Lysistrata (/lˈsɪstrətə/ or /ˌlɪsəˈstrɑːtə/; Attic Greek: Λυσιστράτη, Lysistrátē, "Army Disbander") is an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC. It is a comic account of a woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War between Greek city states by denying all the men of the land any sex, which was the only thing they truly and deeply desired. Lysistrata persuades the women of the warring cities to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace—a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes.

Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, 1896.

Dramatis Personae in ancient comedy depend on scholars' interpretation of textual evidence. This list is based on Alan Sommerstein's 1973 translation.[1]
Written byAristophanes
  • Old men
  • Old women
  • Lysistrata
  • Calonice
  • Myrrhine
  • Lampito
  • Magistrate
  • Cinesias
  • Baby
  • Spartan Herald
  • Spartan Ambassador
  • Athenian Negotiator
  • Athenian Delegates
  • Two Layabouts
  • Doorkeeper
  • Two Diners
  • Stratyllis
  • Five Young Women
  • Ismenia
  • Corinthian Woman
  • Reconciliation
  • Four Scythian Policemen
  • Scythian Policewoman
  • Athenian citizens, Spartan envoys, slaves et al.
SettingBefore the Propylaea, or gateway to the Acropolis of Athens, 411 BC

The play is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society. Additionally, its dramatic structure represents a shift from the conventions of Old Comedy, a trend typical of the author's career.[2] It was produced in the same year as the Thesmophoriazusae, another play with a focus on gender-based issues, just two years after Athens' catastrophic defeat in the Sicilian Expedition. At this time, Greek theatre was a profound form of entertainment, which was extremely popular for all audiences as it addressed political issues relevant to that time.


    There are a lot of things about us women
    That sadden me, considering how men
    See us as rascals.
                        As indeed we are!

These lines, spoken by the Athenian Lysistrata and her friend Calonice at the beginning of the play,[3] set the scene for the action that follows. Women, as represented by Calonice, are sly hedonists in need of firm guidance and direction. Lysistrata, however, is an extraordinary woman with a large sense of individual and social responsibility. She has convened a meeting of women from various Greek city states that are at war with each other (there is no mention of how she managed this feat) and, very soon after she confides in her friend her concerns for the female sex, the women begin arriving.

With support from the Spartan Lampito, Lysistrata persuades the other women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk as a means of forcing them to end the interminable Peloponnesian War. The women are very reluctant, but the deal is sealed with a solemn oath around a wine bowl, Lysistrata choosing the words and Calonice repeating them on behalf of the other women. It is a long and detailed oath, in which the women abjure all their sexual pleasures, including the Lioness on the Cheese Grater (a sexual position).

Soon after the oath is finished, a cry of triumph is heard from the nearby Acropolis—the old women of Athens have seized control of it at Lysistrata's instigation, since it holds the state treasury, without which the men cannot long continue to fund their war. Lampito goes off to spread the word of revolt, and the other women retreat behind the barred gates of the Acropolis to await the men's response.

A Chorus of Old Men arrives, intent on burning down the gate of the Acropolis if the women do not open up. Encumbered with heavy timbers, inconvenienced with smoke and burdened with old age, they are still making preparations to assault the gate when a Chorus of Old Women arrives, bearing pitchers of water. The Old Women complain about the difficulty they had getting the water, but they are ready for a fight in defense of their younger comrades. Threats are exchanged, water beats fire, and the Old Men are discomfited with a soaking.

