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Antigone Essay Research Paper When Ismene says

Antigone Essay, Research Paper

When Ismene says to Antigone, in Sophocles Antigone, Remember we are

women. We re not born to contend with men , she is reflecting the mainstream

view of women in early Greece, one that was shared by many and opposed by few.

Women were treated as possessions, and thought to be greatly inferior than their male

counterparts. Within such early Greek works as Pericles Funeral Oration, Oedipus the

King, Antigone, and The Last Days of Socrates: the Apology, this popular opinion is

displayed. Among those who would agree with Ismene s statement are Creon in

Antigone, Pericles in his Funeral Oration, and Socrates in The Last Days of Socrates: the

Apology. Those who would oppose it include both Antigone s father, Oedipus, and her

fianc , Haemon, and also Sappho, in her poetry. The majority of Greeks in those days,

though, would agree with Ismene s statement about women.

While Creon would strongly agree with Ismene s statement, Antigone obviously

differed in opinion, and did not let the comment stop her from completing her act of

devotion to her family. Antigone s response to her sister was,

I won t insist, no, even if you should have a change of heart, I d never

welcome you in the labor, not with me. So do as you like, whatever suits you

best-I will bury him myself. And even if I die in the act, that death will be a

glory. I will lie with the one I love and loved by him-an outrage sacred to the

gods! I have longer to please the dead then please the living here: in the

kingdom down below I ll lie forever. Do as you like, dishonor the laws the

gods hold in honor. (Marra, Zelnick, and Mattson, 64-65)

Even though she did not directly respond to Ismene s statement about women, Antigone

did make it clear that she would not let it hinder her attempt to bury her brother. She

would much rather disobey the man-made laws then those of the gods. In her opinion,

honoring the family was more important than keeping her helpless and obedient image in


Throughout Antigone, Creon makes his view of women as the inferior sex

exceedingly clear. Such comments as, …no woman is going to lord it over me (Ibid,

73), and, …a worthless woman in your house, a misery in your bed (Ibid., 76) prove

this. When he first found out that someone had dared to bury the body of Polynices, he

did not even consider the fact that a woman could have done it. His reply to the news is,

What man would dare- (Ibid, 68). After he finds out that Antigone was the so-called

traitor , and wrongly accuses her sister to be the same, he says, Stop wasting time.

Take them in. From now on they ll act like women. (Ibid, 75). Obviously his opinion of

how women should act is in a subservient, humble manner.

When he speaks to his son, Haemon, about his engagement to the Antigone,

Creon says, …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. (Ibid, 77).

Haemon is defensive about this and is met with such angry comments as, This boy, I do

believe, is fighting on her side, the woman s side. (Ibid, 78), and, Don t flatter me with

father-you woman s slave! These statements that Creon makes in Antigone prove that

he would fully agree with Ismene s comment.

Pericles and Socrates were just a mere representation of those in early Greece who

would agree with Ismene and Creon. In Pericles Funeral Oration, he does not say much

about women. Most of the speech is dedicated to men, particularly Athenian soldiers. In

fact when he does mention women, he says,

…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 bad. (Ibid,


This shows that he obviously did not think too highly of women since he did not even feel

it necessary to discuss them. When he talks about their natural character , he is referring

to the widely-held opinion that they are and should remain quiet, weak, and out of the

public sphere. He feels that the best place for them is where they are neither seen nor


Socrates, too, seems to share this view and speaks briefly about it in The Last

Days of Socrates: the Apology. When he is giving his speech to the jury at his trial, he

talks about men who will bring their families and cry in court when they are in his

position. He then goes on to relate them to women when he says, Any of our visitors

might be excused for thinking that the finest specimens of Athenian manhood, whom

their fellow-citizens choose in preference to themselves for archonships and other high

positions are no better than women. (Ibid, 136). By relating these men to women, he is

criticizing and belittling them in one of the worst possible ways. Socrates and Pericles,

by their words, are showing how they really felt about women and that they would truly

agree with Ismene s statement.

Oedipus, Haemon, and Sappho reflect a minority in early Greece, of those who

would have disagreed with Ismene. The men supported the women they loved and had

great respect for them. Sappho shows that she did not believe women should be

submissive in her poetry works, which give a rare account of women in those days. She

writes about their feelings, which was something that was not paid much attention to, or

cared about, by Greek society.

