Historical background

Some events that are significant for our understanding of the play:

  • 424 BC: The Knights won first prize at the Lenaia. Its protagonist, a sausage-seller named Agoracritus, emerges at the end of the play as the improbable saviour of Athens (Lysistrata is its saviour thirteen years later).
  • 421 BC: Peace was produced. Its protagonist, Trygaeus, emerges as the improbable champion of universal peace (Lysistrata's role 10 years later). The Peace of Nicias was formalised this same year, ending the first half of the Peloponnesian War (referred to in Lysistrata as "The Former War").[5]
  • 413 BC: The Athenians and their allies suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Sicilian Expedition, a turning-point in the long-running Peloponnesian War.
  • 411 BC: Both Thesmophoriazusae and Lysistrata were produced; an oligarchic revolution (one of the consequences of the Sicilian disaster) proved briefly successful.

Old Comedy was a highly topical genre and the playwright expected his audience to be familiar with local identities and issues. The following list of identities mentioned in the play gives some indication of the difficulty faced by any producer trying to stage Lysistrata for modern audiences.

  • Korybantes: Devotees of the Asiatic goddess Cybele—Lysistrata says that Athenian men resemble them when they do their shopping in full armour, a habit she and the other women deplore.[6]
  • Hermokopidae: Vandals who mutilated the herms in Athens at the onset of the Sicilian Expedition, they are mentioned in the play as a reason why the peace delegates should not remove their cloaks, in case they too are vandalized.[7]
  • Hippias: An Athenian tyrant, he receives two mentions in the play, as a sample of the kind of tyranny that the Old Men can "smell" in the revolt by the women[8] and secondly in connection with a good service that the Spartans once rendered Athens (they removed him from power by force)[9]
  • Aristogeiton: A famous tyrannicide, he is mentioned briefly here with approval by the Old Men.[10]
  • Cimon: An Athenian commander, mentioned here by Lysistrata in connection with the Spartan king Pericleides who had once requested and obtained Athenian help in putting down a revolt by helots.[11]
  • Myronides: An Athenian general in the 450s, he is mentioned by the Old Men as a good example of a hairy guy, together with Phormio, the Athenian admiral who swept the Spartans from the sea between 430 BC and 428 BC.[12]
  • Peisander: An Athenian aristocrat and oligarch, he is mentioned here by Lysistrata as typical of a corrupt politician exploiting the war for personal gain.[13] He was previously mentioned in Peace[14] and The Birds[15]
  • Demostratus: An Athenian who proposed and carried the motion in support of the Sicilian Expedition, he is mentioned briefly by the magistrate.[16]
  • Cleisthenes: A notoriously effete homosexual and the butt of many jokes in Old Comedy, he receives two mentions here, firstly as a suspected mediator between the Spartans and the Athenian women[17] and secondly as someone that sex-starved Athenian men are beginning to consider a viable proposition.[18]
  • Theogenes: A nouveau riche politician, he is mentioned here[19] as the husband of a woman who is expected to attend the meeting called by Lysistrata. He is lampooned earlier in The Wasps,[20] Peace[21] and The Birds.[22]
  • Lycon: A minor politician who afterwards figured significantly in the trial of Socrates,[23] he is mentioned here merely as the husband of a woman that the Old Men have a particular dislike for[24] (he is mentioned also in The Wasps).[25]
  • Cleomenes I: A Spartan king, who is mentioned by the Old Men in connection with the heroism of ordinary Athenians in resisting Spartan interference in their politics.[26]
  • Leonidas: The famous Spartan king who led a Greek force against the Persians at Thermopylae, he is mentioned by the Spartan envoys in association with the Athenian victory against the Persian fleet at the Battle of Artemisium.[27]
  • Artemisia: A female ruler of Ionia, famous for her participation in the naval Battle of Salamis, she is mentioned by the Old Men with awe[28] as a kind of Amazon.
  • Homer: The epic poet is quoted in a circuitous manner when Lysistrata quotes her husband[29] who quotes from a speech by Hector in the Iliad as he farewells his wife before going to battle: "War will be men's business."[30]
  • Aeschylus: The tragic poet is mentioned briefly[31] as the source of a ferocious oath that Lysistrata proposes to her comrades, in which a shield is to be filled with blood; the oath is found in Seven Against Thebes.[32]
  • Euripides: The dramatic poet receives two brief mentions here, in each case by the Old Men with approval as a misogynist.[33]
  • Pherecrates: A contemporary comic poet, he is quoted by Lysistrata as the author of the saying: "to skin a flayed dog."[34]
  • Bupalus: A sculptor who is known to have made a caricature of the satirist Hipponax[35] he is mentioned here briefly by the Old Men in reference to their own desire to assault rebellious women.[36]
  • Micon: An artist, he is mentioned briefly by the Old Men in reference to Amazons[37] (because he depicted a battle between Theseus and Amazons on the Painted Stoa).
  • Timon: The legendary misanthrope, he is mentioned here with approval by the Old Women in response to the Old Men's favourable mention of Melanion: A legendary misogynist[38]
  • Orsilochus and Pellene: An Athenian pimp and a prostitute,[39] mentioned briefly to illustrate sexual desire.[40]

Pellene was also the name of a Peloponnesian town resisting Spartan pressure to contribute to naval operations against Athens at this time. It was mentioned earlier in the Birds.[41]

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