The magistrate then arrives with some Scythian Archers (the Athenian version of police constables). He reflects on the hysterical nature of women, their devotion to wine, promiscuous sex, and exotic cults (such as to Sabazius and Adonis), but above all he blames men for poor supervision of their womenfolk. He has come for silver from the state treasury to buy oars for the fleet and he instructs his Scythians to begin levering open the gate. However, they are quickly overwhelmed by groups of unruly women with such unruly names as σπερμαγοραιολεκιθολαχανοπώλιδες (seed-market-porridge-vegetable-sellers) and σκοροδοπανδοκευτριαρτοπώλιδες (garlic-innkeeping-bread-sellers).[4]

Lysistrata restores order and she allows the magistrate to question her. She explains to him the frustrations women feel at a time of war when the men make stupid decisions that affect everyone, and their wives' opinions are not listened to. She drapes her headdress over him, gives him a basket of wool and tells him that war will be a woman's business from now on. She then explains the pity she feels for young, childless women, ageing at home while the men are away on endless campaigns. When the magistrate points out that men also age, she reminds him that men can marry at any age whereas a woman has only a short time before she is considered too old. She then dresses the magistrate like a corpse for laying out, with a wreath and a fillet, and advises him that he's dead. Outraged at these indignities, he storms off to report the incident to his colleagues, while Lysistrata returns to the Acropolis.

The debate or agon is continued between the Chorus of Old Men and the Chorus of Old Women until Lysistrata returns to the stage with some news—her comrades are desperate for sex and they are beginning to desert on the silliest pretexts (for example, one woman says she has to go home to air her fabrics by spreading them on the bed). After rallying her comrades and restoring their discipline, Lysistrata again returns to the Acropolis to continue waiting for the men's surrender.

A man suddenly appears, desperate for sex. It is Kinesias, the husband of Myrrhine. Lysistrata instructs her to torture him and Myrrhine then informs Kinesias that she can't have sex with him until he stops the war. He promptly agrees to these terms and the young couple prepares for sex on the spot. Myrrhine fetches a bed, then a mattress, then a pillow, then a blanket, then a flask of oil, exasperating her husband with delays until finally disappointing him completely by locking herself in the Acropolis again. The Chorus of Old Men commiserates with the young man in a plaintive song.

A Spartan herald then appears with a large burden (an erection) scarcely hidden inside his tunic and he requests to see the ruling council to arrange peace talks. The magistrate, now also sporting a prodigious burden, laughs at the herald's embarrassing situation but agrees that peace talks should begin.

They go off to fetch the delegates; and, while they are gone, the Old Women make overtures to the Old Men. The Old Men are content to be comforted and fussed over by the Old Women; and thereupon the two Choruses merge, singing and dancing in unison. Peace talks commence and Lysistrata introduces the Spartan and Athenian delegates to a gorgeous young woman called Reconciliation. The delegates cannot take their eyes off the young woman; and meanwhile, Lysistrata scolds both sides for past errors of judgment. The delegates briefly squabble over the peace terms; but, with Reconciliation before them and the burden of sexual deprivation still heavy upon them, they quickly overcome their differences and retire to the Acropolis for celebrations.

Another choral song follows; and, after a bit of humorous dialogue between tipsy dinner guests, the celebrants all return to the stage for a final round of songs, the men and women dancing together. All sing a merry song in praise of Athene, goddess of wisdom and chastity, whose citadel provided a refuge for the women during the events of the comedy, and whose implied blessing has brought about a happy ending to the play.

Historical background

Some events that are significant for understanding the play:

  • 424 BC: The Knights won first prize at the Lenaia. Its protagonist, a sausage-seller named Agoracritus, emerges at the end of the play as the improbable saviour of Athens (Lysistrata is its saviour thirteen years later).
  • 421 BC: Peace was produced. Its protagonist, Trygaeus, emerges as the improbable champion of universal peace (Lysistrata's role 10 years later). The Peace of Nicias was formalised this same year, ending the first half of the Peloponnesian War (referred to in Lysistrata as "The Former War").[5]
  • 413 BC: The Athenians and their allies suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Sicilian Expedition, a turning-point in the long-running Peloponnesian War.
  • 411 BC: Both Thesmophoriazusae and Lysistrata were produced; an oligarchic revolution (one of the consequences of the Sicilian disaster) proved briefly successful.

Old Comedy was a highly topical genre and the playwright expected his audience to be familiar with local identities and issues. The following list of identities mentioned in the play gives some indication of the difficulty faced by any producer trying to stage Lysistrata for modern audiences.

