The most important difference between Antigone and Lysistrata is the roles these Athenian women play. While the audience sees Antigone as a rebellious character, Lysistrata is seen as a heroine for stopping the war. This difference is important because of the ways each protagonist goes about displaying their loyalty to the gods and their people. Lysistrata’s humor, determination of sexual withholding and blatantly easy triumph leaves the audience feeling empathetic to the female condition and happy for her success. Antigone’s tragic death by her own hand as a means of rebellion leaves them feeling sympathetic, sad and stunned.
Lysistrata shows the audience that sex can be used to further a political agenda — in her case, stopping the war and thus becoming the hero. However, Lysistrata knows that the women of Athens becoming less sexually appealing to their husbands is not the way to get them to listen and drop their swords. It is the exact opposite. She encourages the women to make themselves as desirable as possible, to flirt and to tease, to make it impossible for their husbands to resist. Only then would the women refuse to sleep with them. This exchange between Calonice and Lysistrata in the beginning of the play demonstrates the above point. Calonice: ‘Well, what if we did abstain…would peace be likelier to come on that account?” Lysistrata: ‘Absolutely, by the Two Goddesses. If we sat around at home all made up…wearing only our…underwear, with our pubes all plucked in a neat triangle, and our husbands got hard and hankered to ball us, but we didn’t go near them and kept away, they’d sue for peace, and pretty quick, you can count on that!” . This also shows Lysistrata is intelligent, knowing her “sex strike” and teasing would cause the men to bend at her every will.
Antigone is not a hero, she does not stop a war like Lysistrata. Instead, she fights for her godly right to give her bother a proper burial. She is stubborn, defiant, a little selfish, and as such is seen as rebellious. This could be because she is a woman, not following a man’s – especially one in a role of power – orders. This alone is unthinkable for a woman of that time, but the audience quickly realizes Antigone is not a stereotypically docile woman. It could also be that she is so passionate she would rather die than not give her brother a proper burial. For Antigone, this is not a big sacrifice. She acts for the gods, as her loyalty lies with them. Her lack of subordination to anything other than divine authority and loyalty to her family shows her certainty in her faith, which is portrayed through rebellious actions. However, these actions are only rebellious in the eyes of the government and the people. Antigone mocks Creon’s death threat and states proudly, “I will suffer nothing as great as death without glory!”. Her willingness to become a martyr shows her dedication to her cause. All she wants is to give her brother the burial he deserves. Is this really rebellious? Does it deserve a death sentence?
Lysistrata makes it clear from the beginning that she is a serious leader with every determination to end this everlasting war. However, sometimes it can be difficult to take her character seriously with the myriad of sexual jokes incorporated into nearly every conversation or encounter. It is also important to remember that the era in which it was performed, only men could act out characters. Lysistrata’s character is played by a man, in front of an audience made up entirely of men. A conversation between “two women” such as, Calonice: ‘Well, Lysistrata dear, what exactly is this business you’re calling us women together for? What’s the deal? Is it a big one?’ Lysistrata: ‘It’s big.’ Calonice: ‘Not juicy as well?’ Lysistrata: ‘Oh yes, it’s big and juicy.’Calonice: ‘Then how come we’re not all here?’Lysistrata: ‘That’s not what I meant! If it were, we’d all have shown up quickly enough. No, it’s something I’ve been thinking hard about, tossing it around night after sleepless night.’
Calonice: ‘After all that tossing it must be limp by now.’ would have most likely been extremely humorous for the audience. Double meanings such as these are evident throughout the play.
However, just because some lines are quite sexual, they do not take away from the determination and seriousness of Lysistrata’s cause.
When Antigone’s character is first introduced, it is not clear what type of person she is to become, but she never wavers in her convictions. She is shown as the opposite of her sister, Ismene, who conforms quickly to Creon’s rule after he comes into power as King of Thebes. Ismene also seems less emotional than Antigone when it comes to burying Polynices, trying to appeal to her with logic “…what a death we’ll die, worst of all if we violate the laws…” but Antigone gets angry. She gets so upset, she threatens to haunt Ismene in death. Antigone’s illogical, emotional state, leads her to make irrational and ultimately fatal decisions, concreting the portrayal of a rebellious character.
Lysistrata uses her sexuality in a way that is highly efficient and comical. Using sex as a weapon to end a war is something that gives the women in the play immense power, leading the men to dropping their swords as soon as they got horny. The audience reacted favorably to Lysistrata’s success because of the way she made sex a negotiating tactic. She is similar to what a modern liberal thinking woman is like today; strong, creative, empowered, open about sexuality, and determined. Because of these parallels, Lysistrata’s heroine success leaves the audience happy and satisfied. On the other hand, Antigone’s attitude and passionate spirit that drove her actions did not lead to her becoming a hero, no matter how tragic the end. It just left her alone, and used as an example of a rebel by Creon. Antigone’s death ended up being her choice, due to her own self righteousness and isolation in her emotions, leaving the modern audience feeling frustrated, sad, and sympathetic to her cause, even if the people of Athens in the audience at the time did not feel the same.
Overall, both characters developed into strong, independent women standing up for their beliefs. Both women demonstrate the importance of staying grounded in your convictions, and relying on yourself to do the right thing, and most importantly, leading by example. Antigone chose the gods and divine rule, and Lysistrata chose her people.