‘No Peace, no piece’-- An alliance of women has taken control of the acropolis, demanding
that the men put an end to the war. They refuse to have sexual relations (or allow access
to the acropolis) until peace is agreed. Here the ‘Magistrate’ (one of the 10 probouloi who
now oversee Athenian affairs) has come to draw money from the treasury (to keep up the fleet).
He encounters the leader of the women’s resistance movement, led by Lysistrata.
Proboulos/Magistrate’s complaint: Women are drunken troublemakers,
typically using their religious gatherings for disruptive behavior
(e.g. Demostratus drowned out by ‘Woe for Adonis’)
Promiscuous creatures--but we men enable them, sending artisans to service them.
[excerpted from Lindsay's translation]
MAGISTRATE enters with attendant SCYTHIANS.
Have the luxurious rites of the women glittered
Their libertine show, their drumming tapped out crowds,
The Sabazian Mysteries summoned their mob,
Adonis been wept to death on the terraces,
As I could hear the last day in the Assembly?
For Demostratus—let bad luck befoul him—
Was roaring, “We must sail for Sicily,”
While a woman, throwing herself about in a dance
Lopsided with drink, was shrilling out “Adonis,
Woe for Adonis.” Then Demostratus shouted,
“We must levy hoplites at Zacynthus,”
And there the woman, up to the ears in wine,
Was screaming “Weep for Adonis” on the house-top,
The scoundrelly politician, that lunatic ox,
Bellowing bad advice through tipsy shrieks:
Such are the follies wantoning in them.
O if you knew their full effrontery!
All of the insults they've done, besides sousing us
With water from their pots to our public disgrace
For we stand here wringing our clothes like grown-up infants.
By Poseidon, justly done! For in part with us
The blame must lie for dissolute behaviour
And for the pampered appetites they learn.
Thus grows the seedling lust to blossoming:
We go into a shop and say, “Here, goldsmith,
You remember the necklace that you wrought my wife;
Well, the other night in fervour of a dance
Her clasp broke open. Now I'm off for Salamis;
If you've the leisure, would you go tonight
And stick a bolt-pin into her opened clasp.”
Another goes to a cobbler; a soldierly fellow,
Always standing up erect, and says to him,
“Cobbler, a sandal-strap of my wife's pinches her,
Hurts her little toe in a place where she's sensitive.
Come at noon and see if you can stretch out wider
This thing that troubles her, loosen its tightness.”
And so you view the result. Observe my case—
I, a magistrate, come here to draw
Money to buy oar-blades, and what happens?
The women slam the door full in my face.
But standing still's no use. Bring me a crowbar,
And I'll chastise this their impertinence.
What do you gape at, wretch, with dazzled eyes?
Peering for a tavern, I suppose.
Come, force the gates with crowbars, prise them apart!
I'll prise away myself too....
Stop this banging.
I'm coming of my own accord.... Why bars?
It is not bars we need but common sense.
Indeed, you slut! Where is the archer now?
Arrest this woman, tie her hands behind.
If he brushes me with a finger, by Artemis,
The public menial, he'll be sorry for it.
Are you afraid? Grab her about the middle.
Two of you then, lay hands on her and end it.
By Pandrosos I if your hand touches her
I'll spread you out and trample on your guts.
My guts! Where is the other archer gone?
Bind that minx there who talks so prettily.
By Phosphor, if your hand moves out her way
You'd better have a surgeon somewhere handy.
You too! Where is that archer? Take that woman.
I'll put a stop to these surprise-parties.
By the Tauric Artemis, one inch nearer
My fingers, and it's a bald man that'll be yelling.
Tut tut, what's here? Deserted by my archers....
But surely women never can defeat us;
Close up your ranks, my Scythians. Forward at them.
By the Goddesses, you'll find that here await you
Four companies of most pugnacious women
Armed cap-a-pie from the topmost louring curl
To the lowest angry dimple.
On, Scythians, bind them.
On, gallant allies of our high design,
Vendors of grain-eggs-pulse-and-vegetables,
Ye garlic-tavern-keepers of bakeries,
Strike, batter, knock, hit, slap, and scratch our foes,
Be finely imprudent, say what you think of them....
Enough! retire and do not rob the dead.
How basely did my archer-force come off.
Ah, ha, you thought it was a herd of slaves
You had to tackle, and you didn't guess
The thirst for glory ardent in our blood.
By Apollo, I know well the thirst that heats you—
Especially when a wine-skin's close.
You waste your breath, dear magistrate, I fear, in answering back.