  • Korybantes: Devotees of the Asiatic goddess Cybele—Lysistrata says that Athenian men resemble them when they do their shopping in full armour, a habit she and the other women deplore.[6]
  • Hermokopidae: Vandals who mutilated the herms in Athens at the onset of the Sicilian Expedition, they are mentioned in the play as a reason why the peace delegates should not remove their cloaks, in case they too are vandalized.[7]
  • Hippias: An Athenian tyrant, he receives two mentions in the play, as a sample of the kind of tyranny that the Old Men can "smell" in the revolt by the women[8] and secondly in connection with a good service that the Spartans once rendered Athens (they removed him from power by force)[9]
  • Aristogeiton: A famous tyrannicide, he is mentioned briefly here with approval by the Old Men.[10]
  • Cimon: An Athenian commander, mentioned here by Lysistrata in connection with the Spartan king Pericleides who had once requested and obtained Athenian help in putting down a revolt by helots.[11]
  • Myronides: An Athenian general in the 450s, he is mentioned by the Old Men as a good example of a hairy guy, together with Phormio, the Athenian admiral who swept the Spartans from the sea between 430 and 428 BC.[12]
  • Peisander: An Athenian aristocrat and oligarch, he is mentioned here by Lysistrata as typical of a corrupt politician exploiting the war for personal gain.[13] He was previously mentioned in Peace[14] and The Birds[15]
  • Demostratus: An Athenian who proposed and carried the motion in support of the Sicilian Expedition, he is mentioned briefly by the magistrate.[16]
  • Cleisthenes: A notoriously effete homosexual and the butt of many jokes in Old Comedy, he receives two mentions here, firstly as a suspected mediator between the Spartans and the Athenian women[17] and secondly as someone that sex-starved Athenian men are beginning to consider a viable proposition.[18]
  • Theogenes: A nouveau riche politician, he is mentioned here[19] as the husband of a woman who is expected to attend the meeting called by Lysistrata. He is lampooned earlier in The Wasps,[20] Peace[21] and The Birds.[22]
  • Lycon: A minor politician who afterwards figured significantly in the trial of Socrates,[23] he is mentioned here merely as the husband of a woman that the Old Men have a particular dislike for[24] (he is mentioned also in The Wasps).[25]
  • Cleomenes I: A Spartan king, who is mentioned by the Old Men in connection with the heroism of ordinary Athenians in resisting Spartan interference in their politics.[26]
  • Leonidas: The famous Spartan king who led a Greek force against the Persians at Thermopylae, he is mentioned by the Spartan envoys in association with the Athenian victory against the Persian fleet at the Battle of Artemisium.[27]
  • Artemisia: A female ruler of Ionia, famous for her participation in the naval Battle of Salamis, she is mentioned by the Old Men with awe[28] as a kind of Amazon.
  • Homer: The epic poet is quoted in a circuitous manner when Lysistrata quotes her husband[29] who quotes from a speech by Hector in the Iliad as he farewells his wife before going to battle: "War will be men's business."[30]
  • Aeschylus: The tragic poet is mentioned briefly[31] as the source of a ferocious oath that Lysistrata proposes to her comrades, in which a shield is to be filled with blood; the oath is found in Seven Against Thebes.[32]
  • Euripides: The dramatic poet receives two brief mentions here, in each case by the Old Men with approval as a misogynist.[33]
  • Pherecrates: A contemporary comic poet, he is quoted by Lysistrata as the author of the saying: "to skin a flayed dog."[34]
  • Bupalus: A sculptor who is known to have made a caricature of the satirist Hipponax[35] he is mentioned here briefly by the Old Men in reference to their own desire to assault rebellious women.[36]
  • Micon: An artist, he is mentioned briefly by the Old Men in reference to Amazons[37] (because he depicted a battle between Theseus and Amazons on the Painted Stoa).
  • Timon: The legendary misanthrope, he is mentioned here with approval by the Old Women in response to the Old Men's favourable mention of Melanion: A legendary misogynist[38]
  • Orsilochus and Pellene: An Athenian pimp and a prostitute,[39] mentioned briefly to illustrate sexual desire.[40]

