manage your domestic property also for you?

Com.: But the case is not the same.

Lys.: How not the same?

Com.: We must carry on the war out of this money.

Lys.: But in the first place there is no occasion for war.

Com.: Why, how otherwise shall we be saved?

Lys.: We will save you.

Com.: You?

Lys.; Aye, we to be sure.

Com.: A sad case indeed!

Lys.: Be assured that you shall be saved, even if you do not wish.

Com.: You mention a shameful case.

Lys.: You are indignant: but this must be done notwithstanding.

Com.: By Ceres, ’tis unjust!

Lys.: We must save you, my friends.

Com.: Even if I don’t want?

Lys.: Aye, so much the more, for that matter.

Com.: But how came you to care about war and peace?

Lys.: We will tell you.

Com.: (with a significant motion of his fist). Tell me now quickly, that you may not get a beating!

Lys.: Hear now, and try to restrain your hands!

Com.: But I am not able: for through my passion it is difficult to restrain them.

Lys.: Then you shall suffer for it so much the more.

Com.: Croak this at yourself, old woman; but tell me your story.

Lys.: I will do so. During the former war and former time, through our modesty, we bore with you men, whatever you did; for you did not allow us to mutter: and then you did not please us. But we perceived you very well; and oftentimes when we were at home we used to hear that you had determined some important matter badly; and then being pained internally, we used to ask you with a smile, “What has been determined by you to-day amongst the people to post up upon the pillar about peace?” “What’s that to you?” the man used to say; “will you not be silent?” And I used to be silent.

Woman.: But I would never have been silent.

Com.: Aye, and you’d have howled too, if you were not silent.

Lys.: So then I kept silence at home. We used to hear perhaps of some other more pernicious decree of yours; and then we used to ask, “How is it, husband, that you manage these matters so foolishly?” But he having looked askance at me used immediately to tell me that, “if I will not weave my warp, I should wail loudly in my head; but war shall be a care to men.”

Com.: Rightly said of him, by Jove!

Lys.: How rightly, you wretch? if not even when you were determining badly, it was permitted us to advise you. But when now we plainly heard you now saying in the streets, “Is there not a man in the country?” and some other said, “Certainly not, by Jove!” after this it was immediately determined by us women, being assembled, to save Greece in common. For why ought we to wait? If therefore you be willing to hear us in turn giving good advice, and to be silent in turn, as we were then, we would restore you.

Com.: You restore us? You mention a shameful case, and not to be endured by me.

Lys.: Hold your tongue!

Com.: Must I hold my tongue for you, you abominable creature, and that too wearing a hood about your head? Then may I not live!

Lys.: Well, if this be an obstacle to you, there! take this hood from me, and take and put it about your head, and then hold your tongue!—and this little basket! and then gird yourself up and card wool, munching beans! “but war shall be a care to women.”

Cho. of Wom.: Retire, O women, from your pitchers, in order that we also in turn may assist our friends. For I would never be tired with dancing, nor would exhausting weariness seize my knees. I am willing to venture everything with these in the cause of virtue, in whom is intellect, is beauty, is boldness, is wisdom, is prudent patriotism. Come, most courageous offspring of grandmothers, and of fruitful nettles, advance with vehemence, and do not yield! for you are now still running before the wind.

Lys.: But if delightful Eros and the Cyprus-born Venus breathe desire upon our bosoms and our breasts, and then create in the men a pleasing passion and voluptuousness, I think that we shall some time be called amongst the Greeks Lysimachæ.

About this Quotation:

Aristophanes wrote this comedy while the long Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) was still raging between Athens and its allies and Sparta and its allies, and it probably expresses some of the frustration that was felt at the time. Aristophanes cleverly puts the anti-war position in the hands of the women of the cities involved in the conflict. Women were supposed to have no interest in war or foreign policy and their opinions, if they had any, were not supposed to be expressed or be heard. The sting of the comedy comes in the penetrating arguments Lysistrata and the other women express and the cleverness of their strategy to bring their endlessly warring husbands to the peace table. Lysistrata argues that the women are tired of seeing their husbands make mistake after mistake, the wealth of the city wasted in war and destruction, and the loss of lives of their sons and husbands. They also reject the very reasons for going to war in the first place, with Lysistrata claiming that at least one man saw it as an opportunity to steal from the public purse, and others to seek government jobs and positions. The women decide to take matters into their own hands by seizing control of the treasury of Athens (money was kept in the Acropolis like it was a bank) so the men cannot spend it on making war, and they go on strike by withholding sexual favors until the men agree to sue for peace. It is also interesting to see Aristophanes also show quite clearly the amount of physical abuse women at they time had to endure, especially when they challenged the authority of their husbands.

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