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Antigone And Lysistrata Essay, Research Paper

The Portrayal of the Main Characters in Antigone and Lysistrata Illustrate the Athenian Ideal of the Proper Woman

Throughout history, across the world, women have not had the same political or civil rights as men; as a result of this inequality, women have had little representation in the literary world. Ancient Greece, specifically ancient Athens, exists as one of the few literary exceptions to the centuries long, worldwide disregard of women. Realistically, women in ancient Athens led limited lives bound by the often-cruel dictates of a male dominated society. These ancient Athenian women were not citizens, they had no political power, and they were property of their husbands. The only powers ancient Athenian women had came in the form of determining inheritance through burial rites, and their ability to influence men through their physical sensuality. The exploration of women s loss of their power over burial rights and their use of their physical attractiveness to influence men in Sophocles Antigone and Aristophanes Lysistrata illustrates to the reader the same idea concerning the essence of the ideal woman in Athenian society.

The different portrayals of female characters in Antigone and Lysistrata illustrate the fundamental nature of the proper Athenian woman. Sophocles allows the reader to see that outrage over social injustices does not give women the excuse to rebel against authority. Aristophanes reveals that challenging authority in the state becomes acceptable when the city-state faces destruction through war. Sophocles and Aristophanes use different means to illustrate the same idea; the ideal Athenian woman s ultimate loyalty lies with her state. This Grecian 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 city-state. 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 country, breaking the command of her king while attempting to defend the honor of her dead brother. Antigone s brother, Polynices, dies while attempting a hostile takeover of his city-state. As punishment for his crimes, the king condemns Polynices, declaring None may bewail him, none bury all must leave / Unwept destroying Polynices chances of peace in the afterworld Ed. Sophocles, Antigone ( New York: Dover, 1993), 2. Antigone playing protector rashly declares, I shall not prove disloyal Him I will bury (Antigone, 2-3). She comes to the contradictory conclusion that she will stay loyal to her traitorous brother through blatant disloyalty to her city-state. This role of protector incarnate leads Antigone to ignore the possible consequence of her actions. She consciously disregards the king s proclamation that anyone who buries Polynices shall surely die; The citizens shall stone [that person] in the streets (Antigone, 2). She blithely states, Far longer is there need I satisfy / Those nether Powers, then powers on earth mistakenly believing the gods will intervene when she faces the consequences of her choices (Antigone, 3). 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 I shall meet with nothing / More grievous, at the worst, than death, with honor (Antigone, 4). Through her role of protector in her relationship with her family Antigone begins her betrayal of her city-state; this betrayal eventually leads to her death. Sophocles meant for his audience to realize the foolishness of Antigone s rebellion against the state; thereby illustrating that the proper Athenian women has ultimate loyalty to her country.

In direct contrast to Antigone, Aristophanes heroine Lysistrata plays the role of rebel within her family in order to save her city-state. Lysistrata comes to the conclusion that the only way to save Athens from destruction in war, comes with defiance of her husband. In her role of rebel within the family, Lysistrata decides to compel [her] husband to make peace by withholding sex from him until he stops his disastrous warring behavior Ed. Aristophanes, Lysistrata ( New York: Dover, 1993), 7. She concludes, there are a thousand ways of tormenting [him] that will lead to the ultimate safety of Athens (Lysistrata, 9). Unlike Antigone, Lysistrata realistically considers the possible consequences of her actions. She understands that the consequences of rebellion against her husband could be dire. Lysistrata recognizes that her husband might beat her or even rape her in order to get physical satisfaction, but she also realizes that her husband would, soon tire of the game there s no satisfaction for a man, unless a woman shares it (Lysistrata, 9). Lysistrata acknowledges that defying her husband will have consequences, but she chooses to realistically face those possible consequences, and continues knowing that her actions will benefit Athens. Aristophanes reveals that a woman s greatest allegiance lies with her country through Lysistrata s role of rebel within her family to save Athens.

Sophocles continues exploring the concept that the ideal Athenian woman has ultimate loyalty to her state 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 reviles her sister, I shall detest you soon because Ismene understands her duty lies with her government (Antigone, 4). Ismene cannot comprehend treachery Against the proclamation of her king because she acknowledges she was born too feeble to contend / Against the state (Antigone, 2, 4). Practical Ismene attempts to show Antigone the futileness of going against their city-state when she extols Antigone, We too shall perish, if despite of the law / We traverse the behest or power of kings (Antigone, 3). Unfortunately, Antigone completely ignores Ismene s revelations; she continues her role as the complainant, calling Ismene impious for refusing to betray the state and bury their brother, You if you will, / Hold up to scorn what is approved in Heaven! (Antigone, 3). Ismene recognizes that Antigone desire impossibilities but she cannot convince her stubborn sister that she goes on a fool s errand! (Antigone, 4). Through Antigone s accusatory role with Ismene the reader comprehends that Ismene and not Antigone exists as Sophocles example of the ideal Athenian woman who s final loyalty lies with her state.

