Lysistrata

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Reading Guide

Basic Content

  1. What does Lysistrata's name mean?
  2. What area of the city do the women take hostage, and why?
  3. Where is Lampito from? How does your translator clue you in to this difference? What does this translation choice suggest to you? How would you stage Lampito?
  4. What else—besides sex—do the women in Lysistrata agree to abstain from?
  5. What do the chorus of old women use to combat the chorus of old men? What do the old men use?
  6. Who is Cinesias?
  7. Being very specific and drawing on evidence throughout the play, describe all the reasons why women seek to end the war. What else aren't the women “pleased” by?
  8. Each of the four main female characters in the play has a clear identity developed through her dialogue and action. Using evidence from the play, characterize Lysistrata, Calonice, Myrrhine, and Lampito.
  9. What do the women swear on, and why might this be significant? Where else do the images of wine and drunkenness appear?
  10. Initially, why are the Councilors angry with Lysistrata and her women? When do they inquire into her reasons?
  11. How do the Ambassadors use Reconciliation's body? What do they do to it? Why do you think this image might be significant—what else might it tell us?

Gender and War

  1. What evidence in the play allows us to infer how women were seen or treated in Ancient Greece? What can we infer about how they were expected to behave? What does the play suggest to us about masculine gender roles?
  2. Where does the women's power reside? What do you think about this?
  3. The image of wool and textile production is an important motif in Lysistrata. When the Councilor asks Lysistrata how she would “cope” with the “perfect pandemonium worldwide,” she uses the image of wool-working extensivly. Describe how Lysistrata uses the image. What function does it serve? Is it a metaphor? If so, for what?
  4. What do you think is the role of conversation, dialogue, actual interaction, and questioning in this play? Find as many instances of these motifs as possible.
  5. Given that this play was written by an Athenian, and that in the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians fought against the Spartans in a bid for imperial expansion, why do you think Aristophanes has the play end with a Spartan dance?
  6. Is this a play against war in general, or some aspect of war? What evidence would you use to support your claim?
  7. Is this a feminist play?

Staging, Genre, and Generic Conventions

  1. In Lysistrata, Aristophanes makes several references to tragedies, and the play might be read as a response to—even a critique of certain aspects of—the more elevated dramatic form. Find several references in the text to tragedy or tragic conventions. What other moments in the comedy might be read as a response to tragic conventions? Keep in mind the comic conventions discussed in your introductory readings as well as what happens in Lysistrata.
  2. This play is rife with sexual innuendo and bawdy jokes. Find as many as you can! What function(s) do these jokes serve? What might the act of sexual intercourse be a metaphor for more generally? You might want to look closely at a moment in the play when one bawdy image becomes a metaphor for a larger theme in the play.
  3. Is the women's course of action plausible? Do you think that audiences of the play were supposed to consider it as plausible? Why, or why not?
  4. The conventions Ancient Greek performance dictate that no actual women appear on stage; this play was written not by a woman but by a man; and yet, the play is (or seems to be) about women's political power. The play is also a comedy, which carries certain meanings, as well—often, in poking fun at its subjects, comedy undermines their power or seeks to reroute an ineffective course of action. Thus, the question of voice is of paramount importance; “voice” describes our sense of the author's attitude, as conveyed by the words and action in a text. What does Aristophanes' attitude toward women seem to be? Toward the idea of women “saving Greece”? Toward war? Toward the possibility of reconciliation or peace itself? What about Aristophanes' attitude toward the Greek councilors? Toward the Spartans? To the old men in the first Chorus? Choose one and consider in more depth.
  5. Consider the function of the choruses in Lysistrata. What role do they serve? What is their relationship to each other, to the dominant action in the play?
  6. This is an example of Old Comedy. What are the features of Old Comedy, according to your textbook and the introduction to the play?
  7. Describe, using your introductory material, what you think a 5th century BCE performance of Lysistrata could have looked like. What would the chorus of a comedy do? What would their masks and costuming look like? Are there any specific moments in the playtext that help us understand its staging, either in terms of stage directions or information we can glean from the dialogue?
  8. Keep in mind that all women's roles were played by men. How do you think this could impact the staging of Lysistrata?
  9. Try to imagine a modern interpretive staging of this play. How would you mount this production? What can you draw from the text to help develop a specific staging?

Motifs and Images

  1. Follow the images of spinning, weaving, and wool-working - how do they seem to work in Lysistrata?
  2. What about the images of wine-consumption and drunkenness?
  3. Sexual intercourse?
  4. War, combat?
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