Antigone as an Epitome of Female Heroism in Ancient Greeks
Antigone as an Epitome of Female Heroism in Ancient Greeks
It is believed among ancient Greeks that women are seemly to remain at home and not out of the confines of their houses and men should devote themselves to the outdoor pursuits. Otherwise, the opposite of this convention will be considered disgraceful. This illustrates that it is a commonplace in ancient Athens and in many part of the ancient Greece that female citizens are excluded from participation in public affairs. However, there is also a commonplace exception to this, that is, women have a full participation in the religious practices in all levels during the time such as participating in religious rituals.
As a matter of fact, the female has the same status as that of men in the religious arena. For instance, the role of priestess was the only public office open to women because there is a belief that women have close intimate connections to divine women. However, despite this, women are still debarred entirely from political and public debate (Blundell et al. , 1998). According to Friedrich Jacobs in his essay entitled The History of the Female Sex, women’s position in Greece were regarded as demeaned with characteristics that are associated and similar to that of the barbarians.
It is also interpreted and believed that housewives are little esteemed and loved except that of the hetaeras. This group of females enjoys a high status in the society because of their opportunity to education (Katz,1995). However, for the most part, ordinary women that are secluded and uneducated were regarded in contempt. They are considered as not free and not equal to their male counterparts. Jacobs argues that this is because of the restrictions to home and domestic life was a custom among the Greeks.
This is attested in Thucydides, which says that we have limited evidence on women’s education primarily because they are silenced. It is believed that young girls’ education was for the most part entrusted to their mothers. This education would also be restricted to instructions in the domestic arts and womanly wisdom. Furthermore, this so called education will then be continued by the husband. In this sense, Jacobs insists that the ancient Greeks woman’s intelligence and moral sensibility is for the most part developed to be the object of the husband’s contempt.
For instance, in the poems of Homer, it is revealed that he intended it that women were regarded as little and secluded (Katz, 1995). Moreover, accordingly there have been several positions Greek women have in the eyes of men. Majority of the scholars think that women is seen by men as a species of slavery. The women were regarded as lower order of beings. When compared to men, they are neglected both in intellectual and emotional capacity. The woman as already reiterated is also incapable of pursuing a public endeavor.
They are also considered as prone to doing and influencing evil doings and thoughts reason why they should be kept in the house. The province of the wife is the management of the entire household, and the nurturing of children. The only roles that they have are to propagate the species by reproduction and gratifying the desires and sensual appetites of men. In other words, the only value of women during that time was equal to that of a faithful slave (Katz, 1995). Likewise, in literature and classical Greek theatre, the scenery consists of a building with entrances and exits.
The setting of the play is important in making a distinction as to whether the characters were inside or outside the buildings. The stage was a paradigm of the household in the ancient Greeks. Women are supposed to stay inside the building. However, the whole political and city life happened outside. Thus, in the stage alone, the status of women in ancient Greeks is pretty much revealed. Tragic playwrights dramatized that there are two important principles in drama during the classical age. First, women should remain inside the house and should not speak in public.
For instance, Aeschylus had authorized the King of Thebes to command that the affairs outside the domestic sphere were the domain of men and women should be kept inside their houses (Tetlow, 2005). As a matter of fact, in the play Antigone by Aeschylus, there is a scene where Antigone herself was permitted by her mother to watch the battle between her brothers. When she was seen by her old teacher, she was chided because this is considered improper. The teacher contends that Antigone should not be seen by any male citizen because it would certainly result to a scandal.
Even when there are no men during that time, the teacher still implored Antigone to get out of the roof. Most especially when he saw groups of women approaching the palace, Antigone should already come down because by the women seeing her there, it would create gossips which are in a sense prohibited or suppressed among women. This is because gossip yields pleasure among them and pleasure is at the same time prohibited for them (Tetlow, 2005). Another example would be that of the stories by Euripides where Agamemnon lamented that a man should keep ones wife inside the house because that is where she is useful and would not get into trouble.
