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Lysistrata

by Aristophanes of Athens
The original, squashed down to read (or perform) in about 25 minutes


Illustration by Norman Lindsay for a 20th Century edition

(Greece, 411BCE)



The comic play Lysistrata was first performed as popular unrest against the Peloponnesian War intensified after Athens suffered the loss of her whole navy and much of her army. The play was forbidden by the Nazis, by the Greek military junta in 1960s, and it remains banned de jure in the USA. It has been revived many times over the centuries, often as a message against war, notably in the 'Lysistrata Project' of 2002.

Abridged: GH, largely based on an uncredited translation published in 1912, possibly by Oscar Wilde.



Lysistrata


A public square at Athens

Lysistrata: Ah! if only they had been invited to a Bacchic revelling, or a feast of Pan or Aphrodité, why! the streets would have been impassable for the thronging tambourines! Now there's never a woman here - ah! except my neighbour Calonicé, approaching yonder... Good day, Calonicé.

Calonicé: Good day, Lysistrata; but pray, why this dark face, my dear? It does not make you look pretty.

Lysistrata: Oh, Calonicé, my heart is on fire; I blush for our sex. Men will have it we are tricky and sly....

Calonicé: And they are quite right!

Lysistrata: Yet, look you, when the women are summoned to meet for a matter of importance, they lie abed instead of coming.

Calonicé: And why do you summon us, dear Lysistrata? What is it all about?

Lysistrata: Something big.

Calonicé: And thick too?

Lysistrata: Oh! No that. If that was all, I would have no difficulty collecting our women. But now, our country's fortunes depend on us - it is for us to exterminate the Peloponnesian and the Boeotian threat! .

Calonicé: But how? When we women mostly lie in our households, wearing silky yellow gowns?

Lysistrata: Nay, those gowns, those scents and slippers, those cosmetics and transparent robes are our weapons!

Calonicé: How so, pray?

Lysistrata: There is not a man will resist ...

Calonicé: Quick, I will get me a yellow gown from the dyer's. But look! here are some arrivals.

Calonicé: Yes! 'Tis Myrrhiné and all the female population of Anagyra!

Myrrhiné: Are we late, Lysistrata? I could not find my girdle in the dark. Ah! here comes Lampito.

Lysistrata: Good day, Lampito, dear friend from Lacedaemon. How handsome you look! and how strong! You could strangle a bull surely!

Lampito: Yes, indeed, I really think I could. It is only because I do gymnastics and kick dancing.

Calonicé: Superb bosoms!

Lampito: La! You are not feeling a beast for the sacrifice. So, who has called together this council of women, pray?

Myrrhiné: What is the most important business you wish to inform us about?

Lysistrata: I will tell you. Is there is not one of you whose husband is not abroad at this moment.

Calonicé: Mine has been the last five months in Thrace.

Myrrhiné: 'Tis seven long months since mine left me for Pylos.

Lampito: As for mine, if he ever does return from service, he's no sooner back than he takes down his shield again and flies back to the wars.

Lysistrata: And I have been without a man too. Not even one of those eight-inch leather ones. Now tell me, if I know how to bring an end to this war, are you with me?

Myrrhiné: 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.

Calonicé: And so will I, though I must be split in two like a flat-fish, and have half myself removed.

Lysistrata: Then I will out with it at last, my mighty secret! Oh! sister women, if we would compel our husbands to make peace, we must refrain...

Myrrhiné: Refrain from what? tell us, tell us!

Lysistrata: We must refrain from men altogether... Nay, why do you turn your backs on me? Where are you going?

Calonicé: Bah! This is idle talk....What if our husbands drag us by force into the bedchamber?

Lysistrata: Hold on to the door posts.

Calonicé: But if they beat us?

Lysistrata: Then yield to their wishes, but with a bad grace. There's no satisfaction for a man, unless the woman shares it.

Lampito: Maybe, but what about persuading everyone else? How are we to cure folk of their warlike frenzy?

Lysistrata: Ah! but we have seen to that; this very day the Acropolis will be in our hands. While we speak, our older sisters, are, even now, going, under pretence of offering sacrifice, to seize the citadel.

Lampito: This is clever!

Lysistrata: Come, quick, Lampito, and let us bind ourselves by an inviolable oath. Let us sacrifice a sheep!

