Much as in Shakespeare's London or the early 20th-Century USA, in Classical Greece comedy was as popular as tragedy—and as ancient.
Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, 1940: The word komos derives from the Greek word for "revel" [i.e., party, celebrate, carnival, e.g. Mardi Gras]; there were several kinds of komoi and they took place on festivals, particularly of Dionysus, and consisted, or wound up, with a procession of revellers, singing, dancing, and bantering with the onlookers. . . . Comedy in Attica [Athens area] seems to have originated in the villages; it retained for a time a phallic character, being associated with the worship of Dionysus . . . .
Comedies were performed at Athens at festivals fo Dionysus, including the great Dionysian dramatic festival and the smaller Lenaea festival.. Five poets competed by offering one comedy each. Compared to Tragedy, Comedy was less rule-bound; its form constantly varied and rapidly developed.
Parts [of comedy] includeded the exodos or final scene, in which the predominant note is rejoicing, generally leading up to a feast or wedding. (Compare conclusion of comic narrative.)
The role of the chorus [in comedy] was to excite rather than to pacify and conciliate (as in Tragedy). The comic chorus probably had 24 members, often divided into half-choruses or demi-choruses of men and women. Male actors played roles of both men and women.
Masks of comic types were more grotesque than tragic masks, and costumes featured extravagant padding [or extensions].
"Old Comedy" (as by Aristophanes) was a curious blend of religious ceremony, serious satire, and criticism (political, social, and literary), wit, and buffoonery. The "old man" (grumpy, lusty, drunk or deranged) was a stock figure.
"New Comedy" (as by Menander) more often featured romantic love as its theme.
The author of Lysistrata: Aristophanes c. 448-385 BCE: The Birds (414 BCE), Lysistrata (411), The Wasps, The Frogs (405). Aristophanes was one of many comic playwrights popular during his time, but their works do not survive. The eleven of Aristophanes’s 30 plays that survive exemplify the style of “Old Comedy” (or Ancient Greek Comedy) involving sexual and scatological humor, buffoonery, and political satire. Contemporary examples of a comparable style might include Monty Python and Saturday Night Live.
One signature element of
“Old Comedy” in
is the Chorus of Old Men. Irascible, randy old men refusing to act their age
were stock figures in early Greek comedy and continue to appear in figures like
Arthur (Carrie’s dad) in
King of Queens.
(Other current examples?)
(Other current examples?)
Menander (342–291 BC) was a comparably popular Athenian poet and playwright in the style of “New Comedy,” which more closely resembled today’s “situation comedies” like Seinfeld, King of Queens, Big Bang Theory. Only one mostly-complete play by Menander survives—Dyskolos—but the principles and styles of New Comedy can be inferred by Roman adaptations.
Discussion questions for Lysistrata
1. Identify features of comic narrative genre and elements of humor
and wit (or low and high comedy).
2. Compare to scenarios, character types, and dialogue in contemporary comedies, whether TV sit-coms (situation comedies) or film comedies or rom-coms (romantic comedies).
3. Contrast with tragedy in terms of language style, realism, referents.
3. Contrast with tragedy in terms of language style, realism, referents.Where do tragedy and comedy almost turn into each other? What happens to keep either in its proper genre?
4. What different appeals of comedy and tragedy? What impact on audience? How “timeless” are comedy and tragedy, comparatively?
Historic backgrounds for Lysistrata (411 BC):
Peloponnesian War 431-404 BC = battles b/w city-states for imperial dominance
Lysistrata 411, 21st
year of war ; end of Golden Age of Athenian
; end of Golden Age of Athenian empire.
Greek women = Athenian, Spartan, Boeotia, and Corinthian [i.e., what we call “Greece” was more like what we now call “Europe”—not so much a single nation as a group of smaller states with some commonalities of language and culture.]
Note on comedy: Very broadly, comedy is usually more popular than tragedy but also shorter-lived. One possible reason is that comedy is more realistic, with more physicality, social detail, and contemporary references, which (except for physical humor) decay more rapidly than more abstract, less realistically-detailed scenarios.
Note on translation:
This popular online version from ebooks appears derived from the anonymous
1912 translation by London’s Athenian Society. The time of this
translation is between the Victorian and Edwardian eras, which often
repressed explicit sexual content, and the revolutionary
(1914-1945), which treated sexuality more directly, though often in the form of
ancient rituals and myths. The ebook version copied for this offering
changes some of that translation's renditions, making sexual references and some
stage directions more explicit. The instructor of this course has updated some
diction, phrasing, sexual references and
The ebook version copied for this offering changes some of that translation's renditions, making sexual references and some stage directions more explicit. The instructor of this course has updated some diction, phrasing, sexual references and euphemisms.
SCENE ONE [Greek dramas were not organized by acts and scenes; the present set-up of scenes is provided by instructor for convenience.]
(SCENE: At the base of the Orchestra are two buildings, the house of LYSISTRATA and the entrance to the Acropolis; a winding and narrow path leads up to the latter. Between the two buildings is the opening of the Cave of Pan. [Cave of Pan: on the northern slope of the Acropolis in Athens; Pan (with horns and hindquarters of a goat) was an important god of herding, wild nature, and fertility]
(LYSISTRATA is pacing up and down in front of her house. She has called a meeting of Greek women; she appears with KLEONIKE]
[1.1] LYSISTRATA: Ah! if only the women had been invited to a Bacchic* revelling, or a feast of Pan* or Aphrodite* or Genetyllis*, why! the streets would have been impassable for the thronging tambourines! Now there's never a woman here—ah! except my neighbour Kleonike, whom I see approaching yonder. . . . Good day, Kleonike. [*Bacchic < relating to Bacchus or Dionysus, Greek god of wine, whose commemorations often included wild reveling with women devotees; compare to “Girls Gone Wild”; *Pan = king of satyrs, fertility forest god; *Aphrodite = goddess of romantic love; *Genetyllis: goddess protecting childbirth]
[1.2] KLEONIKE: Good day, Lysistrata; but tell me, why this dark, forbidding face, my dear? Believe me, you don't look a bit pretty with those black scowling brows.
[1.3] LYSISTRATA: Oh, Kleonike, my heart is on fire; I blush for our sex. Men will have it we are tricky and sly . . . .
[1.4] KLEONIKE: And the men are quite right about that, on my word!
[1.5] LYSISTRATA: Yet, look you, when I call the women to meet and rally for a matter of the greatest importance, they lie in bed instead of coming.
[1.6] KLEONIKE: Oh! they will come, my dear; but it's not easy, you know, for women to leave the house. One woman is busy monkeying about her husband; another is waking up the servant; a third is putting her child asleep or washing or feeding the brat.
[1.7] LYSISTRATA: But I tell you, the business that calls them here is much more urgent.
[1.8] KLEONIKE: Why then have you summoned us, dear Lysistrata? What is it all about?
[1.9] LYSISTRATA: It's about something big.
[1.10] KLEONIKE: (wearily) Something big and thick too?
[1.11] LYSISTRATA: Yes indeed, it's big and impressive. [double entendre]
[1.12] KLEONIKE: So why isn't everyone here? Imagine!
[1.13] LYSISTRATA: (wearily) Oh! if what I'm talking about were what you're thinking, no one would miss it. No, no, it concerns something I've turned around and about this way and that for many sleepless nights.
[1.14] KLEONIKE: (still unable to be serious) It must be something mighty fine and subtle for you to have turned it about so!
[1.22] KLEONIKE: But how should women perform so wise and glorious an achievement, we women who dwell in the retirement of the household, dressed in translucent garments of yellow silk and long flowing gowns, decked out with flowers and shod with dainty little slippers?
[1.23] LYSISTRATA: Ah, but those are the very anchors of our salvation—those yellow tunics, those scents and slippers, those cosmetics and transparent robes.
[1.24] KLEONIKE: How so, pray?
[1.25] LYSISTRATA: Not a man will wield a lance against another . . . .
[1.26] KLEONIKE: Quick, I will get me a yellow tunic from the dyer's.
[1.27] LYSISTRATA: . . . or take up his shield . . .
[1.28] KLEONIKE: I'll run and put on a flowing gown.
[1.29] LYSISTRATA: . . . or draw a sword.
[1.30] KLEONIKE: I'll hurry to buy a pair of slippers this instant.
[1.31] LYSISTRATA: Now tell me, wouldn't the women have done best to come to our meeting?
[1.32] KLEONIKE: Why, they should have flown here!
[1.33] LYSISTRATA: Ah! my dear, you'll see that like true Athenians, they do everything too late*. . . . [*too late . . . allusion to the Greek statesman Demosthenes's complaint that Athens always acted too slowly to seize opportunity;]
Why, there's not a woman come from the shore, not one from Salamis. [*Salamis = island subject to Athens.]
[1.34] KLEONIKE: But I know for certain they arrived at daybreak.
[1.35] LYSISTRATA: And the ladies from Acharnae!* why, I thought they would have been the very first to arrive. [*Acharnae = town a few miles north of Athens, whose people led support for Athens's entry to Peloponnesian Wars]
[1.36] KLEONIKE: Theagenes's* wife at any rate is sure to come; she has actually been to consult Hecate*. . . . But look! here are some arrivals—and there are more behind. Aha! now what countrywomen may they be? [*Theagenes's wife: reference unclear; *Hecate = a protective household goddess who bestowed prosperity]
[1.37] LYSISTRATA: They are from Anagyra*. [*Anagyra: nearby community]
[1.38] KLEONIKE: Yes! upon my word, 'tis a levy en masse of all the female population of Anagyra!
(MYRRHINE enters, followed by other women.)
[1.39] MYRRHINE: Are we late, Lysistrata? Tell us, please—what, not a word?
[1.40] LYSISTRATA: I can't say much for you, Myrrhine! You haven't done much for our cause, considering our business is so urgent.
[1.41] MYRRHINE: This morning was so dark I couldn't find my girdle. However, if you need us here so badly, well, here we are. So speak! [comic signal of entrance; physicality as humor]
[1.42] KLEONIKE: No, let's wait a moment more, till the women of Boeotia arrive and those from the Peloponnese*. [*Boeotia = region in central Greece, including city of Thebes; *Peloponnese = southern region of Greece; see maps above]
[1.43] LYSISTRATA: Yes, that is best. . . . Ah! here comes Lampito. (LAMPITO, a husky Spartan damsel, enters with three others, two from Boeotia and one from Corinth [part of Peloponnese].)
Good day, Lampito, dear friend from Sparta. How well and handsome you look! what a rosy complexion! and how strong you seem. Why, you look like you could strangle a bull!
[1.44] LAMPITO: Yes, indeed, I really think I could. It's because I do gymnastics* and practice the bottom-kicking dance*. [**allusions to Spartan gymnastic training and to Spartan women's dance involving touching one's posterior with the heel of the foot]
[1.45] KLEONIKE: (opening LAMPITO'S robe and baring her bosom) And what superb breasts! [physicality, sexuality as humor]
[1.46] LAMPITO: La! you are feeling me up like I'm a beast for sacrifice. [comic and tragic dramas took place during religious festivals featuring such ceremonies of sacrifice]
[1.47] LYSISTRATA: And this young woman—where is she from?
[1.48] LAMPITO: She's a noble lady from Boeotia.
