translated by Patric Dickinson
Aristophanes' Lysistrata is a classic Greek comedy about an extraordinary attempt by an Athenian woman, Lysistrata, to bring an end to the war that is afflicting Greece by persuading the women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk in order to force them to negotiate peace. It was originally performed in Athens in 411 BC during the Peloponnesian War, which by then had been raging for an entire generation.
The play's action takes place in the besieged city of Athens, some twenty years into the Peloponnesian War (a civil war fought between Athens and her former ally Sparta). Lysistrata ('disbander of armies') forms a plan to end the fighting. She calls together all the women in Greece, and tells them her plan: since the war is getting nowhere under men's control, and Greece is being torn to pieces, the only solution is for women to take over public affairs and manage them as successfully as they run their homes. Not only will they seize the Acropolis (so gaining control of the Athenian armoury and war-treasury), they will also withhold sex and thus persuade their men to make peace. As the men on both sides of the conflict become increasingly desperate for sex, they finally turn to Lysistrata and sue for peace.
This translation by Patric Dickinson was first published in 1957. Following Dickinson's death, it was lightly revised by Kenneth McLeish before being republished in 1996 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series. The dialogue is vividly colloquial without being constrained to a particular time-period. Lysistrata speaks with an earthy immediacy ('I told them all to be here; I said it was most important, / And they've none of them come'), while, according to an author's note, the Spartans speak with a Lancashire accent.
In his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McLeish writes: 'At one level, Lysistrata is a farce about frustration. But its underlying ideas – that the impotence of war can be symbolised by sexual frustration, that resolution is possible and that women may be better able than men to bring this about – must have resonated with the original spectators in a way which brilliantly challenged their (and, later, our) ideas of what 'farce' ought to be.'