Lysistrata is Funny

Categories: Lysistrata

When Lysistrata is explaining to Calonice her plan, Calonice doesn’t know what Lysistrata is trying to suggest, asking if its “big and meaty”. Lysistrata’s sense of humour comes into question here as it takes her a long time to realise that Calonice is referring not to her plan but to something else. However, the fact that Lysistrata misunderstands what Calonice is referring to for a while is funny. She is funny without realising it, by being who she is.

She is very serious because believes that the war should end. This scene is funny, but Lysistrata isn’t intentionally being funny.

One of the first things Lysistrata says in the plays is that “you wouldn’t have been able to move for all the tambourines” if what they had been asked to attend was a “Bacchic celebration…or something in honour of Pan or Aphrodite.” For the purpose of comedy it is assumed that women will turn all celebrations into Bacchic ones.

It also assumes that women are only really interested in wine and sex.

When the Spartans arrive, Lysistrata, Myrrhine and Calonice begin to poke and prod at them, commenting them on their “beautiful colour (and) rippling muscles”. Lampito is worried that they are “feel(ing her) over” as if they were about to sacrifice her.

Not only is there visual humour here but also an element of satire. It is likely that, at the time that the Athena Polias at the time was called Lysimakhe, obviously a name very similar to Lysistrata in meaning as well as sound.

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There was also a priestess called Myrrhine at the same time serving the temple of Athena Nike. It satirises the priestesses’ methods of preparing and testing sacrificial victims. It implies that they get so used to those methods that they apply the same level of roughness to people, as well as animals.

The oath sworn by the women that they would refuse to have sex with their husbands is a parody of oath taking. Normally the process would be very formal and serious. At the beginning Myrrhine “nearly faints”, following her knees giving way. She can’t believe what she is saying, adding some visual humour. A regular oath-taking would not mention “a state of erection”, rape or the “lioness-on-a-cheese grater position”.

The chorus is split into two in this play, one half of men, the other of women. There is a great deal of visual humour surrounding this. When the magistrate arrives at the acropolis, after a short while he orders his Scythian archers to break in.

All four are stopped individually and altogether by the old women led by Stratyllis. Before this, the old men, trying to batter the door down got soaked in water by the old women. Later, the magistrate is dressed up both as a woman and a corpse by the women, completed with a tiara and ribbons. In his humiliation the magistrate flees. Lysistrata “removes her veil and puts it on the magistrate’s head and the first old woman gives him her work basket.” Later on, the first old woman claims ribbons will make him look “swell”. The embarrassment he magistrate suffers is funny.

Lysistrata has the most serious speech in the play. There is a metaphor where politics is described as wool-work. Here the play talks about real-life, not an impossible way of achieving peace. Aristophanes says that the wool must be cleaned, removing the bad men from its body of citizens. After that, the good wool, the worthy people should be allowed in. Aristophanes attacks politicians who work together to make sure that they are elected to office.

According to MacDowell, had the Athenians “been able to act immediately on his advice perhaps the (Oligarchic) revolution might have been averted.” Aristophanes suggests that metics, those owing money to the treasury, those loyal to Athens in the now revolting Ionian cities in the Aegean and foreigners who have not yet been given citizenship who want it should be granted citizenship. Lysistrata is used as Aristophanes’ voice. She suggests the sex strike to end the war and it is through her that he presents his point of view.

A scene with obvious innuendo happens when the magistrate arrives at the acropolis. He believes that women have been treated too well by men. He says that men “pander” to women’s vices and that they “positively teach them to be wicked”. The innuendo appears when he talks about what happens when men take women to the goldsmiths.

They explain that the “pin slipped out of the hole” and that it was ok for the goldsmith to go to their house to “fit a pin in her hole”. He also suggests that when they go to the shoemaker’s, there is a “strapping young lad with a great strapping organ”, again saying it was ok for them to go to the house to “loosen it up, (and) make the opening a little wider”. He is implying that trusting women and other men to be together is impossible, and that in doing so it’s no surprise that this strike and the taking over of the acropolis have happened.

A scene where Lysistrata the character is funny as well as the play is when some of the women are trying to escape the Acropolis in order to find their husbands, some of them with poor excuses. One woman is apparently worried about “moths…eating (the fleeces)”. There is innuendo when the woman says that she will “only spread them on he bed”, to which Lysistrata replies “You’re not spreading anything on any bed.” The second woman says she has “forgotten to peel the bark” of her “superfine flax”.