[1.49] LYSISTRATA: Ah! my pretty Boeotian friend, you are as blooming as a garden*. [*"garden [of love]": ancient euphemism for female genitalia]
[1.50] KLEONIKE: (making another inspection) Yes, on my word! and her "garden" is so thoroughly weeded* too! [*weeded: reference to depilation or hair removal]
[1.51] LYSISTRATA: (pointing to the Corinthian) And who is this?
[1.52] LAMPITO: She's an honest woman, by my faith! she comes from Corinth. [part of Peloponnese].
[1.53] KLEONIKE: Oh! honest, no doubt then—as honest as Corinth gets. [insult humor]
[1.54] LAMPITO: But who has called together this council of women, pray?
[1.55] LYSISTRATA: I have.
[1.56] LAMPITO: Well then, tell us what you want of us. [expository dialogue]
[1.57] KLEONIKE: Yes, please tell us! What is this very important business you wish to inform us about? [expository dialogue]
[1.58] LYSISTRATA: I will tell you. But first answer me one question.
[1.59] KLEONIKE: Anything you wish.
[1.60] LYSISTRATA: Don't you feel sad and sorry because the fathers of your children are far away from you with the army? I'll wager there's not one of you whose husband is not at war at this moment. [expository dialogue]
[1.61] KLEONIKE: Mine has been the last five months in Thrace*—looking after Eucrates*. [*Thrace: region of ancient Greece now in modern-day Turkey; *Eucrates: Athenian general suspected of treachery; the joke is that his own soldiers have to watch him so that he doesn't betray them to the enemy—political satire + note how details of realistic humor decay in interest]
[1.62] MYRRHINE: It's seven long months since mine left for Pylos. [*Pylos: contested town and fortress in the Peloponnesian War.]
[1.63] LAMPITO: As for my husband, if he ever does return from service, he's no sooner home than he straps on his shield again and hurries back to the wars.
[1.64] LYSISTRATA: And not so much as the shadow of a lover! Since the day the Milesians betrayed us, I have never once seen an eight-inch godemiche* even, to be a leather consolation to us poor widows. . . . [*godemiche = French word for dildo; euphemism]
Now tell me, if I have found a way to end the war, will you all support me?
[1.65] KLEONIKE: Yes verily, by all the goddesses, I swear I will, though I have to put my gown in pawn, and drink the money the same day. [Jokes on Athenian women’s reputation for loving wine]
[1.66] MYRRHINE: And so will I, though I must be split in two like a flat-fish, and have half myself removed.
[1.67] LAMPITO: Me too. Why, to secure peace I would climb to the top of Mount Taygetus*. [*Mount Taygetus: high hills overlooking Sparta]
[1.68] LYSISTRATA: Then I will come out with it at last, my mighty secret!
Oh! sister women, if we would compel our husbands to make peace, we must refrain . . . [comic pause]
[1.69] KLEONIKE: Refrain from what? tell us, tell us!
[1.70] LYSISTRATA: But will you do what we need to do?
[1.71] MYRRHINE: We will, we will, even if we should die for doing it.
[1.72] LYSISTRATA: We must keep ourselves from our men altogether. . . .
Wait, why do you women turn your backs on me? Where are you going? So, you bite your lips, and shake your heads, eh? Why these pale, sad looks? why these tears? Come, will you do it—yes or no? Do you hesitate?
[1.73] KLEONIKE: I will not do it—Let the war go on.
[1.74] MYRRHINE: Nor will I; let the war continue.
[1.75] LYSISTRATA: (to MYRRHINE) And you say this, my pretty flat-fish, who declared just now they might split you in two?
[1.76] KLEONIKE: Anything, anything but that! Bid me go through the fire, if you will—
But to rob us of the sweetest thing in all the world, Lysistrata darling!
[1.77] LYSISTRATA: (to MYRRHINE) And you?
[1.78] MYRRHINE: Yes, I agree with the others; I too would sooner walk through fire.
[1.79] LYSISTRATA: Oh, wild, promiscuous sex! The poets have done well to make tragedies about us—we're good for nothing but love and lust!
(to Lampito) But you my dear, you from hardy Sparta, if you join me, all may yet be well; help me, back me up, I beg you.
[1.80] LAMPITO: It's a hard thing, by the two goddesses* it is! for a woman to sleep alone without ever a randy fellow in her bed. [*"by the two goddesses": Demeter (fertility goddess of the harvest) and Persephone (fertility goddess of springtime);]
But I'll give it up! Peace must come first.
[1.81] LYSISTRATA: Oh, my darling, my dearest, best friend, you are the only one of us who deserves the name of woman!
[1.82] KLEONIKE: But if—which the gods forbid—if we do refrain altogether from what you say, should we get peace any sooner?
[1.83] LYSISTRATA: Of course we should, by the goddesses twain*! [*"by the goddesses twain," i.e. by the two goddesses Demeter (fertility goddess of the harvest) and Persephone (fertility goddess of springtime)
We need only sit indoors with painted cheeks, and meet our mates lightly clad in transparent gowns of Amorgos* silk, and perfectly depilated; they'll get their tools all up and excited and be wild to lie with us. That will be the time to refuse, and they will hurry to make peace, I am convinced of that! [*Amorgos, one of Cyclades islands in Aegean sea, famous for transparent fabrics]
[1.84] LAMPITO: Yes, just as Menelaus, when he saw Helen's naked bosom, threw away his sword, they say. [allusion to Helen of Troy, whose husband was King Menelaus of Sparta. Helen’s elopement with Paris to Troy ostensibly instigated the Trojan War.]
[1.85] KLEONIKE: But, oh dear, suppose our husbands go away and leave us.
[1.86] LYSISTRATA: Then, as Pherecrates* says, we must "flay a skinned dog,"* that's all. [*Pherecrates: comic playwright contemporary to Aristophanes; *"flay a skinned dog": reference to use of godemiche or dildo mentioned above at 1.64]
[1.87] KLEONIKE: Fiddlesticks! these old sayings are all idle talk. . . . But what if our husbands drag us by force into the bedchamber?
[1.88] LYSISTRATA: Hang on to the door posts.
[1.89] KLEONIKE: What if they beat us?
[1.90] LYSISTRATA: Then yield to their wishes, but in a bad mood; there's no pleasure in it for them, when they do it by force. Besides, there are a thousand ways of tormenting them. Never fear, they'll soon tire of the game; there's no pleasure for a man unless the woman shares it.
[1.91] KLEONIKE: Very well, if you must have it so, we agree.
[1.92] LAMPITO: For ourselves, no doubt we shall persuade our husbands to conclude a fair and honest peace; but there is the Athenian populace, how are we to cure the people of their warlike frenzy?
[1.93] LYSISTRATA: Have no fear; we undertake to make our own people listen to reason.
[1.94] LAMPITO: That's impossible, so long as they have their trusty ships and the vast treasures stored in the temple of Athena*. [*The temple of Athena = see illustration below; the Parthenon on Athens's Acropolis. Athens was named for its patron goddess Athena. Her temple, which served as the treasury for the Athenian Empire, is soon occupied by the older women under Lysistrata's direction.]
[1.95] LYSISTRATA: Ah! but we have seen to that; this very day the Acropolis will be in our hands. That is the task assigned to the older women; while we are here in council, they are going, under pretence of offering sacrifice, to seize the citadel*. [*citadel = the Acropolis, the high point and stronghold or fortress of the city, including the treasury.]
The Parthenon (or Temple of Athena) on Athens's Acropolis
(Right: ruins of the Parthenon today; Left: computer model of Parthenon intact)
[1.96] LAMPITO: Hooray and well said! Everything is going for the best.
[1.97] LYSISTRATA: Come quick, Lampito, and let us bind ourselves by an inviolable oath.
[1.98] LAMPITO: Recite the terms; we will swear to them.
[1.99] LYSISTRATA: With pleasure. Where is our Scythian policewoman*? Now, what are you staring at, pray? Lay this shield on the earth before us, its hollow upwards, and someone bring me the victim's inwards. [*Scythian policewoman: Athenian policemen and court ushers were Scythians (from present-day Iran)]
[1.100] KLEONIKE: Lysistrata, say, what oath are we to swear?
[1.101] LYSISTRATA: What oath? Why, in Aeschylus, they sacrifice a sheep, and swear over a shield; we will do the same.
[1.102] KLEONIKE: No, Lysistrata, one cannot swear peace over a shield, surely. [The women's indecision on how to manage the oath is typical of comedy's tendency to repeat actions and make mistakes (without painful consequences)]
[1.103] LYSISTRATA: What other oath do you prefer?
[1.104] KLEONIKE: Let's take a white horse, and sacrifice it, and swear on its entrails.
[1.105] LYSISTRATA: But where shall we get a white horse?
[1.106] KLEONIKE: Well, what oath shall we take then?
[1.107] LYSISTRATA: Listen to me. Let's set a great black bowl on the ground; let's sacrifice a skin of Thasian* wine into it, and take oath not to add one single drop of water. [*skin of Thasian wine: "skin" = wine container of goat or sheep skin; Thasian = of Thasos, a volcanic island famous for its vineyards]
[1.108] LAMPITO: Ah! that oath pleases me more than I can say.
[1.109] LYSISTRATA: Let them bring me a wine-bowl and a skin of wine.
(A wine-bowl and a wine-flagon are provided)
[1.110] KLEONIKE: Ah! my dears, what a handsome big bowl! What fun it will be to empty it
[1.111] LYSISTRATA: Set the bowl down on the ground, and lay your hands on it. . . . Almighty goddess, O woman's power of persuasion, and thou, wine-bowl, generous comrade of joy and merriment, receive this our sacrifice, and be promising to us poor women!
[1.112] KLEONIKE: (as LYSISTRATA pours the wine into the bowl) Oh! the fine red blood! how well it flows!
[1.113] LAMPITO: And what a delicious bouquet, by Castor*! [*Castor: mythical figure who helped in times of crisis.]
[1.114] KLEONIKE: Now, now, my dears, let me swear first, if you please.
[1.115] LYSISTRATA: No, by Aphrodite, unless it's decided by lot.
But come, then, Lampito, and all of you, put your hands to the bowl; and do you, Kleonikke, repeat for everyone the solemn terms I am going to recite. Then you must all swear, and pledge yourselves by the same promises,—
I will have naught to do whether with lover or husband . . .
[1.116] KLEONIKE: (faintly) I will have nothing to do with lover or husband . . .
[1.117] LYSISTRATA: Even if he come to me all excited . . .
[1.118] KLEONIKE: (her voice quavering) Even if he come to me all excited . . . (in despair) Oh! Lysistrata, I can't bear it!
[1.119] LYSISTRATA: (ignoring this outburst) I will live at home unbulled . . .
[1.120] KLEONIKE: Oh, okay, I will live at home unbulled . . .
[1.121] LYSISTRATA: Beautifully dressed and wearing a saffron-coloured gown . . .
[1.122] KLEONIKE: Beautifully dressed and wearing a saffron-coloured gown . . .
[1.123] LYSISTRATA: So I may inspire my husband with the most ardent longings.
[1.124] KLEONIKE: So I may inspire my husband with the most ardent longings.
[1.125] LYSISTRATA: Never will I give myself voluntarily . . .
[1.126] KLEONIKE: Never will I give myself voluntarily . . .
[1.127] LYSISTRATA: And if he has me by force . . .
[1.128] KLEONIKE: And if he has me by force . . .
[1.129] LYSISTRATA: I will be cold as ice, and never stir a limb . . .
[1.130] KLEONIKE: I will be cold as ice, and never stir a limb . . .