Pellene was also the name of a Peloponnesian town resisting Spartan pressure to contribute to naval operations against Athens at this time. It was mentioned earlier in the Birds.[41]


Modern adaptations of Lysistrata are often feminist and/or pacifist in their aim (see Influence and legacy below). The original play was neither feminist nor unreservedly pacifist. Even when they seemed to demonstrate empathy with the female condition, dramatic poets in classical Athens still reinforced sexual stereotyping of women as irrational creatures in need of protection from themselves and from others.[42]

In fact the play might not even be a plea for an end to the war so much as an imaginative vision of an honorable end to the war at a time when no such ending was possible.[43] According to Sarah Ruden, Lysistrata (Hackett Classics, 2003), the play "nowhere suggests that warfare in itself is intolerable, let alone immoral" (87).

Old Comedy

Lysistrata belongs to the middle period of Aristophanes' career when he was beginning to diverge significantly from the conventions of Old Comedy. Such variations from convention include:

  • The divided Chorus: The Chorus begins this play being divided (Old Men versus Old Women), and its unification later exemplifies the major theme of the play: reconciliation. There is nothing quite like this use of a Chorus in the other plays. A doubling of the role of the Chorus occurs in two other middle-period plays, The Frogs and Thesmophoriazusae, but in each of those plays the two Choruses appear consecutively and not simultaneously. The nearest equivalent to Lysistrata's divided Chorus is found in the earliest of the surviving plays, The Acharnians, where the Chorus very briefly divides into factions for and against the protagonist.[44]
  • Parabasis: In Classical Greek comedy, parabasis is 'a speech in which the chorus comes forward and addresses the audience'. The parabasis is an important, conventional element in Old Comedy. There is no parabasis proper in Lysistrata. Most plays have a second parabasis near the end and there is something like a parabasis in that position in this play but it comprises only two songs (strophe and antistrophe) and these are separated by an episodic scene of dialogue.[45] In these two songs, the now united Chorus declares that it is not prepared to speak ill of anyone on this occasion because the current situation (ta parakeímena) is already bad enough—topical reference to the catastrophic end to the Sicilian Expedition. In keeping however with the victim-centered approach of Old Comedy, the Chorus then teases the entire audience with false generosity, offering gifts that are not in its power to give.
  • Agon: The Roman orator Quintilian considered Old Comedy a good genre for study by students of rhetoric[46] and the plays of Aristophanes in fact contain formal disputes or agons that are constructed for rhetorical effect. Lysistrata's debate with the proboulos (magistrate) is an unusual agon[47] in that one character (Lysistrata) does almost all the talking while the antagonist (the magistrate) merely asks questions or expresses indignation. The informality of the agon draws attention to the absurdity of a classical woman engaging in public debate.[48] Like most agons, however, it is structured symmetrically in two sections, each half comprising long verses of anapests that are introduced by a choral song and that end in a pnigos. In the first half of the agon, Lysistrata quotes from Homer's Iliad ("war will be men's business"), then quotes 'the man in the street' ("Isn't there a man in the country?"—"No, by God, there isn't!") and finally arrives at the only logical conclusion to these premises: "War will be women's business!" The logic of this conclusion is supported rhythmically by the pnigos, during which Lysistrata and her friends dress the magistrate like a woman, with a veil and a basket of wool, reinforcing her argument and lending it ironic point—if the men are women, obviously the war can only be women's business. During the pnigos of the second section, the magistrate is dressed like a corpse, highlighting the argument that war is a living death for women. The agon in Lysistrata is thus a fine example of rhetoric even though it is unusually one-sided.

