Gender Issues in Antigone

One of the most devastating problems for the Classical Greeks was the

women's issue. Women in Classical Greece were not citizens, held no

property, and indeed were not even allowed out of the house except

under guard. Their status differed from that of the slaves of Greece

only in name. This alone, however was not a problem -- the problem was

that the Greeks knew, in their hearts, that this was wrong. Indeed,

their playwrights harangued them about it from the stage of Athens

continually. All of the great Grecian playwrights -- Sophocles,

Euripedes, Aristophenes -- dealt with the women's issue. All of them

argued, in their various ways, that the women of Greece were not nearly

as incapable and weak as the culture believed them to be. All of them

created female characters of strength and intelligence. But in

"Antigone," the discussion reached its peak. Antigone herself, as she

stands upon the Grecian stage, represents the highest ideals of human

life -- courage and resp! ect for the gods. A woman, she is

nevertheless the exemplum for her society. But how are we to know

this? Does the author let the audience know that it is Antigone

herself, not Creon, the "noble-eyed imperator" (453), who is to be

believed? It is almost inconceivable that the audience would be meant

to ignore Creon's apparently skillful arguments, for he appears to

represent all that the Athenian should strive for. He stands for

obedience to the State. Surely it is his voice we should obey.

Sophocles does let us know where the truth lies, and he does this,

amazingly, partly through his characterization of Creon. Though Creon

seemingly says intelligent things, there are clues that he is not to be

trusted. One would be his discussion of incest with Ismene. Torn

between her duty to God and her duty to the State, Ismene, in the third

act, has run to Creon, planning to tell him of Antigone's actions in

the graveyard: "O, not for me the dusty hair of youth, / But let us now

unto the palace go" (465), she cries. But Creon, ignoring the

supposedly important information she has to tell -- he has, after all,

emptied the Theban coffers, spending money on his advanced spy network

in search of the miscreant -- asks her, instead, to come home with

him. "How long, O Princess, O! How long!" he states, suggesting a

time for their next meeting: "Upon the hour of noon, or / Not upon the

hour of six." To such a pass has the doomed line of Oedipus come. It

is clearly his fau! lt that Ismene throws herself into the sea outside

Thrace. Of course, it is Ismene's suicide that is the springboard for

the rest of the action. She has shown herself to be all that the

Athenian society desires her to be: obedient, pretty, sweet- tempered,

and dead -- but it is not enough. Obedience has gotten the state

nowhere, and women nowhere, and outside the walls of the city, the dead

are still being buried at alarmingly fast rates, quicker, almost, than

Creon can dig them up. Antigone solves the whole problem. Though she

is, indeed, like Ismene, both pretty and dead at the end, she

nevertheless provides a clear example of what women can do when they

are trusted with power, rather than kept at home. For it is her newly

formed women's rights group, based on the Lysistratan model, which

creates the only solution to the Theban problem. Though Antigone

herself is dead by the time the group comes up with their stunningly

simple plan, it it her legacy which informs the decision. "Not upon

the dead nor yet / Upon the living base thy worth" (521), the Theban

women cry, and upon their creation of a new burial ground, neither

within the city, nor without, but within the walls of the city itself,

they alone stop the civil war which threatens Thebes. Their ingenious

solution provides a liminal space for the disgraced family of the late

king, Oedipus. And the final scene, wherein the entire family joins

Antigone, buried within the walls of Thebes, creates ! a physical

metaphor of bonding and solidity. The traitor brother Polynices, the

depressed sister Ismene, the political firebrand Antigone, joined with

their uncle Creon and their hot-tempered cousin and his mother, all are

together at last in harmony, united in the purpose of the defense of

their beloved city against the Spartan onslaught, a sort of spiritual

and physical mortar to the defensive structure. It is no wonder that

Antigone, the prize winner of the Athenian festival in