Classics Aristophanes’ Lysistrata
Niklas Holzberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0331


Lysistrata was performed in the year 411 BCE, either in winter at the Lenaia or in spring at the Dionysia. Athens, its position in the Peloponnesian War waged against Sparta since 428 now dangerously weakened by the catastrophic failure of the 413 Sicilian expedition, saw itself faced in early 411 with the prospect of having to submit to the enemy. Enter Lysistrata, who proposes a plan that, in its utopian character, is typical of Old Comedy: Athenian wives should declare a sex strike for as long as it takes their husbands to end the war. The storyline triggered by that begins in the first scene, but there very soon arises another line of action: the women of Athens occupy the Acropolis, the center of power over the polis, seize the treasury, and must now defend the citadel against the men. And when the old women who form one half of the chorus, prevent its other half, the old men, from setting the citadel alight, there ensues a fight between the two, and that develops into a third sequence of scenes which runs in counterpoint to the main action. All three, however, are integrated into a homogenous whole, and thus Lysistrata differs in its structure from Aristophanes’ earlier comedies: it does not merely consist in a series of loosely connected episodes. That, in turn, is reminiscent of the complex architecture created by the tragedians of the day, and as in one of those (Euripides), here too it is an exceptional woman who, probably for the first time in comedy and certainly for the first time as a citizen wife, stands center stage. Unity of action is also achieved by using the parabasis to have the chorus guide spectators from scene to scene rather than making it speak, as mostly in Aristophanes’ extant plays, with the voice of the poet; the traditional parabasis, in turn, appears in the (roughly comparable) form of Lysistrata’s speech 1112–1135 Again unlike the earlier comedies, Lysistrata contains but few verses in which public figures are ridiculed; that could be explained by Aristophanes’ intention to play his part in the necessary appeasement and conciliation, the above-mentioned crisis in Athens having had its effect on domestic politics. On the other hand, this comedy offers a conspicuous amount of obscenities, above all in scenes which show the men trying to persuade their wives to end the sex strike. But only when the former have declared themselves committed to negotiating a peace treaty are marriage and family restored in the oikos, the nucleus of the polis, and Lysistrata’s comic plan thus realized. Among all modern stage productions of Aristophanes’ comedies, it is Lysistrata that can claim the lion’s share.


For the vast amount of scholarship on Lysistrata see L’Année philologique and Holzberg 2018, both regularly updated. There are annotated bibliographies, one for 1975–1991 (Storey 1987 and Storey 1992) and another for 1971–1992 (Zimmermann 1992 and Zimmermann 1994), as well as bibliographical surveys in the Greece & Rome series (Ussher 1979 and Lowe 2007). Walton 2006 offers a bibliography of ancient Greek dramas in English translation.

  • L’Année philologique. Paris: Société d’édition “Les Belles Lettres”.

    Yearly inventory of publications covering the entire field of classics, with short abstracts of items listed.

  • Holzberg, Niklas. 2018. Aristophanes: Eine Bibliographie.

    Shows first the titles in alphabetical order, then a systematic section designed as key to the contents of the books and articles listed. Bibliography for 1980–2006 almost complete (for Lysistrata 1980–2016), earlier and recent literature represented by selected titles only.

  • Lowe, Nick J. 2007. Comedy. New Surveys in the Classics 37. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Successor to Ussher 1979.

  • Storey, Ian C. 1987. Old Comedy 1975–1984. Échos du Monde Classique/Classical Views 6:1–46.

    Annotated bibliography of scholarship 1975–1984.

  • Storey, Ian C. 1992. Δέκατον μὲν ἔτος τόδ’: Old Comedy 1982–1991. Antichthon 26:1–29.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0066477400000666

    Annotated bibliography of scholarship 1982–1991.

  • Ussher, Robert G. 1979. Aristophanes. Greece & Rome. New Surveys in the Classics 13. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Annotated overview of scholarship up to 1977.

  • Walton, J. Michael. 2006. A comprehensive list of all Greek plays in English translation. In Found in translation: Greek drama in English. Edited by J. Michael Walton, 197–269. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511584534.012

    English versions of Lysistrata on pp. 253–256 and 263–264.

  • Zimmermann, Bernhard. 1992. Griechische Komödie. Anzeiger für die Altertumswissenschaft 45:161–184.

    On editions, commentaries, and textual criticism 1971–1991.

  • Zimmermann, Bernhard. 1994. Griechische Komödie. Anzeiger für die Altertumswissenschaft 47:1–18.

    Survey of scholarship on structure and metrics 1971–1992.

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