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

Aristophanes

Aristophanes‘ 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?

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.