Calonicé: No, Lysistrata, that is not right. Let's take a white horse, and sacrifice it, and swear on its entrails.

Lysistrata: But where get a white horse from?

Lysistrata: Listen to me. Let's sacrifice a skin of Thasian wine into it.

Lampito: Ah! that oath pleases me more than I can say.

Lysistrata: Let them bring me a bowl and a skin of wine.

Calonicé: Ah! my dears, what a noble big bowl! 'Twill be fun to empty that!

Lysistrata: Set the bowl down on the ground, and lay your hands on the victim... Almighty goddess, Persuasion, and thou, bowl, boon comrade of joy and merriment, receive this our sacrifice, and be propitious to us poor women!

Calonicé: Oh! the fine red blood! how well it flows!

Lampito: A splendid bouquet!

Lysistrata: Come, then, Lampito, and all of you, - I will have naught to do with lover or husband...

Calonicé: I will have naught to do with lover or husband...

Lysistrata: Albeit he come to me with strength and passion...

Calonicé: Albeit he come to me with strength and passion... Oh! Lysistrata, I cannot bear it!

Lysistrata: I will live at home in perfect chastity...

Calonicé: I will live at home in perfect chastity...

Lysistrata: And if I keep my oath, may I be suffered to drink of this wine.

Calonicé: And if I keep my oath, may I be suffered to drink of this wine.

Lysistrata: Will ye all take this oath?

All: Yes, yes!

Lysistrata: Then lo! I'll now consume this remnant. (She drinks.)

Calonicé: Yes, yes, by Aphrodité; let us keep up our old-time repute for obstinancy and spite.

Before the gates of the Acropolis

Chorus of Old Men: Forward men, as needs must. Ah! Come, all, let us lay our faggots about the citadel, and on the blazing pile burn these vile conspiratresses, one and all - and that Lysistrata, first and foremost! Come, by, Demeter, they will not laugh at me! Phew! phew! (blows the fire.) Oh! dear! what a dreadful smoke! It bites my eyes like a mad dog.

Chorus of Women: Oh! my dears, methinks I see fire and smoke; can it be a conflagration? Let's pick up our water-jars, for We are going to put out your fire.

Chorus of Old Men: Put out my fire - you!

Chorus of Women: Water, do your office! (The women pitch the water in their water-pots over the old men.)

Chorus of Old Men: Oh, dear! oh, dear! oh, dear!

Magistrate: These women, have they made din enough, I wonder, with their tambourines?

Chorus of Old Men: But you don't know all their effrontery yet! They abused and insulted us; then soused us with the water in their water-pots, and have set us wringing out our clothes, for all the world as if we had bepissed ourselves.

Magistrate: And 'tis well done too, by Posidon! We men must share the blame of their ill conduct; it is we who teach them to love riot and dissoluteness. We give them jemelery and shoes. I only came here to raise money for the navy, and what happens? Those women clap the door in my face. Ho! there, my fine fellow! (addressing one of his officers) what are you gaping at the crows about? looking for a tavern, I suppose, eh? Come, crowbars here, and force open the gates.

Lysistrata: No need to force the gates, here I am.

Magistrate: (to the officer) Seize her!

First Woman: By Pandrosos! if you lay a hand on her, I'll trample you underfoot till you spill your guts!

Magistrate: What do you mean? Officer, where are you got to? Lay hold of her.

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; come, a torrent of invective and insult! (They beat the officers.) Enough, enough!

Magistrate: Here's a fine exploit for my officers!

Lysistrata: Ah, ha! You did not know the ardour that fills the bosom of free-born dames.

Chorus of Old Men: Sir, sir! what use of 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!

Magistrate: (addressing the women) I would ask you first why ye have barred our gates.

Lysistrata: To seize the treasury.

Magistrate: What do you propose to do then, pray?

Lysistrata: You ask me that! Why, we propose to administer the treasury ourselves.

Magistrate: You do?

Lysistrata: Do we not administer the budget of household expenses?

Magistrate: But that is not the same thing.

Lysistrata: How so - not the same thing?

Magistrate: The treasury supplies the expenses of war.

Lysistrata: That's our first principle - no war!

Magistrate: Stop your croaking, old crow, you!

Lysistrata: Too long we have endured in modest silence all you men did, with the usual, "Just weave your web; else your cheeks will smart for hours. War is men's business!"

