Role of Gender in the Works of Euripides and Aristophanes

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The Role of Gender in the Works of Euripides and Aristophanes

Ancient Greek society was patriarchal in the sense that males held all the power and authority and consequentially had rights and privileges that women did not. For their part, Athenian women in particular were viewed as highly emotive creatures whose only duties in society were to bare children and serve their husbands. Athens, a city that prided itself on its democratic traditions and freedoms, paradoxically were very oppressive to their women in comparison with other Greek cities. Of course, this is not to say that everyone agreed with the existing gender paradigms. In fact, an analysis of the works of Greek playwrights Euripides and Aristophanes suggest that the opposite is true. Both playwrights explore the female experience and challenge their proper role in society – Euripides through the use of gender-transcendence and Aristophanes through the use of gender-inversion. In Euripides’ plays Medea and Hecuba, the author highlights the difficulties faced by women in society and employs gender-transcendence to challenge the existing gender roles and accompanying ideology in ancient Greece. By giving the female protagonists of the plays Medea and Queen Hecuba both feminine and masculine characteristics, Euripides attempts to undermine the concept that an individual’s competence or incompetence was solely reliant on whether they were masculine or feminine. Medea, for instance, is characterized by both her intellect and her emotional tendency. Intellect was seen as a typical masculine characteristic, and Greek men were even believed to have “think [women] clever and hate [them]” for it, as Medea herself contends in the play. Moreover, her hubris that eventually leads to her downfall is her pride, which of course is another masculine characteristic. Emotions played a large role in Medea’s doomed fate as well. After falling passionately in love with Jason, Medea uses her cunning and...
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