[1.131] LYSISTRATA: I will neither extend my Persian slippers toward the ceiling . . . [literally, "I will not raise my feet toward the roof."; low or physical humor]
[1.132] KLEONIKE: I will neither extend my Persian slippers toward the ceiling . . .
[1.133] LYSISTRATA: Nor will I crouch like the carven lions on a knife-handle.
[1.134] KLEONIKE: Nor will I crouch like the carven lions on a knife-handle.
[1.135] LYSISTRATA: And if I keep my oath, may I be suffered to drink of this wine.
[1.136] KLEONIKE: (more courageously) And if I keep my oath, may I be suffered to drink of this wine.
[1.137] LYSISTRATA: But if I break it, let my bowl be filled with water.
[1.138] KLEONIKE: But if I break it, let my bowl be filled with water.
[1.139] LYSISTRATA: Will you all take this oath?
[1.140] ALL: We do.
[1.141] LYSISTRATA: Then I'll now drink to consecrate our bond. (She drinks.)
[1.142] KLEONIKE: (reaching for the cup) Enough, enough, my dear; now let us all drink in turn to cement our friendship.
(They pass the cup around and all drink. A great commotion is heard off stage.)
[1.143] LAMPITO: Listen! what do those cries mean?
[1.144] LYSISTRATA: It's what I was telling you; the older women have just occupied the Acropolis.
So now, Lampito, you return to Sparta to organize the plot, while your comrades here remain as hostages.
For ourselves, let us go and join the rest in the citadel, and let us defend what we've won.
[1.145] KLEONIKE: But don't you think the men will march up against us?
[1.147] KLEONIKE: Yes, yes, by Aphrodite; otherwise we should be called cowardly and wretched women. (She follows LYSISTRATA out.)
End Scene One
Below: scenes of women taking oath in Lysistrata
(The scene shifts to the entrance of the Acropolis. The CHORUS OF OLD MEN slowly enters, carrying bundles of firewood and pots of fire.)
(The Old Men's Chorus refer to each other by personal names and remember their glory days as soldiers for the rising Athenian empire. Their age, grumpiness, and feistiness might be comparable to a twenty-first-century Tea Party rally.)
[2.1] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Go easy, Draces my friend, go easy. Why, your shoulder is all chafed by these damned heavy olive branches. But march forward still, forward, man, as we must.
[2.2] FIRST SEMI-CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (singing) What unlooked-for things do happen, to be sure, in a long life! Ah! Strymodorus, who would ever have thought it? Here we have the women, who used, for our misfortune, to eat our bread and live in our houses, daring nowadays to lay hands on the holy image of the goddess [Athena], to seize the Acropolis and draw bars and bolts* to keep us from entering! [*draw bars and bolts: to lock the old men out of the treasury]
[2.3] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Come, Philurgus, old man, let's hurry there; let's lay our firewood all about the citadel, and on the blazing bonfires burn with our hands these vile conspiratresses, one and all—and Lycon's wife first and foremost! [incongruity of feeble old veterans of war threatening violence, which is somewhat unpleasant, but since it's a comedy, no real pain will happen.]
[2.4] SECOND SEMI-CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (singing) No, by Demeter, I will never let them laugh at me, while I have a breath left in my body.
Cleomenes* himself, the first who ever seized our citadel, had to abandon it to his dishonor; despite his Spartan pride, he had to give up his weapons to and slink off with a single garment on his back. My word! but he was filthy and ragged! and what an unkempt beard, to be sure! He had not had a bath for six long years! [*Cleomenes: Spartan King who occupied the Athenian Acropolis in the previous century but abandoned it after a siege.] [humor of excess]
[2.5] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Oh! but that was a mighty siege! Our men were ranged seventeen deep before the gate, and never left their posts, even to sleep.
These women, these enemies of Euripides and all the gods, shall I do nothing to hinder their inordinate insolence? If not, let them tear down my trophies of Marathon. [*trophies of Marathon: loot taken from Battle of Marathon. Marathon is a town in Greece where in 490BCE the Athenian Empire defeated the Persian Empire.]
[2.6] FIRST SEMI-CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (singing) But look, to finish our difficult climb, only this last steep bit is left to mount.
Truly, it's no easy job without beasts of burden, and how these logs do bruise my shoulder! Still let us carry on, and blow up our fire and see it does not go out just as we reach our destination.
Phew! phew! (Blowing the fire) Oh! dear! what a dreadful smoke! [Physical humor: Old men were stock comical characters in Greek drama. Their difficulty climbing the hill of the Acropolis and efforts to blow on the fire are standard "low humor" or "low comedy."]
[2.7] SECOND SEMI-CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (singing) It bites my eyes like a mad dog. It is Lemnian* fire for sure, or it would never devour my eyelids like this. [*Lemnian: of or having to do with Lemnos, a Greek island the Athenians associated with bad luck.]
Come on, Laches, let's hurry, let's bring aid and assistance to the goddess*; it's now or never! [*the goddess: Athena, namesake of Athens]
Phew! phew! (Blowing the fire) Oh dear! what bothersome smoke!
[2.8] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: There now, our fire's all bright and burning, thank the gods!
Now, why not first put down our loads here, then take a vine-branch, light it at the fire-pot and hurl it at the gate like a battering-ram?
If the women don't answer that knock by opening the doors, then we set fire to the woodwork, and the smoke will choke them.
By the gods! what a smoke! Pfoo! Is there never a Samian* general will help me unload my burden?— [*Samian general: an ally from Samos, a Greek island that established democracy and became friendly with Athens]
Ah! this shall not make my shoulder sore any more. (Setting down the wood) Come, fire-pot, do your duty, make the embers flare, that I may kindle a torch; I want to be the first to hurl one. Aid me, heavenly Victory; let us punish for their insolent audacity the women who have seized our citadel, and may we raise a trophy of triumph for success!
(They begin to build a fire. The CHORUS OF WOMEN now enters, carrying pots of water.)
(The Women's Chorus appear to be older women associated with those Lysistrata assigned to seize and defend the citadel and treasury in the Parthenon on the Acropolis.)
[2.9] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Oh! my dears, do I see flames and smoke? Is there a fire? Everyone hurry all we can.
[2.10] FIRST SEMI-CHORUS OF WOMEN: (singing) Fly, fly, Nicodice, before Kalyke and Kritylle perish in the fire, or are stifled in the smoke raised by these accursed old men and their cruel laws.
But, great gods, have we come too late? Rising at dawn, I had a lot of trouble filling this vessel at the fountain. Oh! what a crowd there was, and what noise! What a rattling of water-pots! Servants and slave-girls pushed and crowded me! However, here I have it full at last; and I am running to carry the water to my fellow-townswomen, whom our foes are threatening to burn alive.
[2.11] SECOND SEMI-CHORUS OF WOMEN: (singing) News has been brought us that a company of old, doddering grey-beards, loaded with enormous fire-sticks, as if they wanted to heat a furnace, have taken the field, vomiting dreadful threats, crying that they must reduce to ashes these horrible women.
Suffer them not, oh! goddess, but, of thy grace, may I see Athens and Greece cured of their warlike folly.
'Tis all part of the men's folly, oh! thou guardian deity of our city, goddess of the golden crest [Athena], that they have seized thy sanctuary. Be their friend and ally, Athena, and if any man hurl against them lighted firebrands, aid us to carry water to extinguish them.
[2.17] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Let someone knock out two or three teeth for them, as they did to Bupalus*; they won't talk so loud then. [*Bupalus: a contemporary sculptor; the joke is that an ugly subject of one of his sculptures, who was rendered even uglier in stone, threatened to beat Bupalus in return.]
[2.18] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Come on then; I'll meet you with a kick, and no other bitch will ever grab your balls.
[2.19] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Silence! or my stick will cut short your days.
[2.20] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Now, just you dare to touch Stratyllis with the tip of your finger!
[2.21] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: And if I batter you to pieces with my fists, what will you do?
[2.22] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: I will tear out your lungs and entrails with my teeth.
[2.23] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Oh! what a clever poet is Euripides! How well he says that woman is the most shameless of animals.
[2.24] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Let's pick up our water-jars again, Rhodippe.
[2.25] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: You hellion women, what do you mean to do here with your water?
[2.26] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: And you, old death-in-life, with your fire? Are you going to cremate yourself?
[2.]27 LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: I am going to build you a funeral pyre to roast your female friends upon.
[2.28] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: And I—I'm going to put out your fire.
[2.29] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: You put out my fire—you?
[2.30] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Yes, you shall soon see.
[2.31] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: I don't know what prevents me from roasting you with this torch.
[2.32] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: I am getting you a bath ready to clean off the filth.
[2.33] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: A bath for me, you dirty slut?
[2.34] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Yes, indeed, a nuptial* bath—tee heel [*nuptial = marriage; as for a honeymoon?]
[2.35] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (turning to his followers) Do you hear that? What insolence!
[2.36] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: I am a free woman*, I tell you. [*free woman: not a slave (of which Athens had plenty)]
[2.37] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: I will make you hold your tongue, never fear!
[2.38] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Ah ha! you shall never sit any more amongst the Heliasts*. [*Heliasts: paid jurors for Athenian court system]
[2.39] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (to his torch) Burn off her hair for her!
[2.40] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: (to her pot) Achelous, do your duty!
(The women pitch the water from their water-pots over the old men.) [low or physical humor]
[2.41] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Oh, dear! oh, dear! oh, dear!
[2.42] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Was it hot?
[2.43] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Hot, great gods! Enough, enough!
[2.44] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: We're watering you, to make you bloom afresh.
[2.45] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Alas! I am trembling with cold!
End Scene Two
Link to risque cartoon of Chorus-Battle by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) (i.e., click at own risk)
[3.1] MAGISTRATE: Haven't these women made noise enough, I wonder, banging on their tambourines? Haven't they bewept Adonis* enough on their terraces? I was listening to the speeches last assembly day, and Demostratus (whom heaven confound!) was saying we must all go to war in Sicily—and behold! his wife was dancing round repeating: "Alas! alas! Adonis, woe is me for Adonis!"
[3.1a] MAGISTRATE (continues): Demostratus was saying we must recruit soldiers at Zacynthus—and there was his wife, half-drunk and screaming on the house-top: "Weep, weep for Adonis!"—while that infamous Mad Ox was bellowing away on his side.—Do you not blush, you women, for your wild and disorderly doings?
[3.2] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: But you don't know all their effrontery yet! They abused and insulted us; then doused us with the water from their water-pots, and have set us wringing out our clothes, for all the world as if we'd bepissed* ourselves. [scatological humor]
[3.3] MAGISTRATE: And well done too, by Poseidon*! We men must share the blame of their ill conduct; it is we who teach them to love debauchery and dissoluteness and we who sow the seeds of wickedness in their hearts. [*Poseidon: important patron-god of Athens, funny here because he was god of the sea + "bepissed ourselves"]
You see a husband go into a shop: "Look you, jeweller," says he, "you remember the necklace you made for my wife. Well, the other evening, when she was dancing, the catch came open. Now, I am bound to start for Salamis [island]; will you make it convenient to go up tonight to make her fastening secure?" [<innuendo]
Another will go to the cobbler, a great, strong fellow, with a great, long tool [<innuendo], and tell him: "The strap of one of my wife's sandals presses her little toe, which is extremely sensitive; come in about midday to supple the thing and stretch it." Now see the results.