Magistrate: Bravo! well said indeed! May I die a thousand deaths ere I obey one who wears a veil!

Lysistrata: If that's all that troubles you, here, take my veil, wrap it round your head, and hold your tongue. Then take this basket; put on a girdle, card wool, munch beans. The War shall be women's business.

Chorus of Women: Lay aside your water-pots, we will help our friends.

Lysistrata: If only we may stir amorous feelings among the men that they stand as firm as sticks, we shall indeed deserve the name of peace-makers among the Greeks.

Magistrate: And how, pray, would you propose to restore peace and order in all the countries of Greece?

Lysistrata: 'Tis the easiest thing in the world! 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 off the War, we shall send embassies hither and thither and everywhere, to disentangle matters.

Magistrate: And 'tis with your yarn you think to appease so many bitter enmities, you silly women?

Lysistrata: If only you had common sense, you would always do in politics the same as we do with our yarn.

Magistrate: Come, how is that, eh?

Lysistrata: 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 rods.

Magistrate: Enough said!

Lysistrata: Say no more, but what afflicts me is to see our girls growing old in lonely grief.

Magistrate: Don't the men grow old too?

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 that never send her a husband.

Magistrate: But the old man who can still do it...

Lysistrata: Go buy yourself a bier, and I will knead you a honey-cake for Cerberus. Here, take this garland. (Drenching him with water.)

First Woman: And this one too. (Drenching him)

Second Woman: And these fillets. (Drenching him.)

Magistrate: To treat me so scurvily! What an insult! I will go show myself to my fellow-magistrates!

Chorus of Old Men: Awake, friends of freedom; let us hold ourselves aye ready to act. Is this not the beginning of Tyranny?

Chorus of Women: 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 greybeards, 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. Have you one word to say for yourselves? Ah! don't irritate me, you there, or I'll lay my slipper across your jaws; and it's pretty heavy.

Chorus of Old Men: Outrage upon outrage! Let us punish the minxes, every one of us that has a shaft to boast of. Come, off with our tunics, let us strip naked, and, if they wish to be knights, let's give them a good ride!

Chorus of Women: By the blessed goddesses, just you dare to measure strength with me, old greybeard, and I warrant you you'll never eat garlic or black beans more.

Several days later, inside the citadel.

Chorus of Women: You, Lysistrata, you who are leader of our glorious enterprise, why do I see you coming towards me with so gloomy an air?

Lysistrata: 'Tis the behaviour of these naughty women, 'tis the female heart and female weakness so discourages me. I cannot stop them any longer from lusting after the men. They are all for deserting. The first I caught was slipping out by the postern gate near the cave of Pan; another was letting herself down by a rope and pulley. One and all, they are inventing excuses to be off home. Look! there goes one, trying to get out! Halloa there! whither away so fast?

First Woman: I want to go home; I have some Miletus wool in the house, which is getting all eaten up by the worms.

Lysistrata: Bah! you and your worms! go back, I say!

Second Woman: Unhappy woman that I am! I've left some flax at home unstript! I will come straight back.

Lysistrata: You shall do nothing of the kind!

Third Woman: I am going to have a child - now, this minute.

Lysistrata: But you were not pregnant yesterday!

Third Woman: Well, I am to-day. Oh! let me go in search of the midwife, Lysistrata, quick, quick!

Lysistrata: A fable!

Fourth Woman: I cannot sleep any more in the Acropolis, now I have seen the snake that guards the Temple. Ah! and those confounded owls with their dismal hooting! I cannot get a wink of rest, and I'm just dying of fatigue.

Lysistrata: You wicked women, have done with your falsehoods! You want your husbands, that's plain 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?

First Woman: Yes, tell us what the Oracle declares.

Lysistrata: Silence then! Now - "When as the swallows, fleeing before the hoopoes, shall have all flocked together in one place, and shall refrain them from all amorous commerce, then will be the end of all the ills of life; yea, and Zeus, which doth thunder in the skies, shall set above what was erst below...."

Chorus of Women: What! shall the men be underneath?

Chorus of Old Men: I want to tell you a fable they used to relate to me when I was a little boy. This is it...

Lysistrata: A man! a man! I see him approaching all afire with the flames of love.

Myrrhiné: It's my husband Cinesias.

