Antigone: Women In Ancient Greek Society

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For several centuries, many women have been fighting to have the same rights as men. Men made women believe that they were the second class citizens and were also made to believe that they should always obey a mans order. In fact, in ancient Greece, they believed that a woman’s sole purpose was to only run the household and have children that were preferably male. In the play Antigone by Sophocles, he writes about the distinctive behaviors between two sisters and their reality role in society as women. Sophocles illuminates the role of women in ancient greek society by showing Ismene and Antigone as contrasting characters and having Antigone rebel against orders.

Throughout many societies, women were made to think that they were inferior to that of men. In Ancient Greece, many women were treated more like slaves with orders and rules that left them with no choice over their lives. Sophocles shows us the different mentalities between the two sisters Ismene and Antigone when they are having an argument about the burial of their brother Polyneices after the king, Creon, ordered for Polyneices to not be buried. Ismene tells Antigone that women “were not born to contend men”, (75) which tells us that Ismene, like many women during that time, knew that men would be controlling of society for a very long period of time. Ismene even comes to say, “we’re underlings, ruled by stronger hands,” (76) illuminating that she was ultimately fearful of the men’s authority making her submissive to their rules. According to the eBook Imagining Men: Ideals of Masculinity in Ancient Greek Culture by Thomas Van Nortwick, “the Greeks believed that men (as opposed to women) were by nature the proper agents of human civilization within the larger order of the universe”, which is why Ismene’s fear towards men makes her feel unable to have control over her life decisions ultimately leading her to refuse to bury Polyneices because it would be against Creon’s orders.. Although Ismene refused to bury Polyneices, Antigone still urged her sister to “submit to this” (77), and by doing so Antigone would not be alone on the mission to bury her brother. Antigone was willing to break Creon’s order to give her brother a proper death due to religious purposes. During this argument and the majority of the play, Ismene shows us the reality role of a woman being too afraid to defy a man and Antigone willing to break the rules in order to show that women are strong and can also make decisions of their own when it involves religious purposes.

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Women played a huge role in ancient greek funerals. According to the eBook Citizen Bacchae : Women’s Ritual Practice in Ancient Greece by Barbara E. Goff, women were viewed “as religious and cultural agents, despite the ideals of seclusion within the home and exclusion from public arenas that we know restricted their lives”. This shows us that women had a a religious purpose for being the chosen ones to be in charge of planning funerals. Since women were the ones in charge, it was not hard for Antigone to plan her brothers funeral. She believed that her brother deserved a proper burial believed that the law of god is above all else. This law meant that that all men be mourned and honored by family and friends through means of a suitable burial. She believed that even though “[she] shall be a criminal, [she will be] a religious one” (84-85) and she also believed that Creon was only acting out of hatred towards Polyneices for being a traitor. After several attempts, Antigone was finally successful in burying Polyneices. When Creon found out, he was furious and wanted Antigone to be punished by death for disobeying his orders. Creon ordered for Antigone to be entombed alive, but Antigone knew she would face death either way and decided to take her own life by hanging herself within the tomb.

After effortlessly fighting to have Polyneices buried, Antigone successful but it cost her her life. The action taken upon her in the end shows us the reality of women in ancient greek society. Antigone’s main purpose was to give her brother a proper burial and even though it is for religious purposes and showing that women can also make their own decisions, she is punished by death. Many women were afraid to stand up to the men because of things like that. Ismene was too afraid to disobey Creon’s order because she knew they would be punished and when Antigone had the courage to overrule a man’s order for the first time, she dies. The harsh reality they faced made women continue believing that their sole purpose was to only be a housewife, unless they wanted to be punished.

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Antigone: Women In Ancient Greek Society. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
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