Take my own case—as a Magistrate I have enlisted rowers [to row him to Salamis]; I need money to pay them, and the women slam the door in my face [i.e., the door to the treasury, which the women have seized].
But why do we stand here with arms crossed? Bring me a crowbar; I'll chastise their insolence!—
Ho! there, my fine fellow! (to one of the Scythians) What are you gaping at the crows for? Looking for a tavern, I suppose, eh? Come on, bring crowbars here, and force open the gates. I will put a hand to the work myself.
[3.4] LYSISTRATA: (opens the gate and walks out) No need to force the gates; I am coming out—here I am. And why bolts and bars? What we want here is not bolts and bars and locks, but common sense.
[3.5] MAGISTRATE: (jumps nervously, then struggles to regain his dignity) Really, my fine lady! Where's my Scythian guard? I want him to tie that woman's hands behind her back.
[3.6] LYSISTRATA: By Artemis, the virgin goddess! if he touches me with the tip of his finger, even if he's a peace officer, let him look out for himself!
(The first Scythian defecates in terror.) [scatological humor]
[3.7] MAGISTRATE: (to another officer) What, are you afraid? Seize her, I tell you, round the body. Two of you get her, and be done with it!
[3.8] KLEONIKE: By Pandrosos*! if you lay a hand on her, I'll trample you underfoot till the crap comes out of you! [*Pandrosos: a daughter of the legendary first king of Athens]
(The second Scythian defecates in terror.) [scatological humor]
[3.9] MAGISTRATE: Look at the mess you've made! Where's another officer? (To the third Scythian) Bind that minx first, the one who speaks so prettily!
[3.10] MYRRHINE: By Phoebe*, if you touch her with one finger, you'd better call quick for a surgeon! [*Phoebe: in Greek myth, one of the titans, grandmother to Apollo and Artemis]
(The third Scythian defecates in terror.) [scatological humor]
[3.11] MAGISTRATE: What's that? Where's the officer? (To the fourth Scythian) Lay hold of her. Oh! but I'm going to stop your foolishness for you all
[3.12] KLEONIKE: By the Tauric Artemis*, if you go near her, I'll pull out your hair, scream as you like. [*Tauric Artemis: Artemis, huntress-goddess of chastity; Taurus: mountain range in modern Turkey]
(The fourth Scythian defecates in terror.) [scatological humor]
[3.13] MAGISTRATE: Ah! miserable man that I am! My own officers desert me. What ho! are we going to let ourselves be beaten by a mob of women? Ho! Scythians mine, close up your ranks, and forward march!
[3.]14 LYSISTRATA: By the holy goddesses! you'll have to get acquainted with four companies of women, ready for a fight and well armed to boot.
[3.15] MAGISTRATE: Forward, Scythians, and bind them!
(The Scythians advance reluctantly.)
[3.16] LYSISTRATA: Forward, my gallant companions; march forth, ye vendors of grain and eggs, garlic and vegetables, keepers of taverns and bakeries, wrench and strike and tear; attack with a torrent of abuse and insult!
(They beat the Scythians, who retreat in a hurry.)
(Enough, enough now, fall back, never rob the vanquished!
(The women withdraw.)
[3.17] MAGISTRATE: How unfortunate for my officers!
[3.18] LYSISTRATA: Ah, ha! so you thought you had only to do with a set of slave-women! you did not know the desire that fills the hearts of free-born women.
[3.19] MAGISTRATE: Desire! yes, by Apollo, desire enough . . . for the wine-cup!
[3.20] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Sir, sir what good are words? they are of no avail with wild beasts of this sort. Don't you know how they have just washed us down—and with no very fragrant soap!
[3.21] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: What of it? You should never have laid reckless hands on us. If you try again, I'll knock your eyes out. My preference is to stay at home as coy as a young maid, without hurting anybody or moving any more than a milestone; but beware the wasps, if you go stirring up the wasps' nest!
[3.22] CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (singing) Ah! great gods! How can a man get the better of these ferocious creatures? We can't tolerate this outrage!
But come, let us try to find out the reason for their rebellion. Why and with what end in view have the women seized the citadel of Cranaus*, the sacred shrine that is raised upon the inaccessible rock of the Acropolis? [*citadel of Cranaus: stronghold or fortress of the Acropolis, built by Cranaus, legendary second king of Athens]
[3.23] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (to the MAGISTRATE) Question the women. Be cautious, and don't believe everything they say. It would be culpable negligence not to solve this mystery, if we may.
[3.24] MAGISTRATE: (addressing the women) I would ask you first why have you closed the gates?
[3.25] LYSISTRATA: To seize the treasury: no more money, no more war.
[3.26] MAGISTRATE: So money is the cause of the war?
[3.27] LYSISTRATA: And of all our troubles. It was for opportunities to steal that Pisander* and all those other agitators were always starting revolutions. [*Pisander: revolutionary who had recently (temporarily) overthrown Athenian democracy]
Well and good! but they'll never get another drachma* from this treasury. [*drachma: principal silver coin of ancient Greeks]
[3.28] MAGISTRATE: What do you propose to do then, pray?
[3.29] LYSISTRATA: You ask me that! Why, we propose to administer the treasury ourselves.
[3.30] MAGISTRATE: You do?
[3.31] LYSISTRATA: What is there in that proposal to surprise you? Do we not administer the budget of household expenses?
[3.32] MAGISTRATE: But that's not the same thing.
[3.33] LYSISTRATA: How so—How is it not the same thing?
[3.34] MAGISTRATE: It is the treasury that supplies the expenses of our war.
[3.35] LYSISTRATA: And that's our first principle in operating the treasury—no war!
[3.36] MAGISTRATE: What! What about the safety of the city?
[3.37] LYSISTRATA: We'll provide the necessary funds for that.
[3.38] MAGISTRATE: You?
[3.39] LYSISTRATA: Yes, we!
[3.40] MAGISTRATE: This is a sorry business!
[3.41] LYSISTRATA: Yes, we're going to save you, whether you like it or not.
[3.42] MAGISTRATE: Oh! the impudence of these creatures!
[3.43] LYSISTRATA: You seem annoyed! But it has to be done, nevertheless.
[3.44] MAGISTRATE: But what you're doing is the very height of wickedness!
[3.45] LYSISTRATA: (testily) What we're doing is trying to save you, my good man.
[3.46] MAGISTRATE: What if I don't want to be saved?
[3.47] LYSISTRATA: Why, all the more reason!
[3.48] MAGISTRATE: But what a notion, for you women to concern yourselves with questions of peace and war!
[3.49] LYSISTRATA: We will explain our idea.
[3.50] MAGISTRATE: Out with it then; quick, or . . . (threatening her).
[3.51] LYSISTRATA: (sternly) Just listen, and please keep still!
[3.52] MAGISTRATE: (in impotent rage) Oh! Her bossiness is too much for me! I can't control my temper!
[3.53] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Then look out for yourself; you have more to fear than we have.
[3.54] MAGISTRATE: Stop your croaking, you old crow!
(To LYSISTRATA) Now you, say what you have to say.
[3.55] LYSISTRATA: Willingly. All the long time the war has lasted, we have endured in modest silence all the mischief you men did; you never allowed us to open our lips. We were far from satisfied, for we knew how things were going; often in our homes we would hear you discussing, upside down and inside out, some important turn of affairs.
Then with sad hearts, but smiling lips, we would ask you, "Well, in today's Assembly did they vote peace?"—
But, "Mind your own business!" was all the husband would growl, "Hold your tongue, please!" And we would say no more.
[3.56] KLEONIKE: I would not have held my tongue, though, not I!
[3.57] MAGISTRATE: You would have been reduced to silence by a beating then.
[3.58] LYSISTRATA: Well, for my part, I would
have said no more. But presently
I would come to know you had arrived at some fresh decision more fatally foolish
than ever. "Ah! my dear man," I would say, "what madness next!" But he would
only look at me askance and say: "Just stick to your weaving, please, or else your cheeks
will smart for hours. War is men's business!"
[3.59] MAGISTRATE: Bravo! well said indeed!
[3.60] LYSISTRATA: How now, wretched man? Not to let us speak against your follies was bad enough!
But presently we heard you asking out loud in the open street: "Is there never a man left in Athens?" and, "No, not one, not one," you were assured in reply.
Then, then we made up our minds without further delay to make common cause with our sisters to save Greece. Open your ears to our wise counsels and hold your tongues, and we may yet put things on a better footing.
[3.61] MAGISTRATE: You put things indeed! Oh! this is too much! The insolence of the creatures!
[3.62] LYSISTRATA: Be still!
[3.63] MAGISTRATE: May I die a thousand deaths ere I obey one who wears a veil!
[3.64] LYSISTRATA: If that's all that troubles you, here, take my veil, wrap it round your head, and hold your tongue.
[3.65] KLEONIKE: And take this basket; put on a girdle, card wool, munch beans. War must be women's business.
[3.66] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Lay aside your water-pots, we will guard them, we will help our friends and companions.
[3.67] CHORUS OF WOMEN: (singing) For myself, I will never weary of the dance; my knees will never grow stiff with fatigue. I will brave everything with my dear allies, on whom Nature has lavished virtue, grace, boldness, cleverness, and whose wisely directed energy is going to save the State.
[3.68] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Oh! my good, gallant Lysistrata, and all my friends, be ever like a bundle of nettles; never let your anger slacken—the winds of fortune blow our way.
[3.69] LYSISTRATA: May gentle Love and the sweet Cyprian Queen* shower seductive charms on our breasts and our thighs. [*Cyprian Queen = Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and romantic love, whose birthplace was the island of Cyprus]
If only we may stir such amorous feelings among the men that they stand up as firm as flagpoles, we shall indeed deserve the name of peace-makers among the Greeks.
[3.70] MAGISTRATE: How will that be, pray?
[3.71] LYSISTRATA: To begin with, we shall not see you any more running like mad fellows to the Market holding lance in fist. [innuendo]
[3.72] KLEONIKE: That will be something gained, anyway, by the Paphian* goddess, it will! [*Paphian Goddess = Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and romantic love, associated with city of Paphos on island of Cyprus]
[3.73] LYSISTRATA: Now we see them, mixed up with saucepans and kitchen stuff, armed to the teeth, looking like wild Corybantes*! [*Corybantes: priests of Cybele, who danced wildly to clashing cymbals]
[3.74] MAGISTRATE: Why, of course; that's what brave men should do.
[3.75] LYSISTRATA: Oh! but what a funny sight, to behold a man wearing a Gorgon's-head buckler* coming along to buy fish! [*Gorgon's-head buckler: shield decorated with head of a Gorgon or demon-woman with snakes for hair]
[3.76] KLEONIKE: The other day in the Market I saw a phylarch* with flowing ringlets; he was on horseback, and was pouring into his helmet the broth he had just bought at an old dame's kitchen-stall. There was a Thracian warrior too, who was brandishing his lance like Tereus in the play*; he had scared a good woman selling figs into a perfect panic, and was gobbling up all her ripest fruit— [*phylarch: cavalry captain; *Tereus in the play: allusion to lost play by Euripides]
[3.77] MAGISTRATE: And how, pray, would you propose to restore peace and order in all the countries of Greece?
[3.78] LYSISTRATA: It's the simplest thing in the world!
[3.79] MAGISTRATE: Come, tell us how; I am curious to know.