Lysistrata: Ah! good day, my dear friend. Your name is not unknown amongst us. Your wife has it forever on her lips; and she never touches an egg or an apple without saying: "'Twill be for Cinesias."

Cinesias: Oh! I beseech you, go and call her to me! Myrrhiné, my little darling Myrrhiné! Come down to me quick.

Myrrhiné: No indeed, not I.

Cinesias: Oh! Myrrhiné, in our child's name, hear me; at any rate hear the child! Little lad, call your mother.

Child: Mammy, mammy, mammy!

Cinesias: There, listen! Don't you pity the poor child? It's six days now since he was washed and fed.

Myrrhiné: Poor darling, your father takes mighty little care of you!

Cinesias: Everything is going to rack and ruin in the house. Oh! won't you come back home?

Myrrhiné: No, at least, not till a sound Treaty puts an end to the War.

Cinesias: Well, if you wish it so much, it will be done.

Myrrhiné: Well and good! When that's done, I will come home. Till then, I am bound by an oath.

Cinesias: At any rate, let's have a short time together. In the cave of Pan; nothing could be better.

Myrrhiné: But how shall I purify myself, before going back into the citadel?

Cinesias: Nothing easier! you can wash at the Clepsydra.

Myrrhiné: (coming back with a bed) Come, get to bed quick; I am going to undress.

Cinesias: Ah! great Zeus, may she soon be done!

Myrrhiné: (coming back with a flask of perfume) Hold out your hand; now rub it in.

Cinesias: Oh! in Apollo's name, I don't much like the smell of it; but perhaps 'twill improve when it's well rubbed in.

Myrrhiné: There, what a scatterbrain I am; if I have not brought Rhodian perfumes!

Myrrhiné: (coming back with another flask) Here, take this bottle.

Cinesias: Come, you provoking creature, to bed with you, and don't bring another thing.

Myrrhiné: Coming, coming; I'm just slipping off my shoes. Dear boy, will you vote for peace?

Cinesias: I'll think about it. (Myrrhiné runs away.) I'm a dead man, she is killing me! She has gone, and left me in torment!

Chorus of Old Men: Poor, miserable wretch, baulked in your amorousness!

Cinesias: Ye gods in heaven, what pains I suffer!

Herald: Say, where shall I find the Senate and the Prytanes? I am a herald, come from Sparta about making peace.

Magistrate: But look, you are hiding a lance under your clothes, surely.

Herald: No, nothing of the sort.

Magistrate: Then why do you turn away like that, and hold your cloak out from your body? Have you gotten swellings in the groin with your journey?

Herald: No, but the Spartan women have kicked the men all access to them.

Magistrate: But whatever do you do?

Herald: We are at our wits' end; we walk bent double, just as if we were carrying lanterns in a wind. The jades have sworn we shall not so much as touch them till we have all agreed to conclude peace.

Magistrate: Ha, ha! So I see now, 'tis a general conspiracy embracing all Greece. Go you back to Sparta and bid them send Envoys to treat for peace.

Herald: What could be better? I fly at your command.

Chorus of Old Men: No wild beast is there, no flame of fire, more fierce and untamable than woman; the leopard is less savage and shameless.

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.

Chorus of Old Men: Never, never can my hatred cease towards women.

Chorus of Women: Well, please 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.

Chorus of Old Men: You are right, upon my word! it was only in my confounded fit of rage I took it off. Ah! here come the Envoys from Sparta with their long flowing beards; why, you would think they wore a cage between their thighs. (Enter the Lacedaemonian Envoys.) Hail to you, Laconians; tell us how you fare.

A Laconian: No need for many words; you can see what a state we are in.

An Athenian: Can anybody tell us where Lysistrata is? Surely she will have some compassion on our condition. Lo! the foremost men in Hellas, seduced by your fascinations, are agreed to entrust you with the task of ending their quarrels.

Lysistrata: 'Twill 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? You Athenians, you Laconians, approach! At Olympia, and Thermopylae, and Delphi, and a score of other places, you celebrate before the same altars; yet you go cutting each other's throats, when all the while the Barbarian is yonder threatening you!

Laconian: Look upon the goddess of Peace! I have never see a woman of more gracious dignity.

Athenian: I have never seen a woman with a finer body!

A Laconian: 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.

An Athenian: Yes, take your flute, i' the gods' name. What a delight to dance!

Lysistrata: All is for the best; and now, Laconians, 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.




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