Influence and legacy

  • 1611: John Fletcher wrote his play The Tamer Tamed, which echoes Lysistrata's sex-strike plot.
  • 1902: Adapted as an operetta by Paul Lincke.
  • 1910: Performed at the Little Theatre in the Adelphi in London with Gertrude Kingston in the title role.
  • 1934: New York literary entrepreneur George Macey, who founded the Limited Editions Club in 1929 (an imprint specializing in commissioning some of the era's best-known artists to illustrate literary classics in limited editions of 1,500 signed copies, sold to members on a subscription basis) commissioned Pablo Picasso to illustrate a special edition of Aristophanes's Lysistrata, a new version written by Gilbert Seldes, containing six etchings and thirty four line block reproductions after drawings. A new mass market edition by Heritage Press was printed in 1962.
  • 1941: Adapted as a ballet by Richard Mohaupt, followed by a ballet suite (1946)[49] and a new ballet version titled Der Weiberstreik von Athen (1957).
  • 1946: Lysistrata was performed in New York with an all-black cast, including Etta Moten Barnett. It had particular resonance after a war in which many African Americans had served their nation in the armed forces, but had to deal with a segregated army and few opportunities for officers' commissions. In addition, veterans returned to legal segregation and near disfranchisement in the South, as well as more subtle but definite de facto segregation in many northern cities.
  • 1956: Lysistrata became in the 1950s The Second Greatest Sex, a movie musical with songs by Henry Mancini produced at Universal Studios and directed by George Marshall, starring Jeanne Crain, George Nader and Bert Lahr. It was re-set improbably in the 19th-century American wild west.
  • 1961: The play served as the basis for the musical The Happiest Girl in the World. The play was revived in the National Theatre's 1992–93 season, transferring successfully from the South Bank to Wyndham's Theatre.
  • 1968: Feminist director Mai Zetterling made a radical film Flickorna (released in English as The Girls),[50] starring three reigning Swedish film actresses: Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson and Gunnel Lindblom, who were depicted playing roles in Lysistrata.
  • 1972: The "Edwina" episode of M*A*S*H uses the device of a sexual strike by the nurses, to get one man to date the unusually clumsy Edwina; the nurses' organized withholding of sexuality was somewhat reminiscent of Lysistrata, though the play is not explicitly referenced.
  • 1976: Ludo Mich adapted the play for a film in which all the actors and actresses were naked throughout.[51]
  • 1982: Utopia's album "Swing to the Right" featured an anti-war song entitled "Lysistrata" that loosely paraphrases the content of the drama as dialog between the song's protagonist and his female significant other.
  • 1983: Şalvar Davası a Turkish movie adaptation based loosely on Lysistrata of director Kartal Tibet starring Müjde Ar as Lysistrata.
  • 1985: David Brin's post-apocalyptic novel The Postman, which had themes of duty, war, peace, and gender roles, is dedicated: "To Benjamin Franklin, devious genius, and to Lysistrata, who tried".
  • 1987: Ralf König freely adapted the play in a comic strip, satirising gay and lesbian mores and liberation movements of the era.
  • 2001: Israeli playwright Anat Gov created a 21st-century adaption, called Lysistrata 2000. It featured modern elements and major anti-war messages.
  • 2002: Francesc Bellmunt directed the Spanish movie "Lisístrata", which screenplay was an adaptation of Ralf Köning comic.[52]
  • 2003: In reaction to the Iraq disarmament crisis, a peace protest initiative, The Lysistrata Project, was based on readings of the play held worldwide on March 3, 2003.[53]
  • 2003: "A Miami Tail" - American urban movie version
  • 2004: A 100-person show called Lysistrata 100 was performed in Brooklyn, New York.[54] Edward Einhorn wrote the adaptation, which was performed in a former warehouse converted to a pub. The play was set at the Dionysia, much as the original may have been.
  • 2005: Another operatic version of the play, Lysistrata, or The Nude Goddess, composed by Mark Adamo, premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in March.
  • 2005 (June): Jason Tyne's adaptation set in present-day New York City was premiered in Central Park.[55] Lucy and her fellow New Yorkers Cleo and Cookie called all of the wives, girlfriends, and lovers of the men controlling the most powerful countries to engage the women in a sex boycott to bring the men into line.
  • 2011: Lysistrata Jones—a contemporary riff by Douglas Carter Beane (book) and Lewis Flinn (music, lyrics) for the Transport Group Theater Company, starred Patti Murin and Liz Mikel, and opened in New York at the Judson Memorial Church Gymnasium and later transferred to Broadway.
  • 2011: Valerie Schrag adapted and illustrated the play for volume one of the graphic-novel anthology The Graphic Canon, edited by Russ Kick and published by Seven Stories Press.[56]
  • 2011: Meg Wolitzer adapted the story to 21st-century New Jersey in "The Uncoupling," in which a production of Lysistrata causes women to turn away from men.
  • 2012: Isabelle Ameganvi, a civil-rights lawyer in Togo (Africa), called on the women of Togo to deny sexual relations with their men in protest against President Faure Gnassingbé.[57]
  • 2012: Indonesian Dhalang Ki Jlitheng Suparman adapted Lysistrata into a wayang climen play with the title Nirasmara.[58]
  • 2015: American filmmaker Spike Lee's film Chi-Raq is based on Lysistrata, transposing the events of the play into modern-day inner-city Chicago, substituting gun violence among African-Americans for the Peloponnesian War and rhyming rap dialog for the more formal Greek poetry.[59]
  • 2016: Animator Richard Williams's Oscar-nominated short film, Prologue, is "the first part of a feature film loosely based on Aristophanes’ anti-war play Lysisrata." [60]
  • 2016: Writer-director Matt Cooper's film comedy "Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?" is about a Texas town whose women go on a sex strike to make their menfolk abandon their love of guns.[61]