[3.80] LYSISTRATA: When we are winding thread*, and it is tangled, we pass the spool across and through the skein, now this way, now that way; even so, to finish of the war, we shall send embassies hither and thither and everywhere, to disentangle matters. [extended metaphor of weaving as women's material and social skills]
[3.81] MAGISTRATE: And is it with your yarn, and your skeins, and your spools, you think to appease so many bitter hostilities, you silly women?
[3.82] LYSISTRATA: If only you had common sense, you would always do in politics the same as we do with our yarn.
[3.83] MAGISTRATE: Come, how is that, eh?
[3.84] LYSISTRATA: First we wash the yarn to separate the grease and filth; do the same with all bad citizens, sort them out and drive them forth with sticks—they're the pollution of the city.
Then for all such as come crowding up in search of employments and offices, we must card* them thoroughly; then, to bring them all to the same standard, pitch them pell-mell into the same basket, resident aliens or no, allies, debtors to the State, all mixed up together. [*card: carding is a process by which fabric materials are cleaned and mixed for further processing]
Then as for our Colonies, you must think of them as so many isolated hanks*; find the ends of the separate threads, draw them to a centre here, wind them into one, make one great hank* of the lot, out of which the public can weave itself a good, stout tunic. [*hank = loop, skein, or coil of yarn]
[3.85] MAGISTRATE: Isn't it a sin and a shame to see them carding and winding the State, these women who have neither art nor part in the burdens of the war?
[3.86] LYSISTRATA: What! wretched man! why, it's a far heavier burden to us than to you. In the first place, we bear sons who go off to fight far away from Athens.
[3.87] MAGISTRATE: Enough said! Do not recall sad and sorry memories!
[3.88] LYSISTRATA: Then secondly, instead of enjoying the pleasures of love and making the best of our youth and beauty, we are left to languish far from our husbands, who are all with the army.
But say no more of ourselves; what afflicts me is to see our girls growing old in lonely grief.
[3.89] MAGISTRATE: Don't the men grow old too?
[3.90] LYSISTRATA: That is not the same thing. When the soldier returns from the wars, even though he has white hair, he very soon finds a young wife. But a woman has only one summer; if she does not make hay while the sun shines, no one will afterwards have anything to say to her, and she spends her days consulting oracles who never send her a husband.
[3.91] MAGISTRATE: But the old man who can still do the deed . . .
[3.92] LYSISTRATA: Well then, why don't you get done with it and die? You are rich; go buy yourself a coffin, and I will knead you a honey-cake for Cerberus*. Here, take this garland. (Drenching him with water.) [*Cerberus: 3-headed dog who guarded the entrance to Hades, who could be distracted with a food offering.]
[3.93] KLEONIKE: And this one too. (Drenching him with water.)
[3.95] LYSISTRATA: What else do you need? Step aboard the boat; Charon* is waiting for you, you're keeping him from pushing off. [*Charon: mythical ferryman who carried souls across the rivers separating the world of the living from the world of the dead.]
[3.96] MAGISTRATE: To treat me so disrespectfully! What an insult! I will go show myself to my fellow-magistrates just as I am.
[3.97] LYSISTRATA: What! Are you blaming us for not having exposed you according to custom? Nay, console yourself; we will not fail to offer up the third-day sacrifice for you, first thing in the morning.
(LYSISTRATA goes into the Acropolis, with KLEONIKE and MYRRHINE.)
End Scene Three
[4.1] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Awake, defenders of freedom; let us hold ourselves always ready to stand up for the state!
[4.2] CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (singing) I sense a mighty peril; I foresee another tyranny like Hippias's*. I am sore afraid the Spartans assembled here with Klisthenes have, by a stratagem of war, stirred up these women, enemies of the gods, to seize upon our treasury and the funds whereby I lived. [*Hippias: a tyrant who ruled Athens a century earlier]
[4.3] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Is it not a sin and a shame for these women to interfere with our role in guiding the citizens, to chatter about shields and lances, and to ally themselves with Spartans—men I trust no more than I would so many famished wolves? The whole thing, my friends, is nothing else but an attempt to re-establish tyranny.
But I will never submit; I will be on my guard for the future; I will always carry a knife hidden under myrtle leaves*; I will post myself in the public square under arms, shoulder to shoulder with Aristogiton*; and now, to make a start, I must just break a few of that cursed old jade's* teeth yonder. [*knife hidden under myrtle leaves . . . Aristogiton: Aristogiton assassinated the tyrant Hippias's brother with a knife hidden in a wreath of myrtle leaves; *old jade: worn-out horse, applied here to one of the chorus of women]
[4.4] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Nay, never play the brave man. Otherwise when you go back home, your own mother won't know you. But, dear friends and allies, first let us lay our burdens down.
[4.5] CHORUS OF WOMEN: (singing) Then, citizens all, hear what I have to say.
I have useful counsel to give our city, which deserves it well at my hands for the brilliant distinctions it has lavished on my girlhood.
At seven years of age, I carried the sacred vessels; at ten, I pounded barley for the altar of Athena; next, clad in a robe of yellow silk,
I played the bear* to Artemis at the Brauronia*; presently, when I was grown up, a tall, handsome maiden, they put a necklace of dried figs about my neck, and I was one of the Canephori*. [*bear . . . Brauronia: ceremony in nearby town of Brauronia honoring a she-bear sacred to virgin-huntress Artemis; *Canephori: "basket-bearers" of sacred offerings in ceremonies honoring Demeter, Dionysus, and Athena]
[4.6] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Therefore I am surely bound to give my best advice to Athens. What matters that I was born a woman, if I can cure your misfortunes? I pay my share of tolls and taxes, by giving men to the State.
But you, you miserable graybeards, you contribute nothing to the public charges! On the contrary, you have wasted the treasure of our forefathers, as it was called, the treasure amassed in the days of the Persian Wars. You pay nothing at all in return; and into the bargain you endanger our lives and liberties by your mistakes. Have you one word to say for yourselves? . . .
Ah! don't you irritate me, you there, or I'll lay my slipper across your jaws; and it's pretty heavy.
[4.7] CHORUS OF OLD MEN (singing) Outrage upon outrage! things are going from bad to worse. Let us punish these minxes, every one of us that has manhood to boast of. Come, off with our tunics, for a man has to smell manly. Come, my friends, let us strip naked from head to foot.
Courage, I say, we who in our day besieged Lipsydrion [fortress near Marathon]; let us be young again, and shake off old age. [humorous incongruity of naked old men reclaiming youth.]
[4.8] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: If we give
women the least hold over us, that's the
end! Their boldness will know no bounds! We shall see women building ships, and
fighting sea-fights, like Artemisia*; and, if they want to mount and ride as
cavalry, we had best dismiss our knights, for indeed women excel in riding, and
have a fine, firm seat for the gallop. Just think of all those squadrons of
Amazons Micon* has painted for us engaged in hand-to-hand combat with men. Come
then, we must now put collars on all these willing necks.
[4.9] CHORUS OF WOMEN: (singing) By the blessed goddesses, if you anger me, I'll let loose the beast of my evil passions, and a very hailstorm of fisticuffs will set you yelling for help.
Come, dames, off with your tunics, and quick's the word; women must smell the smell of women in the throes of passion. . . .
Now just you dare to measure strength with me, old greybeard, and I warrant you you'll never eat garlic or black beans any more. No, not a word! my anger is at boiling point, and I'll do with you what the beetle did with the eagle's eggs. [In Aesop's Fables, the beetle took revenge on the eagle by rolling the eagle's eggs out of the nest and breaking them.]
[4.10] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: I laugh at your threats, so long as I have on my side Lampito here, and the noble Theban, my dear Ismenia. . . . Pass decree on decree, you can do us no hurt, you wretch looked down on by all your fellows. Why, only yesterday, on occasion of the feast of Hecate, I asked my neighbours of Boeotia for one of their daughters for whom my girls have a lively liking—a fine, fat eel to wit; and if they did not refuse, all along of your silly decrees! We shall never cease to suffer the like, till some one gives you a neat trip-up and breaks your neck for you! [*Hecate = a protective household goddess who bestowed prosperity]
(To LYSISTRATA as she comes out from the Acropolis)
You, Lysistrata, you who are leader of our glorious enterprise, why do I see you coming towards me with so gloomy an air?
[4.11] LYSISTRATA: It's the behaviour of these naughty women, the female heart and female weakness that so discourage me.
[4.12] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Tell us, tell us, what is it?
[4.13] LYSISTRATA: I only tell the simple truth.
[4.14] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: What has happened that's so upsetting? Come, tell your friends.
[4.15] LYSISTRATA: Oh! the thing is so hard to tell—yet so impossible to conceal.
[4.16] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Don't hide any problems that befall our cause.
[4.17] LYSISTRATA: To blurt it out in a word—all our women want to do the wild thing with their men!
[4.18] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Oh! Zeus, oh! Zeus!
[4.19] LYSISTRATA: What use calling upon Zeus? The thing is even as I say. I cannot stop our women any longer from lusting after their men. They're all ready to desert.
The first one of them I caught was slipping out by the back gate near the cave of Pan*; another was letting herself down from a window by a rope and pulley; a third was busy preparing her escape; while a fourth had climbed on a bird's back intending to fly to Orsilochus's house, when I seized her by the hair. One and all, they are inventing excuses to be off home. [*Cave of Pan: on the northern slope of the Acropolis in Athens; Pan (with horns and hindquarters of a goat) was an important god of herding, wild nature, and fertility]
(Pointing to the gate) Look! there goes one, trying to get out! Halloa there! where are you going so fast?
[4.20] FIRST WOMAN: I need to go home; I have some Miletus* wool in the house, which I fear is getting all eaten up by moth-worms. [*Miletus: Greek city in present-day Turkey]
[4.21] LYSISTRATA: Bah! you and your worms! go back, I say!
[4.22] FIRST WOMAN: I will return immediately, I swear I will by the two goddesses*! I only have just to spread it out on the bed**. [*two goddesses (of fertility): Demeter and Persephone] [**spread it out on the bed: pun (wordplay) & innuendo]
[4.23] LYSISTRATA: You shall not do anything of the kind! I say, you shall not go.
[4.24] FIRST WOMAN: Must I let my wool be ruined, then?
[4.25] LYSISTRATA: Yes, if need be.
[4.26] SECOND WOMAN: Unhappy woman that I am! Alas for my flax*! I've left it at home unstripped! [*flax: textile fiber from flax plants] [**unstripped: pun (wordplay) & innuendo]
[4.27] LYSISTRATA: So, here's another trying to escape to go home and strip her flax!
[4.28] SECOND WOMAN: Oh! I swear by the goddess of light, the instant I have put it in condition I will come straight back.
[4.29] LYSISTRATA: You shall do nothing of the kind! If you run off, others would want to follow you.
[4.30] THIRD WOMAN: Oh! goddess divine, Ilithyia*, patroness of women in labour, stay, stay the birth, till I have reached a spot less hallowed than Athena's mount*! [*Ilithyia (or Eileithyia): Greek goddess of childbirth; *Athena's mount: the Acropolis]
[4.31] LYSISTRATA: What mean you by these silly tales?
[4.32] THIRD WOMAN: I am going to have a child—now, this minute!
[4.33] LYSISTRATA: But you were not pregnant yesterday!
[4.34] THIRD WOMAN: Well, I am today. Oh! let me go in search of the midwife, Lysistrata, quick, quick!
[4.35] LYSISTRATA: What is this fable you are telling me?
(Feeling her stomach) Ah! what have you got there so hard?
[4.36] THIRD WOMAN: A male child.