If a man cannot do this, he should not marry at all. Also, his daughter Elektra was highly criticized because she goes outside often to talk to men (Tetlow, 2005). These examples illustrate that in literature women are portrayed by ancient playwrights in the sense that it upholds the custom of seclusion among them. In Homer’s The Iliad, Andromache described herself as a perfect wife for Hector because she keeps her reputation and honor intact by avoiding any behavior that would make people criticize her. As a matter of fact, she does not go out of the house nor let anyone visit her in their house (Tetlow, 2005).
Antigone as Defiance to the Position of Women in Ancient Greece Antigone is a play written by Aeschylus as a part of the Thebes tragedy. According to German philosopher Hegel, it is “one of the most sublime, and in every respect most consummate, work or art human effort ever produced”. The protagonist of the play is Antigone himself, daughter of Oedipus Rex. When Thebes was ruled by Creon, the two sons of Oedipus namely Eteocles and Polynices fought with each other during a civil war. They were leading the two opposite sides because of each desire to rule Thebes. However, both of them died in the war.
Creon then decided that Eteocles should be buried in an honorable manner. On one hand, Polynices should not be buried and his body should be left in the battle field until it rots. It should be fed to scavengers. This is because he was considered a rebel to Thebes. Every dead person during that time who will not be given a decent burial is considered to be disgrace. Moreover, it is considered even by the gods as the most severe punishment existed (Sophocles, 2003). Antigone and Ismene are the sisters of both warriors. When Antigone found out that his other brother’s corpse are left in the battlefield, she decided to bury it herself.
She does not want her brother to suffer the disgrace of not being to be accepted by Hades. She implored her other sister Ismene to help her bury their brother but Ismene was afraid to esuffer the consequences. So Antigone buried Polynices by herself. When Creon knew about this, she commanded that the culprit should be brought to him and be punished. When Antigone was apprehended, she did not deny the accusations. Instead she admitted it. She was even willing to accept the punishment of death. However, her sister beseeched Creon that if he is going to kill her sister, she should die with her, too.
Antigone in her part pleaded to Creon that Ismene should be spared because she did not help her in the burial of their brother. Creon was unable to decide so he dismissed them for the mean time (Sophocles, 2003). Creon then decided to punish Antigone and spare Ismene. His verdict is to bury her in a cave alive. However, this did not happen without Antigone defending her rights and her actions. In this case, her loyalty to her brother and to her family was one of the most remarkable and noble rationale that she was able to produce. The Chorus expressed their sorrow for her execution but still this did not happen (Sophocles, 2003).
A prophet in the name of Tiresias prophesied that Antigone is supported by the gods. The execution would bring about bad fate to Creon and his family. In particular, he would lose one child. The Greeks and the gods will loathe him to the point that no offerings could ever heal their anger and scorn. The Chorus pleaded Creon to honor the prophesy of Tiresias. He was eventually convinced and decided to spare Antigone of her death (Sophocles, 2003). After this decision, a series of messenger came to inform him that his son Haemon killed himself. In addition to this, Antigone also committed suicide.
Furthermore, another messenger came along to inform him that Eurydice, his wife also killed himself. She is blaming and cursing him for the death of their son. Creon then started to blame himself for what has happened. He has become very unfortunate that he only had his servants to help him on things. He is still the King but he has lost everything that he values in his life. The lesson that the Chorus emphasized at the end of the play is that the gods will have to punish anyone that has done wrong against them and to their fellow individual.
However, despite this, punishment will bring nothing but wisdom to strengthen the character of those who are punished (Sophocles, 2003). The most notable part of the play would be the character of Antigone. She rebels against the law of the state by performing funeral rites for her dead brother. When King Creon declared that he will not be given a decent burial because he has been a traitor to the kingdom, she still pursued the burial. Furthermore, she was even more than willing to face the direst consequences imposed. Even when her sister Ismene implored that they cannot stand against men, she still persisted.
