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What is the role of women in Classical Ancient Greece, and how ar...

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What is the role of women in Classical Ancient Greece, and how are they represented in the play 'Antigone' by Sophocles?"

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  • June 9, 2004
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Women in Classical Ancient Greece (5th Century BC) held an inferior social position to men. Although they were prominent in the Greek Mythology (Goddess of Wisdom Athena, Goddess of the Hunt Artemis) and writing such as Sophocles' Antigone (441 BC), the average woman stayed at home, spinning and weaving and doing household chores.

They never acted as hostesses when their husbands had parties and were seen in public only at the theater (tragic but not comic) and certain religious festivals. Women were prominent in functions such as weddings, and in funerals, since they took care of the bodies. Women were not allowed to visit the ekklesia, the Pan-Hellenic games, or the cherished oracular shrines.

In Homer's Odyssey (possibly 9th Century BC), many women feature, but most find their place in the story only by their relationship to the men. A woman's prime role was to procreate and carry on a lineage, and while some considered this ethereal and respectful, others saw them as an unfortunately necessary nuisance "woman is the consumer of men, their sex, their strength, their food, and their wealth, and the instigator of all evils in the world; yet without her, society cannot continue" (Simonides 556-468 BC). They were given no opportunity for education, save in household management:

"to remain indoors and send out those servants whose work is outside, and superintend those who are to work indoors, and watch over so much as is to be kept in store, and take care that the sum laid by for a year be not spent in a month" (Aristotle Oikonomikos, c. 330 BC)

Women did not receive a formal education as the men did until the Macedonians conquered the Hellenistic world at the end of the 4th Century BC and their status was elevated. Yet still they were viewed negatively "the gossip of gadding women, which tends to poison the soul." (Aristotle, 330 BC). They had no political representation and their life was focused on marriage, which usually took place at age fifteen...