[4.37] LYSISTRATA: No, no, by Aphrodite! nothing of the sort! Why, it feels like something hollow—a pot or a kettle.
(Opening her robe) Oh! you silly creature, if you have not got the sacred helmet of Pallas*—and you said you were with child! [*Pallas = Athena, goddess of wisdom, often depicted wearing a helmet]
[4.38] THIRD WOMAN: And so I am, by Zeus, I am!
[4.39] LYSISTRATA: Then why this helmet, pray?
[4.40] THIRD WOMAN: For fear my pains should seize me in the Acropolis; I mean to lay my eggs in this helmet, as the doves do.
[4.41] LYSISTRATA: Excuses and pretenses every word! The thing's as clear as daylight. Anyway, you must stay here now till the fifth day, your day of purification.
[4.42] THIRD WOMAN: I cannot sleep any more in the Acropolis, now I have seen the snake that guards the temple.
[4.43] FOURTH WOMAN: Ah! and those awful owls with their dismal hooting! I cannot get a wink of rest, and I'm just dying of fatigue.
[4.44] LYSISTRATA: You wicked women, have done with your falsehoods! You want your husbands, that's plain enough. But don't you think they want you just as badly? They are spending dreadful nights, oh! I know that well enough. But hold out, my dears, hold out! A little more patience, and the victory will be ours. An oracle promises us success, if only we remain united. Shall I repeat the words?
[4.45] THIRD WOMAN: Yes, tell us what the oracle declares.
[4.46] LYSISTRATA: Silence then! Now—"When the swallows, fleeing before the hoopoes*, shall have all flocked together in one place, and shall refrain them from all amorous relations, then will be the end of all the ills of life; yea, and Zeus, who doth thunder in the skies, shall set above what was formerly below. . . . " [*Hoopoe = Afro-Eurasian bird with crown of feathers, here standing for the male compared to the woman-identified swallows?]
Below left: swallow bird as female symbol; right: hoopoe as male symbol
[4.47] THIRD WOMAN: What! Shall the men be underneath?
[4.48] LYSISTRATA: "But if dissension do arise among the swallows, and they take wing from the holy temple, it will be said there is never a looser bird in all the world."
[4.49] THIRD WOMAN: Ye gods! the prophecy is clear.
[4.50] LYSISTRATA: Nay, never let us be cast down by calamity! Let us be brave to bear, and go back to our posts. It would be shameful indeed not to trust the promises of the oracle. (They all go back into the Acropolis.)
[4.51] CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (singing) I want to tell you a fable they used to relate to me when I was a little boy. This is it: Once upon a time there was a young man called Melanion*, who hated the thought of marriage so sorely that he fled away to the wilds. So he dwelt in the mountains, wove himself nets, and caught rabbits. He never, never came back, he had such a horror of women. As chaste as Melanion, we loathe the jades [women] just as much as he did. [*Melanion: a young man noted for his chastity in a Greek proverb]
[4.52] AN OLD MAN: (beginning a brief duet with one of the women) You dear old woman, I would like to kiss you.
[4.53] WOMAN: I'll make you cry without cutting a single onion.
[4.54] OLD MAN: I'll return you a solid kicking.
[4.55] WOMAN: (pointing) Ah, ha! What a dense forest you have there! [physical humor (the old men have taken off their clothes]
[4.56] OLD MAN: So was Myronides* one of the bushiest-bearded of men of this side; his backside was all black, and he terrified his enemies as much as Phormio*. [*Myronides, Phormio: famous Athenian generals]
[4.57] CHORUS OF WOMEN:
(singing) I want
to tell you a fable too, to match yours about Melanion. Once there was a certain
man called Timon*, a tough customer, and a whimsical, a true son of the Furies,
with a face that seemed to glare out of a thorn-bush. He withdrew from the world
because he couldn't abide bad men, after vomiting a thousand curses at them. He
had a holy horror of ill-conditioned fellows, but he was mighty tender towards
= famous citizen of Athens, legendary for misanthropy or disdain for other
people or for human nature;
suggests that, though Timon despised other men, he thought better of women. ]
[4.58] WOMAN: (beginning another duet) Suppose I up and broke your jaw for you!
[4.59] OLD MAN: I am not a bit afraid of you.
[4.60] WOMAN: Suppose I give you a good kick?
[4.61] OLD MAN: If you lift your leg at me, I'll see your bottom.
[4.62] WOMAN: You would see that, for all my age, it is very well plucked. [depilation or hair-removal as fashion then and now]
[4.63] LYSISTRATA: (rushing out of the Acropolis) Ho there! come quick, come quick!
[4.64] ONE OF THE WOMEN: What is it? Why these cries?
[4.65] LYSISTRATA: A man! a man! I see him approaching all hot with the fires of love. Oh! divine Queen* of Cyprus, Paphos and Cythera, I pray you still be helpful to our enterprise. [*divine Queen = Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and romantic love]
[4.66] WOMAN: Where is he, this unknown foe?
[4.67] LYSISTRATA: Over there—beside the Temple of Demeter.
[4.68] WOMAN: Yes, indeed, I see him; but who is he?
[4.69] LYSISTRATA: Look, look! Do any of you recognize him?
[4.70] MYRRHINE: (joyfully) I do, I do! It's my husband Kinesias.
[4.71] LYSISTRATA: To work then! Be it your task to inflame and torture and torment him. Seductions, caresses, provocations, refusals, try every trick! Grant every favor—always excepting what is forbidden by our oath on the wine-bowl.
[4.72] MYRRHINE: Have no fear, I'll do it.
[4.73] LYSISTRATA: Well, I shall stay here to help you flatter the man and set his passions on fire. The rest of you withdraw.
End Scene Four
[5.1] KINESIAS: Alas! alas! how I am tortured by need and stiff desire! Oh! I am racked on the wheel*! [*the wheel: ancient torture instrument]
[5.2] LYSISTRATA: Who is this that dares to pass our lines?
[5.3] KINESIAS: It is I.
[5.4] LYSISTRATA: What, a man?
[5.6] LYSISTRATA: Get out. Go away.
[5.7] KINESIAS: But who are you to drive me off?
[5.8] LYSISTRATA: The sentinel* of the day. [*sentinel: guard, watchman, security officer]
[5.9] KINESIAS: For the gods' sake, call Myrrhine.
[5.10] LYSISTRATA: Call Myrrhine, you say? And who are you?
[5.11] KINESIAS: I am her husband, Kinesias, son of Paeon.
[5.12] LYSISTRATA: Ah! good day, dear friend. Your name is not unknown among us women. Your wife has your name forever on her lips; and she never touches an egg or an apple without saying: "This is for my dear Kinesias."
[5.13] KINESIAS: Really and truly?
[5.14] LYSISTRATA: Yes, indeed, by Aphrodite*! And if we start talking about men, your wife quickly declares: "Oh! all the rest, they're good for nothing compared with Kinesias." [*Aphrodite: Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, procreation]
[5.15] KINESIAS: Oh! Please, please go and tell her to come to me!
[5.16] LYSISTRATA: And what will you give me for my trouble?
[5.17] KINESIAS: Anything I've got, if you like. (Pointing to the evidence of his condition) I can give you what I have here!
[5.18] LYSISTRATA: Well, well, I will tell her to come. (She enters the Acropolis.)
[5.19] KINESIAS: Hurry, oh! hurry! Life has no charms for me since Myrrhine left my house. I am sad and lonely when I go indoors; the house seems so empty; my meals have lost their taste. And all because of this one problem* I can't get rid of! [*this problem: i.e., his unrelieved sexual desire (physical humor, low comedy)]
[5.20] MYRRHINE: (enters, speaks to LYSISTRATA over her shoulder) I love him! Oh! I love him! But he won't let himself be loved. No! I shall not come to his side.
[5.21] KINESIAS: Myrrhine, O baby doll Myrrhine, what are you saying? Come to me quick.
[5.22] MYRRHINE: No indeed, not I.
[5.23] KINESIAS: I plead with you, Myrrhine! Myrrhine, won't you please come to me?
[5.24] MYRRHINE: Why should you call me? You don't really want me.
[5.25] KINESIAS: Not want you? Why, here I stand, at attention with desire!
[5.26] MYRRHINE: Good-bye. (She turns, as if to go.)
[5.27] KINESIAS: Oh! Myrrhine, Myrrhine, in our child's name, hear me; at any rate hear the child! (Turning to the infant.) Little fellow, call your mother.
[5.28] CHILD: Mama, mama, mama!
[5.29] KINESIAS: There, listen! Don't you pity our poor child? It's six days now since you've washed or fed our little one.
[5.30] MYRRHINE: Poor darling, your father takes mighty little care of you!
[5.31] KINESIAS: Come down, dearest, come down for the sake of our child.
[5.32] MYRRHINE: Ah! what a job it is to be a mother! Well, well, I need to deal with this, I suppose.
[5.33] KINESIAS: (as MYRRHINE approaches) Why, how young and pretty she looks! And how she looks at me so lovingly! Her cruelty and haughtiness only redouble my passion.
[5.34] MYRRHINE: (ignoring him; to the child) You are as sweet as your father is annoying! Let me kiss you, my treasure, mother's darling!
[5.35] KINESIAS: Ah! it's a terrible thing that you let yourself be led away by these other women! Why give me such pain and suffering, and yourself into the bargain?
[5.36] MYRRHINE: (as he is about to embrace her) Hands off, sir!
[5.37] KINESIAS: Everything is falling apart in the house.
[5.38] MYRRHINE: I don't care.
[5.39] KINESIAS: But your weaving that's all being pecked to pieces by the cocks and hens*, don't you care for that? [*cocks and hens: analogue to human battle-of-the-sexes]
[5.40] MYRRHINE: Precious little.
[5.41] KINESIAS: And Aphrodite*, whose mysteries* you have not celebrated for so long? Oh! won't you please come back home? [*Aphrodite: Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, procreation; *mysteries: ceremonies]
[5.42] MYRRHINE: No—at least not until a solid peace treaty puts an end to the war.
[5.43] KINESIAS: Well, if you wish it so much, we'll make that treaty you women want.
[5.44] MYRRHINE: Well and good! When that's done, I'll come home. Till then, I am bound by an oath.
[5.45] KINESIAS: At any rate, before you go please lie down with me for a little while.
[5.46] MYRRHINE: No, no, no! (she hesitates) but just the same, I can't say I don't love you.
[5.47] KINESIAS: You love me? Then why refuse to lie down with me, my darling, my sweet Myrrhine?
[5.48] MYRRHINE: (pretending to be shocked) You must be joking! What, in front of our child!
[5.49] KINESIAS: (to the slave) Manes, carry the lad home. There now, you see, the child is gone; there's nothing to hinder us; won't you lie down now?
[5.50] MYRRHINE: But, where, miserable man, where?
[5.51] KINESIAS: Let's go into the cave of Pan*; nothing could be better. [*Cave of Pan: on northern slope of the Acropolis in Athens; Pan (with horns and hindquarters of a goat) was an important god of herding, wild nature, and fertility]
[5.52] MYRRHINE: But how shall I purify myself before going back into the citadel?
[5.53] KINESIAS: Nothing easier! you can wash at the Clepsydra*. [*Clepsydra: a spring of water at the Acropolis]
[5.54] MYRRHINE: But what about my oath? Do you want me to perjure myself?
[5.55] KINESIAS: I'll take all responsibility; don't worry.
[5.56] MYRRHINE: Well, I'll be off, then, and find a bed for us.