Lysistrata takes the position of leader in her relationships with other women; she encourages her followers to fight for the betterment of their country; thus, she exists as the example of the ideal Athenian woman. Lysistrata begins the Grecian women s movement for peace among the city-states. She calls a meeting of all of the important women from Athens and Sparta. At the meeting she explains to the women We must refrain from the male altogether in order to have peace (Lysistrata, 7). When the women balk at losing the physical pleasure of sex Lysistrata clarifies her plan, We need only sit indoors employing all our charms and all our arts they will be wild to lie with us (Lysistrata, 9). Next, she instructs the women That will be the time to refuse, and they will hasten to make peace, I am convinced of that! (Lysistrata, 9). With her persuasive leadership skills Lysistrata manages to band together all the Grecian women to work for peace. Once she has women working for peace she has to use her leadership role to keep them working together. Lysistrata has to deal with women who begin to miss the physical pleasure they receive from men, I cannot stop them any longer from lusting after the men. They are all for deserting (Lysistrata, 31). First she attempts to win the women over with logic, A little more patience, and the victory will be ours (Lysistrata, 33). When logic does not sway the women Lysistrata uses her reputation as a leader to convince women of a prophecy she creates on the spot An oracle promises us success, if only we remain united (Lysistrata, 33). Lysistrata s leadership role with other women results in the banding together of all the Grecian to stop the war, helping her city-state; thus, again illustrating that the proper Athenian women owes her total dedication to her country.

The ideal women in Athenian society owes her complete allegiance to her city-state, Sophocles reveals the ideal of the proper woman through Antigone s role as the enemy of society and her subsequent death. Antigone is a danger to her government; she does not feel the laws applicable to other citizens apply to her. She bluntly tells her king his laws mean nothing to her, Because it was not Zeus who ordered it / Nor Justice, dweller with the Nether Gods, / Gave such a law to men; (Antigone, 17). Antigone openly insults her king revealing that she has no regrets regarding her treachery against the state, if my present action seems to you foolish tis like I am found guilty of folly / At a fool mouth! (Antigone, 18). After having committed a crime against the state and having become an enemy of her society Antigone is sentenced to death. When facing the death she has courted Antigone actually realizes for the first time the consequences of her choice to play the role of enemy to society. While being led to her death Antigone laments her lack of people who care about her fate Friendless, unwept, unwed / I, sick at heart, am led I die (Antigone, 33). Through Antigone s role of enemy of her state and her subsequent death, Sophocles illustrates that the ideal Athenian feels extreme loyalty to her state not any one individual or family.

The word lysistrata translates into English as disbander of the army, in Aristophanes comedy the character Lysistrata characterizes the epitome of the ideal Athenian woman because her role in relation to her society is that of the peacemaker (Lysistrata, note vi). Lysistrata masterminds the plot that saves Athens from the disaster of continuous war. Lysistrata unweaves the tangled web of her war torn city-state.

When we are winding thread, and it is tangled, we pass the spool across and through the skein, now this way, now that way; even so, to finish off the War, we shall send embassies hither and thither and everywhere, to disentangle matters. (Lysistrata, 26).

She moves her country from the chaos of war to order of peace. Eventually, Lysistrata s plan to deny all Grecian men sexual intercourse until they agreed to end the war works. Lysistrata presides over the peace talks. Eventually with Lysistrata presiding over the peace talks the Athenians and Spartans reach a peace accord. Through her role as peacekeeper in relation to her society Lysistrata illustrates the ideal Athenian woman owes ultimate loyalty to her city-state.

The portrayal of Antigone and Lysistrata in Grecian theatre leads the reader to the realization that the ideal Athenian woman remains ultimately loyal only to her state. Sophocles illustrates the essence of the perfect Athenian woman through the fate of his character Antigone. Antigone s final loyalty does not lie with her state; instead Antigone feels ultimately dedicated to her dead brother. She revolts against her king and her state, and as a result of that rebellion she dies. In contrast to Sophocles, Aristophanes illustrates the model Athenian woman through the successes of his character Lysistrata. She encourages her contemporaries to rebel against their husbands in order to force a peace thereby protecting her city-state from destruction. Sophocles and Aristophanes made use of their female characters to illustrate to the Athenian public just what the essence of the proper woman is. Through their theatric examples of the ideal woman Sophocles and Aristophanes manage to help their civilizations through times of chaos and provide contemporary readers a window into women s roles in the ancient Athenian world.

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