Title of Paper : 2nd Class Citizens in Greek Society

Grade Received on Report : 94





Throughout human history the roles of women and men have been defined in part by physiology and in part

by the attitudes conveyed by those who hold power and influence. In ancient history, societies were

centered around women and the worshipping of goddesses. These roles changed quickly as hunting and

warfare became increasingly more important and women's less powerful physique placed them in a weaker

position. Just prior to the Hellenistic Age, three men wrote of their times, and of their perceptions,

attitudes and ideas regarding men, women, and civilization. In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles we get a

glimpse inside the life and tragic misfortunes of a royal family. Thucydides wrote a history of the

Peloponnesian war, and in his recounting of Pericles' Funeral Oration the duties and benefits of Athenians

were revealed. Plato's The Republic, was a philosophical dialogue covering the times as they were and

how he felt they possibly could be better. In each of these works t!

he roles of women are revealed not only through their position within the community but also through the

relation of the benefits and rights men enjoyed which women were denied.

During the time of Sophocles, the Greek population led a simplistic life enjoying a dynamic life of

festivals, light work loads and the attendance of compulsory dramas paid for by the state for human

enhancement. The Greek population consisted of free men, free women and slaves. Men were at the top

of the hierarchy enjoying all the benefits provided by their civilization; involvement in politics, ownership

of property, influence, and the freedom to chose their actions. Women on the other hand were primarily

delegated to keeping up and nurturing the appearances of society; care of the home and children, upkeep of

possessions, and more importantly upkeep of their husbands reputations and honor.

Throughout Sophocles' Oedipus Rex the values that make a good citizen (that being a free male) are

introduced. These include being humble before the gods, being responsible for your actions while having

respect for humans and for the instructions of the gods. The expectations and roles of women are also

shown through the actions of Jocasta the queen in

comparison with the actions of her husband Oedipus. Jocasta is not entitled to as much public power as her

husband, her role is in the background, helping direct him privately and always caring to keep up his

reputation. She says during one of Oedipus's public outbursts, "Into the palace now. And Creon, you go

home. Why make such a furor over nothing?"1, while at



another time she submissively says, "...But do let's go inside. I'd never displease you, least of



all in this."2 This weak and dependent perception of women is evidenced even more when



hearing Oedipus talk of his children to Creon, "... my daughters, my poor helpless girls,



clustering at our table, never without me hovering over them ... take care of them, I beg you."3



He continues saying to his children;



"How I weep for you ...just thinking of all your days to come, the bitterness, the life that rough mankind

will thrust upon you. Where are the public gatherings you can join, the banquets of the clans? ...And when

you reach perfection, ripe for marriage, who will he be, my dear ones? ... Who will marry you then? Not a

man on earth. Your doom is clear: you'll wither away to nothing, single, without a child."4



When Jocasta and Oedipus finally hear that their fate has indeed come to pass, the actions of each are very

different, but also very indicative of their perspective roles. Oedipus takes a powerful stance by inflicting

a life-long punishment on himself. Jocasta takes the meeker route, by hanging herself she saves herself

from the dishonor of having to live with the knowledge of her fateful actions, and from the terribly rough

life she would have being stigmatized and being forced to live without a proper husband and provider.



By the time of the Peloponnesian War, the status of women had not changed much. Although

women were allowed to own some amount of property, the daily management of that property was the

responsibility of her husband. A women's role was still