[5.57] KINESIAS: We don't need a bed—we can do it right here on the ground.
[5.58] MYRRHINE: No, no! Even though you're a bad boy, I don't like the idea of you lying on the bare earth. (She goes back into the Acropolis.)
[5.59] KINESIAS: (enraptured) Ah! how the dear girl loves me!
[5.60] MYRRHINE: (coming back with a cot) Come, get to bed quick; I am going to undress. But, oh dear, now we must get a mattress.
[5.61] KINESIAS: A mattress? Oh! no, never mind about that!
[5.62] MYRRHINE: No, by Artemis! lie on the bare sacking*? never! That would be so low-rent. [*sacking: coarse, closely woven fabric]
[5.63] KINESIAS: Kiss me!
[5.64] MYRRHINE: Wait a minute! (She leaves him again.)
[5.65] KINESIAS: Good god, hurry up
[5.66] MYRRHINE: (coming back with a mattress) Here is a mattress. Lie down, I am just going to undress. Oh! But you've got no pillow.
[5.67] KINESIAS: I don't want a pillow either!
[5.68] MYRRHINE: But I do. (She leaves him again.)
[5.69] KINESIAS: Oh god, oh god, she treats me
as though I'm Heracles*! [*Heracles
= Greek name for Roman Hercules ,
demi-god legendary for strength and sexual exploits, also for his gluttony: a
stock comic scene in classical times was to keep Heracles waiting impatiently
for his meal; comparably Myrrhine keeps Kinesias waiting.]]
, demi-god legendary for strength and sexual exploits, also for his gluttony: a stock comic scene in classical times was to keep Heracles waiting impatiently for his meal; comparably Myrrhine keeps Kinesias waiting.]]
[5.70] MYRRHINE: (returning with a pillow) There, lift your head, dear!
(Wondering to herself what else to tantalize him with) Is that all, I wonder?
[5.71] KINESIAS: (misunderstanding) Surely. there's nothing else. Come, my treasure.
[5.72] MYRRHINE: I'm just unfastening my bodice. But remember what you promised me about making peace; mind you keep your word.
[5.73] KINESIAS: Yes, yes, upon my life I will.
[5.74] MYRRHINE: Oh dear! You have no blanket!
[5.75] KINESIAS: My god, what difference does that make? What I want is to make love!
[5.76] MYRRHINE: (going out again) Never fear—directly, directly! I'll be back in no time.
[5.77] KINESIAS: This woman will kill me with her blankets!
[5.78] MYRRHINE: (coming back with a blanket) Now, get yourself up.
[5.79] KINESIAS: (pointing) Believe me, something's up already! [pun, double-entendre]
[5.80] MYRRHINE: Don't you want me to perfume you?
[5.81] KINESIAS: No, by Apollo, no, please don't!
[5.82] MYRRHINE: Yes, by Aphrodite, I will, whether you like it or not. (She goes out again.)
[5.83] KINESIAS: God, I wish she'd hurry up and finish these preliminaries!
[5.84] MYRRHINE: (coming back with a flask of perfume) Hold out your hand; now rub it in.
[5.85] KINESIAS: Oh! in Apollo's name, I don't much like the smell of it; but perhaps it will improve when it's well rubbed in. Somehow this perfume doesn't smell much of the marriage bed!
[5.86] MYRRHINE: Oh dear! what a scatterbrain I am; if I haven't gone and brought Rhodian* perfumes! [*Rhodian perfumes: perfumes from island of Rhodes were considered inferior to those from Syria]
[5.87] KINESIAS: Never mind, dearest, let it go now.
[5.88] MYRRHINE: You don't really mean that. (She goes.)
[5.89] KINESIAS: Damn the inventor of perfumes!
[5.90] MYRRHINE: (coming back with another flask) Here, take this bottle.
[5.91] KINESIAS: I have a better one allready for you, darling. Come, you provocative creature, to bed with you, and don't bring another thing.
[5.92] MYRRHINE: Coming, coming; I'm just slipping off my shoes. Dear boy, will you vote for peace?
[5.93] KINESIAS: I'll think about it. (MYRRHINE runs away.)
O dear gods, I'm dying, she's killing me! She's gone and left me in torment! (in tragic style) I must have someone, I must! Ah me! the loveliest of women has tricked and cheated me.
Poor little guy (addressing his body), how am I to give you what you want so badly? Where is Cynalopex*? quick, man, get him a nurse, do! [*Cynalopex: ?]
(The Chorus of Old Men re-enter.)
[5.94] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Poor, miserable wretch, frustrated in your lust! What tortures are yours! Ah! you fill me with pity. Could any man's back and loins stand such a strain? He stands stiff and rigid, and there's no wench* about to help him! [*wench = maid or young girl; sometimes a wanton woman or mistress]
[5.95] KINESIAS: Ye gods in heaven, what agonies I suffer!
[5.96] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Well, there it is; it's her doing, that shameless hussy!
[5.97] KINESIAS: No, no! rather say that sweetest, dearest darling. (He departs.)
[5.98] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: That dearest darling? No, no, that hussy, say I! Zeus, thou god of the skies, let loose a hurricane to sweep these women up into the air, and whirl them round, then drop them down crash!—and impale them on the point of our warrriors' spears!
End Scene Five
[6.1] HERALD: Say, where shall I find the Senate and the Prytanes*? I am bearer of despatches. [*Prytaneis = executives of citizens’ councils in ancient Athens]
(An Athenian MAGISTRATE enters.)
[6.2] MAGISTRATE: Are you a man or a Priapus*? [*Priapus: In Greek mythology, Priapus was a minor fertility god whose appearance was marked by a permanent, oversized erection]
[6.3] HERALD: (with an effort at sounding official) Don't be stupid! I am a herald, of course, I swear I am, and I come from Sparta about making peace.
[6.4] MAGISTRATE: (pointing) But look, you are hiding a spear under your clothes, surely.
[6.5] HERALD: (embarrassed) No, nothing of the sort.
[6.6] MAGISTRATE: Then why do you turn away like that, and hold your cloak out from your body? Have you got swellings in the groin from your journey?
[6.7] HERALD: By the twin brethren! the man's an old maniac.
[6.8] MAGISTRATE: But I can see what I can see, you lusty fellow!
[6.9] HERALD: I tell you no! but enough of this foolery.
[6.10] MAGISTRATE: (pointing) Well, what is it sticking out from your tunic then?
[6.13] HERALD: Why, everything is turned upside down at Sparta; and all the allies are cracy with unfulfilled desire. We simply must have Pellene*. [*Pellene: both the name of a contested city and a famous courtesan; pun or wordplay]
[6.17] HERALD: We are at our wits' end; we walk bent double, just as if we were carrying lanterns in a wind. The jades [women] have sworn we shall not so much as touch them till we have all agreed to conclude peace.
[6.18] MAGISTRATE: Ah! I see now, it's a general conspiracy embracing all Greece. Go back to Sparta and bid them send ambassadors with powers to make peace treaties. I will urge our Senators myself to name diplomats from our side; and to persuade them, why, I will show them that I have problems much like yours. [indicating his own physical difficulties]
[619.] HERALD: What could be better? I fly at your command.
(The Magistrate and Herald go out in opposite directions.)
[6.20] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: There is no wild beast, no flame of fire more fierce and untamable than woman; the leopard is less savage and shameless. [cf. women as "panthers" & "tiger moms"]
[6.21] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: And yet you dare to make war upon me, wretch, when you might have me for your most faithful friend and ally.
[6.22] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Never, never can my hatred cease towards women.
[6.23] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Well, suit yourself. Still I cannot bear to leave you all naked as you are; folks would laugh at you. Come, I am going to put this tunic on you.
[6.24] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: You are right, upon my word! It was only in my confounded fit of rage that I took it off.
[6.25] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Now at any rate you look like a man, and they won't make fun of you. Ah! if you had not offended me so badly, I would take out that nasty insect you have in your eye for you.
[6.26] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Ah! so that's what was annoying me so. Look, here's a ring, just remove the insect, and show it to me. By Zeus! it has been hurting my eye for a long time now.
[6.27] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Well, I agree, though your manners are not over and above pleasant. Oh I what a huge great gnat! just look! It's from Tricorythus*, for sure. [*Tricorythus: wooded region near Athens, notorious for fierce mosquitoes (and irritable inhabitants)]
[6.28] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: A thousand thanks! the creature was fairly digging a well in my eye; now that it's gone, my tears can flow freely.
[6.29] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: I will wipe them for you—bad, naughty man though you are. Now, just one kiss.
[6.30] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: A kiss? certainly not
[6.31] LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN: Just one, whether you like it or not.
[6.32] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Oh! those confounded women! how they do cajole us! How true the saying: "You can't live with them, can't live without 'em!" Come, let us agree for the future not to regard each other any more as enemies; and to clinch the bargain, let's sing a choric song.
[6.33] COMBINED CHORUS OF WOMEN AND OLD MEN: (singing) We desire, Athenians, to speak ill of no man; but on the contrary to say much good of everyone, and to do the like. We have had enough of misfortunes and calamities.
If there is any man or woman who wants a bit of money—two or three minas [coins] or so; well, our purse is full. If only peace is concluded, the borrower will not have to pay back.
Also I'm inviting to supper a few Carystian friends, who are excellently well qualified. I have still a drop of good soup left, and a young porker [pig] I'm going to kill, and the flesh will be sweet and tender.
I shall expect you at my house today; but first away to the baths with you, you and your children; then come all of you, ask no one's leave, but walk straight up, as if you were at home; never fear, the door will be . . . shut in your faces!
[6.34] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Ah! here come the envoys from Sparta with their long flowing beards; why, you would think they were carrying pig-pens between their thighs.
End Scene Six
(Enter the SPARTAN AMBASSADORS afflicted like their Herald [i.e., sexually excited].)
[7.1] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: First of all, Spartans, hail to you; then tell us how you fare*. [*fare: get along]
[7.2] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: No need for many words; you can see what a state we are in. ["state" as wordplay or pun on "city-state" and "state of excitement"; wit or "high comedy"]
[7.3] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Alas! our situation grows more and more strained! the intensity of what we are suffering is simply frightful.
[7.4] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: It's beyond belief. But to work! summon your Commissioners, and let us patch up the best peace we may.
[7.5] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Ah! our men too, like wrestlers in the arena, cannot endure a rag over their bellies; it's an athlete's malady, which only exercise can remedy. [i.e., exercise as cure for sexual frustration]
(The MAGISTRATE returns in a state of excitement; he too now has an evident reason to desire peace.)
[7.6] MAGISTRATE: Can anybody tell us where Lysistrata is? Surely she will have some compassion on our condition.
[7.7] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: (pointing) Look! now the Magistrate has the same problem as all the other men! [visual, physical humor]
(To the MAGISTRATE) Don't you feel a strong nervous tension in the morning?
[7.8] MAGISTRATE: Yes, and dreadful, miserable torture it is! Unless peace is made very soon, we shall find no recourse but to make love to Clisthenes*. [*Clisthenes: name for a "pathic" or "man or boy who is the passive partner in homosexual intercourse" (OED)]
[7.9] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Take my advice, and arrange your clothes as best you can; one of the fellows who mutilated the Hermae might see you.
[7.10] MAGISTRATE: Right, by Zeus. (He endeavours, not too successfully, to conceal his condition.)
