411 BC | Athens

Cleaning House

One woman’s attempt to end the Peloponnesian War.

Magistrate: What in Zeus’ name do you mean by shutting and barring the gates of our own Acropolis against us?

Lysistrata: We want to keep the money safe and stop you from waging war.

Magistrate: The war has nothing to do with money—

Lysistrata: Hasn’t it? Why are Peisander and the other office seekers always stirring things up? Isn’t it so they can take a few more dips in the public purse? Well, as far as we’re concerned, they can do what they like; only they’re not going to lay their hands on the money in there.

Magistrate: Why, what are you going to do?

Lysistrata: Do? Why, we’ll be in charge of it.

Magistrate: You in charge of our finances?

Lysistrata: Well, what’s so strange about that? We’ve been in charge of all your housekeeping finances for years.

Magistrate: But that’s not the same thing.

Lysistrata: Why not?

Magistrate: Because the money here is needed for the war!

Lysistrata: Ah, but the war itself isn’t necessary.

Magistrate: Not necessary! How is the city going to be saved then?

Lysistrata: We’ll save it for you.

Magistrate: You!!!

Lysistrata: Us.

Magistrate: This is intolerable!

Lysistrata: It may be, but it’s what’s going to happen.

Magistrate: But Demeter!—I mean, it’s against nature!

Lysistrata: [very sweetly] We’ve got to save you, after all, sir.

Magistrate: Even against my will?

Lysistrata: That only makes it all the more essential.

Magistrate: Anyway, what business are war and peace of yours?

Lysistrata: I’ll tell you.

Magistrate: [restraining himself with difficulty] You’d better or else.

Lysistrata: I will if you’ll listen and keep those hands of yours under control.

Magistrate: I can’t—I’m too livid.

Stratyllis: [interrupting] It’ll be you that regrets it.

Magistrate: I hope it’s you, you superannuated crow! [to Lysistrata] Say what you have to say.

Lysistrata: In the last war we were too modest to object to anything you men did—and in any case you wouldn’t let us say a word. But don’t think we approved! We knew everything that was going on. Many times we’d hear at home about some major blunder of yours, and then when you came home we’d be burning inside, but we’d have to put on a smile and ask what it was you’d decided to inscribe on the pillar underneath the peace treaty. And what did my husband always say?—“Shut up and mind your own business!” And I did.

Stratyllis: I wouldn’t have done!

Magistrate: [ignoring her—to Lysistrata] He’d have given you one if you hadn’t!

Lysistrata: Exactly—so I kept quiet. But sure enough, next thing we knew, you’d take an even sillier decision. And if I so much as said, “Darling, why are you carrying on with this silly policy?” he would glare at me and say, “Back to your weaving, woman, or you’ll have a headache for a month. Go and attend to your work; let war be the care of the menfolk.”

Magistrate: Quite right, too, by Zeus.

Lysistrata: Right? That we should not be allowed to make the least little suggestion to you, no matter how much you mismanage the city’s affairs? And now, look, every time two people meet in the street, what do they say? “Isn’t there a man in the country?” and the answer comes, “Not one.” That’s why we women got together and decided we were going to save Greece. What was the point of waiting any longer, we asked ourselves. Well now, we’ll make a deal. You listen to us—and we’ll talk sense, not like you used to—listen to us and keep quiet, as we’ve had to do up to now, and we’ll clear up the mess you’ve made.

© 2002 by Alan H. Sommerstein. Used with permission of Penguin Books Ltd.



From Lysistrata. Aristophanes often took current events as the subject for his plays, attacking an influential politician in The Knights and satirizing Socrates in The Clouds. He began his career with The Banqueters in 427 bc, four years after the start of the Peloponnesian War. The eponymous heroine in Lysistrata proposes a peace treaty, suggesting that the Athenian and Spartan women band together and refuse to engage in sexual congress with their husbands until a truce is declared. The actual war ended in 404 bc, with Sparta’s victory over Athens.