Oedipus showed this love and adoration to his wife, and unbeknownst to him, his

mother, Jocasta. He respected her opinion and did not treat her as a subordinate. He even

poked his eyes out, with the pins of her robe, when she killed herself after learning she

was his mother. He proves his high regard for her when he says to her, I respect you,

Jocasta, much more than these men here… (Ibid, 32), and also when he tells her, Who

means more to me than you? Tell me, whom would I turn toward as I go through this but

you? This shows that Oedipus has respect for women, and would have been proud of

his daughter Antigone s strength.

Haemon, Antigone s intended husband, shows that he has respect for women

when he stands up for Antigone in front of his father. Most men would not dare defy

their father, let alone the king, for a woman. When Creon talks about killing Antigone,

Haemon says, Then she will die…but her death will kill another. (Ibid, 78). He is

saying that if his future wife dies, so will he. This promise is not broken. After seeing

that Antigone had killed herself, he himself spat at his father and stabbed himself with a

sword. This shows that Haemon loved Antigone more than anything else, and could not

live without her.

In Sappho s poems, written in 7th and 6th Century B.C.E, women were portrayed

as more than just objects, which was unusual during that time (Ibid, 3). Sappho writes

about their feelings and their beauty, rather than focusing on their inferiority. In A

Wedding Toast , the groom is said to be lucky because he married such a beautiful

woman, and not because he now has someone to serve him. He is More Than a Hero

also portrays the man who marries one particular woman to be lucky because his wife is

so fair. Come to Us, Aphrodite , Prayer to My Lady of Paphos , and the Departed

Lover all are written about love, specifically a woman having love. This feeling, nor any

other feeling felt by women, was cared too much about in early Greece. Finally, in

Lament for a Maidenhead , Sappho describes the before and after views of a woman s

first sexual experience, which was most likely a rape. She describes how violated the

woman felt when she writes, Like a hyacinth in the mountains, trampled by shepherds

until only a purple stain remains on the ground (Ibid, 4). The occurrence of rape in that

society would not have been paid very much attention to. Sappho obviously shows, in

her poetry, that her view of women was drastically different than that of most people.

The comment made by Ismene displays the mainstream view of women in early

Greece-that they were not supposed to contend with men , but, rather, remain inferior to

them. Women were supposed to be subservient to men, and any female who challenged

this idea was looked down upon even more. Men controlled everything about them

including their money, children, and ultimately, their bodies. The ideal female was

obedient, quiet, helpless, law-abiding and most importantly, submissive. They would

never think of defying their husband or father, who ever took care of them or controlled

them at the time. Women were not even considered able to think for themselves. They

needed a man to do everything for them. It would not be an overstatement to say that

living in early Greece was difficult and demeaning for women.

Ismene does an excellent job of portraying the popular view of women in ancient

Greece. She does not want to go against those in power, men, even if it means, what

Antigone would call, dishonoring her family. She wants to remain law-abiding and

submissive to her uncle, Creon, and to the city of Thebes. There is only one point in the

story when Ismene criticizes Creon for his wanting to kill her sister, but even this is

eventually pushed aside, and Ismene does not go further in defending her sister. Ismene

reveals her desire to remain obedient when she tells her sister, …we re underlings, ruled

by much stronger hands, so we must submit in this, and things still worse. I, for one, I ll

beg the dead to forgive me-I m forced, I have no choice-I must obey the ones in who

stand in power. Even though she may be mourning the loss of her brother, she will not

defy the laws of the land, because those laws and the people that make them say that is

what a woman s place is.

Ismene s comment to her sister regarding a woman s role reflects the

mainstream opinion of women in early Greece. Ismene, herself, was, for the most part,

the perfect example of the typical Greek woman. This statement would have been agreed

upon by many during that time, including Creon in Antigone, Pericles in his Funeral

Oration and Socrates in The Last Days of Socrates: the Apology. Though very few would

oppose it, Oedipus in Oedipus the King, Haemon in Antigone, Sappho in her poems, and

obviously, Antigone seem to. They were a minority in a large group of people that did

not acknowledge women with much respect or regard, let alone as an equal to men.

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