“Remember we are women,/ we’re not born to contend with men (Sophocles, 2003)”. Creon in his part declared that women should not triumph in any way: “We must defend the men who live by law,/ never let some woman triumph over us (Sophocles, 2003)”. In this manner, even though Antigone has practiced the traditional roles that are imposed in women during that time such mourning the dead and defending the interest of the family, she is asserting another facet of her personality. In this case, she is asserting herself in a masculine fashion that even threat Creon.
As a matter of fact, Creon felt that his own manhood was being attacked and he has already conceded with the strength and esteem of Antigone. Because of this she was condemned to death. Even when her execution has not happened, she lead a life of a living dead where she was locked up and walled in an underground vault (Blundell, 1995). Moreover, another reassertion of her power would be her suicide. When she was walled and led to live a life of a prisoner, she did not in any way showed weakness to anyone. Aside from facing the consequences of her actions, she was consistently defending herself.
This is something that is deviant to what should a woman be and how should a woman act during that period. As a matter of fact, she was successful in defending herself that made Creon difficult to decide on what to do with her. When she was already in control of Creon and the law, she did not let them take her life. She stood up and let them know that she is willing to spare her life for the sake of her loyalty to the brother she loved. She was actually the one who killed herself. This suggests that even when she is under the custody of the law and under the control of Creon, they were not successful in seizing her life away from her.
As a matter of fact, aside from the imprisonment, there is no other instance where Creon took control of Antigone. Her suicide is the final bold assertion of her masculinity and her defiance over the norm that women should not in any way stand up against men in the society. This is also a contradiction on the perceived notion that heroism is the domain of men. It is noticed that almost all of the Greek heroes are men such as Achilles, Odysseus, Hercules, Agamemnon, and Virgil among others. However, Antigone’s heroism breaks this stereotype.
She proved that like just anybody else, a female can actually be a hero and serve a purpose other than reproduction and nurturing. Her heroism is one of the most noble because it was driven by love for the family. Accordingly, her heroism is considered as the “noblest, and the most profoundly tender embodiment of a woman’s heroism which ancient literature can show (qtd. in Gibbons et al. , 2003)”. Moreover, she is also considered an exemplar hero who holds her integrity bravely and her spirit in isolation. She towers above all the characters in the play as she shares the harshness and intransigence of any Sophoclean character.
Because of her nobility and integrity, she brought a terrible suffering to herself but she did not run away from it. She faced all the consequences of her actions boldly and bravely (Gibbons et al. , 2003). In the end, we see Antigone as a dutiful daughter and sister who died for her convictions. Scholars laud her because of her selflessness and grand emotional gesture. She surpassed all kinds of heroism because she do not only acted selflessly towards the sake of her family but also gave up her life for her convictions and her loyalty.
Conclusion Women in ancient Greeks are portrayed in roles that are not only demeaning but also impairing to their growth and the realization of their potentials. However, there is always an exception in every case. That would be Antigone. This woman has proven not only to the ancient Greeks but also to the rest of the world that women can be heroes in themselves. The key point to achieving this would be selfless conviction and will power to give up everything—including one’s life for the sake of love and loyalty.
References Blundell, S. and Williamson, M. (1998). The sacred and the feminine in ancient Greece. Oxford: Routledge. Blundell, S. (1995). Women in Ancient Greece. USA: Harvard UP. Gibbons, R. and Segal, C. (2003). Antigone. Oxford: Oxford UP. Kantz, (1995). “Ideology and the ‘status of women’”. Women in Antiquity: New Assessments. Oxford: Routledge. Sophocles. (2003). Antigone. Oxford: Oxford university Press. Tetlow, E. M. (2005). Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society: Ancient Greece. London: Continuum.
Subject: Ancient Greeks,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 8 October 2016
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