What's the good of argument with such a rampageous pack?
Remember how they washed us down (these very clothes I wore)
With water that looked nasty and that smelt so even more.
What else to do, since you advanced too dangerously nigh.
If you should do the same again, I'll punch you in the eye.
Though I'm a stay-at-home and most a quiet life enjoy,
Polite to all and every (for I'm naturally coy),
Still if you wake a wasps' nest then of wasps you must beware.
How may this ferocity be tamed? It grows too great to bear.
Let us question them and find if they'll perchance declare
The reason why they strangely dare
To seize on Cranaos' citadel,
This eyrie inaccessible,
This shrine above the precipice,
Probe them and find what they mean with this idle talk; listen,
but watch they don't try to deceive.
You'd be neglecting your duty most certainly if now this mystery
unplumbed you leave.
Women there! Tell what I ask you, directly....
Come, without rambling, I wish you to state
What's your rebellious intention in barring up thus on our noses
our own temple-gate.
To take first the treasury out of your management, and so stop the war
through the absence of gold.
Is gold then the cause of the war?
Yes, gold caused it and miseries more, too many to be told.
'Twas for money, and money alone, that Pisander with all of the army of
Raised up revolutions. But, as for the future, it won't be worth while
to set up to be traitors.
Not an obol they'll get as their loot, not an obol! while we have the
treasure-chest in our command.
What then is that you propose?
Just this—merely to take the exchequer henceforth in hand.
Yes, why not? Of our capabilities you have had various clear evidences.
Firstly remember we have always administered soundly the budget of all
But this matter's different.
How is it different?
Why, it deals chiefly with war-time supplies.
But we abolish war straight by our policy.
What will you do if emergencies arise?
Face them our own way.
What you will?
Yes we will!
Then there's no help for it; we're all destoryed.
No, willy-nilly you must be safeguarded.
What madness is this?
Why, it seems you're annoyed.
It must be done, that's all.
Such awful oppression never,
O never in the past yet I bore.
You must be saved, sirrah—that's all there is to it.
If we don't want to be saved?
All the more.
Why do you women come prying and meddling in matters of state touching
war-time and peace?
That I will tell you.
O tell me or quickly I'll—
Hearken awhile and from threatening cease.
I cannot, I cannot; it's growing too insolent.
Come on; you've far more than we have to dread.
Stop from your croaking, old carrion-crow there....
Be calm then and I'll go ahead.
All the long years when the hopeless war dragged along we, unassuming, forgotten in quiet,
Endured without question, endured in our loneliness all your incessant child's antics and riot.
Our lips we kept tied, though aching with silence, though well all the while in our silence we knew
How wretchedly everything still was progressing by listening dumbly the day long to you.
For always at home you continued discussing the war and its politics loudly, and we
Sometimes would ask you, our hearts deep with sorrowing though we spoke lightly, though happy to see,
“What's to be inscribed on the side of the Treaty-stone
What, dear, was said in the Assembly today?”
“Mind your own business,” he'd answer me growlingly
“hold your tongue, woman, or else go away.”
And so I would hold it.
I'd not be silent for any man living on earth, no, not I!
Not for a staff?
Well, so I did nothing but sit in the house, feeling dreary, and sigh,
While ever arrived some fresh tale of decisions more foolish by far and presaging disaster.
Then I would say to him, “O my dear husband, why still do they rush on destruction the faster?”
At which he would look at me sideways, exclaiming, “Keep for your web and your shuttle your care,
Or for some hours hence your cheeks will be sore and hot; leave this alone, war is Man's sole affair!”
By Zeus, but a man of fine sense, he.
You dotard, because he at no time had lent
His intractible ears to absorb from our counsel one temperate word of advice, kindly meant?
But when at the last in the streets we heard shouted (everywhere ringing the ominous cry)
“Is there no one to help us, no saviour in Athens?” and, “No, there is no one,” come back in reply.
At once a convention of all wives through Hellas here for a serious purpose was held,
To determine how husbands might yet back to wisdom despite their reluctance in time be compelled.
Why then delay any longer? It's settled. For the future you'll take up our old occupation.
Now in turn you're to hold tongue, as we did, and listen while we show the way to recover the nation.
You talk to us! Why, you're mad. I'll not stand it.
Cease babbling, you fool; till I end, hold your tongue.
If I should take orders from one who wears veils, may my
neck straightaway be deservedly wrung.
O if that keeps pestering you,
I've a veil here for your hair,
I'll fit you out in everything
As is only fair.