[7.11] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: Quite right, by the Dioscuri*. There, I will put on my tunic. [*Dioscuri: Castor & Pollux]
[7.12] MAGISTRATE: Oh! what a terrible state we are in! Greeting to you, Laconian fellow-sufferers.
[7.13] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: (addressing one of his countrymen) Ah! my boy, what a terrible thing it would have been if these fellows had seen us just now when our members were at full attention!
[7.14] MAGISTRATE: Speak out, Laconians, what is it brings you here?
[7.15] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: We have come to treat for peace.
[7.16] MAGISTRATE: Well said; we are of the same mind. Better call Lysistrata, then; she is the only person will bring us to terms.
[7.17] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: Yes, yes-and Lysistratus* into the bargain, if you will. [*Lysistratus: Lysistrata's husband?]
[7.18] MAGISTRATE: Needless to call her; she has heard your voices, and here she comes. (Lysistrata comes out of the Acropolis.)
[7.19] LEADER OF CHORUS OF OLD MEN: Hail, boldest and bravest of womankind! The time is come to show yourself in turn uncompromising and conciliatory, exacting and yielding, haughty and condescending. Call up all your skill and artfulness. Lo! the foremost men in Hellas, seduced by your fascinations, are agreed to entrust you with the task of ending their quarrels.
[7.20] LYSISTRATA: It will be an easy task—if only they refrain from mutual indulgence in masculine love; if they do, I shall know the fact at once.
Now, where is the gentle goddess Peace? (The goddess, in the form of a beautiful nude girl is brought in by the Machine [deus ex machina].)
Lead hither the Laconian envoys. But, look you, no roughness or violence; our husbands always behaved so boorishly. Bring the ambassadors to me with smiles, as women should. If any refuse to give you his hand, then take hold of his tool. Bring up the Athenians too; you may lead them either way.
Spartans, approach; and you, Athenians, on my other side. Now hearken all! I am but a woman; but I have good common sense; Nature has endowed me with discriminating judgment, which I have yet further developed, thanks to the wise teachings of my father and the elders of the city.
First I must bring a reproach against you that applies equally to both sides. At Olympia, and Thermopylae, and Delphi, and a score of other places too numerous to mention, you celebrate before the same altars ceremonies common to all Hellenes; yet you go cutting each other's throats, and sacking Hellenic cities, when all the while the barbarian yonder is threatening you! That is my first point.
[7.21] MAGISTRATE: (devouring the goddess with his eyes) Good god, my body's killing me!
[7.22] LYSISTRATA: Now it is to you I address myself, Laconians. Have you forgotten how Periclidas, your own countryman, sat a suppliant before our altars? How pale he was in his purple robes! He had come to crave an army of us; it was the time when Messenia was pressing you sore, and the Sea-god was shaking the earth. Cimon marched to your aid at the head of four thousand hoplites, and saved Lacedaemon. And, after such a service as that, you ravage the soil of your benefactors!
[7.23] MAGISTRATE: They do wrong, very wrong, Lysistrata.
[7.24] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: We do wrong, very wrong. (Looking at the goddess) Ah! great gods! I never knew Peace could look so good!
[7.25] LYSISTRATA: And now a word to the Athenians. Have you no memory left of how, in the days when you wore the tunic of slaves, the Laconians came, spear in hand, and slew a host of Thessalians and partisans of Hippias the tyrant? They, and they only, fought on your side on that eventful day; they delivered you from despotism, and thanks to them our nation could change the short tunic of the slave for the long cloak of the free man.
[7.26] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: (looking at LYSISTRATA) I have never see a woman of more gracious dignity.
[7.27] MAGISTRATE: (looking at PEACE) I have never seen a woman with such a fine body!
[7.28] LYSISTRATA: Bound by such ties of mutual kindness, how can you bear to be at war? Stop, stay the hateful strife, be reconciled; what hinders you?
[7.29] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: We are quite ready, if they will give us back our rampart.
[7.30] LYSISTRATA: What rampart, my dear man?
[7.31] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: Pylos, which we have been asking for and craving for ever so long.
[7.32] MAGISTRATE: In the Sea-god's name, you shall never have it!
[7.]33 LYSISTRATA: Agree, my friends, agree.
[7.34] MAGISTRATE: But then what city shall we be able to stir up trouble in?
[7.35] LYSISTRATA: Ask for another place in exchange.
[7.36] MAGISTRATE: Ah! that's the ticket! Well, to begin with, give us Echinus, the Maliac gulf adjoining, and the two legs of Megara.
[7.37] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: No, by the Dioscuri, surely not all that, my dear sir.
[7.38] LYSISTRATA: Come to terms; never make a difficulty of two legs more or less!
[7.39] MAGISTRATE: (his eye on PEACE) Well, I'm ready to strip down and get to work right now. (He takes off his cloak.)
[7.40] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: (following out this idea) And I also, to dung it to start with. [?]
[7.41] LYSISTRATA: That's just what you shall do, once peace is signed. So, if you really want to make it, go consult your allies about the matter.
[7.42] MAGISTRATE: What allies, I should like to know? Why, we are all erected; there's no one who is not mad to be mating. What we all want is to be in bed with our wives; how should our allies fail to agree to our project?
[7.43] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: And ours too, for certain sure!
[7.44] MAGISTRATE: The Carystians first and foremost by the gods!
[7.45] LYSISTRATA: Well said, indeed! Now go and purify yourselves for entering the Acropolis, where the women invite you to supper; we will empty our provision baskets to do you honor. At table, you will exchange oaths and pledges; then each man will go home with his wife.
[7.46] MAGISTRATE: Come along then, and as quick as may be.
[7.47] SPARTAN AMBASSADOR: Lead on; I'm your man.
[7.48] MAGISTRATE: Quick, quick's the word, say I.
(They follow LYSISTRATA into the Acropolis.)
[7.49] CHORUS OF WOMEN: (singing) Embroidered stuffs, and dainty tunics, and flowing gowns, and golden ornaments, everything I have, I offer them to you with all my heart; take them all for your children, for your girls, in case they are chosen Canephori*. [*Canephori: wedding feast comparable to rehearsal dinner.]
I invite you every one to enter, come in and choose whatever you will; there is nothing so well fastened, you cannot break the seals, and carry away the contents. Look about you everywhere. . . you won't find a blessed thing, unless you have sharper eyes than mine. And if any of you lacks corn to feed his slaves and his young and numerous family, why, I have a few grains of wheat at home; let him take what I have to give, a big twelve-pound loaf included. So let my poorer neighbours all come with shopping bags; my servant, Manes, shall give them corn; but I warn them not to come near my door, but—beware the dog!
(Another MAGISTRATE [SECOND MAGISTRATE] enters, and begins knocking at the gate.)
[7.50] SECOND MAGISTRATE: I say, you, open the door! (To the WOMEN) Go your way, I tell you. (As the women sit down in front of the gate) Why, bless me, they're sitting down now; I shall have to singe them with my torch to make them stir! What impudence! I won't take this. Oh, well, if it's absolutely necessary, just to please you, we'll have to take the trouble.
[7.50a] AN ATHENIAN: And I'll share it with you.
(He brandishes the torch he is carrying and the CHORUS OF WOMEN departs. The CHORUS OF OLD MEN follows shortly after.)
[7.51] SECOND MAGISTRATE: No, no, you must be off—or I'll tear your hair out, I will; be off, I say, and don't annoy the Spartan envoys; they're just coming out from the banquet-ball.
[7.52] ATHENIAN: Such a merry banquet I've never seen before! The Laconians were simply charming. After the drink is in, why, we're all wise men, every one of us.
[7.53] MAGISTRATE: It's only natural, to be sure, for sober, we're all fools. Take my advice, my fellow-countrymen, our envoys should always be drunk. We go to Sparta; we enter the city sober; why, we must be picking a quarrel directly. We don't understand what they say to us, we imagine a lot they don't say at all, and we report home all wrong, all topsy-urvy. But, look you, today it's quite different; we're enchanted whatever happens; instead of Clitagora, they might sing us Telamon, and we should clap our hands just the same. A perjury or two into the bargain, why! What does that matter to merry companions in their cups?
(The two CHORUSES return.)
But here they are back again! Will you begone, you loafing scoundrels.
(The CHORUSES retire again.)
[7.54] ATHENIAN: Ah ha! here's the company coming out already.
(Two choruses, one Laconian and one Athenian, enter, dancing to the music of flutes; they are followed by the women under the leadership of LYSISTRATA.)
[7.55] A SPARTAN: My dear, sweet friend, come, take your flute in hand; I would fain dance and sing my best in honour of the Athenians and our noble selves.
[756.] ATHENIAN: Yes, take your flute, in the gods' name. What a delight to see him dance!
[7.57] SPARTAN: (dancing and singing) Oh! Mnemosyne! inspire these men, inspire my muse who knows our exploits and those of the Athenians. With what a god-like ardor did they swoop down at Artemisium on the ships of the Medes! What a glorious victory was that! For the soldiers of Leonidas, they were like fierce boars sharpening their tusks. The sweat ran down their faces, and drenched all their limbs, for verily the Persians were as many as the sands of the seashore. Oh! Artemis, huntress queen, whose arrows pierce the denizens of the woods, virgin goddess, be thou favourable to the peace we here conclude; through thee may our hearts be long united! May this treaty draw close for ever the bonds of a happy friendship! No more wiles and stratagems! Aid us, oh! aid us, maiden huntress!
[7.58] MAGISTRATE: All is for the best; and now, Spartans, take your wives away home with you, and you, Athenians, yours. May husband live happily with wife, and wife with husband. Dance, dance, to celebrate our bliss, and let us be heedful to avoid like mistakes for the future.
[7.59] CHORUS OF ATHENIANS: (singing) Appear, appear, dancers, and the Graces with you! Let us invoke, one and all, Artemis, and her heavenly brother, gracious Apollo, patron of the dance, and Dionysus, whose eye darts flame, as he steps forward surrounded by the Maenad maids, and Zeus, who wields the flashing lightning, and his august, thrice-blessed spouse, the Queen of Heaven! These let us invoke, and all the other gods, calling all the inhabitants of the skies to witness the noble Peace now concluded under the fond auspices of Aphrodite. Io Paean! Io Paean! dance, leap, as in honour of a victory won. Euoi! Euoi! Euai! Euai!
[7.60] MAGISTRATE: And you, our Spartan guests, sing us a new and inspiring strain!
[7.61] SPARTAN: (singing) Leave once more, oh! leave once more the noble height of Taygetus, oh! Muse of Lacedaemon, and join us in singing the praises of Apollo of Amyclae, and Athene of the Brazen House, and the gallant twin sons of Tyndareus, who practise arms on the banks of the Eurotas river. Haste, haste hither with nimble-footed pace, let us sing Sparta, the city that delights in choruses divinely sweet and graceful dances, when our maidens bound lightly by the river side, like frolicsome fillies, beating the ground with rapid steps and shaking their long locks in the wind, as Bacchantes wave their wands in the wild revels of the Wine-god. At their head, oh! chaste and beauteous goddess, daughter of Leto, Artemis, do thou lead the song and dance. With a fillet binding thy waving tresses, appear in thy loveliness; leap like a fawn, strike thy divine hands together to animate the dance, and aid us to renown the valiant goddess of battles, great Athene of the Brazen House! (All depart, singing and dancing.)
The Company of Lysistrata,
San Diego State University's Don
Powell Theatre, 20-29 October 2000.
, Broadway musical (2011-12)
Below: marionette version of Lysistrata