The different portrayals of female characters Antigone and Lysistrata illustrate the fundamental nature of the proper Athenian woman. Sophocles' Antigone allows the reader to see that outrage over social injustices does not give women the excuse to rebel against authority, while Aristophanes' Lysistrata reveals that challenging authority in the polis becomes acceptable only when it's faced with destruction through war. Sophocles and Aristophanes use different means to illustrate the same idea; the ideal Athenian woman's ultimate loyalty lies with her polis. This Greek concept of the proper woman seems so vital when considering Athenian society because both a tragedy and comedy revolve around this concept. The differing roles accorded to Antigone and Lysistrata through their relationships with their families, other women, and society reveals the Athenian idea of the proper woman.
In Sophocles' Antigone, the problems with the main character's role in relation to her family illustrates that the ideal Athenian woman has final loyalty only to her polis. Antigone, the main character of Sophocles' tragedy, plays the role of protector in her relationship with her family. In attempting to fulfill her role she rebels against her polis, breaking the command of her king while attempting to defend the honor of her dead brother and family. Antigone's brother, Polyneices, dies while attempting a hostile takeover of his polis. As punishment for his crimes, Creon, the king, condemns Polyneices, declaring that the people of the polis are not allowed to bury him as he was an enemy of the state and if one was to bury him, the punishment would be death. Antigone decides she must bury he brother to allow him passage to the underworld. She comes to the contradictory conclusion that she will stay loyal to her traitorous brother through blatant disloyalty to her polis.
This role of protector leads Antigone to ignore the possible consequence of her actions. She consciously disregards the king's proclamation and states, "The time in which I must please those that are dead is longer than I must please those of this world" (Antigone, 164). Antigone mistakenly believes that appeasing the gods of the underworld, is more important than the polis and the gods who protect it. Antigone continues denying the possible outcomes of her betrayal; while attempting to justify her impending treachery and the horrible death she will face as a result of her actions. She deludes herself into believing "No suffering of mine will be enough to make me die ignobly"
(Antigone, 165). Through her role of protector in her relationship with her family Antigone begins her betrayal of her polis; this betrayal eventually leads to her death. Sophocles meant for his audience to realize the foolishness of Antigone's rebellion against the polis; thereby illustrating that the proper Athenian women has ultimate loyalty to her polis.
Sophocles continues exploring the concept that the ideal Athenian woman has ultimate loyalty to her polis through the relationship between Antigone and her sister. In the tragedy, Ismene represents the ideal Athenian woman because she acknowledges the supremacy of her government. Ismene attempts to convince her sister of the folly of trying to bury their brother, but Antigone plays the role of the accuser. Antigone turns on her sister, because Ismene understands her duty lies with her king and the polis. Ismene cannot comprehend "defiance of the citizenry" because she acknowledges "...my nature does not give me means for that" (Antigone, 164). Practical Ismene attempts to show Antigone the futility of going against their polis, but Antigone completely ignores Ismene's warnings. Ismene recognizes that Antigone "...desire impossibilities" but she cannot convince her stubborn sister that she goes "...on a fool's errand!" (Antigone, 165). Through Antigone's argument with Ismene one comprehends that Ismene and not Antigone exists as Sophocles' example...
Cited: Aristophanes. Lysistrata. New York: Dover Publications, Oct. 20, 1994.
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