Here's a spindle that will do.
I'll add a wool-basket too.
Girdled now sit humbly at home,
Munching beans, while you card wool and comb. For war from now on is the Women's affair.
Come then, down pitchers, all,
And on, courageous of heart,
In our comradely venture
Each taking her due part.
I could dance, dance, dance, and be fresher after,
I could dance away numberless suns,
To no weariness let my knees bend.
Earth I could brave with laughter,
Having such wonderful girls here to friend.
O the daring, the gracious, the beautiful ones!
Their courage unswerving and witty
Will rescue our city.
O sprung from the seed of most valiant-wombed grand-
mothers, scions of savage and dangerous nettles!
Prepare for the battle, all. Gird up your angers. Our way
the wind of sweet victory settles.
O tender Eros and Lady of Cyprus, some flush of beauty I
pray you devise
To flash on our bosoms and, O Aphrodite, rosily gleam on
our valorous thighs!
Joy will raise up its head through the legions warring and
all of the far-serried ranks of mad-love
Bristle the earth to the pillared horizon, pointing in vain to the heavens above.
I think that perhaps then they'll give us our title—
What do you mean? Please explain.
First, we'll not see you now flourishing arms about into the Marketing-place clang again.
No, by the Paphian (Aphrodite).
Still I can conjure them as past were the herbs stand or crockery's sold
Like Corybants jingling (poor sots) fully armoured, they noisily round on their promenade strolled.
And rightly; that's discipline, they—
But what's sillier than to go on an errand of buying a fish
Carrying along an immense. Gorgon-buckler instead the usual platter or dish?
A phylarch I lately saw, mounted on horse-back,
dressed for the part with long ringlets and all,
Stow in his helmet the omelet bought steaming from an old woman who kept a food-stall.
Nearby a soldier, a Thracian, was shaking wildly his spear like Tereus in the play,
To frighten a fig-girl while unseen the ruffian filched from her fruit-trays the ripest away.
How, may I ask, will your rule re-establish order and justice in lands so tormented?
Nothing is easier.
Out with it speedily—what is this plan that you boast you've invented?
If, when yarn we are winding, It chances to tangle, then, as perchance you may know, through the skein
This way and that still the spool we keep passing till it is finally clear all again:
So to untangle the War and its errors, ambassadors out on all sides we will send
This way and that, here, there and round about—soon you will find that the
War has an end.
So with these trivial tricks of the household, domestic analogies of
threads, skeins and spools,
You think that you'll solve such a bitter complexity, unwind such political
problems, you fools!
Well, first as we wash dirty wool so's to cleanse it, so with a pitiless zeal we will scrub
Through the whole city for all greasy fellows; burrs too, the parasites, off we will rub.
That verminous plague of insensate place-seekers soon between thumb and forefinger we'll crack.
All who inside Athens' walls have their dwelling into one great common basket we'll pack.
Disenfranchised or citizens, allies or aliens, pell-mell the lot of them in we will squeeze.
Till they discover humanity's meaning.... As for disjointed and far colonies,
Them you must never from this time imagine as scattered about just like lost hanks of wool.
Each portion we'll take and wind in to this centre, inward to Athens each loyalty pull,
Till from the vast heap where all's piled together at last can be woven a strong Cloak of State.
How terrible is it to stand here and watch them carding and winding at will with our fate,
Witless in war as they are.
What of us then, who ever in vain for our children must weep
Borne but to perish afar and in vain?
Not that, O let that one memory sleep!
Then while we should be companioned still merrily, happy as brides may, the livelong night,
Kissing youth by, we are forced to lie single.... But leave for a moment our pitiful plight,
It hurts even more to behold the poor maidens helpless wrinkling in staler virginity.
Does not a man age?
Not in the same way. Not as a woman grows withered, grows he.
He, when returned from the war, though grey-headed, yet
if he wishes can choose out a wife.
But she has no solace save peering for omens, wretched and lonely the rest of her life.
But the old man will often select—
O why not finish and die?
A bier is easy to buy,
A honey-cake I'll knead you with joy,
This garland will see you are decked.
I've a wreath for you too.
I also will fillet you.
What more is lacking? Step aboard the boat.
See, Charon shouts ahoy.
You're keeping him, he wants to shove afloat.
Outrageous insults! Thus my place to flout!
Now to my fellow-magistrates I'll go
And what you've perpetrated on me show.
Why are you blaming us for laying you out?
Assure yourself we'll not forget to make
The third day offering early for your sake.
LYSISTRATA returns within)