Essay on Sophocles' Antigone
Length: 1279 words (3.7 double-spaced pages)
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In ancient Greece, men who died in war fulfilled the civic ideal to the utmost. The women, destined to live out a degrading life, died in bed. Certainly, not all men died in battle, but every epitaph shows in one way or another, the city would always remember the men who died in war. Additionally, not all Athenian women died in bed; nonetheless, it was left to her family to preserve the memory of her not the city. No matter how perfect a woman was she would never receive the same status or level of social expectations from the city that a man received. No accomplishments were allowed beyond living a life of motherhood and submissiveness to a man, namely her husband. In fact, in early Greece, women were typically viewed as subservient to men, submissive in their actions, and of a status only slightly above slaves; however, Antigone was not your typical Greek woman.
Many ancient Greek Philosophers have written and expressed their views on women’s’ status in ancient Greece. One author, Sophocles, wrote plays about how you cannot escape fate, because the Gods give fate and men cannot escape what the Gods decide. Sophocles shows his case in point, that human laws can destroy a city, using Antigone as a noticeable illustration to show his points. Pericles according to the author Thucydides has hardly anything to say about women, but when he does, it is in a demeaning statement. Socrates never says anything in reference to women, but more to society in a whole. Finally, Sappho’s writings have been threatened to be destroyed because of her indifferent views towards women and how she portrayed them.
In the play Antigone, Sophocles stretches the role of a woman. There is a battle between what is right and laws of Gods or laws of man. Sophocles places Antigone in this fight against her Uncle Creon. Antigone stands up for ancient law and Creon stands up for man’s law. Creon voices his opinion on how he feels about women in ancient Greece. Creon states “We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us. Better to fall from power, if fall we must, at the hands of a man – never be rated inferior to a woman, never.” (Pg. 77 – line 755-762)
Antigone, with her sharp tongue, challenges Creon with what she feels is right “It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least, who made this proclamation – not to me.
Nor did that justice, dwelling with the gods beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men.” (Pg. 72 line 500 – 502) Sophocles illustrates not only a woman fighting for her family’s honor, but a woman using the law of the gods to make a point. After many conversations, Creon makes a statement in line 591 saying: “Go down below and love, if you love you must – love the dead! While I am alive no woman is going to lord it over me.” In this passage, clearly Creon states that no woman will ever change his law while he is alive.
In Pericles Funeral Oration written by Thucydides, he writes of a funeral dedication in honor of the men who lost their lives fighting in the Peloponnesian War. Here, the speech is honoring the men in saying that if not for them, where would Athenian society be. “Such is the Athens for which these men, in the assertion of their resolve not to lose her, nobly fought and died.….” (Pg. 11) Near the very end of his speech, he says a few sentences to express his stand to the widows:
On the other hand, if I must say anything on the subject of female excellence to those now in widowhood, it will be all comprised in this brief exhortation. Great will be your glory in not falling short of your natural character: and greatest will be hers who is least talked of among the men whether for good or for bad.” (Pg. 13)
Again, he speaks of how the women should just disappear in society not to be heard.
Oedipus the King illustrates how a Queen Jocasta, who was Antigone’s mother, tried to trick or evade fate by having Oedipus killed because of what the prophet told her. This plan was thwarted because Oedipus was kept alive and fulfilled the prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother. The fact that Jocasta tries to do what is best for the city shows that she was probably more outspoken than most women back then. As Antigone was her daughter, this highly aggressive behavior was more than likely passed on from Jocasta to Antigone. Sophocles has somewhat touched upon this issue in a way, which intrigues the mind with the possibilities. The play Oedipus the King sets up the next play, Antigone, with a valid reason for her out spoken manner.
In The Republic, Socrates has many conversations where he voices his opinion of people in general as a whole and really does not specify or elaborate on women as a whole. Socrates seems more intrigued with understanding the human thought process and evaluating how humans draw the conclusions, they come too. Socrates seems to conclude that most people are told what to think and how to think and he proves that most people conform to think what they have been taught to think, therefore most not really having a thought process of their own.
Sappho was a female who wrote poems indicating early women in Greece were more than mere objects to be viewed from afar. Sappho is sarcastic in her poems, as illustrated in A Wedding Toast; “We drink your health, Lucky bridegroom! Now the wedding you asked for is over” “Aphrodite has surely outdone herself in doing honor to you!” Sappho was outspoken about how women were treated. She was seemingly bitter towards the way women were viewed and treated in ancient Greece. In the poem, Prayer to My Lady of Pahos, she writes:
“For let her run, she will soon run after; if she won’t accept gifts, she will one day give them: if she won’t love you she soon will love although unwillingly
Sappho’s, work was threatened to be destroyed, because she didn’t fit the stereotype. She spoke outwardly of her bitterness toward the way women were viewed and treated. She felt that woman were treated as objects rather than as human beings with feelings and thought. Sappho’s felt woman should have had more say in their own destiny’s and should have been allowed to voice their opinion as freely as men.
Antigone speaks like a true warrior and a man, for she does what is brave not cowardly. She stands behind what she believes and is willing to carry out her convictions without a second thought or hesitation. Antigone would rather die at the hands of the city laws than defy the laws of the God. It has been stressed and proven repeatedly that the women of Greek society should be submissive, obedient, and seen, but not heard. Then we have Antigone, who is an extraordinary character created by Sophocles. Antigone acts for and in the perspective of the prevailing conventions of society and politics, as a man breaking the “mold” so to speak. Antigone goes against what is to be believed the typical Greek woman; she exhibits certain masculine traits. Her presence is felt with such a force in this literary work. Invoking mixed feelings in those who read it. Is Antigone a fool or a heroine? She believes the Gods will hold her in great honor, and this means more to her than any law of the city.