ElAnt v1n7 - The Plot of the Lysistrata and the Hostages of Line 244

Volume 1, Number 7
February 1994


Jenny Strauss Clay,
Department of Classics,
University of Virginia,
Virginia 22903,
e-mail: jsc2t@faraday.clas.virginia.edu

It is frequently stated that Aristophanes sacrifices coherence and consistency in his plot construction for immediate effect. The Lysistrata offers a notorious example of 'illogicality in the plot'.(1) The original plan outlined in the first scene demand that the women stay home to conduct their sexual boycott of their husbands (lines 149-154), but, by the end of the prologue, all the Athenian women proceed to the Akropolis. To be sure, this maneuver makes possible the hilarious scene at lines 706-780, where the sex-starved women try in vain to escape from the citadel. In addition, it concentrates the focus of the dramatic action on the Akropolis and, as Henderson suggests, develops the important theme of the 'merging of the home and the Akropolis'.(2) Similar simplification for dramatic focus occurs in the denouement: originally, the sex-strike was to take place in all the cities of Greece, but the final scene restricts the reconciliation to the Spartans and the Athenians, justifiable enough on both dramatic and political grounds. The women from the rest of the Greek cities disappear after the prologue.

The question remains whether the change of venue and the removal of the young wives from their homes to the Akropolis is motivated or justified within the play. I believe it is and, moreover, that it offers a significant example of Lysistrata's savvy as a politician. My case rests on the interpretation and staging of line 244:

tasdi d' omerous kataliph' emin enthade.

'These hostages' are usually understood to be the wives from the cities except for Lampito who is sent home to Sparta.(3) I can think of no dramatic or political reason why Lysistrata would want to pen up the foreign wives,(4) and it becomes clear subsequetly that they were not taken hostage. In lines 696-697, the chorus of women proclaims their indifference to the old men's threats and their certainty of success 'as long as Lampito and the dear Theban girl, noble Ismenia, lives'. Moreover, the sex strike is clearly thought to be a panhellenic operation, going on simultaneously throughout Greece; at lines 1179-1181, the allies on both side are envisaged as being as hard up as the Spartans and the Athenians. Who, then, are the hostages? Surely, they can only be the Athenian wives.

Let us backtrack. In the prologue, Lysistrata's proposal of a sexual boycott has met with vociferous resistance. While the Athenian women first declare their willingness to endure all hardships for peace, when Lysistrata unveils her plan, they balk. Lampito alone saves the day, whereupon Lysistrata recognises her as her only reliable ally:

o philtate su kai mone touton gune. (line 145)

Their alliance manages to bring around the others:

ei toi dokei sphon tauta, chemin xundokei. (line 167)

After all imbibe the oath, a shout is heard, and Lysistrata explains to the Spartan that the old women have taken the Akropolis. One part of the plot has been successful, but the vacillation of the young Athenians gives little hope for their future reliability or steadfastness. At this point, Lysistrata modifies her original plan.(5) In an aside to Lampito, she reveals that the young Athenian wives will accompany her to the Akropolis, where they will in fact be hostages under her control. Like a good politician, Lysistrata possesses the ability to size up her constituency and demonstrates the necessary flexibility to modify her original strategy.

The interpretation I have proposed may appear overly subtle, but only to readers of the play. In the theater of Dionysus, it would have been obvious to the spectators that Lysistrata's deictic tasdi referred to the Athenian women. Subsequently, the foreigners, as well as Lampito, would depart via the parodoi, and Lysistrata and her hostages would enter the Akropolis.


1. J. Henderson, 'Lysistrata: The Play and its Themes', YCS 26 (1980), p. 185. Cf. K. J. Dover, Aristophanic Comedy (Berkeley, 1972), p. 43, and Dover, Aristophanes Frogs (Oxford, 1993), p. 8.

2. Henderson, 'Lysistrata: The Play and its Themes', p. 186.

3. Henderson, 'Lysistrata: The Play and its Themes', p. 185. Some Spartans from Lampito's entourage must, to be sure, enter the Propylaia, since they will emerge (cf. 1274) for the finale. The Scholia at 244 assume they are serving maids, while B. B. Rogers, The Lysistrata of Aristophanes (London, 1911), p. 31, prefers to consider them 'associates and friends' of Lampito.

4. Nor, evidently, can J. Henderson, Aristophanes: Lysistrata (Oxford, 1987), ad loc. (p. 97): 'Apparently everyone except Lam. enters the 'Propylaia', even though strict logic requires that representatives from Thebes, Korinth, and the other cities leave then'. U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Aristophanes Lysistrata (Berlin, 1927), ad loc. (p. 137) declares: 'Korintherin und Thebanerin durfen nicht nach Hause gehen, sonst m 'te mit den Staaten weiter verhandelt werden'. At 1177-1181 (p. 191), he remarks: 'die Geiseln, 244, sind vergessen'. Cf. J. van Leeuwen, Aristophanis Lysistrata (Leiden, 1903), p. 39, who tersely glosses tasdi as 'Boeotiam Corinthiamque puellas'. See also A. H. Sommerstein, Lysistrata (Warminster, 1990), p. 167. The scholiast at 1242 frets needessly that the foreign ambassadors do not include Corinthians and Boeotians to pick up their wives.

5. Note that she had already shown a similar flexibility in revising her intended 'heroic' oath to one more appealing to the Athenian wives (lines 188-197).

Jenny Srauss Clay
e-mail: jsc2t@faraday.clas.virginia.edu

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reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is 
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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 7 - February 1994
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606

by Kaavya Giridhar