The Role of Women in Sophocles ‘ Antigone

The debate on whether some jobs are preserved for men and others for women still rages as critics and adherents alike try to prove their points. Among them is Sophocles, the playwright, who technically pictures a variety of women’s roles. Antigone is one of his masterworks, which precisely manifests most of the Greek myths and culture. The themes brought across by Sophocles bear a close relation to the modern society.

This follows from the way he strategically employs women characters to bring out the themes while delivering his play. The play features two sisters, Antigone and Ismene, who work alongside each other. Their role in the play, and hence the role of women, stand out as the two act in conjunction with another woman character, Eurydice. According to the play, women are the inferior sex as expounded next.

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Sophocles takes the reader through ancient Greek, a society dominated by men. Like any other society, it distinguishes its people based on gender, where women stand as weak compared to men.

While the society treats men as brave and aggressive, women on the other hand stand in the ‘second hand’ category of people. Such is the picture in Sophocles’ play. Ismene, Antigone’s cute sister, concurs with the notion that women are a low-grade people. This comes out during her argument with Antigone, concerning the burial of their brother Polynices.

Referring to Antigone, she says, “We must remember we are women born, unapt to cope with men; and, being ruled
by mightier than ourselves, we have to hear these things and worse” (Sophocles 3). Her words picture women as substandard people. They are unable to perform some duties due to their belief that they are ordained for men. For instance, organizing burials is men’s task in most contemporary societies. Women ought to obey the authority more than their male counterparts do.

As cases of disobedience stand, men appear the most affected. Women on the other hand are too obedient to defy authority. It does not matter much to them whether the laws set are good to all or they interfere with other peoples’ rights. In the play, the king has passed a decree that deprives all the disobedient people of Thebes, a right for proper burials.

Polynices happens to die after having brought an illegal foreign army to Thebes. Though the law interferes with the Christian burial rites, of which Ismene is a partaker of the faith, she obeys the decree despite it being against her religious rights. She is the illustration of women who believe that it is their role to obey at all costs.

Ismene tells Antigone to think of the repercussions of defying Creon’s law. Nick, addressing the reaction of Ismene says, “Ismene can be viewed as being afraid and unease to agree to an action” (26). Ismene in this case plays the role of obedient women. However, exceptions exists as Antigone picture her womanhood.

Antigone depicts the role of strong women, who are capable of making informed decisions. She fits her self into the shoes of men. For instance, Fagles says, “Antigone opposes Creon’s law and buries her slain brother; because in her mind it was immoral not to” (Para. 3). She is an epitome of women who fight against mistreatment from men who view them mediocre. Antigone portrays the courageous role of women, who are ready to fight the law in their endeavour to stand for their rights.

In conclusion, the differing roles of women are still evident today. While some hold on the ancient notion that women are the weak sex, like Ismene, others like Antigone, believe that women are equally powerful as men are, claiming that women can nowadays perform the ancient men-directed tasks even better.

Referring to Antigone and Ismene, Steiner observes that, “While Antigone plays the role of a strong and sensible woman; Ismene portrays the typical meek and mild role” (15). Sophocles, in his captivating chef-d’oeuvre, successfully brings to light these varying roles of women as they stand in the society.

Works Cited

Fagles, Robert. The Three Theban Plays. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Nick, Great. Portrayal of Women in Sophocles’ Antigone. New York: The Davies Group Publishers, 2006. Print.

Sophocles. Antigone. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1912. Print.

Steiner, George. Antigones. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1984. Print.


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