Essay: Women in Ancient Greece

Men and women were not equal in Ancient Greece. Women were viewed as second class citizens by the society and had limited freedom and rights than male citizens. The role of Greek women could be seen through the play Antigone. Antigone was a confident and courageous woman who believed that Polyneices, Antigone’s brother, should have a proper burial. Ismene, Antigone’s sister, was against Polyneices’ burial. She begged Antigone to follow the laws of Thebes. Ismene did not want another tragic event in their family. Kreon, a stubborn and strict king of Thebes, thought women should remain in their places. In Sophocles’ tragic play Antigone, Kreon, Antigone, and Ismene have different perspectives about a woman’s place in society.

Kreon took pride in his valiant and intransigent views toward women. He never had much respect for women, especially Antigone. Even though Antigone was his niece, she was nothing to Kreon because she was a woman. Kreon does not let anyone including his niece get away with anything that goes against the rule of law and the authority of the state. When Antigone was brought to Kreon and found guilty of performing burial rituals for Polyneices, she was going against Kreon. Antigone astonished Kreon with her defiance and arrogance. These characteristics were seen earlier in the play in a man with power, such as Kreon. Antigone acknowledged that she broke the law of Thebes, but she would not follow these laws because she would not break the rules of the gods. Kreon said to Antigone, ‘If you must love somebody go down there and love the dead. I’m alive though, and no woman will rule me’ (pg. 42, lines 644-646). Kreon wished to keep women in their places. He also does not want them to make their own decisions. Kreon told Antigone that he had power over people, so they should not go against the rule of law and the authority of the state. He admired being a king due to its powers, but it made him angry when Antigone questioned his reasons. Kreon was disrespectful towards women throughout the play.
Antigone was always satisfied and confident with her decisions and beliefs. She explained to Ismene how she was going to give a proper burial at the beginning of the play. Ismene disagreed and refused to take part in her sister’s plan because she said that they were women and should not get involved in men’s business. Antigone said to her sister, Ismene, ‘ I will bury him myself. If I die for doing that, good: I will stay with him, my brother; and my crime will be devotion’ (pg. 23, lines 87-90). Antigone does not care about being a woman. She wanted to give a proper burial for Polyneices because Antigone knew that this was the right. When Kreon found out that Antigone buried her brother, Antigone was found guilty and was taken to Kreon. Antigone did not deny the charges of burying Polyneices against the law. Kreon said that she should be punished for these actions of hers. Even though Antigone was on the verge of death, she stood confidently for what she believed in despite of her gender.

Because Ismene does not like risking her own life, she was different from her sister, Antigone. She asked Antigone to follow the laws of Thebes by not burying Polyneices, but she refused to listen to Ismene. Ismene said to her sister, Antigone, ‘No, we should be sensible: we are women, born unfit to battle men; and we are subjects, while Kreon is king. No, we must obey, even in this, even if something could hurt more’ (pg. 23, lines 73-77). Ismene was told that women had less power than men and used this reason to change Antigone’s decision. Because of the fact that women were weaker than men, Ismene wanted Antigone to obey Kreon and the laws of Thebes. When Ismene heard that Antigone was being sentenced to death, she told Antigone that she would die with her because Ismene wanted to share the blame and help Antigone. Even though Ismene never planned to die with her sister, her moral sense told her that it was the right act. Ismene believed women were weak and should allow men to make the majority of the decisions.

Kreon, Antigone, and Ismene were all characters that have contrasting views about a woman’s place in society. Women were not as powerful as men throughout Sophocles’ play Antigone. Antigone and Ismene were considered weak and unimportant to the society because they were women. Despite the fact that Antigone died, she died for what she believed was right, which was having a proper burial for Polyneices. Kreon realized his crime at the end of Antigone when his family committed suicide. After reading the play, Sophocles wanted the readers to learn from Kreon’s mistakes of treating woman unfairly.

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