Aristophanes: Lysistrata (410 BC)

Cleonice: . . . What is this very important business you wish to inform us about?

Lysistrata: I will tell you. But first answer me one question.

Cleonice: Anything you wish.

Lysistrata: Don't you feel sad and sorry because the fathers of your children are far away from you with the army? For I'll wager there is not one of you whose husband is not abroad at this moment.

Cleonice: Mine has been the last five months in Thrace-looking after Eucrates.

Myrrhine: It's seven long months since mine left for Pylos.

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

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 gadget even, to be a leathern consolation to us poor widows.... Now tell me, if I have discovered a means of ending the war, will you all second me?

Cleonice: 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.

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

Lampito: And I too; why to secure peace, I would climb to the top of Mount Taygetus.

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...

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

Lysistrata: But will you do it?

Myrrhine: We will, we will, though we should die of it.

Lysistrata: We must refrain from the male altogether.... Nay, why do you 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?

Cleonice: I will not do it, let the war go on.

Myrrhine: Nor will I; let the war go on.

Lysistrata (to Myrrhine): And you say this, my pretty flat-fish, who declared just now they might split you in two?

Cleonice: 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!

Lysistrata (to Myrrhine): And you?

Myrrhine: Yes, I agree with the others; I too would sooner go through the fire.

Lysistrata: Oh, wanton, vicious sex! the poets have done well to make tragedies upon us; we are good for nothing then but love and lewdness! But you, my dear, you from hardy Sparta, if you join me, all may yet be well; help me, second me, I beg you.

Lampito: 'Tis a hard thing, by the two goddesses it is! for a woman to sleep alone without ever a strong male in her bed. But there, peace must come first.

Lysistrata: Oh, my darling, my dearest, best friend, you are the only one deserving the name of woman!

Cleonice: But if-which the gods forbid-we do refrain altogether from what you say, should we get peace any sooner?

Lysistrata: Of course we should, by the goddesses twain! We need only sit indoors with painted cheeks, and meet our mates lightly clad in transparent gowns of Amorgos silk, and perfectly depilated; they will get their tools up and be wild to lie with us. That will be the time to refuse, and they will hasten to make peace, I am convinced of that! . . .

Cleonice: Now, my dears, let me swear first, if you please.

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, Cleonice, repeat for all the rest 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...

Cleonice (faintly): I will have naught to do whether with lover or husband...

Lysistrata: Albeit he come to me with an erection...

Cleonice (her voice quavering): Albeit he come to me with an erection... (in despair) Oh! Lysistrata, I cannot bear it!

Lysistrata (ignoring this outburst): I will live at home unbulled...

Cleonice: I will live at home unbulled...

Lysistrata: Beautifully dressed and wearing a saffron-coloured gown

Cleonice: Beautifully dressed and wearing a saffron-coloured gown...

Lysistrata: To the end I may inspire my husband with the most ardent longings.

Cleonice: To the end I may inspire my husband with the most ardent longings.

Lysistrata: Never will I give myself voluntarily...

Cleonice: Never will I give myself voluntarily...

Lysistrata: And if he has me by force...

Cleonice: And if he has me by force...

Lysistrata: I will be cold as ice, and never stir a limb...

Cleonice: I will be cold as ice, and never stir a limb...

Lysistrata: I will neither extend my Persian slippers toward the ceiling...

Cleonice: I will neither extend my Persian slippers toward the ceiling...

Lysistrata: Nor will I crouch like the carven lions on a knife-handle.

Cleonice: Nor will I crouch like the carven lions on a knife-handle.

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

Cleonice (more courageously): And if I keep my oath, may I be suffered to drink of this wine.

Lysistrata: But if I break it, let my bowl be filled with water.

Cleonice: But if I break it, let my bowl be filled with water.

Lysistrata: Will you all take this oath?

All: We do.

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

Cleonice (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.)

Lampito: Listen! what do those cries mean?

Lysistrata: It's what I was telling you; the 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 push the bolts well home.

Cleonice: But don't you think the men will march up against us?

Lysistrata: I laugh at them. Neither threats nor flames shall force our doors; they shall open only on the conditions I have named.

Cleonice: Yes, yes, by Aphrodite; otherwise we should be called cowardly and wretched women. (She follows Lysistrata out.)

 

Question:

What does this excerpt tell us about men and women in ancient Greece?