There is also innuendo, the second woman wants to “strip (the flax) bare”, to which Lysistrata responds “I’m not having any stripping bare”. A third woman pretends to be giving birth. There is humour when Lysistrata points out what is under her clothes is hard, she says it “must be a boy”. The same woman also claims to have seen the “guardian serpent”, something Herodotus believed did not exist, and something no one had ever claimed to have seen, proving this to be a very bad excuse.

One of the funniest scenes in the play is when Cinesias comes to the Acropolis to try to persuade Myrrhine to sleep with him. Myrrhine agrees with Lysistrata to lead him on but stall and then run away back in. Cinesias gets more and more frustrated as she finds reason after reason to stall what Cinesias wants.

Cinesias, in response to Myrrhine asking him if he was asking her to break her oath says “on (his) own head be it.” Lysistrata is funny just before this scene when she says to Myrrhine to “slow-roast him – tantalize him – lead him on – say no, say yes.” Here Lysistrata is the brains behind the comedy of the scene, it’s her idea. When she speaks to Cinesias before Myrrhine goes to him, she speaks “effusively” to further his desperation. This creates visual humour as he breathes “more rapidly” convincing himself he will finally get what he wants.

The results of the strike appear obvious when the Spartan herald arrives. There Is both visual and sexual humour here. Cinesias asks if he is a “walking phallus”, why he has a “spear hidden in (his) clothes” and if he got a “swollen groin” on the way there.

The visual humour comes from the Spartan trying to hide his erect phallus and when he accidentally reveals it trying to respond to what Cinesias says. Cinesias then calls him a “club member”. The Spartan however still tries to defend himself, calling it a “Spartan walking stick.” There is innuendo when the Spartan explains to Cinesias that in Laconia “it’s a total cock up” and that all of their allies have “risen, and…standing absolutely firm.”

Following this, the Athenian and Spartan delegates meet to discuss peace. There is a lot of visual humour. The Leader comments on how it looks like they have a “pig-cage under there”. This time the Spartan’s do not try t hide their situation like the herald did with Cinesias. They just reveal “their erect phalli”. The leader then says that the oncoming Athenian delegates are “holding their cloaks clear of their stomachs” They soon reveal that they are in the “same condition as the Spartans”.

One of the final scenes of the play is the peace talks between the Athenians and Spartans. Lysistrata is acting as a sort of referee between the two groups. They are using the body of ‘reconciliation’, “a beautiful, naked young woman”, as a map of sorts. This allows for a great deal of innuendo. Lysistrata tries to get the men to act more sensibly but as they are suffering from “erectile hyper-function” they are distracted by the features of reconciliation, making reference to reconciliation’s “incredible bum” and “prettier pussy”. The Spartans say they would like Pylos, describing it as a round hill, and pointing to “reconciliation’s bottom”.

They say they have been “probing aroond it for years”. The reference to the Spartan’s “probing” around something represented using reconciliation’s bottom is referring to the Spartans’ perceived sexual tastes. The Athenians then demand the “prickly bushes and Malian Gulf” as well as the “long legs – (he) mean(s) walls of Megara”. The Athenians are asking for a place called Echinus. Echinos is the Greek word for pubic hair. Therefore the Malian “Gulf” is self explanatory in the passage as it is being described as being behind the “prickly bushes”.

Even Lysistrata is caught out by their references. She says, trying to make sure that the two sides do not argue, not to “quarrel over a pair of legs – I mean walls.” She is trying to be serious. The fact that she is caught out like that makes her funny – even if she doesn’t intend to be. After this, both the Athenian and the Spartan think their job is done and say what they intend to next, the Athenian saying he is ready to “get down to some husbandry”, the Spartan saying that he wants to “get stuck in the muck.” These are references to agricultural practices but also are sexual connotations.

What the Spartan says is another reference to the perceived sexual preferences of the Spartans. They make it completely clear what they want but Lysistrata adds to their frustrations, reminding them they must make peace. There is visual humour as both parties grow increasingly frustrated. Lysistrata is being completely serious, but the results of what she says can be funny.

Overall I think Lysistrata is funnier as a play than as a character. Most of the humour is brought on by the desperation and anger of the men. Lysistrata does have a sense of humour. We can see this when Cinesias arrives at the Acropolis. It is her idea to get Myrrhine to tempt him and to make him believe that he is about to relieve his frustrations.

The result of her idea gives us one of the funniest scenes of the play. Lysistrata has a role as Aristophanes’ voice in the play, to get across the serious points and his views about the war and the rules regarding Athenian citizenship. Therefore, by setting her up a serious character from the start she will be taken more seriously than other characters.

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