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Women in Greek: Literature and Society

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Women in Greek: Literature and Society


One of the most prevailing issues that have survived the test of time in the world is the struggle between men and women. The first stereotype that is harbored by almost all societies is that men are superior to women in almost all comparable aspects. Despite the current trends that have attempted to bring a balance between the two sexes, it remains difficult to eliminate the prejudices about female inferiority that have been embedded in humankind since many ages ago. The situation was worse in ancient times when women were only considered as bearers of children and housekeepers. No woman was expected to actively participate in serious societal matters like war, politics, or theater (Katz 73). In fact, plays in Ancient Greece were written specifically for male audiences.

        Notwithstanding the overwhelming popularity of the feminine inferiority, some playwrights and poets in Ancient Greece defied the norm and created literary works whether women were portrayed as strong protagonists. Some outstanding examples were Aristophanes and Sophocles, who created Lysistrata and Antigone respectively. Both plays were written in times when women were considered as submissive subordinates in a society controlled by men. Ironically, both plays featured female protagonists whose subversion proved that women could still control the society. Ideally, the playwrights may have had various reasons for depicting these two women as powerful and unrelenting. Therefore, despite the fact that women in Greek culture had minimal rights and freedoms, Lysistrata and Antigone are unique Greek literature characters who portray strong traits that could only be associated with men at that time.

Antigone and Lysistrata

Both plays stray off the norm that saw women regarded as weaker and slavish. In Antigone, Sophocles reveals how the society had set strict rules concerning women. First, Ismene reminds her sister that “the law belongs to men,” (Rudall 13). She implies that they are expected just to be there to be seen; that they should never intervene in any societal issue regardless of its gravity; and that they should always submit to the men. It is the dictation of the society. However, Antigone knows deeper within herself that something must be done to change this perception. Antigone feels compelled to initiate change. She decides that she would bury Polyneices despite the absolute understanding of the prejudicial ramifications that might befall her. Evidently, Antigone has swerved from the norms in the Greek culture at that time which decreed women as meek and timid followers of the rules set by men.

        Aristophanes, too, uniquely defies the norm in Lysistrata. The role given to Lysistrata reflects many features that would only be expected to be portrayed by men during Ancient Greece. She assembles all women and unveils her strategy that would force the men to stop the war and go home to their wives. Her actions her overly masculine and at times she even regards herself as strong. Nonetheless, she faces serious challenges trying to convince the women to join her in the plan. All women in Greece are already convinced that they had no chance in trying to persuade the men to stop the war. After all, women had no weapons, nor did they have the strength to face them. In one of the initial conversations in the play, Calonice reveals the paucity of hope and intensity of abjection embedded in the women of Greece by asking Lysistrata what they could ever be able to do (Aristophanes 421).

Creations of Male Playwrights

The contrast between the strong women protagonists and the inferior women in the culture of Greece was elevated by the male playwrights and poets, probably to highlight several issues in the society. In Greek literature and mythology, the trend of constructing atypical female characters was common. For example, the Helen of Troy was a male construct meant for the depiction of the imaginations of men about women (Wilson 58). Men invented these unique female characters so that they could use them to deliver particular messages that would not have been done by men effectively. Wilson believes that the Greek literature’s treatment of female protagonists can teach the audience nothing about the real lives of women in that time (58).

For example, Antigone, in the real Greece culture, would not have taken it upon herself to bury Polyneices however much she claimed to love her. Also, nobody would dare assemble women to persuade them to deny their men sexual rights because it would be detrimental to the women. Lysistrata and Antigone are evidently creations of male playwrights whose imaginations were beyond the actualities in the Greek culture. They were also stage pieces intended for the evocation of feelings of fantasy among the audience in Greek theater. Ironically, women were not even allowed to watch these plays in Ancient Greece. It can be perceived as a mockery of the women since they would never know whether there was a possibility of bringing change to the societal perception regarding their weaknesses. Worse still, all actors were men. Men acting plays about dominant women, to be watched by men, can only be kenned as sheer ridicule to the reality.

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