English translations

See also

  • Sex strike
  • List of films based on military books (pre-1775)


  1. Alan Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds (Penguin Classics, 1973), p. 37
  2. David Barrett's edition Aristophanes: the Frogs and Other Plays (Penguin Classics, 1964), p. 13
  3. Lysistrata in Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus II, ed. F. Hall and W. Geldart (Oxford University Press, 1907), lines 10–11, Wikisource original Greek "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-12. Retrieved 2009-02-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-12. Retrieved 2009-02-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) lines 457-58
  5. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 507
  6. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 558
  7. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 1094
  8. Lysistrata line 619
  9. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 1153
  10. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 633
  11. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines1138-44
  12. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines 801-4
  13. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 489-91
  14. Peace lines 395
  15. The Birds line 1556
  16. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines 391-93
  17. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 621
  18. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 1092
  19. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 63
  20. Wasps line 1183
  21. Peace line 928
  22. Birds lines 822, 1127, 1295
  23. The Apology, Wikisource English translation section [29]
  24. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 270
  25. Wasps line 1301
  26. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 274
  27. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines 1247–61
  28. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 675
  29. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 520
  30. Iliad Book 6, line 492
  31. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 188
  32. Seven Against Thebes lines 42–48
  33. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines 283, 368
  34. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 158
  35. A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes:Lysistrata, Acharnians, The Clouds (Penguin Classics, 1975), p. 250
  36. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 361
  37. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 679
  38. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines 785–820
  39. A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Lysistrata, Acharnians and The Clouds (Penguin Classics, 1975), pp. 251, 252
  40. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek lines 725, 996
  41. Lysistrata Wikisource original Greek line 1421
  42. Life and Society in Classical Greece Oswyn Murray in The Oxford History of the Classical World, ed. J. Boardman, J. Griffin, and O. Murray (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 215
  43. A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds (Penguin Classics, 1973), p. 178
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  46. Quintilian, Orator's Training 10.1.65-66, cited in The Birds and Other Plays by Aristophanes, ed. David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein (Penguin Classics, 2003), p. 15
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