From what I have read about Greek plays, I gather that they are meant to be watched in bunches. I doubt very much that a modern audience has the time or patience to sit through three plays. But then again, we’ve got a lot more options for entertainment and variety tends to be something most people value. Some of the ideas in this play are funny, interesting and fairly timeless. Go ahead and read it, or a least read my notes on it… I will wait.
The story takes place during the Peloponnesian War, something that was a big part of Ancient Greek history. This was essentially a war between Athens (and its allies) and Sparta (and its allies). They had very different societies and were pretty much vying for power over what is considered Greece today. The war dragged on nearly 30 years. You can imagine how a war of that length can upset people’s lives.
The story has a woman, Lysistrata, hatching up a scheme to stop the war. Since women really had very little influence in politics in Athens or Sparta, she had to find a way to exploit the domain in which woman had any influence, sex. Lysistrata gives a bunch of reasons why the war is bad. The women are lonely. The children are growing up while their fathers are off at war. An entire generation of young men are sent off to war with no time to court an entire generation women, start families and keep the society going. These complaints are pretty common results of long wars. Society tends to crumble if they carry on too long. Anyway, Lysistrata convinces the women of Greece not to put out unless the war is ended, a peace treaty is signed and the war genuinely comes to an end.
She gathers up women from all over Athens and even from Sparta to discuss her plan. She convinces the old women to lend a hand in this matter. They take refuge in the Acropolis – that large beast of a building lording over the city of Athens. It was a fortress whose construction was ordered by the famous Pericles (Ancient Athens’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin all rolled up in one man), serving the city of Athens. From what I remember about history, the Acropolis not only had the function as a redoubt for Athens but it also had supernatural elements about it due to the fact that on the Acropolis, there was also the Parthenon, a temple to Athena. Athena was the patron goddess of Athens and symbolized wisdom, law, science, reason and just about everything that the Athenians valued and we associate with the ancient city today. To take over the Acropolis, was essentially to hole yourself up in the holiest of holies. And I bet that even they knew that the men of the city would not take kindly to that.
The old men and women are yelling at each other. The men try to smoke them out and the women douse the fire with water as well as the men. As I was reading about the comical water fight, this scene from the Great Race instantly came to mind. The magistrate comes around and breaks the fight up and asks what is going on. The women and men hurl accusations at each other. The men are barbarians, belligerent, etc. The women are fickle, stupid, etc. Lysistrata claims that she could run the city better than the men who are doing so now. More battle of the sexes jibberjabber is launched. After the scene is broken up, Lysistrata gets a little frustrated that the women aren’t holding the line on the sex strike. That fact might be justifying the men’s accusations that women are capricious. She convinces the women to stick to their guns on this matter for the sake of the city. The women begin to tease the men, making them want sex more and more, and finally they can no longer take it. If I understand the translation’s metaphors correctly, the men were walking around will full-on erections due to the women finding them up. Finally the men realize that the women have them by the balls, so to speak, and the Athenians and Spartans sign a peace treaty. A sexy piss-up closes the play out.